Midday had come, and the sun was at its strongest. The soles of his feet ached from the two-hour long tread he had taken to the inner depths of the South Pole. Yagoda's words have bothered him since that day, and he was determined now more than ever to get to the bottom of all of this. She was kind enough to entrust him to a source he could count on as reliable if he ever needed to know more about it, and one that really took him by surprise. The heat had now become unbearable, but Aang had to make this track towards the location of the woman this source told him about a few weeks before.
A humid breeze tickled the bare skin on his head as he squint his eyes in search for any clue to this woman's whereabouts. He looked up, pissed that there wasn't a cloud in sight, but he had to keep going. He already made it that far and turning around would've potentially have proven his attempt to find her nothing but a waste of time. He wouldn't give up on Katara, he promised her that, but the horizon seemed endless, nothing but snow, walls of ice, mountain and sky bordering against one another in front of him, behind him, all around him. The scenery mocked him with its illusions, which angered him even further. She had to be around somewhere, but where?
Treading the jagged path of melting ice and slush, he recollected the conversation he had with Zuko with uncertainty, after he confessed to the Avatar of his secret and very recent conversion to the Craft…
"What made you decide to be err, one of them?" Aang wasn't sure if he was walking on eggshells when it came to the matter, but his curiosity burned greatly and as a result, couldn't hold his tongue.
Both men sat across from one another in a small chamber below the Fire Lord's Palace and away from all of the hustle and bustle of the servitude. The walls were decorated in Fire Nation drapery and an enormous fire insignia below their feet. A small, square table separated them; each one with a gold goblet filled with fine, red wine in their grasps as the flickering flames that burned from the walls illuminated the side of their profiles.
The Fire Lord looked as if he wasn't sure of how to go about answering his friend's question, lip curled as he combed the loose strands of hair away from his view with his fingertips. "It was for personal reasons Aang; I'd rather not bore you to death with the details. But it's detrimental that you not mention this to anyone including those within our group. It took a long time to reestablish the dignity of the Fire Nation, and I can't risk everything I've worked so hard for to be destroyed in a manner of seconds by people's superfluous fears and misconceptions." his hand laid over his chest and his eyelids squint with glare, "No one can know I partake in the practice of the Craft. Ever."
This was the old Zuko that peered through at that moment, the one who's still trying desperately to restore his honor. He gulped in his throat as he exchanged the same deep stare, "I'd never do that to you Zuko, and you have my word." Aang reassured, "But you really think she'll have the answers I'm looking for?"
The Fire Lord cupped the base of his drink between his middle fingers as he gently whirled it around. He stared at the whirl he created inside, "She's the Head of all of us, our Matron of the Unknown. If there's anyone who would know the inner and outer workings, the good, the bad and the evil of the practice, then this is the woman you want to speak to. She has all the answers."
"Anything else I need to know about her?" Aang wondered.
"Yep. She's an ego junkie. You need to explain to her exactly what she wants to hear. You know, stuff like, 'I really need your help', 'you're the only person who can help me', 'woe is me without your expertise'. Stuff like that. Butter her up to no end and you'll have her in the palm of your hands." His eyes rolled, then he bowed his head with agreement.
"Ok" The young Avatar took a sip from his goblet, "So, why did she all of a sudden choose to live in solitude out of the blue? And in the middle of all that ice?" his brow arched with suspicion.
"I have no idea." Zuko sipped from his drink and smacked his lips clean of the remnants of liquid, "She just up and left the Nation without mentioning to anyone except the few in her circle where she was going. Never really elaborated much on her 'choice of living'." He quoted with his fingers, "But she did tell me before she left that she preferred to live that way anyway. It's been a couple of years now and she still hasn't returned to the Fire Nation so I guess she's happy where she is, yet you'd think she'd choose to live somewhere more comfortable, you know, where one doesn't run the risk of getting frostbitten. It's mindboggling, isn't it?"
Then, Aang remembered the Guru who taught him how to unlock his chakras and in turn unlock the Avatar State, and how he too chose to live the life of a recluse for the sake of maintaining his own spiritual stature, "No, not really." He said with a smug look on his face, "besides, the poles have been heating up for the past year so I guess it's not as bad as we're thinking." He jerked his head and chuckle before he took a big gulp of his drink.
The Fire Lord creased his forehead, "Why in the world would you have any interest in any of this anyway? You already have the power of all the elements at your disposal. Are you that hungry for more?"
Aang shook his head as his eyes lazily followed the ripples of his drink, "It's not for me, I need to know some things." His stone grays locked with the Fire Lord's solid ambers.
"What is it that you need to know?" asked the Fire Lord.
Looking at the wall as if spaced out with a grin, he kept the thought that he didn't want anyone to know exactly what he was up to or why in the back of his mind, so he simply responded, "I would tell you if I knew..."
His thoughts returned to reality and he continued his now strenuous climb up the tumultuous mountains. The thought of knowing that a subcultural religion had survived for so long and he knew next to nothing about it was disturbing to him. Even if he wasn't sure whether or not it had anything to do with Katara's condition, it sure didn't hurt to investigate on its background even further.
He thought twice about that last remark as an enormous boulder began to rumble and tumble towards his head. With pupils contracted, a fail swoop of his hand and little time to react, he created a whirlpool of wind that catapulted the boulder into the heavens and out of sight. But consequently, in doing this he slipped on the corner of his sash and lost his footing before he himself plummeted towards the wet rocks below. He was falling fast, and his grunts followed every direct hit his body took from random contact with the slope of melting snow, but his nimbleness kicked into overdrive as he quickly made an air ball that bounced him away from a pillar of rock and into stable ground, avoiding a headfirst collision with its point.
With hands laid on the mushed snow, he took a moment to regain himself. Panting heavily, his lungs burned from the mixture of generating body heat and the cold of the air; this was not what he had in mind when Zuko mentioned it would be 'just a light stroll', "Why does this woman have to live beneath the ground?" he whined and heaved. Then he remembered the clue the Fire Lord gave him that would lead to her whereabouts.
"Her dwelling is concealed beneath the veil. The South Pole isn't the only place with an Oasis, but you have to believe it's there."
For someone who didn't believe in fairy tales, Zuko didn't seem to mind sharing that piece of information without an ounce of shame. But he did say afterwards that the 'old bat was probably going senile if she believes there's an Oasis in the middle of the South Pole'. He couldn't help but laugh and wonder what would Zuko be in for if this woman ever heard him badmouthing her that way.
Back to the matter at hand, mountains began to tower above him. He would've been conformed flying up in the air and sifting the area with his eyes, but this woman apparently arranged her living quarters like an optical allusion. And he gave her credit for doing just that. So many times he, Katara and Sokka walked around the same area when they every now and again accompanied his brother-in-law on hunting trips; they did this repeatedly and never once did any of them spot a blade of grass anywhere. It was a long shot, but he was that desperate to find out exactly what happened to his wife. Every lead had turned cold and all signs pointed to temporary insanity, but he refused to believe his wife lost her mind. He had to keep searching, he just had to.
"You have to believe it's there…" Zuko's words wisped through his mind again.
A pang in his gut prompted him to stop. He knew that feeling too well, a convenient perk that came with being the Avatar, his uncanny ability to sense that something was amiss had become essential in many of his past circumstances. This moment proved to be no different. Now crouched, he skimmed the area around carefully and searched for plant life, bug life, any life. But he found nothing, just snow and rock.
Getting frustrated, he creased his brow, sat on the snow and began to meditate. "Believe…believe. Believe." He chanted in silence as he cleared his mind of any unnecessary debris that might obstruct his focus.
Yet nothing happened. He incanted Zuko's words feverishly over and over again. Still nothing. But he didn't give up and remained diligent. He used the memory of his wife as his fuel while his whispers continued on, each one overlapping the other in a dance of sound. His voice became an ethereal hum, bouncing all over him and all over the mountainside, or was it against the air? He wasn't sure, all's he knew was that he felt silly while the words continued to flow from his mouth, but he put his pride aside and did it anyway. He was that desperate. Goosebumps rose from his heated skin until he suddenly felt his feet give way to the ground, which had begun to ripple below him.
He broke his concentration as he airbent himself to stand. He eyes the ground skeptically, unable to believe what he was seeing. It was the oddest thing, rippling snow? Preposterous. He was weary of what he was looking at; unable to make sense of what he was seeing as his trembling hand closed in on the ripple. A droplet of sweat trickled from his nose and fell onto the ground, which caused another ripple to form and expand before his eyes.
"What in the world?"The shock was laden in his eyes and he felt himself on the verge of freaking out, but he quickly shut them and took in a deep breath, "Ok, relax Aang breathe. Let go of fear, be brave. Be brave."
He tried to calm his nerves with reassuring words, but never once did he see anything like this in the Mortal World, so what exactly did this mean? He had no clue, but it couldn't be good. Yet he had to delve in further, he was the Avatar after all, and a coward was someone he would never be. Finally, he reached down, his hand still trembling, to touch it and managed to grab hold of the snow. Only it was no longer snow, but had morphed into gelatin-like paper, a membrane with the image of snow on its glossy surface, now having been peeled off the ground. The sight of it was so surreal, trippy, but he braced himself for what he would potentially see and peaked below it. Below this membrane laid an abyss, an endless tunnel of pure darkness.
The scarce strands of short hair from the back of his neck stood up and his mouth went dry. With a huge gasp and bug eyed, he let go in a flash and staggered a few steps back. It was unlike anything he'd even seen before, darker than form of black that existed in his world. Then, the membrane that was between his fingertips a few moments ago began to glow an eerie green where he touched, Its surface vibrated while the hole remained open, and he felt the force draw him from the small of his back closer and closer into its mouth. Jaw tightened with teeth exposed and the pressure shown on his angrily squint eyes, his feet dug deeply into the snow as he used all of his force to airbend himself away from its grasp.
But try as he might, it was too late; the vacuum hidden beneath was too strong for him to resist before his feet ultimately gave way, the force sucking him until he completely disappeared as his screams faded into the shadows.
A log cabin stood outside the boundaries of the Southern Water Tribe. Within its walls, the ivory drapes were drawn; sunlight deprived from the inside and only candles illuminated the surroundings. With the exception of a few simple household adornments and essentials, the room was bare. In the middle of the room she sat on a stool and stared at the candle that stood on top of the console table next to her.
She watched as the overflowing pool of liquid that surrounded its flickering flame stirred, while a drop of hot wax surged down the candle's base as if entranced by its movement. It doused her blue kimono with its orange light, and she wondered how such a small thing could do something so meaningful and so great. How she wished the solution to her problem was that small and that simple.
Just then, the woman who sat across from her snapped her fingers in her face so as to once again grasp her attention. She blinked her eyes tightly before she turned with this woman, whose annoyance was evident in her creased brow.
"Please Katara, if we're going to make any progress here then you must do your part as well and pay close attention to my questions. Now, tell me in the best way you can what you recollect from that day." The healer scolded as her funny looking square hat wobbled every time she tilted her head.
The exceptionally puffy shawl wrapped around the healer's shoulders and the large, doofy bifocals she bore on her face made the young water bender want to chuckle, but she bit her lip before one managed to escape her. This was a serious matter that needed to be taken as just that, no matter how silly she thought the whole ritual was. Now relaxed and her mind cleared, she took in a deep breath and puffed the air back out as she closed her eyes and concentrated on the arduous task. It was the same repetitive procedure she's been partaking in for weeks and weeks, all of which yielded the same results: nothing. That day was no different.
"I don't remember anything." she answered, her right foot pressed over the other as she tried her best to ignore the enlarged eyes the healer's glasses reflected.
"Please try, Katara." The healer pleaded with hands cupped, "Focus."
She tried again, still nothing happened and she was beginning to feel discouraged.
"*sigh*, what's wrong with me?" she pursed her lips with shame. Perhaps everyone was approaching the issue all wrong, since the sessions weren't working. This is the second healer that's been assigned to her. Not even Yagoda was able to unravel her problem, and if she couldn't, what made people think anyone else would?
Then, her eyes caught sight of a vase with an odd looking symbol of a tree that sat on top of the dresser. It was crooked, odd looking with dead branches. It was strange to her, the random vase, of all the things that could be in that room. Suddenly, she felt her mind collapse…
The room melted right before her eyes; the healer, the walls and that random vase all disintegrated into a swirl of black before being sucked down into a drain. Horrified by what she was seeing, she shut her eyelids and gasped repeatedly in hope that some oxygen to her brain would clear her thoughts from this unexpected hallucination. Her lungs burned and her bottom lip twitched, yet she continued her steady breathing technique. "It was just a panic attack, that's all; it's making me see things. When I open my eyes everything will be back to normal..."
But when she opened them, she was no longer in the room with her therapist. She instead stood on the doorway of a concave dome made of ice with rows and seats coordinated as such, witnessing some sort of meeting. In front, the older Aang she met not too long ago stood in front of what seemed to be important authority figures, she judged by their attire, while a few others in fancy garbs and members of the White Lotus sat behind him on these rows. Her brother was amongst one of these people, the older form that is, and their father sat right next to him. Each one had a pompous look on his or her face, while Aang remained emotionless; they seemed to be talking about something rather serious, but their voices were too quiet to hear. And with every other second, the scene seemed to change for every flash she saw, with people shifting their positions throughout the room and pointing their fingers at his face, but Aang remained stationary.
It was then she realized that this had to be some sort of trial, but for what she wondered. What could Aang had possibly done to merit being persecuted and treated this way? Had he rebelled against his loving nature as he got older? Right then and there, she took a glimpse at a familiar-looking woman who hid herself in the far back exit, gripping the borders as if she were about to collapse from weakness. No one noticed her. Her dark brown hair was wet with strands glued to the skin of her face and neck, and her clothes slouched from her body as if she just tossed whatever she could find on without a care in the world as to how she looked. And then it hit her, those striking blue eyes, familiar eyes; the same ones she looks at every single time she looks in the mirror.
"Is, is that…me?"
Disturbed by what she was witnessing, she watched helplessly from the other side of the room while her other self sobbed in her lonesome. And she felt her pain, her hopelessness, and all the ugliness of what this woman was experiencing. Unable to resist her forlornness, her eyes glistened and she too felt her own tears swell and smudge her vision. Too much to bear, she collapsed on her knees and fought the desolate feeling that tried to embed itself into her heart. Was this a memory? A hallucination, or what's to come in the future? She turned her attention to the others, then to Aang. She needed to know more, but the scenes were moving rather quickly and everyone's speech was distorted. So she leaned in closer to discern what they were saying before their conversation was over, but she still couldn't understand them; their words then echoed loudly, jumbled and chaotic before they became garbled as if they were all underwater.
Then everything became a blur, a blue blur, and that's exactly where she found herself: underwater. Time seemed to backtrack thereafter, and she then she was no longer in water, but now stood on the outskirts of the Southern Water Tribe in the middle of night. A hole filled with ice water was dug from the snow next to her, and out of this hole came out a naked woman, seemingly defying the laws of gravity as she glided out upright and continued to walk backwards with her back hunched and barefoot on the snow. Katara blushed at the sight of this person's nudeness, but she couldn't help but be curious as to whom this person was, or why time in itself had reversed. However this woman's face was covered by her long, wet hair, so she had no idea who she was.
The scene changed, and now this woman was fully clothed beside the hole, her tresses still covered her face. This woman proceeded to undress herself and turned her back to Katara before she jumped feet-first into the water-filled ditch. Katara's gut sank as she watched the horrible sight, but before she could reach for this woman's hand; her entire body was already completely submerged in. Aghast, she belly-flopped onto the edge of the hole and frantically searched for any sign of the woman; her heart accelerated and on the verge of quitting on her while her hands probed the water. But she found nothing, only bubbles of air that kept popping up less and less frequently. But she didn't give up; she continued to look for her, still, she found no sign of life. Then she heard a voice in the distance, but she couldn't care less; she needed to save this girl. Just as her hands were poised and ready to bend the ice water, Katara felt a pull on her back and she was plunged again into darkness.
Her eyes opened, and she once more found herself in the log cabin, only she was no longer in her seat next to the console table, but sprawled on the ground looking straight at the ceiling. Around her, every piece of what little was in the room was spread on the ground, torn and destroyed, while her healer was kneeled beside her with her jaw extended and a needle in her shaky grasp, inches away and ready to be injected into Katara's skin. The arm of her bifocals hung from her ear, and she glimpsed into her eyes, her real eyes, for the first time. Midnight blue and normal sized like hers, filled with panic. Both women stared at each other, out of breath and trembling; stunned, shocked and confused, unable to make of what each one saw.
Darkness spun all over, dizzying him as the topsy turvy motion disallowed his brain to follow what was happening around him. Compressed in endless black for what seemed like an eternity, he couldn't tell which way was up or down, left or right. All he knew was that he was still freefalling somewhere, zipping in petrifying darkness, and specks of brightness growing and growing until he was engulfed in a ball of white light. Just then he felt his chest hit something solid with a loud thump as he shouted, "oomph!". The wind was knocked out of him at contact, and he writhed and groaned in temporary pain as the metallic taste of blood settled on his tongue. The muscle explored the inside of his mouth and found the cut on the inner wall of his cheek, "Just a bite." He moaned.
Then, he took notice of the soft, pointy tips of grass that tickled his nose, neck and hands. His eyes squint involuntarily so as to give his stone grays time to adjust from the blinding brightness he traveled from and into the proper lighting of this foreign place, "It can't be all that bad." He thought, "At least the heat's bearable in here."
At that instant, his eyes widened. What a sight it was! Perfection was the only way he could describe where he laid. The scene before him overlaid by a crescent of mountains with snowy tops, beneath him was a symmetrical island of lush green grass and all sorts of bright, exotic flowers that ranged evenly in size, the scent carried forth by the light breeze that sent it his way. Eyes closed, he whiffed and savored the remnants in his senses as it filled him with newfound energy. He then opened them and looked behind him- Trees, endless amounts of forest covered as far as he could see of the land that lay divided from the island by a moat of crystal clear, water as blue as the clear sky above him. Butterflies hovered around and all over, while the distant sound of birds chirping rung nicely in his ears.
A gush of flowing water took his attention, and he turned to view its source. He was so taken in by this jungle paradise that he almost missed the most captivating scene of all: an Oasis smack dab in the middle of the island. Its round stones sat atop one another and slanted down towards the middle as pristine water cascaded from the snow that covered the mountains high above, while vines decorated its wall with green leaves and white flowers. He slowly rose from the ground and brushed off what little dirt managed to cling onto his damp robes while he stared in awe of the magnificent display of nature. A white waterfall descended onto a darkened pool below, so beautiful. The smell and sound of the clean springs were an invigorating indulgence on his senses. He was so captivated the breathtaking landscape that his irregular breath didn't bother him so much, heck he practically ignored it. He almost didn't feel the fingers on his shoulder either, and a squeal came out of his mouth first before he awkwardly fell back in response. A short, chunky woman with long, silver hair, saggy, wrinkly skin and a mole protruding from her bottom left cheek greeted him.
"Welcome Avatar. Never thought I'd see you in person so soon please don't be shy, make yourself at home." She extended her hand to him.
He did as he was instructed and braced her grip with his own as he got back up on his feet. Although the scenery was easy on the eyes, a newfound wariness of his surroundings crawled its way into his gut, "That was, the most bizarre thing I've ever experienced," he huffed.
She looked at him eagerly, "I'm Ezra, Matron of the Craft. Welcome to my domain. I'm sorry about the entrance; I assure you I'm working on giving my visitors a less oh how you say, overwhelming access." Her masculine voice was evident of years of having had one too many smokes.
"How-how did you do all of this?" he asked.
"Why, with magic of course. And a little elbow grease. Pretty snazzy eh?" She answered as she pulled out a drag from her dress pocket and placed its filter between her lips, "The dark tunnel you just traveled through is a portal that I formed, a rip between space and time, molded to connect the Mortal world to this." She opened her arms gallantly, "You and I are now in a small area of time and space which I also created- separate from your world, the spirit world, and beyond. That's how I've been able to maintain the temperature here so nice and cozy. It's my own private little bubble, both figuratively and literally speaking."
"Beyond?" He ignored the other fascinating details of this woman's supernatural skills and instead focused on that specific word. Aang never gave the concept much thought before, and was now surprised that he never did. It almost seemed…familiar to him.
She took out a match and bent down to scrape its tip over a callous stone that seemed to appear from nowhere, producing a small flame, "Another term for what exists beyond the Spirit World. Now tell me young man, who sent you here?" she put the flame over the tip of her smoke and inhaled.
The match burned out, and she pressed the small stick between her middle and index fingers until it vanished in thin air "Ahh Zuko, I see." She interrupted as she held her smoke in her breath, which left Aang speechless to her display of sorcery.
"But I, I didn't, how did you-" His words came out scrambled as he struggled to process what he was seeing.
She cocked her head with an amused smile while smoke flew out of her nostrils, "I know many things and can do many things Avatar, things that would terrify even you." Her answer was as cryptically as it was menacing, while her drag went the way of her match between her fingers and disappeared, "Now that you know what I'm capable of, I don't have to pretend like I don't know why you're here. You spoke to the Fire Lord about a major problem you've been having. Apparently you have many questions for me." Her sharp words sounded as though they were supposed to be threatening, but instead were filled with much anticipation and jolliness. It was jarring to see.
It looked like Zuko failed to mention this little tidbit of personality info to him. He looked at her curiously and wondered how exactly she anticipated his arrival, but the thought alone that this old woman possibly had the ability to peer into his own mind or anything more gave him the willies. Though he found it incredibly interesting, he didn't like the idea of being someone else's open book. So he pushed his curiosity aside and got straight to the point. His voice shook as he spoke, "My wife, there was an accident. I'd rather not go into details about it but, *sigh*, I don't know what's going on with her or why?"
She analyzed him for a moment with a look of deep concentration on her face, as if fixated by him. Then she lifted her palm to him and pouted her lips before she spoke, "You don't have to elaborate. I am so sorry for what happened to the both of you." The thought of his memories was unsettling to her, "I feel for you Avatar, I really do, but tell me how any of that has to do with me?"
She sounded callous, like a little child who had just begun to comprehend empathy, but he knew where she was getting at. It was like Zuko advised; he had to play her game.
"I was told of how when a practitioner who dabbles with the evil side of the Craft and possesses an individual, they can control their sense of reasoning and even take their memories and place them in something of a void. I'd figured you'd tell…me-"
Silence was all he received from her, but it didn't matter, the answer was etched all over her face-pure terror.
Aang was startled by the sudden shift of her mood, "Matron?"
She stammered a bit, and then shook her head before she once again regained her perkiness, "Yes yes yes of course of course, but first please sit. Entertain me with your Avatar-ness." She cheeked as she manifested a warm crumpet from thin air and handed it to Aang, who accepted the food rather uneasily. Why did she look so worried when he explained himself?
"Err, thanks. What would you like me to do?" he asked rather anxiously as he took a seat on the luscious grass.
"Oh nothing really, just sit there. It's not every day one is in the presence of one of the oldest Spirits in existence. A simple chat would suffice for me." Her quirkiness had no bounds.
"Alright then…well. There are a few things that I've been curious about." His lips pressed, "Why all the secrecy, about being a practitioner? It seems like many of you are afraid to even claim that you are one."
She sat down before him and peered into his eyes, "Do you fear the unknown Avatar?"
He remembered when he lifted the snow and unveiled the entrance of the portal, "I'd prefer to live bravely and face my fears."
"Good, and that's how you should be. But there are many who don't see it that way. Most people fear what they cannot understand, see or touch, what they are taught as 'normal' and 'acceptable' is all they know, and everything else is strange and forbidden. That is what we are, like ghosts to the general population, to be feared and shunned. Better to practice in the obscurity than to be scrutinized and potentially ousted by the public."
Butterflies flew over his head, capturing his attention, "Can anyone find this place?" He gestured around the premises.
"Of course anyone can, however one has to know exactly where my portal is. Can't just will yourself to come here from anywhere, that's only part of it." She guffawed.
"Why do you choose to live away from this realm? Why not move into the mountains or some other secluded area?"
"Because that's the only way I can operate in your world without the interference of the other realms. That way, others can't find me. I prefer my privacy very much Avatar, and I'd like it if no one ever found out about my exact whereabouts except those within my circle of trust. It's essential that it remain that way." she knew she explained too much.
And he knew he had her pinned at that moment, "So you're living in hiding?"
"Well, no?" she sounded unsure, her fingers running through her hair as she exposed her large earlobes to him, "You see Aang, I like living away from people. People are rotten, and I chose to be away from anything foul because-well I mean…*sigh*, you know what? That's none of your concern!" she couldn't sound more childish.
But Aang was persistent- because he knew she was lying. "Why are you living in hiding Ezra?" he demanded to know.
She was at a loss for words. Both of them glared at each other as if there were some silent war of the wills waging forth between them, yet there was no way for her to navigate around his question. He wasn't going to stop anyway, and quite frankly his stubbornness was beginning to annoy her. It was inevitable that he would find out at some point, she figured she may as well quit avoiding the matter and decided to give him what he came for, even if she didn't think it was the right time to do so.
The rush of the waterfall behind her eased the tension for a few moments while she bit her thumbnail all the way down to the skin, she contemplated her words carefully, and then she parted her lips to speak.
"Oh alright!" she moaned while her hands flailed in the air, "Humph! Seeing as you're the Avatar, I believe you need to know exactly why I've been living here for the past few years, but in order to understand my quarrel, and likely yours, you must understand your own past."
The conversation was leading up much quicker than he had presumed, to his relief. The place although very nice and peaceful, was giving him the creeps. "My past?" he arched an eyebrow, "What does that have anything to do with all of this?"
"The story of the Avatar." she lifted her chin; her voice as humorless as the expression on her face, "Dates back many millennia…"
During the Primordial Time, there existed only one bender…appointed by the Spirits to guard and protect humankind, he alone had the ability to control all of the elements…he had no name, some called him Deity because he was like a God to them all, others called him Bearer because he bore the Spirit of the World within him, but they all knew him as King, because he controlled them all…
He never died, an immortal incapable of death only if forced on him, no one stood up against his glory, and like the Spirits our ancestors worshipped, he too was lavished with all sorts of material possession…riches, jewelry, clothing and sweet perfumes along with all the women he could bed, it was all his, and what he said went no matter the objection … below him served one unified Nation, and every generation since the beginning of life knew him and catered to him without question… and for five thousand years he ruled…
Then, he met a young girl named Kuja, sweet and kind, barely fifteen with raven black hair and bronze skin…she brought herself before him wearing nothing but a leather cap on her head and a necklace of blue beads wrapped around her neck and waist as a gift to his greatness…she came from a family of impoverished Crafters, they had very little and had decided to sell her to him, but he was cautioned by his Spiritualists that she along with her family practiced 'in darkness', or evil, and that not all was as it seemed…
He refused to hear it and dismissed it as pure gossip and folly, he was so bewitched by her seductive beauty that he immediately disowned his own partner and four children and took her to be his main bride despite the vast warnings of other soothsayers….
Not long after they wed, she was with child, but his Spiritualists continued to urge him of the impending danger, 'she will bring upon this World pure and utter destruction', they warned 'she is the Bearer of chaos' they begged him to heed, even after the birth of his son, whom he named Gildemar…but he grew tired of their lies, "How is this frail woman a bearer of anything except my child?" And he ordered all of his Spiritualists to be beheaded…
The years came and went, each one he spent alone and without guidance…with every moment that passed by, he grew more and more paranoid…he would hear voices calling him, but Kuja and their son reassured him that it was only the Spirits trying to communicate with him…he knew the call of the Spirits well, and this was no call from any benevolent being…he couldn't sleep or eat, he couldn't even think anymore, erratic thoughts haunted him both in his dreams and his waking life, so he deserted his position as King and sought refuge from his former partner and their four children…
In hiding he lived for more than twenty years… until his fifth child Gildemar, who had replaced him as King soon after he left the throne, waged war on humanity in the name of what he called 'the void'…With his own hands, Gildemar tore open the very fabric of this reality, it was magic no Crafter had ever seen before…out of this tear he brought forth a legion of shadow, incapable of feeling neither pain nor compassion, its only objective to consume everything…and consume it did, swallowing entire providences filled with men, women and children without a trace, leaving nothing behind…
With unimaginable power and an impenetrable force of shadow and possessed armada at his command, Gildemar alone brought death and terror unto the land….until his father, the sole bender of the World decided to fight back…
Alongside his sons, daughters and rebels of the Nation, he fought through the mindless soldiers…pain struck his heart for every blow his blade made with their flesh, once his people, drained and devoid of any humanity…blood coated the land, with every man he lost, he destroyed part of the shadow legion with earth, with every woman he lost, he destroyed part of the legion with fire, and he repeated the pattern with air and lastly, water…
No more shadow remained, 'but countless others will soon replace them!' bellowed Gildemar, whose eyes became completely black and his voice inhuman, and with a maniacal cry he dug into the air and began to tear…but the bender's astuteness proved to be far greater than he anticipated, and before he was able to break the fabric of reality yet again, a blade pierced through his hand, and he shrieked something horrible…to his shock, his father held the handle of the blade, eyes aglow and thunderous clouds surrounding him…Yet he anticipated his father's attack, and with a jaw of his sword, Gildemar stabbed him…
Horrified, the bender's army stood motionless as they saw their leader fall into his own pool of blood, and the brilliance of his eyes dim into nothingness…all hope seemed lost until a little boy from a nearby village appeared with bow and arrow in hand, his arrow directed towards Gildemar, dead set on his head…Gildemar threw his sword like a spear towards the child as a last resort of defense, but it was too late, the arrow had become airborn…he had no time to react, and before anyone had time to grasp what they were witnessing, the arrow pierced Gildemar's skull, while his blade simultaneously skewered the boy's body…
He fell beside his father's body, dead…
What remained of the inhabitants of the planet mourned the death of its true King, they knew well what this meant…he died in 'manifestation', hence they believed their King would never rise again…then they looked at the boy, courageous and brave, he still clung on to life… they watched helplessly as he coughed globs of blood and struggled to speak, hand gripped on the handle of the blade that pinned him on his position…barely nine years old and golden eyes dilated, he began to chant to the cadaver of the fallen King just yards away…
"I sacrifice my soul for the sake of his own, I sacrifice my soul for the sake of his own, with my mind, body heart and spirit, I will that he rise again, again and again and again…"
He slurred the last of his words before his head collapsed, eyes wide open as he succumbed to death…then out of him a light rose and engulfed his lifeless body, the light rose, and he was gone…this light then suspended over the fallen King's body and fused with it before the cadaver also disappeared in the blinding brightness and out of sight…the people, awe-struck and in tears, had no idea what had happened, but they now knew who was responsible…
The fallen King's children captured his former wife Kuja, and before those who remained, she confessed how it was all for the glory of the void…she and her family planned her seduction, her marriage and ultimately her conception with the former King…she explained that he alone had the power to conceive with the seed of her master, thus how Gildemar came to be…she then rambled on of how they all belonged to the void and how they were all its children, and then of how she and her family 'invited the tiny owl' and that it 'taught them the truth about the Avatar, and the truth about the Spirits'…but before she was able to speak what that truth was, she was struck by lightning from the heavens, quieting her forever…
Then a blaring roar radiated from the heavens, the voices of the Spirits shouted to the people of the World that their King would one day rise again, but that in turn, the people must be divided so as to avoid this tragedy to ever repeat…they called upon the sons and daughters of the King to kneel, and they did so without hesitation…
The Spirits blessed the King's eldest, his descendants would bend the Earth…
The Spirits blessed the King's second eldest, her descendants would bend Fire…
The Spirits blessed the King's third eldest, her descendants would bend the Air…
The Spirits blessed the King's youngest, his descendants would bent Water…
With their final call, the Spirits called upon the four siblings to make their own Nation, and through them their father would be reborn in a cycle that can never be broken…the once great Nation collapsed, and out of its ruins four were born, each one represented an element, and the siblings became the Kings and Queens of the four Nations…together, they demanded that the family of Kuja be killed as well so as to avoid the ritual that brought forth Gildemar from ever being repeated again…but rumors soon stirred that a little boy managed to evade the slaughter, her nephew, whom a few wounded villagers spotted escaping into woods before soldiers raided their home, never to be seen again…later it as dismissed as fairytale and poppycock…
Nevertheless, the people rejoiced at the demise of their deaths, and a decade later the Spirits proved true to their word, and a child was born from the Nations, one who was able to manipulate the elements…Unlike their previous King, they wanted to give this being a name worthy of reverance…
And they called this child, Avatar…
The silence was deafening. Aang gaped at the ground as if imagining the story unfolded before his unblinking eyes. Tips of the grass in front of him brushed his numbed fingertips as he swallowed, while terror and sadness seeped out of his blank stare. His heart ached, it had suddenly become all too familiar to him, but he remained straight in his posture and didn't give in to the smothering feelings that seethed from within. Ezra saw the distress within his calm, and she gave him a few moments to let this knowledge sink in, but she didn't allow him to linger on and broke the silence between them.
"Thousands of years passed, and fact became legend, legend became myth, and myth disintegrated within the timeframe of history. The true history of this world has been lost with time young Avatar and with justifiable reason. You don't want to tempt those whose ears are easily tickled. This is why Kuja and her family were destroyed, their curiosity proved to be their downfall."
"It's eye-opening to know all of this, like I had already known about it without knowing it at all. It's really weird. But what does the past have to do with my dilemma?"
She cackled maniacally as she took out another smoke and match from her dress pocket, "Ohohoho this has everything to do with every person residing in the World! You see I've been monitoring a 'disturbance' in the mortal field, as I like to call it, away from the distracting hullabaloo of vibrations that pass through the planet on a day-to-day basis. And I don't quite know what to make of them."
He leaned in closer, "What's the problem?"
"Let me first explain this to you. All the realms overlap one another Aang, passing through each one without acknowledging the other's existence. Did you know that you and I are currently standing on the very same spot you opened my portal? You can't see the South Pole, but it's here, all around us. Get me?"
"Ok sorry but, it's a bit confusing." he scratched his head with a puzzled look on his face.
She eyed him with a pout, "You and I are currently occupying a space within my bubble, while this very same space is occupied by the reality of our World and the Spirit World, and subsequently, a space in the void as well. These realities coexist within the same space, but in different dimensions, and neither can affect the other. Now, when a connection is made between realities, the fabric of the two dimensions dip and morph and form a tunnel, a celestial tunnel made up of waves that ripple throughout fabric of both planes, just like the portal I created that connects this plane with the mortal world."
"Oh ok I get it now. It's like the different Worlds are invisible, but they're still here." He perked.
"Now we're getting somewhere." She lit up her smoke and inhaled before she blew out a puff of white smoke, "I have sensed a few ripples here and there throughout the years, like the times you went into your Avatar state, or when fellow Crafters went on shamanic journeys, but never did I sense a dip so deep and terrible before, so I contacted the Spirits for guidance. Here's the kicker, I was informed that no such connection had been made between the Spirit World and our World, or even this universe. I had already suspected it, but I needed their confirmation to be sure. I've been meaning to contact you about this potential problem only until I could pinpoint exactly where it's coming from, but now that you've made your way to me, there's no sense in keeping you in the dark about this any longer."
Then it hit him. Now he understood the problem.
"My concern here Aang, is that the myth of the boy who escaped execution wasn't a myth at all, but rather a fact; that he had somehow survived and in turn, the knowledge of how to summon the void survived with him and his descendants. I fear that this is where the disturbance is coming from." She looked almost bashful as she twirled her silver hair around her fingers.
But there was an issue with her theory, and Aang was quick to bring it to her attention, "But what makes you so sure that anyone's summoning the void? What if it's just another crafter who created something like your bubble for themselves?"
"Because I'm the only person on the planet who possesses the ability to create portals and dimensions, that's how!" she exclaimed, then shied away from his stare, "I know I may sound like a paranoid schizo here but I need you to believe me." she pleaded with her hand over her chest and eyes now widened, "Think of this. I'm the only one in this World who knows how to make all of this, this skill entrusted to me by the Spirits themselves, chosen to guard its horrible secrets from all mankind, yet there is someone else on our planet that also has the method to bend, break and mend the fabric of realities, as I sensed from these abnormal dips. Now tell me how that is possible?" she asked in an ominous tone.
Aang gazed into her eyes. It made sense, it was true, all true, and Aang's worry was soon apparent in his expression, "Because whoever's doing this acquired the knowledge from somewhere else."
She bit her lower lip as if angered by the very thought of it, "I have tried my best to keep this knowledge of the dark Craft away from all ears. But I fear that all of my efforts have been in vain. Believe it or not Avatar, shadows aren't the only thing that lurks within the chaos of the void, something far more sinister swims in its eternal darkness, waiting for the perfect opportunity, the perfect circumstance, and the perfectly gullible buffoon to persuade in order to enter our World."
The young Avatar took his time to ingest all of this new found knowledge. It was all so much to take in, the tragedy of his past, this new threat, and he still didn't know what happened to his wife. The countless possibilities alone was so exhausting to think about, he didn't know where to begin.
"You must promise me not to speak of this conversation to anyone Aang, not to your wife, not to your brother-in-law or Zuko, no one." She hissed with her index finger pointed up, "One slip-up is all it would take for this information to land on the wrong ears. It's always ever watchful, always listening, so you must keep your mouth shut. This is why I had to keep myself away from our realm in the first place; too many meddlesome people who couldn't keep their noses out of people's business, including those pesky coyotes who are always sniffing around for that overgrown owl's own personal satisfaction of 'pertaining all knowledge'. She mocked as she muttered silent curses under her breath.
Wan Shi Tong, how could he ever forget him? And it seemed that his thirst for knowledge still persisted even after the library's been buried under desert sands. He couldn't help but roll his eyes, "Geesh, talk about obsessed." he thought. Then, another one crossed his mind.
"Backtracking to the story of my origins, so this thing, whatever it was that needed the Avatar to create an offspring? Why the Avatar and not any other Spirit? And what was the truth about me and the Spirits that was so forbidden that the Spirits just struck Kuja dead right then and there? Maybe the answer lies in the resolution to all of this."
"I'm sorry to disappoint you Avatar, but I'm afraid I don't know the answer to those questions, though I wish I did. There are parts of history that elude even me." She ducked her head with shame as she puffed her smoke and blew, leaving around her a cloud of smoke that blew towards Aang.
He pressed his lips and swiped the smoke away from his nose, "Does anyone else know about all of this?" he asked.
"No. you and I are the only ones that are aware of what's happening and it must remain that way for now."
Nothing could've delighted him more at that point. No one else knew, which was perfect grounds for investigating further without anyone intervening and possibly sabotaging his efforts, "I need to know more about this. I'm going be paying a visit to a few Spirits." He said with determination.
"I'd be surprised if you didn't." she seemed to be in good spirits again, "I'd do it myself, but I need to pinpoint exactly where this dip is coming from before I could do anything else, and in turn stop whoever is messing with the fabric of our reality. This needs to be looked into further young Avatar. It may or may not have anything to do with your wife's unnatural behavior but you must at the very least try to find out where this dip is coming from, it's essential that you do so. Whomever or whatever is doing this does not have any of our best interest at hand."
"Right. I'm on it. But there's still something I don't understand," he got back on his feet and brushed his robes with a scowl, "How does all of this pertain to Katara?"
She drew in a wheezy breath, and looked at him with intense eyes as her brow creased down to the bridge of her nose, "History is threatening to repeat itself, and if anyone or anything is doing this to your wife, it may be for a far more sinister purpose than you can even begin to imagine- using her to get to you."
Her words sent chills up his spine. The thought of anyone harming his wife for any reason made his blood boil, but he had to be strong for her sake, and he couldn't risk losing his concentration because of fits of rage. Besides, he's managed to control himself against every foe he's ever come in contact with, and he wasn't about to stop now. Not that he was worried about it; he figured this would be one of those 'nip it in the bud before it gets out of hand situations'. So long as he found a solution for his wife's condition, he didn't care what he had to do. However, he hoped it would never go beyond that point, judging by Ezra's warning.
"I have to be going. It was really nice meeting you, and I'll be sure to contact you of anything I learn." He extended his hand to hers and gripped as he helped her stand.
She laughed, then coughed violently as she flicked her drag to the ground, "Oh, well then please send my regards to the Fire Lord. Tell him to expect a visit from me soon, as I'd like to speak to him about a few recent comments he made to you in regards to me. I believe his words were 'old bat', and 'going senile.'" She cheeked, which made the wrinkles around her mouth look even more prominent.
He never thought someone so old could be so...eccentric. He then scratched the thought from his mind as soon as he remembered his old friend Bumi, "Errr, Ok?" he couldn't resist chuckling. It looked like Zuko was in some serious trouble, but how could he argue with the lady? he asked for it, "So how do I get out of here?"
"The same way you came in." she snickered, "Sheer will."
He shrugged his shoulders, "Alright then." It seemed easy enough now that he knew how to do it, so he once again concentrated on getting back to the South Pole, then before the land began to ripple around him, he asked one more question.
"By the way, how do you know all of this, about the history of the Avatar in this world?"
She stood her ground, eyes hard as stone while she cupped her hands over her lap before her image meshed into darkness, "Because Avatar…I was there."
Author's Note: I apologize for my typos and other writing errors that I'm sure are littered all over this story. I don't edit my work because I don't have time, and the little time I do have I use to write. I'd also like to take the time to ask for leniency in regards to my updates. I've had to juggle my sister-in-law's wedding, a baby shower and my son's birthday all in the span of a month. I have priorities that come first and although I do love to write, it's not one of them (although I would really like it if it were). My updates will not be as frequent as they were a year and a half ago, please bear with me. Thank you for your time.