That Which has been Denied
Dizziness was the last thing Asami remembered. She’d crawled into her sleeping bag, falling asleep even before the dizziness had completely faded. Varina had warned her that her “blessing,” as she’d called it, would likely do a number on Asami, so she’d been ready for it at least, and she’d wasted no time in getting to her sleeping bag.
One of Korra’s warnings about the spirit world had been that spirits could possess humans for a short time, which would leave them permanently altered. Korra hadn’t heard of it happening in a long time though, so it wasn’t much of a worry, particularly with her around. Though it did make Asami wonder if perhaps what Varina had done with her was related to that in some way. Varina had mentioned that the real difficulty was in holding back, after all. Hopefully she’d gotten it right and there weren’t any physical changes.
Of course, Asami would have to wait until she woke up to be able to check on that. Right now she was still sorting through what the mental changes might be. At least now that she was asleep, the world had stopped spinning. She did still seem to be in the same place, though. Still in her sleeping bag, still in the back room of Varina’s cave. She was definitely dreaming, though. She didn’t know how she knew. She just knew.
Well, lying here wasn’t getting anything done. Maybe if she looked around a bit, she’d get some insight into something.
“You need insight. I can help you with that.”
That voice. Asami sat up, looking toward the doorway. The light in here was dim right now, but it wasn’t hard at all to make out who was there: Izin. At least, it was probably Izin. His eyes seemed to be glowing right now, and there was a circular mark on his forehead. His eyes usually appeared pretty sharp, but the glow was new. It wasn’t quite an Avatar-state glow, but it certainly wasn’t normal. But… what was he doing here? Why was he in her mind? Did she dream him up?
“Not exactly,” Izin said, stepping into the room.
As he approached, Asami was able to get a better look at the marking on his forehead. It was a white circle, with a downward-pointing triangle inside of it, and what looked like a pair of leaves on either side. While the design was different, Asami couldn’t help but think of the tattoo P’Li had had on her forehead in the same spot, used to amplify her firebending abilities and direct her explosive power. But why did Izin have a tattoo there?
“Well, first of all, I’m not Izin,” Izin said. Or, well, the person who looked a lot like Izin said. He knelt down near Asami as he continued, “Technically speaking, I’m the anthropomorphic personification of your light chakra.” He brought a hand up, pointing to the mark on his forehead, which glowed for a moment as he tapped it. “You remembered how Izin’s eyes always seemed to stand out, and you subconsciously related that to the light chakra, so that’s how I appear to you now. Oh, and on that subject, there might actually be something interesting going on with his light chakra. His eyes really are unnatural.”
Asami raised an eyebrow. He could read her thoughts? Well, okay, he was a part of her mind. Of course he could. She nodded at him, remembering Varina’s primer on the body’s chakras. The light chakra was in charge of insight, primarily. So if any part of her could figure out what had gotten her chakras out of alignment, this was it. It was a bit awkward that it looked like Izin, but she could deal with it.
“I wouldn’t look like Izin if you weren’t still carrying him around with you,” the light chakra said. He leaned back, taking a seat across from Asami. “That’s not a bad thing, though, unless you make it one. Problem is, I’m afraid you might be doing just that.”
Asami furrowed her brow. As the chakra spoke, she could feel her mind beginning to piece things together. Whatever Varina had done to her, it seemed to be working. It might not be the problem she was hoping to solve, but she was getting something out of this at least. She nodded at the chakra, letting out a sigh.
“Maybe you’re right…” she tried to say. No words came out of her mouth, but she knew the chakra would get the message anyway. “I turned him down for Korra, and caused him a lot of pain. And so maybe I’m hoping that if things go well with Korra, it will be worth the pain I caused him. That… really isn’t the best reason in the world to go forward with a relationship.” Asami sighed, looking downward for a moment. “Not that I don’t want to be in a relationship with Korra anyway… but I don’t want this to be a reason. I don’t want to fear that if things somehow don’t work out with Korra, I’ll have hurt Izin for no reason. I just don’t know how to stop feeling that.”
Silence filled the room for a moment. “Realizing it is a good first step. There’s nothing you can do to change the past. You can change the future though.” The chakra paused for a moment, and Asami looked up at it. Its eyes seemed a bit more human now, a bit more like Izin’s. “Izin said that the universe doesn’t play dice with us. It might be better for you to think that sometimes it does. Whatever game it is, I think there are two key facts here. First, we can never see all the pieces in play, and so we might make some wrong moves. And second, we are playing the game. The universe may choose what choices we have, but we’re always the ones to decide.”
Something flashed in the chakra’s eyes as it spoke this last part. For a moment, Asami felt like she was back within her memories in the Tree of Time, in one of the moments when Korra had pulled out of her body. She was in connection with something deeper for just a moment, and her chakra was speaking from that connection. But as soon as she’d realized it, it was gone.
“It’s time to wake up,” the chakra said. It pulled back, pushing itself up to its feet. Its eyes slowly began to glow with a powerful red light. “Time is on your side, Asami,” it said. The feeling of connection came back, and the mark on the chakra’s forehead seemed to open up, fire spilling out of it. Just as fire filled the room and Asami found herself being pulled from the dream, one more sentence echoed in her mind: “But fate may not be.”
Asami leaped back, avoiding the creature just as it burst from the ground beneath her feet.
“Avatar and Companion-whose-relationship-to-the-Avatar-is-not-clear, you are thanked for making haste to the abode of Master Sheng,” the creature said. It seemed to be constructed of black wires, and looked identical to the one Asami and Korra had seen the day they arrived in the spirit world, and possibly even the same creature. “Unfortunately, Master Sheng is not currently present at his abode. He is indubitably aware of your presence and will arrive shortly, and so you are invited to wait inside or return shortly. Thank you.”
The creature tapped its long arm on the ground twice, and its body unwound into it. Within moments, the creature had vanished, with no trace that it had been there in the first place. Asami stared at the spot where the creature had stood for a moment, going over its words in her mind. They hadn’t exactly been hasty in getting here. Perhaps it meant after they’d learned the tunnel was complete? Would it have even known about when they found that out?
“Huh,” Korra said, taking a step forward. She glanced from one side to the other, looking at the two large trees on either side of the path which apparently marked the entrance to Master Sheng’s land. “I guess that means we’re here,” she said. She turned back to Asami and said, “You wanna head in then? There might be someplace to sit and wait for him past here.”
Asami nodded at this. They were invited in, after all. There was no reason to head out and return later if Master Sheng wasn’t going to be away long.
“Um, Avatar?” Light said. He flew in, coming to a perch on Asami’s shoulder. “I probably shouldn’t go with you then. Only you and Asami were invited. It might not be a good idea for me to enter his home without an invitation.”
“Oh,” Korra said. She blinked, then turned back to the entrance to Master Sheng’s lands. She looked around either side of the trees for a moment, then turned back. “It should be fine. I mean, it’s not like there’s any door or anything, and there’s no fence. Spirits must wander in all the time, right?”
Asami raised an eyebrow at Korra. She knew Korra had bonded with the light spirit, but Korra had made sure to warn Asami about the perils of dealing with powerful spirits. The risk here really wasn’t worth it. Thankfully, Korra seemed to pick up on the expression on Asami’s face, and she slumped her shoulders a bit.
“It’s alright,” Light said, shaking his head. “There are plenty of new places around here I can explore. I think maybe I’ll go check out that big tree you pointed out earlier.”
Korra was silent for a moment, an almost imperceptible pout on her face. “Alright,” she said eventually. “Let’s meet up back at Varina’s place this eveni- Er… when we’re all done. I’ll reach out to you if you aren’t back there when we get back.”
Light nodded at Korra, and he hopped off of Asami’s shoulder. Asami reached out, giving his head a quick pat as he hovered in the air near her. He flew over to Korra, receiving a pat and a smile from her. “I’ll see you soon, Avatar, Asami,” he said, before flying off, back along the path.
Asami turned, following Light with her gaze until the spirit was out of sight, before she turned back to Korra. She nodded slowly at her girlfriend, giving Korra a soft smile, and she stepped forward.
As soon as Asami’s foot hit the ground, the black wire creature from before popped out of it in front of her once more. “Avatar and Companion-whose-relationship-to-the-Avatar-is-not-clear, you are thanked for making haste to the abode of Master Sheng,” the creature said. Asami blinked, staring at it. Once she’d gotten over her surprise, she’d been expecting it to say that Master Sheng had arrived. But no, it went through exactly the same speech as it had before, word-for-word.
The creature finished again with the same invitation to enter or come back, then once more unwound itself into the ground. Asami let out a chuckle. So, it seemed this creature was a construct of Master Sheng, set out to deliver a recorded message. When they’d first encountered it a few days ago, it had played the role of a letter, and now it was a “Back in five minutes” sign.
Asami looked up at Korra, who still seemed to be confused about the creature. It took Korra a couple more moments before she seemed to figure out what was going on here. “Aha, okay,” she said, looking over at Asami. “Anyway, should we head in?” Asami nodded at Korra. She stepped up beside her girlfriend, walking astride her as they passed between the trees.
The world seemed to twist as Asami’s foot took its first step past the two trees. Asami found herself leaning rapidly away from Korra, and she instinctively reached out a hand to her. Korra was on the same page, and their hands managed to clasp together before they were too far apart. They couldn’t stop the twisting of the world, but Asami was able to hold onto the Avatar’s hand enough that instead of being twisted away with it, she ended up falling off of it.
Asami found herself suspended from Korra’s grip. “Hold on,” Korra said, her voice calm and focused. She looked down - or perhaps up - at Asami, her gaze confident. “Just let me earthbend you to safety.”
Asami breathed slowly, trying to remain calm. She focused on the ground, which seemed to be bent at an odd angle now. Korra used her free hand to guide out a slab of earth from it. She slowly moved it toward Asami, though it took a couple tries before she managed to get the angle right in this twisted world, and she brought it beneath Asami’s feet. Asami let her feet relax onto the slab, and she let out a sigh of relief. She looked up at Korra and nodded. Time to try bringing her back in.
The earth pulled up on Asami, bringing her closer to Korra. She felt herself getting lighter as she neared, and she opened her mouth to try to warn Korra that she was about to fall, muteness momentarily forgotten. No words made it through Asami’s lips before gravity overtook her, flipping her over and tumbling her into Korra’s waiting arms.
Korra cocked a grin as she looked down at Asami. “No need to worry, Asami. I’m not going to be caught off-guard by gravity flipping itself again.” Still smiling, Korra took a slow step forward, not even letting Asami out of her arms first.
The world twisted just a bit more, and dizziness began to hit Asami. Perhaps it was due to the swamp twisting itself into an alien geometry. It was still barely possible for her mind to make sense of it, but as Korra took one more step, and the ground in front of them seemed to fold across itself, Asami’s mind officially gave up.
“Um…” Korra said as she took an awkward step forward. “I’m gonna... let you down now. Think I just need to close my eyes for a moment. Getting a bit… dizzy…” Korra’s arms suddenly loosened. For a moment, Asami felt herself falling. She braced herself for the impact as she hit the ground, but it never came.
Korra blinked, trying to focus. The world seemed to have straightened itself out, though it wasn’t at all where she was before. She was still in a crystalline swamp, standing on a path cutting through it, but there was now a large junction in front of her, the path branching off in five different directions. At the center of the junction stood a black wire creature like the one who’d greeted her and Asami at the entrance to Master Sheng’s lands.
That was weird. But it was the spirit world, so weird didn’t bother Korra here. The part that bothered Korra was the fact that Asami was nowhere in sight. “Asami?” she called out, spinning in place to look for any trace of her friend. “Asami, if you can hear me, make a noise, anything!”
“Do not worry, Avatar.” Korra turned to the creature at the center of the junction. It had just spoken to her. It had reacted to what she’d just said, in fact. This one wasn’t just a message left behind by Master Sheng. “Your companion is safe,” it continued. “You are both merely asleep momentarily, while Master Sheng’s wards determine if you are worthy to enter his domain. For humans like you, it should be no trouble. In any case, the worst that could happen is that you will be ejected without harm.”
Korra eyed the creature, taking a couple steps toward it. Wards, it had said. So, Master Sheng had set up spells to keep his home secure. That explained why she hadn’t seen any fences or other barriers around it. “You know, we were invited in,” she said. “Is this really necessary?”
“Perhaps not,” the creature said. “But at this point, it is. Now!” The creature tapped its long arm on the ground. “Let us begin. You see around you six possible paths you may take. Your task is simple. Select the correct path, and you will wake up within the lands of Master Sheng. Select incorrectly, and you will wake up outside of it.”
Korra glanced around her. Six… okay, so the five branches, plus the path behind her, where she’d entered. “Okay…” she said, looking back at the creature. This really wasn’t enough to go on here. “So, which is the correct path?”
“The one behind you,” the creature replied.
Korra blinked. “Wait. That’s it? You’re just going to tell me?”
“No riddle? I mean… I thought this was a test.” Korra narrowed her eyes. “Shouldn’t you be asking me something like, um.... Okay, I don’t know any good riddles. But I know this isn’t one!”
“This is not supposed to be a riddle,” the creature said. “It is a test. And you passed.”
“A test…” Korra said. She pulled her head back, eyeing the creature suspiciously. “Okay… so… what’s it testing?”
“Whether or not you would think to ask a question,” the creature said. “Master Sheng has been dismayed at how many spirits and animals would never think to do this. He considers it a waste of the power of speech if one never uses it connect with others and gain knowledge from them. He is happy to share with anyone who wishes to learn from him, but if someone will never think to ask a question, his time is wasted. He has thus set up these wards so that he will not be bothered by lesser spirits and animals who will not be worth his time, even if they do have the power of speech.”
“Hmm.” Korra crossed her arms. Well, it was prideful, but that wasn’t exactly surprising with an older spirit. At least it wasn’t malicious. “Alright,” she said. “Thanks for explaining that to me. I guess I’ll be off to head into Master Sheng’s lands now.” She gave the creature a polite bow.
“You are welcome, Avatar,” the creature replied.
Korra nodded at it once more, then turned around, following the path behind her. As she stepped down it, the world around her began to glow white.
“You see around you six possible paths you may take. Your task is simple. Select the correct path, and you will wake up within the lands of Master Sheng. Select incorrectly, and you will wake up outside of it,” the creature said.
Asami narrowed her eyes at it. Was that all she was being given to go on? No hints as to which path was correct? She opened her mouth, about to complain, but then shut it. Of course that wasn’t going to work. Even in her dreams, she still couldn’t speak. Maybe there was another hint around the area that she was supposed to find.
With a slightly-frustrated sigh, Asami turned to the path behind her, checking it for anything that might be a clue. This wasn’t exactly a warm welcome from Master Sheng. Though to be fair, he wasn’t home right now. When she left her estate, it wasn’t as if she left the gate wide open. So Asami supposed she could understand him leaving some security in place.
Nothing stood out to her in this path, though perhaps something would seem different in comparison with another. Asami moved to the path off to her right, searching over it for any differences. There did seem to be a few differences, but it was all simply natural variation. No obvious hints here. She continued her search for clues, heading on to the next path, and then the next, until she’d finally made a full circle.
“Need some help, Asami?” came a young woman’s voice from behind Asami.
Asami spun in place. For a brief moment, she caught a glimpse of what looked like a reflection of herself, but it was gone before she could focus on it. There wasn’t any surface it could have been reflecting off of, though. Perhaps it hadn’t been a reflection. Maybe it was a projection of herself, like in her dream a few nights ago, and that was her own voice she’d heard. The creature had mentioned that she was asleep now, so perhaps it wasn’t surprising to see and hear an aspect of herself like that. Well, whatever it was, she did need help, from within or without.
“Are you serious about ‘without’?” the voice said.
Once more, Asami was able to catch a glimpse of its source. It was herself, alright, and once more a younger version of herself. She also caught sight of an odd bluish glow from the figure’s throat. Was this her sound chakra perhaps? That might make sense. That would explain why she could only get brief glances of the figure; Varina had told her that her sound chakra was out of alignment.
Asami turned to where she’d last seen the figure appear. It was a part of her, but asking if she was serious about accepting help from without. Whatever it might have in mind, she was willing to give it a try. She nodded at where it had been. As soon as she did, the figure faded back in, its side to Asami now. It faced the creature who had stood silently at the center of the junction and said, “Can you tell us anything else to help us determine the correct path?”
“Yes, I can,” the creature replied.
Asami grinned at the image of herself. Now that it was remaining visible, she could see that there definitely was a blue mark on its throat, though she couldn’t make out its shape from this angle.
“Well, then what can you tell us?” the chakra asked.
“I can tell you that the correct path is the one presently behind Miss Sato and to her left,” the creature said.
Asami blinked. That was it? It was just going to tell them when asked? That was easy. Well… not exactly easy, given that she couldn’t speak right now. She chuckled, then bowed at the creature thankfully. She turned to her chakra, ready to thank it as well, but it had vanished once more by the time she turned to it.
Asami let out a sigh. At least it had been there when she needed it. Much like when she’d been trapped underground with Korra, she’d been able to speak when it was critical. When she needed help.
Was that it? Or at least part of it? She could speak when she needed help? Maybe… Maybe it was at least part of the problem. She’d have to hold on to that possibility. It might not be everything, but it was something.
Asami turned to the path the creature had indicated. As she took her first step down it, the world began to turn white. Against the white backdrop, she could make out a distant figure blocking out some of the light. She held her hand up to her forehead, trying to get a better look at it. Was that… Korra?
“Remember your dream, Asami,” came Korra’s voice. It was distant, barely audible, but the words were clear.
Asami stepped forward, approaching the figure. The world filled almost completely with white, with only Korra’s figure standing against it. As Asami approached, it began to look like Korra was in fact in the Avatar state. There was something glowing on her forehead as well. She’d heard that Avatar Aang’s forehead tattoo glowed when he was in the Avatar state, but nothing like that had ever been the case with Korra. So then this was… most likely another chakra of hers. Her thought chakra, judging from its position, the chakra which connected humans to the energy of the cosmos, and which was the source of their consciousness and the power of their other chakras.
The figure pulled back, rising off the ground as Asami neared it. The white of the world began to overwhelm even her vision of the chakra, but she could still hear it speak: “Find your humanity. Reconnect with it, and speak once more.”
Her… humanity? Asami’s mind focused on the word, pondering its meaning as the world around her faded. How could she be missing her humanity? What did that even mean? Why did her chakra have to speak in riddles? Wasn’t it supposed to be helping her? Maybe that was all it knew, or all it could say.Whatever it was, at least the answer felt like it was finally getting close.