|By Dragon of The West||Genre||Rating||Reviews||Updates|
|More from Dragon of The West||Drama||PG - 13||None||None|
September 10th, 2010
"Dude!" Wu exclaimed, almost breaking out of whisper mode "How many times do I have to tell you? Stop moving! You're making so much noise you're going to wake up half the temple!"
"Not my fault man! This place is really uncomfortable!" Shu protested his friend's reprieve, since only Wu would think of hiding between the bristlecone bushes. So itchy...
The exchange was almost immediately forgotten, as their eyes continued to focus on the mysterious newcomer. His silhouette was lit only by moonlight, as he practiced his forms in the courtyard.
"Oooooh – this guy is sick! Look at that, look, look!" Shu was floored...
"Oooh!" Both boys whispered in unison, as the man did a series of impossible-looking roundkicks, suspended in mid-air, cushioned by invisible air currents.
"I told you man, this is it – this is our ticket out of losersville..." Wu was so excited he forgot to keep his voice down.
"Do you think he would teach us?" asked Shu
"Well, we would need to...wait a minute! Where'd he go?"
"Dude, we gotta jet! I think he might...oooomphhh!"
Next thing they knew, Wu and Shu were pinned face down on the ground, each of them being pushed into the dirt by one of Tengu's sansetsukon's two ends.
"Can't...breathe..." Shu implored.
Tengu suddenly realized the children posed no real threat so he let them go and helped them up.
"You must pardon my reflexes but I really don't like being stalked. Now: if you two don't mind explaining what are you doing here..."
Wu, being the most scholarly and diplomatic, decided to take charge.
"Please accept our apologies, brother Tengu, but you've become sort of a legend in the Temple."
"I can imagine." Tengu's tone was bitter.
The atmosphere was turning heavy and tense, but Wu, clever beyond his 12 years, tried to defuse the situation:
"I think you may be talking about what happened at your bending ceremony. That was highly irregular, I admit, but that's not really what we were referring to."
"Really?" Tengu was amused at the boy's verbosity. He was truly a disciple of Kuen Yin. He decided he would play along "I pray, little brother, do tell: what would grant me such notoriety?"
"Well, you see, no one has really been able to master the first 14 levels in less than three months before..."
Tengu was confused "Has it been that long? I thought I got bent just two moons ago."
"Nine weeks and four days to be exact." Shu finally intervened.
Tengu was in shock "You're keeping count?"
"Well, it's like Wu just said: it doesn't happen all that often."
A brief silence followed, in which Tengu closely studied the boys. Then it hit him.
"Well gentlemen, thank you for the information. I must retire to wash and prepare for the day. Dawn is almost upon us. Be blessed." With that, he quickly turned around and began walking towards his room.
"But, wait!" Wu cried, almost running to keep up with Tengu.
"I won't do it!"
"Please, Brother Tengu, we've been stuck at level eight for two months. At this rate, we'll never make Master Yao's class!"
The boys were finding it hard to keep up with Tengu, who was pretty much power walking his way through the temple.
Wu stopped and held his partner back. "Leave him be, Shu. We're not good enough for the killer yet."
Tengu stopped. He quickly turned around and slowly walked towards the boys. Wu's fake arrogance was concealing the fact that he almost peed his pants. Shu, on the other hand, wore his fear right out on his sleeve.
Tengu pointed at the boys with his staff.
"Do you see this staff, little brother? I learned to use it when I was half your age. At your age I was already in prison and I killed my first man. Do you want to hear how I did it?"
Wu's mock confidence had evaporated, while poor Shu was nearly in tears. They both shook their heads vigorously.
"No, sir. We'd rather not."
"If I'm so evil, why would you want to learn from me?"
"We know you're not that person anymore, Brother. Please, forgive us." Wu said.
"Yes, Brother Tengu. Wu likes to think he's real smart, but he really acts quite stupid sometimes. Please, forgive him." Shu intervened.
Very slowly, Tengu put his staff down, eased up on his posture and stood back. It was only then that Wu was able to muster up the courage to speak up again:
"Brother Tengu, you're the best airbender we've ever seen; second only to Master Aang himself."
Tengu was having a hard time overcoming his anger, but he realized: these were just children. He was only sad because he understood that it was not typical for children to make up their own prejudice: it was most often learned.
"We're stuck, Brother Tengu" Shu implored "Have you never felt stuck at something?"
His demeanor finally softened as he replied: "Of course."
He thought of himself, stuck in his emotional and spiritual rut nary five months ago, when he finally arrived at the temple's courtyard. He thought to himself what would Kuen Yin and the rest of the Council say. And finally, he thought of what could happen to those boys outside the doors of the temple.
"I will see you an hour before dawn. Same place."
"Thank You, Brother Tengu!"
The kids were ecstatic. They really should not have been...
The Pain of Learning
Pain shot through his entire torso as his back met the floor. The back of his head also lashed into the stone courtyard, rendering him dizzy for a few moments. He began to get up, only to feel the butt of the staff pressing him down back into the floor.
"I can tell you're not practicing your evasive maneuvers. If you choose to continue thinking as an earthbender, you will continue to fail this exercise. Again!"
Shu got up again. He would fall three more times before actually mastering the technique. Wu was taking a long breather after getting it on the fifth time. The first week had been hell. This second week wasn't any easier.
"Good! Now you will do it together – I will come against you both. Remember: the key is evasion, deflection – not resistance or confrontation!" They repeated the exercise some 7 or 8 times, all of which Tengu would make some observation or fine tune a certain move. At that point, both Wu and Shu's form was near flawless, but their bodies were covered with bruises and soaked in pain. Only then, almost at sunrise, Tengu adjourned. "That's enough for today, gentlemen. I will see you tomorrow."
The boys bowed to their teacher, who returned the courtesy.
Shu spoke out:
"Brother Tengu, why do we have to do this so early?"
"My father used this hour to avoid us being seen by my mother, who would throw a fit if she had found out I was training. Besides, you avoid being distracted by other people, or the heat of the day. You can work on your form until it is good enough, then it will become second nature at any time it is needed."
Wu asked, "You have your class with Master Chang right now, at dawn, right?"
"Has he taught you anything you didn't already know?"
The kids were thrilled, "Really? Like What?"
Tengu lowered himself until he was eye level with them.
"Compassion, wisdom, sensitivity, love, and respect, among other things."
"Have a good day, gentlemen."
Kuen Yin began her class one hour after breakfast every morning. Given her older sister/maternal disposition, Aang had chosen her as the beginners' airbending teacher. She provided students with the fundamentals needed to join Master Yao in intermediate/meditative airbending. Advanced airbending was taught by Master Chang and those aspiring to their Master degree were examined by Aang himself.
This particular morning Kuen Yin could not help noticing that Wu and Shu had breezed through every form – no complains, no bitching, no quarreling among themselves. They stood at the ready after every exercise, showing exemplary disposition and discipline. She dismissed the class...
They exchanged a brief, nervous glare before running to and bowing to their Master.
"Boys, I must congratulate you! You are showing excellent form and great progress!"
"Thank You, Master Kuen Yin!" The boys replied in perfect sync, in a monotone voice, never making eye contact and standing at the ready, just like soldiers. Knowing the boys' playful disposition, Kuen Yin found this very odd...
"Exams for Master Yao's class are coming up. I think that if you keep up the good work, you have a real good chance of finally moving on!"
"Thank You, Master Kuen Yin!" The boys replied in their martial fashion once again, allowing only the faintest of smiles to cross their faces.
Then, innocently, Kuen Yin grabbed a hold of each boys shoulder "I'm very proud of you, b..."
She was stopped halfway by a simultaneous wince of pain from both students. She immediately took a hold of Wu and pulled back his robe, revealing a black and blue shoulder.
"My word, Wu, what happened to...wait a minute..."
She repeated the procedure on Shu, finding a nearly identical hematoma...
"What is going on here?"
Kuen Yin was angry – very angry. To see such an agitated flare spewing from those green eyes was in itself a rare sight. However, it was to be expected, as she felt as wronged as anyone could have ever felt.
"He's not even a Master yet!"
Aang sat in complete silence.
"True enough, Master Aang, although I feel well qualified to tend to the boys' present needs."
"The boys are black and blue all over! Their bodies have not enough room left for one more bruise! And with those results you dare call yourself qualified?"
"They need to be able to defend themselves in dire situations. I push them no harder than what my father pushed me, being half their age. I have yet to receive a complaint from them." Tengu stated, cool as ever.
"Why would they complain? That would surely end up with them being even more black and blue!"
"That is an unfounded supposition." Tengu retorted.
"Is this what we have become, Master Aang, a culture who justifies violence and aggression upon the mere prospect of distress?" Kuen Yin tried to veer Aang over to her side.
"This would of course be tangential to the topic at hand, but during the first Great War, right before the advent of the Avatar, Master Takeshi was awarded his tattoos for a technique developed specifically for armed combat against the combined armies of the Earth Kingdom and the Fire Nation."
"Nonsense! There is no record of this Takeshi in any of the Air Nomad historical scrolls!" Kuen Yin was something of a frustrated scholar. She had never been able to fulfill her dream to study at the University of Ba Sing Se, but she was a diligent (and moderately accomplished), self-taught historian.
"He does not appear in any of the scrolls that were recovered from the temples - true. He does feature, however, in ancient Earth Kingdom chronicles. Takeshi would jam the end of his staff into his attacker's chest. Moments before the staff connected a small blade of air protruded from the tip and stabbed into his enemy. Then the small blade would become a mighty gale that shredded the organs of his victim. It was the creation of this attack that earned Takeshi his tattoos and master status. While the elders considered this airbending move as too offensive for their peaceful people to use, they had seen it's practicality on the battlefield."
The remark had resulted rather distasteful for the Council, all of whom frowned at the image.
Tengu hung his head.
Stupid! Just plain stupid!
Aang stayed silent. He felt Kuen Yin's pain, but the situation reminded him too much of Katara and Pakku for him to remain on her side for too long. However, he knew that siding with Tengu would mean disrespecting not only her, but the order of the community he was so intent on rebuilding. Kuen Yin was reloaded and ready to send another verbal attack, but Aang motioned for silence. At last, he turned to an equally silent elder:
"Master Chang? You are his teacher: You should know if he is qualified to teach the children."
Master Chang raised his gaze from the floor, visibly disturbed by the ongoing situation.
"With all due respect, Master Aang: I feel your query is incomplete." Chang sent Aang a bold, deep stare with his severe amber eyes.
Aang stared right back, not missing a beat: "You asked to teach him, so he is your responsibility. He has disrespected not only Kuen Yin, but you as well. What do you have to say for your student...as well as for yourself?"
Master Chang stood up and bowed to Aang. He then began walking slowly towards Tengu, as he spoke:
"I do concede that Brother Tengu may be confused about his role within this community. And I do believe he is at fault for letting his enthusiasm for the bending arts cloud his better judgment." With that he looked at Tengu, whose gaze stuck to the floor, ashamed of having embarrassed his savior and mentor.
"We all agree that Mastery is the only way to ensure proper control of the fundamentals. If that is not present, there is always the risk of laying a weak foundation. So yes: from both a technical and a spiritual perspective, it is reproachable, perhaps even disappointing behavior." Tengu kept staring at the floor.
"However, even though I know this Council to be an honorable and sincere body, I cannot shake the feeling that it is not my pupil's methods which are being called into question, but rather his intentions." Only the strength of her wounded pride allowed Kuen Yin to sustain the weight of Master Chang's stare.
"Otherwise, why else should we want to be so harsh on something that, under any other circumstance could very well be understood as a simple and honest mistake? Did he simply over step some boundaries wishing to help a couple of boys' progress in airbending, or was he trying to turn them into violent fighters?"
The garden became still and silent. The soft, gentle breeze that usually flowed within was replaced with a huge slab of dead, taut, thick air.
Finally, Master Yao spoke, "I see no ill will in our young newcomer. I may suggest, however, that his confusion extends past beyond his role and his limits within our community, all the way to the part our people play in the world. We are ambassadors of peace, not warriors or fighters. All our way of live and our customs revolve around this notion. Detach from the World and its desires – not change it, or confront it, or attack it."
"I see Master Yao." Tengu humbled himself.
Aang was locked in deep thought. Finally, he addressed Tengu.
"I think it would be best if you'd waited in your chambers."
Tengu left to wait in his room. He lied down, looking at the ceiling, asking himself what would it be that fate would deal out to him for his mistake. Seconds turned to minutes, and minutes into hours. At last, Master Chang appeared in his door. Tengu immediately knelt.
"Master, I am so sorry to bring shame on you. Please forgive me. I was stupid."
"No Tengu. You were compassionate and brave. Please do rise!"
Tengu sat in his bed and Master Chang joined him.
"Tengu, you need to know that not everyone in the Council - or in the Temple, for that matter – thinks you quite understand our ways just yet. Therefore, they are intimidated. They are afraid of your skill, of your intelligence and above all, of your ideas."
"Will I have to leave?" Tengu asked, genuine sadness filling his voice.
"No, Tengu, no!" Master Chang chuckled. "We all agree that there is no place better for you to heal and grow than in our midst. However, the Council has forbid me from continuing your training."
Tengu's heart sank. A single tear escaped his eye, as he faced the floor.
"I'll never be good enough..."
"No my child, you are outstanding!" Chang put his arm around his pupil. "You are a survivor, a fighter, a true warrior! Aang and Yao, they have always been men of the cloth, so everything is black or white with them. But, they also believe in restoring people and in second chances. You just be patient – they will see that they need warriors in their midst soon enough. Ozai may be locked away, but that does not mean the end of all evil in the World...it would be naïve to think that way! You just hang in there...they will come to their senses soon enough."
With that, Tengu seemed to feel better. Chang then got up and asked, "Are you coming?"
"But I'm not supposed to be with you."
"Nonsense! I'm still your guardian, so I can still invite you to lose to me in a game of Pai Sho..."
Tengu smiled, "You think too much of yourself."
For the collective works of the author, go here.