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|The Northern Air Temple, Part 2: Rebirth|
August 1, 2010
Tengu becomes an airbender.
In the following weeks, Tengu was schooled in the ways and the history of the Air Nomads. He was surprised at the many lies and twists that Lu Ming had managed to heap onto the simple, yet beautiful teachings of his own people. Tengu was attentive – his sponge-like mind absorbing every detail with both reverence and appreciation. He was taught the basics of meditation, prayer and community service. In the monastery, serving the community was not a punishment, but a privilege. Work done by one for the benefit of all was regarded as highly noble, since selfless service was considered one of the key paths of achieving enlightenment. This, he learned, was one of the reasons why, in their culture, perhaps more than in any other, the calling of the Avatar was held in such high esteem.
Once he had shown mastery of the basic concepts, he was introduced to the idea of detachment from the world. At first, he thought that would be easy, since he had never had any real attachments to one person or one place for any extended period of time, except of course, for his late Xiaomian. The simplicity of this concept, however, would soon prove deceitful. Tengu's understanding of “detachment” translated more into “disregard” or “indifference”, whereas the monks spoke more of “acceptance” and “renouncement”. As he dug deeper into the concept, he discovered that the spiritual mechanics of this principle required being at peace with your past: accepting it for what it was, and letting any leftover remorse or anger go away. For many obvious reasons, the idea of accepting the dealings of life in his past was beyond Tengu's capacity. He presumed he would be allowed to simply forget tragedy instead of having to come to terms with it.
Tengu's case was not radically different from other young men his age, since most of them came in fresh from active military duty. Many of them had experienced a number of traumatic situations and had struggled to leave their past lives behind. Even Master Chang himself struggled from time to time. However, for most of those who served in the Great War, military service was a natural course of action: it was the norm for most young people to serve. Besides, it was honorable to fight for your country, regardless of the side you had fought for. These people found it easier to discuss their past, fears and regrets than Tengu, who was, in all honesty, still a wanted criminal.
As conventional wisdom would have it, Tengu had powerful reasons to adhere to his vows of silence. First and foremost, the shame and the guilt were overwhelming. How could he speak of abandoning his family when they were on the verge of execution? How could he talk about his guardian's perverted son? His years in jail? Killing the Fire Lord?. Then, there was the community to think of: the monks could very well choose not to host a fugitive and turn him in to the authorities. Other times, he thought revealing his ties to the Black Lotus could end up endangering everyone in the abbey if word ever managed to spread. He would not risk any of those possibilities, so he was thoroughly hermetic throughout his initiation process.
The masters were gentle in persuading Tengu to open up and release his encased feelings, but every attempt was shunned. Slowly, Tengu began falling behind the new initiates. He found himself unable to grasp any of the further concepts introduced by the Masters: joy, contentment, forgiveness... He tried compensating by working and serving extra hard in the abbey. He would dedicate long hours to prayer and meditation. However, this would not help him, since his moments of solitude were usually plagued with memories and regret. Once a master of relentless focus, Tengu had somehow lost the ability to shut the past out. The small trickle of emotion he had allowed himself to show during his first meeting with the Council had apparently breached the once impenetrable wall that Tengu had managed to build around his soul.
Unbeknown to Tengu, his struggle and frustration had become visible to the Masters' keen eyes, so they decided to bring the matter to Aang. He thought long and hard and, after a while, spoke:
“What if we bend him now?”
“Master, there is no guarantee that will do anything for him. Take Ozai's case for example...” said Master Kuen Yin.
“I would rather take yours or Master Chang's” he bowed respectfully to the middle-aged monk.
Both of them had come fleeing from the throes of tragedy. First Class Sargent Major Chang was running away from the blood on his hands, whereas Kuen Yin was escaping the tragedy of her family. Bending had proven a powerful release for their spirits.
Master Chang replied - “I am honored Master, but I am still a work in progress. Bending, I am afraid, will not solve all. This young man, he is deeply scarred. If even the least of my suspicions is true, it will take time for him to heal properly.”
All eyes automatically turned to Master Yao. He smiled and, as if sensing something, turned to his wife. Master Lin smiled back and began speaking:
“When I was little, my family lived by a small creek. It flooded every year on the rainy season, but we were prepared to deal with it. The locals knew the creek well and they had advised my father to build on the high ground. One particular year though, there had been a freak storm during the dry season and, curiously enough, when the rainy season came, the waters were not so high anymore. Some of the people became overconfident and tied their animals closer to the waters than usual. But an old man in the village refused to do so and kept to his usual limits even though the water was not there. My father took notice, and kept his ground too.”
“As luck would have it, a second storm hit during the rainy season. This time, a huge rush of water came down the mountain, and most the people in my village lost their small cattle. What they did not know is that the storm that had occurred in the dry season had knocked over some trees that were clogging the creek upstream, so at first, during the rainy season, the flooding was contained. However, when the second storm hit, the strong winds and the weight of the accumulated water dislodged the obstacles, and the waters were free to flow, causing great damage to those who had let their animals get too close to the stream.”
Master Lin paused, and all eyes remained avidly on her. They all seldom heard Master Lin speak out loud, but when she did, they always discovered amazing wisdom flowing from her lips.
“This young man's tears that moved us all so are like the small creek: we have not seen the rushing of the waters yet. We have been traveling upstream with him and have come upon the clogged waters. If he is to be free, the plug needs to be removed. The weight of the waters is great – if not, he would not have come. His suffering and his desire for healing are true, but the scars and the wounds on his soul are too deep to overcome by will alone. He needs a strong wind to blow on his spirit, so that it can flow freely again. From there, he can continue his journey to enlightenment. But, it will not be an easy one. As Master Chang says, anxieties have a way to cling to the soul – it will take time for him to be able to find the will to let them go.”
Aang weighed every word, for they were spoken by people who had lived and seen far more than him at his still tender age. He did have the powerful anointment of the Avatar, but he had found that it would not do the work on its own – it would always require the guidance and the wisdom of the more experienced. After a brief silence, he reached a conclusion:
“We will do it. Make ready for the new moon.”
With that, the preparations were underway.
Energybending had become an increasingly sparse activity in the Northern Temple, the main reason being Aang's busy schedule as the Avatar. In addition, it had occurred that at the very beginning he had bent people who would later on show no interest in the rustic lifestyle of the nomads - they were merely non-benders who had always coveted the gift, and were in it only for the bending. In almost every case, once they had gotten what they wanted, they left to live life on their own. This had hurt Aang's feelings deeply, so for a time he refused to continue doing it.
Aang was only convinced to resume energybending when he began finding loyal people. People who truly wanted a change in their lives and were committed to rebuilding the Air Nomad nation, such as those in his council. Most of them, once they had adapted to the new lifestyle, sought to re-connect with their loved ones and relay their message of a new-found life. Many of their relatives and friends also came, seeking renewal. Some people were not even interested in becoming airbenders, but they relished the simple, peaceful lifestyle of the monastery, especially after the horrors of The Great War. As the community began to grow at a healthy enough rate, Aang resumed energybending. However, it was agreed that airbending would only be awarded to those individuals who were ready to profess a lifelong commitment to the Air Nomads and were seeking to further their spiritual progress by cultivating the bending arts. Initiation was held every new moon, in honor of the Water Tribe, who had discovered and protected the last airbender.
There were only a handful of initiates to be bent in the new moon, but regardless of the size, the ceremony was always equally solemn and beautiful. The temple garden was adorned with candles and all initiates wore wreaths, handmade from the blossoms of the moon-peach tree by the children. One by one, Aang bent the new initiates. Some cried, some laughed, some tried their bending right away with great celebration. Although it was quite taxing for him, Aang was always happy to see new airbenders being born. He was almost drained when it was Tengu's turn.
Tengu was the last new initiate to be bent. He did not know why, but he was shaking as Aang drew near. He had been on his knees, staring at the floor the entire time. He did not feel worthy. As a matter of fact, he felt stuck, unqualified and undeserving. He longed for the gift, but dreaded not having done all that it took to deserve it. He raised his head to acknowledge Aang, who smiled at him with weary eyes. He met the Avatar's smile with his own, but tears had already started forming in his eyes. He closed them, as Aang placed his hands on his heart and forehead. A rush of energy flowed from Aang's hands and Tengu's every muscle contracted as he lost control over his body and consciousness.
Then it happened...
Kuen Yin was surprised to see the typical green glow of the earthbender flow from Tengu's body. She had asked Tengu if he was a bender, and his reply had been “I can't bend.” She was trying to explain the situation to herself when suddenly a swirl of black tainted the green, much like when ink is spilled into clean water. The black grew, and threatened to engulf even Aang's sky-blue aura. She felt compelled to intervene, but Masters Chang and Yao signaled for her to stop.
All the while, Aang, locked in the trance, was unable to speak, or as he would rather have, scream. Images of carnage, death, and bloody waste surrounded him. He felt bound by unseen restraints, which even managed to stifle his voice. He watched in silent horror, as the parade of gore-filled memories played in front of him like a scroll. Then, a fierce wind came and blew away all the images, leaving only a throne atop a mountain. Aang was filled with terror and repugnance, as he discovered the mountain was made up of bloody, severed corpses. He managed to climb the mountain and stare at the figure atop the throne. It was equal parts man, demon and bird, with red arrow tattoos imprinted over his disfigured body. Its eyes were a deep, endless black and they stared at Aang with indescribable fury.
Immobilized by fear, Aang could do nothing but stare at the abomination. The vermin had a ghastly wound in its neck - it was nearly severed. It howled in pain and tears of blood seeped from its pitch black eyes. Fatally wounded, the creature still tried to attack Aang, but it was too weak to even reach him. It then became angrier, shaking violently in the throne. Only then Aang noticed: the beast was shackled to the high chair – it could not move. The creature's rabid flailing further deepened it's wound and so it began to howl in pain again. It stared back at Aang with a furious glare, almost daring him – or begging him – to end its suffering.
Back in the physical world, the black aura seeping from Tengu had all but swallowed both him and Aang. Master Lin began praying, seeking for the spirits' assistance in this battle. As others joined her, a strong wind blew from the South. In the Spirit World, Aang felt free of his restraints. He immediately summoned all of his strength and bent a gale force wind that blew away the creature, the throne and the corpses. In their place now lay a small child, no older than 10, his arms outstretched to him. Aang neared the boy and hugged him. As the praying continued, the wind continued to blow and Aang's aura became stronger. At long last, Aang's aura prevailed over the darkness and the bending was complete.
Aang finally let go of Tengu, his eyes wide with terror and gasping for air as if he had been drowning. He fell to the ground and started crawling backwards, retreating from Tengu, as if escaping from something. Katara rushed to his side trying to assist him. He then clung to his wife’s body, still overcome by the horror. Slowly, his eyes readjusted to his surroundings, bringing him back to reality. Then, as his breath normalized, he began to cry.
A moment later Tengu opened his eyes and gasped for breath just like Aang did. As the cold mountain air entered his lungs, his shriveled, torn spirit spread out within him for the first time in years, exposing the deep wounds of his soul. A deep grimace cracked his face. His entire body tensed up, he clenched his fists and shut his eyes tightly. His face turned red and his whole body shook as he let out a loud sob.
He cried over his beloved Xiaomian, and the child he never held, both consumed by foes he had never wronged. He cried over his best friend, Lu Ten, wasted on a battlefield in Ba Sing Se. He cried over his crimes and his misdeeds – the lives he took to serve no purpose but greed and hate. He wept his lost innocence in Gaoling, and his years in prison, where his soul had become irreversibly tainted. He cried over his gentle tailor, Feng - lost to grief and old age.
But most of all, he cried out for his family.
He squirmed and contorted on the stone courtyard, his face red, as he began screaming, calling out his sisters’ and his brother’s names. He called out to his mother, begging her forgiveness for not saving them from the lightning squad. He called to his father, imploring forgiveness for becoming all that he had raised him not to become. His cries resounded all over the temple, and across the mountain range. They pierced the skies, as if trying to reach his loved ones in the heavens.
Masters Lin and Yao, tried to restrain Tengu, as they feared he might hurt himself. It was of little use, for it was years of pain, sorrow and misfortune that were being washed away in the winds of the Northern Mountains. A powerful spirit of compassion swept over the council, and all eyes became filled with tears. Master Chang fell to his knees, sobbing and Master Kuen Yin, tears streaming down her face as well, rushed to his side to comfort him.
Master Yao sensed the occasion needed something other than just tears - it called for healing.
He held Tengu's head to his chest and began singing and old Earth Kingdom lullaby:
Come to me my child and rest
Be no more afraid
My love is larger than my anger
Come and lay your head
The night has come and your naughtiness
the wind has blown away
your mischief is forgotten
come and rest in my warm and sweet embrace
Tengu was still on the floor, but his violent cries and convulsions had now given way to a deep, quiet sobbing. Aang cried quietly with Katara by his side.
Things had changed. Nothing would ever be the same again anymore.
Production Notes Edit
- Yes - Aang is not supposed to be able to bend in the Spirit World. However, I pray that you see this more as a vision rather than a verbatim visit to "the Spirit World".
- Thanks to Twilitlink for catching a major gap in the draft version.
- This chapter is the sole reason I wrote the whole series. It has taken me 16 chapters to get here, but I think the end result is worth it. Thanks to all of those who have followed the series, especially The Bos and Twilitlink, who have been incredibly supportive and friendly through it all. It is truly a privilege to enjoy the camraderie, respect and support of such talented individuals.
- The following chapters will still deal with Tengu, but will act more as a setup to Honor Thy Father, rather than being its own story.
For the collective works of the author, go here.
|My Own Savior Chapters|
|Colonial Childhood - The Tailor of Gaoling - Jailbird - Ember Island - The Contract - Corporal Lu Ten - General Iroh - The Wall, Part 1: Daedalus - The Wall, Part 2: Icarus - The Wall, Part 3: Apollo - The Wall, Part 4: Minos - The Lady Of Death - The Last Airbender - The Pursuit of Peace - Stengah - The Northern Air Temple, Part 1: Arrival - The Northern Air Temple, Part 2: Rebirth - Pride - Prejudice - Freedom|