"How much further is it?" Korra asked for at least the thousandth time. Tenzin chuckled and turned to look at his pupil.
The pair was traversing the steep foothills of the southernmost region of the Earth Kingdom. Above them were skies of purest blue, and the snowy peaks of mountains could be seen off in the distance. Korra let out an exhausted groan and clutched at her recently carved glider-staff tightly for support. These paths were dangerous, and one misstep could result in her plummeting to her death.
"Not much farther, Korra," he replied kindly, his storm colored eyes twinkling with aged wisdom. Korra rolled her eyes. He'd told her that every time she's asked. In fact, he'd given her similar answers to every question she'd asked since she'd come to him for training, vague half answers layered with cryptic hints and clues. In all the months she'd spent wandering the world with him he had barely taught her a thing!
"Stupid monks," she muttered. "Why can't they just say what they mean?"
Sure, he'd taught her the basics of airbending, such as simple wind manipulation, how to spin a marble in her palm, and even how to make an air-scooter, but otherwise all they did was aimlessly wander the world. On top of that he forbade her from bending any of the other elements whilst she trained with him.
"Other airbenders can't bend water, fire, or earth," he had told her. "To truly learn to bend air, you must learn it the right way."
The young Avatar had thought of leaving, but every time she began to truly consider it the voice of her past life would echo through her mind and soul.
"Give him time," the voice of Avatar Aang told her. ""It's just his way. You'll understand soon enough."
Well of course he'd say that, she thought to herself. Tenzin was his son! That was perhaps the most awkward part of their relationship, the fact that Korra, a nineteen year old girl, was her sixty-nine year old Sifu's reincarnated father. They'd never really discussed it but the fact still unnerved her. Ever since her thirteenth birthday, the day she'd been revealed to be the new Avatar, everyone had constantly compared her to Aang, even those close to her.
"Can't we just fly there?" she asked. Tenzin shook his head. His iron gray beard swayed with his movements.
"Nope. You're not ready to fly yet, and my glider can't support two of us for very long." He turned away and continued his climb upward. Korra glared at the old man's back. Yet again he refused to let her learn anything. Several minutes of heavy footed climbing later the ground beneath them evened out at the top of a particularly tall hill. Korra slumped to the ground.
"There it is," Tenzin said happily. He pointed with his staff.
Korra raised her head lazily. Her jaw dropped the instant she saw it. The Southern Air temple loomed magnificently in the distance. Its many turrets and towers pierced through the clouds and the joyous sounds of laughter reverberated down the mountain range. When she squinted, Korra could see at least a dozen miniscule black dots weaving in and around the temple structure.
"My nieces and nephews," said Tenzin. "Great nieces and great nephews as well, my family never stops growing." He looked proud and nostalgic as he said this.
"Who lives there?" Korra asked as she stood up and dusted herself off. "One of your sisters?"
"Three of them, actually, and their families. I'm not quite sure which ones though," he admitted. "When you've got ten siblings, it gets hard to keep track of them all." Korra shook her head.
"I don't know how Sifu Katara handled you all. It must have been a nightmare."
"She had my father's help. He was very good with children you know. He was a child at heart, even when he was an old man," he said this words wistfully and emotions long forgotten became evident in his glassy eyes. Korra nodded. Master Katara was a strong woman, Korra knew that. If she could help to end a century long war at only fourteen, being the mother of a nation was child's play.
She'd known her growing up at the South Pole. It was her who had taught her to waterbend, her first and native element. They'd always shared a strangely close relationship, and Korra had come to see her teacher as something of a surrogate grandmother. That changed when her identity as the new Avatar was revealed. They remained close, but Katara began to distance herself from her star pupil.
Korra couldn't really blame her for that though. From that point on all her presence could do was remind Katara of her husband's absence. A sharp pang of sadness passed through the avatar's body. She'd been away when Katara had passed, and had been unable to attend the funeral. She had a great desire to visit her old mentor's grave while at the temple. Closure was something she yearned for.
"What were they like?" she asked after a long moment of blissfully silence. "Your parents I mean. I knew your mom, but only when she was an old woman. And I never knew your father. What were they like when they were younger?" Tenzin grinned and raised an eyebrow.
"You never knew my father?" he said. "Doesn't he ever call you to the spirit world to speak with him? I assumed dad would like being your spirit guide. It's much less work, and he can spend most of his eternal rest with my mother." A faint blush crawled across Korra's cheeks. It must have sounded awfully stupid of her to claim she didn't know Aang, when technically she was Aang.
But despite her spiritual connection to her past life, she knew little to nothing about his life.
"You know what I mean!" Tenzin considered her for a moment, fingering his beard quizzically, deep in thought.
"From what I remember, they always brought out the best in one another," he paused to think for another moment. "When my father was young, he was a mischievous, kind, and loving soul, much as he was in his later years. However in his youth he thought nothing of his destiny as the Avatar, and was only too happy to put it aside in favor of adventure."
That's one thing we have in common, Korra thought. Although she enjoyed the travelling that came with her position, she never liked the idea of being responsible for keeping the world's delicate balance in check.
"My mother was far different growing up, burdened with the responsibility of caring for her tribe, she didn't have the chance to laugh or play as a child should. Then she found him. I can't truly describe it, as I was not there, but from my parents told me, from the first moment they saw each other, something just….clicked. It felt as though they'd been friends for years, even after only just a few hours together."
"Love at first sight?" Korra suggested. Despite her usual hard-ass attitude she was quite fond of romance stories, particularly the overtly sappy ones that teenage girls loved so much. Tenzin laughed.
"In a way yes, though I doubt either of them knew it then. But what really made them so perfect for one another was the change they made in one another. My dad showed my mom how to be a kid again, how to enjoy life even when the world is at war, in true airbender fashion I might add."
"So he did it while doing something stupid and over the top?"
"Precisely!" Tenzin grinned madly. "And what my mother did, well, she helped him to face his destiny. You're not alone in not wanting the job, Korra. Dad didn't want to be the Avatar. But mom showed him how to be serious, and to balance the two worlds of his personal life and duty. Without her, I think the fire nation would be ruling the world right now. They were both kind and strong people, but ultimately what shaped them, was their love. As cheesy as it may sound, Korra, especially coming from an old geezer like me, but love and friendship may be the greatest weapons you have."
"You're right," Korra said with a laugh. Though deep within her mind, his words really did seem profound and meaningful. "That is a bit cheesy. But coming from you it sounds like a sermon, did you rehearse that?" Tenzin joined in her laughter. He stood up.
"My family will be expecting us, it will be good to see my children again." Korra's eyes widened in shock.
"You have children?" she asked dumbfounded. "You were married?"
"Well of course," Tenzin said Jovially as he started once again to climb upward towards the temple. "Now come along, we've done enough dawdling." With a flourish of his hands he created a sphere air, onto which he leapt. Within seconds the old man was speeding upward on his air scooter, laughing as he went. Korra sighed, though she smiled as she formed her own air scooter.
Her airbending teacher may be crazy, but he was the wise kind of crazy, with whom things would never be boring.