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Previously on Energy Saga
Over the years, Aang uses energybending to grant airbending abilities to many non-benders and brings them to the Southern Air Temple to train, creating the New Air Nomad civilization. Meanwhile, Katara and Aang have three children, with Zuko and Mai and Sokka and Suki having kids as well. Sokka becomes Chief of the Southern Water Tribe and Toph becomes Queen of Omashu.
Chapter Eleven: Changing Winds
Fire Nation Royal Palace, 120 AG
Zuko sat alone, upon his throne in the great chamber by himself, pondering. Ordinarily the flames which surrounded him in such a setting were formidable and towering, as was appropriate given the regal nature of his position. He kept his flames low and on the small side, today. Recent events had stressed him out. And there was no one else in the room for the flames to be on display for. No need to show dominance.
After Zuko's coronation things were just perfect for a fair amount of time. For the past two years, however, his subjects had poor harvests and were forced to endure through terrible famines. Such a period of mediocrity has ways of making people desperate. Loans and charity were of course solicited for in these hard times, but there was not nearly enough to go round. The Fire Lord, his family and various nobility were getting by fine, of course. But elsewhere the goods did not always meet their desired destination. In such times of desperation, corruption was rampant. Fair distribution was mandatory, of course. But no one could watch every noble and local official at once – not even the Fire Lord. At this time, Zuko muttered an unreasonable wish that he could be omnipotent for once.
There may have been more loans and charity coming in, but while the passage of time had changed some things, the process had not done enough even in two decades. The Fire Nation still had a bad overall reputation across the world. People were on the verge of starvation and their Fire Lord was not doing enough to stand up for them. Zuko had ushered in an era of peace and that had obviously meant reconstructing sections of the Earth Kingdom and Water Tribe that had been decimated. In light of recent memory, some cities still banned firebenders from entering their borders. Last month, Zuko had signed new treaties with such cities and that did not look good for him. It was true that the people of the Fire Nation had born the suffering which came with wartime as well, but the relief could only last so long. Now, in the era of Zuko seemed like the grass had been greener on the other side. The era of Azulon and Ozai was now regarded as a golden age to be regarded with nostalgia in these troubled times.
Suddenly, Zuko's thought process was interrupted as the far door opened wide and Princess Neinei marched into the room that lay before him. Zuko rose his flames a little. Not because he was angry with her, by any means, but because he had to seem more like himself now that he had company.
He offered her a simple greeting. "Neinei, what brings you?" Zuko uttered with a nod of his head.
"I just finished my firebending lesson for the day," Neinei told him with a slight smile on her face.
"Ah, yes," Zuko said back to her. "How did that go?"
"Well, I performed my big demonstration today. Used the ancient flamethrower dancing technique which I've been practicing for months and months. Mother was there and she seemed happy with it. I thought I would see you there as well," Neinei reminded him at last.
"Oh, right," Zuko stated with remembrance. "I forgot that was today. I'm sorry about that. I promise to be there next time. I had some...important business to attend to." All these statements were perfectly true, save the last.
Neinei seemed to buy the lie. "It's okay dad. If you like – I can give you a private demonstration later. I understand your not having time, being Fire Lord and all."
Zuko's guilt rose and he allowed his flames to rise a tad more so it would not be noticed. "How was the rest of firebending training?" he asked, trying to steer away from the subject.
"It went well," Neinei said with a nod. "Until the end. My instructor said that I was doing well and insisted on teaching me a more advanced move. I found it very difficult and tiresome."
Zuko's flames climbed about an inch. "It is only understandable for you to have struggles with such things when you first try them out. You mustn't let these struggles discourage you," he advised her. "A true firebending Master must embrace them. Struggles are what defines your strength. It is an opportunity to define yourself. It would have taken a lot of luck for you to get that new move right away. Not everyone can count on being born lucky. I was not born lucky. I had to rely on my struggles to find my strength. I believe I have told you this before, yes?"
"About a million times," Neinei said to him with a roll of her eyes.
Zuko kept his flames leveled and stared straight ahead, breaking eye contact with his daughter. "Go to the courtyard and play with your younger sisters," Zuko commanded her calmly. "A servant will be by to summon you for supper."
"Okay, daddy." After kissing her father on the cheek, she departed the room as he had directed. At this point, Zuko allowed his flames to fall once again.
The Fire Lord loved his new family very much. It was different as could be from the one he had grown up with. His relationship with Mai and their daughters was as close as ever. Others did not view them so kindly. His subjects respected their Fire Lord. But too many wanted him to have a son – a male heir. Some who even viewed his inability to do so as a sign of weakness. His advisers always told him to keep trying. By contrast, the court physicians advised against any further attempts. As strong and healthy as Mai was, pregnancy was not her thing. This did not help to relieve him in troubled times.
At least he had a visit from the Avatar to look forward to. Of course, he would also soon be having a private meeting with Chan, which he did not look forward to. He could not imagine him having anything to say to better the situation. Some days Zuko felt like he should fire Chan and replace him with someone more able. He had no reason to do so at the moment, though. And he had to keep the higher-ups on his side. There was an ever-present risk that there would be further uprisings. And he did not want to go down that road. It would be a shame for the world to lose the peace it had yearned for generations.
Southern Water Tribe
The sky that hung above the South Pole today was tranquil and at ease. What lay below it, though, was entirely different. Out of a tiny hut constructed from blocks of ice, all that was emerging was a gentle column of steam through a hole in the top. After some shouting was heard from within, this did not last long. A young boy of about thirteen dashed out the opening in the front carrying a long stick. Moments later, a girl about two years younger with light brown hair followed shortly behind him. These two children stood out in particular because they were wearing yellow. In this village, almost everyone wore blue. These children were different because they were airbenders. It was an unusual circumstance for the Water Tribes.
The boy jerked the stick he carried with him and winged edges came out of the sides, revealing a glider.
The girl caught up to him and seized the other end of the stick, panting. "Tenzin!" she yelled at the boy. "Don't fly my glider – you're stealing it!"
Tenzin, who had been about to fly away, turned abruptly to face her. "Vameira, I'm not stealing your glider. I'm borrowing it. How many times do I need to tell you that?"
"Liar!" Vameira shouted back at him. "It's not borrowing if you don't have the other person's permission."
"Well, I lost my glider," Tenzin reminded her. "Until I find it I'm just going to have to use yours. Sorry. If you want your glider back, why don't you go find mine, then. Then I'll give you yours."
"Because that is your glider just like this is my glider," Vameira bellowed.
The tall, long-haired figure of their mother Katara came into the scene. She was followed closely by a boy around their age in blue. "Why don't you two take turns?" she suggested to them, attempting to diffuse the event.
"No way," Tenzin scoffed at both of them. And with that, he kicked his sisters leg and she fell back. He seized the opportunity to take off and fly away on her glider while she sprinted after him.
Their brother Kaddo stared after them and rolled his eyes. "Airbenders – no wonder they went extinct."
Katara, who had her focus directed at the current tension, now turned and looked at her other son. "Kaddo, that's not a nice thing to say."
"Whatever," Kaddo answered her with a shrug.
Katara frowned. She could not help but envy her children. They had the privilege of growing up in a time of peace – something no one else she had ever known had. Well, that was not entirely true. Her husband, the Avatar Aang, had been raised by Air Nomad monks before the war had began before he was frozen for a hundred years. It was then that he answered his call of duty and brought balance back. Still, she prayed every night to the Spirits that this state of affairs would last for her children. They exhibited the same kind of innocence that their father had when she first met him not too far from here.
Almost in answer to her thoughts, Kaddo asked, "so when does Dad get back?"
"Either tonight or tomorrow," she answered him. "He has some business to attend to at the Air Temple. He should be back just in time for us all to set out for the Fire Nation together."
"Okay," Kaddo commented. "So what new move are you going to show me for waterbending today?" he asked with excitement. "A faster Water Whip? The Octopus? Tell me!"
Katara smirked at him. "You'll see," she informed him, pointing forward to one of the smaller huts in their conclave.
Kaddo was now confused. "But that's such a small space. How can I possibly make an Octopus in there? It would tear the place apart!"
Katara said nothing in response. She simply smiled, walked forward and gestured for him to do the same. As they entered, it was revealed that Katara had set up a life-sized dummy with lines all over it in the center of the room.
Kaddo was even more confused then he was before. "Are you giving me a healing lesson?" he questioned her irritably. "Tell me this is a joke."
"It is not a joke," his mother told him, calmly.
"But this is women's work," he snapped at her. "My friends up North would make fun of me endlessly if they knew about this."
"It is an important lesson," Katara said to him. "In the Northern Water Tribe, they say you should only learn half the essential skills. If you want to be a real waterbending master you must learn to do everything. This includes both combat techniques and it includes this."
Kaddo scoffed. "Master Pakku never used healing. He was a master."
"He was a master," Katara conceded. "But like I said, he only learned half of what there was to know. He was a victim of his cultural barriers by not learning healing just like the women of his tribe were for not being able to learn what he could."
"Huh! It's called specialization, mom. It's the way gender roles work."
Katara was now visibly annoyed. "Might I remind you that we are in the Southern Tribe. What are you saying about me?" she added while holding her hand out and pulling some of the snow on the ground to form one of the Water Whips Kaddo had desired to practice with that day.
Kaddo could see he had pushed one of his mother's buttons and changed his tone, not wanting to get smacked with that. "Well – um – let's get to, it then." He hung his head and sat down.
Katara smirked, pleased with herself. She let the Water Whip fall and knelt down to join him. "You'll thank me one day," she predicted to him. "The time will come when you need to use this either on yourself or someone you care about."
Southern Air Temple
As his family went about their daily activities many miles from him, Aang marched through the familiar halls and turns of the Southern Air Temple. He was on his way to meet with the Council of Elders and such meetings could go on for hours. The Avatar wanted to keep it short today, though. He had accidentally packed Tenzin's glider along with his own and knew he was probably missing it now.
One of his pupils rushed behind and caught up to him. He caught Aang's attention, but Aang continued going forward. "Not now Icarus," he said. "I'm on my way to meet with the Council. Then after their report I have a planned trip to the Fire Nation."
"I need to show you a new routine I've invented." Icarus added "It will only take a second."
"You can show me later. I should be around again soon," Aang reassured him. Coming up with a new move was one of the final tests to becoming an airbending Master. Ordinarily he would have been more intrigued, but Aang had the feeling whatever move Icarus had come up with would not do much to honor the non-violent tradition of airbending.
Icarus nodded, disappointed but satisfied. Aang found himself at a pristine archway which contained a door which could only be opened via airbending. Aang pushed his arm forward and the giant halves of the structure parted in response. Icarus followed him in. He's not on the Council – apparently he must be playing an observer role today.
A lengthened table stretched out in front of him and the five members of the Council of Elders sat on the other end. On the far left was the aged and dignified Feng Qu, who waved merrily as the Avatar entered before them. Rensa, right by his side, also smiled. Trinley sat in the center and gestured for Aang to take a seat in front of them. Shao was on his opposite side. He remained serious, but still acknowledged the Avatar in a friendly manner. At the far right was Nola, who simply stared ahead blankly.
"Welcome, Aang. We've been expecting you," Trinley remarked to him. "Icarus is joining us today so we might discuss something that we were talking about earlier."
"Okay, I understand," Aang said, facing him. "So, how did Tenzin and Vameira do on their latest tests? Did they master those new moves I taught them okay?"
"Tenzin did phenomenally. He got top marks as usual." Trinley then awkwardly added, "Vameira, on the other hand, barely passed to the next level."
"We think she may be a little behind," Shao stated flatly.
"I think she will get past it, though," Rensa chimed in. "I think she has the potential to be as powerful as any of us, but she seems a little unsure of herself at the present. She doesn't try hard enough."
"Okay," Aang responded, hanging his head. He decided to cut the pleasantries short. "So what's the general report?"
"There was a bountiful harvest at the Southern Air Temple this past year," Nola stated dryly. "There new crop of young Air Nomads seems to be catching on better than they were before. All is well."
"We sent some of the surplus harvest to the Fire Nation," Trinley added in. "They have not been as fortunate as us of late. And we believe there may be trouble looming there." Hearing about trouble from the Fire Nation from the Council of Elders. This seemed eerily familiar for Aang.
"I've also been leading an effort to find more lemurs and bring them to our sanctuary," Feng Qu told him. "Want to protect surviving ones as much as possible, you know?"
"Sure," Aang stated. At this point everyone paused, nothing more to say. "So what else was it that you wanted to talk about?" Aang inquired.
"Well, given that some of us have become higher level airbending Masters now," Shao said to him. "We were wondering when it would be that you would teach us the more advanced moves."
Aang looked quizzical. "I've already shown pretty much everything that I know – which is a lot. I do not understand what moves you speak of."
"I was speaking with Icarus and Nola about this earlier," Shao commented. "It was the moves like the one you used to take away the Fire Lord's bending away. It's the same type of technique you used to allow us all to bend."
"That's energybending, not airbending," Aang told him flatly. "I cannot teach you that. It's a different bending art."
"Shao and I were under the impression that this energybending was a higher level of airbending – like lightning is for fire" Icarus told him. "It's a great story how you used it on the Fire Lord. Although, personally, I don't see why you didn't just kill him. Even Avatar Yangchen said it would have been okay. But anyhow, if we knew how to do this, it would help repopulate the nation faster."
"I said it before and I'll say it again," Aang said, annoyed. "Energybending is not part of airbending. It is not even part of elemental bending. It is what people used to bend in the Era Before the Avatar."
"Okay, well that's cleared that up," Trinley said, relieved. Apparently he had not been a part of this misguided quest for knowledge. Aang was relieved. Trinley has always been his most sensible student.
"Well, I need to be going back to the South Pole now," Aang said cheerfully. "Thanks for your time."
"Unfortunately, Appa is not ready to take back yet," Rensa told him regrettably. "He still needs rest and he'll need to eat something before he flies again."
"No big deal," Aang shrugged. "Now that we've cleared up the matters of the day, how about a nice game of Air Ball, everyone?"
Everyone was looking forward to this now, the stressful parts of their conversation out of their minds for now. Everyone except Nola, that is. "Whatever," Nola added nonchalantly, her head tilted away.
Aang's spirits sunk somewhat. There's Nola being herself again. Would it kill her to enjoy being an Air Nomad a little more?
TO BE CONTINUED...
- This chapter introduces new characters and themes into the story. It foreshadows quite a lot, making an appropriate start for Book Two.
For the collective works of the author, go here.