To learn airbending, his sifu told him, it wasn't enough to study the forms. He had to understand how the Air Nomads lived.
Traveling by sky bison is a novel experience, but storms slowed them down over the mountains and now their supplies are running low. They spot a small village on the river below and their teacher signals them to land. After dismounting, he approaches them. “Hungry?”
Roku nods, feeling like the bison, who have already started to graze. Gyatso hesitates. “Monk Yudron, this village..?”
“We'll be fine,” Yudron replies, gesturing for them to follow. Roku tries to imitate the way the two monks walk, heel rolling to toe, their pace even, their breaths steady. The air stirs around him; it's not like when fire erupts from his fists, but something about it is similar on a basic level.
People poke their heads out as the three of them draw near. Their expressions are guarded and suspicious at first, but become awestruck up on seeing the young man with the long locks and top knot, knowing instantly who he must be. Back home, Roku was accustomed to some deference because of his noble status, but this reverence still makes him uncomfortable.
The village leader invites them into his home and sets before them a large spread of simple but filling food. Gyatso, usually full of jokes and stories, eats without a word. Sometime after the meal he disappears.
Roku finds him later near the water, staring at the trees on the other side. “There was this funny monk I was traveling with,” the tall boy jokes. “Have you seen him?”
Gyatso grunts. Roku tries again. “Seriously, what's wrong?”
“I don't want to talk about it,” then, contradicting himself, the airbender rants, “We come this way a lot, because going to the Western Temple by way of the Fire Nation means flying over water most of the time. It's harder on the bison because they can't stop to rest. Last time we cam e through this village, they barely spared us some rice and then made us leave. Never mind we've performed countless blessings and funeral rites for them, helped them when the harvests came in...”
“They're treating you differently because of me.”
Gyatso's look is answer enough.
“I'm sorry,” Roku says.
“I'm not mad at you, Roku,” Gyatso replies. “It's just, people who are grounded don't understand the need to move, so they believe something must be wrong with us. Earth Kingdom folks are the worst, but we get it a little from the other nations too.”
Roku settles beside him, frowning. “These differences...they're just superficial. At the core we're the same.”
That makes the monk smile. “We might make an Avatar out of you yet.”
A breeze picks up, humid and smelling of fish. Together they watch the sun set in silence.