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He was leaning against the wall in a crumpled heap, his long hair now greasy and clinging to his face and neck. It didn't look like he had moved since he'd been placed there.
"You should count yourself lucky that the Avatar spared your life," I replied coldly. He grunted and glared at the floor. "Banishing me was the best thing you could have done for my life. It put me on the right path. Perhaps your time in here can do the same for you."
Without moving even his gaze, he asked, "Why are you really here?"
"Because you're going to tell me something." I lowered down towards his level and looked into the cell. Unwavering, I spoke each word as if it were its own sentence. "Where...is...my mother."
Things are right, now, I thought as we watched the Fire Nation soldiers marched out of the city's open gates. It's over. The War is over.
Bumi, Katara, and I were standing on the balcony at the center of Ba Sing Se's Royal Palace. From there, we could see the break in the edge of the inner wall, and all the soldiers being withdrawn from the Kingdom.
"Well, it's about time," Bumi said. "Those nasty soldiers were a real pest in the city. Oh, now it's my city, isn't it? Get out of my city and go finally clean up that mess you left outside."
I smiled. Everything was back to normal, like I was still ten years old at the Southern Air Temple.
Being the king of the second-most important city in the Earth Kingdom, Bumi had been made the Earth King, since Kuei and Bosco were still traveling in disguise. I was sure he was a good choice for rebuilding the Kingdom, but he was still as seemingly crazy as ever.
Instead of wearing only the traditional yellow and green robes of the Earth King, he had his servants create similar robes in many different colors, just like he had done in Omashu.
Everything was like it should be.
I exhaled and lowered my hands, pressed together, pausing at my lips. I opened my eyes and saw that the first glimpse of the sun had risen. I stood up, and inhaled deeply once more.
Something still seemed wrong.
On the day that the beautiful and horrifying comet passed over the Eastern Air Temple, I spent my time meditating on my third chakra. The chakra was both empowered and weakened at the sight of the comet, and I was willing myself not to feel ashamed of what I hadn't told everyone last time the comet had passed the earth.
Ever since that day, I had felt as if there were two large, conflicting energies in the world, very far apart, but so powerful that I could feel them wherever I was. I had always assumed that that was the spirits of the Fire Lord and those passionate to his cause, and the spirits of the Avatar and those who intended to stop the Fire Nation's Empire.
As the comet left the atmosphere, I had a vision in which Avatar Roku appeared before me. He said that Aang had used a forgotten style called Energybending to removed the Fire Lord of his bending abilities, and that the Fire Nation's War was over. He also told me that Aang had successfully cleared his chi paths and mastered the Avatar State, and that I had fulfilled my purpose in this lifetime.
But I still felt the energies, the large masses of power that were struggling for control. Clearly, they did not have anything to do with the War. Meditating on it a bit more, I realized that the energies themselves were not good or evil, but they were merely associated with these human qualities. The energies themselves were neutral, yet opposite, differing. They wanted nothing more than to destroy the other in a great battle...but it seemed as if one couldn't exist without the other, as if the universe depended on their coexistence.
I sighed. I didn't know what these entities were, and they were potentially dangerous.
I can follow their power, I realized. I would be able to sense their general direction. I felt as if I had a second purpose: to learn what these things were.
"We want to visit cell F22," Mai, my wife the Fire Lady, said to her uncle from beside me.
He looked surprised. "The cell you were in? Fine. It's currently not occupied."
He led us to the cell. The prison seemed oddly quiet.
"Where is everyone?" I asked him.
He scowled. "Ever since you and your friends escaped, most the other prisoners have been finding ways to do so too."
"And where are they now?"
"I don't know, running around the Fire Nation wreaking havoc like they were before they were put here." He laughed as he stopped at the proper door and slid open the bar. "A fitting punishment. An escaped prisoner manages to become Fire Lord, but then is held responsible for a bunch of murderers running around his country."
I ignored him as I opened the door and walked inside the cell. Mai, on the other hand, glared at him, and he reluctantly grew quiet.
"What did you say happened here, Mai?" I asked.
"When I was in here, I found a message scratched in the wall, right over there behind the bed."
I pulled back the bed from the wall and saw something I could hardly believe.
By the time you arrive, I will no longer be here, but I will be at a village called Senlin in the Earth Kingdom. I am running from anyone that will recognize me, and I am traveling to find a way to help those who know what is right prevail. I will find a way to help you prevail. I hope to see you soon, my son. I love you.
I stood up and took a deep breath.
"I told you," Mai said. "Sounds like her, doesn't it?"
"Yeah, it does..."
Before we had left the palace, I told her that Ozai had told me that Ursa had been sent to the Boiling Rock. She told me that during the time she was imprisoned, the cell she was in contained a message that sounded like it was from her to me. It seemed like she was right.
However, I couldn't help but be a little skeptical. "...It just seems too unlikely. Out of all the cells in the prison, you happened to be placed in the one that my mother was once in." I turned to the Warden. "How was it decided that she would be placed in this cell?"
"When Princess Azula ordered me to imprison the two of them, I just yelled out the names of the cells. I didn't think about it much, they just kind of...came to mind. Like someone told me which ones to yell."
I frowned. Someone just told him in his mind? No. That could only have been a spirit, and spirits don't cross to our world unless they've been disturbed by something, and even then, it's in order to get revenge, not to speak to people.
Then again, I think an invisible spirit came to me, once, I thought as I remembered the occasion. I had been leaning against the wall of my ship, next to the corner that lead down a set of stairs toward the fire barrel where Uncle was telling four of my crewmen what had happened the day I was banished.
"I always thought that Prince Zuko was in a training accident," Lieutenant Jee had said.
"It was no accident," Uncle had told him. "After the duel, the Fire Lord said that by refusing to fight, Zuko had shown shameful weakness. As punishment he was banished and sent to capture the Avatar. Only then could he return with his honor."
"So that's why he's so obsessed." The Lieutenant had sounded as if he had suddenly understood. "Capturing the Avatar is the only chance he has of things returning to normal."
At that point, I almost walked in to challenge Jee to another duel, but I felt as if a hand was on my shoulder, telling me to calm down. It had given me a strangely warm and familiar feeling, so I felt no panic or fear. I simply walked back to my quarters to meditate as I heard Uncle say, "Things will never return to normal. But the important thing is, the Avatar gives Zuko hope."
I remembered this event, and realized that it was very possible that this was the same spirit. But what would a spirit have to gain by doing these things? I didn't know. But it seemed that it had intentionally placed Mai in that cell. I nodded at Mai. "We're going to Senlin."
"Let's try it one more time," Suki told us. All in sync, we placed our left foot forward, pretended to draw our swords, then spun around counter-clockwise and kicked the imaginary enemy with the heel of that same foot. We hopped backwards, then thrusted forward with our sword, and sheathed it again. We drew our fans, and struck our enemy between their neck and right shoulder, as well as their left side just below their ribcage, and then directly in their stomach.
"You're all doing great!" Ty Lee said gleefully, clasping her hands together. We'd been incorporating chi blocking into our routines and fight patterns, with Ty Lee showing us where to strike.
I had rejoined the Kyoshi Warriors after Katara and I went to see Gran-gran, and yes, that included wearing the face paint and the dress...or, uniform. Now I was living on Kyoshi Island. I was never able to get back my Space Sword or my boomerang, but I was using the katana that Suki and the other Warriors used and I was getting pretty good at it, and a craftsman in the village made me a boomerang out of wood. Personally, I think I was able to show the Warriors a thing or two about swordsmanship.
Aang, Appa, and Momo went to Ba Sing Se to help Bumi oversee reconstruction, and Katara went straight there after we left home again. Toph got a letter back from her parents and went back to Gaoling, where she's training for Earth Rumble VII, but I don't think she'll be there for very long, she might find those guys too easy now. But I finally got Hawky back! I sent a letter to Zuko just asking him how things were going, but he hasn't sent anything back yet. Last I heard, he and Mai were getting married, and they were making sure that all Earth Kingdom settlements were rebuilt, starting with the biggest.
Everything seemed to turn our alright, in the end, really.
For the collective works of the author, go here.
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