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August 10, 2013
Chapter 3: The Unveiling
My eyes narrowed under the shade of my black hood, awaiting the Avatar's response.
"I believe in deities in the form of spirits, if that's what you're saying. Are you saying that you're a spirit?"
Aang's tone surely was not expected, as surprise quickly lit up his young features. He had perfect reason to be surprised. Such talk to anyone of my status would merit swift and merciless punishment, as was my father's way. But times had changed, and I was not my father.
"Not a spirit, Aang, no." I sat up straighter, the feeling of divine authority coursing through my body. "I am what some call a god."
The tension within our little discussion in the sky started straining, the visible expressions of shock fixed on each face. One person in particular stood out to me. Katara, it was. Hard ridges of gooseflesh had covered her skin as she sat in silent awe. She seemed transfixed, yet I had only just started the unveiling.
"And, my name is Atlas."
I removed the dark hood covering my face, the facade I had hidden behind for years and years, finally lowered. Not one man had seen my eyes since I left my home. Even I cannot recall the last time I had taken a look at my reflection and not seen a dark shadow staring back. But I do remember what my mother had said of my eyes—back when times were better.
"Atlas," she had said. "What marvelous gray eyes you have. I feel like they are examining my very soul. Why, you'll have the right scary glare of a raptor before long." She had proceeded to tussle my full head of brown hair, making us both laugh, as was her pastime before existence itself seemed to derail.
I was a ghost of my past self now. My eyes were glossed over and my countenance was devoid of emotion. What was emotion, really? I had since lost touch with life, and myself. I only had one purpose. It was a straight path I walked. One that spelled either death for my enemy or for me. None of the others seemed as taken aback by me as Katara. She had shuffled back as far as she could, arching her back against the lip of the saddle. Her breathing had quickened, her eyes locking onto my cutting stare and immediately turning away. I imagined it must have been like looking at the sun.
At last, Katara broke the lingering silence that had since pervaded our discussion. "So, Atlas, where are you from?"
My gray eyes latched onto her hazel ones once again as I thought, my expression changing with the unending flow of memories. "The first thing that you must know about me, if you ever are to understand me, is that I am not from this world of yours."
"What?!" Katara exclaimed with hands covering her mouth. Sokka dug a finger in his ear, trying to hear better and Aang looked beside himself in shock.
"I am not from this world." I pointed down with both hands. "Please, let me explain myself." The three of them nodded without further interruption.
I began picking at the elegant gold stitching on the armored gloves I wore, thinking of how best to recount the countless years I had wandered. I took one last deep breath, letting a deluge of emotions and memories immerse me, and began my story.
"All the worlds are interconnected. Yes, there are more than just two. All are laterally connected in a chain, existing simultaneously with one another. Or, at least they once did." My voice had become despondent like someone who spoke about a lost loved one. "You see, all the worlds have since been swallowed by war and conquest. And as a god, I have no home world to fight for, but only a duty to protect them all. It is a sacred responsibility reserved for the son of the White."
Reading their looks of utter confusion, I continued, saying, "Yes, Gods can have sons, and daughters for that matter, and as for the White, know this: there are two powers that govern all the worlds and beyond. They are the White, all that is good, and the Red. Both are simply amorphous pools of energy, without a definite shape or form, however, that does not detract from their influence. They once were gods, like me, and in their waning stages of life, they willingly took up a new, more enlightened form.
"Now, you remember I touched upon worlds plunged in war and conquest?" The three nodded, eager to continue the story. "Well, as I have said, my sole duty is to prevent total war and, in extension, the annihilation of mankind. See, if the populace of a world dwindles and becomes insufficient for the sustainability of itself and the environment, that world no longer has a need to exist, and the Red Tide comes sweeping across the land like a wave, claiming any and all survivors and turning the world into nothingness.
"My only purpose in life, as long as it may be, is to prevent the Red Tide from drowning the worlds. Everything exists for a reason, and that reason is to create balance. The Red exists in order to counter the White and keep everything in equilibrium—just as the sun and oceans exist to create an everlasting cycle—just as a predator exists to keep the prey population in control. Everything would have been fine, had it not been for one thing: humanity."
"But Atlas," Aang piped up, "how can that be possible? Humanity gives form and structure to the world. Mankind works only to care for it."
Oh, how much the young Avatar had yet to learn. Oh, how vulnerable he was to the shortcomings of man—the true nature of mankind. He was just a boy, thrown into a world of savages like scraps of meat to stray dogs. He would have to learn, as I did, long ago.
"Have you so easily forgotten the one hundred year long war that has ravaged much of your world and left countless peoples homeless or worse, dead?" I said. "Can you even fathom what countless men have done to their fellow brethren, to the women, to the children? Can you imagine the countless dead, all loved, none found, that lay forgotten in godforsaken ditches across the burning countryside? I would not call these brutes men, Aang. By the White, that war is your proof. Mankind is the cause of this madness." My eyes were sharp for a moment, cutting down any chance for a rebuttal, but then softened. "Of course, you did not live through the war. But neither did I. We both adopt a war we have no connection to in the hopes that we can solve the world's problems and find peace. I am sorry, Aang, but it is the cross we bear."
"But that is not even the worst part," I stared each of them in the eyes, letting the thought sink in. "Do you want to know the worst part? The worst part is that you and I currently inhabit the last world in the chain." Everyone was horror struck and my old friend, silence, came to sit with us for a few minutes, before I continued. "And if we cannot stop this war all life will cease to be."
I gave a long sigh and laid my head back on Appa's saddle. The consequences of failure that had since been looming on the fringes of my mind came rushing to the fore. If I failed, all that existed would forever be lost, through my decisions. The thought was harrowing. If even a god could not curb the insatiable hunger of the Red, how then, could a boy? How many more failed worlds could I watch drown and wither? The answer, of course, was one. This was the last chance to save the remnants of man. I just hoped that mankind was at last ready to save itself.
"Atlas," Katara's voice pulled me out of my thoughts, "how long have you been on your quest?" She was timid, I could feel that, yet there was a resilience within her and a strange curiosity to know more—a hunger for truth.
My head rose a couple inches off of the lining of the dark leather saddle to gaze at her intently. Of all the people I had met, she was the quickest to set aside her fear of who I was, of what I was. She was as much of an enigma to me, as I surely was to everyone—except her.
"At the time I was old enough to take on the responsibilities, I was, to your understanding, thirty thousand years old."
"Eek," Sokka blurted out, "that makes our Aang here a wee baby."
Aang made a face. "Funny, Sokka."
"But that was only the start," I continued, "after traveling through a virtually endless chain of worlds, I stand here before you about to enter manhood, at the ripe age of fifty thousand."
The three gasped, most likely from the implications of such an ordeal: the violence, the frustration, the loss. They could never fathom the countless dead and lifeless faces that have been seared into my memory. Each blink brings back the blank stares full of contempt.
As though Katara could read my very thoughts, she placed a comforting hand on my leg, letting me know that she understood my struggle. I gave her a tight lipped smile, one that did not show any teeth, but was full of thanks. Grinning from ear to ear, Katara smiled back, her unwavering gaze set on mine. It was breathtaking to see her so comfortable around someone as unpredictable as me, even the rest of the gang seemed at ease despite my character. A good omen, I supposed.
My head turned to the Avatar. "Well Aang, enough about me and my unfortunate past.You now know enough to get started. I cannot save your world for you, but I can guide you along the path towards salvation."
Aang nodded, his face becoming somber. "Atlas, I have a question."
"What happened to the others you helped? Why couldn't they save their worlds? Were they not good enough?"
I began working my tongue. The only right words were the truthful ones, and sometimes they are not the easiest to stomach.
"The reason they failed," I said, leaning forward on the saddle, "was because they became a victim to their own humanity. Making war was all they ever knew. Peace was as foreign to them as I was to all of you. I can do many things, Aang, but I cannot reprogram the human condition."
"I see." He looked even more downcast than before he received his answer.
Truth can be a double edged sword. I shook my head at that thought.
Giving him a comforting pat on the back, I continued: "But if anyone is able to stop the spread of war and violence, I believe it would be you Aang."
Aang's eyes ignited with a spark of hope. "Do you really think so?"
"Of course. You only have to look at your heritage: a peace-loving, calm, and relaxed nation of Air Nomads. Your whole personality exudes messages of non-violence. And, you have been absent for the duration of the war. Some would say that is a disadvantage, coming into the fray so late, but I say, it is your protection against corruption. You are the last person that find joy in making war. Who better to lead the movement for peace?"
In truth, who better to lead this movement? For so long, I carried the almost unbearable weight of responsibility to the two-faced heathens I fought with for salvation. Little did I know, they were as cold-blooded and merciless as the warlords who had instigated the fighting. Aang, however, was different. Of that I was sure.
"Fear not Aang, you have friends to call upon. Others I have dealt with were never as lucky as you."
I smiled for the second time that day. A record, if I am not mistaken. This time, though, two rows of brilliantly white teeth shone in the dying sunlight.
Aang returned the smile and gave a small laugh. "Thanks, Atlas." He turned to Sokka and Katara, "and thank you for coming along with me."
"It is my pleasure, Avatar," Sokka said with a mocking air of reverence.
Katara spoke next. "Sure thing Aang. We wouldn't let this opportunity go for the world."
And once again, my voice commanded the discussion, my words powering through the wind: "So, Aang, now that we are all on the same page, what would you have us do?"
The young Avatar looked out towards the horizon. He watched as the sun cast a reddish-bronze glow upon an evening sky uninterrupted by clouds. After a moment, he turned back to me. "I've got some ideas."
|As the Tide Breaks|
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