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|A Talk With Roku|
The woman recognized the face and smiled. They stared at each other for several moments that seemed like an eternity to both. Finally, that woman, that lovely, one-of-a-kind creature, spoke.
"Zuko? Zuko!" She stood up, and Zuko noticed she was incredibly exhausted, but that didn't stop her from running and hugging her long-lost son. "I knew I'd see you again, my child. I knew. Hope is the only thing that kept me from dying in this dark cell. And now... now you are here!" Zuko was unable to speak for some moments; all he wanted to do was hug his mother. That and nothing else. After some minutes, he spoke.
"Mom... what happened? How did you end up in this room at the Dai Li's headquarters?" His mother stepped back, freeing Zuko from her hug, and he glanced down at her dirty, ragged clothing and winced
"It's a long story; I will tell when we are safe, my son," his mother answered wearily. "The guards check up on me every two hours, and we have thirty minutes until the next check."
"But... how will we escape, mom? There are agents everywhere, and Azula is somewhere around." He hated how fearful he sounded.
"It will be hard, my son, but I think I have an idea. Get in and sit. I will take care of the rest."
"But mom... I can help..."
"No objections, Zuko. You can do anything you want when we get out of here, but for now it would be better if you just followed my lead." Zuko didn't express his disagreement. He would do anything this angel told him to. Anything. He had been sitting motionless on the chair for ten long minutes when he saw Ursa, who had been watching the corridor all this time, jump out of the room and take down two Dai Li agents with some quick movements of her fists—Ty Lee's Chi Blocking! His mother then drew the unconscious bodies into the room and closed the door.
His eyes wide, he asked, "Mother, what is the plan? And where did you learn Chi Blocking?"
"Again, I'll tell you when we are out of Ba Sing Se. Now for the plan. We will dress up as Dai Li agents and get past the guards. Once we're out, we leave Ba Sing Se for good!"
What about my scar? "But mom... And Mai? I and she are... together for several months and I can't leave her. She is in a room upstairs."
"Okay. We'll take her as well." After Zuko and Ursa donned their Dai Li uniforms, they stepped out of the room. Zuko followed his mother as a distance; sShe seemed to know where to go. After an hour walking in the narrow dark corridors, Zuko finally saw a wooden door; as Ursa opened it, Zuko rushed in first to find himself in front of some stairs. Pausing to wait for his mother, hewalked up them and finally saw the light of day.
They were in the Palace's entrance hall.
"You go to the New Wall; I'll go get Mai. We'll meet there in half an hour" Zuko whispered to Ursa, who nodded and left. Walking around, he found a grand staircase, climbed to its top, and decided, after some thinking, to turn left. He continued with his exploration until he came across a door that seemed familiar. Mai must be here, he though and opened it.
"Mai? Where are you, darling?" he called in a loud whisper,. With relief, Zuko saw Mai appear from behind the door, but then he realized that she was pointing at him with one of her poisonous knifes.
"Don't you make a move, you filthy worm -"
He raised his hands defensively: "Wait! It's me! Zuko!" She paused and gazed into his face; he could tell from her expression that she had recognised his scar.
"Zuko!" she cried out, dropping the knife and embracing him. "Where were you? What happened? I've been waiting for days!"
"It's a long story, Mai," he explained laconically, "but the fact is that we'releaving. Now. Pack what you need, and we'll leave. Immediately. Wear something to hide your face."
Mai nodded, clearly taken aback. "Okay, Zuko, but will you tell me what happened when we find some safe place?"
"Yes, Mai. Now, get ready!" Emerging again from her quarters after a span of ten minutes, she wore a hooded jacket and was carrying a small bag. "Ready to leave?" Zuko asked, the impatience in his voice clear.
She gestured to the bag . "Yes. Let's get out of here." Mai and Zuko started walking in the corridor and turned to climb down the stairs, and he noted that she was half-hiding behind him the entire time. When Zuko reached the yard, he knew that he was at the most dangerous part of the plan, as the agents—who were everywhere—glanced curiously at him.
One of them approached. "What is happening here, Agent? Why is Prisoner Two with you?" the Dai Li agent inquired gruffly, and Zuko felt his blood turn cold.
"Um... Eh... It is for... for a special mission. Top secret. Co-Leader Azula herself assigned me to the mission. You don't want to mess with her, do you?" Zuko told him.
"Oh. If they are Co-Leader Azula's orders, then good." the agent answered, looking rather scared. The rest of the way to the New Wall was simple, and soon Zuko was able to make out the skinny figure of his mother standing next to the New Wall's exit; he waved. When they came close enough for Mai to make out the woman's face, she gasped.
"Zuko... Zuko what is going on here? Where... where did you find Ursa?" she demanded angrily.
"Oh, Mai!" Ursa exclaimed. "Hello! Sorry for the surprise; I and Zuko will explain when we get out of here." Mai didn't like the fact she was completely out of what was going on, but she really felt the need to leave Ba Sing Se as soon as possible; meanwhile, Zuko approached a guard and asked him to open the gate.
"No," the guard replied. "I have strict orders from Leader Joo Dee not to let any Dai Li agents leave the city. You agents must get ready for the release."
Trying to be as professional as possible, Zuko shook his head. "I have strict orders from Co-Leader Azula. It is for a special mission; that's why Prisoner Two is with us. You don't want to go against her will, do you?" he questioned threateningly.
"No, sir! Uh, I mean, you may exit Ba Sing Se..." the guard allowed, shouting something to the other guard, and the two Earthbended open the gates.
Once Zuko, Mai, and Ursa were some miles away from Ba Sing Se, hidden in a forest, they stopped, and Zuko lit a campfire. As the unlikely trio sat around it, Mai asked finally, "Can someone tell me what's going on now?"
Zuko inclined his head and launched into a lengthy explanation of his chat with Azula, the Willbending Master, and his Willbending training—taking care not to mention the creepy sudden changes in his mood—he took a deep breath and a drink of water; following this pause, he inquired, "Mother, can you tell me what happened? How did you end up in a cell in Ba Sing Se?
Inhaling deeply, Ursa stared at Zuko and Mai for some moments. Then she turned her head, her look lost in the flames of the fire, and began to speak, choosing her words with a deliberant slowness.
"As I think you already know, Zuko, when you were little, your father was obsessed with the idea of becoming the Fire Lord and was greatly displeased with the fact that his brother, Iroh, would take the throne because the latter was older. After his brother lost Lu Ten, your father believed it was the perfect moment for him to talk to Azulon about the succession of Fire Lordship, but his conversation with his own father didn't go well, and Azulon made it clear that, because Iroh's personal strength, a result of his intense pain and suffering, was greater, and because Ozai was being selfish, your father would never become Fire Lord." Briefly hesitated, she continued, "So your father thought of a plan. He had a crazy idea that if one of his children died, then Azulon would change his mind, and since your father favoured Azula..." She lifted her head to gaze into her son's amber eyes. "...you, Zuko, had to be that child. When I learned of the plan, I was utterly shocked; I could not believe that such a twisted idea would ever pass your father's mind, but, as I realised some days later, he was serious. One night, I spoke to him about the matter, making clear I would not let him hurt any of our children just to become the Fire Lord. Your father called me over-protective and mad and said that by stopping him, I would destroy his opportunity to become Fire Lord... and he was having none of it.. After a long argument, he said that we should go back to sleep, and I trusted him. I don't think I need to add that I was arrested early the next morning..."
Zuko nodded. "Yes, I already knew dad's plan, but what I want to know is what happened afterwards..." His voice trailed off, and he gazed at a large piece of wood next to him. Mai was starting to feel awkward: This was definitely a family moment ,and she felt like a stranger, watching the other peoples' lives while trapped in a fish bowl; she wished she were anywhere else than at this place at this moment.
"Well, I was taken to some remote island in the Fire Nation. It had a lot of volcanoes on it, so for the fourteen years I stayed there, I was afraid that the earth might explode beneath my feet any moment. Managing to survive was hard, but, as a mother, I was used to hard work and made it. I was totally alone at the remote island, but after three years, a strayed ship came across it. I was desperate at the time and I was losing my mind because of the long time I had been staying on the island without coming across one living soul. In an attempt to finally escape, I went to the beach and signalled to the sailors on the ship. Thankfully, I was not in a good condition, and they didn't realise they were talking to the wife of the Fire Lord, who was 'missing' and could be given to the Fire Lord for a 'generous payment'. Of course, all this was just coverage so no one would understand that I had been sent away by Ozai himself for getting in the way and not letting him kill his son." In the last words, Zuko could almost taste the bitterness with which they were said. "Anyway, I asked them to tell me in which island I was; I pretended to be a shipwrecked sailor. If they took me back to the Southern Water Tribe, which I thought was the place at which I would be less likely to be, I would pay them back, but everything changed when I learnt on which island I was. I decided to stay, because was the island where my father Roku had lived before the volcano explosion. I had seen the hardened lava spread all over the island but never imagined my father's village would be under it. I realized it must had been one of Ozai's tricks, thinking that knowing this was the island on which my father died would make me even more desperate and angry, but it had the opposite effect on me." She paused and shook her head. "I felt stronger, and I knew I would survive. I decided that I would be brave like my father and wouldn't leave with the first chance; I would stay there until Ozai sent people to get me, and I would face my fate. During the end of my thirteenth year on that island, Ozai's soldiers finally came. Your father had ordered them, as I learned, to take my corpse away from the island. As I found out by listening to the soldiers' conversations, he had sent those sailors on that ship to make sure I knew on which island I was, and now, after ten years, he decided there was no way I could have lived longer and ordered his people to come and search for my body. I tried to hide from them, but eventually they found me. They were surprised to see me alive, so they took me as a prisoner on their ship and immediately sent a messenger hawk to Ozai for further orders. I was taken to the capital of the Fire Nation and left to die in a dark and cold cell in a prison next to the Royal Palace. After some time, Ty Lee was thrown in my cell, and we became close friends. She taught me Chi Blocking, which I mastered quite easily, and told me about what you guys were doing. I always knew you would find your way to good, Zuko. Always..." And for the first time during her speech, a tear dropped from Ursa's eye, rolled down her cheek, and landed on the soil beneath her feet. Zuko watched the tear's route and felt like crying as well, but he didn't. "After Ozai was defeated, Azula took me out of the prison before you could realize I was the prisoner in the High Security Cell. I was moved to the Dai Li's headquarters in Ba Sing Se, where I remained till this morning. Unluckily, I know nothing about their plans, since I was never let out of the cell, but I never gave up hope that you would find me, my son..." Ursa's story was followed by a long, half-hour long pause, while Zuko and Mai thought of what they had just heard. Ursa's eyes mirrored the fire in front of her, but her son felt that they were mirroring her soul. That spirited, brave woman was a fire. Her hope and care just kept on burning,. But the difference was that a fire is put off when the wood is all burned or when the wind is too strong or if someone covers it with soil, but Ursa's fire would keep going under the toughest conditions. The only word you could describe her with, even if it was not enough, was that she was a mother.
Ursa, Zuko, and Mai decided to search for Team Avatar, as Zuko wanted to talk to Aang, and everyone wanted to make sure they were okay.
Six months later, The Feeler's Cave
Six months had gone by, and the Team had passed all its time at the cave under the Feelers' Cave.
Sokka waited patiently near Suki twenty-four hours every day, growling to everyone who attempted to come near her. He refused to eat, drink or sleep; it was obvious he would die, so Aang secretly asked Hama to Bloodbend him in order to fulfill his basic needs. When Suki was finally a C-Feeler, Sokka tried to react normally to her glowing palms and would spend every minute with her during her training, giving her hints about what kind of bending was used every time. Once, Hama told him to go away because he was ruining the training, and Sokka responded by throwing his club at her.
By Bloodbending the volunteers, Katara helped Hama train the C-Feelers. Because the elderly Hama's bending was weak, Katara took over the Bloodbending so that Hama needed only to Willbend, and though the young Waterbender was skeptical at first, she realized she would help the world if she did. Every nine hours, she had to take the potion the 'scientists' prepared for her. It wasn't good for her health, and she had to rest for at least two days after one week of taking it. Anxious about her health, Aang demanded she stop, and they had a terrible row; afterwards, the Avatar apologized, and Katara resolved to take fewer potions.
Aang was helping with the A-Feelers, telling them stories and funny things from his experiences while being the Avatar to make them less scared about what was going to happen next. Neither Aang nor Katara felt that what they were doing was good, but both accepted it as necessary.
Toph was the leader of the Earthbenders, and, with her developed seismic sense, had saved many lives, so she was satisfied with what she was doing. Katara asked if she could be the leader of the Waterbenders, but Hama replied that the younger Waterbender was much more useful helping her.
It was the beginning of the final training week for the last group of C-Feelers, and everyone agreed to take a short vacation. While the C-Feelers were at the Undercave, Pathik and Iroh were at the forest looking for something, and everyone else was relaxing.
"Good job, people! The C-Feelers are amazing! The Dai Li are so going to lose!" Sokka announced, very optimistic now that he knew Suki was totally fine. He had got used to her glowing palms, but when she was at the main cave all the D-Feelers—the ones who had failed to become C-Feelers—stared at her awkwardly. As soon as he finished his phrase, it started to rain very heavily.
"Oh, look, it's raining. Weird thing. The sky was bright and cloudless all day!" Katara remarked.
Toph snickered. "Yeah, but the rain looks beautiful."
"Toph, we're not falling for that anymore," Sokka answered, exasperated
"I think", Hama said slowly, "that Pathik and Iroh will be here any moment now." Indeed Pathik and Iroh rushed in the cave two minutes later.
"We have some unbelievably bad news!" Pathik exclaimed as he helped Iroh sit down. "The mysterious deaths of young benders are worse than ever! Hundreds of Firebenders, Waterbenders and Earthebenders between the ages of ten and eighteen years old are dying suddenly and without some specific reason. We don't know why, but we have some information that could be right."
Staring at Iroh, Hama inquired of the Guru, "Pathik, did you find the thing?"
"As you can see, my dear, it started raining, so..."
Toph interjected, "Just tell us. What's this news?"
"Well, it might seem impossible but—" Pathik started, but Aang suddenly entered the Avatar State.
"I'm sorry—Roku wants to have a talk with me," Aang stated as he walked to the back of the cave, his arrows still glowing, heads turning as he passed.
Her gaze following Aang, Katara muttered, "I wonder what Roku might want..."
"Whatever it is, it can't be good. That old man's calling whenever he needs Aang to do him a favor or put himself in mortal danger!" Toph said and Earthbended some pebbles from under her nails, making them fly all over the room.
Sokka nodded. "So true, Toph."
"Yeah, I know," Toph said, and she started Earthbending the dirt from her feet; Katara looked on disapprovingly.
Aang sat down at the back of the cave and closed his eyes. Roku appeared to him and he looked displeased. Pf, what a surprise. He is never pleased lately! Like it's my fault the Dai Li's doing what they're doing.
"Hello, Aang," Roku said coldly.
His voice equally cold, Aang responded, "Hello, Roku."
"Avatar Aang... I do not know why you are angry, but I request for you not to put your plan into work.." Aang froze at the spot. How did Roku know his plan?
"I am angry with you because you only bring bad news! And I don't have any plans."
Roku shook his head. "Come on, Aang. I am your past life. If anyone was to know your plan, that would be me—and I order you to never put it to work. It will only bring death and disaster, because of a simple 'rule' you don't know about."
"You don't understand, okay? I have the power. I have the knowledge. It is about time I did it," the Airbender snapped.
"Aang, with great power..."
He sighed. "...comes great responsibility, I know. The monks told me about a million times, but this 'snot the same! I'm saving the world! The balance will be restored!"
"No, Aang. This thought has been in your mind from the time you defeated Ozai. I thought I convinced you not to do it, but the last six months, this idea has grown into you, and it has now become an obsession. But believe me, Avatar Aang, by the time we finish this conversation, you will not wish to do so."
"Why? The world can't keep going like that! The Airbenders are needed! I can't pretend I'm not the Avatar, and let this go on!" His eyes narrowed in anger. "But like you would understand. You're from the Fire Nation."
"Aang, my nationality has nothing to do with this. The fact is... If you created the Airbenders, the whole bending world would be destroyed!"
Aang scoffed, his voice rising with his fury. "You think so? Admit it, Roku, you believe the world is better off without my culture!"
"Aang, have you noticed the sudden deaths of young benders lately? Why do you think it is happening?"
"I don't know. Some disease, probably."
"No. It is because the world is destined to have a certain number of benders."
He was taken aback. "What? That sounds stupid!"
"But it is true," Roku replied gravely." That's how the Spirits arranged it, so that the people wouldn't be too powerful and turn against them. Because the Airbenders went extinct, the Spirits allowed the other Nations to have more benders, but now there is a problem. Someone is creating Airbenders. I and some of your other past lives looked into the matter, and we think we know who it is—the Master Willbender about whom Pathik and Iroh don't know much. He is creating Airbenders, and, because of this, the equal number of benders in each nation dies. We believe he has made about seventy."
Aang couldn't believe this explanation, but it seemed to match with what had been happening. He searched for something that didn't quite fit, and he found it. "But... but there have died at least five hundred people! How can this be possible?
"The Spirits arranged that there would be less Airbenders, because they fear them more than any other kind of bender."
"I... I don't think so..." Aang's voice trembled. "I mean there are Waterbenders with Bloodbending ,and Earthbenders with the Metalbending, and Firebenders with lightning..."
Roku dipped his head sadly. "But think about it, Aang. The air you Airbenders bend contains oxygen and nitrogen'. That means you can bend both of those. There is plenty of oxygen in the water, and you can bend it. That means you can actually move the water. And there is also oxygen in the human's blood, which means you can bend that too. There you are. You have more powers than a Waterbender, and you can Bloodbend without the need of a full moon! And the Earthbenders... Well, I can't say the rocks have air trapped in them, but you can move them around using powerful air blasts if you are skilled enough. As for the metal... If you bend enough hot air on it, you might be able to make it into a liquid form and it wouldn't hurt you. As you can see, you can easily defeat an Earthbender. And there is the fire as well. You can't bend it, but it needs oxygen to keep burning. If there is no oxygen around it, then it stops and it can't hurt you anymore. And... true, there is almost nothing you can do to bend or defeat the lightning, but you can protect yourself using your other powers. See, Aang? There are few things an Airbender can't do. That's why the Spirits are more afraid of you than of all the other benders. Because you are more powerful than they planned to make you." Aang was fascinated by all this. He was the Avatar, of course, so he didn't need those abilities the Airbenders turned out to have, but he couldn't believe he had never thought of it. He, of all people, the discoverer of the Air Scooter! He felt the need to hit his forehead with his palm, and he finally understood why Sokka did it often.
"And anyway," Aang continued like he already knew what Roku had said, "why would that man create Airbenders?"
"After some research, Aang, I can tell you that you can be sure that you are not the last Airbender. Because that man is an Airbender, Aang. An Air Nomad you used to be very familiar with..."
- This is a double chapter, containing chapter fourteen and fifteen in one.
- This chapter is the first one in this series to be edited by 's editing services called Grammar Ozai Editing Services Inc. The author is sure that the readers can see the higher writing quality.
For the collective works of the author, go here.