|By Dragon of The West||Genre||Rating||Reviews||Updates|
|More from Dragon of The West||Drama||PG - 13||None||None|
September 5th, 2010
Truth is revealed..almost...
It was a very awkward moment. You could almost imagine the questions and doubts suspended in mid-air, as if they were hanging from the thick, oppressive silence. Neither of them dared look each other in the eye.
Finally, The Avatar spoke:
"Tell me – what was it that I saw?"
Tengu hung his head low "What did you see?"
"Death. Murder. Blood. Lots of blood."
Aang paused briefly. "I also saw a demon. Half man – half bird."
Tengu kept silent, staring at the floor. Aang had decided to question the man alone, sparing him the dire prospect of facing the whole Council.
"I was an assassin - a killer for hire; a professional murderer."
Aang felt the pit of his stomach cave in, but he exercised his restraint to the best of his abilities. He stood from his seat and took a deep sigh. He turned to face the room's window.
"Why have you come here?"
"I came here because I want to live." Tengu uttered with total conviction.
"Are you running away from someone?" asked Aang, facing him.
"No. I'm done running away."
"Is someone after you? Will they come here looking?" Aang was angry to think this man could have put his people in danger.
"No.", replied Tengu. "All those who tried to kill me are dead. The last one they sent found me drunk in the streets of Ba Sing Se. He took pity on me – he would not harm me."
"What exactly happened to those who tried to kill you?"
Their eyes crossed for the first time. The question was answered without words. Aang sighed deeply as he closed his eyes. He opened them again after a brief instant.
"I had no other choice."
"There's always another choice. It's not like you were born a killer."
Tengu looked down. He remembered his mother's words. They were like a dagger to his heart.
"Is that what you were taught?"
"No. My father was an officer of the law. He only wanted me to know how to defend myself."
"What happened then?"
"I lived in a mining town. The Fire Nation invaded us and my brother was drafted into the mines, so my Father volunteered to patrol the mines to be close to him. The separatists hated us for working for the Fire Nation so they killed them in front of my father."
Tengu's voice began to quiver.
"As he mourned my brother, some of the prisoners managed to escape, so the Fire Nation accused him of treason."
His voice ended breaking up completely. "They came for him at night. My mother and sisters pleaded with the guards, and the captain accused them of attacking the guards. He had them all killed by lightning for treason. I was left to fend for myself. I was ten."
"So, you wanted revenge."
"No! I just wanted to live!" Tengu's every word was drenched in a sad, bitter anger.
Aang was moved, but he would not loosen up his prosecution just yet. "What did you do?"
"I ran to Gaoling. An old man took me in and gave me shelter. He was a tailor. He let me work in his store and took care of me. But he was old, and after a couple of years he died. His son wasn't as good to me."
"Did he beat you?"
"Did he throw you out?"
"No. It was me who ran."
Tengu opened his mouth but no sounds came out. A lump on his throat wanted to block the words and seal the pain in. It did not prevail...
"He wanted to sleep with me." Tengu hissed the words he one day swore never to tell another living soul.
"He what?" Aang could not give credit to his ears.
"I fought him off and ran. He accused me of stealing his father's money, but those were my savings!" Tengu was reliving his tragedy. He shook with rage as he recounted the tale of his framing.
"That filthy pervert threw me in jail!"
"But you must have had a trial."
"I was a twelve year old boy! An orphan from the streets! Who do you think the judge favored?"
"So you went to jail and became a criminal."
"I swore no one would ever hurt me again without paying a price. I swore I would make them pay."
"Everyone." Tengu was again his cool, calm and collected self. He was once again in his comfort zone.
Aang noticed the change of his newest disciple's tone and demeanor. He would not let him sink back into his old state of mind and allow him to feel justified in his doings – not even for a second.
"Did it work?"
"At first it seemed like it. Then one day I was hired for a special contract. I was to enlist in the Fire Nation Army and kill a high ranking officer and his son. I couldn't."
"We became friends. The son died saving my life. The father...I just couldn't. He was like a father to me too." Tengu's tears began flowing once again.
"After that, I no longer wanted to be a killer. I tried to quit, but my former employer sent people to hunt and track me down constantly. The last time they tried to kill me, I had begun my own family. They..."
It was as if Tengu's voice was robbed from within him.
"They killed your family."
Tengu just nodded, unable to muster the words.
Aang finally understood: "You have lost everything - to the point you have nothing else left to lose."
He walked up to Tengu, put a hand on his shoulder for a moment, and then left the room.
Katara had been just outside the door, trying to eavesdrop. She fiercely hung on to every intelligible syllable that occasionally emerged from within the room, hoping that it would provide her with enough information to decipher the next understandable piece of dialogue.
She was taken by surprise by Aang's sudden exit from the room, wearing a disapproving look on his face:
"What? My husband almost dies bending a mysterious newcomer and I'm not even entitled to know why?"
"It's best that we handle this like this for now."
"That we handle what like this Aang?"
"Nothing – I need to see The Council. Please wait for me in our room. I'll be there in half an hour – we'll talk then."
"No, Aang. You almost died last night and I want to talk now!"
Aang just continued walking towards the garden. A young nomad was passing by and Aang signaled for him to come closer.
"Have you seen Master Kuen Yin?"
"She's right over there, Master Aang."
"Great! Please go ask her to come meet me. I'm on my way to the Garden. Afterwards, get the rest of the Masters for me, will ya?"
"Sure, Master Aang!" He bowed and sped off.
"So we're taking in killers now..." Katara managed to get in right after the young boy had left.
Aang sighed and turned around.
"You know Katara, for someone who's as kind and caring as you are, you sure harbor a very harsh, self-righteous side which is very hard to deal with."
"It's always this way with you Aang: you ride tall on your moral high horse but deep down inside, you have the same fear and doubts as any of us mortals. You talk about values you're not even sure you can or even want to live by, so it's pathetic that you should try to enforce them on others! Especially on these people, who have left everything and journeyed so far trying to leave violence and suffering behind."
"So you don't think Tengu is doing just the same – trying to leave violence and suffering behind?"
Katara's reasoning was cut off, but she would not be silenced so easily. She slowly walked towards her husband.
"I know the look in your eyes: you're afraid of him. You're just as scared by having a murderer live here than anyone in their right mind has the right to be! But will you cast him off? Oh, no! You're the Principal Elder, you're the Avatar –you're forced by your convictions to show him compassion, even if it means having your people live in fear!"
"In fear of what, Katara? That he will turn out like Zuko? That he will turn out to be like Mai? As far as I know, for all the times they tried to take us out, we were perfectly entitled not to ever trust them anymore. But guess what? They have become our best friends! Try and get this: people change. And they should be given the chance to prove to others and to themselves that they can if they're willing to try! If the Principal Elder or The Avatar – which I happen to be both – cannot give people a second chance, then this is a sad world. And yes: sometimes I find that what I believe to be the right thing has a price, but I would rather pay it than losing sleep over having taken the easy way out!"
Master Kuen Yin had arrived only a moment ago and had caught only the end of the argument. She knew something was very wrong, since this kind of discussion was very rare between the Avatar and his wife.
"Is something the matter, Master?"
Aang was angry. He was angry that his lovely, kind wife had never outgrown her petty self-righteousness. He was angry that he had chosen to exchange vows with someone who was so swift to cast judgment over others. But above all, he was angry that she kept calling his judgment into question. All that came out wrong could have been prevented, while all that came out well was good fortune. He was going to let her have a piece of his mind...
"Nothing's wrong, Kuen Yin. Only that for some people not even saving the World is good enough."
With that he turned around and marched off to the Garden. Kuen Yin had to almost jog to keep up...
Easier Said Than Done
Aang had expected the Council to be apprehensive about letting a former assassin stay, but he had never expected the discussion to become this agitated. Kuen Yin was the most vocal about setting up "boundaries":
"We must think of the children – they are not to be exposed to such things!" Kuen Yin, true to her older sister nature, always put the children first.
"It's not like he's doing them anymore, Kuen Yin!" Aang immediately retorted.
"But, Master Aang, you know the children too well: they're curious, inquisitive, and they are bound to start asking questions sometime!"
"I more afraid of the pain those questions may cause him than of the children's innocence being corrupted. The War has taken care of that in most cases; you know it all too well." Master Lin answered.
"Most, but not all...!" Kuen Yin replied.
"Young Master, a tiger may be born on a leash, but it will always be a tiger, it will never become a cat." Master Yao advised.
The discussion had been going on for quite some time now, and consensus seemed to be very far off for the new Air Nomad Council. Aang needed a tie-breaker, so he turned to Master Chang, who had remained silent throughout the discussion.
A brief silence ensued, in which the remaining elders also set their sights on the retired military man. He finally spoke, his eyes still fixed on the garden ground:
"Do you not find it odd that the mighty dragon, who taught my former people the secrets of fire, is a cold-blooded animal?"
Master Chang smiled and raised his eyes to meet his peers'.
"And our gentle bison: does he not lack fang and claw to fend off the enemy? He adapted by taking to the skies. And the mighty brute that is the badgermole: he cannot see where he's headed or even where he's been, yet he compensates by modifying his surroundings to his convenience. The greatest irony of nature is this: that there may be a strength that arises from lack in order to restore balance."
Master Chang stood up and began slowly walking towards Aang.
"When the comet first came, and violence broke out on the land, the first nomads were vanquished – wiped out from the face of the Earth. But, as you can see: a hundred years of war have made the world thirsty for peace and tranquility, so we have risen again to quench it."
Master Chang now turned to the rest of the Council.
"This boy: he has had no peace. He has no family to go back to. He has never had someone to watch over him with kindness. What he lacks, we have – and so he has come, seeking balance and completeness. But, dare I say, that he brings many things that we need? Not violence, of course, but rather resilience, discipline, fortitude... The times no one could come to his rescue, he has been his own savior. This we must learn too."
He turned to Aang:
"If we learn those lessons, we may never need to be afraid anymore. If he learns ours, he will attain healing and I am sure he can be made whole."
He briefly paused, turning to Aang.
"Master Aang: let me train him. I feel my heart burdened by this young man's pain. I will be responsible for him."
Aang nodded. The rest of the Council stood up and bowed at Master Chang. He bowed back.
A New Mentor
Tengu went to meet Master Chang for his first airbending lessons, and he found him facing the rising sun from near the edge of the large stone courtyard.
Tengu approached the old man from behind, as silent and as stealthy as ever, not wanting to disturb the Master, who was obviously meditating as he contemplated daybreak.
"Your father – he was a fine man."
Tengu stood frozen by the words, his every muscle locked in suspended animation. Master Chang continued...
"I still remember the first time I heard his story. Soldiers constantly talked about of how he traded the honor he had earned in battle defending his town for the shame of serving the enemy in the mines – all for the love of his son. You see: at first, I thought just like the others: he was a fool who had no honor. Of course, all of that changed the day the mail brought news that my wife was pregnant with our first child. When she bore him, I was granted leave for three weeks. It was almost torture having to return to Guzheng after having held him in my arms."
He paused and looked at the floor.
"Not even a month after I had returned, The Badgermoles caused the accident that took your brother's life. I was in the patrol that arrested your father that night. I remember seeing you: so small, so afraid... I just couldn't let them take you."
Master Chang's turned to Tengu. His voice faltered.
"I should have hid you. I should have taken you with me and run away... But I was too much of a coward."
As he excused himself with a pained smile, Tengu's tears began to flow.
"For years I continued to follow orders like a puppet: hating myself for the grief I was causing. When I finally gathered the courage to leave the army, I began looking for you all around the Earth Kingdom..."
"Did you not have a family to go back to?" Tengu asked.
Master Chang paused and turned back to the horizon. "Ozai got to them first. He did not take treachery lightly. My boy was only 13. He was..."
Master Chang's lips quivered, as tears began trickling down his cheeks. He took a moment to recompose himself before he continued:
"Anyhow," he said with a deep sigh as he wiped his tears "I went back to Guzheng and re-traced your steps the best I could. When I heard of what had happened at Gaoling, my heart sank. The trail went dead at Ember Island. I did not know where to go from there. The last thing I would ever think is that the broken man we found in that inn at Ba Sing Se would be you. Even when you told us your name, I could not connect with what the man I was seeing. But when Master Aang bent you, I heard you scream your parents' names..."
Tears ran down the old man's face, his mouth open, trying to say things that his broken voice would not allow. After a few moments, he only managed to muster two words:
And so, the old Tengu returned: frozen, motionless...impaired. Yet something managed to emerge from the depths of his heart and through his lips:
Master Chang walked over to his new pupil, held his head in his hands and kissed his forehead. Tengu hugged the man, and cried...
After a few moments, Master Chang stepped back and smiled.
"Let us begin."
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