To Learn from Souls Passed
“Haa… I guess he’s away right now,” Korra said as they came upon Iroh’s empty outdoor teashop. She placed her hands on her hips and pouted. “Wonder how long he’ll be away…” She turned back to Asami and said, “What do you think, Asami? Want to wait here for a bit and see if he comes back?”
Asami followed Korra into the teashop, taking a moment to look around it. It was really quite a lovely spot, with a view into the forest nearby, and a mountain not far off. She could see why Iroh had chosen to set up shop here. There wasn’t any indication whether Iroh would be back soon or not, though - not a “closed” sign, not a “back in five minutes” sign. Most of the supplies did seem to be put away in cupboards right now, so that probably meant he hadn’t stepped out for just a short time.
It would probably be a while before he got back, then. Perhaps it would make sense to head off and see some other places for now, and return later. Asami turned to Korra, trying to think of how to get this across, but as she did, something caught her eye: a Pai Sho board. It was set up on the table next to Korra.
Asami blinked, approaching the board. Had that been there before? She would have thought she’d have noticed it while looking around previously, but somehow she hadn’t. Asami placed her fingers down at the edge of the board as she looked at it. The pieces were in their starting positions, at least for the most part. The one exception was the white lotus tile, which had been placed in the center position.
“Oh, Pai Sho…” Korra said, turning to the board as well. “Did you want to play, Asami? I’m afraid I don’t know the rules, though. I guess you could teach me. Or… try to teach me. Or wait, Light?” Korra turned her head, looking at the spirit perched on her shoulder. “Any chance you know how to play Pai Sho?”
“Nope, sorry Avatar,” Light said. “Maybe there’s a rulebook around somewhere, though.”
“Oh, okay. I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to look. I doubt old man Iroh’s got much to hide, so he shouldn’t mind…” Korra turned off, heading to one of the nearby cabinets. Asami followed her girlfriend with her gaze for a moment, then looked back at the Pai Sho board. A rulebook would certainly be easier, if Korra could find one. Otherwise, teaching Korra the rules could be quite a trick.
In the meantime, that white lotus tile had gotten Asami curious. She picked up the tiles from either side of the board, then placed them down one by one, slowly forming the shape of a blooming lotus around the edges of the board. Asami slowed as she placed the final piece down, wondering what might happen as she did so, if her suspicion was correct.
...Nothing. The final tile took its place just like all the others, without even an extra breeze in the air. It seemed there wasn’t any particular meaning to this aft-
“I’m afraid that pattern has been known to the public for a long time,” came a rough voice from in front of Asami. She nearly jumped in place as she looked up to see a large, white-haired man sitting across the Pai Sho board from her. “And so the White Lotus no longer use it as proof of membership,” the man continued, smiling jovially at Asami. “It does, however, work very well at letting other spirits get my attention when I’m away from my shop. I do believe this is the first time a human has done so, however.”
Asami blinked, her mind still catching up, but then she smiled. This must be Iroh. She couldn’t greet him, but she could still be polite. She gave him a bow in the moment before Korra spoke up.
“Iroh!” she said, dashing over to join him and Asami in a pair of large steps. A wide grin on her face, she gave Iroh a bow as well. “Asami and I have been looking for you. We really need someone with some wisdom to help us out, or at least point us in the right direction,” she said.
“Oh, well I can’t promise I’ll be able to help,” Iroh said, pushing himself up from his seat. He began to walk toward the counter of his shop. “But why don’t you have a seat and tell me what’s been going on while I brew us some tea. If nothing else, a little company is always welcome, I’m sure you’ll agree.”
“So, I’m pretty sure it has something to do with Asami’s sound chakra,” Korra said. She took another sip of her tea, eyeing the Pai Sho board. Four games in, and she still hadn’t been able to figure out the rules well enough to tell whether Iroh or Asami was winning. Probably Iroh; he’d won every game so far. She gave it no mind though and continued, “I’m sure some of my past lives knew more about chakras than I do, but all I remember is a brief scene from Avatar Varina’s life, where she learned that it was blocked by the lies she told herself.
“Of course, I told Asami this, and she’s been trying to figure out anything she might be lying to herself about and admitting the truth. But none of it’s helped get her voice back. So, we’re looking around for anyone who might know more about chakras. I figured if you didn’t know, you might know someone who does.”
“Hmm…” A sparkle briefly appeared in Iroh’s eyes. He reached down and and moved a piece, which caused Asami’s eyes to widen, and then her shoulders to slump. Apparently he was winning. “I’m afraid I don’t know any more about the sound chakra than what you’ve already said. But you’re right. I believe I may know who you could ask for help.”
“Really? Who?” Korra said. She noticed Asami’s expression brightening at this news, though it turned back into frustration when she looked back down at the Pai Sho board. After a moment, she grudgingly moved a piece.
“Someone you know, but haven’t thought to look for,” Iroh said. He moved another piece, then leaned back in his chair, a contented grin on his face. “You actually are quite good for your age, Miss Sato. You most likely could have beaten me when I was a young man. Of course, I’ve had a lot of practice since then.”
Asami let out a light chuckle. She smiled and nodded at Iroh, thanking him for his praise. She waved her hand over the board, possibly asking if he wanted to play another game.
“Oh no, I think perhaps that’s enough for now,” Iroh said, smiling at her. “I should let the two of you head off. It’s quite the walk to Zhi-Wen valley, after all.”
“‘Zhi-Wen’...” Korra said. She blinked. It took her a moment to place the name. “Oh! That’s where we’re supposed to meet Master Sheng!” she said. “Right, I forgot. We got an invitation not long after we arrived here, and we found a spirit who was digging us a tunnel to get to him. Though I wonder if he’ll dig to where we are now, or if we’ll have to head back to where we met him…”
“Master Sheng!” Iroh said, his eyes widening. “Dear me, you should consider yourselves quite fortunate that he wishes to meet you. He’s normally quite reclusive. Oh, but he has been coming out a bit more lately, and he does have fine taste in tea, if I do say so myself.” Iroh let out a chuckle at this. “In any case, why don’t the three of you wait here? I’ll go check and see where you can expect to find the tunnel being dug for you.”
Korra nodded, smiling at Iroh. “That would be great. Thank you, Iroh,” she said.
“Oh!” Light said, breaking his silence as he looked up at Iroh from his spot on the table. It seemed to be a moment too late, though, as the old man’s body began to fade away nonetheless. Light’s expression fell, and he let out a sigh. He turned to Korra, looking up at her and said, “Avatar! You forgot to ask him who it was you were supposed to ask about Asami’s voice!”
Korra blinked. Her eyes widened as she silently cursed herself. She looked over at Asami, stammering as she said, “Asami, I- um, I’m sorry, I mean, I’m sure we’ll see him again. Please don’t think I forgot abou-”
Korra found herself cut off as Asami’s lips moved in to capture her own in a sudden kiss. She tried to pout for a moment, but it was no use. There was really nothing to pout about after all. She was being kissed by Asami. Her new girlfriend. That was definitely not something to pout about.
Chuckling gently, Korra relaxed into the kiss, returning it for the moment before Asami pulled away. “I take it that means I’m forgiven?” she said, her gaze meeting Asami’s. This earned her a nod, and Korra couldn’t help but smile in relief. Although… there was something about the look in Asami’s eyes right now… “Good,” she said, leaning in to bring her lips to Asami’s, returning the favor to her love. No way she could resist that particular look from Asami.
Korra tossed her teacup into the air, then pointed her fingers up at it. She rotated her fingers around, generating a small twister of air which kept the teacup suspended. She let out a sigh, looking around the area. Her expression looked quite bored, up until her eyes met Asami’s. As soon as it did, a smile crossed her face. It seemed that was all it took right now to give Korra a little happiness.
Asami returned the smile. Knowing this fact was all it took to give her some happiness as well. She got up from her seat and stepped over toward Korra. She reached up and plucked the teacup from Korra’s twister, putting it down on the table. She didn’t want Korra to end up letting it break from distraction, and a distraction was exactly what she had in mind right now.
Holding Korra’s gaze with her own, Asami placed her hand on Korra’s far shoulder, then brought herself down to sit on Korra’s lap. This earned her a surprised blush and nervous squirm from her love, but only for a moment. Soon enough, a grin took over Korra’s face. “I’m guessing you’ve thought of a way to pass the time until Iroh gets back?” she said.
Asami chuckled, then nodded at Korra. Light was off wandering around the woods nearby right now, and there wasn’t another spirit in sight. Iroh would be back sooner or later, but he didn’t seem like the type who would mind seeing them being a bit affectionate with each other. That made it the perfect chance for them to get in a little couple time right now.
Asami slowly leaned in, bringing her face closer to Korra’s. She could see Korra tilting her head back, her girlfriend’s eyes looking up at her patiently, waiting for Asami to move in and touch their lips together at last. Asami took her time, letting the moment linger, but only long enough to build up the tension. Just when she felt like it was at its peak, she moved in, her lips joining with Korra’s in a soft, tender kiss.
The kiss earned Asami a moan from the Avatar, much to her delight. She moved her lips slowly against Korra’s, relishing the new experience and paying careful attention to what Korra seemed to like. She might not be able to speak right now, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t still use her lips to communicate with Korra. Right now, the message was simple and obvious, but one she still desperately needed to say.
Asami couldn’t believe how lucky she was right now, and that was even including the fact that she couldn’t speak. It was a trade she would have made in a heartbeat, if she’d been asked. Even if she never regained her voice, being able to kiss Korra’s lips like this, to feel the Avatar close to her, to know the pleasure she was giving her girlfriend right now… it was more than worth it.
“Well, I have good news for the two of you,” came Iroh’s voice.
Korra turned to the source of the voice, finding that Iroh had once more appeared out of nowhere, this time standing at the entrance to the teashop. She almost found herself jerking away from Asami to hide what they were doing, but she suppressed the instinct; that would just make things look worse. At least Asami wasn’t actually on her lap right now.
“It would seem the tunnel to Zhi-Wen valley has been completed,” Iroh continued, stepping into the shop. “Its architect tells me that he followed the path of the tunnel the Avatar briefly dug while traveling through the spirit world. He had some rather rude words to say about your craftsmanship, but I suspect no true harm was intended.”
Korra let out a snort at this and rolled her eyes. “Pfft. He can be rude about it all he likes. I screwed up big with that tunnel. I wasn’t even trying to make it permanent. But okay! I know right where that is… roughly.” Korra blinked, looking over at Asami apologetically. “Er… sorry, the geography of the spirit world doesn’t always seem to stay fixed, so I’m just hoping it’s where we left it.”
Light perked up from his spot on the table as Korra said this. “Don’t worry, Avatar. I’ll make sure you don’t get lost.”
“Ah, perfect then,” Korra said, smiling at the spirit. She turned to Asami and said, “Do you want to go now? Master Sheng did invite us a few days ago now, so it might be rude to keep him waiting much longer.”
Asami gazed at Korra. Her eyes glanced over at Iroh briefly. Korra stared back blankly, not quite sure what Asami was getting at. Asami let out a sigh, then pointed at her throat, then at Iroh.
“Oh!” Light said, turning from looking at Asami to face Iroh, who was heading to brew up a pot of tea now. “I think Asami wants to ask who it is they’re supposed to ask about her lost voice once they get to Zhi-Wen valley.” Korra had to resist the urge to slap her palm against her face as Light said this. That was the second time she’d forgotten, and she hadn’t even picked it up from Asami’s clues. She was really going to need to work for forgiveness this time.
“Ah, well it’s a spirit I met on my first trip to the spirit world,” Iroh said as he worked on the tea, “back when I was still a middle-aged man.” He looked over his shoulder, a sad smile crossing his face. “I’m afraid the whole story is quite long, but rest it to say, after the death of my son, I was chasing a rumor that the dead end up in the spirit world. I suppose it seems ironic for me to say this now, but I found out that that’s not true. Of course, you can see for yourselves that there are exceptions.
“I’m sorry, I seem to be drifting from the subject,” Iroh said. As the tea finished up, he poured out a couple cups, then brought them over to the table for Korra and Asami, then sat down with them. “In my searches, I met a spirit. She called herself the Voice of the Wind, and she told me that although she was once human, most humans do not go on to become spirits when they died. Her own spirituality and clarity of purpose at the end of her life made her an exception.
“Thankfully for me, she was very compassionate. She helped me realize that my son would always be part of me, and the fact that he once lived could never be erased. His presence would linger in the world, rippling out, affecting one thing after another for as long as the world lasts. The true difficulty was for those of us who still lived, and who had to learn to live without him.” Iroh paused for a moment, then let out a sigh. “I apologize once more, I seem to be getting off of the subject again.”
Korra shook her head, and she saw Asami doing the same thing beside her. “It’s alright,” she said. It was quite obvious that this was something that Iroh wanted to talk about, even if it wasn’t quite on subject. Besides, even though Korra had never had to face losing someone she was close to, Asami was actually going through that right now. Her father’s death was barely weeks in the past. Some wise words from Iroh could certainly help.
Iroh nodded slowly. “Well, the point is, I asked this spirit about how she could be so compassionate and insightful when talking to a man she’d just met. She explained to me that her best attributes had been amplified over the years. She was compassionate in life, and so she was compassionate now. She also said that she had overcome much in order to communicate truthfully with others in her life, and this communication helped lead to an understanding between her and others, and a mutual compassion.
“I didn’t ask her more about what had happened in her life, so I don’t know how relevant it might be to your condition, Miss Sato,” Iroh said. “But she does call herself the ‘Voice of the Wind’ after all, and she stressed the importance of communication to her, so I think she will be your best bet for helping you to regain your voice.”
Asami smiled at Iroh, and she nodded at him thankfully. Korra copied this gesture and said, “That sounds good. We’ll look for her once we get there.” Glancing down at the table and seeing her still-unfinished cup of tea, she continued, “Though I think we can spare a minute to finish our tea before leaving, right Asami?” This earned Korra a grin and a nod from her girlfriend.
The tunnel really was of quite good craftsmanship. The spirit had made sure it sloped down at a reasonable rate, it was more than large enough for both Korra and Asami to not have to worry about hitting their heads, and it even managed to gently curve over the section where gravity reversed itself so that there wasn’t a stumbling hazard.
The only thing the spirit had left out was a source of light, but with Korra’s firebending to light the way, that wasn’t an issue. As it turned out, Light was also able to emit a soft glow from his body, leaving Asami as the only one unable to provide a source of light for them, at least until they stumbled upon her and Korra’s backpacks halfway through the tunnel and she was able to recover her flashlight. Asami reminded herself to thank the spirit for this gesture if she ever ran into it again.
“Okay,” Korra said, as they reached a fork in the tunnel. She held up the flame in her hand to one branch, then the other. “Perhaps I should have been expecting this. I’m guessing one path goes to where we came through from the other side, and the other heads to Zhi-Wen valley. So. Any thoughts on which is which?”
Light flew up toward the corridor Korra was currently illuminating, and then back over to the other one. “I don’t know. I don’t sense anything from either path,” he said.
Asami shined her flashlight at the tunnels. There weren’t any markings she could see, but that wasn’t particularly surprising. The spirit who’d dug this tunnel had seemed to be blind, after all. It always talked about smelling, not seeing. Asami cracked a grin at this. With how much care it had put into this tunnel, it was quite unlikely it would have put a fork in it without markers for which path led where. But it would have put markers for the sense it relied on most.
Asami stepped into one of the tunnels and took in a breath through her nose, trying to see if she could smell anything from it. There was something there, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on what it was. It was just at the limit of her perception. She shook her head. Turning back to Korra and Light, her eyes fixed on the spirit. She made a noise to get his attention, then pointed to her nose, then down at the floor by either of the tunnels. After Asami sniffed a few times, the spirit’s ears perked up.
“You want me to smell the tunnel?” Light said. Asami nodded in confirmation at the spirit. Light glanced over at Korra, who shrugged at him; it seemed she hadn’t yet figured out what Asami had in mind, but she was willing to go along with it. Light nodded, then flew down to the floor. With a flash of light, he transformed into the form of a small dog, and headed over to sniff out each of the paths in turn.
“Do you smell anything, Light?” Korra said. She glanced briefly over at Asami, then back to the spirit.
Light nodded. “I do. There’s a marker in each of these tunnels,” he said. He turned around and walked back toward Korra and Asami. For just a moment, Asami caught a flicker of a smile cross Korra’s face. Apparently Light’s current cuteness was getting to her. And this realization caused a smile to cross Asami’s face, which she didn’t bother to suppress. “The right tunnel smells a bit like trees, and the left smells like water and wind.”
“Hmm…” Korra said. She crossed her arms and leaned back, tapping her foot for a moment. “Well, there were a lot of trees in the place where we came in, but no water. I don’t know what Zhi-Wen valley is like. Maybe it has water and wind there? Oh! We know that spirit, the Voice of the Wind, is there, right? So… left then?” she said, looking between Asami and Light.
Asami nodded at Korra, smiling at her girlfriend. There was no guarantee that her logic was right, but it was their best bet for now.
At the sight of a dim light up ahead, Korra extinguished the flame in her hand and paused in her step. She could sense something, though she couldn’t quite say what it was. Shaking her head slightly, she resumed her pace, heading toward the light at the end of the tunnel. A breeze seemed to be blowing through the tunnel now, the sound of it echoing off the walls.
The volume of the wind picked up as they neared the end of the tunnel. This definitely was someplace new. Zhi-Wen valley at last. It was still hard to make out, but the light from the exit seemed to be a mix of deep blue and green. Asami soon turned off her flashlight, and it became easier to make out the light from the end: Green on the bottom, blue on the top, with a hint of white mixed in.
Despite the fact that they were here in part to try to get Asami’s voice back, Korra still found herself getting eager to explore a new part of the spirit world. She just hoped Master Sheng would be nice. There was a bit of a risk with some of the more powerful spirits. Her ability to influence the spirit world could only go so far.
Though right now, that connection with the spirit world was definitely trying to tell her something. Korra squinted as her eyes adjusted to the dim light, and she tried to focus on the exit. Something was there. It looked like a figure, clad in white. It was definitely calling to Korra. She found herself picking up her pace, heading toward it.
The wind picked up as Korra neared the figure. It was a woman, who seemed to glow with her own white light. Somehow Korra could pick up on this before even seeing the woman’s face. Her robes blew in the wind, though they sometimes seemed to move against the wind. Perhaps they were blowing the wind as much as they were being blown by the wind.
As Korra approached, the woman moved to meet her, hovering forward. The glow around her face faded just enough for Korra to finally get a good look at it. Korra paused in her step, her eyes fixating on the tattoo on the woman’s forehead - a tattoo in the same place as those of Tenzin and Jinora, but with a different design. Instead of an arrow, it split into two curled tails, evocative of clouds.
“Welcome to Zhi-Wen valley,” the woman said. Her voice was soft, airy, and somehow familiar. “Iroh told me to expect you, Avatar Korra. And you as well, Asami Sato, and the young spirit of light. You may call me the Voice of the Wind.”
Korra blinked. There was such an odd feeling right now. She focused on the spirit’s face, trying to figure it out. The spirit was familiar, and Iroh had said it was someone Korra knew, but hadn’t thought to look for, but she certainly hadn’t seen anyone with tattoos like that before. Well, outside of Avatar Wan’s memory of meeting the Air Tribe.Korra’s eyes widened. It couldn’t be, could it? “Wait… are you… were you... Avatar Varina?”