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The Burden of Guilt

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The Mother of Faces watches the woman as she fights back tears. There is no wrong decision; there is simply a choice. It is the Mother’s duty to give it to her.


She, too, is a mother. She, too, has hurt her child.




She is small as she stands before the Mother, staring her future in the eye.


She cannot—she does not—


She must choose.


Her children or Ikem. There is a line drawn in the sand (never mind that she is the one who has drawn it) and she balances upon it. The choice is hers. Two sides; she must step onto one.


The choice should be immediate; it should be her children. Every mother knows that, feels it deep in her bones.




She is no ordinary mother; she has hurt her children in ways too deep to heal. The pain that she knows they are enduring, at this very moment, is her fault. All her fault.


And then there are her children themselves. Azula and Zuko.


Azula, who believes that she is a disappointment to her mother, whose fire—the fire she knows will one day turn inwards—she could never tame, whose heart has frozen into stone because she was not enough.


Zuko, who knows that he is a disappointment to his father, whose scars have been cut into, again and again, until he is raw and bleeding, whom she failed to protect because she was not enough.


She was not enough.


She is not enough.


She is not their mother. How can she be, after everything?


Suddenly, everything is too much. Ikem’s arms call out to her, singing a sweet song of slumber and forgetfulness.


She makes her choice.




The Mother of Faces crosses the human realm and the spirit realm, dreaming and creating and giving, every breath a memory fleeing away as soon as it is exhaled. The humans she blesses she leaves behind, along with all their worldly baggage.


Sometimes, though—sometimes, she remembers.


She remembers the woman, and her choice.




The moment she regains her memory, guilt floods her, guilt for what she has done.


She has forgotten her children. She chose to forget her children? How could she?


Kiyi is not her only daughter. Kiyi is not her only child. There are other children, and they have been neglected.


Her daughter, a madwoman full of rage and bitterness, robbed of love by her mother and so not giving a shred of love to her so-called family and friends. Her son, disfigured by his own father and carrying the twin,dreadful burdens of guilt and longing (herfaultherfault), a ruler at sixteen, weighed down by too many responsibilities.


She loves Kiyi, and she has done right by her. The other two children? Not so much.


She wonders if they will ever find room in their hearts to forgive her. (If they do not, it is no more than she deserves.)


But Zuko, apparently, is her grandfather’s descendant after all.


She is truly glad that the man he has become is better than the woman she was, but it was not she who taught him his true heritage. She cannot forget that.


So she loves him, now, and hopes it is enough.




The Mother of Faces regards the woman and her fears, her hopes, her desperate wishes.


She does not interfere with humans, and the story has played out too many times since its first beginning, but this once, there is a strange kind of guilt, because the woman is related to the one who bears Raava’s spirit, if nothing else. And—more pressingly, for she seldom had dealings with Raava, who was constantly at war with Vaatuit was the Mother who started the story, after all.


So she whispers, one night, to the woman in her sleep.


Go in peace, child. Believe that you are enough, and you will be.