Disclaimer: I do not own the intellectual properties depicted herein. I do not own the characters portrayed. I make no claim to own any part of 'Avatar: The Last Airbender'. All intellectual properties depicted herein belong to the creators of 'Avatar: The Last Airbender.' and Nickelodeon.
Children are forthright in the way they talk. Especially those who haven't picked up the concept of lying yet. They speak their mind and they tell it like it is or at least the way they think it is.
Enclosed in their own little worlds, kids say the damndest things at times.
"You cheated! You're a no good cheater Aang!"
Also the harshest things.
"What? No! No! I didn't! Honest!"
With the disbelieving looks he has getting, Aang might as well have been trying to convince them that the sky was green and the earth was blue. Tiny tears had started to well up in the corner of his silvery grey eyes. Ever since he'd been revealed as the Avatar, his once large pool of friends quickly dried up. No one would play with him or let him in on games anymore. He was overjoyed when Tomoe, a visiting Air Nun in training from the Western Air Temple, padded up and shyly invited him to join in their game. While her hair was a silky raven black and her eyes sparkling silver with flecks of green, what drew the Avatar's attention was that she was mute and was communicating through a basic form of sign language with a few scribbled words in the dirt.
Since the news of his status as Avatar hadn't been officially disclosed among the Air Nomads, Tomoe was completely in the dark. But why should that mean anything? But just to be honest about it, Aang did tell her. To his relief, the young girl didn't mind.
However, the rest of the group, consisting of Aang's former friends, did. It took a chastising from Tomoe for the other boys to relent. To her credit, the little nun, managed to stare down some of the older boys into shamefully looking at their shuffling feet, something only the head abbots and their own mothers could accomplish.
All was well. The game started and went on without a hitch. The others had complained that Aang's abilities as a master airbender, not to mention Avatar, weren't fair and imposed many restrictions on the young monk as a result. Aang didn't care. He'd been allowed to join in after so long. He didn't care if they forbade him to use airbending in a game of Air Tag. Never mind that he was 'It' and the others were zipping around in bursts of wind while he had to go it on foot. Come hell or hurricane, he was going to have fun.
That is until he scored a tag.
"Yes you did! You must have used some weird Avatar power too!" Cried another from the group.
"And you had to go tag Tomoe too! You had to pick on the mute girl didn't you?"
"No! I wasn't!"
The first accuser gently took a confused Tomoe aside, "See? We told you he would cheat." The voiceless lass hastily signed that Aang had made a legitimate tag and they shouldn't be fighting. Naturally, the others ignored the slight girl, too focused on their vilification of the young Avatar.
All eyes turned to a tall Air Nun walking up to them. The matronly woman smiled to the gathered children who greeted her with due respect,
"Hello Sister." They chorused in unison. Sister Kasumi nodded back before taking Tomoe by the hand,
"There you are Tomoe."
The young girl signed in reply that she'd been playing with the boys while her guardian was in conference the abbots of the temple exchanging news and reports between the four temples. The woman had joked that her duties were that of a glorified postal worker.
"Well," Said the elder nun, "I'm afraid we have say goodbye to your new friends for now." She smiled apologetically as the gathered kids expressed their disappointment in a collective,
"But don't worry," Kasumi turned her eyes to Aang in particular, "I'm going to be running between the temples more frequently now. So you'll be visiting them often." Tomoe clapped in delight.
Once they'd said their so longs and Kasumi had taken Tomoe out of sight, the atmosphere turned back into the thin airless one Aang had sadly grown accustomed too. He wasn't all that surprised when the other immediately dropped him like a hot potato and resumed their game. He wasn't going to ask to join in again. A few of the boys seemed to expect Aang to at least try. They'd got their 'We don't want you around' excuses all ready only to watch the Avatar turn his back on them. Naturally, the rest added this slight to their list. Vicious rumors about the Avatar being a snob would soon make their rounds among the rest of the children.
Aang came to that sad conclusion as well. The stinging tears and bitter ache brought on by the hushed whispers and sneers served as proof.
And that was how Gyatso found him. Huddled and crying softly in the stables next to an adolescent, nearly full grown, Appa. The old monk felt a stabbing pain in his chest as he watched his young charge vent his tears in solitude.
"…Gy…Gyatso? Wha? Oh…uh… I was just changing Appa's bedding. Something got into my eyes."
The old monk gently hushed the sniffling boy, "It's alright my boy. I know. I understand." Aang looked away biting his lip,
"Then why don't they?"
Abbot Gyatso knew just who 'they' were. "Aang. Come here." He beckoned to Aang to follow him out into the yard. The young boy wiped away his tears, though the sniffles still remained.
"Follow me." Said the sagely abbot, easily jumping up the sides of a tower through airbending. Aang followed with the expert ease one would expect from a master airbender and Avatar.
Aang did so in the spot on the roof the elder monk dusted off. He sat with his knees to his chest, hugging his legs tightly. Gyatso pointed out into the great blue yonder,
"Tell me what do you see."
Aang blinked, wondering if Gyatso was pulling another of his famous pranks on him. How could any Air Nomad not know what the sky was?
"The…The sky." He answered, the lingering hurt still evident in his voice.
Gyatso smiled and patted his young ward's head in a fatherly manner,
"Yes, there's the sky. But there's also the earth."
"Okay…but what does that…?"
Gyatso waved his arm across the view as he began to share his rather offbeat yet wise advice,
"You love gliding don't you?"
Aang nodded fervently, "Absolutely sir."
"Fun isn't it?"
Gyatso rubbed Aang's head, "Spoken like a true Air Nomad." Some spark of happiness re-lighted in Aang's chest. He didn't feel as crummy anymore.
"Tell me. Do you ever get tired?"
Aang looked up to his guardian, "Well…yeah I guess…"
"What if there was no earth for you to land on? Wouldn't you be stuck in the air forever?"
Aang cocked his head as he let Gyatso's words sink in, "I guess so. But the earth's always there." He pointed down towards the vast forest encircling the mountain, "I don't have to worry about being stranded in the sky. What does this have to do with the way the other kids…?"
Gyatso placed Aang in a fatherly one armed hug, "You're not alone Aang."
"It still hurts…" Whispered Aang.
"I know it does Aang." Gyatso got down on a knee and held Aang by the shoulders, "Remember my dear boy. Know that you are loved. Just as the sky has the earth to keep it company, you have me and Appa." He broke his seriousness by dragging out the next words comically, "Aaaand maybe some of the old farts on the council. I know Cookie loves you."
Aang chuckled at the mention of the temple's head cook. Oh Cookie loved him alright…if flailing a soup ladle wildly after him for swiping treats for Appa was love.
"There's the boy I know." Gyatso grinned pulling on Aang's cheek, "You make the stupidest faces when you're sad. You know that?"
Feeling a lot better after having a quiet laugh Aang tugged on Gyatso's voluminous sleeve, "Gyatso?"
Both of them sat quietly watching the clouds drift by. Gyatso frowned slightly as he felt a shift in the wind. Something of grave importance was about to occur. A moment later Aang piped up
"What if the others never accept me?"
"Well then they wouldn't really be your friends now would they? I suppose you'll have to make new friends….like Kuzon. Say it's been a while since we visited him isn't it?"
Aang beamed in excitement, "Yeah. I'll make more friends. From every nation. Friends of fire. Friends of water…and…and friends of earth." He turned to Gyatso. "I hope I make a friend from the Earth Kingdom. They'd be the earth to my sky."
"Haha…that they would Aang. That they would."
The happy moment was interrupted when another monk seemingly materialized behind them,
"Head Abbot Gyatso. An emergency meeting of the council has been called."
And that was it. Gyatso left for the so called emergency meeting, leaving Aang curious, dangerously curious, as to what all the fuss was about.
Suffice to say, after the events that followed, Aang never saw Tomoe, Sister Kasumi, the other kids or Gyatso ever again.
On that tragic day, Aang's sky had lost the earth that was keeping it grounded.
The element of earth is that of sturdy one. It embodies strength, steadfastness and power. It is raw, unrefined and destructive. A minor shift could have results ranging from minor tremors that would mostly go unnoticed to massive earthquakes capable to decimating cities and bringing mountains down.
Yet it had a comforting quality as well. The earth offered protection, a stable base and was a source of life. It gave its warmth to those who asked of it. It provided its assistance to those who needed it.
But for all the earth had given the blind heiress, it could not shield her heart from the ache of loneliness. Of a life spent in isolation.
A life of imprisonment.
For all the earth had blessed her with, the power to shape the very ground she walked on to her slightest whim, a new form of 'sight' to replace the old, it could not protect her from the events occurring on the other side of her garden's wall.
When faced with something unsightly or disagreeing to one's sight the first reaction would be to shut one's eyes and turn away. A reflex action essentially. Something the sighted enjoy on a regular basis.
And though she had every privilege gifted to her, Toph Bei Fong did not have that luxury.
Her ears picked up the sounds of children. People close to her own age. Laughing, screaming, shrieking…all in fun. She heard the rapid fall of footsteps as a group of boys chased after a ball. An all too familiar rumble made it clear that some of the players were earthbenders.
She heard a girl count loudly down from ten. The girl's clear voice was peppered with faint whispers and snickers from other children as they scurried about in search of hiding places.
She heard something break followed by an angry shout coming from a house nearby. The sound of boys giggling and running away grew louder as she sensed the culprits rush past her 'sight'.
Try as she might Toph could not 'look' away. For all the strengths and blessing she'd been given she could not stop her enhanced senses from painting the scene of the local neighborhood kids enjoying their time in the sun right outside her doorstep.
Ultimately she could not stop herself from shedding a tear. A tear at not being what she was.
A child was meant to play. To get in trouble and cause mischief. To earn scoldings from parents who loved and cherished them.
To be without a care in the world.
But no…she was a daughter of the earth.
The earth was strong and enduring.
Question was…could she endure this for the rest of her life?
Toph wrung her silk sash in her hands as she heard the jingle of a candy seller's bell. The accompanying screams of delight were audile gold. Nothing louder than the dainty tinkling of the mealtime bell was ever heard in the Bei Fong estate.
Despite every fiber of her being telling her not to, screaming at her not to hurt herself further, Toph went ahead and placed her hand against the high wall enclosure. She gasped, as if being able to feeling the joy and elation coming from the other side.
Which grew into a choked sob and then into a full blown wail.
Someone dropped his or her stick of rock candy.
Toph bit her lip. She wasn't even allowed to acknowledge if any of her food dropped off her plate. Sometimes she wasn't even allowed to feed herself. No…a proper lady does not make a scene at something so trivial.
A lady, no.
A child, yes.
Oh how she wanted to be just a child.
She growled audibly.
The pair of guards assigned to her looked at each other quizzically. Usually little miss was the very epitome of grace and culture. Her raising her voice even the slightest was unheard off. Finally, one of them plucked up enough courage to approach her. They were supposed to be her security detail but Master Bei Fong had given explicit instruction that his daughter was not to be disturbed in any way possible.
Toph ducked her head, trying to mask the disappointment in her voice, "I'm okay." Not once did she turn to address them. Something the estate staff found to be most discomforting. As with most of the unsighted Toph's 'gaze' tended to be fixed in straight line. Giving the impression that she was looking right through a person. Coupled with her uncanny ability to sense people nearby despite her blindness, it made most folks a little uneasy.
"Oh..." The guard stepped back, "Okay. Umm...let us know if you need anything."
What she wanted was to be free. To shed her locks and shackles and just be. Were they going to afford her that?
"Could I have some rock candy?" She asked sweetly, still not facing the guards. The previous guard fumbled in his words,
"Well…umm…the master…your father said no sweets."
No. Clearly not.
She was blind not sick. Not some dainty flower with a crystal heart. She was certainly not helpless. A fact proven every night during her 'excursions' in the rumble ring. She could tear down the very walls that kept her prisoner.
But she didn't.
Born with great power and trained by the original earthbenders. She was proud of that.
Able to crush rock and turn stone into powder. She found it enjoyable.
Made grown men cry 'mommy' on several occasions. She loved that part.
All that and she couldn't bring herself to set herself free.
She shifted her feet, intent on returning to her room. There was nothing to do anyway. There was never anything to do during the day. Not while everyone was watching her like Firehawks. She let her fingers trail across the smoothed stone and marble wall before stopping abruptly.
Her 'sight' had detected another set of vibrations. A feathery light touch upon the ground she commanded. Too light in fact for her 'sight' to create a solid outline of its source. A cheerful warble gave her the answer.
She couldn't tell what type of bird it was or if she could identify it. A bird was a bird to her. There weren't many birds of prey in the province so all Toph knew about birds where that they were something small and relatively helpless if caught but otherwise…free.
Her father had bought her a magnificent Jeweled Nightingale once. All the colors of the rainbow…or so she was told. What it looked like did not concern her though her parents gushed about how a pretty girl like herself deserved a pretty bird.
What did matter was the nightingale's song.
Like Toph, the bird was a prisoner and sang its sorrow every night. And she felt for the poor thing. Her quiet sobs accompanying the bird's mournful cry. Finally, her parents noticed her melancholy and eventually traced the source back to the bird. Lao's first idea was to get rid of the horrid thing that dared to cause his darling daughter such distress. Scared that her father might seek to do the bird harm, Toph released it from its gilded cage first.
And just like the nightingale, the bird before her took wing and disappeared from her sight.
After 'watching' others live freely for so long, Toph had often wondered when it would be her turn to simply take wing and disappear.
Who would be the one to open her cage?
The above came from something a child wrote, 'I cry when no one wants to play with me.'
Yes, Tomoe is supposed to be Toph-like. I like the Toph is Ummi theory but the time span between Kuruk's era and Aang's is what? Four? Five hundred years? That's a long time and if souls are being constantly recycled, I don't see why a Toph-like person shouldn't exist.
Writer's block, man. It looks like a set of DVDs and paper work. World Tour has been shang-hai'd by video games and well…work.