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September 4, 2013
This Side of the Glass
Chapter Seven: Perception
"You kids have some explaining to do," the young woman said. "And you'd better talk or we'll leave you to the unagi again."
Some ambush that was. The attackers had turned out to be a small group of painted ladies, keen only on capturing my friends, not killing them. For that, I was grateful. But this situation was childish nonetheless. How they did not recognize Aang for what and who he was as well as Sokka and Katara as innocent teenagers, not the Fire Nation, left me flustered. And now these green women, armed only with fans, had the audacity to demand things of the Avatar that were far beyond their authority. Their ignorance was unmatched—the stuff of legend—I thought. Oh, the court jesters would have a field day, making songs of their lunacy. Yet something about their character wakened my curiosity from its slumber.
"Show yourselves, cowards!" Sokka said.
A fine statement, Sokka, if not for your current state of vulnerability. The boy had heart though, I would give him at least that much.
One by one, the women took off their folds, allowing them to see their captors. I could suspect their reaction before it came. Or, at least Sokka's.
"Who are you? Where are the men that ambushed us?" Sokka asked. Looking around some more, he leaned over to Aang and whispered, "and where's Atlas?"
"We're the ones who ambushed you," the young woman said, "and now you'll tell us who you are and state your business or it's the unagi for you."
"Wait, there is no way a bunch of girls took us down!" Sokka said, an exasperated look on his face.
"Why, you will show the warriors of Kyoshi respect! It looks like the unagi will be feasting tonight," she said.
Oh Sokka, perhaps a little too much heart and a little too much naivete. He would have to learn that the captor always does the speaking, or the mocking for that matter. The tongue does not fare well when there is not a body to defend it.
"Wait," Aang blurted out, "you're 'warriors of Kyoshi'? I know Kyoshi!"
A moment of silence passed over the group, and for the slightest bit, I could hear the song birds singing their delicate canticle beneath the morning sun. It felt good to pause and watch as the royal trees, vested in their distinct green plumage, swayed silently with the wind; a lulling, hypnotic rhythm. Together, the birds, the trees, the sun, the faint sound of the crashing waves pulled me from the scene of frivolity before me. A nice moment, it was, to think and see and feel the world from a much larger perspective.
"Ha," the young woman scoffed, "You can't possibly know Avatar Kyoshi. She lived over three hundred years ago."
Aang looked cornered. He was running out of explanations. "I know her because I'm the Avatar," he said.
The young woman looked at him with her head cocked to the side like he was a clumsy fool. "That's not possible," she said, "the last Avatar was an airbender who disappeared a hundred years ago. Throw this imposter and his mates to the unagi!"
Pitiful, I thought, how at times one can be so ignorant as to pass judgement on others without first passing judgement on one's own thoughts. Oh, how blind they were to chasm before their feet, thinking that they could just saunter on. For their lack of judgement, I suppose I would have to suffice as the judge; and their bridge to reason.
"You dare threaten the Avatar?" My voice rang out among the crowd, a clear yet ominous rumble of sound.
At once, everyone craned their necks, searching for the source of my voice. But I was nowhere to be found, I knew that. Time was my cloak, and wrapped up in it, I was hidden. An wave of fear ran through the crowd when they could not spot me. A good effect, I thought, it would only help in ensuring my message was delivered.
I took in another breath to speak again. "I ask you once more, and you will do well to answer me. You dare threaten the Avatar?"
This time my voice was more forceful, like a thunderclap in the mountains. The faces of everyone showed that with their growing fear, the color draining from their visages. But it was the warriors I wished to hear from, and they seemed too stunned to speak, their faces showing blank stares.
"I will ask you one last time, warriors, and do not think I cannot smite you down where you stand. You dare threaten the Avatar?"
These girls were good, I would give them that. Fearlessness and bravery would do them well in battle, but what of the unseen, the silent, the equally deadly. To that, no amount of bravery could steel their minds against the hidden horrors I could unleash. Like disease run rampant across the land, I thought.
Quiety, I let the electrical force grow within me, brining about an upwelling of static discharges from all around. Upon seeing the sparks and ragged streaks of electrical bolts, the warriors began trembling. No fan of theirs could save them. They knew that. Now, at least, I was getting some response. But it was not a physical reaction I was looking for. I wanted words.
"So be it then!—"
"Wait," the young woman said, dropping to her knees and holding up her hands in defense and submission. "I'm sorry, Avatar, for threatening you. We are all sorry."
"It is not the Avatar with whom you speak," I watched as their heads slowly rose from their fear-driven bows. "You speak with Atlas. A god who had only come to aid your people, yet he found his friends taken."
The woman leader's eyes went wide with fright. "Please, Atlas, forgive us. We did not know who they were," she pleaded. With their lives on the line, what other option did she have?
With that I revealed myself, exiting the pocket within Time in which I had resided. My form shimmered between the immaterial and the material, parts of me absent at one moment were there the next. It was haunting, watching myself fade back to reality. I could only imagine what it was like for all those before me.
Taking a step forward, I addressed them all: "I am Atlas, son of the White. And you, the people of Kyoshi, have done wrong. It pains me to be forced to take action, yet I am forbidden to yield. It pains me, that you would do such an unspeakable thing, for you do not look dangerous, in appearance. But, I digress. As is concurrent with the Old Laws, such insolence would merit a swift and unavoidable death, there is no question about it." I paced back and forth, my hands clasped behind me, watching each terror-stricken face—eyes, rimmed with terror and tears, running in despair. They truly thought I would destroy them all. "But," I began, "the times have changed and with the circumstances that arise with social upheaval, I cannot act. You are saved." I watched as faces slowly deflated in relief and surprise and shock. "Your ignorance may have brought this all to pass, but it is the reason I cannot take action against your acts. Your lives are yours."
A simultaneous sigh rushed through the crowd. In a matter of seconds the stormy atmosphere calmed to that of a casual gathering.
"Thank you, Atlas, thank you." the young woman said, chancing a look at me. "Might I ask, why it is you chose to spare us for our ignorance?"
I looked at her. I looked at everyone, staring deep into the hundreds of eyes transfixed on me. I waited until every dark, light, green, gray, and blue pupil returned my favor. Then I began. "I spared you, people of Kyoshi, because of the fact you acted out of ignorance. You know that now. The same cannot be said of the Fire Nation. If you had consciously known that here came the Avatar and his friends, and had taken the same course of action in capturing him and his friends, then I would have had reason to act. That you genuinely were unaware of the Avatar's identity was your salvation, however absurd that may be.
"Perception," I continued, "is often the pivotal component in judging guilt or innocence. In choosing to act, the intent is not always the same as the deed. For example, you were intent on capturing my friends without knowledge of their identity in the hopes of keeping your people safe. In that, your intent was much different than if you knowingly captured them despite their identity. The deed may have been the same in both cases, yes, but your intent is what saved you. Your lack of perception, anyways."
Understanding dawned upon the warriors, and behind them the entire village. People began nodding their heads in agreement and hugging each other to celebrate the chance passing of their near fatal experience. However, the warriors remained kneeled down in the dirt, bowing their heads in newfound respect, shame, or a combination of both; I knew not what.
"Atlas," the young woman said, "We, the Warriors of Kyoshi would like to plead forgiveness from you and the Avatar. And, we would like to welcome you and your friends to our home in the hopes that you could reinstate our honor from our efforts of hospitality."
The woman warrior extended her armored hands, gesturing with open arms to ensure that we would be embraced kindly.
I stood still for a moment, glancing over to Aang and the others. He gave me the slightest nod. "We accept your sincere apology. Let bygones be bygones, and together, let us usher in a period of peace for this island, and with considerable effort, the wider world."
I finished, bowing my head as a sign of mutual respect. With that, the crowd went wild with glee, rushing in to embrace us all. Afterwards, I could not recount how many times people touched me, in curiosity to know feel of a god. Aang was passed among the crowd like an exotic animal, greeted by any and all with amazement. Even Sokka and Katara seemed to be getting much attention, also.
Throughout the rest of the morning, everyone greeted us with a seemingly endless stream of bows, smiles, and offerings of food and goods. The sight was incredible. Following their little ordeal, the entire town shared a single mindset—finding solace in the strength of many. It was an endearing quality seen in few places I had been to, for those worlds were divided, locked in a war between nations and towns and families and siblings.
Here we were welcomed—even despite my ominous persona. Here I could walk with my hood down, watching everything with my impossibly gray eyes. It was a feeling I had seldom experienced. The nakedness of having someone look into my eyes, instead of the maw of a dark hood, and study me as I studied them. It made me feel less, I would say, powerful—intimidating, even. It elevated these people to the same level as me, and for once, I cherished that feeling. It was exhilarating to walk without the hood on, to feel the cool ocean breeze blowing through my coarse brown hair, lifting it and throwing it where it may. The way the wind cooled my face and neck was something so inexplicably delightful, I could not reason why I ever agreed to wear that mask.
"You should take off your hood more often, Atlas," Katara said. Her gaze was fixed upon my features, perhaps grasping the rare opportunity to see me out of uniform.
To the front of our little train was Aang and Sokka, who were talking with the woman leader, whose name turned out to be Suki. Behind them walked a few other Kyoshi Warriors, and trailing the group, was Katara and I. I knew not where we were headed, but I did not care much. It was a nice day.
"Do you say so, Katara?" I asked, running a hand through my hair. It felt strangely pleasant.
"Yes, you look much more...human. I like that about you, Atlas."
She locked eyes with me, making that exposed feeling wash over me once again. "That although you are a god, you still retain a human image," she said. "That despite your influence and power you are still as friendly and as 'down to earth' as any of us," Katara gestured to herself, placing a splayed hand on her chest. "That is what I like about you, Atlas."
I simply watched her and she, me. The group slowly drifted away from us, yet we did not care. There was a quality in her; I could sense it—a divine element within her that set her apart from the rest. I could see it, hidden beneath the human cloak, faint at first but blatantly obvious once noticed. She had an aptitude for unearthing the unknown, for discerning the good from the bad, and the angelic ability of looking into others and seeing what made their hearts beat and their minds race.
"I say thanks, Katara, that is very kind of you to say," I said.
"It's no problem," she curled a lock of hair behind her left ear. After a moment, she continued. "Atlas, could I ask you something?" she asked.
Her voice had gotten steadily softer, until it was barely a whisper. I knew not where our conversation lead, yet I had the feeling that it would lead to a fork, where one path spelled goodness, and the other spelled the opposite.
"Well," she began, "Atlas, I've really started to—"
"Oy!" Sokka yelled back from the lead group, cutting Katara off, "Would you guys hurry it up back there!" He wildly waved both arms back and forth, as if it would somehow reel us in.
"Coming, Sokka," I called back.
Taking a step forward, I turned to see Katara rooted in place.
"Did you want to finish your thought, Katara?"
She looked at me, her eyes burning with the most furious intensity I had seen in ages. Something within her was screaming, pining to be loosed and given free roam. But, at the last second, it extinguished, leaving two hazel orbs staring back at me.
"No. We should catch up with the group," Katara said.
She turned and walked off, leaving me at my wit's end about what had just transpired. Perhaps, I was not as acquainted with human nature as I had thought. Perhaps, I was just as I always was: a god and no more. What was I thinking, to believe what Katara had said about my humanity. I was a mere spectator to the quarrels of man, never to truly take part in their struggle. I would always be a god, and no more. With that, I turned, and followed suit, placing one godly foot carefully in the sandy footsteps of the men before me. Like water and oil, I thought. Two liquids at sight, but as separated as if solids when mixed.
"It is all perception." I said to myself with a sigh, pulling up my hood. "Perception..."
|As the Tide Breaks|
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