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October 17, 2010
To Save a Life
Aang was unprepared for the sight he found at the bottom of the stairs. Tengu was dirty, unkempt, weak, and sluggish – a far cry from the man he knew and had come to face. In fact, he looked no better than the bum his friends had found in skid row back in Ba Sing Se a year ago. He now sported a full beard instead of his clean goatee and some of his head hair had begun to grow back. His robes were dirty and soiled with caked sweat and dirt. Even with all of his pent up anger, the pious young man that Aang was could not help but feel sorry for the poor bastard that was now lying at the bottom of the great stone staircase.
Tengu immediately prostrated in front of Aang. Aang did not feel like telling him to stand...at least not yet.
"I thought you would have left."
Tengu spoke, still facing the floor: "I have nowhere else to go. If it pleases the Principal Elder, please allow a troubled man to at least die in peace."
"What are you talking about?"
"This is the only place that I've found sanctuary – where to live my life in peace. Once I leave its grounds, I will be a dead man."
"So you were running away, weren't you?"
"I never expected these things to happen, Master. I was sure I would not be followed anymore."
Aang could no longer stomach the man's self-deprecation: "Please stand."
Tengu tried to, but he two weeks without food out on the elements had weakened him.
"If it pleases my Master, I can kneel."
"I will tell you two things: I don't own anybody, so don't call me 'your Master'. Second: when you address me like that, I would expect total honesty and loyalty from you, and that doesn't seem to be happening!"
"I am sorry to have dishonored you. I meant only to protect the people of the Temple."
"You killed a man in cold blood on hallowed ground!"
"I saw no other way to silence him Master."
"There are always ways to avoid taking a life!"
"I will not justify myself. I know I've shamed and hurt you all..." Tengu's voice quivered, as tears fell down his face. "And it hurts so to have lost your love for a mistake. And it pains me to see that this curse has come following me and has now befallen you too... All I ask is that you don't make me leave this place. Once I walk away from these mountains, I'll be dead. Even if they don't kill me, I have already lost everything I love. If either way I'm dead; I just wish to die in peace here, next to the Temple."
With that, he crawled at Aang's feet, his face to the ground. "I beg you."
Aang shook his head. He would not say it, but he too, felt hurt. He shook with sadness and rage when Tengu touched his feet. He had to fight down the lump in his throat before speaking again:
"How can I trust you? How could we ever trust you again?"
Tengu slowly crawled back to his kneeling position. He put his hand inside his robe and took out a small dagger. It was the same knife Des had given him back at Ba Sing Se. He put the blade to his neck.
"If the Principal Elder understands I cannot be trusted, and that I am a danger to him or his people in any way, I will gladly take my own life, and put his mind at ease."
Aang was horror-stricken by the man's offer. He blew a strong gust of wind that threw the knife away from him.
Tengu's stare was dim and dull. Nonetheless, his mind remained as sharp as ever, and he could see the shadow of regret hiding behind the Avatar's eyes.
"You've had to kill, haven't you?"
Aang stood silent for a moment, before answering.
"It was an accident. I was not trying to kill him, only push him off me."
"But it still haunts you..."
"There was no need for him to die!"
"One of you had to die! It was either you or him..."
"How can you say that? You weren't even there!"
"Not this once, Master, but I have been in the exact same situation dozens of times before. Either doing a job for them or running away from them, it's always the same! Someone must die! It could be the target, the professional, or even the client. Regardless of who takes the fall, the outcome is always the same. It doesn't matter if it is money, skill, or the sheer will to survive that comes out on top. There will be blood, and there will be death."
"Well that's just great! You know? If hope this is not supposed to make me feel any better, because it's not working!"
"You're not seeing the point."
"You would have saved him who was meant to kill you."
"All life is sacred. It's not something I would expect you to understand."
"You would have saved him alright – you would have forgiven him..." Tengu pressed.
"Of course I would have!" Aang shouted, and the simply uttered "If only I could have..."
Tengu locked stares with Aang for a brief moment. His lower lip quivered as a single tear fell across his face.
"You can choose to forgive me. You can choose to save me."
It was an epiphany – a revelation that hit Aang with the force of a tsunami. It was so immensely hypocritical: being so patient and forgiving with the killers who had done nothing but try to wipe him off the face of the Earth, and yet, at the same time being so harsh and burdensome on the only one of them he'd met who really wanted to turn his life around.
How could he not help him?
To Forgive a Friend
It was quite a feat to carry Tengu back to the Temple, but there was no other way. He was simply too weak to glide on his own. He flew up the back side of the mountain, landing with Tengu in the upper hallways, next to his old room. There, he had Tengu wash up and rest. They would meet with the Council after lunch.
Aang had everyone meet in the Prayer Room. The atmosphere was thick and heavy - profusely laden with remorse, doubts, and resentment. Aang had the unenviable task of moderating the meeting:
"As you can see, I have brought Tengu back from his exile. First, I'd like to say that I mean no disrespect to this body's authority. I am completely sure that you all did what you thought was best for everyone, not just yourselves. I will even admit to you that I made the long trip from my new home in The South Pole thinking that we had received a Black Lotus double agent in our community. At first, I was relieved to know that what I thought was a threat had been removed. But, as things progressed, and I began to see all the different angles, I began to think that maybe we need to take a closer look at the situation together. Tengu has made a very strong case by me to have him reinstated into the community, but I appointed all of you because I trust you and I don't want to overrule you. We need to stand together on this – agreed?"
Everyone nodded, approving of the Young Avatar's words. Aang then turned to Tengu:
"I'll start by explaining my position. For the past six or seven months, I have been involved in a no-quarter fight with the Black Lotus. I have been chased all over the World, my friends and their families have faced incredible danger, and I've even had to relocate in order to protect my own family and this community. But to me, the worst part about it is that I've had to declare a new global war where the World has had only three years to recover from The Great War. Every night, up to two weeks ago, I tossed and turned in bed, thinking to myself 'Gosh! No one I know has any idea of how to fight this war, let alone win, since we know so little about the enemy!' And there you were, right under our noses, keeping conveniently silent about everything! What should I make out of that?"
"It was very hard to stay silent. I asked myself many times what the right thing to do was. I finally decided that revealing my past ties to the Black Lotus would have brought about more danger than benefit. If word had managed to spread outside the Temple, we would have become a target even before the war, since they would have surely come looking for me."
Master Chang interjected, visibly upset: "Do you think it would have spread? Why would you assume that? Have we not shown ourselves as trustworthy to you?"
Tengu apologized: "I am sorry to have misjudged you, Master. All of you, in fact: I guess my fear overcame my better judgment. You must understand, however, that the sole reason for the Black Lotus to declare this war in the first place is that they have been uncovered. They used to operate outside the boundaries of government, often in accord with those in positions of power. Their enterprise thrived in and because of obscurity and anonymity. You have made it impossible for them to resume their activities with impunity. Their secrets have been revealed, and a criminal is never more dangerous than when he feels exposed. He will do anything to silence any witness, which is why they were so determined to finish me."
"You've told me numerous times that the people who killed your family were looking for you, making the death of your wife and her family an incidental one. Could I assume that it was the work of this Black Lotus clan, chasing after you, probably upset because you chose to leave them?"
"That's entirely correct," replied Tengu.
"Then why on Earth would you choose not to take a stand against them by fighting in the war? Do you not feel an obligation to help right this wrong?"
Master Yao was next, "Your decision to back out from battle shows considerable disregard and disrespect to those in this community that so valiantly faced the enemy. Not only my own sons, but your Principal Elder, The Avatar."
"I understand that the Elders may think of my choice as dishonorable. Additionally, it would be a lie if I told you that I was eager to face my old enemies again. However, I knew it would be a matter of time since they decided to attack the Temple, looking for Master Aang and his family. I had to stay and help make the Temple safe."
"But Master Aang left, and they kept coming back..." asked Kuen Yin.
"And they all have been defeated. But, to address your point, Lu Ming seldom sends just one asset after a target – he usually sends teams, or waves. In this case, the target has proven to be extremely resourceful, so it's waves of teams. Besides, I'm sure someone from the first attack must have given Lu Ming my description. I'm pretty sure they're after me now."
"They were left alive." observed Master Chang.
"Exactly." asserted Tengu.
There was an uncomfortable silence in the room. Stares were thrown around randomly. Finally, Master Yao spoke valiantly:
"Dire times call for extreme measures. However, if we are to survive, the fight must occur in the battlefield. Our community is still budding and fragile, and more attacks may prove fatal to its growth."
"I agree, and the only way to ensure this is that you leave with Master Aang and join the fight," said Master Chang, directly to Tengu.
A soft knock was heard on the door. Aang went to answer and saw Lu standing in the hallway:
"They're waiting for you Master Aang."
"Thanks Lu. We'll be there shortly."
Aang closed the door and urged his peers:
"I think it's time that we reach a conclusion. Master Lin?"
"My feelings were deeply hurt, that someone so capable and so knowledgeable let our children and our Principal Elder face such a perilous enemy without the benefit of his assistance or experience."
"I am deeply sorry, Master Lin. I promise you that, from now on, my hand will be swift against the enemy and my heart will be true to my people."
"Indeed, your hand has been swift and now I see, that so too, your heart is true."
They bowed to each other.
"Is the warrior true, when he flees the call of battle? Or is the friend steadfast, when he hides himself in deceit?" Master Chang spoke with a strong resolute voice, but his eyes spoke of his pain.
Tengu knelt, "I am sorry Master, for hiding who I am and for neglecting who am I supposed to be. I will earn back your trust and your love."
"My trust has been hurt, but my love remains steadfast my son. Welcome home."
Still on his knees, Tengu turned his face to Kuen Yin. A stiff, piercing glare shot from her eyes right through Tengu's heart. She just shook her head, ever so slightly as the tears rolled down her face.
"No more lies."
"You have my word."
To Face the Fear
Once they adjourned the meeting, Aang led Tengu to the inner courtyard, where Lu had assembled the surviving warriors that returned from the first skirmish with the Black Lotus. Aang addressed them first:
"My brothers, as you see, I have brought Tengu back from exile. Most of us that faced the Black Lotus in battle can say without a doubt that he was sorely missed in the battlefield. He has shared his reasons with us for not joining the fight. We have seen them as fair, but it is really not us that they should convince, but you. What do you have to say?"
The following hour was filled with much agitated debate. Tengu's value as an asset in the battlefield was beyond question, so that discussion was pretty short-lived. Most of the arguments were about whether Tengu was or not still in association with The Black Lotus. Tengu insisted that, over the course of 8 years, he had been sought out by no less than 30 assassins. Each new attack forced him to flee and seek refuge anew.
The airbenders pressed and pressed until Tengu had no other option but to relate Xiaomian's murder. Aang would have never thought that this story of brutal, barbaric tragedy would be the one to strike a chord with the audience. But, since most of them had survived similar episodes in their past lives, it was only natural they would be sympathetic. Only one question was asked at this point:
"I understand that we are taught to go beyond earthly attachments and shun the idea and the practice of revenge, but: didn't you feel the urge to fight them and make them pay?" Huang's question was, in reality, everyone's question. They all stood silent and attentive, listening to Tengu's reasons.
"I went after them. I killed them all. It did me no good. The emptiness was still there. I will fight now only to right a wrong – to defend peace and help eradicate an evil that has overstayed its welcome in the world. But my first duty is to this House, I had to defend it and help it stay safe. Trust me when I tell you that I could not leave this House alone before."
Aang insisted: "What do you have to say? All of you..."
Tseng spoke, as the oldest of the warriors: "We cannot say that we are pleased with everything that has happened. I understand that Brother Tengu wants to leave his past behind and feels connected to this House. One way or the other that is what has brought all of us here." Tseng's words were met with expressions of approval by the other warriors.
"And we all love this House, and we have seen that he too, loves this House, and he has defended it with a swift and steady hand, aye?"
"Aye!" the other warriors responded.
"However, his past is now a problem that threatens to hurt the whole World, this House included. And we have seen that it has found its way to us even across this mountain range."
He drew closer to Tengu as he came to his conclusion. "Nowhere is safe or sacred anymore, until we have put an end to this Black Lotus and restore peace to the land. If we wish for peace, we must fight for justice. There shall be no other way."
Tengu bowed to the warriors – they bowed back. He was welcome once again.
To Earn the Love of Children
At suppertime, all were gathered in the large mess hall eating. Aang was enjoying his first meal of the day with unabashed gusto. Tengu sat next to him, and the kids sat next to Tengu, happy to have their teacher back. They exchanged jokes, ideas, and stories as they enjoyed their meal. It was then when little San San appeared.
Her real name was Misato. She was five and kind of short for her age, but a real firecracker nonetheless... Therefore, someone came up with the nickname San San ("ant"), since she almost seemed to be compensating for her diminutive size with her vicious bite. As luck would have it, the day before the last attack, she had been wreaking havoc in Kuen Yin's art class by getting into the other children's work and even ruining a few. Tengu had tried to keep her under control, but she had lashed out at him. Kuen Yin and Tengu had agreed on a sort of game in which when children were out of line, Kuen Yin would say:
"Brother Tengu is leaving, because you make him sad with your behavior."
"I don't care if he leaves and never comes back – I hate him!"
Tengu played along, leaving the class while Kuen Yin gave little San San a time out.
The next day Tengu was evicted. Of course, when Kuen Yin had mentioned "the children were watching" when Tengu finished the assassin, she failed to clarify that it had been mostly the tweens and the teens, since the smaller children had been hidden immediately after the attack began. Little San San did not know what was going on and, since Kuen Yin found herself too distraught to talk about Tengu, the young girl thought it had been her outburst that had made him leave the Temple.
After finishing her supper, San San brought Tengu a flower, escorted by a misty-eyed Kuen Yin:
"I'm sorry for not obeying, Master Tengu. Please don't be mad at me anymore. I don't hate you. Please, don't leave me again."
Tengu answered "I was never angry with you. I was just sad that you decided to be mean, instead of behaving like the beautiful princess that you are. Come here."
Tengu took the child and held her to his chest. He shook with emotion as tears streamed down his face. The Masters stood up and clapped – the community soon followed.
You see, among the Nomads there are two causes worthy of celebration: when a person earns the love of a child, it means his heart is pure and worthy of their innocence. Also, when a child is capable of realizing its wrongdoings, it is said he or she is on the path to early enlightenment. Therefore, the celebration was double.
Aang felt a weight being lifted off his shoulders. He felt at peace.
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