131 st day of our journey. We are now concentrating on finding Aang an earthbending teacher. But the Earth Kingdom is vast and it's difficult to know where to start looking. On a whim, my brother suggested going South East as that part of the Earth Kingdom is closest to the ancestral home of the last great Earthbending Avatar, Kyoshi. It is as good an idea as any we've had yet, so we're heading in that direction.
Perhaps being so close to Kyoshi's birthplace, there's more likelihood of finding a good earthbending school
We have left the arid Kolau mountains behind us, and the terrain has become progressively flatter, greener and warmer. Tonight, we are camping in a very marshy area. This region seems to be devoid of any human habitation, which is a good thing for us, since we don't want to tangle with any more Fire Nation soldiers. We still have some supplies and money left over from Northern Water Tribe and from when we stayed at General Fong's fortress, but since then, we haven't seen any villages or markets and we have nothing that's fresh. However, the fishing should be good in these marshy wetlands.
I hope we find some friendly town or village, because otherwise we'll never find an earthbender to teach Aang.
The problem is, after the tense time in Omashu, these couple of days have been relatively calm and I find myself thinking more and more often about events before we arrived at Omashu. We spend a lot of time in the air, travelling, so I've had time enough to think.
I keep going over and over what happened in the Cave of two lovers... but all this thinking hasn't cleared up my mind – in fact, I feel more confused than ever.
Aang hasn't said a word either.
Not that he's had much chance to, in the close confines of an air bison's saddle, where we seem to be spending most of our time. Mostly, I take out the ornate wooden box marked with the Northern Water Tribe symbol, take out the waterbending scrolls, and pretend to read them. And when we set up camp... well ….I find myself avoiding being alone with Aang.
I haven't even suggested practising waterbending. It used to be the highlight of my day and these marshy wetlands would be an ideal place to do some waterbending exercises, but now I'm afraid of what it might lead to.
Aang can hardly have missed something like this - it's a big, gaping hole in our daily routine.
Perhaps that's why he hasn't tried to mention anything again.
Oh gosh – I don't want to be mean or stand-offish, but at the same time, I don't want to risk our friendship over what happened back in the Kolau mountain tunnels. It isn't only our friendship that I would be risking – Aang's the Avatar, and the last Airbender and I have a niggling feeling that these two factors pose problems I'm not even seeing at this point!
And anyway, perhaps Aang hasn't said anything simply because he doesn't want to. Perhaps it wasn't so wonderful for him (I keep thinking that his first reaction back in that cave was to tell me that he'd only kiss me as a last resort!) Yes, I know that might have been due to the sudden awkwardness, but still, under the circumstances, it sort of was a last resort.
What if Aang doesn't think of me that way at all, and what happened had been brought on under the influence of the lover's tale in that dark place, and the dire circumstances?
Then again, I can't forget about the kiss...and how even now, whenever he's close to me, I feel the thrill of that secret invisibly vibrating between us...
There I go again – emotions swinging first one way then another, till I don't know what to think anymore! That's partly to blame, in fact – too much time to think. I find myself wishing for some action, or finding an earthbending teacher or something – anything – to take my mind off this.
It seems to be the only thing that writing in this book hasn't cleared up! Looking back at what I've written about that day in the cave of two lovers, I can hardly believe I'm in so much doubt and confusion now.
I wish someone would tell me what to do, what the right way forward is. I wish I could talk to someone! Someone I can trust and someone who understands me...
I wish I could talk to my mother.
She would understand me, and if there's someone who really knows about love, it's her. Perhaps she can explain what trusting in love really means... those who trust in love...the words of the old legend of the two lovers keep echoing in my head, but what does it really mean? Trust the love you already feel, or trust that love will lead you to the right person? And should someone who trusts in love have so many questions and doubts? For one brief instance, back in that cave, there had been no doubts and no questions – everything seemed wondrously clear, but since then...
Sometimes I tell myself that it's all just a legend, and the glowing crystals were nothing more than a very practical way for Oma and Shu to find each other in that labyrinth. As Sokka would surely say, there's nothing mysterious about that, and it has more to do with geology and gemmology than with trusting in love. My brother, after all, found his way out of the cave on a Badgermole.
And yet... the archaic letters etched in the cave wall did say love was brightest in the dark and perhaps Oma and Shu weren't the only ones who found love there, in the dark.
Perhaps…. I still don't know.
And my Mom is in a place where I cannot talk to her or seek her advice. She's gone forever.
There – even writing that was hard. Even though her memory, like her pendant, are still so close to me, it's not the same thing as having her beside me, explaining these things…
I would even be glad to speak to Gran Gran. After meeting Pakku and Yagoda at the North Pole, I kinda see my grandmother through different eyes. She, after all, turned her back on someone who sincerely loved her. I got the impression from Yagoda that Kanna reciprocated Pakku's love, but couldn't stand his attitude. Does that mean that she didn't trust in the love she felt for Pakku? Or did she see, in her own resistance to tradition, a bigger scope and more important things than her love for her betrothed? Did she let love lead her to the South Pole and to my Grandfather, instead? I wish I knew. But Gran Gran is hundreds of miles away at this moment, and even she cannot help me now.
I can't help wondering what they will say to each other when Pakku gets to the South Pole. I don't know if Gran Gran trusted in love to lead the way, or turned her back on a love that was already there. In either case, that decision has had a profound influence on the course of events – I would not be sitting here writing this if her decision had been any different from what it was...
Which brings me back to the original problem: how do I trust in love and where will love lead me? One decision can have so many profound effects.
Oh, spirits! I must stop thinking like this. I must stop thinking! I hope tomorrow we find a village or town and do something constructive. At this point, I would welcome even a skirmish with Fire Nation soldiers -just to have something to do, other than think!
132 nd day of our journey. While flying over increasingly marshy wetlands, a freak tornado blew us right out of the skies. We landed in a swamp and the Avatar, Sokka and I were separated from Appa and Momo.
The swamp is a very strange place, and after a while, we found out we were not alone. A strange monstrous being made of vines attacked us, and though we fought back, any damage to his body was easily repaired. Eventually, we noticed there was a man inside the vines, bending the water inside them to bring a vine monster to life. He turned out to be quite friendly when we convinced him we intended no harm to the beloved swamp.
His name was Huu, and he was a waterbender. He took us to a huge Banyan grove tree, the heart of all the swamp, and said he had achieved enlightenment under that tree. The swamp is a place that's thrumming with life and Huu said all living beings are connected to each other. The Avatar used this knowledge to find out where Appa and Momo where.
It turned out that they had been captured by a tribe of swamp dwellers and we set off to free them. To our surprise, the swamp-dwellers are a water-bending people and Hue knew them, so after an initially confrontational meeting, we made peace with them and have now been welcomed to their village for the night.
Me and my big mouth! I shouldn't have wished for action, because I got more than I bargained for!
The place we were flying over already had an ominous feel to it, so when Aang said the earth was calling to him, I just wanted to get out of there! If Aang was hearing things we could not, then perhaps he was hearing spirits. Thick, ancient forests may have belligerent spirits in them, and if this dense, swampy wetland forest had its own Hei Bei, I did not want to end up as I had in Senlin village – distraught and alone while Aang and my brother where in the spirit world.
Aang had just reluctantly agreed to give the swamp a miss, when it came upon us – a huge funnel of whirling air! Right of the clear, blue sky it twisted viciously on itself in destructive frenzy, with a noise like a screaming whistle. Appa could not outfly it and it swayed closer, eagerly snatching stuff off our saddle.
Sokka was one of them – if I hadn't held on to him, he'd have been sucked right off the saddle and swallowed by that towering tornado! Aang realised that we couldn't outrun the thing and a split second before it hit us, he created an enormous sphere of air all around us, Appa included. The protective bubble worked immediately, and Sokka and I fell back in the saddle as the wind was suddenly switched off. The noise wasn't, however, and the screaming winds were louder as the two opposing air currents battled each other. Aang's face was screwed up with the effort of bending the air, but then something went wrong.
I don't know what happened, but suddenly I was spinning round in a maelstrom of debris – I didn't know where was up and where was down. Aang's protective sphere must have collapsed somehow, I found myself falling. Or rather, flying through the air at an incredible speed. Next instant, branches and leaves were lashing my head and body, twigs snapping as I plunged through the thick forest below. I brought my arms up to protect my face but my yell was lost in the sound of breaking branches. I didn't even have enough time to realise I might be plunging to my doom, before I landed with a huge splash in some shallow water.
The familiar feel of water roused me and I was soon struggling to my feet, feeling as though I had been beaten by a thousand sticks. My brother had landed not too far away and Aang airbended himself to a slow halt beside us.
I looked around – we were in a swamp and the tree canopy was so thick that the bright daytime sun was completely filtered out. Probably, the trees and the water had saved our lives by breaking our fall.
Appa and Momo were nowhere to be seen. Appa must have been flung off at a slower, shorter distance, being much heavier than we are. Momo's much lighter, so unless he hung on to Appa's saddle, he would have been flung furthest with the force of the tornado.
'They'll be fine, Aang,' I said as he came back down from the canopy above, where he'd gone to look for them. 'Wherever they landed. Why don't you call Appa on the Bison whistle?'
'I don't have it with me. It's packed in our stuff. Besides –I don't think Appa can fly through a place like this.'
We looked at the tangled vines and lianas festooning the trees like cobwebs. Even in the dim light of the swamp, I could see how densely the trees grew – it would be impossible for Appa to fly here– it was difficult enough for us to get through, let alone a ten-ton bison.
The air was very humid and warm, and water was everywhere. As Sokka noted, there was no land. Whatever was out of the water was some part of a tree – thick trunks, roots, branches and a variety of large-leaved undergrowth as well as lots of dead or decaying leaves that formed matted clumps between the roots and branches. New seedlings and strange flora was even growing out of these wads of decaying leaves! In every single inch something was growing, and yet, apart from hundreds of tiny flying bugs, nothing moved in the swamp... There were no air currents to move the leaves or wind rustling in the trees – just an expectant, motionless mass of life in varying shades of green, greys and browns.
It was a bit unnerving.
Sokka starting swinging his machete to cut a path through the thick undergrowth, but this made Aang nervous.
'Maybe... we should be a little nicer to the swamp,' he said.
Aang was speaking about the swamp as though it was a sentient being or something. Like me, he felt there was something different here, something 'alive' in an inexplicable way, not only in a biological way.
Sokka had no such compunction and continued to cut a swath through the undergrowth. 'I'm sure there are lots of things that are alive here, and if we don't wanna wind up getting eaten by them, we need to find Appa as fast as we can.'
'Yeah, you have a point there, Sokka, but let's try and go easy on the machete-swinging. You're disturbing more bugs like that, anyway.' I thought appealing to something practical would convince Sokka more.
'Just a bit more - there. It's not so dense here. C'mon!' Sokka climbed out of the water onto a huge fallen log and we followed.
We came out into a sort of clearing – just as dim, but with enough fallen trees and thick air-roots to be able to navigate through the swamp without having to wade through the leach-infested water.
'It's difficult to get any bearings down here,' Sokka said, looking up at the faint light filtering through the canopy above.
'I think we should go that way' Aang said pointing to a place where the Banyan-grove trees appeared larger darker and older 'I checked when I was up there, above the canopy. If Appa was flung in the same direction by the tornado, he'd have landed roughly in that direction.'
'You sure about that?' Sokka asked.
Sokka made a sound of exasperation. 'Great. Let's get a move on anyway.'
We walked for hours. I think. It's not easy to get an idea of the passage of time in this dim swamp. The banyan grove trees got larger with aerial roots that were as big as the trunk, if not more. I got the impression that we were heading towards an older, more firmly established part of the swamp or else the waterways were smaller and more overshadowed by the branches and roots of the banyan grove trees. We called and called, but never once heard Appa's answering rumble, or Momo's distinctive chittering. I knew Appa could take care of himself, but I was starting to get worried about the little lemur – if alone in this place he would be more difficult to find ( though admittedly, the little guy had bugs aplenty to feast on!)
Finally, even the dim greenish light that filtered through the canopy above was gone, and we knew night had fallen. I wondered whether we had been wondering around in circles – even back home in the South Pole, where night lasts for months on end, we have the stars in the sky to navigate by, but down here, there was nothing but darkness. Much as I love the familiarity of water all around me, yet this place, waterlogged as it is, made me uneasy with its brooding sense of something hidden, waiting...
Sokka finally called a halt. I think we were all glad to stop for the idea of continuing in the now-impenetrable darkness did not appeal to any of us. Down here, without even faint starlight to relieve the darkness, and who knows what lurked in this old swamp?
Our sense of foreboding grew as strange night-sounds broke the silence of the swamp. There was a strange hiss, followed by an incredible stench of death and decay. Was it the sound of the souls of the dead escaping from a decaying body? But Sokka explained this away as Swamp-gas, saying there was nothing supernatural about that. Everything had to have a logical explanation for Sokka, but when a terrifying, unearthly scream shattered the still night air around us, he, as well as Aang, flung their arms around me, terrified. My heart stopped and the hair on the nape of my neck stood on end as the horrible scream came again, reverberating all around us - despair and anguish and terror were concentrated in that scream as it rent the night air, and something small and white floated away between the trees.
'It's the spirits of the dead! They're haunting us!' I cried, clutching my face in fear.
'I think we should build a fire...' Sokka said, shakily 'But that was just a white bird, Katara – I saw it clearly.'
'How can you see clearly in this place?' I said, but Sokka was already running over to some nearby trees.
'Weird bird, huh?' Aang said, as we followed Sokka.
'Did you see it, then?'
'Well, it was flying like a bird.' Aang replied with a small shrug, 'So I guess it was. Definitely not my favourite birdsong, though.'
'Yeah...well, I hope you're both right,' I retorted 'But still, something about this place gives me the creeps.'
Aang had seen Sokka cutting down some wood to make a fire: 'Sokka, the longer we're here the more I think you shouldn't be doing that'.
I wasn't the only one to think there was something belligerent about this place, even if the floating white thing was only a bird. Sokka, of course, ignored Aang's warning and he was soon trying to get a fire going on a huge flat ledge over the swamp formed by the roots of a dead banyan-grove tree. It took a long time, for everything in this place is damp or waterlogged, but eventually we did get a small fire going. Which was just as well, for the night-noises of the swamp were getting louder: it wasn't only the whirring and buzzing of the myriad bugs that the smoke from the fire kept away, but there were now mysterious scatterings and rustlings all around us that weren't there during the 'day'.
I kept feeling that we were being watched, and when later, as we were sitting around the fire, Sokka swiped at a bug and it turned into a point of incandescent white light, we knew we were not alone - a hundred pairs of eyes reflected the Glowfly's light, every one of them fixed upon us. I had been edgy enough, but when I saw those glowing pupils looking down at me, I yelled and flung myself on Aang. This time, surrounded by the incontrovertible truth of those eyes looking down at us, Sokka was scared too.
'They're all around us! What are they?' I cried, 'How can we go to sleep like this?'
'Um...perhaps they're friendly night creatures?' Aang said, in a voice that said he was not too convinced.
'Yeah – very friendly. Bet they're got teeth and claws to show you just how friendly they can be!' Sokka said sarcastically, disengaging himself from the group huddle we'd fallen into.
I reluctantly followed suit. I got the feeling that the swamp saw us as intruders and wanted us out of there! I've faced enemies before, and wasn't scared, but hours in this eerie place facing the unknown had undermined my courage in a way I hate to admit.
'Look guys, we need to get some sleep. We've walked for miles, and we may have a long hike tomorrow,' Sokka was saying, as the glowing eyes all faded into the darkness beyond our campfire 'let's sit back-to-back, that way we'll be prepared for an attack from any direction.'
We shuffled around to do as he said.
'I'll take first watch, and I'll rouse you if I hear anything, or when I get too tired to keep my eyes open.' Sokka instructed 'Now try to get some rest.'
Try to get some rest indeed! The swamp was now alive with the croaking, buzzing and chittering of night creatures. Knowing they could only be feet away, looking down on us with hungry eyes meant I couldn't get to sleep.
Aang was on my left side in lotus position. I don't think he was meditating, for he was slumped back in a more relaxed way, though very still. His warm weight on my side comforted me. At least I wasn't alone in this eerie place. At my back, his heavier weight pushing me forward, I could feel Sokka fidgeting slightly as he played with his machete. My brother was there too – he'd tell us if something dared come beyond the protective circle of our campfire.
A slow mist was rising from the swamp water and the air had turned slightly chillier – this swirling whiteness, or else the constant humming and chirping of insect life around us had a mesmerising effect – or else it was simply the warmth and comfort of having Aang and Sokka so close to me… I don't know….but I must have drifted off to sleep.
Next thing I knew, someone had grabbed me by the ankle and was pulling me inexorably along the damp ground. I yelled, shaken abruptly awake from a dream in which white floating things screamed agonisingly at me. What I woke up to was not far from my nightmare. There were vines around me – but not normal vines: I could feel them twisting sinuously around my body even as they dragged me away. The life pulsating within those vines was odd and unnaturally forceful - nothing like the gentle flow I can sometimes sense within growing plants...
I heard the others shouting too and I guessed the same fate had befallen them. Suddenly the vines stopped dragging me, but they didn't let go. I struggled to my feet and the more I moved, the more the vines tried to strangulate me.
Perhaps the sleep had refreshed me – or perhaps I'd had enough of being scared – and besides, the others needed me. In fact, I was feeling decidedly irritated: no plant should behave that way! I managed to free my hands enough to bend some water into a razor sharp whip and lashed at the vine – a bit more than was strictly necessary, in fact – until I had the unnatural thing in pieces around me.
Once free, I tried to get my bearings. I was alone and it was still dark, but either my eyes had adjusted to the darkness, or there was a moon somewhere above the canopy and its light penetrated enough to lift the gloom – or else we had slept through the night and dawn was approaching. In any case, there was a blue-grey light filtering down that allowed me to see what the mist didn't obscure.
There were no signs of the others and I called their names in vain. Another thing I noticed was that it had gone eerily silent again. Perhaps if dawn was approaching, the night-creatures had retired to their dens.
Getting rid of the vine encouraged me and even though I had ended up on my own, I knew I had to keep a calm head.
'Always keep your wits about you in a tight spot,' Master Pakku used to tell me 'Never give in to panic or it may be the last thing you do. In a fight, you must always keep a clear head, for you need it to think fast!'
Well, this wasn't a fight – yet – but if something leapt out at me again from those dark trees, I had to be prepared. As I walked through the undergrowth, the landscape (if you can call it that) changed a little – for one thing, I could smell something incredibly beautiful and very different from the ubiquitous smell of plant decay and swamp-gas in this place. It reminded me of jasmine … At first I thought it was the mist that smelt so, but then I noticed clumps of delicate white flowers growing along the aerial roots of the trees around this place. They were beautiful, frond-like sprays of them adorning the grey roots I hadn't noticed before. Perhaps they only grew here in this part of the swamp, or perhaps they only opened at this time of the night or early morning. Their perfume is difficult to describe, but it felt ...well… feminine somehow, and the flowers and the mist gave the place a magical feel to it, rather than an ominous one.
Then I saw someone – someone dressed in Water Tribe blue! In this world of greens and browns, that ocean-blue colour stood out sharply.
Perhaps I had been thinking of Pakku... I blinked and rubbed my eyes, but the figure was still there, blue-robed and slender...too slender to be Pakku. I moved closer. A woman, for I could see long hair down her back. A Water tribe woman? Here?! She had her back to me, and somehow I knew that there was no need to be afraid. She stood there, barely 10 yards away, her figure rising from the mist as though born of the mist, like some ethereal being.
'Hello? Hello? Can you help me?' I called, willing the young woman to turn around.
She didn't seem to hear me, but there was something familiar about that figure. Something about the design on the robes...something about the style of hair, those blue beads placed just so, right above the braid... faded memories stirred deep within my mind. I had seen that hair being braided a hundred times before...
My voice came out as a choked whisper, but the faded memories suddenly came to the surface of my mind, sparkling clear and sharp. Yes, the white fur beneath the dark blue waist-band, the undulating wave-design around the sleeve and hem...
I knew who she was.
'Mom!' I jumped into the shallow water and ran towards her with tears in my eyes, just as she half-turned a bit so I could see part of her face!
This place was sacred to the spirits! It had to be! This was my Mom coming back to me from the Spirit world. Is that where she had been gone? This was amazing! I would stay in this place forever – I would never leave her side again and she would never leave mine! I had found my Mom again and I was unimaginably happy to be given this opportunity!
All these thoughts were running disjointedly in my head as I ran up to her and placed a hand on her shoulder.
'I can't believe-' I started, but my words froze in my mouth as my hand touched something hard, cool and damp, instead of the warmth of flesh.
A gnarled, dead, tree stump rose out of the water before me, mocking me out of its ugly, slimy, decayed bark.
My mother was gone. Gone, just about when I was ready to fall into her arms and embrace her; just as a million things I wanted to ask her had already formed in my mind. I wanted to hug her and feel her arms around me too, telling me she'll always love me. I wanted to beg her forgiveness for having cost her her life. I wanted to tell her there had been many times I wished she hadn't, and it was only the thought that her sacrifice would have been in vain, that had made me struggle to survive.
I wanted to tell her that survive I did, and was selfishly grateful for it.
I sank to my knees in the shallow water in front of that old stump and sobbed my heart out, surrounded by the beautiful smell of the misty swamp flowers. I had been so convinced of the magical nature of this place, I didn't think it was a hallucination or a vision – I actually believed I would have her beautiful blue eyes gaze at me again.
'My, how you've grown, Katara,' she would say, and stroke my face lovingly and stick my errant loopies back into my braid when they came loose. That is what she used to do.
She will never touch me again.
I don't know how long I remained there - it felt like I was mourning her loss all over again, and it was hard. So, so hard. No wonder Aang was so upset when he thought he had discovered a surviving airbender back at the Northern Air Nomad territories, only to discover that it was a trap set by Zhao. This is how he must have felt.
I don't know why this happened: the vision was so clear: every little detail of her clothes and hair- and the memory had come back to me so forcefully that now I was missing her so bad it hurt like a physical pain. It had felt this way, years ago, in the early days following her death, when it had finally dawned on me that Mom would never come back again.
It was some time before I gathered my wits about me and went to look for the others. I did not want them to find me red-eyed and tear-stained, so I struggled to regain some composure. Perhaps I had seen the vision because I was thinking about Mom so often in recent days. There isn't a day when I don't think about her, but recently, I really felt the need of a heart-to-heart with someone who understands al about love.
Mom knew about love. A lot. And I feel she would have understood me. Gran Gran did, too... perhaps more than I ever gave her credit for – Gran Gran and I clashed often enough the last couple of years after the men left out tribe. She had her hands full with caring for everyone, and I think she was a bit over-protective where I was concerned...with good reason, I suppose, but still...Or perhaps, as Tutega insisted, it was just my 'teenagerness' showing through. Tutega (and some other women of the tribe) spoke as though it's some medical condition you get when you hit your teens. You're supposed to be all rebellious and stuff... I guess I recognise some of those symptoms, but I think, had Mom been around, it wouldn't have happened.
Anyway, it didn't last long. Aang saw to that – he was the one who (unknowingly) changed Gran Grab's mind into letting us go...
I'm so glad he did. It is the best thing that could have happened to me. And I am here now and I know what my duty is. I took a deep breath, putting all the ghosts of the past to the back of my mind. I had to concentrate on finding Aang and Sokka now.
Next thing I knew, I saw Aang charging towards me, arms out in a tackling throw. I saw the expression on his face change to one of surprise as he realised it was me, but he couldn't stop and he landed on me, the force of his momentum sending us both flying through a curtain of lianas and tumbling down an enormously thick, curved root. To my surprise, Sokka's voice joined mine in a yell as we crashed into him too and we landed in a tangled pile at the bottom of the wide root.
'What do you guys think you're doing? I've been looking all over for you!' Sokka cried.
'Well, I've been wandering around looking for you!' I shouted back, irritated.
'I was chasing some girl,' Aang said, airbending himself to his feet.
That was surprising. Chasing a girl?!
'What girl?' I asked, puzzled.
'I don't know,' Aang said, offering me his hand and pulling me to my feet. 'I heard laughing and I saw some girl in a fancy dress.'
A fancy dress? Here?! It sounded like a vision, too. But of whom?
'I thought I saw Mom,' I admitted after a while.
It turned out that even Sokka had seen something – he admitted he'd seen Yue. But he blamed it all on the effects of being scared and hungry.
'Look, I think about her all the time,' Sokka said, speaking of Yue, '... and you saw Mom, someone you miss a lot'.
'What about me?' Aang asked, shrugging, 'I didn't know the girl I saw. And all our visions led us right here'.
'Here' appeared to be at the base of the biggest tree we had seen yet in the whole of the swamp. We were standing on one of its roots and it was at least 10 feet across, Above us, stretching upwards right through the canopy was the tree itself, huge mushroom-like and ancient.
We were at the centre of the swamp. Its heart, as Aang described it. He also said it was what had been calling to him. Sokka was just saying it was just a regular tree with nothing magical about it when the Swamp Monster attacked.
It had a crude wooden mask where its face should be, and it first lunged at Sokka, long tendrils of vines wrapping around him and lifting him up. Aang cut off creature vine 'arm' and released Sokka. But the creature could grow its limbs back again. It lashed out at us again and again with its green appendages. It seemed particularly determined to get at Sokka (I could not help remembering Aang's warning about the swamp – this Swamp Monster seemed bent on retribution)
We fought back, and at one point, when I launched an attack of razor-sharp circular frozen loops of water so rapidly the creature couldn't repair itself fast enough, Sokka thought he saw something.
'There's someone in there!' Sokka shouted 'He's bending the vines!'
I had suspected that much. I had never seen anything like it, but there's no other way those vines can move so unnaturally! The mask fell off the disintegrating monster, but even as it did so, more vines shot out of the water beneath my feet, taking me unawares and trapping me.
But Aang was back :
'Why did you call me here if you just wanted to kill us?' he shouted angrily.
The man, who was almost naked except for some leaves, had long, matted hair and surprisingly innocuous-looking, chubby, face.
'I didn't call you here,' he said.
We explained Aang was the avatar and Huu (that was his name) took us to his home which was right up on the large, banyan-grove tree. He said he protected the swamp from people like my brother, and the banyan-grove tree had called to him too. He spoke with an unusual accent, with long, drawn-out vowels and rounded sounds to his words.
It took us some time to arrive to the top of the Banyan grove tree, but finally, we were out in the open air. We sat down with Huu on one of the topmost branches and breathed in the clear air thankfully. There was no swamp gas up here and the air smelt sweet. We could see that it was around noon – more important still, we could see: everything was bright and clear and unmysterious.
'Oh, the swamp is a mystical place, all right. It's sacred,' Hue was saying 'I reached enlightenment right here under the banyan grove tree.'
Sokka with his stubborn-headed prosaic logic, refused to see the truth of Hue's words.
'This whole swamp,' the old vine-bender explained, '... is actually just one tree spread out over miles... Branches spread and sink and take root and then spread some more - one big living organism, just like the entire world'.
Hue said we're all living together, even if most people don't act so. He said we all have the same roots, and are all branches of the same tree.
'But what did our visions mean?' I asked. If anyone could give us an answer, this wise man could.
Hue explained that people we loved but lost are gone forever, but here in the swamp, you realise they have not, because we're still connected to them and time is an illusion, and so is death. His words did give me some inner peace, for it confirmed the truth of what I saw – but still, I wish the swamp hadn't made me see Mom only to take her away again.
'But what about my vision?' Aang asked 'It was someone I had never met.'
'You're the Avatar,' Hue answered 'You tell me'.
'Time is an illusion... so, it's someone I will meet?' Aang asked thoughtfully.
I wasn't quite sure I liked the sound of this mysterious girl. Or rather, not knowing anything about her. Surely the swamp could have been more specific. Like, couldn't she have said her name or something? That way we'd know her when we met her. But it's Aang's vision. Perhaps only he will meet her. He said she had fancy clothes so she must be someone rich, then. Perhaps from a prominent and wealthy family, or a princess …someone worthy of the Avatar's acquaintance...
What on earth am I writing? This has nothing to do with the story.
Anyway, we had to concentrate on what was important – finding Appa and Momo, and Aang said he knew how.
'Everything is connected,' he said closing his eyes and placing his hand on the tree. Suddenly the arrow on his hand glowed and an incandescent white light snaked its way down the Banyan grove tree and into the foliage below.
A few seconds later Aang's expression changed:
'We've got to hurry' he said 'Appa and Momo have been captured by a bunch of wild men!'
We set off immediately. Aang led the way but of course, none of us could keep up with an Airbender. However, Hue, who joined us, cleared the way of vines so we could at least keep Aang in sight.
When we caught up with him he was standing on a tree branch above a wide waterway, confronting several quasi-naked men on skiffs who had Appa trussed up like an Arctic Hen.
Aang had attacked when I joined him up on the tree. Momo was already flying free and one skiff was overturned and destroyed.
'We're under attack!' said the skinny man on the leading skiff and to my surprise he waterbended a huge of water at us, intending to knock us off the branch. Aang and I automatically bended the water right back.
'You're waterbenders!' I exclaimed.
'You too?' the man said, looking pleased 'That means we're kin.'
I wasn't too sure how I felt about that. Now that I'd had a closer look at this guy: the sight wasn't too inspiring: hairy armpits, long, greasy hair drooping down beneath a crude leaf hat, and nothing around him but a scanty loincloth – he made the Zhang Tribe look sophisticated!
The leading hunters of the party introduced themselves as Tho and Due, and, like Huu, they spoke with a funny accent. I can only imagine this drawling speech can only be the result of the isolation of their tribe.
We followed them to their village on Appa, who, as we had suspected, could not fly but paddled his way through the waterways. Momo was more skittish and would not come anywhere near the swamp dwellers. It took some time for Aang to persuade him to come down.
However, we spent the evening pleasantly enough in Tho and Due's village. Their houses are built on stilts because of the frequent rise of the swamp water, and though rather uncouth and disconcertingly scantily-dressed, these people are very friendly. I suppose, if I had to think about it, in this hot and humid place, what they're wearing ( or not wearing) is definitely more comfortable!
They are very isolated, and very rarely saw any outsiders in the swamp. The only visitors were a travelling show, that Tho said had got lost here once, and Due mentioned that scholars sometimes come to study the fauna and flora. At least the swamp has deterred the Fire Nation from venturing here.
In fact, they were under the impression they were the only water benders, and found our description of the South Pole very strange. According to the myths and legends of these people, their ancestors came to the swamp from the Great White Land by crossing the 'big waterway'.
I can only deduce, being waterbenders, and the swamp being located on the South-eastern corner of the Earth Kingdom, that these people must have actually come from the South Pole. Weird, huh? They don't resemble anyone in my village much. But as Huu said, we're all branches of the same tree...
They know Hue well too... he's a respected wise man, even though they take his vine swinging activities light-heartedly. He protects the swamp, that's all, to them. I wonder how Hue bends the water in the plants. I never knew it could be done – but it's easy to see how these swamp-dwelling waterbenders are best placed to have mastered the art. And even among these people, it seems that only Huu has perfected this kind of bending.
After a nice meal of cooked fish and bugs (I skipped the bugs) they showed us to one of the huts on stilts where we'll stay tonight.
They even found some nice greens for Appa, but he wouldn't let them anywhere near him. Poor Appa- it must have been a traumatic experience for him! I spent some time cuddling the big softy to make up for the frightening hunt and chase.
When I went to get down our stuff for the night, I found some things missing from the saddle. I guess they must have fallen off during the chase. One of Sokka's spare shirts was gone and even my tiara. I had kept this from the relics we found at Taku as an emergency measure should we run out of money.
Anyway it's gone now. I should've sold it along with the other stuff.
There's one thing I'm glad wasn't lost during Appa's flight – something more important than any old tiara: this little book! There so much more than a journey in it – I poured my heart into its pages and I would have been very sad to lose it. I have half a mind to carry it around with me just as I do my water skin – it's small enough...
Otherwise, our waterbending scrolls are still here, and so are our clothes and other stuff.
The women of the village are very helpful and kind, and they're surprisingly knowledgeable about plants. They've shown me how they make healing medicines with plants and roots, and perfumed oils from flowers. They've also shown me where the best and cleanest water to bathe is. Thank goodness for that, for my clothes are all muddy and I need a good clean-up. They gave me some of their perfumed oil – and only when I was putting it on did I realise that it's made from the same flowers that grew in that part of the swamp where I saw my mother...
I want to believe death is just an illusion. I'm not like Sokka who adamantly refuses, even now, to believe there's something mystical about this place, so I guess for a brief moment, I believe I did see my mother. Perhaps in another time in another world, I will see her again.
In the meantime, I must make my own decisions, and take my own advice for this journey.
This little book helps – recording my thought and looking back at them I may be able to see the way forward.
And one of the first things I've decided is that starting from tomorrow I will ask Aang to practise waterbending with me again.
It's very clear to me now. Absolutely nothing – nothing – must come between Aang and his duty as Avatar! That duty, right now, is to master bending, and I will not let anything – especially my own personal issues – get in the way! Like my mother, I must be strong and think only of the good of those around me, and not myself.
Aang is already asleep, even though he must be pretty uncomfortable with Momo tightly curled beneath his arm, but the little lemur is rather apprehensive in this village. They've given us the leaves of some plant, which if rubbed against the skin, repels bugs. Sokka is asleep too with several of these anti-bug leaves stuck in his clothes.
As for me, I feeling steadily more relaxed, enveloped by the sweet smell of those flowers and the certainty that it is not only the memory of my mother that surrounds me tonight, but her living spirit.