|More from Webdog177||Adventure, Drama||PG-13||Here||Pending|
Genocide of the Air Nomads
August 22nd, 2013
|"Oh... you would be surprised. I got lucky on my thirty-six forms. And I had to take the tests.... three times."|
|— Sister Meiyun|
Doppelganger: The Hundred Year War
Genocide of the Air Nomads Saga
Meiyun shuffled her way through the large hallways of the Western Air Temple as quickly as she could while still appearing dignified. She knew it was unbecoming of her to rush, as she could see from the slightly bemused expressions on her sisters she passed by. But, she could not help it. She was excited. After all, it wasn't every day that she was specifically called on to greet a guest to the temple.
The call had come as a surprise to her. After her morning meditations, she had eaten breakfast as usual. She had started to make her way to the temple archives, as was where she spent the majority of her time, when a sister called for her. She was to go and meet Sister Yuanli; the Mother Superior of the Western Air Temple.
Not wasting any time, she had gone to Sister Yuanli's chamber to hear what the older woman had to tell her. The news of having a non-airbending guest was shocking in and of itself. Few people that were not airbenders were able to make it to the Air Temple. Even more shocking was the fact that Meiyun was charged with collecting the arrival and escorting him during his stay. She was the designated archivist of the Western Air Temple. Why such a job was given to her, she did not know.
She had explained this to Sister Yuanli, only to be waved off with a smile. The old woman had simply said, "You are the best suited to the task to escorting this guest, Meiyun."
She had never been able to say no the older woman, and so she postponed her daily organizing and compiling duties in the archives to go and meet the temple's guest. Even as she walked with purpose, her thoughts were scattered. She had just gained her airbending mastery status the previous year, just after her eighteenth birthday. There were much more older, wiser, and... well... more coordinated nuns and monks that could escort a guest around.
So why her?
Shaking her head to clear her thoughts, she came into view of the main courtyard, where their guest was supposedly waiting. It didn't take long to spot him. There were a few different nuns and one visiting monk meandering around the courtyard. There was only one person who stood out. The only person not in airbending robes was a young-looking man. Average height, he stood with a particular gait as one shorter than he actually was. At first glance, it looked as if he was unconsciously trying to keep himself from being noticed. His light brown hair and lighter complexion didn't help matters any. He wore a simple travelling tunic with a pack slung over his shoulder.
What made his stand out the most, however, was not his clothing or his stance. It was the sword attached to his waist. It wasn't as though Meiyun was unfamiliar with weapons, or that she believed they had no purpose. But, the airbenders were pacifists, and did not use any weapons. The presence of a weapon in the temple made her a little nervous.
Taking a deep breath, she rid herself of doubt and stepped forward, causing the stranger to turn and look at her. His light blue eyes fell on her equally blue eyes, and he eased into a soft smile.
"Good morning, sister," he said politely, nodding his head into a bow. "I thank you for coming to greet me."
"But of course." Meiyun smiled and bowed as steadily as she dared. She had never been very graceful or coordinated. She was not about to blow it now. "Sister Yuanli wished me to escort you around the temple for the duration of your stay. If you require anything, please ask it of me."
The smile on his face slid up to his eyes. "Thank you, sister. May I know your name?"
"I am Sister Meiyun. I am the archivist of this temple."
His eyebrow lifted in surprise. "The archivist, is it? How interesting. How is it one so young is a master as well as the temple's archivist?"
Meiyun felt her cheeks warm. "Well, I am not quite sure, actually. I have always liked organizing and reading." She smiled guiltily. "So... yes. After passing the thirty-six levels of airbending and achieving my master status, I inherited the role of archivist." She turned slightly back towards inside of the temple. "Shall we...?" She faltered, suddenly very embarrassed. "Oh! I am sorry. I do not know your name."
"Kaale," he answered with sardonic smile. "My name is Kaale. Please." He nodded behind her, and they set off at a steady pace towards the temple.
"So..." Meiyun tried to break into conversation with Kaale. "We don't often have visitors to the temple. I mean, visiting non-airbenders." She corrected herself with a nervous smile. The young man matched pace with her easily. She tried to watch his face out of the corner of her eyes. His profile was different from the airbending monks that she had seen before. It was more... sharp... defined. That was a good way to put it, she thought. "The Western Air Temple is one of the two temples that houses strictly females. The Northern and Southern Air Temples house the males. So, aside from visiting monks in their training, we don't get many strangers."
Kaale nodded quietly, to show he was listening. She took it as a sign to continue.
"Have you ever been to any of the other temples?" she asked.
The young man thought for a moment, then shrugged lightly. "A few times. I travel a lot and visit many places. I have been to the Fire Nation, Water Tribes, Earth Kingdom, and the Air Temples. You talk a lot, do you know that?" He smirked at the girl.
She felt her face warm and she lowered her head between her shoulders as deep as she could, mumbling an apology.
"Do not worry." Kaale laughed softly. "I am only teasing you. If you have any questions, feel free to ask them of me." Meiyun blinked and relaxed her neck. Something about the way he talked was odd, she thought. But it put her at ease nonetheless.
"Then, if you insist, may I know what brings you to the Western Air Temple?" The two of them rounded a corner, passing by another pair of airbending nuns who stopped to stare at the new arrival with wide-eyes. Meiyun tried hard not to laugh. Kaale wasn't bad to look at, after all.
"Hmm... a good question," he mused, touching his chin with his index finger. "I myself do not know. Sister Yuanli sent a summons to me. How it actually found me, I will never know." She snorted and held his hands out helplessly. "I will never understand how you airbenders can use the wind to send messages."
Meiyun nodded in understanding. While she was not familiar with the technique, apparently the best airbending masters could use the wind to send messages to each other. Avatar Yangchen had invented the technique when she had been alive. She heard it had something to do with the spirits, and asking them for help with the message, but she was not clear of the specifics. "So she called for you?" she asked.
"Mmm..." came the response.
Meiyun took the hint and fell silent. Maybe it was best not to pry. If he did or did not know, it was not her business to ask. He was certainly on the mysterious side, she thought. But then again, she did not know many people from outside the Air Nomad society. Maybe everyone was like this.
Her thoughts were interrupted when Kaale walked off into an adjoining hallway. He turned his head in midstep to call back to Meiyun. "Would you mind if we took a short detour en route to Sister Yuanli?"
The girl blinked rapidly, but shuffled back to Kaale's side. "Uh-um... of course. But, the only thing down this hallway is the shrine to Avatar Yangchen."
"I know," Kaale said quietly.
Meiyun nodded quietly and kept pace with the young man beside her. He had apparently been to the temple before, she realized, if he knew where Avatar Yangchen's shrine was. She did not remember ever seeing him or hearing of a visitor matching his description, however. Maybe it had been a long time ago.
Soon, they reached the doorway leading to the shrine. Meiyun stepped ahead to open the door. "Allow me, Kaale," she said and grabbed the door, opening it. Inside the room sat the large statue of Avatar Yangchen. It was easily four stories high, and towered in the shrine it was built in. It depicted the airbending Avatar in meditation, as most airbenders did. Kaale stepped into the large hall and walked in front of the statue. Meiyun followed him into the hall and shut the door behind them.
Meiyun bowed before the statue and sent a small prayer to the Avatar, as she always did. What surprised her, was the fact that Kaale gazed up at the statue with a strange look on his face. She stared at the young man in front of the statue, somewhat bewildered. He was obviously not an airbender, and yet he had still come here before anywhere else, and was paying his respects to the long-dead Avatar. He stood very still for a few long minutes, staring up at the statue's face. Meiyun stood there, waiting patiently for him to finish paying his respects. Finally, after what seemed like a long time, Kaale stepped up to the statue. In a slow movement, he pressed his hand to his lips and then placed his hand to the statue's base.
Meiying felt her face tighten, but tried her best to act naturally. She had never... ever seen that before. Monks, nuns, travelers had never touched the statue before. Aside from cleaning, she wasn't sure if they were even allowed to touch it. But, as Kaale turned back to her, she figured that he had his reasons. Maybe his family had been helped by the Avatar before or something similar.
"You look like her." His voice shook her thoughts back to reality.
Kaale gestured to the towering statue. "Yangchen. You look like her."
Meiyun blinked a few times and felt a smile creep across her features. "Thank you."
"Shall we?" Kaale asked with a soft smile. He nodded to the door.
"Of course," Meiyun replied.
When Kaale and Meiyun entered Sister Yuali's chambers, the older woman smiled as if she had seen an old friend. For all Meiyun knew, maybe they were.
"Why, if it isn't Kaale." She smiled and brushed her hand through her dark hair in mock embarrassment. "Come to pay a visit to an old woman, have you?"
Kaale laughed and strode forward, bowing lightly. "If I did not visit you, who would?"
Meiyun stepped to the side of the doorway to wait patiently. Kaale looked up from his bow to see Yuanli beaming at him. She held out her arms in a welcoming gesture. "Come on, Kaale, like you miss me." Kaale smiled and caught the old woman in an embrace. Many things were surprising her today, Meiyun found herself musing. The young man was certainly very interesting. He must have come here previously, to be so familiar with the old airbending master. "It has been too long," Yuanli said softly, stepping away from Kaale.
Brushing his hand through his hair, he smirked lightly. "It has. You are looking well, as always."
"Oh, stop." Yuanli smiled, waving her hand in front of her face. "I'm much too old for your flattery." She gestured to a simple seating area beside them. "Won't you sit down? Mei, you may come and sit, as well." She called a little louder to get the younger airbender's attention. Meiyun nodded and maneuvered her way to a low cushion, setting herself. Kaale sat on a cushion himself after setting down his pack and removing his sword from his waist. He placed blade in front of him on the ground.
"So, I assume you did not call me to come here and flatter you," Kaale said with a soft smile.
The old woman sighed and shook her head. "No, you are correct. I do have information for you that is extremely important." Her lips tugged into a smile. "Although I was about to call you here for a visit anyway. I found it a good opportunity to take care of both at once."
"Of course. I am sorry it took me a long time to visit again." The young man held up his hands apologetically, a then let them fall to his lap. "So, what news do you have?"
Yuanli let her eyes sweep to Meiyun and for a moment, she opened her mouth as if to say something, but thought better of it. She returned her attention to Kaale.
"Well, first and foremost. We, that is the Western Air Temple's Council of Elders, received word that... the Avatar has disappeared."
The look on Kaale and Meiyun's face was that of identical shock and confusion. The Avatar was well-known to be an airbender from the Southern Air Temple. Aside from the normal news that traveled between the temples, nothing was out of the ordinary. At least, Meiyun thought, as far as she knew.
"What do you mean, disappeared?" Kaale demanded, his face tight.
"Well, not much is known about the circumstances of his disappearance," Yuanli explained. "He was to move to the Eastern Air Temple to complete his airbending training. However, he had since then disappeared, with his bison, from the temple. No one knows where he has gone." Her face turned serious. "Do you happen to know where he disappeared to?"
Kaale shook his head. "No. Of course not. I have never met the Avatar." Meiyun caught his gaze for a second, before he returned to Yuanli. "Well, that is a problem. I hope he is found quickly."
The old airbender nodded and sighed again. "Unfortunately, that makes this next development much more complicated." Kaale and Meiyun both looked at Yuanli, waiting for her to speak. "The winds have told us that the Fire Nation is moving. Their armies are advancing on us and the other nations."
Meiyun felt her hearth jump into her throat. The Fire Nation? The army was moving? Did she mean that they were going to attack them? She swallowed against a suddenly dry mouth. She swept her eyes to Kaale, who had a stony expression on his face, and then back to Yuanli.
"Advancing on whom, exactly?" Kaale demanded.
"There is a force departing by boat to the Earth Kingdom. There are also two separate detachments..." She closed her mouth for a moment, choosing her words. "Two separate detachments going to the Southern Air Temple and... here."
Kaale swore quietly. "Ah... I'm sorry," he muttered. Yuanli smiled and shook her head.
Meiyun, even if she wanted to say something, could not even open her mouth. The news was too shocking. The thought of the Fire Nation moving against the other nations was too frightening. If they were able to make it to the temple... what was going to happen to them? What would happen to her? Suppressing a shiver, she forced herself to pay attention to the conversation going on in front of her.
Kaale visibly chewed on the inside of his cheek for a few moments. "How long would you say we have?"
Yuanli held up two fingers. "Two or three days. They have already departed, or so we believe. The Southern Air Temple sent out a few gliders to check the distance from them. The distance seems the same as to us. We believe they mean to strike us at the same time."
"Have you told anyone else in the temple? What about the other elders here?" Kaale whispered loudly.
Yuanli held her hand out to Meiyun. "Aside from the other elders in the temple and Sister Meiyun here, no one knows yet. I wanted to know your opinion before taking action of any kind." Kaale nodded, and rubbed his chin in thought.
Meiyun blinked and clenched her hands into fists nervously. What exactly made Kaale so special, if Sister Yuanli found his council so important as to bring him in and tell him what was going to happen? He, as far as she knew was not a bender or a soldier. The two of them knew each other, obviously. But how much did he know about the situation? Could he help in some way? The flurry of thoughts and ideas flying through her head made Meiyun rub her forehead roughly.
"I see..." Kaale sighed heavily. "How large are the forces?"
Yuanli smiled and held out her hand to Kaale. The young man nodded. With a slow motion, he held out his hand and clasped the old woman's in a soft grasp. For a long moment, the two were silent and still. Meiyun blinked a few times, looking back and forward between the two's silent exchange. What exactly was going on? The girl quickly realized that she was in way over her head, trying to understand what was happening. It would be much more productive to ask for details later.
After what seemed like a few solid minutes, Kaale and Yuanli broke their contact and returned to their original positions.
"I understand." Kaale sighed and bowed his head.
Yuanli cleared her throat and tucked a strand of hair that had strayed from the rest. There was a pink tint coloring her ears, Meiyun noticed, that hadn't been there before. "Yes, well... Those are the details," she breathed. Her voice was noticeably softer. "I want to hear your opinion before I bring any action to the elders for debate."
Kaale glanced at Meiyun. His eyes seemed to say that he didn't want to discuss anything in front of her. But, as she had been present for everything until then, he seemed to abandon the idea. "We need more time. Two days is not enough. If the Fire Nation is indeed moving on the other nations, we need to consolidate our defenses to properly fight against them."
"You know we can't do that, Kaale," Yuanli sighed. "We do not fight. The Air Nomads are pacifists."
Kaale's eyes narrowed. "Tell that to Yangchen. I am certain she would have disagreed with that."
"Avatar Yangchen is dead. We are passive. We do not have weapons to defend ourselves with."
"And that is precisely why the Fire Nation is moving against the airbenders first!" Kaales voice rose as his eyes narrowed to a glare. He shrank back immediately. "My apologies," he voiced, looking at the ground.
"You have nothing to apologize for. I agree with you. But the others may not. I just want to hear what you have to say. I have always valued your opinion." The older woman smiled at Kaale. "If you and I both explain, the other elders may be convinced that in the face of destruction, defending ourselves is prudent."
Nodding, Kaale picked up his sword by the scabbard. He stood up and clicked his tongue. "If the airbenders do not defend themselves, you will all die." His voice was low and deadly. He looked from Yuanli to Meiyun. The girl felt a shiver crawl up her back as she returned his gaze. At once, she knew.
She did not want to die.
"I know. Then we must go and convince the others," Yuanli said. "We will discuss this with them at once. She stood up slowly, waving off Kaale's hand he offered. "Sister Meiyun, you will accompany us to the elder's hall." Meiyun forced herself to nod, even though her body felt numb.
Kaale stepped towards the door and re-attached his sword to his waist. "Shall we go?"
Meiyun's mind was a whirlwind of confusion as she obediently followed the pair to the elder's hall. Too many things had been thrown out for her to hear. She had not been prepared for any of it. She had just woken up expecting a normal day spent reading and organizing her scrolls! Instead, she had been called to hear, not even entirely sure it was meant for her to hear, the news of both the Avatar's disappearance as well as the Fire Nation's advance. She didn't dare speak as group walked, taking the other's silence as cue to keep her mouth shut.
Wanting desperately to return to her duties, she considered asking to be excused. The idea died stillborn as she realized that, because she had heard the exchange between Yuanli and Kaale, she was a party to whatever it was that was going to happen. Sighing to herself in defeat, she swallowed her fear at the avalanche of powerlessness that assaulted her and trudged on through the halls.
Soon, they reached the doorway to the elder's hall, and Sister Yuanli stopped in front of it, turning to face Meiyun and Kaale.
"Now, we were all made aware the situation yesterday. The council of elders was, at least." She glanced at the younger airbender sympathetically. "Unless decided, you are not to tell anyone else of what you hear. Understand, Mei?"
"Y-yes," came the stammering response.
Nodding, Yuanli turned to Kaale. "Now, I bade them to hold off on making a decision until the winds told us more. We cannot wait any longer. If we wait any longer, it will be too late. You must convince them."
Meiyun opened her mouth to ask why the elders would be convinced by him. The young man was a stranger; not a monk, not an airbender, not the Avatar. As a matter of fact, she found herself thinking, just who was he? The older nun looked at the young man with an expression of deep trust and expectation. Just who was he to have gotten that level of trust? Who was he to her?
"Why would they listen to me?" Kaale narrowed his eyes, a look of apprehension written all over his face. Meiyun sighed inwardly and shut her mouth, glad that she wasn't the only one who had doubts.
"Because you can be very persuasive when you want to be," Yuanli said, a knowing look on her aged face. Meiyun blinked, confused. What exactly did she mean by that? "I trust you, I always have. The others will as well. Ready?"
Kaale took a deep breath and nodded. The old nun looked at Meiyun, who bowed quietly.
"Then let's go," she said and opened the door to the chamber.
The hall was small, considering it was the meeting area for the Western Air Temple's Council of Elders. There was a single large opening, letting the outside sunlight stream in brightly. Numerous scrolls and painting of flying bison littered the walls. At the back of the room, the other two elders sat on cushions, their conversation was ceased at the entrance of the new arrivals. Yuanli, followed by Kaale and Meiyun, approached the line of elder nuns. Gesturing for the others to take a seat before the elders, Yuanli continues to the back of the room, and took a seat in between the other old nuns.
"Sister Meiyun," began Yuanli, speaking in a formal tone. "Please introduce our visitor to our Council of Elders."
She was sure, because of his familiarity with the temple and of Sister Yuanli, Kaale most likely knew the other elders already. But, she obeyed with a small bow. "First, is our representative to the Council of State and Government, Sister Kuan." She gestured to the nun to the right of Yuanli. The old woman had a shock of white hair falling down her back. Her blue airbending master tattoos were faded with age, but still shone on her slightly wrinkled forehead. "Our, representative to the Council of Religious Authority, Sister Diaoxin..." She gestured to the other nun, who looked much younger, but had extremely short, grey hair. "And, last, we have the Mother Superior of the Western Air Temple, Sister Yuanli." She finished, and bowed to all three elders. Kaale followed suit, bowing to each individually.
"Together, we are the Western Air Temple's Council of Elders." Sister Diaoxin spoke, locking her eyes on Kaale. "Now, we assume you know of what is to befall us, or you would not have been brought before us. Who are you?"
Meiyun sat up strait, surprised. So, the other elder nuns didn't know him...
"My name is Kaale Isan. I am an old acquaintance of Sister Yuanli. She summoned me immediately after hearing the news," Kaale said, sweeping his eyes down the line of nuns.
"Then, tell us Kaale, what do you know?" Sister Kuan elicited, holding her hands out before her.
"The Avatar disappeared. At the same time, the Fire Nation mobilized its military to strike at the other nations. One force is going to the Southern Air Temple, where the Avatar was. One force is moving on the Earth Kingdom. And finally, one force is coming here."
Nodding, Sister Kuan's eyes lingered in the young man. "That is correct. The winds have told us that the Fire Nation will reach us in two days, the same time as the Southern Air Temple and the Earth Kingdom. It seems as though the Fire Nation will begin a war with each country except the Water Tribes. But as to why..."
Kaale shook his head. "No, they will take the Water Tribe as well. It will just take them longer. The Water Tribes are isolated and far away from other nations. They will secure the surrounding areas to strike from, which may take a very long time depending on the situation, and then strike."
"How do you know their plans?" Sister Diaoxin asked, confusion written on her round features.
Kaale was silent for a moment, thinking of his answer. "It is what I would do."
Both of the other elders turned their attention to each other, as if communicating with nothing but their eyes. Yuanli cleared her throat and held her hand towards the Kaale.
"Kaale, do you think the Fire Nation will indeed attack us? And if they do, what would you have us do?"
"It is hard to say..." he said slowly. "There is no other reason why their armies would be moving, so I would have to say it is likely going to happen." He bowed his head. "If it does, the airbenders will be in grave danger. You must prepare to defend yourselves. I know you are pacifists, and by custom, do not fight... but if forced, I implore you to fight back." Lifting his head again, he stared at the elder nuns. "Please. You must prepare yourselves."
The elders were silent for a few minutes. Periodically, they looked to one another, to Meiyun and Kaale, and then to the floor. Meiyun, for all she had been through this morning, was doing better than she had thought she would. But, as she thought about the fact, she became very concerned. If the Fire Nation army did show up at the temple... could she fight? Could she defend herself from death?
She had attained airbending mastery, and had successfully passed the thirty-six levels of airbending... but it had taken her quite a long time. It had always seemed to her that the masters had expected more out of her than anybody else. She understood why everyone expected so much from her, but it just never seemed all that fair to her. Her parents had apparently been very powerful airbending masters in their days. However, being part of the Air Nomad culture, they had never really spent much time as a family. The Air Nomads were a collective order of monks and nuns. Because of this, the concept of family, while familiar to them, was not traditionally practiced. When her parents died as a young girl, she remembered being sad. But, as she was raised by the community of nuns and monks, she was never alone.
As she got older and was taught airbending, she had been known as the 'clutz' of the nuns. She could airbend just fine. In fact, when in the right frame of mind, she excelled at airbending. She had, at times, been far superior to her classmates and fellow airbenders even older than she was. Those were rare times, though. Most times, she would have a staff pushed into her hands and her clumsiness would take over, ending with a nice bump on her forehead for her trouble. She had done exactly as her masters had told and shown her. She had copied their gestures and forms exactly. But practically every time she did, if felt wrong. She would miss a step or lose her balance, falling over dramatically with her robes flying over her head.
Thus, after finally getting through her thirty-six airbending forms, she decided to stay away from airbending and became the Temple's archivist. She would never have to do much airbending that way. She would get to stay out of everyone's way. She would never have to fight.
So, when the thought of fighting, even to defend herself, sprung into her mind like a chipmunk squirrel... she hesitated. Could she even try?
The elders' voices brought the young airbender's thought back to the situation at hand. "-too much to do, and little time to do it." Sister Kuan was saying, looking and Yuanli. "We do not have many nuns here, and just a few visiting monks. Even our bison herd is small."
Diaoxin leaned forward gracefully. "True. However, even if the force coming here is extremely large, it will take them time to reach us. And even longer to overtake the temple. We could hold out while we send for assistance."
"How long do you think we can hold out until help arrives?" Yuanli put in, aiming the question at Kaale.
He thought for a few moments. "The Western Air Temple lies underneath the edge of a cliff. The gives you the advantage of position... at least," he added. "Until they figure out how to get underneath the cliff or scale the wall from underneath." Shaking his head, he sighed. "As for how long... I do not know. It depends on the skills of the general leading them."
Meiyun released a breath she didn't know she had been holding. At least they could hold out a little while longer.
"What about the Southern Air Temple?" asked Sister Kuan. "They are on the top of a mountain, impossible to reach without bison." Kaale gave a hollow laugh.
"I hate to be the one to tell you, but bison are not the only way to get to that temple. We can only hope the Fire Nation will take longer to find that out."
Another minute of silence passed before Yuanli nodded. "Very well. I think we know what course of action to take." She tilted her head towards Sister Kuan beside her. "Kuan, you will gather the nuns and monks to tell them of the approaching storm. Try and keep them peaceful, if at all possible." She looked at Diaoxin. "Diaoxin, if you would be so kind, go to the stores and check on our supplies with a few nuns. Food, water, materials we could use... anything." With that, she turned her attention back to the young man in front of her. "Kaale, I would ask something of you... as a friend."
"What would you have me do?"
"I want you to take Meiyun and go to the Southern Air Temple. Go there and help them if possible."
Meiyun's back stiffened. She wanted her to leave the temple? Leave when it was possible the temple would be overrun and destroyed? Run away...?
Kaale voice leaked past the suddenly ringing sound in her ears. "What madness is this? I should stay here and help against the assault!" His tone rose sharply.
"You could, yes." The older woman reasoned. "But your skills could and should be used elsewhere. Sister Meiyun is the archivist of our temple, and as such, she is charged with the history of our people. She cannot stay here. If she does, and the worst should happen, then our temple's history is lost." Her voice was even, steady, and firm. A first, Meiyun noticed, against the young man before her. "You need to protect her."
Kaale looked over his shoulder to the young airbender behind him. He stared at her for a long minute, carefully looking at her face. With a growl, he turned back to the elders. "Very well," he said softly. "I will take her in my charge. You said you wanted me to go to the Southern Air Temple?"
"Yes. You two should have enough time to fly there by bison before the Fire Nation army finds a way up the mountain. When you get there, you may meet with-"
"Monks Pasang, Tashi, Gyatso, and the other elders of the temple, yes." Kaale nodded.
The other elder nuns exchanged looks, clearly surprised at his knowledge of the other temple's elder monks. Yuanli ignored their confusion and pressed on. "Good, you remember. Meet with them when you get there. Pasang and Gyatso should remember you. They will know how to proceed."
"When do I leave?"
Yuanli glanced at Meiyun. "Sister, how long will it take you to preserve the archives, gather your things, and depart?" The younger women stammered in surprise. Too many things were happening for her to keep up. Books were so much easier.
"U-um..." she croaked. "About half a day..."
"Very well." Yuanli nodded and stood up, the other elders followed her example. "Kaale, accompany Sister Meiyun as she prepares to leave. When you are ready, go to the bison pen." She bowed deeply, causing Meiyun to bow even lower. "Until then."
Kaale returned the bow to each elder, and turned to Meiyun, his face impassive.
"Let us go."
With shaking hands, Meiyun tried her best to secure the scrolls and texts in the archives. She had been taught the proper methods of preserving the most important parts, but now, for the life of her, she could not remember how. Kaale assisted her by moving what scrolls she told him to, and hid them away in the deepest part of the archives. She didn't even have time to ask any questions, she was moving so fast. Even if she could slow down enough to talk, she had too many questions to ask at one time.
What was going to happen to the airbenders?
What was going to happen to the temple?
Who was Kaale?
How did he know so much about the Air Nomads?
How did he know what the Fire Nation was going to do?
How did he know Sister Yuanli?
Dozens of questions raced through her head as she carried scroll after scroll around the large hall. She was so conflicted and rushed that she barely had time to cry out as she tripped over a chair. She braced for the pain of falling, but was surprised when she found herself held up by the young man's arm. He had rushed over to catch her; rushed over from over ten meters away!
"H-how?" she stammered. Kaale glared and lifted her back up to her feet.
"Are you not an airbender?" he chastised harshly, causing a frightened feeling to well up in her chest. "Watch your step." With that he whirled away towards a large stack of paper on a table.
"Sorry..." Meiyun mumbled quietly to herself. Apparently, it wasn't quite enough to go unheard.
"What?" Kaale growled, looked back over his shoulder at her.
The airbender felt her face heat up. "I said I'm sorry!" She was surprised at her own tone. "Sorry I'm clumsy! Sorry I got pushed onto you! Sorry I-I..." She felt her heart pump heavily in her chest. "I don't know!" She cried and threw the book she was holding on the ground. "This is too much!"
Kaale turned fully around, his angry look wiped from his face.
Meiyun took that as a clear message that she could now speak her mind. "The Avatar! The Fire Nation! War! Leaving the temple! You! All of this is too much! I don't know what to think! I woke up this morning like a normal day!" Her voice, she noticed, was loud and shrill. "And then you come here... I had never seen Sister Yuanli act like that! Then the Avatar is gone, the Fire Nation is coming and I don't know what is going to happen! I was just pulled along like... like... Ahhhh!" She cried out and flung her hands at the nearest table, blowing a torrent of air at it. The table overturned, causing books, scrolls, and paper to fly up into the air with a gust of wind.
Meiyun stood there for a few quiet moments, breathing heavily. Kaale simply stared at her, a strangely curious look on his face. After steadying her heartbeat, the airbender sighed heavily.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have yelled. It has been a stressful morning." With that, she walked over to the upturned table and righted it, picking up the books that fell.
"You are clumsy?" came the question. Meiyun looked up to see the same humorous smile on Kaale's face. She couldn't help it. Meiyun snorted a laugh.
"Clumsy? Yea, to say the least."
"But you are still an airbending master. You cannot be all that clumsy," he said, pointing to the azure tattoo scrawled on her forehead.
Meiyun sighed and whisked her hand in front of her, blowing the dust that had picked up from her outburst away with a sharp gust of wind. She picked up the books and put them back on the table. "Oh... you would be surprised. I got lucky on my thirty-six forms. And I had to take the tests.... three times."
Kaale chuckled. "Well, you still passed, did you not? I would say then, you aren't all that clumsy." He walked over to her and picked up a few of the scrolls that had fallen during her rant. "You just need to concentrate, and let the feelings flow. Then you can do anything." He took the books she was holding from her grip and smiled again. "I'm sorry. I did not mean to snap at you. It is a lot for me to take in, as well."
Meiyun felt her ears burn and she turned away. "Don't worry. I just have many questions, but no time to think about them."
She heard the young man's voice from the table behind her. "Well, take your time and ask when you can think of anything. Until then, let us finish up and prepare to leave. Alright, Sister?"
Meiyun turned back after picking up another book. "Mei. You can call me Mei."
The sun was setting when Kaale and Meiyun arrived at the sky bison pen. It had taken longer than she had thought; to preserve the records in the archive. Apparently, there had been much more documents worth saving and protecting than she remembered. But with Kaale's help, they had moved all the documents, scrolls, and texts into the safe room. The safe room was essentially the deeper part of the archives that was harder to access. It would not stop anybody really determined though. The temple had been designed and built under the impression that being attacked by an army was highly unlikely.
After finishing, the pair had returned to her room. Kaale politely waited outside while Meiyun gathered her things. Her staff, a couple sets of robes, a few scrolls and texts that were too important to leave at the temple, were all gathered and put into her pack. Lastly, she picked up a bracelet from under her pillow. The bracelet was her family keepsake. It was old, but extremely well made. It was made with beads of polished oakfern and strung together with sky bison hair. It was her favorite possession. If she was to leave, and maybe never come back, she had better not forget it.
After finishing with her room, she rejoined Kaale and set out to find many of the nuns rushing around the temple. Sister Kuan had obviously told the temple of what was going to happen, and she had never seen so much activity in the halls before. The nuns all but ran past each other, either rushing to complete their duties, or just trying to calm themselves down. The few monks fared no better as they shuffled around the temple halls, debating whether or not to risk returning to their own temples.
"Mei!" a pair of nuns called out as Meiyun and Kaale came out into the courtyard. The three girls dashed to each other and held hands. "We heard you are leaving the temple!"
Meiyun glanced back at Kaale, who nodded and stepped away. "Yes... the Council has ordered me to seek refuge at the other temples in case the... in case the worst should happen."
One of the girls gasped sharply. "So it's true! The Fire Nation really is coming? Oh no!"
"What can we do?" the other asked, clearly frightened.
Meiyun clasped their hands tightly. "Listen to me, sisters." She knew she had never been the strongest or the bravest girl in the world, or even the temple for that matter. But, if she could help them even a little, she would do her best. "You will be just fine. The Fire Nation is coming, yes. But they will not be able to get to the temple. I am only leaving as a precaution. Just follow the elder's lead and you will all be perfectly fine. Alright?"
The girls stared at each other for a long moment, but seemed satisfied. "Just be careful, alright?" one of them told Meiyun. They looked past her towards Kaale, who was waiting with his arms crossed. "We heard someone was going with you. Is that...?"
"Yes, he is an old friend of Sister Yuanli's. She trusts him a lot. I should be safe with him."
The two girls exchanged looks and smiled.
Both girls spoke at the same time and let go of her hands, satisfied. Meiyun felt her face tingle and knew she was blushing.
"Hey!" one of her friends called to Kaale. "You take care of our Mei, you understand?"
Kaale turned towards them and simply bowed. Her friend nodded.
"Good. Bye Mei!" her friend said.
"Byebye! Hope to see you soon!" The other called as they ran into the closest hallway. Kaale made his way back to the airbenders side as she stared after her friends. After a minute, she let out a deep breath.
"I will never see them again, will I?" she asked softly.
"I do not know. You may yet be able to." He turned and continued through the courtyard. On the other side was the sky bison pen.
"Byebye..." Meiyun whispered to herself and followed Kaale through the large archway. On the other side of the archway were many different sizes of sky bison, their large, imposing forms filling up most of the extremely large area's free space.
According to the Air Nomad mythos, the large creatures were the very first airbenders. Even with their large size, the lumbering giants could leap into the air and soar through the sky. Each airbender, at one time, would pair him or herself with a bison. The bison they pair with would be that airbender's lifetime partner. With such a large partner, there was no distance too far or no height too high. Kaale stood before the small herd of creatures and stared. Meiyun caught up to him and smirked.
"Don't tell me you have a bison, too?"
Kaale blinked and peered at the airbender. "What makes you say that?"
"Well, you seem very knowledgeable about airbenders, our culture, our elders, and our temples. It certainly wouldn't surprise me. You're not an airbender, too, are you?" At this point, she wouldn't have been surprised.
Kaale chuckled and shook his head. He was about to answer when Yuanli called out from the side.
"Finally! You two certainly took long enough." She walked up and swept her eyes over the pair. "I was worried you had already left. Have you finished with the archives?" she asked Meiyun.
"Yes. It is done," she replied.
"You are prepared to leave?"
Meiyun hesitated for a moment. "Y-yes. I am ready." Yuanli nodded and turned towards the small hard of bison.
"Give me a few moments and I will give you Iila, my bison."
Kaale blinked, clearly surprised. "Your bison?"
Yuanli nodded and set off into the herd. Kaale exchanged glances with Meiyun. "We aren't using your bison?"
Meiyun felt her face fall. She knew it would come up, but it didn't make it any easier. She sighed and put her hands on the stone barrier in front of her. "I don't have a bison anymore. I chose Ono when I was a girl... she was a beautiful and strong partner. The best one could ever ask for."
Kaale was silent. He knew where this was going.
"I was twelve when she got sick. She didn't suffer very long, though. She died a week later. It was fast and painless, from what Sister Iio told me. Ever since then..." She hesitated. "Ever since then, I couldn't try and befriend another. It was too painful. So, I decided then to become an archivist." She smiled guiltily at the young man beside her. "Archivists don't have to fly around too much, you know?"
Kaale nodded and returned his attention to the giant animals in front of him. A few quiet minutes later, Yuanli walked through a pair of large bison, followed by a somewhat smaller, but older one.
She approached Meiyun and Kaale and gestured to the large creature following her. "This is Iila, she may be small and old, like me... but she's fast. She will get you to where you need to go." She reached out and stroked the bison's nose. "Take care of them, won't you, my friend?" The bison huffed in response and sniffed at the old woman's hand.
"Are you sure about this, Yuanli?" Kaale asked, vaulting lightly over the stone barrier after Meiyun.
"Do not make me change my mind, Kaale. You owe me that much." She turned to him and smiled. "Or would you prefer that I blackmail you into it?"
Kaale held up his hands and laughed nervously. "Very well, I will accept." He glanced at Meiyun with an expression that seemed to say 'women can be dangerous when they want to be'.
Yuanli took a step forward and clasped Kaale hands in hers, causing his expression to become serious. The two stood still for a long moment, looking at each other's face silently. Meiyun looked from Yuanli to Kaale, and back to Meiyun, feeling her cheeks warm again. She suddenly felt very uncomfortable and tried to shrink back into the Iila's grey fur. After what seemed like a longer time than it was, the two released each other's hands and looked awkwardly at each other.
"Well..." Kaale began, gesturing to the harness on top of Iila. "The sooner we go the sooner we get to the Southern Air Temple." He stepped towards the bison, but stopped when Yuanli put her hand to the side of his face.
"Take care of yourself..." she said softly. Kaale swallowed and nodded slowly, a suddenly afraid look creeping up in his face. "I mean it. Thank you."
Kaale reached up and, after hesitating, ran his thumb down the old woman's cheek. "Yea... you too, Li." He whispered.
Meiyun felt her breath hitch in her throat it dawned on her; they knew they would never see each other again. They both knew enough about what would happen to understand that this would be the last time they could say anything to each other. She didn't know their circumstances, but she knew enough not to interfere. With a smooth wind-assisted jump, she reached the harness secured around Iila. She must be, Meiyun thought as and looked at the old bison's grey fur, giving us her bison because she knows help may not arrive in time.
Pushing down the growing feeling of apprehension, she waited patiently for Kaale to board Iila. After a few moments, she head Kaale mutter a goodbye and climbed the large animal. He settled into the harness and heaved a quiet sigh.
Meiyun slid herself to the front of the harness and grabbed the leather straps attached to the bison's small horns. She leaned over and caught Yuanli's eye.
"Goodbye Sister... We will meet again," the old nun said with a smile. The younger airbender bowed as best she could while sitting on the bison. Yuanli returned the bow and gave a small wave.
"Alright, Iila, let's go! To the Southern Air Temple!" Meiyun called and with soft rumble, the bison leapt into the air, taking flight.
As they left the pen into the clear blue sky, Meiyun looked back once more to wave goodbye to her airbending master. However, Yuanli had already retreated back into the growing shadow of the temple.
To be continued in...
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