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"Are you ready, agents?" a tall woman barked, a victorious tone in her voice.
"Yes, Co-leader Azula!" the voices of the well-trained Dai Li agents yelled in reply.
"Do you know the plan?" she shouted, her dark bangs swinging.
"Yes, Co-leader Azula!" the agents said in reply.
"This is it, my friends. This year of preparation has come to its end. And now, the moment of victory is this close," she said, her hand grabbing the air in her fist with a fast move. "Can you feel the victory? Can you feel it?" she yelled fiercely. Her speeches always made her angry. Angry and blood-thirsty... just what she needed before such a release, especially when they were expecting guests... According to her calculations, they were already inside Ba Sing Se.
Hama tilted her head out of the rotten wooden door and looked around a couple of times.
"I think we are okay now." She, Pathik and Iroh slowly stepped out of the old grocery store they had hid in.
"So remember, the plan is: We get to the palace and signal the C-Feelers. Then, the battle begins," she said in a low voice. She, Pathik, Iroh and the C-Feelers had arrived in Ba Sing Se some hours ago. The C-Feelers had camped in the woods and she and her two trustful friends had gone in Ba Sing Se, after some difficult Willbending to help them get past the Dai Li agents guarding the wall. Once they were in the Palace, Pathik would teleport to the C-Feelers' camp and signal them.
They all started walking down a road that once was one of Ba Sing Se's most fancy streets. Now it seemed destroyed. All the shops had been either burnt or destroyed to such an extent that they were unrecognizable. If Iroh had the time, he would stay there, in front of his old tea shop, investigate the damage, try to imagine how many benders had been assassinated by their friends and family in the place he used to serve the best tea in town... But Iroh didn't have time, so he just took a quick glance towards the destroyed place. Just enough to see that someone had drawn a cross and a crown on the sign. The Anti-benders had been there. Trying to get his mind off the tea shop and all the old memories, he started wondering about what Aang had been doing. They probably hadn't found Shuo... were they close, though?
"Come on, Suki. You can do this!" Sokka said while Suki was concentrating on her palm, her hand on the ground. This looked like Toph hearing the Earth, but what Suki was doing was concentrate on the energy. She was able to feel some bended energy towards the left... was it Energybending? Yes, yes it was. Suki got up and looked to the mountain on the left.
"That way" she exclaimed.
"Okay then! Come on, people, on Appa!" Katara said and jumped on the gigantic flying bison's back.
"Up there? But that mountain... No way..." Aang mumbled under his breath, while looking at the mountain, terrified.
"Aang? Coming?" Katara asked him.
"Look, if Shuo is up there then I can't face him... I'm sorry Katara."
"Why, Aang?" Katara jumped off the bison and walked to Aang. She put her arm around him and whispered: "You know you can tell me..."
"It's a painful memory... I don't want to go up there..."
It was the first time Aang flied with his glider. He had never felt so free in his life. It was easy, grabbing the sides of the glider and jumping in the gap, knowing that by swinging to the side you are going to fly... It came so naturally to the little bald boy that was to become the Avatar... Shuo, always some years ahead, had learned how to fly with his glider three years ago. He noticed how happy Aang seemed on his glider, that he decided he couldn't not give it a try... He walked up to him and said:
"You are very good at this little one. Want to have a friendly race?" Aang giggled, flattered by Shuo's comment. It was really weird that a grown boy would ask one of the little ones to race him by glider. The next day at noon, they met at the same place with their gliders. Shuo gave the start signal and they took off. The finishing point was at the top of a mountain. Too bad Aang didn't know it was called the Bad Spirit mountain back then. They were close, and Shuo was letting Aang win. Aang flew past him and landed on the mountain.
"First!" he yelled once his feet touched the ground. But Shuo was nowhere to be seen. Aang took the time to look around him. The forest seemed scary, with its tall dark grey trees. The only sign of light there was coming from between some trees. He walked towards it, and after some walking through the woods he found himself in an opening between the trees, with a circular pool in the middle. The pool was sending out an out-of-this-world light, which made Aang run away terrified. It already was too much for a six year old boy. Aang soon realized Shuo wasn't coming to his aid, so started running down the mountain. Being in a hurry, he tripped a few times. When he finally got to the bottom of the mountain, he was wet, cold and his whole body was aching. He couldn't take off with his glider because it was raining very heavily and it was dangerous, so he slept right there at the bottom of the mountain and it wasn't until the next afternoon that he was able to leave and go back to the temple. He was sick for weeks afterwards and kept having nightmares with the pool and the forest to the day he learned he was the Avatar. When he learned, the nightmares stopped because there were new, more horrifying ones to replace them.
Aang told the story to Katara.
"So this is the mountain of the Bad Spirit?... It can't be!" Katara whispered. "Even in the South Pole, there are legends about the evil spirit that lives in the caves of the mountain... I don't think it's safe to go there!"
"It's the only way, Katara. The energy tells me there is a lot of Energybending at the top of the mountain."
"Let's go." Aang said and climbed on Appa. Once everyone was on the bison, he whispered "yip yip" and the bison flew. After less than twenty minutes, they were almost at the top. "Here, buddy. Let's land." Aang said and the bison lowered his body and gently landed on the cold ground. They jumped off the bison and sat on a circle.
"So what do we do?" Sokka asked. He tried not to show it, but the place was already freaking him out.
"I guess we climb to the top." Toph said.
"We need a plan first." Katara replied.
"Okay, so, if Shuo is up there, and I bet he is, Aang faces him and tries to get him to stop creating Airbenders using logic. If Shuo doesn't listen, I guess we will have to stop him with violence."
"He will listen. He has to." Aang murmured. And with that, the group got up and started climbing to the top of the mountain. After a quite long and tiring journey, they reached the dark top of the mountain. It had started raining now and flashes of lighting flashed all around them. Toph put her hand on the earth and told them that there was a cave at the very top. They followed Toph and after some difficult climbing on the sharp rocks, they got to the cave she had told them about. They looked in and saw at least eighty pale faces staring at them, frightened. Aang was the only one to notice that about five of them had arrows. Suddenly, the cave started shaking like there was an earthquake and a strange gray light started shining in the back of the cave. All the Airbenders turned to look at the back of the cave, and the Team did so too. But the light was so blinding they couldn't see anything. When the shaking finally stopped and the light went out, Katara got in the cave to see what was going on. She came across a scene that would seem familiar to Aang. In front of her, she could see a man on his knees, looking exhausted and defeated. And, with his back to her, was a tall skinny man with white hair and beard wearing an Air Nomad outfit. The man's figure reminded her of Roku.
"Get up, Thong. Or should I say, Shaylon. You are now one of us." Shuo said in an unexpectedly calm and low voice. Katara held her breath and quietly crawled out of the cave.
"He just created an Airbender" Katara whispered to them.
"Then I guess it's about time we go in there to have a little talk with him." Aang announced and started walking in the cave, his head held high, his friends following him.
"Shuo." He exclaimed once he was in the main space of the cave. All the Airbenders turned to stare at Aang, and Shuo turned slowly after them.
"Well, well, well. Look who's here. The mighty Avatar. You look just like I remember you, Aang! Not an inch taller!" The last sentence made Aang a bit angry, but he didn't know why. He wasn't the tallest person in the world, and he had accepted his height. But Shuo just knew how to press his buttons.
"Shuo, do you know the impact of you creating Airbenders? Do you know how many people have already died?"
"Oh, come on, Aang. You really thought I didn't? Me?"
"Then why are you doing this?"
"Aang, I thought that you, of all people, would be able to understand. But you can't and that makes me both disappointed and sad. Don't you know, Aang? Don't you remember them coming to our temples and burning them down? But oh, wait, no you don't! Cause you had ran away from home, leaving behind all the people you loved, not caring for their safety! Aren't I right, Aang?" A dangerous anger mixed with sorrow and embarrassment had started rising in Aang's body. "But still, you do know what they did! And you still don't think my actions are right! Don't you see Aang? Didn't Roku tell you how much more powerful our people are? So powerful even the Spirits where afraid of them? And the Fire Nation, doubting our power, tried to make us go extinct! But we didn't! Two of us survived, Aang, you and me. And while I was going through terrible difficulties to re-create our people, you were trying to stop the Fire Nation, but didn't have the emotional strength to kill their leader! And now, I am continuing my fight to keep the Airbending tradition alive, and you are trying to stop me. Now isn't this ironic, Aang?"
"I... I didn't..." Aang whispered, his cheeks burning.
"But you've got a chance to do right, Aang, and it's tonight! You can stop being my rival, and start being my helper! We can build the Air Empire once again! Together! This is your chance to redeem yourself, Aang." Shuo held out his hand for Aang to take. Aang's brain was thinking so quickly he felt like his head was going to explode. Images and names passed from his mind quickly, one after the other. Katara taking him out of the iceberg, Sokka and Yue at the North Pole, finding Toph, the battle with Ozai, all the happy days at the Southern Air Temple, finding Iroh at the Earth Kingdom hut, Hama's Willbending, reaching the Feelers' Cave, Suki becoming a feeler... But the face that stayed in his head was Katara's. He looked over at her. She was looking at him, tears dropping from her eyes, like she was begging him not to believe Shuo. Aang held out his hand, bent forward to Shuo, and created a powerful air blast that blew him away. Shuo fell on the other side of the cave, and got up quickly, his eyes shining with anger. He Airbended the air in the raindrops, and created a big waterball, whch he threw at Sokka. Aang starred, terrified. Cause what he was looking at was a real Airbending Master. Then he Airbended the air from near the floor, throwing Toph on the floor. He came close to her and, before Katara could Waterbend some raindrops and attack him, he froze some rain and bended it on Toph. It created a large wound on her left foot. Just as he was about to give the final hit, he got hit by Sokka's boomerang.
"NOT SO QUICKLY, YOU JACKASS" Sokka yelled. Shuo turned and started to fight with Sokka and Suki, while Katara bent over Toph and tried to heal her with rainwater.
"It's not going to work, Aang" Katara said. I've got some water from the North Pole that Pakku gave me back at Appa. Can you go get it for me? Quickly?" she asked. Aang didn't answer and started running down the mountain, to get to Appa. After quite some running, his attention was drawn by a mysterious light. He knew what it was immediately. But he couldn't stop himself from following it. He got to the pool. But, instead of feeling an urge to leave running, he had to reach it. He didn't know what he was going to do, but his instinct did. An old magic in the Air Nomad's blood made him put his hand in the water and take out the small stone statue that contained the soul of the Bad Spirit, which's name he didn't know. So that was it. The Bad Spirit. The dead Bad Spirit. Without thinking of taking Katara's water, he ran to the cave at the top of the mountain. But once he got there, he didn't know what to do with the statue. He left it on the floor and ran to Suki's aid, since Sokka was now trying to help Katara.
"Hey Shuo!" Aang yelled. "Remember that game we used to play with the Air Scooters? It's on!" They stood in the two opposite sides of the cave, and each one of them created an Air Scooter. But they didn't do anything else, because just when they created the Air Scooters, the statue Aang had brought started shining. It had sensed Airbending. While shining, it rose from the ground and sent two light balls, one to Aang and one to Shuo. Aang's feet got up from the gound. He was floating in the lighting ball, and so was Shuo in his. Katara, Suki and Sokka looked over at the statue terrified, and turned back to Aang.
"Aang what's happening?" Katara yelled, so she'd be sure that Aang would hear.
"I don't know!" Aang yelled back, but couldn't be heard. His friends, worried, were tying to get him out of the lighting ball. Sokka threw his boomerang. Suki tried to kick the ball, but was thrown away by something surrounding it. Toph, having passed out, couldn't help. Katara did her best to help Aang out. She created an enormous waterball, using all the rain around her, and bended it to Aang, putting him and the lighting ball in the waterball. However, the waterball was destroyed and the water was sent out to every direction. The lighting ball couldn't be destroyed, or even touched. While the Team was trying its best to help Aang, Shuo's Air Nomads just watched, doing nothing. Some of them left the cave, afraid for their own safety. The statue sure was really dangerous. When half of them had left, Aang was freed from the light ball. The statue now threw all of its powers, all the light, to Shuo. Aang fell to the ground and the Team rushed to help him, with Katara doing the best she could with her healing powers to wake him up. Meanwhile, Shuo was suffering in the light ball, which now had doubled in size. The Air Nomads, seeing what was happening to Shuo, left running. And with a screaming noise, the light disappeared and the statue fell on the cave's floor and broke in two parts. Sokka and Suki went to see what had happened to Shuo, who was now lying on the floor. Suki put her hand on his chest and quickly announced:
"He is dead." Everyone froze for a minute and turned to look at Shuo's body. Then, Katara went to investigate the broken statue. It had broken and inside it there was water. Katara knew what to do. She bended the water on her palms and healed Aang and Toph with it. It was sacred water, but it wasn't from the North Pole. It was from the pool in the forest, a place equally sacred.
"What... What happened?" Aang asked as soon as he got up.
"Well... Shuo is kinda... not alive..." Sokka said, afraid of Aang's reaction to someone's death. Aang froze for some seconds, and then looked over to Shuo's dead body. He didn't want things to end up this way, but inside him he knew they would.
"I guess there's nothing I can do about it. Let's go." Aang said and walked out of the cave, with the team following him.
"They're here, Zafir." An old man said and straightened his long white beard with his hand. His terrifying, slow and dangerous-sounding voice echoed all over the dark room with the Earth Kingdom banners on the walls.
"Good, Master. We are close, right?"
"Yes. Now, leave." The man said and Zafir bowed and left the room quietly.
Hama, Pathik and Iroh had finally reached the palace.
"Okay, Pathik, off you go" Hama said and Pathik disappeared in a rain of purple sparkles. Hama and Iroh walked in the courtyard where all the Dai Li agents were, getting ready. Azula was sitting in a throne next to Joo Dee, whose throne was much bigger and brighter. Azula didn't seem to be annoyed by that. The Co-Leader noticed them in a second and whispered something to Joo Dee, who got up and told the agents that they had guests. Just when the Dai Li agents turned towards them and Azula got up from her throne, Pathik and all of the C-Feelers appeared. The shock couldn't be seen in Azula's eyes. She stood in a fight position, ready to throw lighting at the first person she came across. And just then, Zafir appeared in a rain of purple sparkles. That was the sign. The battle was on.
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