In The Garden of Fate
Twenty-three years ago…
I wait, and I watch.
Humans think they notice as their world is changing. For the most part, they are correct. But they always miss the seeds of this change, and so they are powerless to stop it. Even I sometimes fail to notice a seed until it is too late. Such happened with the boy in the iceberg, the Avatar Aang. I missed the seed that led to him deciding to flee and becoming entombed in the iceberg for a century, and so the world’s course was forever altered.
Even now, this event is still causing change, and planting new seeds. Because the Avatar Aang used the Avatar state to maintain his life for such a long time, his life is expiring sooner than it otherwise would. He prepares for his imminent passing, and in doing so he unknowingly plants a seed which will bring the world to the edge of destruction.
Unalaq, of the Northern Water Tribe, member of the Red Lotus, learns of Avatar Aang’s coming death through spies within the White Lotus, who are now preparing to seek out and protect the new Avatar. He aims to subvert their plans, and bring the next Avatar under his own influence. The threads of fate are clear; he cannot succeed at this, though he does not know it. But his lust for power makes him the perfect ally for Vaatu, the imprisoned spirit of darkness.
Should Vaatu succeed, he will bring a greater change to the world than any human alive now thinks possible. Should he fail, he might still be released from his imprisonment, and even the new Avatar might be unable to confine him. If he is defeated, he will eventually be reborn from Raava, the light spirit within the Avatar. Even I cannot predict what might happen should this occur. It must be avoided.
The time for waiting has ended. I must act.
Korra’s voice was followed by the sound of footsteps running toward Asami. It took her a moment to piece together what was going on. She was lying down on her side right now, her eyes still closed, as if she were just waking up from a normal sleep. Asami opened her eyes, taking a moment to look around.
Purple. It was as if she were seeing the world through purple-tinted glasses. Everything seemed to be a shade of purple, or perhaps pink or magenta, though otherwise it seemed the world was just as it had been when she’d left. She was still on a path in a swamp, various crystals visible among the plants, and with two large trees framing the path.
“You made it through!”
Asami turned her head in the direction of Korra’s voice. It wasn’t hard at all to pick her out; she was the only thing in sight that had any colors other than purple. Though oddly, this just ended up feeling stranger than if she had been purple. It made Korra look quite out-of place here. That wasn’t fair, though. Korra was exactly as she was supposed to be. It was the rest of the world that was off.
Smiling at her girlfriend, Asami pushed herself up to a sitting position. Korra reached a hand out to her, and Asami took it, letting Korra pull her up to her feet. Asami gave Korra a nod of thanks, then raised an eyebrow. It seemed Korra had likely been awake for longer, so Asami was beginning to wonder if the other woman had found anything out yet.
“Oh, well, I was getting a bit worried when I didn’t see you after a while,” Korra said, cracking a slight grin. “But I guess you figured out your own way through the test.”
Asami nodded at this. It seemed she wasn’t getting much better at getting across her intentions to Korra without words yet. Or perhaps Korra wasn’t getting much better at figuring it out. Asami tried again, raising her eyebrow again and widening her eyes before looking around, then back to Korra.
“Oh!” Korra said, realization dawning in her eyes. “Well, I didn’t want to get too far away, in case you showed up here,” she said. “So I haven’t really looked much. This is a weird place, though. There’s a lot of energy flowing through here, though it doesn’t really feel like spiritual energy to me. Haven’t quite figured out what it is yet.”
“No, that’s not it. It’s more li-” Korra trailed off. She blinked at Asami for a moment, then looked upward. Asami followed her friend’s gaze, trying to figure out who or what had just said that. It had come from somewhere up above them, in a strange, high-pitched voice.
It didn’t take long before Asami saw something: a cat owl, perched on one of the trees that framed the entrance to Master Sheng’s lands. Like herself and Korra, it too had more than shades of purple in its coloration. As she looked at it, it caught her gaze and opened its mouth. “Food,” it said again.
“Okay… um… we know you aren’t a cat owl,” Korra said. “They don’t talk. So you can show us your real form if you want.”
The cat owl stared back at Korra for a minute. There was no sign of understanding in its eyes. It slowly blinked at Korra, then turned its head away, likely deciding she wasn’t going to be a good source of food.
“Huh… okay then,” Korra said. “Talking cat owl. Far from the weirdest thing I’ve seen in the spirit world. Guess that explains why it doesn’t really feel like a spirit.” She shrugged, then turned to Asami. “Want to look around a bit?”
A laugh broke free from Asami’s throat. The cat owl might not be particularly intelligent, but it did seem to have good timing.
They were walking in circles. At least, they should have been walking in circles. They’d made four right turns, and they’d been walking far enough that by all rights they should have ended up back where they’d entered Master Sheng’s lands. Asami paused in her step, furrowing her brow. Given all she’d seen so far in the spirit world, this wasn’t impossible. It was a bit frustrating, though. It meant if they wanted to get back to where they’d entered - which was probably a good idea, as it was likely where Master Sheng would be looking for them - the only sure way was to retrace their steps.
Asami turned to Korra, ready to try to indicate to her girlfriend that they should try turning back, but before she could do so, Korra reached out and grabbed Asami’s wrist. “A spirit,” Korra said. She glanced at Asami briefly, then looked around. “Hello?” she called out. “Is someone there? Don’t worry, we’re friendly.”
For a moment, nothing seemed to happen. Asami glanced around, and she soon caught sight of motion out of the corner of her eye. Off to their side, the murky water of the swamp seemed to be shifting. Asami grabbed Korra’s arm, then pointed to this spot. As they watched, a green creature slowly rose out of the water. It appeared to be mostly an amalgamation of swamp plants and moss, though the green color betrayed the fact that it wasn’t simply local flora.
The creature took on a vaguely humanoid form, and the plants near where its face would be move from side to side as a child-like voice came out. “Are you looking for Master Sheng too?”
Korra stepped toward the creature, nodding at it. “We are,” she said. “Well, we’re waiting for him. He asked us to meet him here, but he wasn’t here when we arrived, so we’re looking around while we wait.”
“He isn’t here?” The creature said. Something about its posture changed, though Asami was at a complete loss when it came to reading its body language. “I guess that would explain why I haven’t been able to find him.”
Korra nodded again. “Have you been looking long?”
The creature’s body shifted again, and it said, “Ever since my brother was born. I can’t keep track of time here, but I think it’s been about ten pulses or so…”
One more shift in the creature’s posture. It seemed to be looking directly at Korra now, if Asami had to guess. “Are you new to Zhi-Wen Valley? There’s a big crystal here that makes sounds at a steady rate. We use its pulses to keep track of time.”
“Ah, okay,” Korra said. She nodded, then reached a hand up to scratch the back of her neck. “We haven’t seen that crystal, so I guess we can’t really say how long that is. Or… heard it, for that matter.”
Asami narrowed her eyes as she thought about this. They’d been here for quite a while, and they hadn’t heard any pulses of sound like that. It was possible it was at a frequency humans couldn’t hear, but loud enough for these spirits to hear throughout the valley. It would be interesting to look into that later, once they were done here.
“Oh. Well, it’s been a while,” the creature said, shifting its body in a way that almost looked sad. “I wanted to ask him if he could help my brother…”
“Your brother? What’s wrong with him?” Korra said. She gave the creature a smile. “Maybe I can help. I’m actually the Avatar. I know a few ways to help spirits.”
The creature moved, perhaps curiously. “Maybe. My brother hasn’t been able to speak since he was born. I came here to ask Master Sheng if perhaps he’d forgotten about my brother, and if he could help him out now. But I can’t do that if Master Sheng isn’t here.”
Asami’s eyes widened. She reached out and grabbed Korra’s forearm, shooting her girlfriend a meaningful glance, hoping Korra had picked up on the implication there as well.
Korra looked back at Asami, and it was clear from the look in her eyes that she was just as excited. She turned back to the spirit and said, “Um, could you maybe help clarify for us. What type of spirit is Master Sheng, anyway? We’ve never met him before. I mean, like, what does he do?”
“Master Sheng is the one who gives voice to me and my brothers and sisters when we are born,” the spirit said. “That’s why I’m worried that he might have forgotten about my brother.”
Korra glanced at Asami, then back at the spirit. “If he can give voice, can he take it away as well? My friend lost her voice a few days ago, not long after we received an invitation from Master Sheng.”
The spirit moved suddenly, backing up away from Korra and Asami. “I… I don’t know if he could. Maybe he could. He’s pretty powerful. But he wouldn’t. Master Sheng loves speech, and he loves when we use his gift. There’s nothing he hates more than when we keep silent and hide things from each other. But even then, he just lets us know why that’s a problem. And your friend… I don’t know why he wouldn’t do the same for her.”
Unless he couldn’t. Asami brought her hand to Korra’s, and she glanced between Korra and the spirit. Just how long were ten pulses, anyway? The message at the entrance to his lands made it sound like he was planning to be back soon, or would at least get back soon once they’d arrived, but they still hadn’t seen him. What if something had happened to him?
It might not explain why Asami had lost her voice in the first place, but it would explain why Master Sheng hadn’t restored it. That did raise the question though: What had happened to him?
“I guess he’s not coming…” Korra said as they reached the trees that marked the exit from Master Sheng’s lands. She paused in her step, looking back up at the trees. Asami followed her gaze, noticing the cat owl still perched on the branches of one of the trees. “So I guess that explains the talking cat owl. You’re Master Sheng’s pet, right?”
The cat own turned its head to the side. Asami was expecting it to reply with another utterance of “Food” to this, but it remained silent this time.
Korra let out a chuckle. She shook her head, then turned to Asami. “You know…” she said. “It occurs to me… a lot of powerful spirits seem to have opposites of some sort. Raava and Vaatu, Tui and La, the Mother of Faces and Koh the Face Stealer. Maybe Master Sheng is the same way, and there’s an opposite voice-stealing spirit somewhere. Maybe like Raava and Vaatu, they fight, and that one got the upper hand this time, which is why Master Sheng can’t help you out now.”
Asami tilted her head. It wasn’t a bad theory. Although… maybe it didn’t quite fit with what Varina had told her about what had happened with her voice. If it was due to a misalignment of her chakras, that didn’t really sound like the work of a voice-stealing spirit. Asami shrugged at Korra. It was still possible, but the real question was, where to go from here? Perhaps they’d have to ask around in the valley for more information.
That could wait for later though. Right now, it was probably time to rendezvous with Light. Asami pointed to the trees, then mimed a flying spirit with her hands. For once, Korra seemed to get the message.
“Ah, right,” Korra said, smiling. “Let’s go and see if Light is back at Varina’s now. It’ll be interesting to see if he found anything interesting in that tree.”
The tree turned out to be farther away that Light had expected, and a lot bigger as well. He supposed he wasn’t really expecting it to turn out to be as big as the Tree of Time; one tree that large was odd enough, but a second? This was really surprising. And as he got closer, he found that the shape of this tree matched the Tree of Time perfectly as well. It was as if someone had sculpted a copy of the Tree of Time, as exact as they could make it.
How was it that something like this could be here, and he’d never heard of it before? Perhaps few spirits ever traveled between Zhi-Wen Valley and the rest of the spirit world. It had taken a spirit digging them a tunnel to get here, after all. Though there should have been rumors, legends about it… Although, Varina had called it the “Tree of Eternity,” so perhaps the similar name - and other similar characteristics - had resulted in its legends getting mixed up with the Tree of Time.
Light flew down, coming to a rest on one of the roots of the tree. Up until this moment, the only difference between this tree and the Tree of Time he’d noticed was its location. But as soon as he touched it, he could feel that something else was different. The energy flowing through this tree had a distinctively different feeling to it. Like the Tree of Time, this tree had an ancient, mighty feeling to it. It was a different type of might, though Light had a hard time figuring out how to describe it. It was… the might of something that had always been here, while the Tree of Time was mighty like something that always would always be here into the future.
Or maybe that was just Light’s mind trying to make sense of it. It was different, in any case. This wasn’t simply an extension of the same tree, though it was hard to deny the similarity. Wondering what else might be similar or different, Light flapped his ears once more, lifting off and bringing himself toward the large hollow in the heart of the tree.
As he approached, Light began to sense another presence. A powerful spirit was already inside the hollow. Light slowed down as he neared, tentatively landing on the edge of the opening so he could peek in, wary of disturbing a spirit who might not be too keen on being interrupted.
A figure was indeed in the center of the hollow, but it didn’t react to Light’s presence. It had the rough shape of a human, though its upper body looked more like the head of a frog, albeit with a rather large, human-like mouth. It sat crossed-legged, its eyes closed, and its hands grasping either end of a cane that lay across its lap. Its skin was a pale green, as if faded into grey through years of age. It wore only a necklace, with a brown stone of some sort positioned in front of its throat.
It didn’t seem to be reacting to Light’s presence, so the young spirit tentatively flew into the tree. Was this other spirit meditating? That would be very strange. Only humans had ever meditated. As far as Light knew, spirits had no need. So why-
As Light pondered this question, he found his body sitting down of its own accord. Something was guiding him. Even when his mind caught up to what was happening, he couldn’t resist it. Soon, his eyes fell closed, and his mind began to clear.
“My apologies, spirit of light,” I say as the spirit brings form to his body within the cosmic realm. “My means of communication are limited.” I give the spirit some time to find himself here, and to get his bearings. I do not wish to anger him. I need his help, after all.
The spirit eventually conjures an image of my tree for himself. Perhaps it comforts him to imagine himself back where he left the spirit realm. He sits in the center of its hollow, looking up, searching for something.
“Okay…” the spirit says slowly. I do not sense fear in his voice, but I do sense nervousness. “Where are you? I don’t see anyone here.”
“I am everywhere,” I reply, “in every time.” This answer doesn’t seem to satisfy the spirit, however. Perhaps I misinterpreted his question. “The part of me which is most like your mind is near to what you know as the Tree of Eternity. That is where your body is now, and so that is why we are able to communicate.”
The spirit turns around in place, looking at the tree surrounding him. After a moment, he sits back down. For some reason, he looks upward, as if I might be more there than elsewhere. “Alright. Did you want to talk to me?”
“I do,” I say. “I wish for you to relay a message for me to the one you know as Avatar Korra.”
“Oh,” the spirit says. His ears twitch for a moment. “I can do that. What do you want to say to her?”
“Tell her that there is a matter of great importance I must discuss with her. I wish for her to come to this tree, as this is the only place where I will be able to connect with the spirit inside of her so that we might communicate directly. In return for this, I will set events in order such that her companion will be able to speak once more.”
The spirit nods, a smile crossing his features. “Of course. I’ll do that for you,” he says.
“Your assistance is appreciated,” I say. “I will allow you to awaken now.”
Something grabbed onto Light. He wasn’t awake just yet. Whatever this was, it was preventing him from waking up. The world had shifted around him. The tree appeared in shades of pink and purple, and it glistened as if made from crystal. As Light turned, he caught sight of the other spirit he’d seen within the tree. It was awake, and its hand had reached out to grasp onto Light’s leg.
“I do not have much time before it notices,” the spirit said. “Please, when you awaken, take my necklace to the Voice of the Winds.”
Light blinked. “Varina, you mean?” he said. The other spirit let go of Light’s leg now, and Light found his mind beginning to drift away from this place. “Why would she…?”
“When you return, remain outside of this tree,” the spirit said. Its voice was getting faint now. Light could barely hear its final words as his mind was pulled away from this place: “I implore you.”
Light’s eyes opened. He was still in the tree, and the other spirit was still asleep. He spent a moment looking over the spirit. It showed no sign of waking, or of being aware at all. But if what Light had seen was real, and not just an illusion, than it wanted Light to take its necklace to Varina.
Light flew over to the spirit, perching on its shoulder so he could get a look at the spirit’s necklace. There was the brown stone on front he’d seen before, and also some sort of crystal on the back of it, pressed against the back of the spirit’s neck. Light tentatively reached out his paw toward the stone. The moment he touched it, he felt a strong jolt of energy, and he quickly pulled away.
Okay, this necklace was powerful. Perhaps that vision was real then. He didn’t know if this spirit was good or bad, but he trusted that Varina was good. Taking this to her was probably good then. Resolved, Light grabbed onto the necklace and flew up once more, carefully removing it from the spirit's head and then beginning to head back toward Varina’s home.
Twenty-three years ago…
My possible actions are limited, particularly with the spirit portals closed. There may yet be something I can do. Right now, there is a powerful fate as yet undecided in the Fire Nation capital, in the family Oum. An eighth child of an eighth child. The family knows of this fate, and they would use it to mold the child into someone who could well set the world on fire.
It would only take the slightest nudge. I could rearrange the eggs within the mother’s womb, and let the fated child be birthed after her brother. She would appear to be the ninth to be born, though she would carry the powerful fate of the eighth child of an eighth child.
I stay my hand, however. The brother is also an eighth child: the eighth of his mother. It seems the father has a child he never knew of, born of a lover before his wife who never told him of it, so as not to dishonor his house.
My own hand has already been at play here. I did not miss this possibility. I saw it long ago, but I did not realize its full potential until now. Fated twins, the one with the more power fated to be ignored by her parents. The parents will place their attentions on the other, thinking him to be fated for greatness. I can use this pressure to shape him to my desire.
I redirect his fate, realigning the energy which now flows to form his chakras. The fated energy which would have empowered his fire chakra shall now instead flow to his light chakra. I will give him the insight to see what truly must be done to fix the world, to return it to its state before Avatar Aang fled from his duties.The change will be undone.