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December 13, 2010
A Quiet Rage
It was dawn. He had not had a wink of sleep that night. He had spent it watching the remainder of the burnt boat. Wrapped in his thickest parka, he just glanced at the ship's skeleton. Most of the planks that once belonged to its hull had been ravaged by the southern tribesmen for firewood, which was a scarce commodity in the barren tundra.
At dawn, Katara realized he had not been in bed all night. She got up and got dressed. He was not in the hut either.
Outside, the village fishermen were discussing the previous night's events. They had not ventured out to sea, feeling it might not be safe just yet, but they were still up, as it was their habit to rise well before sunrise. She got his whereabouts from them, thanked them and went on her way. There he was – still...
Without words, she caressed his face, and then hugged him. They kissed.
"Are you okay?" she finally asked.
"Are you okay?" he asked back. She just nodded.
Aang managed to push out a half-stifled smile, but it disappeared almost as soon as he had put it out there.
"You know, even though I'm worried that she's still out there, I guess I should thank you."
Aang chuckled, as he gazed at the ground.
"You were right, I was about to become a killer – just like her."
Aang kept staring at the floor "Yeah. That would've been pretty bad."
"I'm glad that I have you with me, to watch over me – to keep me sane."
Aang looked at her, this time truly smiling "It's my pleasure."
"I'm also sorry that you had to do what you did."
A shadow once again crossed Aang's face, as he returned his gaze to the boat. Katara searched for the right words to ease the awkwardness and the shame.
"You know, maybe it's a good thing it was you and not me in the end. I mean - she may never get to know it, but she should thank you for protecting her. If someone was going to call the shots, it was best that it was he who did not want her to die."
Aang turned his head to his wife, wearing a grave and somber expression. His eyes, welling up with tears, locked with hers, pulling her into his nightmare:
"But I did want her dead. I did want to kill her. Everything that I am, every thought in my brain, every muscle in my body – wanted her gone." He trembled, as the tears streamed down his face. He opened his mouth yet again, but words failed him.
Katara too, cried, as she hugged and comforted her husband. She had often wondered, in times such as these, how could a heart so pure withstand all of this violence and hate. The answer now lay before her: it couldn't without breaking, at least from time to time...
And so, she opened her arms to him as a second womb and rocked his little baby soul. After his sobs had subsided, she attempted a measure of wisdom:
"It's easy to do nothing – but it's hard to forgive."
He just nodded, his eyes still shut. His thoughts were with his people, especially with Gyatso. Sometimes, he felt so lost without him.
An Evil Hope
The whole experience had been humiliating, but what bothered her most were the stares. She was not a girly girl, but she had the basic decency to at least try and look somewhat presentable most of the times. Her clothes were ragged, muddy, and stained with blood. Her hair was all over the place and the bruises on her face and body were as unsightly as they were painful. However, the pain was not as bad as being just plain stared at by her fellow assassins as she entered the base. Maybe it was her upscale upbringing, or just basic female pride, but that's just how she was.
She got to her room and threw herself on her bunk. All she could do was stare at the ceiling and replay her split second of hesitation in her head over and over again. Why? What was happening to her? Had she gone soft? Was she going crazy like Tengu? Ever since she had gone on that assignment with Des to Ba Sing Se and had seen the fabled Demon Bird turned into nothing more than gutter chum, she had wondered if one day she would too lose her mind to this trade. And now, she had become more concerned than ever, since rumor had it that it had all started with him not wanting to kill a child...
Lost in her thoughts, she failed to notice Des, leaning against the door's frame.
"Strange that you should leave your door open."
"Forgot to close it. Too tired. Whatever..." She replied without even looking at him.
He studied his former partner for a moment before delivering his message:
"Old Man wants to see you..."
She let out a small sigh and pulled herself from the couch, heading over to Lu Ming's studio office. The door was open. He was still studying the same map on the wall. He did not even turn her way.
"Come in. Close the door."
She was ready for anything – at least that's what she thought. So she decided to go with the flow and not make any apologies or give any excuses. Whatever had to go down would - that would be that...
"My contacts tell me you pressed south until you reached the coast – and even then, you sailed on..."
"You had me tagged?" Lian asked unemotionally, more curious than upset...
"My dear, this is a high risk operation. I find that I need to monitor my assets carefully, now more than ever." He turned around and grabbed his first eyeful of the battered, beaten, and bruised Lian.
"You look ghastly." was his cold remark.
"Not as bad as it looks."
"So they are at the Southern Air Temple..."
"The South Pole?" Lu Ming turned around, wearing a puzzled expression on his face.
"And you went to the South Pole..." he came closer to Lian.
"And you engaged your targets."
"And you terminated them."
Lu Ming inched closer. Lian finally replied:
"No – I was outmatched. Plus, they were ready for me. You weren't the only one tagging me..."
"So you're going to tell me that you were in the South Pole, surrounded by you native element, under the power and influx of a full moon, and you could not finish your target?"
Lian's heart raced wildly in her chest, but she maintained her composure.
"You let them live..."
"No. They beat me. Should be obvious..."
"And they let you live, just like that?"
Lian just shrugged, not knowing what else to respond.
Lu Ming whispered in her ear: "Liar, liar – pants on fire..."
He walked over to the map and turned around, lashing at her:
"You went there, engaged your target with every possible advantage! Therefore, if you failed, there is no other explanation other that you failed deliberately, and you are going to tell me why!"
"I already told you, I was ambushed!"
"Nonsense! You held back, the same you did with Nero!"
Lian was outraged, "You know I did not hold back on Nero!"
Lu Ming stared intently into his agent's eyes. There it was: the shadow of deceit...
"You held back on them. I want to know why..."
"I already told you..."
A strong gale bashed her against the wall with brutal force. She bounced off the earthen surface and fell face down on the floor. She tried to get up, but then she felt the weight of the world on her shoulders. Inch by inch, she felt Lu Ming's artificial gravity begin to pin her entire body to the ground. Soon, it became nearly impossible to breathe.
"You will crack...or you will crack..."
Slowly, a sharp pain began to spread through her ribcage, as the pressure threatened to crack the bones one by one. Angry tears left her eyes, as she clenched her teeth and her fists. Almost feeling sorry for her, Lu Ming let up on his assault.
Lian finally croaked her answer, he voice almost failing her:
"She's pregnant...you can kill me if you want, but I'm not a baby killer..."
Lu Ming was in utter shock. For a moment, he became dislocated from the World. With eyes wide open and mouth agape, he turned around and began walking, ever so slowly, to his high, leather covered chair. He crept across his studio office as if floating, hovering above the ground. When he reached his chair he simply turned around and dropped.
On the other corner of the room, Lian struggled to catch her breath once more, wheezing, coughing and weeping, all at the same time. She caught a glimpse of the old man, lumped in his makeshift throne, hands on the rests, eyes on the ceiling. After a few moments, a smile began to slowly appear on his face. Then, he let out a small chuckle, then a giggle that grew into a hearty laugh, which in turn became all-out, uproarious laughter.
This old piece of crap has finally lost his marbles...maybe I can make my move now...
Lian moved her right hand ever so slightly. Lu Ming's laugh immediately stopped, as he raised his right hand.
Dammit! There's no fooling the old windbag...
"Do you realize what is happening?"
"You're finally becoming senile?" Lian immediately snapped.
"It's the circle of life – the balance is returning. I can feel it in my spirit." The old crime lord recited as he closed his eyes.
Lian's puzzled expression was immediately apparent to Lu Ming.
"This is the child of the Avatar: an airbender."
"The mother's a waterbender. It's at least a split chance, if it's a bender at all."
Lu Ming sat up straight in his rustic throne while staring daggers at Lian.
"Nonsense! It's an airbender! I should not expect any of you blundering idiots to understand the simplest thing about the Spirit World, should I?" Lu Ming got up and walked over to Lian. "The World is attempting to restore the balance between the elements and the nations."
"Doesn't the Avatar already have his own little airbending circus?"
"Fake airbenders! Fabricated! Abominations!" the old man barked at Lian "But not this child. This child will be a true airbender – by birthright."
A dark, sinister twinkle danced in the old killer's eyes. Lian was scared to ask, but she was also intrigued.
"Sounds like you're having second thoughts about killing it..."
Lu Ming swooped down on her like a buzzard wasp, bringing his face right in front of hers:
"I would not be the first one, would I? My little waterbrat..."
"Whatever you plan on doing, you can count me out. I already told you: not a baby killer..."
"Must I really explain everything to you murderous fools? This child is too precious to kill! I would much rather mold it...yes!" He slurred the last "s" sound, almost like the hiss of a snake. He then snapped out of his trance.
"We will leave them be – until the child comes of age. As soon as it starts bending, we will deal a deadly strike to his parents and then retrieve it. You are dismissed."
Lian got herself up slowly and left the office. As she walked down the corridor, she began tearing, then weeping. She walked hurriedly along the dirt tunnels, speeding towards her room.
Some pompous, idiot rookie who was hanging out with two of his friends wanted to poke some fun:
"What happened, sugar? Did the old man spank your tush too hard?" He had a good laugh at her expense. His buddies laughed too...
With a bloodcurdling scream, Lian pulled out a dagger and stabbed the young punk's neck. As soon as the first burst of blood sprouted from his jugular, she began draining him. She pulled the blood so hard and so fast that the arteries exploded, leaving a gash in his neck. She then bent the blood into two serrated whips. She amputated both his buddies' legs and left them screaming on the floor. She only stood there for a split second, watching the blood mix with the dirt before she began walking away.
A Burning Desire
The young boy had come running from the courtyard as quick as he could. He knew the letter had to be important, since the Masters seldom received anything that was addressed privately. He found her meditating in her small garden, overlooking the mountain range. She received the scroll with a smile and caressed her student's face gently. She turned around and read the sender's name. Electricity...
She trembled as she held the scroll, fearing to open it. Her hesitation, however, was short lived, and she quickly broke the seal to read the words she had longed for all these weeks:
My Dearest Kuen Yin,
It would appear that my sudden departure caused you an undue amount of grief, and for that I apologize. I can only hope that, in the end, you will concur that I had very powerful reasons to leave. It is true that, in hindsight, they were only assumptions. However, given my previous experience with the Black Lotus, I decided that I could not afford to ignore my instincts. Once again – I am sorry for any pain this might have caused you.
During my travels I confirmed my suspicions that there was an even greater danger headed for the Avatar and his family of which they were completely unaware. An elite Black Lotus assassin was on their trail and headed for the South Pole. A trustful source advised me and I was able to prevent them in the nick of time. It was a very close call, but the Avatar and his family are once again secure. I am currently preparing to deliver the captive killer back to the Black Lotus Headquarters at Ember Island. I'm certain that she will not attempt to come close to them anytime soon.
After much conversation with Master Aang and some of his friends in the Water Tribe, he has decided to propose my inclusion into the Allied Forces as Security Advisor for the war effort. Master Aang was careful to avoid mentioning my previous ties to the Order. He only referred to my service during The Siege of Ba Sing Se and downplayed my previous employment as "bounty hunter". I appreciate his sensitivity to my predicament, and am rather grateful that his word carries such weight that I may be trusted with such a tall order on mere good faith. We are certainly blessed to have him among our people.
After I return from Ember Island, we will leave the South Pole and head for Omashu. There is a big meeting with the Allied Forces and The Order of the White Lotus. I understand this is where I will meet with the people who will ascertain my final involvement in the ongoing conflict. I am uneasy about this engagement, since attending this meeting means facing my past and this, in my case, is quite unwelcome.
I ask for your prayers so that I may get a clean shot at redemption this time around.
Tears of gratitude streamed down her face, as she clenched the scroll to her bosom. He was safe and well. Her eyes closed in prayer as her face rose to the sky. She was in complete and utter rapture – so deeply submerged in her thoughts that the old, raspy voice took her completely by surprise...
"It is always good to know that you can finally stop holding your breath and exhale."
Kuen Yin hurriedly wiped the tears from her face as a slight tinge of red crossed her cheeks. She gave Master Lin a small, embarrassed smile, as she got up and bowed to her elder.
Master Lin just walked up to the young woman, caressed her face and smiled. Emotions soon ran over, as Kuen Yin's eyes filled with tears. Master Lin hugged her forcefully, clasping her body against Kuen Yin, as if the strength of her embrace could infuse the young woman with the strength of her own chi.
After a few moments of quiet sobbing, Kuen Yin was finally able to regain control. Master Lin let go, helping her to rearrange her robe and her hair.
"Is it that obvious?" Kuen Yin asked.
"Don't worry my child. Only those who have loved deeply can recognize love when they see it."
"Must I always fall for the bad guy?"
The old woman simply chuckled "My child: you should not concern yourself with what was, only with what is. This boy came to us confused, shackled, imprisoned – much like a certain young lady I once knew. So lost – so hurt..."
Kuen Yin stared into her surrogate mother's eyes. How could she have ever survived without Ma Lin? How could she have ever dared to reach out and touch another life ever again if not for her lessons and compassion?
"And to see you now – you both have blossomed like the moon peach tree under the autumn sky – ripe with fruit and with fragrance. Strong, tall and beautiful..."
"I saw when he left – I wanted to make him stay..."
"We both wanted him to stay, but it would have been a mistake. He knew it. Chang knew it. My boys knew it too."
Kuen Yin felt her emotions taking over again, but she managed to keep her head about herself before speaking again. She stared at the floor as she spoke:
"He just makes me feel...special; important. I feel like I actually matter to someone."
"My child, you are so important to our people! They look up to you for guidance and counsel! I'm worried that a strong woman like you may need a man's attention to make her feel validated."
"That's not what I meant, you know that, Ma Lin..."
"Well – that's what you said, so I need to make sure."
Kuen Yin wore a childish scowl, while Lin just hugged her and laughed.
"I feel..." Master Lin listened attentively.
"I feel I can be myself – like I have nothing to hide. I don't have to pretend, or fake, or lie... You know: I can be me."
"I have a question for you, my child."
"Can he be himself too? Will he be able to bare his soul too, as you have?"
Ma Lin always asked such great questions.
The Dragon of the West
Tengu had returned from delivering Lian at Ember Island. Aang was packing up, as they were getting ready to leave the South Pole – Tengu was facing the tundra, meditating. Aang went over to him and tapped him in the shoulder, nodding. It was time.
Aang went back to his hut and kissed Katara and her belly. She shyly waved at Tengu, secretly glad that he was leaving. She was still afraid of him and did not trust him. The two travelers loaded up on Appa and took off. All the while Tengu was deeply withdrawn and meditative, as if he were watching his past play in front of him.
They did a stop at the Patolas, near the base of the Southern Air Temple. Aang was hesitant, but did not want to deny Tengu his request – which was, incidentally, quite strange. Why would he want to stop to get a moon flower? Heaven only knows...
Tengu returned with an elegant looking plant, albeit he seemed to be having a good deal of trouble holding its earthen base together. Aang bent some stones around the loose soil covering the plant's roots, creating a temporary pot in which to holds the flower. He nodded to Tengu – Tengu nodded back. It was good.
The little gardening expedition had taken longer that they had expected, and it was almost sundown, so Tengu proposed spending the night at the Southern Air Temple. Aang was hesitant at first, but Tengu reasoned that there would probably be no other place better to stay anywhere closer, so he agreed – half-heartedly.
Aang was surprised to see a couple of Fire Nation guards standing in the courtyard. At his descent, they immediately stood at attention. One of them came forward and bowed, extending him a scroll. Aang turned back to Tengu as he took the scroll. Tengu just shrugged.
My Dear Friend:
As we have spoken on many occasions, I will never be able to right every wrong. Nevertheless, if there is anything I can do to give you some retribution; my hands will not be idle.
It was then that Aang finally realized that the temple, as well as its surrounding grounds, were groomed and well kept. All the cracks had been repaired and all the scorch marks cleaned. The ground where the bones of his people once laid was now a garden in the shape of the Air Nomads' symbol, with an eternal flame ablaze in the middle.
Aang just nodded, tapping the scroll into his left palm, with silent tears falling down his face. He looked back at Tengu. Tengu just smiled. A messenger hawk was cast into the skies, presumably to let the Fire Lord know that the Avatar had finally arrived to his home temple.
Seemingly out of nowhere, valets appeared: unsaddling, brushing and feeding Appa. Some were offering to carry their belongings into the temple. Finally, the head steward appeared to escort them to the dining room, where they were treated to a special dinner in the Avatar's honor. After the meal, the valets showed Aang to his old room, which had been redecorated as if for Fire Nation royalty. Aang did not love it – but he appreciated the effort.
Tengu woke up before dawn to practice as it was his custom. He found that the moon flowers had been put in a new pot, courtesy of the Temple's Gardener. The pot was an ornate affair, ablaze with the crimson tones that were typical of Fire Nation craftsmanship.
After practice and dressing up, he went for Aang, but the valets told him he had eaten breakfast early and was about the grounds meditating.
Tengu ate quickly and set about finding Aang. He found him in front of Gyatso's statue. It had been cleaned and the stone had been polished. A beautiful plaque had been placed under his carved name: "Father to the Avatar; Teacher to the Nations." Aang was in tears, watching the silent homage in complete rapture, when he felt his friend's hand on his shoulder. Aang placed his hand on his, acknowledging his solidarity. They left to fetch Appa. It was time to go.
The flight was again silent, with now two very pensive travelers aboard the gentle flying beast. They reached Kyoshi Island by sunset. Oyaji almost got in a fight with Aang, since he had been expecting them a day earlier. Tengu interceded and apologized, saying the extra day was incurred on his account, looking for a flower to give as a gift for an old friend. Oyaji's temper subsided and they ate dinner and went to sleep. They once again left at dawn, heading full speed ahead to Omashu.
When they arrived, Bumi and Zuko were there waiting for them. Aang immediately went over to his friend and hugged him, tears of gratitude lingering in his eyes. Zuko smiled back. Guards were assigned to escort them to their room. On their way, Tengu passed a large room in which he recognized Iroh's shape knelt in prayer in front of his son's picture. After all, it was his birthday.
Tengu felt his stomach begin to tremble with fear and anticipation. Aang just nodded and pat his back.
Iroh was in deep meditation, but he was able to discern the sound of someone entering the room. When he turned around, he saw an unusual sight: a young man, probably in his late 20s, an Air Nomad, was kneeling on the floor. He was sobbing quietly, his staff on the floor, his arms hanging limply from his shoulders. In front of him, was a lovely pot filled with beautiful moon flowers.
For a minute, Iroh just stood there, watching the scene, puzzled. The dim candlelight was not enough to make out the young man's features. He came closer, and then froze in his tracks. Tengu's tears fell on the hard stone floor. His mouth moved, but no words came out. His arms moved, but were unable to complete a gesture. Finally, without any other recourse, he crawled at Iroh's feet. Before he was able to grab his legs, he felt the general's strong hand jerk him up by his robe. Iroh held the young monk to his chest with all of his strength. Tengu felt the old man's embrace break something in his chest. His cries were heard all the way down the hall, in Aang's room.
Aang smiled. It was like bittersweet music to his ears.
For the collective works of the author, go here.
|Honor Thy Father Chapters|
| Hope Against Hope - A Change of Pace - Tainted Sanctuary - A New Home - Recovered - Empowered - When In Doubt - The Hunt - Full Moon - Reckonings - Sora
The Love of the Daughter - The Wasted Warrior, Part 1: Cycles- The Wasted Warrior, Part 2: Regrets- Daddy - The Charade, Part 1: The Shadow - The Charade Part 2: The Beast - The Charade, Part 3: The Fool - The Breakthrough - Redemption, Part 1: Dejection - Redemption, Part 2: Dominion