An icy breeze blew across the bay, carrying with it the fresh, light, fluffy snow that had recently fallen across the lands of the Southern Water Tribe. The few hours of sunlight that kissed the artic this time of year was already fading quickly behind the glacial mountains, leaving everything in dim twilight. The white tundra was marked with the soft light of torches moving in a slow procession on a small hillside just outside the main city. Solemn men and women in white and blue robes and hoods marched through fresh and untouched powder towards the glacier’s edge where sea met with snow. Those without torches carried a simple water craft hand-carved from arctic pine on their shoulders. The sides of the elliptical boat were low and nearly flat; it was small, only fit for a single person. A mast rose up from the center and around it was a pyre of sticks with earth below them. Atop the pyre was the form of a woman wrapped in a white silken cloth that matched the precipitation all around the gloomy march towards the seaside.
Asami Sato stood beside her father holding on tightly to his much larger hand with both of her own tiny, mitten-covered ones. Her raven-haired head – which was currently covered in a thick hood - only reached up to his knee and she had squished herself against his leg. She felt desperately clingy, though not because of the cold. The 6-year-old girl was bundled in the warmest coat money could buy – her father’s own invention, in fact. Burgundy polyester material lined with penguin seal fur, the jacket had electric coils throughout the interior which distributed a safe and comfortable heat throughout the small girl’s body. It was not the cold that had drawn Asami so close to her father, who stood stiffly as he watched the procession; rather, it was the confusion and sadness she felt. Where was her mother? Her father had told her she would be here – even though he also told her she had to leave and that Asami wouldn’t be able to see her anymore.
“Daddy, where is Mama?” Asami whispered, tugging on her father’s hand as she spoke. Hiroshi Sato broke from his still reverie and looked down despondently at his daughter, eyes shining behind his thick-rimmed glasses from tiny ice crystals that had formed at the corners. Without answering her question, Hiroshi leaned down and plucked his beloved daughter from the snow, resting her on his hip so that she could get a better view of the White Lotus guards making their way towards them. He made a point of rebuckling her hood straps to keep the cold from her red nose before replying.
“She’s coming. See?” He said while pointing. His voice was gruff and thick. Asami focused on following his gesture and her emerald eyes immediately fixated on the boat and the guards carrying it along.
“Is she carrying the boat?” Asami questioned, trying to distinguish among the hooded figures which one was her mother.
“No sweetie. She’s in the boat,” Hiroshi answered patiently.
“Oh.” Asami thought for a moment before continuing with a little giggle. “Daddy, why is Mama asleep on a boat? That’s silly!”
Hiroshi looked at his daughter and then back at the nearing procession, turning his words carefully over in his mind. Despite having explained this twice already in various ways, his voice remained patient and gentle as he spoke. “Mama isn’t asleep, honey… Remember, how I told you that she got very hurt and-” Hiroshi paused for a breath “-and she died?”
Asami frowned, looking over at the boat again and then back to her father. She did remember but she still didn’t understand why that meant her mother had to sleep on a boat and go away.
“When is she coming back?” Asami asked as she began to play with the strings of her father’s coat, uncomfortable.
“She isn’t, sweetie,” her father answered her with pain in his eyes. Asami could tell that her father was immensely sad, sadder than she had ever seen him and it frightened her. She began to sniffle.
“Papa, I miss Mama,” she whimpered, lip quivering as she tried to make sense of what was happening.
“I know, Asami. I miss your mother, too.” Fragile crystals began to form along Asami’s cheek as she began to cry, clutching her father closely as they watched the White Lotus approach in near silence, just the soft beating of drums ringing out around them.
When the boat finally reached the edge of the sea near where they stood, a man far older than her father stood before the small crowd of water tribesmen, White Lotus guards, and Future Industries workers. When the drums silenced, he spoke briefly yet firmly above the roar of the sea breeze. Asami didn’t listen too much to what he said, although she did catch words such as “brave” and “Avatar” and “self-sacrifice.” She didn’t know exactly what that last one meant but she remembered her mother saying it before. However, the young girl was much more preoccupied with looking at the still figure wrapped on the boat. She desperately wanted to run to it, to reach out for her mother, but she didn’t dare break the embrace with her father. Instead, Asami watched as the old man finished the short service and slowly moved to pull down on the rope that secured the sail of the boat. It immediately caught the wind and unfurled open, revealing symbols of all four nations surrounding the symbol of the White Lotus. Asami remembered learning from her tutors that this was a symbol of the Avatar.
The drums had begun to play again as two men in blue and white robes – the same robes Asami remembers her mother wearing to work - came up from behind the boat and proceeded to push the small craft out to sea. The chilling breeze caught it by the sail immediately and carried it away from the shore swiftly into calmer waters. Two different men and two women with bows slung over their shoulders and arrows strapped on their backs then stepped out from their place in line where the marching procession had halted. They walked slowly to where the boat had launched from and raised their weapons to the sky. In one fluid motion, they stretched their arms back, blew fire onto their arrows to ignite them, and launched them out to sea. Each one landed onto the pyre, one after the other, stirring the fire higher. Asami watched as the boat illuminated the sea’s horizon, still sniffling.
Hiroshi kissed his daughter on the forehead and set her down beside him again. “Now we must thank the people for coming, Asami, as is polite.” Asami nodded in response, finding some relief in his words. She understood being polite, she understood good manners. She understood these things much better than the idea of her mother dying and leaving her forever.
The small crowd all formed a small looping procession, shaking her father’s hand, offering condolences and apologies and saying very sweet things about her mother. They would often give Asami a pat on the head or sometimes even a kiss or a hug. She felt like it was terribly odd to be getting so much attention from strangers.
One of the last few people to approach them was a large man of water tribe descent, his wife and their small daughter who looked about Asami’s age. They were all flanked by four members of the guard as they approached. The man took Asami’s father’s gloved hand in his own, setting another one on Hiroshi’s shoulder as he spoke in a sad, deep voice. “Hiroshi, your wife was a brave woman… Words cannot express my gratitude for what she did…”
While her father was preoccupied talking with the large water tribesman and his wife, the girl by their side with earthen colored skin and bright blue eyes, marched over to Asami’s side.
“Hi. My name’s Korra, I’m the Avatar,” she said rather boisterously.
“Hi. I’m Asami… Asami Sato,” Asami replied quietly. Korra nodded and looked behind herself back towards her own mother who nodded with a warm smile. Kora turned back towards Asami, digging in the pocket of her deep blue parka.
“My mom told me your mom saved my life but that you don’t have a mom anymore,” Korra said abruptly, face dropping sorrowfully. She did not seem to fully grasp the weight of what had happened to her or to Asami’s mother any more than Asami did, but she seemed determined to talk to Asami about it nevertheless.
“Oh. Yeah, my daddy told me she isn’t coming back…” Asami trailed off with a sniffle, rubbing her cold nose with her mitten. Her eyes began to burn with tears again.
“I’m sorry… You must really miss her,” Korra offered. Asami only nodded, looking down at her mittens until suddenly one of her hands was drawn up into Korra’s. The young Avatar placed a White Lotus tile in Asami’s hand. Upon closer inspection, she saw that the tile was hung on a simple chain. Asami looked up questioningly at the girl.
“I wanted to say thanks to your mom, but since she isn’t here, I want you to have this. It means you’re under the Avatar’s protection!” Korra said proudly. Asami stared at the pendant curiously.
“Doesn’t the White Lotus protect the Avatar?” she asked.
Korra thought for a moment and shrugged. “Yeah, I guess. But I’m the Avatar so I make the rules. They just have to deal with it,” she replied as she crossed her arms and smirked. Asami couldn’t help but giggle at her stance.
“Well, thanks,” she said, remembering her manners.
“OH I almost forgot!” Korra said unexpectedly, taking off a glove and whistling with her hand. A white bulky animal galloped from behind Korra’s parents and licked the girl right up her face. She giggled in response, scratching the creature behind the ears which were two heads taller than the both of them. “This is Naga, she’s a polarbear dog and my best friend. Petting her always makes me feel better when I’m sad.”
Asami hesitated for a moment but reached out a hand and stroked Naga’s shoulder. The pup responded with soft licks to Asami’s salt stained cheeks, causing her to giggle and shake her head.
“She’s very pretty,” Asami said, admiring the animal and giving Korra a smile.
“She’s also fast! Do you want to go for a ride?”
Before Asami could answer, her father interrupted. “It’s time to head home, Asami.”
Asami’s face dropped as she saw her father’s sadness and remembered her mother sailing away on the boat. Korra frowned thoughtfully, but then perked up.
“Can Asami come riding with me tomorrow?” she asked directly up at Hiroshi. She saw Asami’s father and her own exchange glances.
“If Asami would like that…” Hiroshi replied somewhat hesitantly, looking towards his daughter. Asami nodded vigorously. Then she turned to Korra, who had her hand extended out to shake. Instead, Asami embraced the younger girl in a full on hug before taking her father’s hand once again.
“See you tomorrow!” Korra cried after her, waving as she and her father headed to their sato-snow-mobile. Asami smiled back, clutching the lotus tile in her hand close to her chest.