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September 27, 2013
Born special, Li is the Avatar but also has a friend no one can see.
A little boy ran around screaming playfully. Family watched contentedly and laughed. Like many kids in youth, Li had an imaginary friend. Ayame was apparently a beautiful and noble woman that was there for him. His parents had no idea where he imagined such a friend, but it made for fun times to hear his simple stories.
More amusing was his wishing to be the Avatar. He certainly was bold enough as his parents tried to keep him from doing anything too dangerous. He even claimed once that Ayame told him he was the Avatar.
They only laughed. In time, he would outgrow these fantasies, as they all did. A knock at the entrance disturbed their time alone and the man of the house went to answer the call. He returned with several men of serious and regal bearing. They were priest, Fire Sages. The spiritual leaders of the Fire Nation, they were a group that was seldom seen unless the Fire Lord or Avatar needed them.
"My lords, how may we be of service to you?" The woman spoke with all the honor these men deserved. They devoted their lives and had given up all the vices of life for the better of society.
"We need to speak with you both personally, may your son wait outside?"
The group went into a room and closed the door behind them as Li sat there alone.
"They're telling your parents that you're the Avatar."
Li looked up to see that Ayame was beside him now. She continued, "As Avatar, you need to be taken to the Temple to train like a sage and master the element of fire. They will then tell you when you are of age."
"Why don't they tell me now?" Li was confused. Ayame always said he was the Avatar, why was it important that he not be told now?
"They worry it will be too much to take in. But I know you are strong, Li." She smiled reassuringly as she pinched his chin. She took a more serious look as she continued, "You'll have to pretend you don't see me anymore though."
"People don't know I am here, they don't see me. Don't worry, we can still have fun and do all kinds of things, we just have to be secret about it, like a game, okay!"
"Okay," he was crestfallen about that, but Ayame was sure it was the right choice for now.
As they finished talking, so did the Fire Sages with his parents. They walked forward and he could see that they were sad. Was it true? Was he really going away?
"Li," his father spoke to him, "This is Sage Keru."
Li bowed in respect, just as Ayame taught him to, "An honor to meet you, Master."
The older man returned the gesture, "An honor to meet you, young one. We were talking with your parents and would like you to come train with us at the Fire Temple."
Li wanted to question but knew that was pointless. He looked at his parents, "Is that alright, dad?"
"Yes, son, it is." He was keeping a strong face for the sake of his family and the pride he had in his son.
He nodded to the Sage, "It would be an honor to train with you, sir."
Ayame smiled at him from behind the sage, "Don't worry, Li. We're gonna have a ton of fun at the Temple!"
Troubles and Truths
"LI!!! Get back here!!" The old sage yelled after the young child as he ran away gleefully, laughing with a deep voice.
"I told you not to, Li!" The persistent and bubbly Ayame quipped.
"How was I supposed to know it would blow up!" Li spoke to his old friend as she ran beside him.
She laughed too, not that anyone else heard her beautiful laugh. No one ever did. Even all these years later, no one ever saw Ayame.
"You're going to be in big trouble. Don't think they'll let this go just because its your birthday tomorrow, Li!"
"It was an accident, they're not going to flog me or anything."
"No, they'll just give you latrine duty again," she shivered at the prospect as a nasty memory returned to them.
"Ugh! It took a week to get the smell off my clothes!"
"Actually, I burned your old clothes and just stole some from Yin." Ayame smiled mischievously.
"That was you! I thought he was lying for sure!" Li had an annoyed face.
"Well, you stank and I didn't have anyone to complain to. What else was I supposed to do?"
The two kept running, sure they had outrun the angered old sage. Only to run into worse trouble. Stopping in his heels, he met the High Sage instead, "Master Keru!"
"Li," he inclined his head slightly but had a very serious face, "what trouble did you cause for Maru now?"
"Nothing, I just wanted to see what his latest experiment was."
"I am guessing it backfired if that explosion five minutes ago was any indication?" Keru had become High Sage after his predecessor passed and had become much more stern with Li as time passed, expecting the boy to be polite and professional.
Li shrugged his shoulders as he spoke in defeat, "Yes."
He sighed wearily, "Li, you're turning fourteen tomorrow and you still act like a little child."
"Its just so boring, though." Ayame responded, though Li wanted to mirror that, he knew saying those words would set off the old man.
He recalled saying something Ayame once said and being stuck mopping the floors for a week. He knew better now though, "I am sorry, Master. Its just hard to find myself useful when all I do is meditate. I don't feel myself growing or doing anything truly productive with my life."
A knowing and understanding look took the old man's face as he rested a hand on his shoulder, "I know, Li. I ask that you be patient. Your purpose in life will come to you if you can keep control of yourself. Acting like a little boy is pass, you will be of age in no time and things may change greatly for you."
"Because I'm the Avatar?" He whispered it quietly, but the Sage's sharp ears caught it.
He realized too late what he muttered, "Oh crud, I'm in trouble aren't I?"
"Yes you are, Li," Ayame answered as she rested her head on his shoulder.
"Li, how did you know you were the Avatar? Did you overhear someone?"
"No, I've always known."
Ayame sat in a corner and muttered, "Because I told you, not that I'll get credit for that amazing prediction."
"Credit hardly matters," Li spoke to his close friend, though the Sages respond.
"I guess that is true. Your intuition may just be heightened and perceptions as well."
Another sage spoke, "Indeed, Avatars are gifted with such things." He turned to Li, "Avatar Li, you are a very skilled and powerful bender. Still, you have some time before you master firebending. We will redouble your training in anticipation of your elevation into airbending."
Keru spoke, "Li, your road will be much more difficult from here on out. Ready yourself, these trials will define your road to becoming the Avatar."
He bowed in respect, "Yes, master"
Finally dismissed, he sat alone in his quarters. Well, not quite alone.
"You just had to say it, didn't you?" Laid down on his bed, playing with the fabric.
"Hey! No need to get angry with me, I didn't tell them!"
Li looked away in frustration. Ayame never changed, both in her cute and sometimes annoying personality, but also in appearance, she looked to be the same age as when he first remembered seeing her. But he guessed she was special anyways, after all, no one else could see her.
Just To See Her Again...
He slept peacefully as Ayame watched over him. He smiled, happy. Dreaming in a world full of so many great things, he came into a dark night as people huddled around a man. He was not old, but Li could tell that the man was near death, much like when he saw his grandfather pass.
He felt bad for the people around. At least he had Ayame then, but he felt the distinct absence of her, like she was never here, or decidedly absent. One of the young women placed her hand on his chest, "Please, brother, stay awake, just a little longer."
"I am sorry, but it is time I go."
Tears filled both their eyes and even Li felt his own eyes water as if it was his own kin. Why did he feel it so much, feel it in his own bones.
The dying man then whispered, "I wish I could have seen her again. I wish I could see Ayame again."
Li's eyes opened wide as the man closed his tear-filled ones and never opened them again.
"Wait!" He wanted to call out to the man. He reached out but no one noticed him nor did the man respond. Fading away, he never could speak to them. He didn't know why it mattered, but it felt so important. Why did that man miss Ayame? Was it his Ayame? Was he keeping her to himself and leaving that poor man alone? Would she go? Would she leave him too?
"Sh, my love," a voice far away and yet close whispered soothingly. "Sleep in peace, Li. I am here, and I always will be."
He calmed down, closing his eyes. That's right, she would always be there for him.
- The dream at the end will have very important implications later on.
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