Sleep had eluded Mai-Lin for several days now. She was safe in the Air Temple, but the thought that her father and others were still out there, hunting for her… She found herself shivering, even as a pleasant breeze blew through the Air Temple.
No, she thought as she climbed out of bed, splashing a little water on her face to wake herself up. No, there'll be no safety now… not while my father and his men still lurk outside. She sighed as she looked to her clothes, eyes tracing the Water Tribe patterns etched along the hems. What had once been a comforting reminder of home now stood out as a mark, a mark of shame that spoke of the trouble she had brought upon Kyoshi, Sun, Master Samten, and all the others.
Now, perhaps, was time to move on and hide that mark again.
Mai-Lin dressed slowly, still trying to clear her mind and wake up. Once she felt she was suitably dressed, she stepped outside, blinking several times as the sun beamed down in her face. Kyoshi and Sun were seated in the courtyard, the nomad surrounded by several scrolls while the Avatar twisted a small ball of air around her hand.
"No." Kyoshi said as Mai-Lin drew closer.
"But I can't just cut him out entirely." Sun countered, setting his brush aside before continuing. "As horrible as he was, Jian Feng still played a major role in your life for better or worse. I can't just cut him out entirely and leave a gaping hole in your motivation."
"Saving the world is no motivation?" Kyoshi asked. There was a lengthy pause before she chuckled. "Well, I didn't think so back then. I would have preferred to stay home and farm."
"Don't you still want to do that?"
"Regardless," Kyoshi dismissed her air ball before continuing. "I do not want people to remember Jian Feng. I do not want ambitious and wicked men to seek him for inspiration, to emulate the brigand who defied the Avatar and struck down the Prince of the Fire Nation. He should be like Akhlut, forgotten by all but the few who faced him… and perhaps, forgotten for good once they pass on." Sun gave Kyoshi an uneasy glance but said nothing more. Mai-Lin was prepared to move on before Kyoshi turned towards her. "Oh, hello Mai-Lin. I did not realize you were awake."
"Sorry, I overslept again." Mai-Lin rubbed her eyes before continuing. "What are you two doing?"
"Just going over my notes for Kyoshi's biography," Sun replied. "It was going so well until we got to Jian Feng. Granted, I can understand why she would wish to forget him, but it does leave a gap in the whole story to just get rid of him."
"I… I think I understand."
"Afterwards, we were going to join Master Samten and the others at the Bison polo matches." Kyoshi gave a small smile. "Would you care to join us?"
"Oh…" Mai-Lin took a step back. "I-I really couldn't. You know I'm not good with large animals…"
"Isra's a large animal," Sun pointed out. "And besides, they're going to be flying around hundreds of feet in the air; they won't bother you unless you're made of mangoes."
"Um, still, I-I think it would be best if I sat this one out," Mai-Lin took another step to leave, drawing a look of concern from Kyoshi and Sun. "Maybe some other time, perhaps?"
"If you say so…" Kyoshi replied, turning back to Sun and summoning another ball of air. Mai-Lin gave a short nod and turned, hurrying to the entrance before either of her friends could speak again.
They would not understand. How could they understand? Mai-Lin should have left days ago.
"The troubled mind is always the first to betray itself." Mai-Lin whipped around to find Master Samten behind her, the old Airbender giving her a small smile. "Would you please follow me, Mai-Lin?"
"Oh… of course." Mai-Lin nodded, falling in place behind Samten as he led her through the Air Temple. Dozens of mountain flowers were in bloom, filling the air with pleasing fragrance as they walked. Mai-Lin would have loved a chance to stop and admire their beauty, but thoughts of the past continued to weigh on her, follow her.
The past always had a way of ruining things, didn't it?
"Kyoshi did not tell me much of what happened to you all those days ago," Samten said, snapping Mai-Lin's attention forward. "I do hate to impose, but I was curious as to what transpired."
"I…" Mai-Lin started. "I don't really want ot talk about it."
"I have always found that these sorts of things are what we truly need to talk about." Samten replied, giving Mai-Lin a sideways glance. "Take Kyoshi's plight with the death of the young prince; her anger and guilt built up within herself until it could no longer be contained, and that damaged her ability not only to Bend but to interact with those around her in a meaningful way, both major handicaps to an Avatar." Mai-Lin allowed a short nod. "And understand, I do not wish to hurt you, but only to help. Please, tell me what is troubling you."
Mai-Lin chewed her lip. She wanted to say no again, anything to drop the subject and be left alone, but the words seemed to die in her mouth. "… It was my father," she said finally. "My father wished to bring me back to the Water Tribe… to stand trial for my attempt at defending myself."
"I see." Samten looked away. "I see why you are so conflicted by this."
"I tried discussing it with Kyoshi, but it doesn't feel like anything has changed." Mai-Lin continued. "Kyoshi says she understands, but does she really? She had a loving family that supported her, even when she became the Avatar, and what do I have?"
"Do not judge your own life based on the lives of others, Mai-Lin," Samten said. "That path leads only to envy and strife, twisted words that drive good people away from one another."
"… You are right." Mai-Lin said, looking away again. "Of course you are right… what do I know about any of this? I'm just a healer running to and from danger without realizing if I could even fend for myself."
"Much as Kyoshi was a farm girl with no desire for glory or perception of the world around her, yet she stepped forward as the Avatar." Again Mai-Lin bit her lip as Samten continued. "But do not disregard yourself, Mai-Lin; there is still quite a lot that you have to offer, and now perhaps is the time when you can fully realize that." Mai-Lin remained silent.
"So, what will you do now?" Samten asked. "Will you keep running?"
"I'm sorry?" Mai-Lin started. "I never said anything about-"
"I know you did not, but I could sense it in your voice and your actions." Samten gave a small sigh. "You may run if that is your choice. I am sure the people of the Southern Water Tribe would be quite welcoming to you, regardless of your past."
"It would be easier for Kyoshi and Sun," Mai-Lin said. "They wouldn't have to worry about my father attacking, or any other pains I may bring upon them."
"But then you would inflict new pains upon them, would you not?" Mai-Lin's breath caught for a moment. "Worry that you would be snatched up and carried as a prisoner back to the North, sadness that you chose to move on alone rather than seek their counsel, among others." Samten gave a sigh of his own. "But it is not for me to decide what path you must follow. I hold no illusions that either will bring both pain and blessing to both of you… it is just your decision on which you would rather enjoy." Again, Mai-Lin fell silent. It would be easy for her to leave, and Kyoshi and Sun were more than capable of traveling without her. But then…
"No matter what decision you have," Samten said, and now Mai-Lin realized they had crossed to his quarters. "I have a gift for you in these troubling times." Mai-Lin raised an eyebrow as Samten ducked inside. She heard some rummaging around before the monk returned, a small scroll clutched in his hand. "I picked this up in the Southern Earth Kingdom some time ago. Admittedly, I received it from some… less than reputable merchants, but I feel it was well worth the struggle."
Mai-Lin took the scroll from Samten, turning it over in her hands several times. At first she saw nothing remarkable about it, until the seal at the bottom became apparent: the cresting waves of the Water Tribe. She opened the scroll to find a number if diagrams, each one displaying a man shifting through a number of Waterbending stances.
"A Waterbending Scroll," she whispered. "But… I cannot use this. I'm-"
"Not trained?" Samten asked. "You know enough to master these simple moves, I reckon. And after all, did you not flee the North so you could become your own woman, rather than be constrained by the society you were raised in?" Mai-Lin hesitated again before Samten continued. "This is a gift for you, Mai-Lin. Use it however you'd like, but I believe that at the end of your journey, you will be a great Waterbending Master."
For the first time in many days, Mai-Lin allowed herself a smile. Kyoshi may have done a lot to give her some peace of mind, but Samten had provided her with true means to set her life back on track. A daunting task, no doubt, but with encouraging words of the master and direct help from the Great Mediator, perhaps she could get back on track.
Perhaps she could find meaning in her life once more.
"Thank you, Maser Samten," she said, clutching the scroll close to her chest. "I will cherish this gift for the rest of my life."
"You are very welcome, Mai-Lin." Samten smiled. "Now go, rest a little. You will need your mind clear for proper Waterbending." Mai-Lin nodded, giving Samten a bow before turning and heading back to her own quarters. Her eyes kept turning back to the scroll, the intricate weaves that the author had hidden on the parchment, her mind filling with ideas concerning her new shot at becoming a Master.
Her father might hunt her across the Earth Kingdom, but whether she was alone or with her friends, she would be ready.
As she returned to the courtyard, she found Kyoshi and Sun exactly where they were before. Sun had set his brushes aside again while Kyoshi had sat up straighter, listening to all the nomad had to say.
"… with wicked intent, Minister Honsou stirred up the rabble rousers and brigands of the Earth Kingdom, hoping to turn them against the Avatar and his own comrades of the Fire Nation. The Avatar and the young prince drew their power together for battle, clashing with the greatest of these villains as the Minister's schemes lay unbound."
"It was not exactly like that…" Kyoshi interrupted.
"I know that, but too much poetics in a first draft risks dragging everything else down," Sun replied. "And… I would think you wouldn't want to linger too much on Adachi's death…"
"It… is something I am coming to terms with," Kyoshi said after a pause. "In time, of course, but I do want people to remember Adachi and all that he did, even if it means that I must bear the burden of his pain a little longer."
"They will," Mai-Lin said, catching the others' attention. "Adachi was a good man, which is more than can be said of some of his fellows. With all his noble characteristics, I'm sure few will ever forget him."
"Yes…" Sun said. "I might use that first bit, about him being exemplar among nobles, if you're willing to let me."
"I saw Master Samten wanted to speak with you," Kyoshi started. "Is everything alright?" Mai-Lin remained silent for a moment, looking back down at the scroll in her hand.
"As you said, it is something I am coming to terms with," she said, looking up and giving the Avatar a small smile. "But I think… I think I'm getting better. I think I am more on the path of healing than I ever was before."
It has been too long... far far too long. However, I did get a new schedule that should yield some more writing, and someday I shall get this story finished.
Reviews, favorites, and follows are appreciated, and if I screwed something up please let me know.