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Previously on Energy Saga
As Aang and family travel to Omashu to see Toph, other characters in the World of Avatar adapt themselves to the new war going on in the Fire Nation. The elderly and retired General Iroh leaves his shop in Ba Sing Se to serve as a Fire Army officer. Queen Toph receives a message from Avatar Aang that might be crucial to ending the war quickly, but before they can meet face-to-face, Toph is attacked in her dressing room.
Chapter Eighteen: Omashu
Earth King's Palace, 120 AG
A high priority war meeting was about to take place. The Council of Five positioned themselves in their ceremonial positions around their table with an extensive world map before them. The Council met periodically, but not as often in times of peace. Often someone else sat across from them in this chamber – usually the Earth King or some adviser or minister. Today, however, it was only them that were present. Although there was no war for them now, recent events had called them to be cautious. There was trouble in the Fire Nation and given their War with the Fire Nation a generation ago, it was time for them to be in crisis-mode for the sake of their people.
Avatar Aang had begun meeting with the governments of each of the major nations of the world – one at a time. He had already visited the Northern Water Tribe and the Southern Air Temple. Next he would visit Omashu, the second-largest city in the Earth Kingdom. The Council knew that it would soon be their turn. They resolved to hold their own meeting privately before he was scheduled to arrive. That was the reason they had gathered today.
General How, who had been Head of the Council for nearly three decades, rose to his feet as he briefed his contemporaries on the matters of the day. "My fellow subjects of the Earth Kingdom, it is with great diligence that we are congregated here. These past months, there has been growing strife in the Fire Nation. What began with minor riots and uprisings has now evolved into a full-scale war as the country has torn itself in two between those remaining loyal to the current Fire Lord, Zuko, and those opposing him. Although our nation is not directly involved in this conflict at this time, we are in far too delicate a position to ignore it. Our vast land borders the Fire Nation across a short sea on either end and it is dangerous to have this stare of hostility so near, for it could easily sweep over across our border. I speak especially of the territory which was once colonized by the Fire Nation. Although at peace now, the Earth Kingdom and the Fire Nation were at war for one hundred of the last one-hundred-twenty years and depending on the outcome of this internal skirmish, we may find ourselves at war with them once again.
"Soon, Avatar Aang will be calling upon us to help quell this problem. It is predictable what he will say, being the Avatar. He will advocate it in the name of preserving the balance and keeping the peace. We must decide whether we oblige for him and how much we will be ready to commit."
After How had finished his briefing, he sat back down and turned to the other generals. General Tyro caught his eye. Towering and imposing even in his old age, Tyro spoke aloud from his seat. "I have nothing but respect for Avatar Aang. Him and his comrades once helped liberate my people during the Hundred Year War. I served alongside him at the Invasion of the Fire Nation on the Day of Black Sun. He is one of the more honorable fellows I have ever met. And his wife Katara – if it were not for her inspiration even I would not have had the vigor to fight on when the time called for it. But we must consider our own interests in making this decision. Our kingdom has endured war for a century and I cannot in good conscience support taking us out of this new-found peace when it ought to be reconstructing our own country where our resources should be allocated. Aang and his companions are a capable lot – more than competent enough to solve this crisis on their own – and I wish them the best in all their efforts. Our place is here right now."
When General Tyro finished talking, General Fong spoke in rebuttal. "The 'new-found peace' you speak of was delivered to us by Avatar Aang in the first place. The world was deeper entrenched in war then than it is now, but still Aang was there to help us achieve it. Helping him to preserve this peace that he helped give us seems the least we could do. And it is also in our own interests. We cannot forget the threat that the Fire Nation posed to us during the Hundred Year War – even at the best of times. We must be ever-vigilant and cannot let that threat rise again. We may have our territory back now, but we have allowed the Fire Nation to prosper and remain strong under Zuko because he is a peaceful leader who we need not fear. As long as the Fire Nation is as strong and fortified a nation as it is, we must assure that Zuko continues to hold power. If he is overthrown, the Fire Nation of old will return and that cannot be tolerated at any cost."
"Hmmph! I know your history with Avatar Aang. You're no friend of his. And you really believe the fire Nation is a peaceful nation now?" Tyro asked Fong reproachfully. "Everyone's just taken away by Zuko's new talk of love and peace. They so easily forget that these people are the tyrants that we fought against. They imprisoned us, humiliated us, killed us. They're the one's who made us all suffer for so long. If you ask me, they deserve to suffer just as much!"
"I did not say that I believed the Fire Nation were a peaceful people," Fong countered. "I merely said that as long as Zuko is their leader, he keeps them at bay with his rhetoric of peace keeping them on a leash. As long as he's in charge, we needn't worry about them. Either Zuko stays in control of them or we have to incapacitate them utterly – making it impossible for them to wage another war. I would personally be attracted to taking the latter route if it wasn't much more efficient to have Zuko continue tying them down for us. As for Avatar Aang – while I did have an incident with him back in the day, I take every action I take for the right reasons and I think he can recognize that and move on."
Tyro scowled at Fong. "You say you treasure the peace we have been blessed with. But you talk as though you would restart Hundred Year War yourself on a whim."
"I would take the battle to the rebellious factions for now," Fong responded, "and not the people of the Fire Nation as a whole because I accept that such a war would be too costly for us. Like you said, we should use resources to rebuild ourselves. But we do not have that luxury if anyone but Zuko rules the Fire Nation. I see what Zuko gave us as more of an armistice while he's in charge than a real peace. If Zuko is overthrown, the Fire Nation would revert right back to how it was. I would not hesitate to subdue their whole people then. As long as we keep the right goals in mind, we can justify any number of harsh actions in the name of the greater good."
Tyro's wrinkled eyes narrowed. "It sounds like if it were up to you the Hundred Year War never would have ended."
"For a man with your service record, you're acting like a coward!" Fong snapped. "You describe what you remember the Fire Nation being like yet you will not back whatever action is necessary for neutralizing them! There is only one option available to us – a full-scale offensive. Now that they are divided it is the perfect time to take them out. How can you not realize that? I'm ashamed to be sitting next to you!"
"Stop it – both of you!" How interjected. "With your rowdy bantering I wonder if the Fire Nation are the only ones having a civil war. Fong – you say out of one end of your mouth that you want to preserve the peace and out of the other end that you still want war. Tyro – winning the peace to begin with is only half the battle. You must preserve and protect it over time. Sometimes that means you must break it mildly in the short-term to keep it greater in the long-term.
"And you're both wrong about the Fire Nation. Their people are like us in a lot of ways. Before the Hundred Year War the Fire Nation was not any more warmongering than the other nations. It was Fire Lord Sozin's deeds and the wartime propaganda that made them act the way you remember them."
"Well, we don't know for sure that the insurgents would restart the Hundred Year War if they take control," Tyro pointed out. "Right now they are exclusively focused on Zuko."
"They are also divided," Fong added. "Even if the movement as a whole does not declare war on us, some rogue general might take matters into their own hands. And there seems to be a clear sentiment among most of them that they would want their most prominent colonies returned, which would involve attacking us."
"Right now I believe the best course of action is to send a small task force," How responded. "A single battalion at most, all volunteers – and take position in the former colonial regions in the West. There they will be able to move to whatever key territory the insurgents are occupying and oppose them.. Fong, you may take command of this operation personally – but be sure you do not overstep your mandate. Tyro, Fong did raise a legitimate point about rogue generals invading our lands. You should devote your efforts to strengthening national security along our eastern shores with closest proximity to the Fire Nation. Are we in agreement, men?"
No one was very satisfied with the arrangement, but neither did anyone voice objection after this. Therefore, How assumed consensus by silence.
Migo, Katara, Aang and the rest of family had arrived in Omashu with high hopes. They had expected to be given a dose of Toph's rough-around-the-edges humor upon arrival. But then they heard the news. Initially they were told that Queen Toph was dead, but they were relieved to find that she was merely in a coma. She had been discovered lying flat and motionless in her dressing room beside her servant Nala and one of the palace guards, who were in a similar state. Upon examination by the court physician, it was found that Toph had some infectious poison in her body. It might kill her if left alone for too long. Luckily was an exceptionally enduring woman and would live, but she would not be conscious again for some time. Nala and the guard had received smaller doses and were not in quite as bad a condition. It was clear that they had been ambushed – and that the assailant had Toph – the Queen – in mind as his prime target. Toph now lay in a recovery bed while Aang and company stood by her.
"Momo was with her," Aang said aloud, still looking down at his former earthbending teacher. "If only he could talk."
"How come no one went after whoever did this to her?" Migo asked, annoyed.
"They tried, but my understanding is that whomever is responsible has already disappeared from the area," Aang answered. "At first they did not know that it was a violent incident that caused them all to pass out at once. It took a while to find out the truth and by then the intruder was likely long gone. They're perplexed as to how they got inside in the first place."
"What if someone inside the palace was involved?" Katara asked. "The same thing happened to in the Fire Nation with Zuko a few years after the last war ended."
"Maybe," Aang conceded. "But the people who work in the palace of Omashu have nothing but the utmost devotion for their monarch. When the court physician was answering our questions, he said they were beyond suspicion. Let's go and let her get some rest now."
"She is getting rest," Tenzin pointed out. "She's in a coma."
"Well, she needs some quiet rest then."
Not wanting to linger any longer, the Avatar, his family and Migo left Toph behind and walked into the hallway. Even though their host was in a coma, they were still given the accommodations they had been promised and would be permitted to stay in the palace's decorative guest rooms for a few days.
"I don't think we should stay here long," Aang stated matter-of-factly. "Now that our reason for coming here isn't present, we're really just catching our breath."
"Yes, I think you're right," Katara agreed. "I still can't believe this..."
"What would've been strong enough to take her down?" Kaddo asked his parents.
"Yeah, isn't she pretty tough?" Vameira chimed in.
"I have no idea," Aang declared. "But in addition to nearly losing a good friend, this is also a pretty big setback for the war. I was counting on Omashu's support for implementing my secret plan. Without Toph's backing, that will be impossible."
"I don't understand why you felt the need to keep the plan secret from me," Katara said resentfully. "You told Toph and Nola about it."
"It was on a need-to-know basis," Aang reassured her. "I had to make sure Omashu and the airbenders were prepared. I already knew I could count on you to be ready for anything. Don't take it personally. It's wartime."
"Well, why only Nola? Why didn't you tell Trinley? He's the only one among the Council of Elders that stands above the rest in talent."
"I didn't see the need to tell Trinley. Shao is loyal and dependable, but he isn't the best to trust in this urgent kind of task. And Icarus is also a dedicated one. But he's far too aggressive and removed from the Air Nomad norm. Plus his new move he demonstrated troubled me. While Nola may be mysterious sometimes, she's exceptionally dutiful."
"What's the plan now, then?" Katara qestioned him.
"Well, I already have a scheduled mission to the Fire Nation. I was going to wait, but I might as well do it right away now that we aren't taking our 'vacation' with Toph. I'll lead a group of top-level airbenders to the Fire Nation to help fend off a troupe of pirates who have been taking advantage of the chaos and terrorizing coastal towns and villages."
"Why is fighting pirates a priority right now?" Tenzin inquired sarcastically. "Aren't the people trying to overthrow Zuko more important?"
"By protecting the people from those who threaten them, I can eliminate their desperation, which is part of what drives them to join the insurgents in the first place. Without that cause, there will be no more war. Of course, that's just one step. Now that we know the Northern Water Tribe won't help out and Omashu is unable to at the moment, we'll have to find support elsewhere."
"Ba Sing Se – the Earth Kingdom capital – is a possibility," Katara noted. "Even though they might not agree to a full-scale invasion, I'm sure they'll aid in some way. Besides, Kuei is an old friend of ours."
"Kuei is an old friend," stated Aang. "Though I reckon he'll go along with whatever the Council of Five suggests he do. Nevertheless, I think we can expect them to send at least one battalion or two to help fight for Zuko. And they have some of the best earthbenders and strongest warriors in the world at their disposal."
It was now that Migo spoke up. He had been noticeably quiet since being at Toph's bedside. "In that case friends, I think I will leave here and go to Ba Sing Se. I don't see any point in my hanging around here and if they are sending earthbender volunteers, I think I should join them. I'd like to do my part."
Katara and Aang seemed surprised at Migo's sudden decision. But they smiled and nodded in agreement. "Well, good luck then," Aang said in encouragement. "Your mother would be proud. I'm sure we'll see you again before too long."
"Take care Migo," Katara reciprocated. "Are you sure that you don't want to wait and catch a ride on Appa with us?"
"No, that's fine. I'll just go downtown and buy a ticket on the next airship ride. Thanks though."
As he turned to leave, Vameira threw her arms around his waist and locked him in a tight embrace. "Awww...we'll miss you Uncle Migo!"
Migo was quite taken aback by this gesture. He ineptly put his arms around her shoulders and patted the young airbender on the back before she released him.
"Okay, well dinner will be served in a little over an hour," Aang announced as Migo left the scene. "Everyone go wash up now."
Aang decided to take some time to meditate on his own. He came across a quiet chamber at the bottom level, close to where King Bumi had made him catch a key out of a waterfall long ago when Katara and Sokka were trapped in jennomite. The room itself was quiet, though there was now rain outside, which could serve as a distraction. Nevertheless, Aang was quite used to meditating and was not put off by this.
However, he was put off when Tenzin entered the room. "Alright dad, I'm all packed and ready. By the way, mom said to tell you that its time for dinner."
"Tell her I'll be up soon." Aang looked at his son quizzically. "Packed? For what?"
"For going to fight the pirates tomorrow. I can't wait to show them what my airbending can do." Tenzin proceeded to smirk and flex his muscles.
Aang stared blankly. "You're not coming."
"What do you mean? I thought you said all your top airbenders were going to fight the pirates. And like you always say I'm the top prodigy for my age group."
"I meant the older airbenders – the Council, Icarus and a handful of others. But certainly no one as young as you who hasn't finished their training yet, however fast they may have advanced."
Tenzin was not pleased. "This isn't fair. You and mom and your friends were no older or more experienced than me when you saved the world. It's my turn now! It's just like Migo said before he left – I want to do my part."
"Well, wait a little longer to do your part. Why don't you 'do your part' by looking after your mother and your brother and sister while I'm away?"
"Dad! I'm not young or stupid enough to fall for that."
"If you were a little smarter you would understand why I'm saying what I am." Aang's voice had risen and he had become quite frustrated.
"Just accept that I'm ready, Dad. I'm thirteen! I'm ready to fight!"
"The answer is no, Tenzin," Aang stated firmly. "Get over it. Now, go tell your mother I'm on my way."
"No!" Tenzin shouted. "I'm not hungry. I think I'll go to bed early." And with that he stormed off.
Aang sighed as his son left the room and sat back down to continue meditating. But he found it harder to concentrate now.
Unable to go back to meditating, Aang decided to pay a visit to the guest bedroom Tenzin was occupying before joining the rest of the family at dinner. He knocked once and the door slid open.
"Tenzin, I'm sorry I yelled at you. Tenzin?"
Although it was dark, Aang saw that Tenzin was not in his room. A small scroll was resting on the pillow. He took it and rolled it down so that he could read it. Upon finishing, Aang let out a gasp and turned to stare out the window. At that moment – almost in response – thunder struck and the rain began to pour down harder.
"Where's Dad?" Kaddo uttered in boredom. "I'm starving." The table was elaborately decorated and topped with gourmet cuisine fit for a King or Queen of Omashu, who normally ate here. As honored guests, the Avatar's family was likewise treated royally.
"I think Tenzin went to see him while he was meditating," Katara thought out loud. "I'm sure they'll both be here soon."
Aang's footsteps were audible several seconds before he rushed into the room frantically. "Tenzin's run away. He's going to enlist in the Fire Nation Army!"
"What?!" Katara replied in disbelief. "Are you sure?"
"Yes. He left a note. He says that he's doing it to protect the rest of the world from the war...and he added that its also to protect Princess Neinei, who's still by her father's side."
"Awww...how sweet of him," Vameira remarked mockingly.
Katara could barely speak from the shock. "Did he just leave? Maybe we can catch up to him."
"With the storm I doubt we'd find him if he doesn't want to be found. I sort of had a fight with him earlier. He took his glider with him – and he can fly pretty fast – so he's probably made it pretty far already. And we don't know what direction he went in."
"But – how is he going to enter the Fire Army if he's an airbender?" Katara was still partially in denial.
"My guess is he'll try posing as a non-bender..."
"Dad? If Tenzin's joining the Fire Army to fight in the war, can I join the Fire Army too?" Kaddo asked stupidly. "It sounds like fun!"
"No! Shut up, Kaddo. This is serious!" Aang realized this must have been how Gyatso felt when he ran away before the start of the last major war. And Tenzin must be feeling just how he felt. But he had left for different reasons. While Aang had run away from responsibilities thrust upon him, Tenzin ran towards responsibility away from shelterment. Aang could not help but believe Tenzin was a stronger young boy than he had been. But he could not think of much now aside from being worried.
TO BE CONTINUED...
- What General How meant when he said that the Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom border each other on "on either end" was referring to the rounded shape of the Avatar WorldThe Fire Nation borders the Western Earth Kingdom and the Eastern Earth Kingdom at the edges of the world map.
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