"You wanted to see me, Monk Gyatso?"
Aang nervously poked his head into the elderly Monk's office, wondering what new piece of advice he'd be receiving from the man who'd been his mentor since the day he was born.
He always seemed to carry that edge of unpredictability in him, despite his old age and his savored traditions.
The Monk sat in his treasured meditative sitting style on an oriental red pillow, with his back facing the boy as he boldly stepped into the dim orange room to talk to him. By his calm state, he seemed to be overlooking the outer sunrise of the Southern Air Temple through the wide window in his office.
"Yes, Aang." Gyatso replied without moving a single muscle except his jaw. "Please, take a pillow and come sit over here. We need to have a talk."
The boy raised an eyebrow. Part of him was still tired from the early wake-up call, and the other part of him wondered if he was in serious trouble for something. Did Gyatso find out about the huckleberry pies I accidentally burned in the oven? Aang thought with a panic.
I thought I'd fed them to Appa!
"Calm down, Aang... you're not in trouble for anything," Gyatso added in monotone after feeling the boy's worrisome energy from across the room, and Aang smiled with a relief and ran over to grab a pillow to join his elderly mentor in meditation.
His recently-made arrow tattoos still ached slightly, as he wiped off a little bit of sweat that was glistening from his scalp. Aang had never felt more accomplished before, finally knowing how to bend natural air to the level of a young apprentice... but the ability was no excuse for jumping and running with sheer adrenaline like any other boy his age. Quietly, he wondered what this early meeting was about as he scrunched his eyes closed to imagine the view of the incoming morning at the Temple without actually seeing it. Monk Gyatso always made the task look so easy.
"Do you remember Avatar Roku? A man who visited the Southern Air Temple a few years ago?" Gyatso asked the boy, after a few quiet minutes of reflection.
"Yeah!" Aang responded happily, instantly opening his eyes. "He gave all the kids presents... some strange-looking toys... I think they were paddles, with little rubber balls attached to them?... but he seemed nice. Is he coming to visit us again?"
"Haha, no Aang, I'm afraid not." Gyatso said amusingly opened his eyes, which brought the boy's facial expression to a downcast sigh. "But I am delighted to say that you will be seeing him again very soon."
"Soon?" The boy was not quite sure how feel about that, whether it was serious or for good old-fashioned fun. "Am I going to be mentored by him too?"
"In a way, yes... You see, Avatar Roku is the founding principal of the Praying Mantis High School not far from our Temple, and he has suggested that I let you experience his most beloved project first-hand. The other Monks and I have been discussing this for quite some time, and we've all agreed that as the next Avatar-in-training... you should spend a year experiencing a normal life with other young pupils in a regular school setting. It will be wise to do this before you continue your connection with the spirit world, here."
Aang let a small gulp go down in his throat, suddenly feeling like a piece of huckleberry pie had been lodged in it, and his skin began to sprout goosebumps. He didn't understand it... he greatly respected Avatar Roku, and Monk Gyatso... but the idea of leaving his home for more than a day seemed unheard of to him.
He wondered if this was another one of Monk Gyatso's silly tricks.
"You mean... I'm going to be trained outside the Southern Air Temple?" Aang asked, thinking that there was mistake in the Monk's newsbreak.
"Only for a year, my boy; it won't be that long." The man kept his monotone voice consistent, hoping to not overwhelm Aang with the personal excitement he had for him. "And believe me, this will give you a greater understanding of the human spirit than anyone can ever teach you."
Aang sat still in a meditative pose, but he looked out through the window as the sky was gradually turning from dark blue to a more vibrant, violet shade. He couldn't help but feel a certain emptiness in him getting larger and larger, as if his only home was already becoming distant.
"You will still be living here with us, of course," Monk Gyatso added with a spark of optimism in his voice. "The difference is that you'll be interacting with new pupils during the day."
This news seemed to bring a hopeful smile back into Aang's face, but numerous other questions were still flowing in his mind. It was like he didn't want to get rid of his old life. He refused to.
"But... but none of the other kids are coming with me?"
The boy frowned then, knowing that when Monk Gyatso took too long to answer a question, it would never be in his own favor.
"Your new surroundings may be frightening at the beginning, Aang," the Monk calmly explained to him through closed eyes, "but I promise you, you will get used to them. And as the future Avatar, you will need to learn to survive on your own... sometimes without the comfort of those you already know."
"What about Appa?" Aang wondered out loud, hoping that his loving bison would be the exception. "And the Air Dodgeball tournaments? We're going to beat the Northerners this year... I can taste it..."
"Appa will drop you off and pick you up every day for school." Gyatso replied with his continued sense of ease. "As for your games, I'm afraid the team will need to learn to survive without you this year."
The boy's eyes were on the verge of popping out of his skull. Nothing... absolutely nothing could overlap Air Dodgeball, no matter how great of a school this was.
"You will be fine, Aang; and besides... there are plenty of other activities that you will discover during your year of study abroad. I sometimes wish I were in your shoes, so I could've tried my hand with mus-ic-al the-a-tre."
"What's a the-a-tre?" Aang asked with a discomforting face, thinking that the word sounded like an ancient ritual of torture.
"Oh, you will understand when you get there." Gyatso responded lightly, letting the speculation rub onto Aang. "So... is the Avatar-in-training feeling alright about this assignment?"
Aang felt his shoulders almost double in the weight, trying to imagine this upcoming year as something completely out of the ordinary. He really liked being in the Temple, and wasn't sure if he could take the dangers of unpredictability in such a calm state. But then again, he was training to be the Avatar, and adaptability was something that he would have to face for the rest of his life. It was his destiny to understand the world in order to protect it, after all.
As he looked outside, the boy noticed how the skies were turning into a vibrant pink, uncovering the tiny bright sun from its blanket.
"I don't know..." Aang began, trying to articulate his thoughts the best way he could. "I know I'm going to miss being with everybody... my friends... but are you sure I can't bring anyone else with me?"
Monk Gyatso chuckled. "I'm afraid not, Aang."
"Not even Momo?" Aang asked quickly, almost like reflex.
"Hmm...I don't see why you shouldn't bring a pet with you, to keep you company... and possibly out of trouble?" Monk Gyatso gave an teasing grin of suspicion, but continued. "I'll let you take him for now, but if Avatar Roku insists otherwise, you will need to oblige. Is that a deal?"
With the thought that his friendly winged lemur would be joining him on this great adventure, the young boy's eyes glowed in its natural silver shade.
"Yes, sir, Monk Gyatso!"
"And Hail, for the Avatar." Monk Gyatso opened his eyes out of the meditation mode with a smile, and turned his head to look at the young boy. "Now run along and start packing your things, and don't forget to say your Goodbyes."
Aang flinched, glancing as if he'd missed something from the discussion.
"Huh? But... wait, when exactly do I leave?"
At that question, Monk Gyatso looked over at the window, admiring the light pinks and oranges that were appearing across the sky, with the sun slowly peeking itself out more and more from the edge.
"Well, the Praying Mantis school day commences when the sun has fully risen from the shadows... so I believe you have less than an hour."
Aang's jaw instantly fell, and without saying a word, the boy picked himself up and practically dashed out the door without so much as a "today?" or "are you SERIOUS!?" to his mentor. Monk Gyatso watched as the door flung open with speed and agility from a young pupil's stress-level... and as the boy's footsteps sounded along the outer corridor, the Monk made another small laugh.
His unpredictability was indeed golden.
NOTE: This is a slightly different Avatar concept than the one in the TV series. Yes, Gyatso and Roku are alive and Aang's the Avatar-in-Training... so a couple of time issues need to be ignored... like pretending the Fire Nation War never occured, and all the kids just happen to go to the same school together at the same time. Yes, all the characters with respective bending elements still have those powers, but with less extremity. I wanted to concentrate on their high school personalities, and how they would be if they interacted with one another in the same place. Happy reading! --MM