Not Sweet, Just Sorrow
Chapter information

The Long Path



Written by

Arthur Keane

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Chapter 2: A Boy and His Badgerdillo


Sometimes, things are meant to happen. You were meant to stub your toe. Aang was meant to run away and, entirely by accident, survive the Hundred Year War. An Air Nomad boy named Koan was meant to lose his bison and get very politely kicked out of the Air Nomads because of a vision. Those first two stories you know - I'm here to tell you about that last one.


Daruma was dying. One-hundred and fifty years was too much for any human body, even that of such an accomplished guru like himself. Of course, he knew he was dying; it was simply that no-one else did. It was not that his fellow monks of the Northern Air Temple were unobservant. In fact it had taken the guru himself, wise one that he was, four months to identify his weakness. During that time the cancer had spread until he knew that even the healing of his Northern Water Tribe neighbors would be no help.
Something about one boy of the temple had caught the dying guru's attention, however. It was not his intelligence or quick tongue; those had more caught the eye (and frequently, wrath) of the temple teachers. No, in this case, the thing that stood out most was the boy's desire to learn. Whenever Daruma or another highly respected guru walked past, the boys would all become very respectful, but this one would listen intently to what they had to say, only rarely asking a question of his own. So Daruma inquired as to the boy's name with one of the teachers and received his answer: Koan. The boy's name was Koan.
As Daruma meditated that night (he had moved past the need for sleep decades ago) he settled into a familiar emptiness. Suddenly, though, the emptiness was replaced by an image: the boy Koan, a man, walking with dozens of people of all nations following him. The boy had hair, and instead of his Air Nomad robes, he was wearing a rough brown tunic and pants in a style common among Earth Kingdom farmers.
The guru opened his eyes with a start. Something was pressing this image on him - something alien, as if the spirits themselves were reaching out to him. He knew he had to act. So he went to the Council, and asked what they wanted him to do...


"Will you come back to us someday?" Hara asked, bouncing on his toes. The younger boy was the self-proclaimed sidekick of Koan, and couldn't stand the thought that his best friend would be leaving the temple.
"The monks didn't say I couldn't," Koan said, grabbing his staff. He was nearing the age of seventeen, and had been approaching the trials to become an airbending master. As such, he handled the staff, common to all young airbenders, with ease. "They just said I needed to go on a journey around the world and that I would find my way on that journey."
"Where you gonna go first?" Hara asked, leaning against the thin wall as Koan rolled up the thin bedroll.
"They suggested the Southern Air Temple first. Said I may not even make it there, since it's possible I would discover whatever it was I'm supposed to discover before that." Koan was outwardly calm, but inwardly he was teeming with questions. He wasn't holding anything back from his younger friend; the monks had been terrifyingly vague. In fact, Koan wasn't sure that this wasn't simply some sort of test for mastery he'd never heard of. After all, he was a special case. Most young airbenders didn't have to deal with the loss of their bison at such a young age, and a replacement hadn't been forthcoming. Koan believed no bison could replace Lemo. The monks hadn't seemed to know how to deal with the situation, either, so maybe this was their way of getting him out into the world? Or, Koan thought miserably, they could be doing this as a subtle way of kicking him out. Traveling on foot from the Northern Air Temple to the Southern was a trip that could last anywhere from months to years, depending on weather and provisions.
Hara was smart enough to see all of these things running through Koan's mind. "Well, I have to go. I'll see you off with the rest of the guys later, okay?"
And just like that, Koan was alone. He took a deep breath. The bedroll was tied up tightly with his backpack, specially provided by the monks for the trip, that held basic utensils, a bowl and cup, spark-rocks, and enough dried soup-making materials and rice to last for weeks if Koan was careful. A canteen for water was tied next to it. Koan wouldn't consider himself any sort of expert on wilderness survival, but he knew several plants he could eat. He knew several that he couldn't. Most importantly, he knew the route he was taking to get to the Southern Air Temple: South, eventually through various landmarks, including the Great Divide, that would keep him on track. Even if he didn't know exactly where he was going (which he could figure out on his map) the locals would, right? So he thought as he threw his pack over a shoulder and moved out of the room, down the hallway, and out to the platform. His friends were there, in addition to the Council and the resident Guru, Daruma.
A chorus of "Bye"s met his ears as he shook hands with friends and bowed to his elders. He barely heard them, muttering "Bye" to his peers and "Thank you" to his teachers' farewells. He found himself nearing the end of the line and Guru Daruma.
He was expecting another farewell, or even a "safe journeys", but instead Guru Daruma bowed to him. Koan, confused, bowed back. Why was his favorite teacher bowing to him? In custom, that put Koan as the superior. Koan got his answer when Daruma began to speak.
"Young Koan," Daruma said, his voice weaker than Koan had ever heard it. "I have seen your destiny, and it does not lie with us here. It lies on the roads, in the journey. I have seen you reaching enlightenment at an age I would be envious of. I have seen your followers resting on your every word. Do not be alarmed-" this he said because of the expression on Koan's face, which was one of utter shock "-but if the next we hear of you is not a message from the Southern Air Temple, but rather a piece of news about a wise young guru, we will be greatly pleased."
Koan's mouth open and shut like a fish.
"Go," Daruma said. "And feel the wind underneath you as you fly."
Confusedly, Koan adjusted his pack and hefted his staff, walking to the edge of the cliff. The bottom was a great distance away, but Koan had jumped from here many times before. He turned to look back at the assembled monks, and a great lump made its way from his diaphragm to his throat. It was sadness, he realized, greater than any he'd felt since Lemo fell from the skies in the fateful storm. A sense of loss accompanied him as he turned back toward the south, toward the distance, and threw his glider as far out as he could. He followed a split second later, intercepting it at its apex, and the momentum of the rising current lifted him until he was a hundred feet above his old friends. He didn't cry. It was as if tears simply wouldn't come. The sun was rising, as it was still mid-morning, and he floated off on the rising air, not looking back.
He was alone like he had never been before.

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