Chapter 3 - Legacy
The next day cheered them all up. It was the first day of fall and the day of the annual enrollment for Air Acolyte confirmation classes, a two year long in depth education into the beliefs and philosophies of the Air Nation.
It was a big line of people that was enrolling, and Tenzin and Aang were pleased as the Air Acolyte admissions staff signed them in. As usual, most of the new students were local Republic City citizens with families, and would go home every night to live and apply what they would learn. Others were pilgrims from around the world. Also as usual, the students were in their twenties all the way to old age.
But today was different. There, at the end of the line, was a scruffy-looking teenage girl. She wore Air Nomad clothing already. The clothes were dirty and tattered, but authentic, and very traditional style. She carried a beat-up backpack. The girl caught Aang's and Tenzin's eyes.
Over at the base of the Temple spire, Katara was arranging the new sets of Air Acolyte clothing that each new student would receive. She looked up at the enrollment line with a smile, knowing her husband and son would be delighted with this large class. She too noticed the lone girl at the end. She stared hard at her, dropped a brand new tunic, and rushed toward the plaza.
Tenzin and Aang were greeting everyone in line, as they traditionally did, but Tenzin left most of the greetings to his father as he rushed through to get to the teenage girl. He had to know what motivated her to come here at so young an age.
He bowed graciously and signed as he greeted her, "Good morning and welcome, Pupil….?"
She bowed back deeply, with eyes averted, a little uncomfortable with the instant attention from Tenzin, "It's Pema, Master Tenzin."
Aang caught up to his son and Pema, and overhearing the introduction, chimed, "A delightful name, young lady. It is rich in Air Nomad heritage. The lotus flower."
"Yes Avatar Aang. My parents were Air Acolytes."
"Wait! Pema? Aren't you Jinpa's and Lhamo's baby daughter?" exclaimed Aang.
Before she could answer, Katara ran up and greeted her, "Pema?"
Pema was really feeling uncomfortable now, with the whole family paying attention to her over the other students.
"Yes, Master Katara," she confirmed, and bowed again.
Katara was all smiles, "Oh dear spirits Pema, you were such a tiny baby when you left here with your parents. Tenzin, Pema is the only child of Jinpa and Lhamo, both among the early Air Acolytes, and she was born here. I delivered you, child. Just look at you! Aren't you beautiful!?"
She was indeed beautiful. Even through the grime and disheveled hair, Tenzin was taken aback by her delicate features, striking emerald green eyes, wavy, light brown hair, with naturally lighter brown tones mixed in throughout her lovely hair. Even dirty, she looked exquisite, accentuated by the Air Nomad saffron, orange, brown and tan clothing.
"I finally remember now," Tenzin admitted.
"Well that's understandable, Tenzin. Teenage boys aren't all that into babies." Katara smirked.
Even through her fatigue, Pema couldn't help but giggle a bit with that mother/son exchange. They all smiled.
Katara noticed Pema's exhaustion besides her disheveled appearance and asked, "Pema, are you all right? Did something happen to you on the way from your parents' home?"
"Yes, Master Katara, it did…"
Before she could explain further, Pema's eyes rolled back into her head. She fainted and collapsed, but Tenzin caught her on the way down. She was soft and light as a feather. It felt good to hold her, but he quickly dismissed his thoughts.
Fuzzy images of the family greeted her return to consciousness. A cool wet rag was on her forehead, and Katara was holding Pema's hand to make sure of vital signs.
"Pema?" Asked Katara.
"I think I am ok," but as she tried to sit up, a wave of nausea gripped her.
"No you're not. Easy does it," and Katara guided her to lay back down.
Pema announced urgently, "I need to tell you what happened."
Tenzin said, "Only if you are up to it. You just got here. It can wait."
"No I must, Master Tenzin. You all have to know now. Remember Avatar Aang that my parents volunteered to restore the Southern Air Temple – your childhood home?"
Aang reflected, "I remember that like it was yesterday. They've been doing that since you've been born. I will be forever grateful that as a wealthy Earth Kingdom land owner, Jinpa donated so much to help bring the Temple back to life as a home for Air Acolytes. Your father keeps me informed periodically. But it's been awhile."
"There's been a terrible accident Avatar Aang. Part of the Temple collapsed…"
"What? How?" Aang was alarmed. Tenzin steadied him.
Pema lamented, "I don't know Avatar Aang. Perhaps old age and decay within the Temple. Maybe damage from the attack so many years ago. I just don't know…"
She hesitated, and choked on the words she had to say, "The entire residence hall collapsed into the bottom of the canyon, with my father and mother and dozens of workers and Acolytes with it. I only survived because I was cleaning in the sanctuary in the main building."
She buried her head in her hands and sobbed. Tenzin. Aang, and Katara blanched and looked at each other in stunned silence, then hugged her, but unable to quell her crying.
Aang stammered, "I need to go there. Now."
She looked up and pleaded, "No Avatar Aang, you can't. It's too dangerous. There's no one left to try to save. They are all buried in tons of rock. We searched for several days with our strongest remaining earth benders. We had to give up. The few survivors like me are trying to get home."
Aang spoke gravely, "Pupil Pema, it wouldn't be the first time I've had to go and consecrate the dead at that Temple."
Katara had a shiver, and grabbed and squeezed her husband's suddenly cold hand.
Pema's eyes welled up in tears, "I wish I had died with them. I am so lost now. I can't go back to the estate. We sold it all to pay for the restoration. This is the only place I could think to go."
Katara patted her hand, "You came to the right place, dear one. It will be your home again."
She clutched the elderly woman in gratitude.
She sniffled and looked up to Tenzin and smiled, "I want to start class tomorrow with you and everyone else, Sifu Tenzin."
He looked with true compassion at the teenage girl, "You are most welcome here, Pupil Pema. This class will be dedicated your parents' memory and their service to the spirits. We will start with a memorial meditation to them."
She barely whispered, "Thank you Master Tenzin."
As Pema walked away toward her new dorm room, Tenzin noted that Lin had arrived for their morning tea together.
Rather than her normal smile and a hug, she crossed her arms and said tersely, "Who is that new young scruffy girl?"
She's the daughter of one of Father's early student couples, whose parents were recently killed restoring the Southern Temple."
"I don't like the way you looked at her," warned Lin.
"She's just a girl, Lin. Come, sit with me for our tea. Let's not start the day cross with each other," said Tenzin with concern.
Back at her apartment, she slammed her armor against a couch and sat next to the young man sitting in a chair.
"Tenzin 'made eyes' with a new girl today. I think he liked her," she admitted.
"When are you going to tell him? Asked the man with long dreadlocks.
"I don't know. How do you tell a childhood friend you don't love him anymore?" she said with dread.
"Just like that."
"It's not that easy, my love. This will hurt his father and mother even more," Lin said with a catch in her voice.
"Who are you in love with, Lin? Me? Or all of them?" asked the dark-skinned young adult.
She reached for him and hugged him, lips barely apart.
"You of course," as she smiled happy to be near him, the pain of her predicament with Tenzin temporarily forgotten gazing into deep blue eyes.
She flicked off the lights as he carried her to bed.