Weave of Memories
9,881 years ago...
The sun slips below the horizon, consumed by the forest in the distance. The trees cause the last rays of light from the sun to appear as beads along the horizon, winking away one by one. Does that forest have a name? The maps I saw earlier labeled it only as a forest, not at all notable to the generals discussing battle plans. I probably wouldn’t be making note of it myself, if it weren’t for the sun right now, and the lovely sunset it’s gracing me with tonight.
“Beaded Woods.” That’s it. If it doesn’t already have a name, that will be it. Assuming I live to tell someone of it. The forest deserves as much.
The last bead winks out of existence. The sun has set, but the night sky still holds on to the sun’s rays, refusing to let go until the sun is too far out of reach. The watchtowers will light their braziers only when the night sky finally gives up on the sun, and the light from them will illuminate the environment even more than the sun’s lingering rays do right now. And so - by no design of human, spirit, or nature, but simply by being passed over - twilight is when darkness has its greatest hold over us.
And now twilight is when I will dare approach the darkness. I didn’t plan it this way, but the poetry in how it worked out is quite apparent. I close my eyes, letting my mind empty, letting my spirit be as free as the wind. Just for a moment, I let my spirit be as free as it was when I was a child, before I first heard from Wan, before I first learned of the power that lay within me and my ability to shape the world, before I realized how much responsibility came with this power, and before I became tethered to it. Especially now, on what may well be the darkest hour before the darkest day of my life, I will not deny myself this one indulgence.
After what might well be my one last moment of joy before I taint my soul, I let my spirit become tethered to the spirit world. I do not run from the darkness. I seek it out. Although I feared it as a child, Wan taught me that it is of no worry. It is unfortunate that it must be imprisoned in the Tree of Time, which binds the worlds of humans and spirits together, but some things cannot be changed.
My spirit finds itself at the base of the Tree of Time. I can sense the darkness contained within, but I can also sense a faint pulsing of energy. I know this energy is everywhere, but it is always too faint to perceive, except near this tree. It’s no wonder that people used to meditate beneath this tree before the spirit world was closed off to them. The energy here would make it easy for even the least spiritual person to reach a meditative state.
I, the Avatar of Raava, can do even more. Even one step removed from my body, meditating at the base of this tree has always allowed me deep insight. I have never been left wanting for an answer when I come to seek it here, even if it isn’t the answer I wished to receive. And so once more I sit at its base, closing my eyes, ignoring sounds in my ears, disconnecting my sense of touch, and freeing myself from the remainder of my senses one by one, until only the energy of the universe remains.
And when the energy is all I experience, I can perceive its true nature. The universe unfolds before me. Darkness surrounds me, but it’s a beautiful darkness: The tapestry on which all of existence is drawn. The energy dances around me, sometimes taking form as a stray thought crosses my mind, sometimes appearing as blue streaks through the darkness, and sometimes stretching out as a tangled web in front of me.
I speak, letting my words shape the realm in which I find myself. Images appear as I speak, narrating my story for the benefit of whomever or whatever might be listening. “I come seeking wisdom. I am Varina, of the Air Tribe. When Wan, the Avatar of Raava, passed away, the dying embers of his life set flame to my own, and Raava was passed on to me. I follow in his path, but not in his methods. Wan failed to bring peace to the world, and I believe that this is because true peace cannot be a product of force.
“I cannot stop others from engaging in violence, but my whole life, I have foregone it myself. I have tried to lead by example, and many have followed. But now, my followers are seen as weak. They are seen as targets by the armies of Yang Li, who seek them out to steal their possessions, knowing they will face no retribution. If they had not gained the sympathies of the Bal Tuk tribe, who are willing to use violence to defend them, my people would have all perished many months ago.
“But the strength of the Bal Tuk is nearing its end. They can no longer hold out against the siege of their keep. And so, for their sympathies to us, they are likely to perish. I am forced to consider that I may have led my people down the wrong path. Although I believe even Yang Li’s armies are deserving of life, when they refuse to grant that consideration to others, does it then become justified to use violence to defend oneself in turn? Even if it results in the taking of a life?
“I have discussed this at length with Wan. He counsels me to fight, but to attempt to avoid killing. Against such a large army, this may be impossible. If I fight, the Bal Tuk and I may win this battle. But it will almost certainly result in the deaths of many, no matter that I might try to avoid it. Such is the nature of violence, and such is why I abhor it. I cannot bear to bring an end to the life of another, but I cannot bear to let such noble people be brought to their own ends either.
“So I ask for wisdom. To anyone or anything that may be here. What should I do?”
The images narrating my words fade away, and I find a circular platform of white light appearing at my feet. Black fills the center of the platform, and white rays begin to shoot around it. After a moment of dancing, they trace the pattern of a sundial. A pale blue silhouette stretches out from me, appearing much like my shadow, aside from the color.
As I watch the silhouette of myself, words come from behind me. I turn, gazing upon a colossal red star in the sky above me, pulsing as it speaks. “Varina, Avatar of Raava, successor of Wan, second of the first cycle, first of Air. You are mistaken.” Its voice was neither high- nor low-pitched, neither masculine nor feminine. I can’t think of a single word to describe how it actually sounded, in fact. It was simply a voice.
“Mistaken?” I say, addressing the entity before me. Is it a spirit, perhaps? This deep in meditation, I’m unable to sense any spirits, so it’s impossible for me to say. It probably is, but it’s unlike any spirit I’ve encountered before. There’s something much more primal about this entity. “In what am I mistaken?”
“You equate death with the end,” the entity said. “Was Wan’s death the end? Wan yet remains, as you well know. Raava remains as well. What has happened is that they have both changed. Raava brought with her a connection to Wan’s experience, and Wan has changed in a way beyond the comprehension of humans, but you do know that in some way, his soul has given birth to yours. So why should you think death would be different for others? It is simply a change of state.”
I shake my head. “It may well be. But it is an undesirable one. People would prefer to remain alive, to remain as they are, with those they love, and with those who love them. The change that death causes takes this all away.”
The entity pulses in the sky. It is silent for a while, as if in thought. Eventually, it begins to speak again. “As you are incapable of understanding what happens in death, so too am I incapable of understanding why humans fear me so. Varina, Avatar of Raava, if you can understand nothing else, understand this: I am Time. I am Change. I am Death. In each moment, your past self dies so that your future self may live. As the army of Yang Li amasses outside the keep in which your body rests, they die each moment and are reborn. If you engage in battle, some will change in a different manner during this battle. If not, this change will come later.
“I am Death, destroyer of all. No matter your actions, all shall change, all shall die, and all shall change once more. You must choose for yourself what manner of change you wish to happen. Tomorrow I will slay the mortal bodies of hundreds of humans when they engage in battle. You must make the choice of who shall perish. Act, and the aggressors shall perish. Do nothing, and the defenders will perish. Do not fear this inevitable death. Use it to enact change. Use it to lead to the world you most desire.”
A metallic sound rings out as the entity finishes speaking, accompanied by the entity’s shape curling in upon itself. Though as its edges curl inward, its core expands, a yellow sun being birthed from within and pushing its way outward. The red edges pull at the sun, stretching it out, until it finally breaks free. With a blinding yellow light, the sun engulfs the realm, rending me from my meditative state and back into the human world.
So why am I still here? I look around. Everything is just as it was moments ago. The entity, a furious red orb, hovers in the sky before me. Below me is a circular platform, with white lights tracing out the pattern of a sundial. But no… the sundial isn’t just as it was before. The numbers on it have changed to some foreign script. My shadow is gone as well, replaced by three planks of pale blue light, each moving around the platform at different speeds.
Odd, but not oddest thing I’ve experienced here. Perhaps the blast from the entity simply signaled its intention that it was through conversing, and it was time for me to leave. I turned back to the entity, giving it a polite nod. “I thank you for your wisdom,” I say. My heart is heavy as I realize what I must do tomorrow. “If it is within your power, I humbly request that you grant those who may die tomorrow a pleasant passage into whatever may come next.”
“Avatar,” the entity says, “recall the words I spoke to you earlier. Your soul and the soul of Avatar Varina are tied together by the thread of causality. Your soul will not easily recognize that her memories are not your own, and that these events did not just occur. You must focus. To find your true self, answer this one question: Tell me one thing that happened to you more than a day prior.”
I blink, narrowing my eyes at the entity. Its words feel true, but I also cannot shake the feeling that I am, and have been, Varina, Avatar of Raava. But for how long? Was I Varina a day prior? Let me see, then. If I go back in my memory, the most significant event was easy: when Asami joined me on a trip into the spirit world. Joined me: Avatar Korra.
Avatar Korra… who once more has at least one memory from a past life. I grin, looking up at the entity. “It worked!” I say, grinning at the entity above me. “I can’t thank you enough! Are there any other memories from my past lives that I can get back as well?”
“It is possible that there are, particularly from the life of Avatar Varina. This was not the only time she meditated beneath the Tree of Time. But it is not safe for you to do so now. The more you experience Avatar Varina’s memories, the more difficulty your soul will have telling them apart from your own. If you experience too much of her life, you may not be able to find your own memories again. And so I must counsel you to return only after much time has past, and you have gained many more memories of your own.”
I let out a sigh. I hadn’t actually been expecting this to work at all. So really, I was just grateful that I got anything out of it. I smiled and nodded at the entity. “Alright. I gotcha. Thanks,” I say. “I owe you one.”
Korra could feel the pieces coming back into place. First, there was one large piece: Avatar Varina’s memory inserted in with her own. Then, the memories she’d lost were filled in, one piece after another. Her decision to tunnel to the other side of the spirit world. Trying to impress Asami with an earthbent elevator. Forgetting about the fact that they were upside-down relative to the rest of the spirit world, so gravity would have to flip at some point. The inevitable chaos when gravity suddenly flipped on them, and Korra’s panicked attempt to keep them from getting injured with her airbending, which hadn’t quite been enough to prevent her from being knocked unconscious.
And then, a gap. Well, at least that gap wasn’t surprising. She had been unconscious, after all. What was surprising was where it picked up. It wasn’t with her in the Avatar State, getting them out of the elevator, as she’d guessed - and Asami had confirmed with a nod - had happened. No, the next memory was just before then. Even though she was unconscious when it had happened, she could remember Asami reaching out to her. Asami had been meditating, trying to reach Korra’s spirit. And apparently she’d been successful.
But… how did Korra remember that? Then again, Avatar Varina’s encounter with the entity in the Tree of Time was much the same. Korra had no direct connection to her past lives anymore, and yet she was able to connect to that memory, and remember it as if it were her own. Perhaps… was it Asami’s memory she’d connected to? Asami had been meditating, reaching out desperately to Korra. Korra had been there physically. It might have been enough of a link to allow Korra to latch onto it when she was recovering memories, and bring it in as one of her own.
And if that was possible, then what else might be possible?
Korra let herself reconnect with the world, her lips curling up in a soft grin. She opened her eyes slowly, giving them a chance to adjust to the light. She focused on the blurry form in front of her, and her smile widened just a bit as the image came into focus. Asami was watching over her, with Light perched on her shoulder. “It worked,” Korra said. “And then some.”
Asami’s eyebrows rose. She gave Korra a questioning gaze. Light did much the same, but he was also able to speak. “What do you mean?” he said.
Korra pushed herself up to her feet as she began to speak. Her muscles could use a stretch after meditating for this long. Probably. She wasn’t quite sure how long it had been. “The tree was able to help me come back with a couple extra memories as well,” she said.
“That’s amazing, Avatar Korra!” Light said once Korra had finished her explanation. Asami wasn’t looking at him, but she could feel that he’d shifted into his puppy form again. “You really are an amazing Avatar!”
Korra let out a chuckle and shook her head, though she smiled at the compliment. She reached forward and gave Light a pat on the head. “Couldn’t have done it if you hadn’t led us here. So thank you, Light. Oh, and thank you, Asami,” Korra said, her gaze shifting to Asami. “I was only able to get that memory of when I was unconscious thanks to your efforts. And now that I know I can do that, maybe we can finally get some answers to why you can’t speak.”
Asami smiled slightly at Korra. Her friend’s excitement seemed to have taken hold of her right now, but nervousness still had a grip on Asami. Perhaps she shouldn’t have been surprised at this. When she and Korra had touched the trees on the other side of the spirit world, they’d been able to see memories through each other’s eyes. So Korra being able to do this wasn’t really much of a surprise. But using this ability to find answers now was getting Asami a bit nervous.
“I choose not to speak.”
Her voicelessness was most likely her own fault, having said those words to get out the dream she’d been trapped in. She’d have to show that memory to Korra. Admitting she’d made a mistake wasn’t the part that was getting her nervous, though. She’d have to show Korra the context. The conversation surrounding it. It would make her feelings blatantly clear to Korra.
“Asami?” Korra said. Asami glanced up at her friend’s face. Korra’s smile had faded, replaced with concern. “Is everything alright?”
Asami gave Korra another weak smile. She pushed herself up to her feet, then reached out and took Korra’s hands in her own. After taking a deep breath, she looked into her friend’s eyes once more. Korra’s affection for her was plain to see. And it was also obvious that she was getting better at reading Asami. Perhaps there wasn’t anything in that dream that would be so bad for Korra to see after all. Perhaps there wasn’t even anything Korra hadn’t already figured out herself.
Asami smiled, genuinely now. She nodded at Korra. Everything was alright.
Korra returned Asami’s smile. “Good. Um, so… do you want to try to figure out more now? We can come back here a bit later if you want…”
Asami shook her head, and she pointed down to the floor, trying to speak the word, “Now.” There was no reason to delay this. As long as Korra was up to it. Asami chewed on her lip for a moment, then pointed at Korra and raised an eyebrow.
“Um... Sorry,” Korra said, furrowing her brow. “Not sure I get it. Something about me?”
Asami pursed her lips, trying to think about how she could ask if Korra was up to doing this right now. Even if she still had her notepad, that wasn’t something that was easy to draw a picture of. Asami pointed at Korra again, then gave a thumbs-up, then a thumbs-down, with a questioning expression all the while.
“I think she wants to know if you feel up to it,” Light said. He leaped off of Asami’s shoulder. He reverted to his normal form mid-air, his ears catching the air to keep him suspended, and now he hovered between Asami and Korra. Asami smiled and nodded at him.
“Oh! Yeah, I’m fine!” Korra said, glancing from Light to Asami, and giving Asami a grin. “Don’t worry, Asami.”
Asami eyed Korra for a moment. Knowing Korra, it was possible she was putting on a show of strength just to impress… No. Korra wouldn’t do that now. Asami nodded at her. If Korra was good to go, then so was she.
“Alright. Um, sit down with me then,” Korra said with a nod. “I think it’ll help if we try to do this together.” Korra didn’t move to sit down just yet though. She pursed her lips together, something seemingly on her mind. “Oh, um, Light?” Korra said, turning to look at the spirit.
“Yes?” The spirit said, tilting his head.
“Well, I was um… going to ask if you’d watch over us,” Korra said. She smiled a bit nervously at the spirit. “But it’s really pretty safe here. And well, my stomach is starting to feel a bit empty, and there was that grove of fruit trees we passed on the way here, so…” Korra blinked. “I mean, I don’t want to keep asking favors of you. If there’s anything you need, just let me know, and I’ll… what?”
Asami let out a chuckle as Korra suddenly cut off her rambling. Apparently she’d been caught in the act of adoring her friend. She gave Korra a wink, then mimed zipping her lips shut. This earned her an annoyed pout from Korra, though she could see laughter fighting against the pout on her friend’s lips.
Light let out a laugh as well. “It’s alright, Avatar,” he said. “I told you, I’m happy to help.” He flapped his leaf-ears, doing a flip in mid-air. “It might take me some time, though. I’ll need to make a few trips, so I might only be able to get a few fruits for you by the time you’re done.”
“That’s fine,” Korra said, smiling at him. She reached out and patted his head. “Thanks, and wish us luck!”
“Okay, good luck, you two!” Light said. He flew up, pressing himself into Korra’s hand for a moment, then twirled off, heading out of the Tree of Time.
Once Light was out of sight, Korra turned back to Asami. She reached out and took Asami’s hand in hers again. “Okay,” she said. She pressed her lips together and looked up into Asami’s eyes. “Tell me the truth, Asami. Or um… nod or shake your head the truth. Are you sure you’re comfortable letting me see your memories like this? If there’s something… you might be uncomfortable with me learning like this, we don’t have to do this. So, just shake your head now, and we’ll just tell Light this didn’t work, and find another way. I won’t ask any questions. Nod, and we’ll go ahead.”
Asami didn’t have to think about this. She simply nodded. She’d already decided this for herself, after all, even if Korra hadn’t been privy to that decision. Seeing now that Korra had the same concerns, and had even gone so far as to come up with an excuse to get them some time alone so she could voice them, just solidified Asami’s decision that she could trust Korra. There were certainly some memories that it would be awkward if Korra were to see them, but… it would be worth it. If she could have her voice back, and be able to explain it all, and finally confess her feelings to Korra, it would be worth it.
“Alright,” Korra said, grinning at Asami. “Um, as I said before, let’s sit down, do this together.”
Asami nodded once more. She followed Korra’s lead, and sat cross-legged in front of her friend. She was expecting Korra to take her standard meditative pose, but instead Korra reached her hands out to Asami. Raising an eyebrow, Asami placed her hands in Korra’s.
“This will help keep us connected,” Korra said, in response to Asami’s quizzical gaze.
Asami had a feeling that Korra was probably making this up as she went along, but she wasn’t going to argue. Well, she wouldn’t have done so even if she could have. Korra had a good track record for improvisation, after all.
“Okay, close your eyes,” Korra said. “Try to empty your mind, and just feel the energy of the universe, which this tree helps connect us to. I’ll do the hard part. You can just try to guide me. Focus on the question of why this happened, of why you can’t speak now.”
Asami nodded, and she closed her eyes. She’d been able to get somewhere with meditation before, though it had taken her some time. This time, though, it seemed to come much easier. Almost as soon as she’d closed her eyes, she could feel her mind wanting to empty out. The tree made it easier somehow. It gave her mind room to expand. And so she let go, hanging on to just the question “Why?”
Meditating here was easy. Korra was able to connect to the universe’s energy within moments of closing her eyes. The problem was, there was so much of it. She needed to find the right path. She needed to connect with Asami, to enter her friend’s memories.
Korra soon found herself suspended in space again. There wasn’t any platform beneath her this time, however. Rather, she was surrounded by a web of glowing white threads. Out of curiosity, she reached out and pinched one of the threads. An image flashed in her mind: Naga roaring at Tahno, scaring him off from when he was trying to provoke Korra. So these threads were probably all connected to her memories then. That wasn’t the one she wanted, though.
Another thread. The first time Korra managed to heal someone with her waterbending. Another. Korra hung over the southern spirit portal, entering the Avatar state in order to open it. Another! ...Nothing. The thread resisted Korra’s attempts to grab onto it. Clearing her mind, Korra let herself slip into the Avatar state for just a moment, giving her the power she needed to push through and take hold of that thread. Her arm shot outward, lightning extending from the tips of her fingers.
Korra pulled her hand back. No, she hadn’t just done that. But she’d never lightningbent before. Had she just seen into her own future? She shook her head. Maybe. That wasn’t what she was here for, and it could cause more trouble that it was worth if she learned too much about it, anyway. She needed to figure out a way to connect with Asami, and she wasn’t getting anywhere randomly pulling at threads.
Focus. One moment. Korra held Asami’s face in her mind, trying to focus on a key moment with her friend. Something powerful enough she could use as a bridge. The spirit portal. Looking into Asami’s eyes as they crossed over. That was it. When Korra saw something in Asami’s eyes… when she saw Asami looking back at her, with the same gaze. That moment. She would always remember that moment. She could find it from anywhere.
A golden glow appeared off to Korra’s left. Smiling, she reached outward, taking the glowing thread in her hand. The memory filled her mind, but Korra didn’t let it pass. She let it envelop her. She fell into the memory, reliving it once more, reaching out to Asami with all her heart.
It was simple. I saw my future in her eyes.
Korra felt Asami tug on her hand, and she was suddenly falling. Asami disappeared, as did the golden glow around them. Only Korra remained, finding herself on the other side of the spirit portal, falling slowly toward the ground.
No, not alone. She faced her reflection. She wasn’t sure quite what was reflecting her image back, though. Or was it anything at all? Was it just her mind showing her what her subconscious thought she needed to see right now? As she came to this realization, the reflection faded away, revealing the person behind it: Kuvira.
The world blinked. For a moment, Asami caught a glimpse of Izin where Kuvira had been. His eyes fell closed, and his head bowed down. The world blinked again.
“What happened?” Kuvira said. Her eyes hadn’t quite reconnected with the world yet. They slowly managed to focus on Korra as she spoke. “Are we… dead?”
Korra knew the words. But they weren’t what she spoke. Instead, the voice of Avatar Varina came from her lips. “Dead? You die every moment. But right now, more than most. It’s time for you to die, Kuvira, and be reborn. I can’t promise the rest of the world will let you have much of a life, but perhaps it can at least be a more noble one from now forward, even if you can only exercise that nobility by accepting your punishment.”
The world blinked.
Izin shook his head. Wait… was this Izin? No, Asami didn’t know his name yet. The man shook his head. “It won’t be enough. It’s never enough.” He closed his eyes again. “But it’s something. At least it’s the right thing, this time.”
Asami narrowed her gaze, tensing up just a bit. “‘Enough’... You sound like you want to atone for something. Did you… do something to hurt Korra?”
The man shook his head again. “No. Maybe I even helped her, in a way. But it wasn’t for her sake. I need to do something to atone because… I hated the Avatar. I hated the concept of her. That she could get so much power, while others had none…” He opened his eyes, turning slowly to face Asami. “I hated her for something she had no control over… but she’s the last person to deserve such hate.
“I was wrong Her powers don’t define her. Her choices do. She chose to sacrifice everything, time and time again. Maybe I didn’t harm her. But I’m still going to try to make up for it, somehow. You have my word on that.”
Asami? A voice deep within Asami’s mind spoke out. Why are we here? Who is this?That’s… not going to be easy to answer, part of Asami replied. Dread began to fill the back of her mind. She’d been pushing this away, but she had to be here for a reason. I think he might be part of the reason I can’t speak now. Even now, Korra probably couldn’t hear those thoughts. Maybe Asami could find a way to show her, though.