She had always hated the sky bison. It was more than just her fear of heights, though that was reason enough to dislike them. It was that the sky bison were definitive - either you were on it or you weren’t, you were here or you were there. There was no going back - the decision was final. And Ela had always hated decisions.
She stood silently, her mouth gaping as her gaze drifted from her mother to her stern mentor. Her mother’s brown and bloodshot eyes faced competition from her mentor’s piercing blue, fighting over Ela’s stare as if it was a magnetic force attracted to whoever shined brightest.
“So, Eleonora, have you made up your mind? Do you want to come with me, or do you want to stay with your mother?”
No one else called her Eleonora, and no one else dared to. While everyone else preferred Ela, including Ela herself, her mentor was different. The way her full name rolled off of her mentor’s bitter tongue and out his winter-chapped lips was in its own right frightening. Ela looked into his eyes once more. Though she expected it, she was disappointed when she found that they weren’t bloodshot. He wasn’t crying, and he wouldn’t cry. He was never like that.
“You don’t have to do this,” came her mother’s quivering voice. “You’re still a child. Avatar Korra waited until she was nearly an adult before she went to Imperial City. You can stay and train here if you don’t think --”
“Stop trying to persuade her, Jaya,” Ela’s mentor snapped. “She is the avatar. She can make her own decisions.” The man turned towards Ela and placed a callused hand gently on her cheek. “This is your choice, and I can’t make it for you, but the world is in great danger. We need your help and guidance as the avatar to unite the world.”
Ela turned away from his hand. “I… I don’t think I can do this,” she said, her voice quaking at every chance it had. Suddenly yet expectantly, the tears she had been straining to hold back began to break free and stream out her sealed eyes. She thrust her head between her hands, sobbing and heaving in uneven intervals. “I… I just need… I just need some more time,” she whispered.
She felt her mentor’s cold hand pat her back gently. “It’s okay, Eleonora. It is a tough decision, no doubt, but I hope you know how to make the right one.” After a brief moment of silence, he spoke once more. “Perhaps you should meditate on it,” he said. “Consider your decision and ask for council with the avatars of the past,” he said.
Ela remained silent, her tears now an occasional trickle instead of a stream. “Come, Jaya,” the mentor said, “let’s leave her to herself.” Ela heard the trail of footsteps eventually fade away. Finally, she was alone.
Ela opened her eyes and uncurled herself out from the fetal position she had subconsciously fallen into. She felt her eyes sting from the chilled breeze that blew through the trees surrounding her. Frost had collected on the pine trees that surrounded the clearing that Ela sat in, and the thick wintry clouds circled above ominously, threatening to release a brutal storm in an instant. Her thick black hair drifted with the air and danced across her pale cheeks.
Winters like these were uncommon in the Earth Kingdom. Even the sky bison, accustomed to the wind and snow, knew that something was amiss. The giant beasts waited ahead of Ela, heaving in the chilly air and trotting around impatiently.
Ela heard the familiar muffled squeak and faint pitter-patter of the spirit behind her. She turned around and spotted the child-like spirit that was wandering its way towards Ela. The pale white dress that dangled around her feet and the head full of thick green hair that covered the spirit’s eyes caused it to stumble around frequently, but the spirit eventually made its way into Ela’s open arms.
“I don’t… I don’t know what to do,” Ela said to the Ralts after their hug had ended. Ela was gasping for air, struggling to keep her composure in front of the spirit, but the Ralts gave an understanding nod to the girl. Though the Ralts couldn’t really communicate with Ela through more than a few unique murmurs, the emotional bond shared between the two was strong. The Ralts Spirit had been with Ela since birth, and they were destined by the fates to spend their lives together, just as every other avatar and their spirit guides had.
The Ralts made yet another indiscernible squeak before tugging on the young girl’s hand. The Ralts’ hands were hardly even nubs, pale white sticks that floated freely in the wind, but the determination behind the pulling was strong. The Ralts stumbled back, tripping on her gown, before Ela climbed up from the ground and stood upright in the center of the grove.
With a swift swipe of her hand, a blast of air shuddered through the clearing, lifting the snow off the ground and back into the sky. Tendrils of fire sparked out of her finger, dancing around the sky and melting the frozen sparkles of snow into water. Moving with the way of the waves, Ela closed her eyes and moved her hands slowly, the water calmly following her lead and exiting the grove. Finally, Ela took a firm stance on the ground, her pale bare feet burrowing into the dirt, and with a swift jab of her right hand to the ground, stones around her jutted about until they formed formidable rock walls around the clearing. She and the Ralts stood alone in the clearing, and nobody would bother them now.
She sat down on the fresh grass, took another deep sigh, and closed her eyes, much calmer this time than last.
It would never take long before the apparitions would show up. It seemed to be gradual, each avatar of the past appearing one by one, but as soon as Ela would open her eyes, they would all be standing around her, staring. They were grown, regal mirages that all radiated outwards from Ela’s seat. Their icy blue, ghost-like bodies blended in with the surrounding snow, but the powerful eyes that stared down upon Ela never drifted.
She stood up from her seat, the Ralts joining her and grabbing Ela’s hand in the process. Ela was silent at first, but she knew they wouldn’t be the first to speak. She would have to approach the avatars herself.
“I… I’m not sure what to do,” Ela said hesitantly. She hated to admit weakness in front of them. They all seemed giant, or maybe Ela was just small. They were all old, but maybe Ela was just young. They were all avatars, the greatest benders ever to live, and maybe Ela was not.
“We are with you,” the avatars said in perfect unison.
“I don’t know what that means,” Ela said, her voice wavering.
“Look inside for your answer,” they all replied.
“But I don’t know what that means!” Ela cried out. Her eyes had swelled with tears and her voice had splintered. “I’m supposed to come to you for advice, but you never help me! You just tell me to look to myself for answers, but that never works… I don’t know anything,” she whispered. Too ashamed to look at all the avatars, Ela rose her arm to her face and buried her eyes in her sleeve.
“Don’t be afraid,” came the voice, but this time, it was solitary. Smudging away her tears, Ela looked up to blearily spot a beautiful young woman. Ela immediately recognized her - she was the Avatar just before Ela, the one who died to lay this curse upon an unsuspecting child. Ela had hated Korra for that.
“What do you know?! What do you know about any of this?!” Ela replied bitterly. “You never had to make any decisions, at least, not until you were the full Avatar. You had years to prepare for this! I’ve had days, Korra. And I’m only twelve. I… I can’t do this.”
Korra remained silent for a moment, her penetrating, ethereal blue eyes staring deeply into Ela’s brown. “I know you blame me for this, for all of this, but I can do nothing. It was Raava who chose you, and it is Raava that expects greatness from you.”
“But… I can’t be who Raava wants me to be. Maybe… maybe I should just give up the Avatar, pass it on to whoever follows me.”
The Ralts was still holding Ela’s hand and stared up at her with a childish face of confusion. The spirit’s glowing red eyes blinked rapidly and Ralts’ hand slowly slipped away. The Ralts’ mouth began twisting, as if the spirit had a word dancing across her lips, but not a sound came out. Her lip quavered, and the spirit stumbled backwards away from Ela, tripping over its gown.
“I didn’t… I didn’t mean it, Ralts. I was just…” Ela said before trailing off. The Ralts’ eyes never left Ela’s. They both batted away tears, but neither would look away. “I’m just so scared…” Ela sobbed.
The ghost of Korra took a step closer to Ela and bent down to be at eye level with the young girl. “Fear is not weakness, Ela. Fear is strength. What Raava asks of you is no easy task. The fate of the world and all her inhabitants rests in your hands. You are the only one who can save us. And this decision, to go with your mentor and face imminent death or stay with your mother and allow the world to crumble around you, will decide it all.”
“But I don’t know what to choose. Can’t you just tell me?” Ela shakily asked.
Korra shook her head. “Not even Raava can see the outcomes of your decision. It is up to you and only you to choose.”
Ela turned away from Korra and took a deep breath. The Ralts was still stumbling backwards, her bottom lip quaking, but Ela gave a faint smile and stepped closer towards her spirit. Ela grabbed the Ralts and held her tightly.
“I can’t save the world,” Ela whispered.
Korra hesitated then nodded. “You can. You just need to trust the spirit that guides you. Not me, not the avatars of the past, not even Raava herself. Look to yourself.”
Ela sighed. “But I don’t --”
“Look to your Ralts then,” Korra interrupted. “Let her be your guide, act on her behalf. She is wise, and though she does not know the impact of your decisions either, she will lead you. And anywhere you go, the world will follow.”
Ela looked away from the avatar and glanced down at the Ralts. She had stopped crying entirely. Her thick green locks of hair had parted, and Ela spotted a pair of vibrant red eyes that beamed with a smile. Ralts leapt out of Ela’s arms and landed on the ground, standing proudly with her arms at her waist. For once, Ralts didn’t stumble over her dress, and the wintry sun gazed down upon the spirit with admiration.
Ela was silent. Her tears had washed away. She smiled at the spirit that stood before her. It hadn’t dawned upon Ela earlier, but this was her world. The Ralts that had stumbled into Ela’s life was her entire existence. It didn’t matter what Ela’s decision was. As long as Ralts would continue to stumble and murmur and squeak, it didn’t matter what happened to the world.
“I still don’t know,” Ela said after a long pause.
“Then you have your answer,” Korra said. As Ela turned to face the avatar, she realized that Korra had disappeared. Ela was alone in the clearing once more.
She heard the impatient whinny of the sky bison from outside her fortress. With a sigh, Ela dropped the Ralts from her shoulder. She would have to face the bison she so despised sooner or later. With a firm jab of her hand to the ground once more, the rock walls receded back into the earth. The piercing winter breeze sliced through Ela again, but this time, the cold barely seemed to bother her. She stared at the sky bison with angry determination.
"So have you made your decision?" came the demanding tone of her mentor. Ela turned around slowly to see them both, mother and mentor, staring at her with cautious eyes. No longer did her mother cry, and no longer did her mentor furrow his brow. They both knew she had made her choice, and nothing could change it.
Ela hesitated before smiling. She turned away from both her mother and mentor, staring adamantly towards the sun who had already begun its descent into night. The drifting snow had finally ceased, as if the entire world was waiting for her decision. And for once in all her life, Ela knew exactly what she was doing.
"I'm ready. Ralts, lead the way."
Stepping forwards, the Ralts nodded to Ela and gave a brief smile. She lead the way, stumbling around blissfully. It didn't matter where Ralts was going. And Ela didn't care. It didn't matter where she was going.
She had made her decision, and no doubt, the world would follow behind her.