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|Three Children, Three Journeys|
Previously on Energy Saga
When Aang arrives at the Southern Air Temple, he finds the place completely altered from the way he left it. Icarus has overthrown the Council of Elders and declared himself "Air Lord" of the newly-formed Air Nation, allying himself with Zhao Jr., who apparently survived the battle at the capital. Aang lashes out at Icarus and intends to take away his airbending, when he finds out that Icarus has Vameira captive and will kill her if Aang interferes with his newly-formed Air Nation any more.
Chapter Thirty: Three Children, Three Journeys
Fire Nation, 121 AG
Tenzin had been on the road for a few weeks now. Since he was used to traveling on a sky bison, he had underestimated how long it would take to go places by foot. However, Tenzin was not bothered by the amount of time he had spent on the road. Currently, his mind was preoccupied elsewhere – with his parents.
Tenzin's father had won the battle which had been the turning point of the war single-handedly. Tenzin was relieved to hear this news. But then he heard that this impossible feat carried with it an unbearable cost. Now it was as though his mother was dead, but worse. She would still be among them – but as a pale shadow of her former self – to remind them of their loss each and every day.
Tenzin wondered whether he should be furious at his dad, as what happened to his mom was his fault. In the time that Tenzin had been away, something horrible had happened to his mother. But what if something happened to his father as well? And the last words that they spoke to each other were the argument on the night Tenzin had run away? Even if his father had made a mistake, did Tenzin really want it to end like that for them?
The last time he saw his dad they had parted on bad terms, but Tenzin could not deny that he had the best of intentions about not wanting Tenzin to go. He must feel guilty for what he did. Tenzin knew it was an accident, for his father would never do something like that on purpose. Knowing his dad, Tenzin doubted that he would give up hope in searching for a way to rejuvenate his mother, no matter how hopeless an endeavor it seemed. Tenzin felt the urge now more than ever to get back to his family. Even though he could not change things on his own, Tenzin believed it was his duty to be with them again.
After what happened in the battle, Tenzin imagined that his family would no longer be busying themselves with the war in the Fire Nation. They probably returned to the South Pole, so there was where he would have to go to rejoin them. It would seem easy to go to an airship port and board a passenger vessel. After all, Tenzin had passed by a couple on his travels already. But an airship ticket to the Southern Water Tribe would be expensive – and Tenzin, at the moment, was broke. He considered sneaking on as a stowaway, but the Fire Nation was still largely an unstable country due to the ongoing civil war and flights going to and from the Fire Nation were not to be trusted. Commercial airship travel was also a relatively new industry and many were still skeptical of its reliability anywhere.
Instead, he would make his way to the Fire Nation Capital again, to his parents' friends there. Of all the members of the old "Team Avatar," Zuko was the nearest. Tenzin was sure that if he arrived on his doorstep, Zuko would help him reach his family. He may even get a proper meal out of it, with Zuko being the Fire Lord and all. Of course, it was the Fire Lord's daughter that interested him more. Tenzin grew lost in his thoughts – daydreaming about what would happen the next time he met up with Princess Neinei.
The Princess of the Fire Nation was on the slick grass of the palace courtyard, lying on her belly. She had her elbows resting on the ground and her palms touching her cheeks as she stared at the turtle ducks swimming on the garden pond. It was just another day and she was bored.
That was – until Tenzin arrived at the scene. Through the closest archway, the strong, energetic young airbending master emerged and the light snapped back into Neinei's amber eyes as she rose to her feet, brushing the pieces of grass off her crimson royal robes.
"Tenzin!" exclaimed Neinei. "It's great to finally see you again!"
"Likewise Neinei, my love," Tenzin said back to her in his seductive, manly voice.
"Where have you been?" asked Neinei. "I've been missing you sooo much! Ever since the last time you came to the palace, all I've been able to think about was when I would see you again."
"I ran away from home and joined the army," said Tenzin with smugness. "I fought a dragon. Then I used my airbending skills to save some of my comrades from drowning. Nothing too big."
Neinei placed her hands crossed just above her heart. "Oh my – how brave of you. You're so heroic, Tenzin! And you've gotten so strong and muscular." Neinei grabbed Tenzin's upper arm and squeezed his bicep.
"I know," said Tenzin, grinning agreeably. "I'm amazing, aren't I?"
"Yes Tenzin, you are amazing." Neinei caressed his face with her smooth hand before wrapping both arms around his neck in an embrace. She then proceeded to kiss him passionately on the lips.
Tenzin was now sure that would be exactly how it would play out when he saw her again. Now, all he had to do was get to the Fire Nation Capital as fast as he could. His fantasy would be his motivation along the way.
Tenzin came to a forested area. The towering trees cast a dark shadow over the landscape. He would have to be on his guard now, for he knew not what lurkers might be about in those barren woodlands.
Just as Tenzin was entering the forest – glider staff cautiously before him – he heard a strange voice calling out to him. "Halt! Who goes there?" Tenzin rotated about to find two heavy-set men mounting camelephants, pointing spears straight at him. They wore Fire Nation uniforms. To the average observer, it would be challenging to tell if they were from the Fire Army or the Phoenix Army. Tenzin, however, having served his time in the Fire Nation Civil War, could tell right off the bat that they hailed from the Phoenix Army.
"I was just passing through," Tenzin told them, attempting to keep his voice steady and natural-sounding.
"You were just passing through?" echoed one of the men skeptically. "This happens to be a restricted location. To where were you passing through, might I ask?"
"I was just on my way to..." Tenzin stopped for a moment. He did not want to say he was going to the Fire Nation Capital. Since they were from the Phoenix Army, he had better give them a more neutral place. "Fire Fountain City."
The mounted warrior smirked at the young airbender. "Fire Fountain City, eh? Did you know you were going in the wrong direction?"
"Oh," said Tenzin nervously. "No, I did not. Thanks for letting me know. I'll just turn around and go back the other way then."
The cocky spearman shook his head. "I don't think so. We're going to bring you in for some questioning."
There was nothing more for it. Tenzin swiped his glider through the air, sending a gust of wind at the soldier who spoke to him. His body was knocked back and he slid down his saddle, but he had not fallen off his camelephant. Tenzin followed up with jump-kick, throwing a contained boost of air from his foot and sending the man flying from his saddle and into a tree.
Just as Tenzin reached the ground once again, the man's comrade was charging at him with his spear aimed at Tenzin's torso. The thirteen year-old Air Nomad bent his knees and pushed off from the ground, leaping up fifteen feet. The camelephant cavalryman had gone under him and was slowing himself down when Tenzin landed once again and punched the thin air in front of him, sending the warrior back a few feet. With a few seconds to spare, Tenzin cocked open his glider and took off into the air, flying away from his bested adversaries.
As Tenzin glided over the trees, the dazed warrior who had been flung against the tree trunk watched him fly away. "Was that an airbender?" the man asked his still-mounted comrade.
"Yes," confirmed his partner. "We'd better send out an alert."
After putting a fair amount of distance between himself and the Phoenix Army camelephant riders, Tenzin landed once more and skimmed the edge of the trees, just out of sight. He figured that they would come looking for him in the forest. On the other hand, if he were out in the open, he would be much easier to spot. Tenzin decided that splitting hairs was the best way to evade his followers. Also, he could keep a lookout for signs to indicate where he was.
He eventually heard the wails of an elderly woman coming from just down the road. Carefully, Tenzin peered out into the clearing and saw that she was accompanied by two much younger-looking women, who were also crying. By their clothing, they appeared to be holy persons – and it was clear that they were in some type of distress.
"Excuse me," Tenzin called out. "Sorry to interrupt, but – what's wrong?"
The old lady rubbed her eyes, sniffling. "Greetings, outsider. We are from a farming village, on the other side of this hill. We have only a small local population, but our numbers grew with an influx of refugees from parts of the countryside hit hard by the war. We offered them food, shelter and a chance to rebuild their life. But about a week ago, the Phoenix Army came upon our lands and demanded some of our crops. When we refused, they abducted all the young children as hostages and forced us all to work in servitude to help feed their garrisons."
"How horrible of them," said Tenzin in response.
"Indeed," said the lady. "The reason I told you this was so that you could spread word of our situation and fetch some help. There's a larger town a few miles from here. If you could go there to inform the authorities there, we'd be much obliged."
"Forget that," said Tenzin brashly. "Those children have been held long enough. Tell me where they are and I'll get them back myself."
The woman was taken aback. "That's very kind and brave of you, but you're just a boy. They have an entire platoon of well-trained soldiers. We need a lot more than just you for this job."
Tenzin laughed. "Lady, I happen to be an airbender. Never underestimate what an airbending master can do. Where are they?"
The woman sized him up, still harboring doubts. "Very well. Follow the forest path north up towards the peak and you'll come to a lodge on the mountainside where they set up their camp. They're holding the children inside the lodge. Remember...we're all counting on you."
With his acceptance of this new ordeal, Tenzin followed the woman's directions, climbing through the wilderness until he arrived at the encampment she had indicated. This must be the "restricted location" that the camelephant patrolmen had referred to earlier – where the kidnapped children were being held.
No sooner had he arrived than Tenzin could make out the presence of the Phoenix soldiers outside. Some were sitting on rocks on the ground while others were standing. They were making casual day-time conversation and standing guard. The floor of the forest clearing was littered with stray weapons and empty food containers. Although it was impossible to tell from the angle the young airbender was viewing, they appeared to have a stable on the farther side of the lodge. More camelephants back there, perhaps?
To avoid being found out, Tenzin crouched behind a set of shrubs. From this hiding spot he examined his surroundings. The lodge door was directly across from him. Not surprisingly, it was bolted shut, though the lock appeared weak, miniature and rusty. This Phoenix Army unit was stationed in the middle of nowhere, so they probably did not feel the need to invest in a better one. This would spare him the trouble of locating the key. Tenzin could easily pick that lock if he had too. Picking locks was a skill he had begun to learn in his time on the road.
Tenzin just needed to reach the door and release the captives. Then he would be on his merry way. Gently, he thrust his left arm diagonally and kinked his fist. A faint breeze emitted from his hand and ruffled the leaves of the trees about twenty feet away. The heads of the seated Fire Nation warriors rotated to look toward where the sound appeared to have come from. A few seconds of silence passed by and they shrugged it off and turned back, dismissing the noise as something ordinary. Tenzin jerked his hand forward again – this time with more force behind it. The leaves ruffled louder this time. The soldiers grabbed their weapons and rose to their feet. One of them pointed forward and gestured for the other warriors to follow.
When they were at last all facing away, Tenzin crawled out from behind the bushes and tip-toed in the direction of the door. He carried a small pin in his clothes that he would use to pick the door's lock with. All of a sudden, the soldiers stopped marching in to the woods. Tenzin discretely raised his arm and hurled a powerful gust of air past the guards and into the trees. It was strong enough to keep their attention, but positioned carefully so that they would not realize where it had actually originated from.
Tenzin tip-toed forward a little more. He was a mere few feet from the locked door. He was still out in the open, but he no longer worried about the guards. They were oblivious to him and searching intently for something that was not there. This was going to be too easy.
After Tenzin stepped his foot on a fallen branch, the Phoenix guards turned sharply about and laid their eyes upon the thirteen year-old airbender before them!
"Intruder!" shouted the one who had gestured to the others.
The group of six men ran towards Tenzin, three of them with spears and three clutching swords. Tenzin panicked and turned to leave, but was pushed to the ground by a big hand of a much larger person. When the guard had called out, another Phoenix soldier had arrived from around the opposite corner of the lodge.
Tenzin hit the ground hard, bruising both hands and arms and getting his clothes covered with dirt. He looked up into the eyes of the man who had pushed him down. He was the patroller on the camelephant who had questioned him earlier. Not looking pleased to see Tenzin again, he kicked the Air Nomad boy in the chest. Two of the warriors behind him pulled Tenzin to his feet by the arms. Tenzin struggled, flopping his arms in a futile attempt to escape their grasp as the patroller from before took his sword from beneath his belt. As the other warriors held Tenzin up, he prepared to stick his blade into Tenzin's heart. With only a moment to spare, Tenzin took a deep breath and exhaled with all his might, making his would-be executioner stumble backward and knocking the others off-balance in the process.
Tenzin could now see that the vengeful camelephant rider was not the only one that he had not seen in the encampment before. One of the Phoenix Army men who possessed the gift of firebending hurled a fireball at him. Tenzin managed to duck to dodge the oncoming blast, which hit another Phoenix Army soldier standing behind him. Tenzin put his glider into the air and spun it around, creating air currents which encircled him and formed into a mini-tornado. Tenzin had not perfected this advanced technique yet, having practiced it for the first time shortly before running away, but now was not the time to worry about that.
Because he would only be able to maintain the spiraling vortex around him for a short time, Tenzin took it around the encampment as hastily as he was able to. A handful of his Phoenix Army adversaries fell – he did not count exactly how many. When he finished and landed, he noticed that he had three opponents remaining. Tenzin threw air blasts left and right, but to no avail. The warriors and firebenders dodged with ease. Just then, Tenzin heard a thundering gallop coming from around the farther corner of the lodge, where he had suspected the camelephant stables would be. Two mounted guards came forward, but they were not on camelephants. Instead, they rode komodo rhinos. The heads of the giant animals were decorated with the Phoenix King symbols. The Phoenix King battle emblems looked like originals, too. Symbols like those had become rarer and rarer, given that the Hundred Year War was more than twenty years over and that the title of Phoenix King was only in official use in the last few days before Sozin's Comet.
As the cavalrymen grasped their reins and the komodo rhinos flared their nostrils, Tenzin received a blessing from wherever it was that random ideas come from. Rather than try to outrun the komodo rhinos, he ran toward the charging beasts. All the Phoenix Army guards were now confused. With correct timing, Tenzin leapt off his feet and landed on the saddle, of the komodo rhino, so his body was just in front of the rider's. The rider hesitated out of shock and no longer being able to see what was in front of his animal. Tenzin struck him in the jaw with his fist, rendering him unconscious – and knocked the other rider off his komodo rhino with an air kick.
The remaining Phoenix Army soldiers were astounded at Tenzin's actions. They raised their weapons, ready to carry on the fight. Tenzin swiped his glider and blew one of them into the trees and rolling down the mountainside and out of sight. In yet another unexpected move, he found pieces of rope in the satchel of the komodo rhino's previous rider. Tenzin tied a couple quick knots with a big loop at the end of each strand. He rose one above his head and spun it a few times before throwing the rope out and landing the loop around one of the Phoenix Army guards. The last of the soldiers stared in awe and turned to run. The man was not fast enough as Tenzin's other rope soon looped itself over the man's belly.
With confidence, Tenzin jumped off his komodo rhino and tied the rope to a hook on the saddle. He patted the massive animal on the side, and it ran off into the woods, dragging the two unfortunate persons with it.
Triumphantly, Tenzin strutted over to the lodge and picked the lock. The door swung open with ease. Surely enough, the children were there. Tenzin was surprised to find that they were even younger than he expected. In fact, they were scarcely more than babies. Even the eldest among them appeared no more than four. This made the task of delivering them back to the village more complicated, as they were not old enough to be sufficient and would require significant direction along the way. There were about fifteen of them and only one of him. Tenzin pondered this for a time.
Tenzin walked back outside to look at the stables. There were two more komodo rhinos, in addition to the one still in the encampment. If he could tie five children on the saddle of each – three komodo rhinos would be easier to be a shepherd for than fifteen toddlers. Cautiously, Tenzin led the komodo rhinos by the reins to the front entranceway. There he summoned the children out and lifted them up one at a time onto the saddles of the three beasts. He tied them in carefully so that they were securely fastened. He placed bags of grain at the back of each saddle to prevent them from rolling back. With infants so small and fragile, he could not take any chances.
Finally, all the children were on board. But now there was no room left for Tenzin. Carefully, he grabbed the reins of two of the komodo rhinos and hoisted himself on top. He lifted one foot onto one of the bags at the back of the saddle and placed his other foot on the corresponding bag on the other komodo rhino, so he was strattling with one foot on each of their backs. As an airbender, he was used to balancing himself in hard ways. Even so, Tenzin could not help but feel a little nervous like this. But he did not know any other way, so he would need to deal with it.
Tenzin slowly directed the two komodo rhinos he was standing on with the reins while calling the third to follow closely with his voice. He pretended he was meditating as he struggled to maintain peace of mind. He could not risk falling off or startling the animals and having them go berserk, which would undoubtedly throw him off – and maybe the kids, too. Even if he recovered from that fall, he would have his work cut out for him trying to catch up to the komodo rhinos – especially if they went in separate directions.
Although he had reached the lodge within a few minutes of meeting the women at the bottom, it took Tenzin over an hour to get to the village going downhill. He was at last relieved when a tiny cluster of wooden buildings with smoking chimneys came into sight.
A teary reunion ensued as the villagers saw the young airbender traveling atop the two komodo rhinos. They did not care in what strange manner he came to them in as long as their children with him. The parents began calling their children's names.
Tenzin stretched his legs now that he was able to walk about normally again, his job done. He was approached by the same old lady from before. "Thank you, young airbender," she told him with a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye. "I'm sorry I doubted you before. Let me introduce myself. I am Elder Jinora."
"It was nothing." What a strange name, Tenzin thought to himself. Who in the world would name their daughter Jinora?
"Please join us for our feast tonight," Jinora told Tenzin. "You will be our guest of honor."
"I appreciate it, but I have to respectfully decline," said Tenzin. "I have a long way to travel and I must be moving on."
"I understand," said Jinora kindly. "We are most grateful, though. May I ask where you are going?"
"Back to my family. I've been away from them long enough. I think I've had enough of war and fighting for a while."
"You do sound homesick," said Jinora with sympathy. "What made you join the army in the first place?"
"I wanted to be like my parents," said Tenzin simply. "My parents...well, you could say they were heroes in the last major war. They cast a long shadow for me to grow up in. I figured that it was time for my piece of the action. I wanted to do my part."
"War can seem a glorious thing to those who haven't experienced much of it," said Jinora seriously. "In reality, it is not so. It is also unhealthy to compare ourselves to others – especially family. Were those your only reasons?"
"No, there was another reason," said Tenzin thoughtfully. "I sort of wanted – to impress a girl." Tenzin beamed, having Neinei's face on his mind once again.
Jinora smiled. "Ah. Many join up with that intention, too – enlisting to win the favor of a loved one. But those that do don't always reach that end. A lot can happen when they're gone, even if they do make it through alive. Nothing devastates a generation like war does."
"Yeah," said Tenzin agreeably. "But it's going to work out now. Her and I are going to settle down once this is all done."
Jinora looked quizzical, like she was sizing him up. "You're planning this with her?"
"Not exactly," Tenzin admitted. "I haven't really talked to her about it yet."
"How do you know if she feels the same way about you?"
"I'm sure she does," said Tenzin stubbornly. "Why wouldn't she?"
"I can't answer that," Jinora conceded. "But you seem so young to be making these plans."
"I'm not that young," Tenzin countered. "In a few years I'll be the age most people marry in the Northern Water Tribe."
"You shouldn't use the old-fashioned tradition of the Northern Water Tribe as your standard," Jinora commented. "Neither you nor I are from there – and I bet this girl you speak of is not from there either. This is probably only your first crush. I don't want you to be disappointed, but the odds are that it won't work out. You should really wait until your late teens or your twenties to think about anything close to marriage. For now, I would enjoy your youth."
"Why won't it work out?" Tenzin asked irritably. He was now rather annoyed that this woman whom he had never met before was lecturing him. "It worked for my parents. In fact, my dad was younger than I am right now when he met my mom for the first time. They've been together since not long after that."
"Sometimes it works," admitted Jinora. "But things aren't the same for everyone."
"Well – its going to be like that for me," said Tenzin defiantly. "Enough with the lecture. I must be going now."
"Very well," said Jinora. "I wish you the best of luck on the journey to find your soul mate. Before you go, I have one more favor I want to ask of you. Most of the children are now back to with their families – except for that one over there that came along with other refugees which we couldn't identify." Elder Jinora pointed at one of the older kids who looked about three or four. "Could you possibly take the child with you on your travels? Maybe you can locate the parents along the way."
"I suppose I could do that," said Tenzin unenthusiastically. He wanted to reach the Fire Nation Capital as soon as possible. This toddler would surely be a burden on him. Nevertheless, he could not bring himself to refuse. "Does he or she – or it, have a name?"
"She does. Her name is Pema."
This must be the place for strange names, thought Tenzin. Pema – that's even stranger-sounding than Jinora.
Southern Water Tribe
All three of the Avatar's children longed to be closer to him, but this was difficult as he was often away on his Avatar duties. Each of them had spent far more time with each other and with their mother than they had with him. Tenzin, Kaddo and Vameira had looked up to him with reverence from a young age – their father, the Avatar, the hero who saved the world and built the globe they now inhabited. The Avatar's job of keeping the balance was so great that even a peaceful world kept him busy. Therefore, his family understood his frequent absences, even if it pained them so.
Kaddo had it worst of all. Tenzin and Vameira spent more time with their father due to their airbending training. It was true that Kaddo spent more time with their mother through his waterbending training, but Tenzin and Vameira were still around Katara plenty. Kaddo had thus long thought himself to be an outsider in the Avatar's family for not being an airbender. Ironically, when Katara and Aang married, Aang had been an outsider in his new family for being an airbender. Circumstances had indeed changed for them in the past two decades.
When Kaddo embarked on a journey with Aang to find a way to restore Katara, it was the best quality one-on-one time he had had with his father since before he could remember. Kaddo was sad to part with him again so soon. He also knew that as powerful as his father may be, he could use some extra help in rescuing Vameira from the Air Nation and saving Katara from the effect Shuten Shogai had had on her. And Kaddo never completed learning the Old Southern Style move beyond the first couple steps. During his first lesson with his father they had been interrupted by a mysterious attacker.
As the icebergs around Kaddo's small wooden boat multiplied in number, it became apparent that he was approaching the frozen polar shores that were his destination. Kaddo concentrated on steering now, weaving around and between the massive blocks of ice that lined the top of the frigid waters. Although it would not be time for Kaddo to go ice dodging for more than a year, he was skilled enough to navigate through here. He had his waterbending if he required it. At last, the outline of the village came into view.
Hinko, the fourteen year-old son of Chief Sokka, oversaw the horizon from the newly-constructed ice wall that lined the seaside cliffs. As the eldest child of the chief and his eventual successor, Hinko was technically the "Crown Prince" of the Southern Water Tribe, but it had been many years since that title was in common usage down here. The Hundred Year War had devastated their once-proud civilization and now there was little talk of royalty. Although the Southern Water Tribe had grown, they had not returned to using such formalities at this time. Instead, they were modernizing their country. Not far from the new wall was the airship strip, lined with gigantic metal flying machines with the blue Water Tribe insignia crafted onto their sides. Some parts of the Southern Water Tribe remained the same as they always were. The fishing industry still operated the traditional way and the architecture in the many villages was more-or-less identical to how it had always been. The Southern Water Tribe had evolved into a dual-culture – caught between two distinct time periods.
Hinko promptly stopped patrolling the top of the wall. In the midst of the slushy ice water, with the frozen parts that stuck out like giant ice cubes, he foresaw a small, wooden boat approaching their coastline.
"Dad!" he shouted. "Someone's coming."
"Where?" came the voice of Sokka, grizzled with experience, but still laid-back in spirit. "Who is it?" he asked as he reached the top of the wall.
"It's a short distance from here. It appears to be Cousin Kaddo."
Sokka raised his hand to his eyebrows and peered out to where Hinko was pointing. "I thought he went off with his dad. What does he want now?"
"Beats me," answered Hinko.
"What's going on here?" Suki, with her Water Tribe coat covering her green Earth Kingdom tunic which represented her roots, had also come atop the wall.
"It looks like Kaddo's back in town," stated Sokka.
"That's good news," said Suki jovially.
"He chose to follow with his father before," said Sokka. "Now he's back. Perhaps he's come to his senses."
Suki ignored him. "Hinko, come with us to receive your cousin."
Hinko shook his head. "I'm standing guard here. It's my duty."
"Nonsense," she responded. "This nation is at peace, even if the world isn't. There's nothing out there coming to invade."
"I wish you wouldn't make these matters sound so light-hearted," said Sokka, slightly annoyed.
Kaddo pushed his boat onto the wet land, got out, ran around and tugged it smoothly ashore. No sooner had he done this than he found Suki running forward to give him a hug, with Sokka and Hinko a few paces behind her.
"Aunt Suki, Uncle Sokka, Hinko – good to see you all."
"It's great to see you too, Kaddo," said Suki, smiling, as she released him.
Sokka kept a short distance. "Hello Kaddo. I thought you were traveling with your dad."
"I was," said Kaddo, slightly downtrodden.
"Is your little sister with him now?" asked Hinko. "She should've been back from her trip to Ba Sing Se by now. People were wondering where she is."
"No, she's not with my father." Kaddo proceeded to tell them all the tale of when he and Aang had gone to the Southern Air Temple, what had happened to it and what had become of Vameira.
Suki gasped and put her hand up to her mouth. "Poor kid..."
"You'd better hope your dad knows what he's doing," said Sokka stiffly.
Suki stared at her husband angrily before turning back to Kaddo. "Do you know where you're staying at the moment?"
Kaddo shrugged. "Dad left me at Grandpa's before, so I guess I'll go back to his place now."
"Hakoda's on the other side of the South Pole visiting some of the men he served with in the war," Suki informed him. "He should be back the day after tomorrow. You're welcome to stay with us until then."
"Good. You should go get settled in now."
It did not take long for Kaddo to bring his stuff up and unpack it, since he did not have much. So here he was again, in the South Pole, after all the time he had spent on the road with his dad and Appa. Aang had told Kaddo to stay safe, for the sake of the family. Kaddo was not one to sit on the sidelines, but after seeing the expression on his father's face, he decided he would stay true to his word. And so it was back to business as usual. With nothing else to do, he decided to go practice waterbending.
Kaddo wandered from Sokka and Suki's hut toward the plain outside the village walls. On the way, he spotted his cousin Hinko, sharpening a dagger on a stone. "Hello Hinko," he called out.
"What are you up to?"
"Just brandishing my new weapon," answered Hinko. "It hasn't been used in battle yet, but I have a feeling that'll change soon enough. What about you?"
"I'm going to practice the new waterbending move my dad taught me."
"Good for you," said Hinko. "I'm not a bender myself, but I know that a lot of intense training goes into it. Neither of my parents may be benders, but Sakema is. She practices non-stop." Sakema was Hinko's younger sister. She was twelve, just like Kaddo was.
Kaddo nodded thoughtfully. "Do you mind if I ask you something?"
"Sure. Fire away."
"Did you ever get, you know...jealous?"
"I did a little when I was younger," Hinko stated plainly. "Not so much now. I accepted the different paths that my sister and I were on. I may have some jealousy of the cool things she can do, but I have my own place in the tribe, like my dad does."
"Why do you ask?"
"I guess I sometimes think the same way."
Hinko looked quizzical. "But you're a waterbender, too. What makes you say that?"
"I guess in comparison to my dad," explained Kaddo. "I can waterbend, but I can't airbend, firebend or earthbend. I also can't go into the Avatar State or energybend. He can shape the world. Compared to that, simply being a waterbender seems almost like being a non-bender."
"Only one person in a lifetime can do all of those," stated Hinko. "The Avatar is only one of a kind."
"I guess it's a matter of comparison, then." At that moment, Kaddo heard another voice calling his name.
"Kaddo – is that you?" Kaddo's friend Sid walked toward the spot where Kaddo and Hinko stood. He was trailed closely by Kirto. Sid and Kirto were Kaddo's friends from the Northern Water Tribe. They had taken waterbending classes with each other since they were barely old enough to walk. Last time Kaddo saw them, they had said they were coming to visit the South Pole – and now they were here. The Avatar's family frequently visited all parts of the globe and Kaddo always saw them every time he was in the area, and vice versa. They were his two closest friends, despite literally coming from opposite ends of the world. Kaddo smiled. It looked like being here would not so dull after all.
Nine sat themselves down to dine in the house of Sokka and his Suki that night. Apart from the man and woman of the house, the seated included their four children, their nephew Kaddo and his friends Sid and Kirto. Because of their three guests, the chief and his wife required an extra pot for their steamed arctic hen and five-flavored soup.
"So, you two are from the Northern Water Tribe," Suki noted to Sid and Kirto. "It's good that you and Kaddo keep in touch over such a long distance."
"What's it like at the North Pole?" asked Sakema curiously.
Kaddo, having been to their several times before, described some of the contrast between the two poles in the simplest way he could think of. "There's more buildings – and more people."
"It's also more civilized," added Sid pompously.
"Yeah," Kirto agreed. "You peasants might not be used to that. It's probably too complicated for you to understand." He proceeded to take a large bite out of his arctic hen and did not notice Sakema scowling at him.
"From what I've heard about it," Hinko added, "you wouldn't like it there, Sakema."
"Hinko's right," said Sokka. "It's not the best place for women waterbenders."
"I thought Katara opened the door for them when she was there," said Suki, narrowing her eyes.
"She did, technically," confirmed Sokka. "There've been a handful of female waterbenders since my sister's memorable confrontation with Pakku. But they're still scarce. It's not a path they're encouraged to take. There's a lot of prejudice. Not all instructors are willing to take them on."
"Yes," said Hinko. "Aunt Katara often complained about how slow progress was up there even after the Hundred Year War."
Sid rolled his eyes. "Enough with the equal rights mumbo-jumbo. We just do prefer to do things differently than you people."
"Indeed," said Kirto through a mouthful of food. "The fighting kind of waterbending is a man's job!"
"Exactly," Sid concurred. "You don't see men healing, either. In fact, the idea of a man healing is pretty funny," he added with a laugh.
Kaddo tightened his legs uncomfortably. He had not told his northern friends that he had been using his waterbending for healing, after being taught to do so by his mother.
Suki eyed them thoughtfully. "You boys should spar with Sakema sometime. It might broaden your minds a bit."
"Fine," said Kaddo, glad the topic of conversation had shifted. "But don't think we'll take it easy on you just because you're a girl."
"I don't expect you too!" Sakema snapped, sticking her tongue out at him.
"Don't underestimate her," said Suki with a proud smile. "She came won a local tournament last month."
Sid laughed at this statement. "Ha – won a 'local tournament,' you say? How big was this 'local tournament?' How many competed in it? Five? Ten?"
"Twelve," answered Suki stiffly.
"Okay then. No offense, but if it's a South Pole waterbending tournament, it doesn't mean much because there are close to zero waterbenders. The only waterbenders down here are people who emigrated down from the north and a handful of younger ones born since the Hundred Year War."
Kirto nodded. "How's your waterbending, Kaddo?"
"Uhh...great," replied Kaddo, fidgeting his hands. "I started learning a new move with my dad, but I haven't quite perfected it yet..."
"What about the battle?" asked Kirto
"You were at the Battle of the Fire Nation Capital."
"Oh yeah," Kaddo confirmed, scratching the back of his head ineptly.
"I'm jealous," said Kirto.
"Tell us what it was like fighting in that battle," Sid directed him.
Of course, Kaddo had not participated in any combat while he was at the Fire Nation Capital. He had been assigned to healing duty and his only deviation from that was to aid in freezing the water in the harbor to make a barrier to slow down enemy boats. "Y-yeah. I dueled with lots of Phoenix Army firebenders while I was there." His uncle Sokka and his aunt Suki both raised their eyebrows at this statement. They were both present at the battle and knew very well that Kaddo had done nothing of the sort.
"Nice," said Sid with a smirk.
"I also took down a whole empire-class battleship single-handedly," Kaddo added.
"No you didn't," said Sakema skeptically.
"Yes I did!" Kaddo shot back. "Some fear those highly-trained firebenders, but they're not so tough. At least, it didn't seem that way to me." Kaddo grinned smugly, but this expression faded when he saw his aunt and uncle glaring at him. He could tell he had pushed the limit. Kaddo changed the subject. "By the way, I forgot to ask you guys – how long are you staying here?"
"I'll be in the Southern Water Tribe for a couple weeks," Kirto answered him.
"About the same here," added Sid. "That's how long our families normally visit for – about once a year. My parents say they think it's good to connect with our sister tribe once in a while. Everything's always so quaint down here."
"I guess it's good to get away from where all the action is sometimes," said Kirto, nodding his head back-and-forth. "It reminds us of how much cooler things are where we come from."
The general mood at dinner had grown sour. Nobody thought much of Kaddo's friends. Hinko and Sakema each wore a grimace. Sokka now clearly regretted inviting them over. As the Chief of the Southern Water Tribe, he had spent years in his efforts to modernize his people. He particularly resented having his tribe talked down to in his own home.
Suki was frowning, but decided to attempt to keep things friendly. "What do you plan to do while you're here?"
"I hear you folk have some good places to go penguin sledding," said Kirto matter-of-factly.
"I remember coming across a really tall mountain several miles away the last time I visited here," said Sid. "We plan to go there tomorrow. It's quite a hike, so we'll have to wake up early."
"I love penguin sledding," Sakema chimed in.
Kaddo nodded. "Great – you can come too."
Sokka crossed his arms. "I think I know the mountain you're talking about. Penguin sledding down that would be awfully dangerous."
"I agree," said Suki. "I don't think it's a good idea."
"We'll be fine," Kaddo told her. "We have our waterbending to guide us if we need it."
"Count me out then," Hinko announced.
Suki paused for a few seconds, then said, "okay, but be extra careful."
"We will," said Kaddo reassuringly.
It was still dark when Kaddo awoke the next day. He gently pushed his polar leopard blanket off himself and climbed out of the guest bed that Uncle Sokka and Aunt Suki had prepared for him. He was awake earlier than he needed to be. Kaddo had time to spare before he, Sid, Kirto and Sakema would set off to go penguin sledding. He resolved to let Sakema get some extra sleep for the time being and pulled out one of his mother's waterbending scrolls on Old Southern Style. The hut was as quiet as a sparrow mouse now. He could just hear the breaths of his cousins and the snores of his uncle Sokka.
Sooner than expected, Kaddo heard two faint pairs of footsteps outside the hut. Those must be Sid and Kirto, he thought. But they're unexpectedly early.
Kaddo stopped reading the waterbending scroll at once and bundled up quickly in his blue Southern Water Tribe coat and slipped on his mittens. He rushed quietly out the door to find his friends there waiting for him.
"Are you ready? Let's go, then," said Sid.
"Hold up," Kaddo told him. "We have to wait for Sakema. I'll go and wake her."
Sid and Kirto glanced at each other. "Yeah, about that..."
"We've been talking," said Kirto.
"We think this is out of her league," said Kirto. "We should just go now, the three of us."
"What?!" asked Kaddo in alarm. "We can't do that – we have to wait."
"It's fine," said Sid. "I don't think she really wants to come, anyway."
"She said she did."
"Then she doesn't know what she wants," said Sid impatiently. "We should ditch her."
"No, that's cruel," said Kaddo. "I won't be a part of this!"
"Come on, Kaddo," said Kirto. "This is a manly outing. If she came, it would just spoil things."
"Yeah," agreed Sid. "She'd probably be complaining the whole time about how she might break a nail."
"Exactly," Kirto continued. "Do you really want her to spoil the fun like that?"
Kaddo stared at the ground. "I guess not," he conceded.
Sid grinned. "I knew you'd see it our way."
As the sun began to rise, the pitch-dark field turned white with the shiny crystal of the illuminated ice. The three young boys waltzed slowly across this vast, empty Antarctic landscape.
"I feel guilty," said Kaddo. "We should go back and get Sakema."
Sid twisted his face. "Ugh – Kirto, handle this!"
"Look Kaddo," said Kirto aggressively. "Today is all about us. We have to focus on what we're doing. We can't burden ourselves with someone who doesn't know what to do."
"She's been penguin sledding before. And Aunt Suki said she was a good waterbender now," Kaddo noted.
"She's just saying that because it's her daughter," said Kirto irritably. "Anyway, she's a girl. She can't be that good."
"Kirto's right," said Sid. "We can't baby-sit her. We need our stamina. Don't forget we need to catch ourselves some penguins and escort them to the top of the mountain with us before we slide down on them."
"Yeah, but I don't know," said Kaddo uncertainly. "This doesn't feel right."
"You'll get your mind off this when we collect our penguins," said Kirto. "Remember to find a large otter-penguin – it has to be able to hold your weight. But not too fat or it might not be able to climb the mountain. Or worse – it could roll over on the way down. That would be quite nasty for you."
"We're almost to the mating ground. It's the same one that your parents went to when they first met," Sid pointed out.
Kaddo cheered up a bit. He had not been penguin sledding in a long time, let alone on such a grand slope with a tumultuous course. However, on the way to the mating ground, Kaddo noticed a distinct black shape sticking out of a thick mound of snow. When they got closer, Kaddo saw a fidgeting webbed foot and a shaded belly with patches of red on it. It was an otter-penguin – and it was hurt.
Kaddo ran hastily over to where the bruised animal was lying. It appeared to have fallen on something sharp – or gotten into a fight with a much larger and fiercer creature. Whichever it was, the poor otter-penguin was sure to die out here, alone, unless something was done. Kaddo's eyes watered as he gazed into the corresponding orbs of the helpless creature in front of him.
Sid and Kirto continued walking uninterrupted. "You can't sled on that one. He's injured. Come – once we get to the mating ground, there'll be plenty of healthy ones to pick from."
"Sid is right," said Kirto. "Leave it."
Kaddo glared at his friends and shook his head. "We can't just leave it here. We have to do something! Otherwise, it'll die."
"Like what?" asked Sid. "If we lift him up and take him all the way back to the village, it'll take forever. It'll ruin our day!"
"And none of us are healers, so we can't help it while we're here," added Kirto.
"That's right. Maybe we should have brought Sakema along after all," said Sid jokingly. "Oh well."
"Whatever," said Kirto.
The two of them resumed walking toward the mating ground, but Kaddo remained where he was. After taking a deep breath, Kaddo bended a floating bubble of liquid water out of the snowy ground, which he separated into two smaller bubbles around his hands. Then he traced with them around the largest of the wounds on the otter-penguin's belly.
Spinning around, Sid and Kirto gawked at him. "Since when do you heal?!" asked Sid, bewildered.
"Since my mother started teaching me," Kaddo answered simply.
"Healing is what women do," stated Kirto indignantly.
"Does your mother teach you how to cook and clean as well?" asked Sid sarcastically. He and Kirto both roared with laughter and exchanged a high five.
"Healing is important," Kaddo told them plainly. "I healed many dozens of wounded Fire Nation soldiers when I was in the Fire Nation Capital."
"I thought you said you fought in the battle," said Sid, confused.
"I said that, yes."
"So you lied."
"Why?" asked Kirto.
"The truth didn't sound as cool," said Kaddo honestly.
Kirto smirked widely. "You're damn right it doesn't. Kaddo, the healer – ha!"
"Wait until everyone up north hears about this," said Sid with a laugh.
"Go ahead and tell them," said Kaddo defiantly.
"I've realized something," said Kaddo decisively. "I've misjudged healing. It has just as much value as fighting does. It's just as much a part of waterbending as combat is. It's the part that saves lives, rather than taking them. I only wish that I could apologize to my mother now about not being a better student."
"It's women's work," said Sid insensitively. "You don't owe your mother anything for it."
Kaddo took a brief pause from healing the otter-penguin and rose to his feet. "Here in the Southern Tribe, we learn to use our bending in all ways. Our women learn to fight. And yes, our men learn to heal. Healing is something all waterbenders should know. I'm sorry if no one's taught it to you yet. They're doing you a disservice by withholding it from you. In the South, everyone learns all. In the North, everyone learns half."
"Blah, blah, blah," said Kirto mockingly.
"I think I'm okay without being able to heal, thanks," said Sid with a sneer.
"Enough of this," said Kirto definitively. "Let's go to the mating ground. We haven't got all day."
"No," answered Kaddo. "I'm not done with this penguin."
"Do you want to help a stupid hurt animal or come have some fun?" asked Sid
"I'm staying here," said Kaddo firmly.
The smiles vanished from Sid and Kirto's faces. "Sheesh Kaddo, when did you become so lame?" asked Sid with a grimace. He turned to leave. Kirto shook his head at Kaddo and followed soon after.
As they walked off, Kaddo sat back down and resumed healing the otter-penguin. He heard Kirto laugh loudly at something Sid had said in the distance, but he did not hear exactly what it was – or care. His attention was now devoted to his patient. He moved his watered-hands over each point in the largest cut before moving onto the smaller ones. The whole healing process took over an hour. Finally, he brought the creature to its webbed feet. It was almost as tall as he was.
Kaddo walked his new companion toward the mating ground, where the rest of its kind were. Together, they marched down the short slope of a hill, where they were greeted by dozens of similar animals. With their beady eyes, flightless wings and draping whiskers, they gathered around their returned fallen brethren. The otter-penguin Kaddo had helped was now home. After this reunion had ended, the penguins all turned to Kaddo and stared with their small black eyes into his human ones. Kaddo could not speak their tongue, but he figured they meant to say "thank you."
Kaddo smiled in return. There was a lot that could be learned from these animals. The flock was a large family, but every individual member mattered to them. At last, the otter-penguin was back where it belonged.
And now it was time for Kaddo to go back to where he belonged. With his job done, he began his hike back toward the village. Although it was a long way, it did not seem like much time passed before he laid eyes on the settlement. When he arrived at the entrance, he found his cousin standing there with her arms crossed.
"You left without me," Sakema stated furiously.
"Yeah, I know," replied Kaddo.
Kaddo continued walking back into the village. Then he stopped, let out a sigh and turned back to face his cousin. "So...do you wanna practice waterbending?" he asked her sheepishly.
Sakema shot Kaddo an angry look, but then her expression settled and she gave off the faintest trace of a smile. "Fine, but don't think I'll take it easy on you – just because you're a boy." Sakema stuck her tongue out at him as she started drawing a water whip out of the snowy field.
Southern Air Fortress
Vameira sat by herself on the tiles of stone-cold brick that lined the floor of the tower. She was presently in the driest part of her giant cell. The circular room was elegantly built with perfect symmetrical precision on the smooth wall and the circular-tiled floor. Vameira had been in this part of the temple on a few occasions before this one, but never for so long and never had she held such a burning desire to leave it.
Since she was led into this room, she had not been able to go outside, nor had she had any visitors. She was fatigued and under-nourished, left alone with her thoughts, to go crazy. She had never been without any human contact for this much time in a row. She could hear the sounds of the guards outside her cell, but no guards came inside. Thirty feet above her was the high, ever-looming ceiling – too great a height for a beginning airbender without a glider to reach. There was a miniscule latch up there which opened a small trap-door. Twice a day – once in the morning and once in the evening – the latch was opened and a meal was tossed down.
This did not consist of a fruit pie or any other sort of gourmet surprise. It was always the same: one loaf of dry bread and one pale of water – undoubtedly polluted due to Air Lord Icarus's new industrialization projects. Vameira did not know how much more time she could last on this. Every day, her stomach ached more and more for something reasonably filling. Did they intend to keep her on that diet forever?
As disgusting as this was, it was not the full extent of her harsh state. As the room was empty except for her – and the ever-growing pile of pales – she had no bedding or proper facility. Whenever she was tired, she went to the softest part of the dry section of the cell, and removed the cloak and shawl off her Air Nomad outfit. She curled her shawl up into a "pillow" and rested it on the ground while pulling her cloak over herself to serve as a "blanket." After this arrangement, even lying on a sandy beach would seem like lying on a bed from a four-star inn.
Any attempt of escape was, of course, futile. As the latch on the ceiling was too high up, there were only two viable exits from this place. The first was the most obvious – through the door. This was the impenetrable door of red and blue fire, according to what she overheard from the outside guards. Supposedly, it required two blasts, one of red fire and one of blue fire, to open – and that was from the outside. Vameira was on the inside and could do neither. The next possibility was through the single arched window. It was fifteen feet above the floor and, unlike the latch, reachable by an enhanced airbending jump. However, this was one of the outermost towers of the temple and that window led to a straight drop to the ground thousands of feet below. She would have nowhere to go and her airbending would be of no use to her at that point. She could not fly through the air on her own without a glider. With these two options both in vain, it seemed her best bet would be to wait until the stack of old pales amounted to enough to construct some sort of ladder to the latch on the ceiling. But, that was equally, if not more ludicrous than the first two possibilities, plus Vameira did not want to use the old pales for anything anymore.
Vameira heard a sound echo down from above. As usual, the pale and the bread were tossed down into the cell. She could barely glimpse a hand up through the darkness of the night. It would be several more hours before this high point of her day would be repeated. Now she would watch curiously to see where the pale and bread would land. One of these days, the pale of water might hit her on the head, Vameira thought to herself. They did not land on her, but they did land close to her. Convenient, won't have to crawl so far, she thought to herself. But this time, there was a little something else with the bread and the water.
A note was tied to the handle of the pale. Vameira grasped it excitedly. No matter what was on this mysterious piece of paper, she had to know! Vameira's heart gave a leap as she recognized the handwriting of Rensa, formerly of the Council of Elders. Rensa had taught her basic airbending moves from a young age and had been like a grandmother to her. Even after all that had changed, Vameira knew she could still trust Rensa of all people. Vameira pulled the note to her face and used the outside moonlight to read the words enscribed.
Vameira, I can only begin to imagine how dreadful this must be for you. It is time for you to leave this place. Meet me in one hour behind the old sky bison stables.
Vameira scrunched the note in her hand, pondering this. It appeared that Rensa had plotted a way for her to escape from the Air Temple, but...she would still have to escape from the cell on her own. There was only one conceivable way to go about that, and that was through the window. A batch of butterflies formed in her stomach like never before – as intense and ruthless as a sandstorm in the middle of a barren desert. The longer she waited, the harder it would become. This was an impossible feat, but it was also her only hope. There was nothing more for it. Vameira leapt to her feet and strutted over to the side of the room where the window was.
Vameira bent her knees and pushed up with all her leg strength, exerting as strong an airbending boost as she could manage. She had jumped nearly twenty feet in the past, but in her present condition, could barely manage fifteen. Vameira grabbed the bottom of the window sill at the top of her leap and hoisted herself atop, with great difficulty. Now, she could see outside.
The view before Vameira made her gulp. Below her was the mountainside – almost vertical. An outer wall had been constructed around the borders of the temple when the New Air Nomads were converted into the Air Nation. The top of the wall was manned by a sentry, who would sound the alarm if he spotted her from his post, but that was the least of her worries. On this side, the wall was merely a bridge with a hole underneath, so below her there was nothing but thin air and sharp rocks, all the way down the mountain. Glancing to her right, Vameira spotted a lining with a small ridge she could conceivably put her feet on and scoot her way to the clear ground about twenty feet around the corner. There was nothing above her, so jumping up would be useless – and too risky, as she might slip, with so little room.
Trying not to think about it, Vameira stood up once again and slowly eased her right foot onto the ledge. The way she saw it, she had two ways to go at that point – forward onto the ledge, or backward into her cell. With the cell she had safety, as well as the guarantee of going on her hellish state of affairs. With the ledge she faced great danger, but could see the possibility of salvation – a glimmer of hope, even if it wasn't much to go off of. She had chosen the latter path. It appeared that she had made a brave choice, but could one call it bravery? Bravery comes from someone making a choice, but the way Vameira perceived it, she had no choice.
The reason she had "no choice" was because whatever the risks, she could not carry on like she was in her current prison – her prison in the temple she had grown up calling a second home. Some of the older airbenders she had been acquainted with before now subdued her – they were entranced by Icarus's "vision" and listened only to him now. To think about this shattered her heart apart, but she still had Rensa on her side, at the very least. Rensa had always been kind to her, unlike Icarus, Shao or Nola, who were more distant. Nola was always very stern and lacking in the good sense of humor most airbenders were known for. When Vameira was much younger, Nola gave her lessons on the days Rensa was occupied elsewhere. Vameira hated those days. Of course, Nola had taken Vameira with her on her recent sabbatical to Ba Sing Se – and Vameira had been particularly excited to go to the big city. But soon after they arrived at the flat Nola had booked for them, Vameira was abducted in the night by sneaky Dai Li agents. Vameira did not see what became of Nola during their break-in or what became of her. Even if she did not get along with Nola, Vameira wondered where she was and hoped she was alright.
But now, Vameira was more concerned with what was about to become of her. She tried hard not to look down, but was unable to restrain her eyes from doing just that. With her head frozen and her mouth out of breath, Vameira moved her hands and arms along the side of the tower to move herself closer to her goal. Vameira chased all thoughts out of her head, as though meditating. She could barely manage. When Vameira was five, she had had a paralyzing fear of heights – the worst thing possible, for an airbender. She was nervous about gliding and other airbending moves. She was frequently teased for this. One day, she shared herself with her father.
"Dad, I-I can't do this anymore. I'm not cut out to be an airbender! Can you please make me a waterbender like Kaddo? Then I won't have to worry about flying and falling. I can just splash around in the water all day like he does..."
Aang's eyes showed sympathy and concern, but his mouth was flat and stubborn. "I'm sorry you feel this way, Vameira. But, destiny made you an airbender and that is what you must remain, just as waterbending is Kaddo's destiny."
"But why?" Vameira wailed. "You changed other people's destinies. You made countless people into airbenders that weren't before. Why can't you just make me into a waterbender?!"
Aang smiled thoughtfully. "The reason I gave airbending abilities to some who could not bend to begin with was to help restore the world to what it was meant to be. The balance of the world needed...a little help. That's not the case here."
"I don't get it," said Vameira, confused. "You made a decision that there should be more airbenders, so you changed their destinies to make it so. How's that any different than what I want?"
Aang sat down beside his youngest child and put his arm around her. "Vameira, if you want to be any sort of bender, whether it's an airbender, a waterbender or any other type, you have to let go of fear. If you ask me to do this for the reason you've given, you might as well just ask me to remove your bending altogether. Would you rather have that?"
Vameira stared at her feet. "No..."
Vameira still recalled that day well. She had felt irritated, but defeated, by the final result of that conversation. It seemed like she was more trapped than ever. But later that same day, something miraculous happened.
Aang had strapped Vameira to his chest and taken her flying on his glider. Aang was enjoying the beautiful blue glow on the waves of the southern waters below. Vameira, on the other hand, refused to open her eyes. "You don't know what you're missing," he said fondly.
"I can't! It's too scary."
"Whether your eyes are open or closed, it doesn't make a difference. You're flying. Do you trust me?"
Vameira nodded timidly.
"Then open your eyes. I'm right here with you." Slowly, Vameira squinted open her eyes and caught the rays of the sun reflected on the vast, liquid mirror. She could perceive the schools of whale dolphins and turtle seals galloping over the surface of the ocean and feel a swift, thrilling breeze around herself. She opened her mouth wide and smiled as she marveled at the magnificent sight below her. Aang took notice of her change in expression. "It's not so bad after all, is it?"
"Bad? This is amazing!"
Aang grinned at her. "Here – why don't you grab onto the handles at the front. Then you can steer us."
"You mean it?" asked Vameira excitedly.
Vameira eagerly clutched the glider. She flew them above the clouds and below the clouds. That day, she felt like she could stay up in the sky forever. She had found a new home for herself. When they finally landed back in the village, Aang asked her "do you still wish you were a waterbender?"
"No – airbending is the best!"
Aang bent down low and looked his youngest child in the eyes. "Your spirit is free now. You had the soul of an airbender all along." Vameira beamed at her father, then hugged him and kissed him on the cheek.
From that day forward, Vameira never questioned her identity as an airbender again. She was full of the Old Air Nomad lust for life – or at least she was told so by her father, one of few living people who could actually attest to that. Flying became her favorite part of her day. As difficult as it was to master some of the fundamentals of airbending, she always had flying on her glider as an escape.
Although some of the older airbenders became frustrated with her aloofness, her father, the Avatar, was always there for her. The fun activities with him lit up her day. He showed her how to make an air scooter and ride it around the temple grounds. He also shot fruit pies with her at the Council of Elders. Feng Qu and Rensa did not seem to mind much, as they knew it was all in good fun. Trinley, Shao and Nola were much more annoyed, but they could not do anything because Aang was the Avatar and the maker and caretaker of their civilization.
One time, Aang had even helped Vameira hurl a group of fruit pies at Tenzin right after he picked on her. "Let's let that be our little secret," he told her later. "Your mother likes to be more direct about these things..."
It was indeed a long time since Vameira had feared heights. However, that phobia from years ago was creeping back up on her now. On this ledge, her airbending would not help her. There was no glider to support her. The endless chasm below beckoned like a giant, dark, sinister hole. If she fell, she was dead. It was as simple as that. She had no support. Rensa not with her yet. She would have to conquer her fear on her own. There was no one to help her this time.
That's right, Vameira thought. There was no one to help her. Not Rensa and...not her dad. He had been there when they brought her into her cell and he just...abandoned her. How could this be the same person she shared all those memories with? He seemed so...different. The elder Guru Pathik often talked about who a person was being defined and expressed by their energies. And her father practiced energybending. Had energybending made him a different person?
At last, she was nearing the edge of the ledge. Vameira's heart sank as she noticed a gap of about five feet between the end of the ledge and the floor of the temple grounds. She was not out of this yet. She was at the end. There was no other way. She would have to jump. Vameira gulped. If she was not careful enough, she would fall to her doom. If she was too careful, she could not jump far enough – and she would also fall to her doom. There was certainly no turning back now. Slowly, Vameira bent her knees slightly and positioned herself. Then, she pushed off from the wall and soared through the air toward the grounds. Uh-oh, she thought to herself. It looked like she might have not put enough force into it. She was falling short! Vameira stretched her arms out and just managed to grab the stone structure. She pulled herself up, not unlike she had done with the window earlier. At last...she was safe.
Or rather, safeer. Although she was on solid land once more, she was still in the middle of a hideous fortress run by hostile benders. Frantically, Vameira ran as fast as she could to the sky bison stables where she was to meet Rensa. Rensa was now the only one she still clung to here – the only one she put her trust with. She was the one Vameira was counting on to get her away from this place. Not anyone else – and certainly not her father.
Compared to her ordeal before, reaching the destination to rendez-vous with Rensa seemed a piece of fruit pie. Sure enough, Rensa was right next to the old sky bison stables, as promised.
When she caught sight of Vameira, Rensa beamed and pulled the young airbender girl into a tight hug. "Vameira...I knew you would make it, dear."
Vameira was equally happy to lay eyes on the benevolent older lady. "Thanks – it wasn't easy, though."
"I'm sure it was difficult," Rensa said agreeably. "But I knew you'd be brave and perseverant enough."
"I think you may give me too much credit," said Vameira uncomfortably.
Rensa shook her head. "Your father granted me airbending shortly before you were born. I've watched you grow up – and you are growing up into something marvelous. You have the makings of a great airbender – and there's no more courageous young lady anywhere."
Vameira scratched her back nervously. "I think you may have me confused with someone else. It's my brother, Tenzin, that has all the talent. Everything always comes easy to him. I'm way behind where he was at my age. Maybe I'm just not cut out to be as good as he is..."
"You must be patient with yourself," said Rensa tenderly. "You may not always get things right on the first try, but your strength lies in your willpower and your refusal to give up. When you fall down, you must simply get up and try again. Don't underestimate the airbending potential you hold. It's in your genes. I heard that waterbending did not come easily to your mom. She struggled some in the beginning, but she worked hard and now she's the best in the world!" Rensa then saw the solemn expression on Vameira's face. "Or...she was. Well, she still is, but she's not in the right condition to... I'm sorry. Maybe that wasn't very tactful of me..."
"It's okay," said Vameira. "It's not your fault. It's my dad's."
Rensa looked concerned. "From what I've seen, you've always had a great relationship with your father. Must you really be so hard on him now?"
"My father...he left me, like he ruined my mom..."
"He didn't leave you leave you," said Rensa reassuringly. "He simply retreated to come back and fight another day. With his position in relation to Icarus at the time, he could not make a move to save you. I'm sure he has quite the heartache now. But you don't need his rescuing now. Don't wait for someone to come from outside this place to bust you out. Tonight, we're taking matters into our own hands and fleeing this place together."
"Well, Icarus has confiscated all our old gliders," Rensa explained. "He's designing some new flying device he thinks is more fitting for his 'nation.' But I know where he's keeping the old ones. Once we grab two of those, we wait for the right moment and we take off together!"
Vameira nodded, determined. "I'm ready, Rensa."
Vameira, however, still had something on her mind. "Can I ask you one more thing?"
"Sure, my child – anything."
"Was my dad right to make airbenders?"
Rensa paused. It was not an easy question for her to answer truthfully. Finally, she said, "I think he was definitely wrong to give bending to Icarus. For the rest of us, it's worked out fine. We've all become one big family – helping bring balance back to the world."
"I remember my dad saying that long ago," stated Vameira. "But he has a new attitude about energybending now. He says it threatens the balance."
Rensa paused again. It appeared that she knew Vameira was right, but this invalidated Rensa's own bending, which is why she was reluctant. "Your father often said that energybending was something which shouldn't be used wrongly – or there would be dire consequences. What happened with your mother proved that to be correct. I don't know about the nature and mysteries of energybending. He's the one who studied that. But as much as I've grown attached to my bending, if the balance of the world required it to be taken from me, I would willingly let it go in an instant."
All of a sudden, Rensa and Vameira's talk was interrupted by a deafening gong noise, ringing through the corridors and streets. "They've sounded the alarm!" said Rensa urgently. "They've noticed your absence. We must make haste! Go down and hide in the lower garden now. I'll grab the gliders and meet you there soon. Go!"
Vameira heeded Rensa's instructions and ran down the long stairwell to the lower garden as fast as her airbending legs would carry her. When she reached there, she crouched behind a pair of thick berry bushes. That would be her hiding place until Rensa came to her. Rensa was always so nice to Vameira. Was it fair of her to ask her whether it was right for her father to create airbenders? Vameira worried that she sounded harsh in her asking that question. Rensa was risking herself to help her and Vameira was truly grateful for that. It seemed inappropriate for Vameira to repay that gratitude by putting Rensa on the spot like that. But it was something that she could not get off her mind and had to say something about.
And so she hid – and waited. And hid. And waited. The long minutes dragged by like a dull snail sloth. Had Rensa changed her mind about helping Vameira? Oh no, Vameira thought to herself! Everyone in this sacred place of hers has left her side, including her father. Not Rensa, too...
Vameira was relieved when she saw Rensa emerging from the same stairwell with a glider in each hand. "Sorry for the holdup," the older airbender told her, catching her breath. "I had to be stealthy. They've become pretty tight and restrictive around here." Just as Vameira stood up and made to grab one of the gliders Rensa was clutching, several more pairs of footsteps came thundering down the stairwell. "Oh my," said Rensa, putting her hand to her mouth. "Hide, hide!"
Disappointed, Vameira sat herself back down behind the berry bushes and watched as Icarus and a group of his followers marched into the garden and Rensa went over to greet them. "Hello Icarus – I mean, Air Lord," she said calmly. "What brings you here?"
Icarus glared at her angrily. "I should be asking you that question. Were you aware there's a curfew tonight?"
"I was not," said Rensa casually.
"What are you doing in the lower garden?"
"I was taking a stroll."
"In the middle of the night?"
"I couldn't sleep."
"And why do you have those?" Air Lord Icarus asked, pointing to the pair of glider staffs.
"I was – uh – using them to tend the garden. I forgot to turn them in when you gathered up the rest of them."
"Don't play games with me, Rensa," Air Lord Icarus commanded. "I can see right through you. You're helping the girl, you plan to leave with her and you know where she is."
For a brief instance, Rensa looked frightened. Then she shook that fear out of herself and became determined. "Even if I did know, I certainly wouldn't tell you!"
"You're a disgrace to everything the Avatar taught us!" said Rensa defiantly. "You're not a real airbender – not in spirit, anyway. You're selfish and power-hungry."
Icarus smirked at her. His followers stepped forward to confront her, but he motioned his hand to hold them back. "Rensa – look at you. You've become so tempered all of a sudden."
"Your horrid move...asphyxiation...that's all you practice anymore. I'm ashamed I ever knew you."
"Now, that's not true," Icarus told her. "I still use plenty of other moves. Here, let me demonstrate for you one I mastered more recently." He reached into his Air Nation tunic and yanked out a small object. It was a hilt for a sword, but it was empty. There was no blade to accompany it. "Watch and learn," said Icarus, smiling wickedly. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, then began pushing currents through the hilt and shaping them into something else. Soon the currents became denser, so they were like a solid object of thin air. Eventually, they formed into a sword. Then, with his eyebrows raised and all his front teeth showing, Icarus thrust it through her chest!
Rensa's upright body froze. Air Lord Icarus pulled the sword out and her knees collapsed. Rensa fell face forward to the ground, dead. A small, red puddle formed in the grass surrounding her head.
Vameira just barely managed to suppress a gasp of horror. If she made any audible noise, it would give her away.
Turning away from Rensa's body, Icarus directed his soldiers. "Search the garden!" he yelled. "The girl's somewhere in here. I'm sure of it."
At the Air Lord's order, his followers spread out around the premise and began rooting through every hiding place they could think of. Vameira's heart sank. She would soon be found out! She had to leave the garden – then come back later, grab one of the gliders, and leave on her own. It was not an ideal plan, but at this point it was all she could hope for. Slowly, she crawled away from the bushes and toward the hedges. With her airbending, she could step very softly and leave large amounts of room between footprints. Her father had earned his nickname "Twinkle Toes" from his earthbending instructor for a reason. She skipped with her light touches to the ground, away from her pursuers.
She had almost lost them for now. Then, she passed two tall trees. Suddenly, two of the large branches were separated and Icarus and two of his guards were staring straight at her! "Ha – did you really think that would be stealthy enough to evade us, little girl?" he asked cruelly. "We're airbenders, too. We know every little trick that you know – and so much more!"
Vameira had frozen in her tracks. She was shocked by being found out, but she refused to give in. Vameira took her fighting stance and punched the air in front of her, blowing Icarus and his two men off their feet and crashing into the wall behind them. Then she ran around the corner and toward one of the more secluded corridors in the temple. If memory served, it would lead into the largest tower at the center, which had countless places where she could hide and plot her next move. It would be a long haul, but knocking back those thugs had given her the confidence boost she needed to continue. It was the triumph of her natural airbending over their artificial airbending.
As an airbender, Vameira could run at enhanced speeds, beyond what a normal human was capable of. Of course, this was useless here, as those chasing her were also airbenders. Soon, she heard loud footsteps behind her own, drawing nearer. Vameira briefly turned around and sent an air kick to hold them back, but to no avail. They merely sidestepped the maneuver and continued the chase. Then, a gust of wind hit her square in the back and Vameira fell face-forward onto the stone floor.
When she knelt up and turned around, she found Icarus right in front of her. After the frustrating events of the night, the Air Lord stared down at the frightened girl before him.
Icarus bent over, so that his face was mere inches from Vameira's, put his pointer finger up between them, and wagged it back and forth, smiling maliciously with his eyes bulging. "Tisk, tisk," he said.
Vameira was recaptured.
TO BE CONTINUED...
- This chapter was published exactly one year after the author joined Avatar Wiki.
- This is unlike most Energy Saga chapters, since Aang is not in it – and neither is energybending.
- The author debated splitting the chapter up, but ultimately decided against it.
- Pema is much younger than Tenzin in this, but they do not get together anytime soon until they are both adults. Such an age difference is not uncommon in marriages. Their first child, Jinora, will not be born for over thirty years.
- In the conversation between Kaddo, Sid and Kirto the word "stamina" is used where "energy" might have been, but the word "energy" was avoided in this scenario to prevent confusion.
- The expression "piece of fruit pie" has a similar meaning to "piece of cake."
- The wind sword – yes. Well, someone was going to use it in a fanon eventually.
- So whatever happened with Aang going to Ember Island to find Azula? That will be in the next chapter. Wait and see!
For the collective works of the author, go here.