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|Change of Pace (Inheritance)|
May 18, 2013
But what was done, was done; there were no more decisions to be made. I was on my way to the Air Temple and only one task awaited me there: airbending.
"Dad," I called out over the rapid roaring of the wind, "why is it so difficult for me to airbend?"
I crossed one knee over the other and put my arms behind my head, staring into the empty, pink sky. I wasn't really paying attention to my dad, but I waited for his response. When none came, I just continued talking to fill the silence and, perhaps, coax him into a reply this time. "I mean, Mom said you were a prodigy from birth."
I quickly glanced at him, barely moving. His face, upside down from my view, jokingly soured as he caught my gaze.
"Well, like I was about to say," he started with a mock disavowed tone, "airbending isn't something you can force—it takes time and precision. For me that came quickly. For you... not so much."
He flashed me his trademark goofy grin after he finished. I closed my eyes and we both laughed. When I looked at him again, my Dad spun around and sat down on Appa's saddle right next to me.
"But, you are my son," he said in a more serious tone, only after our laughter subsided, "so, you'll get it. You just need to be patient."
"Yeah, I know, 'no inner turmoil and patience is the key,'" I mocked, imitating his voice and holding my hands on my forehead to mimic his arrow. He put his hand on my bald head and shoved me away.
"That's not even what I sound like," he corrected sarcastically, as we chuckled once again. I had never had time to just sit down with Dad for a while and... talk. He was cooler than I gave him credit for.
"Whatever you say, Dad," I laughed, "whatever you say."
We reclined in silence for a moment and took in the world around us. The sky resonated with a sense of peace and tranquility that enveloped the dimension above the clouds pushed by gentle winds. It was truly breath-taking.
"So, is there anything you want to know? I mean, this is a pretty big deal," he concluded dramatically, emphasizing 'big' as if I didn't understand what he meant.
He motioned his hands outward towards the sky. I picked myself up, mulling over a few thoughts in the process. "Well," I began, "which temple is on the agenda first?"
Dad suddenly developed a look of confusion, sticking out his bottom lip. "I didn't tell you?" he asked, furrowing his brow.
I shook my head faintly in response as he thought to himself. I wasn't very good when it came to the art of patience, but I waited quietly for him to make up his mind. "We're on our way to the Western Air Temple as we speak," he stated, adding, "It was the only temple to remain untouched by them."
"Oh," I said quietly, realizing what he meant. "The Fire Nation..." I trailed off, as he took a shallow breath.
"Don't worry about it," he said calmly, "I let go of the past to look towards the future."
I nodded in reply, as he gave a fake chuckle. "You know, now that I think about it, since I'm from the Southern Air Temple, that makes you a Southern Air Nomad, too!"
"I guess that's true," I quietly murmured. I was amazed that Dad could ignore everything that happened like it was nothing by simply changing the topic. But I was curious, and therefore, he would not be getting away from this topic just yet.
"Dad, how could you just... forget? All that they did—all that they put you through. How can you act like nothing happened?" I pondered aloud, as he shut his eyes. For a few seconds, he sat in silence.
"The monks used to say that shadows of the past can be felt by the present," he suddenly started, "seeing you feel this way makes me realize what they meant," he paused to take a quick breath, and pull his thoughts together.
"The past holds ties to the future, and in order to forget the past, you have to sever those ties. As the Avatar, I can't sever those ties, so the past comes back to haunt me quite often; I've just learned to accept what happened," he finished, growing softer as he concluded. I felt guilty for asking, but it's something that had been on my mind as of late. Appa let out a bellow as Dad stopped talking, feeling the hidden pain in his voice.
"Sometimes," I said, seemingly startling myself, "I forget you're the Avatar. Instead, you're just... my Dad. It's crazy to think that you're responsible for the state of the world. You know?" He grinned, putting his hand on my shoulder.
"I like to think that I'm normal sometimes; that I don't have to worry about anything else—which is why we're headed off to the temples. Out here, I'm your Dad, but in Republic City, I'm the Avatar. I just need to get away from it all for a while," Dad replied with a tiny glimmer in his eye.
The sun was nearly setting, and we talked on for a few hours more. The orange glow was slowly replaced by the silver lining of the moonlight and the intricate patterns of shimmering stars blinking one at a time into existence from somewhere far away. I settled in, nestling myself beneath the heavy blanket that my dad had packed for me, while he cocooned in his lonesome on the other side of the saddle. I felt bad, but he seemed comfortable, so I left him as he was. The sky above me had changed; the silver had become all encompassing and the light of tiny flecks of white stars highlighted every inch of the infinite above. Every so often a wisp of a cloud would pass into my sight, as I lay there reflecting on the conversation my dad and I had shared.
"Maybe I do need this," I whispered in my mind. "This... change of pace."
I closed my eyes, and fell into a deep slumber, awaiting our eventual arrival.
"Aang, why didn't you tell us you were the Avatar?" a familiar voice called out from a familiar setting.
"Because, I never wanted to be." It was the same dream. I remembered it from that night so many weeks ago.
I knew what was coming, but my body was irresponsive; all I could do was simply watch.
The plume of smoke spiraled into the sky, and a vortex of wind circulated within the debris. A young figure was centered within the sphere of air.
The same boy with the blue tattoos.
The same iridescent glow replacing his eyes and arrows.
The same Air Temple behind him.
I awoke gasping feverously. The faint breeze quickly cooled me off, as I brushed my hands on my blanket. The moon was swiftly approaching the horizon, and a fragment of sunlight was visible far in the distance—threatening to break over the horizon. I knew there wasn't any point in trying to sleep again. Dreams that woke me up typically kept me from sleeping. An unlucky trait, to say the least.
"I guess mild insomnia runs in the family," a voice jokingly echoed behind me. In my groggy state I couldn't tell the voice of my father from the voice of a ninja that had managed to stowaway on the bison. I spun around with my fists clenched to defend myself, but found only my dad reclining on his back atop Appa's head. At least there weren't any ninjas. I relaxed a bit and scratched my head absently. I was slightly embarrassed, but also still half-asleep and uncaring.
I yawned as I replied, "Probably."
I had more in common with Dad than I had presumed. The dream quickly flashed before my eyes, almost as if it were an omen. The mere memory of that vision startled me awake and provoked me to be more alert than I otherwise would have been. "Dad, I need to ask you something," I said rapidly.
He raised an eyebrow. "Okay then," he said, sitting up, "ask away."
"Do you remember the night Uncle Sokka and I showed up on the beach? That night I had a very vivid dream... it—it was of you at the Southern Air Temple. And last night, I—I saw it again." He stared at me, waiting for me to elaborate.
"You said that you wanted to be just my Dad, but... you're more than that. You can't escape being the Avatar. And no matter how hard you try, you'll always have duties to the world." The cool winds in the air stopped in an instant, as the dark horizon began to glow with the approaching sunrise.
"I know... it's true." His voice croaked as he spoke, "I just wish it wasn't."
We stopped talking after that. The sun began to peek over the distant landforms and I watched... in boredom. The scenery was peaceful and calming, much like a warm glass of tea on a cold day.
"We'll be arriving in an hour or so," Dad mumbled, still distraught after our tidbits of conversing.
"Alright," I stated plainly.
I felt guilty for bringing up my dream, and for saying those things. I knew how much he wanted to simply be my Dad, but yet, we were both well-aware of the fact that, that will never be the case. There was far too much going on to have him stuck in a state of self-pity.
"Dad... you're awesome, you know that? I mean, you may not always be able to be there, but when you are, it really counts for something. Just doing all of this for me," I said, despite it being to simply cheer him up, "shows me how much of a father you are."
He let out a small grin, and a portion of his burden seemed to lift from his shoulders. "It's gonna be great," Dad whispered, barely within my earshot, "I just know it."
"Appa- Tenzin's- sleeping- bag- isn't- FOOD." Dad was trying his hardest to pull my sleeping bag out of Appa's mouth, as the bison innocently chomped away. We had just landed, and—apparently—Appa couldn't wait to eat. Unfortunately for me, that meant no more comfortable sleeping time. That said, I couldn't help but laugh at Dad's struggle.
"I think he's hungry, Dad!" I yelled out in between gasps of laughter. After a short battle of tug-of-war, Dad finally pulled the bag out of Appa's mouth—well, half of it at least.
"Sorry," he whispered, as he handed me the soggy, ripped blanket-thing. I held it with two fingers to keep it from dripping on my clothes.
"Thanks," I muttered, the words thick with the undertones of sarcasm. When Dad turned around, I tossed it into a nearby bush. There wasn't much use for a bison-saliva soaked, half-sized sleeping bag anyway.
"Ahh," Dad sighed, "it's nice to finally see something familiar." I turned to see him standing on the edge of a cliff, looking at—well... nothing.
"Dad," I began, "is this temple invisible unless you have airbending tattoos or something? Because I don't exactly think we're seeing the same picture here." I walked over to his side, and he placed his arm around my neck, almost like a half-head-lock gesture.
"That's because you're looking in the wrong places," he chuckled, motioning below my current line of vision.
Under the opposing side of the cliff was something I had never seen before. It was utterly marvelous. The fog in the valley was just thin enough to make out the details on all of the structures, and they went on as far as I could see on either side.
"Are those—upside down?!" I yelled out, as my dad bent in half... laughing at my comment. Rather than show my disbelief, I yelled out an obvious question. Once again, I think it's coded in my genes. Just a hunch.
"Yeah," he said, rubbing his eye with the underside of his palm, "it's what the Western Temple was so famous for." I fully examined the entire view of the temple's greatness while Dad grabbed the little amount of supplies he brought. He said we'd be fine with what he packed, so I just listened. But I did bring a bit of my own money. Just in case.
He threw my glider at me, as I turned just in time to catch it and stop it from hitting my face. "I see your reflexes are still working well," Dad joked, as I sneered in response.
"Yeah, yeah," I responded.
He hopped on Appa, and gripped the reigns with both hands. "Come on!" He shouted, as I jumped on the giant saddle after climbing atop the bison.
"Trust me, I'm not exactly taking my time," I called out, as Dad signaled the lift off, and Appa quickly soared towards the hanging ornate buildings. We flew parallel to the wall of various structures and inscriptions. As I stared at them, the strangest feeling swept over me. Almost as if I could—feel them? Words can't explain it, to be honest. The statues were frozen in a solid emotion, most of them being serenity, peace, and enlightenment; I felt a connection with all of them.
After about five minutes, we landed in what seemed to be a damaged section of the temple. Portions of the ceiling, walls, and even the floor, were scattered all about the area, leaving giant rocks and boulders strewn across the platform. Giant hanging metal gates were opened, which led to a darkened area. It was too dark for me to make out what was on the other side.
Dad slowly clambered down the side of Appa and walked over toward what appeared to be a pool of muddy water surrounded by fragments of large boulders. I hopped up from my place in the saddle and slowly climbed down Appa as he flopped onto the ground. Dad sat down on his knees. He picked up one of the stones from the pool, and he stared into the murky water, searching for a reflection.
I approached cautiously, still a few feet away from him. "You okay, Dad?"
"Wha—?" he asked before catching himself, "Oh, yeah. Yeah, I'm fine."
He took the rock and put in his pocket, turning away from me and wiping his eyes. Was he crying? I didn't think so, but I was not going to chance asking him. I followed him into the dark room behind the giant metal gates, and he picked up a splintered piece of wood, lighting the end of it with a small burst of fire from his fingertips. Our immediate vicinity of the room brightened considerably, but it still gave off an eerie vibe. Shadows danced on the walls as the orange from the flickering flame painted forgotten relics in its light—which only added to the weirdness aspect.
"What is the place?" I asked, gazing around at the various cracks and holes in the room. I walked to the room's center, where a symbol on the floor—covered in dust and debris—had caught my attention.
"It was a fortified chamber," he spoke, his words tinged with a heavy sadness, "but it... isn't anymore."
While he talked, I brushed away the blockage from the inscription and then backed away. I slowly made out the Air Nation character on the floor. The shadows cast by the makeshift torch fluttered across the insignia. I continued my exploration while Dad was preoccupied with a written passage on a plaque of some sort. I moved along the wall, stepping over various obstructions, until my hand no longer made contact with the ancient stone. I tried to lean out further, thinking the wall may have taken a small dip inward. But I was wrong. It didn't take a dip: there was a giant hole in the wall—and I had fallen right into it.
Unfortunately, the little man-made cave had a slight downgrade, so I quickly slid into the darkness. Before I realized what had happened and shook away the shock, everything stopped.
"Did I just pass out?" I whispered to myself. Probably not, because I could hear my own voice. I ran my hand directly in front of my face. I couldn't see it in any sense of the word, but I could feel the slight passes of air on my eyes as I waved my extremity back and forth.
I glanced around, but it was almost as if I were blind; there was nothing to see but pure nothingness. I called out for my father, my voice echoing off of unseen structures. I could hear it reverberate further and further away from me. "I must be in a tunnel of some sort," I said, trying to rationalize with myself.
I slowly drifted down the pitch black passageway, gripping the wall as I shuffled my feet. I heard a sort of ghostly moaning from up ahead, like a howl in the wind on an eerie night. The strange words it babbled made no sense, but I could... feel them? It's almost as if my soul understood them—like the words thrummed to a language unknown to men of the physical world.
I followed the source of the sound down the tunnel for what seemed like miles. I used it like a crutch, afraid of losing it and wandering the darkness forever alone. My feet started to ache, but I then arrived in what seemed to be an atrium of sorts. Only small slivers of light passed through tiny cracks in the old, stone walls.
"Hello?" I called out, cupping my hands around my mouth while walking forward. "He—" I nearly began again, as I tripped up on something on the ground by my feet. I held out my palms as I stumbled to the ground. "Spirits..." I whispered, as I redressed myself. I placed my hand on the object that caused the klutzy moment in my unguided stupor, and followed the shaft of what appeared to be a lever. I gripped the top end of the semi-metallic rod, and pulled it to a ninety-degree angle. As gears ticked and lurched under my feet, the ground shook in ways similar to the effects of a weak earthen tremor.
A sudden screech filled the air as the—now visible—metal gates swung open, letting in far more light on the available three sides. I quickly threw my hands up to shield my eyes as they adjusted to the light, and a wave of dust hit me, sending me into a flurry of coughs and sputters.
"Finally," I spat under my breath, as I stepped into the light and walked out into the open air of the outdoors. The horizon had a tinge of pink infused with a multitude of other colors—which was a result of the sun's cross sectioned path under the cliff side.
"Tenzin?!" I heard my father call, as I peered off the edge of the small platform in the side of the precipice. "Tenzin?" my father called once again, as he made eye contact with me as he drifted closer on his glider. He landed in a spiral motion, and as he stood up straight, my clothes billowed from the blast of air his landing caused.
"What're you doing down here? I turned my back for one minute and you disappeared."
"Well," I started, turning and looking at the now exposed chamber, "I can't really say. All I know is that I ended up here." My father put his hand on my shoulder and cracked a smile.
"You had me worried there for a second."
We both turned and looked into the large cavity. A beam of sunlight gleamed into the shadowy abyss, drawing our attention to the one structure left standing in the chamber and the engraved calligraphy carved deep into the stone it was made of.
The word "ECHO" was written across the pillar in the middle of the room.
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