I was rereading The Golden Compass when for some random reason, the idea for this one-shot crossover came to me. Hope you all enjoy it.
Avatar: The Last Airbender belongs to Nickelodeon, Mike, and Brian, while the His Dark Materials trilogy belongs to Phillip Pullman. I own nothing and never have.
From the desk of Jeremy Chen.
Ever since I can remember, my daemon Shen and I always recognized my father to be a strange creature. So did my mother Tabitha and her magpie daemon, Loki.
He had no daemon of his own, and my daemon and I knew this was very wrong. His soul was kept on the inside.
Not that you could tell at first glance of course. My father's beloved pet and self-proclaimed best friend was a great brown bear he called Bosco, which he treated and doted on like he was a big dog. And the bear clearly seemed to enjoy his company as well.
He was almost a part of our family, going with us on fishing trips, to the seaside, attending my birthday parties, on walks through the woods and meadows.
Yes, it was easy to assume that Bosco was my father's daemon.
But if you spent enough time around my father, you would come to realize the eerie truth. How Bosco would flinch and paw at his face from the stings of wasps as he dug out their nests to eat the grubs-but unless he was close enough to be stung himself, my father would show little reaction.
How another person's daemon could touch, grab, or make any physical contact with Bosco without my father displaying any distress or discomfort. How my father could move quite a long distance away-miles away-from his bear without either of them exhibiting distress.
But all the same, my daemon and I knew him as a kindly, goodhearted man who taught us, played with us, cared for us, protected and provided for us. Most of all, he loved us.
Sometimes he would tell my daemon and I about the world he came from and the city he had once ruled over, or thought he did. He would speak of a city called Ba Sing Se, protected and divided by great, unimaginably tall walls of stone, arranged in three vast rings like those of a tree.
He spoke of the great, glorious Earth Kingdom and of Tu Gong, the earth god his people worshipped. He told us of how many, many people in his world had the ability to manipulate or "bend" the four basic elements, and how the first earthbenders, Oma and Shu, had learned how to bend the earth from the great blind beasts called badgermoles.
Somewhere between the time that he'd first gone into exile and come into our world, my father had discovered that he himself possessed a weak ability to earthbend, and he would sometimes demonstrate it for my mother and I, as well as his close friends.
While he would always modestly downplay these extraordinary displays, saying that they didn't hold a candle to what a truly gifted bender could do, we never failed to be hypnotized by these uncanny acts of his. And yes, we wished we could do the same thing as well, make cracks in stone, fling gravel, overturn boulders and cause holes to appear in the sod. It would be at those times, more than ever, that my father would seem so much like the king he'd used to be.
At other times, particularly at night, he would become withdrawn, a sullen, quiet man. At these times, he would seat himself so that he was facing north, the direction from which he'd originally come, the moonlight silvering his face and shoulders.
Even without speaking, you could see in his eyes that he felt desperately homesick. And guilty.
My mother and Loki would do what they could to comfort him during these times of melancholy. As I grew older, Shen and I would also do our part.
It was by listening to my mother and Loki speak to him that I learned more about my father's past. How his own parents had died when he was very young. How he'd been crowned king at the age of four.
Of course, no one could possibly effectively rule a kingdom at such a young age. So while every personal whim of my father's was met, and he continued to represent the Earth Kingdom as a nation, most administrative and political power was transferred to Long Feng, Grand Secretariat and head of the city's secret police, known as the Dai Li.
That is a lot of power to give to one man, and power has a way of corrupting...
Perhaps it was inevitable then that at the age of twenty-five, in a complicated dance of betrayal involving Long Feng, a conniving Fire Nation princess named Azula, and the Dai Li, my father was ousted from his throne and forced to go into exile.
He spoke of how while traveling with Bosco, dressed in the garb of a peasant, he discovered a gap between our two worlds, and allowed his curiosity to get the best of him. How he'd been so bewildered and confused. How he'd had the luck to meet Dick, a man who spoke his language.
He'd taught my father enough English to cope with his new world, enough about our world to cope and survive. My father had found a job as a teacher, and later met my mother, a librarian who had recently been widowed. He seemed proud of having successfully seduced her, and my mother has told me that one of the things that attracted her to him was his cheerful, childlike curiosity and sense of wonder.
That was something about my father that you noticed right away, his curiosity. Whether it was a magnificent church or a tiny beetle, he regarded each new sight and experience with a fascinated, joyous amazement. He recognized the miraculous in everything, and his example has made me a better man for it.
One thing he found especially fascinating was the idea of daemons as the external representation of the soul, and the bond between them and humans. It hadn't taken long for him, after first coming to our world, to figure out something of what a daemon was.
My mother told me that after she and my father had consummated their marriage, and she had become pregnant by him, they'd known their child might be born with a daemon, or they might not. I turned out to have one, of course.
Both my mother and father had had to come to terms with the knowledge that whichever way fate leaned, one of them would lose out in a way when I entered the world. If I was born without a daemon, my mother would be the one to lose, to have a broken and abnormal child, doomed to a life of distrust and scorn.
But it was my father who ended up taking the blow. While he'd grown to accept and even embrace the idea of daemons long ago, having one attached to his own child was something he found deeply disturbing, unnatural. I think he also wanted me to be "daemonless" because that would make me a being like him, a person like those in the world he'd come from. It would've given my father great comfort and allowed him to not feel so alone.
My mother would reassure him that my daemon was perfectly natural, as much a part of me as my ears or feet. And she'd remind him how fortunate it was that I'd been born with one, that I'd never be alone with just my thoughts, that I'd never be feared or ostracized or seen as creepy by others for not having one by my side.
But my father had initially regarded my daemon as something like a deformity or illness. He thought that maybe my daemon and I could somehow be parted from each other. So he would try through trickery to lose her, leave her behind somewhere, or even force us apart.
There was no malice or cruelty behind his actions, I'm quite certain, just a misguided concern for his son's welfare. And oh, did it ever raise my mother's ire!
In time, he accepted that I was what I was, and that even if he felt he was doing me a favor, trying to part me from my daemon could only cause strife and pain. Later he would laugh at his foolishness as he told me these stories.
When he'd come to terms with the existence of my daemon and accepted that she wasn't going anywhere, he took her into his heart as firmly as he had taken Loki. He named her Shen, which means soul or spirit in Chinese. It was fitting.
There could be absolutely no doubt of my father's Oriental ethnicity. It was readily apparent in his name, his skin color, the way he wore his hair in a long braid, the fact that Chinese was his native language and that we spoke to each other that way at home, the types of foods he preferred, how he spoke in accented English and the euphemisms or sayings he used in his speech.
For example, whenever someone visited our home, he would cheerily greet them with a "Ni hao! I see you've decided to come correct our solitude." Or if someone spoke out of turn, he would chide, "When something has been said, a team of four horses cannot overtake it."
What did he look like? It's difficult for me to recall, considering that I haven't seen my father for twenty years. As I said before, he wore his dark brown hair in a long braid that I liked to play with and yes, tug at as a child. It had a curious odor to it that you could smell sometimes, like moist loam or a meadow after a rain, even wet stone.
His eyes too, stand out in my memory. They were narrow, almond shaped and somewhat slanted, typical of a Chinaman. But instead of being black or brown like the eyes of other Orientals, his irises were green in color, a warm, brilliant, sparkling emerald hue. It was just further proof of the fact that he was not of our world.
His face, as I remember it, was shaped like an upside-down triangle, with a slight chin and graceful cheekbones. I suppose you could call it handsome. My mother and aunts certainly found it so.
Now it's coming back to me. He always wore a pair of pince-nez type glasses to help him see better, and his lips were narrow and wide. His nose was rather short and somewhat broad.
And his hands. His hands were smooth and graceful, unmarred by the scars or calluses of manual labor, with impeccably trimmed fingernails. It was a pleasure to touch or be touched by them.
How did he go about making a living? My father's chosen career, at least from the time when he met my mother to the time he disappeared, was in academics.
He was a professor and teacher of Chinese studies and language at Gabriel College in Oxford, regularly demonstrating aspects of his culture to interested students or fellow faculty members. He also coached diplomats, missionaries, scientists, or anyone else who intended to travel to China about its cultural norms, what etiquette they should display and what phrases they most needed to know or understand.
When classes at the campus ended for the summer, or during holidays, we traveled. Oh how my father loved to travel, to see new places and meet new people. We went on trips to other parts of England, to Ireland, to France and Spain. He took us to Wales and Norway, Germany and Italy and Switzerland.
Sometimes he went on journeys without his family as well. It would be just him and Bosco, traveling together like they had done during the time between his exile and when he'd found the gap between our worlds.
Day after day, for ten long years, this was how our lives flowed by, my father, his bear, my mother, her daemon Loki, my daemon Shen, and I. He taught classes, she organized and processed books, and I went about growing up and learning. We were happy together.
My father doted on me as much as he could, buying me new toys, holding wonderful birthday parties, taking me to fun activities, giving me choice snacks and meals, making sure my friends were being nice to me. He'd tell me that I was a prince, and deserved nothing less as the son of a king, even one in exile. He always reminded me of that fact at least twice a day.
But he also warned us, my daemon and I. He warned us to learn from the terrible mistakes he'd made, and to never allow myself to become gullible, that there were times when I'd need to look over my shoulder. He warned me to be very careful about the people I confided in. A moment of misplaced trust could bring our world crashing down around us. He warned me about how easily you could be deceived.
He told us to never be afraid to dig for the truth if we suspected someone of falsehood or that they knew more than they were telling. Most of all, he advised me to seek and embrace knowledge, and even better, experience, for they would make me wise and keep me a step ahead of those who would desire my downfall or to see me fail.
I know now that one of the reasons my father gave me this advice was his own personal guilt at having been deceived, at having failed his kingdom. That was what drew him into his chair during those nights and transformed him into a lost, brooding figure. Sometimes it even overwhelmed him to the point of tears.
He would sob to my mother that he was a coward, that he'd abandoned his people to the mercies of the Fire Nation, that instead of doing something to actually help them at such a dire time, he'd decided to go for a walkabout with his pet bear.
My mother would tenderly reassure him, reminding him that there was nothing he could've done, that without any knowledge of how to fight or effectively defend himself, he probably would've been killed within minutes if he'd tried to stand against the soldiers of this Fire Nation. Besides, if he hadn't chosen to travel in disguise with Bosco, not only would he not have gained valuable experience, he wouldn't have found the cave that led to this world.
And that would mean she never would've met him, and so I would never have come into being. If it hadn't been for his choice to be a vagabond, she would likely still be all alone and unhappy, without a son to grace her life. She was certainly glad he'd come our way!
Loki was less sympathetic about how he dealt with my father's melancholic fits. He'd caw at him that what was done was done, and to quit feeling so damn sorry for himself, because it was getting really annoying and accomplished nothing.
But despite our combined efforts, the guilt began to eat increasingly deeper into my father, year by year. I think too now that he was also simply wracked by uncertainty, by the questions he couldn't answer about what the outcome of the war had been, how his people were faring, if there was any hope remaining for his nation and world. A lot can and will change in ten years.
He was not quite thirty-six when he vanished from our lives.
He'd left with Bosco one chill Friday evening in late October. He'd heard about the excellent salmon fishing in Scotland, and wanted to spend the weekend trying his hand at it, or so he claimed.
My mother and I had seen him off at the station, helping him load his bags onto the train and exchanging hugs with him before we parted ways.
I can still remember my father leaning out the window as the train pulled away from the station, his green eyes wide behind his glasses and his braid dangling down as he waved goodbye, his lips curved in a smile. Now that I think about it, there was something strange about the way he was smiling at my mother and I, something you could call regretful, even wistful.
We waved back, bidding him and Bosco farewell, to have a nice trip as Loki and Shen also bid him adieu. It was the last time we ever saw him.
Trains have a way of being delayed, so it wasn't until Tuesday evening that my mother and I began to get truly concerned.
It is known that my father reached his destination, the River Bladnoch, without incident. He'd rented a room at an inn, and spent the day fishing with Bosco before returning that evening with his catch. The next day he'd gone out fishing again-but this time, he never returned to the inn, or anywhere else.
When a search party was organized, all they found of my father was his fishing pole and flies. His hat, jacket, and boots were later found at various sites downstream of where he'd been fishing the day before he'd gone missing.
The conclusion was inescapable. He'd apparently either slipped on the rocks or been swept off his feet by the current, fallen into the river, and drowned. Of his body, no trace was ever found. Nor has anyone ever seen any sign of his bear, and it is assumed that Bosco just wandered off to either live as a wild animal or die of starvation.
When a grave-faced policeman delivered the message, it was like a knife through the heart. My mother shrieked in agony like a wounded fox at the news, dropping to her knees as I went to her, each clasping the other with a fierce, desperate anguish. We sat together in the room, on the bed she'd shared with him, crying long into the night until there were no more tears to shed.
Since there was no body to be found, she agreed to have a service held for him.
I can vividly remember standing by her side, her hand protruding from the sleeve of her black mourning robes to tightly clasp mine as our daemons pressed against and nuzzled each other. The autumn air was chill, and snow fell in flurries as tears streaked down her face, obscured by a black veil.
For my mother, who had already experienced the pain of being widowed once, the agony of losing another husband was unendurable. She wanted him back more than anything in the world, and I truly believe that if it hadn't been for me, my mother would've happily let her grief kill her.
As for me...well, words are inadequate to describe what it feels like to lose a father, the man you look up to and trust, at such a young age. It hurt terribly, and that's all I can really say. And yes, I missed the clownish antics and great furry warmth of Bosco too.
But slowly, haltingly, what was left of our family began to pull itself back together again. Life doesn't allow for constant pining. A year later, my mother had fallen for and married another man, who accepted me well enough as a stepson and treated me kindly. Still, he could never replace my father.
And now, I must reveal a secret that I have never shared with anyone over these past twenty years, even with my own mother. And the reason is simply because it was the last command my father ever gave us.
The night before he left on the train, Shen and I were woken by the sound of my father's footsteps as he walked into my bedroom and gently sat down on my bed.
He apologized in Chinese for waking us up, and then told us he'd done so because he just wanted to tell me something very important.
First, he told me he loved me, loved me more than all the gold in the world, and that I must never forget that. As he did so, he reached out and tenderly stroked my hair, a beatific smile playing over his features.
He told me how proud and thankful he was to have me as his son.
He told me that he had done everything in his power to make sure my life would be one of happiness, of pleasure, of wealth.
He told me that I must never forget or be ashamed of my Chinese heritage.
He told me to never lose my sense of wonder, never cease to be curious.
He told me to always remember to seek and value wisdom and experience.
He told me to never be gullible or naïve, that it could cost me dearly one day.
He told me to go out and accomplish great things, and to never face life with fear, but with a smile.
He told me to always remember that I was a prince, the son of King Kuei Chen, a descendant of kings and queens, of the earth god Tu Gong himself.
He told me to walk with dignity and honor.
And then, sweeping me into a hug, he asked me in a cracking voice to always remember him, to keep him in my heart wherever I went. I promised I would.
He kissed my crown and told me he loved me again, then told me to promise to never tell anyone about what had just happened, not even my own mother. I did so.
Then he let go and got to his feet, giving me a warm smile and telling me to sleep well before slowly turning and leaving my room, turning briefly to regard me before shutting the door.
Even then, I think I understood in some way what my father was doing. He was saying goodbye.
And did his advice make an impact, stick with me?
Well, let's just say it's no accident that when Shen settled a couple years later, she chose the form of a lynx. As for me, despite the stresses and demands it entails, I am quite satisfied with my career as an artist and when needed, an interpreter.
My mother still lives, and so does my stepfather. Even now, she thinks of my father nearly every day.
I on the other hand, think about him surprisingly rarely, I must admit. When I do, I'm filled with surprise and astonishment that a man like him could've even existed at all, to say nothing of actually siring and raising me.
To tell the truth, I dare say that I probably think of my father so rarely because it always brings up so many perplexing questions, mysteries I don't have the answers to.
There is now no doubt in my mind that my father was exactly who he claimed to be. Only a king could've carried himself the way he did. And only a naïve, sheltered man could've taken such delight in the world around him, been so enthusiastic about every new experience. His slanted eyes were green like mine, not brown or black. He had no daemon, never had, could manipulate the earth itself-all this was more than enough proof that he was not a man of our world. His origin was someplace else.
And of course, the way he spoke so somberly about his past, his body and spirit wracked by shame and uncertainty. In the end, it was too much for him to stand.
Oh, I can easily imagine his bones lying where his body came to rest along the shores of the River Bladnoch, pecked by ravens and gnawed by foxes, his vacant eye sockets still desperately seeking that door back to his own world.
But then again, a part of me deep down feels that my father and his bear are still alive. A part of me hopes and imagines-or at least wants to-that he did find that door to his world again-or someone helped him find it, perhaps even made one just for him.
And if so, what then?
Perhaps that powerful half spiritual/half physical being, the deceptively easygoing young monk my father called The Avatar never recovered from his injuries or was slain in another battle, allowing the Fire Nation to achieve its goal of world domination.
If so, perhaps my father has already been captured and slain, or is still living the desperate life of a fugitive. I really don't know which idea I prefer more.
But perhaps Aang, this Avatar, has managed to defeat the Fire Lord, and my father has been able to take back his rightful place on the throne and punish Long Feng for his treachery. I'd like to believe so.
Perhaps is a word with so many possibilities. It takes in quite a bit of both this universe and others, doesn't it?
Part of me deeply hopes that all these possibilities worked out in my father's favor, that he got the life he deserved and once knew back again, becoming a stronger, wiser man for all his trials. I hope he doesn't feel too many regrets over the wife and son he left behind in another, stranger world.
As for me, when I look in the mirror, my reflection stares back with narrow, elongated eyes, their irises green as jade. My hair is thick and dark brown, erupting from skin with a color somewhere between the paleness of my mother's and the darker tone of his.
I see how I stand up straight and confident, and understand that the blood of Earth Kingdom royalty runs in my veins.
Will I ever see my father again? What was his ultimate fate? Where will life lead my lynx daemon Shen and I?
That is something only time will tell.
In this fic, Kuei was able to cross into the GC world not due to the aurora, but because he discovered a cave that had a looping vein of the same kind of metal that the subtle knife's blade was constructed out of.
Chen is a common Chinese surname that I just picked randomly.
As always, reviews are appreciated.