So this is it, it's the end of this story. Thank you for reading and to my reviewers, thank you for taking the time to review this. :)
Epilogue – Rebirth
7 years since the end of the war
Today was auspicious.
Saffron streamers hung from the eaves of the temple roofs and multi-colored flags with sacred sutras written on them flapped merrily in the wind. Today marked the first time that the rest of the world would bear witness to a ceremony that was usually done behind closed doors in the inner sanctums of the Air Temples. After almost six years there was finally a new generation of Airbending Masters ready to take up the mantle. Aang could not help but smile broadly as he surveyed the group standing before him from his place next to the four heads of the Air Temples. Dignitaries from all over the world, including the Fire Lord and his family, the Earth Kings and the Chiefs of the Water Tribes, had come to witness an event that had not happened in over one hundred years. Normally the formal presentation of those who had earned the rank of master was witnessed only by the inhabitants of the temples but it was decided that an event as momentous as the heralding of the first generation of post-war Airbending Masters should be shared with the world and the result was that now they had all gathered at the Western Air Temple. Usually separate ceremonies were held at each temple but for this group of students they had been gathered at the Western Air Temples because it would be the easiest one to get to. After it had been reopened footpaths and staircases had been carved into the rock so that they reach the temple now that there were no more flying bison to help them. Aang spotted Katara, Sokka, Suki and Toph in the crush of people but he didn't rush to join them, his place was here next to the temple heads, he would join them afterwards.
The monks and nuns standing off to the side began blowing their horns or playing their drums as the group of about forty individuals entered the large courtyard, one of the many new additions to the temple. Each person already wore the blue arrow tattoos; they had received them about a month ago. The process of receiving the blue tattoos was done over several days and then each recipient was given about a month of recovery time before the formal ceremony. Aang had been sedated during the process, everyone who got them was, but the days immediately afterwards were quite painful and he was eternally gratefully for the gap between receiving his tattoos and the formal ceremony. From where he was standing it looked like all their tattoos had healed nicely and the vibrant blue color stood out in contrast from the skin not covered by their saffron robes or by their shawls, also saffron but a deeper shade of it. Aang, for his part, wore the saffron robes of a temple monk, clothing indicative of his role not as the Avatar but as an honorary monk of the Southern Air Temple. Once the celebratory song was done Izumi, the head of the Western Air Temple stepped forward to address the crowd.
"First, on behalf of all of us, thank you all for coming," she began. "Today marks a significant milestone for those of us with roots in the Air Nomads, nearly six years since our temples' reopening there is a new generation that has reached the rank of Airbending Master." Applause and cheers ripped through the crowd then so Izumi had no choice but to wait until the crowd had finished before she could continue. "They have worked very hard over the years and today they invite you to share the joy of this moment with them."
The calming, rhythmic sounds of the students, monks and nuns chanting the sutras reached Aang's ears; he had not heard so many people uttering these particular sutras since the last ceremony held at the Southern Air Temple before the war. He had run away before his own ceremony. Aang joined them in saying the sutras as the crowd gathered looked on in silence. After the last sutras had been said the citizens of the other nations had stood in silence for about a minute before the Earth Kings, the Fire Lord and Water Chiefs bowed deeply before the temple heads. The Air Nomads bowed to them in return. Now Tao stepped forward to address the students, it was time to recite the ideals they would uphold as Airbending Masters.
"Do you stand here today with the full knowledge of what you are doing?"
"Yes," they answered.
"Do you stand here out of your own free will?"
"Then please repeat after me, I, state your name, promise to uphold the following principles from this day forward."
An almost indistinguishable jumble of names could be heard as each Airbender recited their names in unison drawing some chuckles form the crowd.
"From this day onward, I promise to respect the life of every living thing and to not cause harm to any living thing. I promise to not steal. I promise to not speak falsely. I promise to respect the boundaries agree upon by myself and my partner in a relationship. Lastly, I promise to treat my body as a temple and will not put pollutants into it."
Once the group finished reciting the principles Tao turned to address the crowd.
"It is tradition that each new master is presented with a necklace presented to them by his or her mentor so now I invite those mentors to step forward, starting with those from the Northern Air Temple."
Nine monks along with the abbot of Northern Air Temple, Ichirou, stepped forward and nine of the new masters took a step forward as well. As each mentor placed the necklace on his former student Aang could see that each one gave his ex-pupil some parting words of advice, this was also a tradition, albeit an unofficial one. Ichirou just stood in the back smilingly proudly as he watched his old charges pass into their next phase of life. Ten nuns and Haya, the Eastern Air Temple abbess, stepped forward and she too watched as the ten young women from her temple received their necklaces. Next the twelve monks and Tao stepped forward to give their former pupils one last gift. Aang couldn't help but feel a swell of pride in his chest when he thought about the fact that the most masters came out of his own temple. Finally the last ten nuns and Izumi presented the last ten necklaces and gave the last few bits of advice to their former charges. The ten nuns left the platform and Haya, Tao and Ichirou joined Izumi.
"We certify that those who stand before you have completed each level of airbending and that each of them has rightfully earned the title of Airbending Master. Starting from today we acknowledge them as fully-fledged Airbending Masters."
Applause broke out and it intermingled with the songs that the monks and nuns played on their horns and drums. The temple heads, Aang and the new Airbending masters exited the platform and were immediately engulfed the friends and families who had come to witness today's events. The first thing Aang did was give Katara an affectionate kiss, when they finally acknowledged the others around them he saw Bumi, Iroh, Tao and Ichirou all talking animatedly.
"Hey, isn't that Chiyoko?" asked Suki.
Aang turned to look where Suki was looking and sure enough, it was Chiyoko. She was waving excitedly at them but before she had even made it halfway a young man grabbed her hand, she seemed surprised at first but she went willingly.
"It is but I guess she's busy," replied Aang shrugging his shoulders. "So what did you guys think of the ceremony?" asked Aang, turning his attention back to his friends.
"It was lovely, Aang," replied Mai joining them. "Even Katsu enjoyed it, didn't you, Katsu?" asked Mai addressing the eighteen moth old toddler she was carrying. Katsu just giggled in response.
"It was cool, Aang. I need to learn how to play those things," added Sokka gesturing to where a couple of the nuns and monks were putting away their instruments. "Think they would be willing to teach me?"
"You could ask them, I'm sure they would be willing to teach you. When I was younger there were often visitors from other nations at the Southern Air Temple. They came to learn from the monks and so they'd be there for a couple of weeks to a couple of months."
"You can not be gone for months at a time, Sokka," Suki reminded him pointedly.
"Oh, right," he replied sheepishly glancing at her very pregnant belly. Suki just rolled her eyes exasperatedly, she loved him dearly but there were days. This got a laugh from the group.
"What's so funny?" asked Zuko joining Mai and his son.
"Just Sokka being Sokka," supplied Aang.
"Hey Twinkle Toes, great ceremony," said Toph as she and her beau made their way towards the old gang.
"Thanks, Toph," Aang replied giving her a hug and then acknowledging her boyfriend. "I'm glad that you two were able to come."
"Are you kidding, we wouldn't miss this," she told him before joining Katara, Mai and Suki in their conversation.
An excited yell near them got their attention. Curious they all turned in time to see Chiyoko giving the young man she had been chatting with a very passionate kiss. He then picked her up and spun her in a circle while the two of them laughed and the people around them looked at them bemused.
"I wonder what those two are so excited about?" mused Aang.
"Let's go ask them," said Katara leading the way to the excited couple. "Hey, congratulations, Chiyoko!" cried Katara as she enveloped the other girl into a hug.
"Thanks, Katara! I'm so glad you came," Chiyoko replied practically glowing and giving the Water Tribe girl a kiss on the cheek.
"Congratulations, Chiyoko," said Aang following Katara's example of hugging Chiyoko. "Hideki," he nodded at the young man's direction, he had gotten to know him during his time at the Southern Air Temple.
"Avatar Aang," greeted Hideki bowing.
"Aang is just fine. Congratulations to you as well," said Aang as he shook him hand.
"Thank you, Aang."
"So why were you two so excited just a few moments ago?" asked Zuko.
"Um, well…" began Chiyoko as she tucked her hair behind her left ear revealing a delicate golden colored flower pin just behind her ear.
"That's a beautiful flower, what kind is it?" asked Mai taking a closer look at it.
"It's a cymbidium," supplied Aang. "They grow on the plains at the base of the mountains leading up to the Air Temples."
"Well, it's a beautiful pin," said Katara admiring it. "I guess you gave it to her?" she asked Hideki.
"Is it similar to a betrothal necklace?"
"I guess you could say that," began Hideki uncertain.
With an excited squeal Katara once again hugged an unsuspecting Chiyko nearly sending them both toppling were it not for the swift actions of Hideki.
"I've never seen an Air Nomad wedding, what kind of traditions to you have?" began Katara excitedly. Chiyoko and Hideki just looked at each other thoughtfully, unsure of what to say.
"To be honest, we haven't really thought about the idea of a wedding. Air Nomads didn't have weddings or marriages, for that matter, in the traditional sense," explained Chiyoko.
"Then what they do?" asked Sokka.
Everyone, including Aang, was surprised by this piece of information. The monks had never gotten the chance to tell him about Air Nomad courtship or wedding rituals or marriages. The monks told these and other things to each novice in the months leading to their departure from the temple when they were sixteen or seventeen.
"You have to remember that the lives of the Air Nomads were radically different from the rest of the world. Our family structure was very different; the children were born at the temples and grew up there before leaving the temples when they were sixteen or seventeen to learn more about the world before they finally passed the final levels of airbending. Often times they never knew their birth parents or if they had any siblings but that didn't matter, everyone at the temple was their family and that continued once the left the temples. The Air Nomads formed temporary villages often the core villagers never changed so they became their own family. They just never saw the need for marriage as you know it; instead, they formed partnerships that could last many, many years. In fact, my parents were the first in my family to get married but their ceremony was filled with traditions from the Earth Kingdom" Chiyoko finished.
"So does that mean that you're not going to get married?"
"Well, I don't know. The times are different now, children know who their parents are and live with them when they're not staying at the temples, perhaps it's time to start new traditions, marriage doesn't sound so bad, does it?" questioned Hideki looking down at Chiyoko.
"No," she replied smiling shyly at him, "no, it doesn't. You're right, it's our turn to make new traditions," she told him slipping her hand into his.
Everyone gathered around them to give them their congratulations and once Aang extracted himself from the tangle of arms he found Katara standing next to him. Grinning, he grabbed her hand. She returned his smile and with her other hand she touched her new betrothal necklace given to her just six months ago. Soon the members of Chiyoko and Hideki's families appeared, eager to give their congratulations to the new Airbending Masters. Once they had learned that their children had become engaged, the celebratory mood had increased and everyone was currently spontaneously performing folk dances or singing songs. The jovial mood was infectious and soon Aang and Katara found themselves dancing and singing as well. Looking around it suddenly struck Aang that every Airbender here was part of the new generation, every one but him that was, he was the sole surviving member of the old generation but surprisingly that no longer bothered him. He was the last of his generation but he was certainly not the last Airbender anymore.
The princples that they recited are based off of Five Precepts of Taosim and the Five Precepts of Buddhsim. The Five Precepts of Buddhsim constitute the basic code of ethics that lay followers of the Theraveda and Mahayana traditions would undertake. I changed the sexual misconduct one because I couldn't find a way to word it but still keep it with a K+ raiting.
cymbidium - a type of orchid