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|Return to the Cave of the Ancients: Part Two|
Previously on Energy Saga
When Aang and company finally reach the Cave of the Ancients – after bumping into Icarus, Azula and the Dai Li along the way – they find Nola waiting in the entrance. Having not seen her since the Southern Air Temple, the Avatar and his friends had begun to wonder if she was still alive. Now, she reveals that she has become an energybender, and that she has been a member of the Sages Bane all along. Suddenly, Team Avatar must face the same threat to the balance the First Avatar had – an army of energybenders.
Chapter Forty-Four: Return to the Cave of the Ancients: Part Two
Cave Entrance, 121 AG
"No, you're not unstoppable," Aang said to Nola, pointing his glider staff at both her and Brother Memnon.
"Oh – I suppose you intend to stop us?" Brother Memnon ridiculed him, grinning wickedly.
"You still don't understand, do you?" Nola prompted Aang, her face showing the kind of satisfaction one would get from thinking themselves invincible.
Suki and Ty Lee, who were standing fifteen feet behind Aang, became so fixated with the arrival of the Sages Bane and the revelation that they were now energybenders that the Kyoshi Warrior veterans loosened their grip on Icarus. The Air Lord shook with fury, his face twisted with malice. "You! You tricked me!" Icarus wrenched himself from Suki and Ty Lee's grasp, tore off his hand cuffs, and ran uphill, charging toward Nola in a rage. "I'll end you!"
Icarus pushed both arms forward and yanked them back. Poised in front of his target, he gradually sucked the air away from her. Nola went through a similar motion to the one he used to block Aang's energy shove, though this time she held it in place – arm erect, hand curled into a fist. Thus, Nola remained untouched by Icarus's move, as though protected by an invisible barrier. After several long moments, Icarus was out of breath. He stopped sucking air, and Nola withdrew her stance.
"Asphyxiation, yes," Nola acknowledged, staring down at Icarus in disgust. "We have a move like that in energybending as well," said Nola narrowing her mouth and eyes into a grimace. "Here, let me show you!" In an instant, Nola pounced upon her opponent, leaping up so her entire body was above Icarus's head. She seized the back of his skull and the top of his chest. Then, she pulled down with a hard thrust of both her arms. By the time Nola's feet touched the ground, Icarus's body had fallen lame and collapsed.
"What?" Aang watched Icarus's body hit the ground. The Avatar's former student was not breathing. With his eyes and mouth wide-open, he appeared as a screaming statue.
"He's...dead," Vameira said, trembling. "She killed him."
"Just like that," Trinley affirmed.
Nola simpered nastily at the Avatar. "That was a little something we call the energy squeeze," Nola divulged, proudly smirking. "I take it the Moon Spirit Princess never taught you that one? It's a way of taking all the bodily energies inside someone and making it work against them. The energy inside us all is very strong – as you found out with your wife. Misdirecting the energy paths and forcing them down can easily choke all one's vital organs. Basically, it's a quick and easy way to kill someone."
Aang gazed at Icarus's body. It reminded him of another body he and Trinley had found in the same state. "Is that what you did to Shao?"
"Precisely, Avatar," confirmed Nola.
"You're beginning to catch on," Brother Memnon said from next to her.
"Enough of this!" Toph bellowed. "I'm tired of listening to you people!" She moved her feet forward and erected a diagonal earth column to strike Brother Memnon. Memnon side-stepped out of the way before the column had risen but two inches.
Following suit with Toph, the rest of those present engaged in combat. Migo levitated a rock and threw it toward the entrance to the cave, but Nola swung her arm about and the rock exploded in mid-air well before reaching her. The Avatar charged up the mountain, arms held back and glider staff at his side. He jumped high and swiped a downward air current at the ground below. Landing lightly on his feet, Aang's stomach dropped when he saw one pair of Sages Bane members on his right, and two more of them on his left. In unison, they pulled their elbows back and, within a few seconds, the Avatar had four energy shoves coming his way. Aang reacted just in time by opening his glider and pushing off into the sky.
Three Kyoshi Warriors had managed to surround an energybender. He would not allow himself to be cornered, though, and puhched the solid ground with a tightened fist, releasing an energy tremor. The three Kyoshi Warriors fell to the ground, paralyzed by the shockwave. Another member of the Sages Bane reached for the back of one of their heads and the front of her chest, his energy squeeze expunging the life from her body. He proceeded to do this two more times. Azula kicked an arc of blue flame at the Sages Bane, setting the bandages of one of their outfits on fire. Meanwhile, Sokka warded off a couple with his boomerang, Tenzin whizzed around in an air wheel and Kaddo began streaming about his water whips. As for Vameira, she simply took to punching out as many compressed blasts of air as she could muster.
Trinley fround himself confronting Nola. "I always knew there was something off about you," he said, preparing to defend himself. "I didn't know it was this bad, though." He shook his arm, shielding with an air barrier.
"Shut up, Trinley!" Nola barked back. "You always did talk too much." She prepared to break his barrier with energy.
After evading the other energybenders, Aang found himself facing Brother Memnon. "Today is when it all ends for you, Avatar," Memnon said to Aang, leaning back and extending his arms forward. "I told you that our plan was coming about – one way or another." The chi in Brother Memnon's arm enhanced with pulsing energy – ready to attack.
Migo found himself locked into a duel. Catching his breath, he got a good look at his opponent's face. "War Minister Chan?! What are you doing here?"
"What does it look like I'm doing here?" Chan shot back coolly. He jabbed a burst of energy at Migo.
The Dai Li fired their rock gloves at the Sages Bane, but their stony missiles shattered in mid-air. Having briefly barely managed to grip one of them, the Dai Li were frustrated when his comrade managed to free him. The Kyoshi Warriors were not far off, and seemed to be having a little more luck.
Ty Lee chi-blocked a Sages Bane member with a series of quick punches, leaving his body limp. "I may not be an energybender, but I can still do that to you!" she told him, cocky. But when another Sages Bane Member touched that one on his shoulders from behind, he sprung up and sent forth another energy shove at the experienced acrobat.
Ty Lee hopped back, startled. "What the...?"
Brother Memnon punched forth and sent the Avatar flying backward. Finally on receiving end of an energy shove, Aang felt like he had been hit dead-on by the Ba Sing Se monorail. And he could not counter it as Nola had with him. Losing options, Aang took evasive action by flying to the cave entrance and creating a giant air sphere.
"Evereyone, into the cave!" the Avatar yelled. Having seen the consequences of his energybending in the Sages Bane, he resolved to bring about their downfall, whatever the cost.
At Aang's words, Migo, Toph, Brawki, Trinley, Tenzin, Kaddo, Vameira, Sokka, Suki, Ty lee and the Kyoshi Warriors ran in his direction, dodging energy shoves and entering the Cave of the Ancients. The Avatar let everyone who fled come through – even Azula, Gitsu and the Dai Li. Finally, Aang extinguished his spiraling sphere by redirecting the air currents into an almighty air blast and made a run for it.
The Sages Bane watched as Aang retreated. "So, the Avatar chooses to run and hide once again," said Brother Memnon. "We'll just have to pursue."
"Yes," agreed Chan, looking into the Cave of the Ancients. "And once we finish the job here, we can give energybending to everyone!"
"No, you numbskull!" Nola snapped, curling her fingers into a fist as though preparing to strike Chan. "Our power is meaningless if everyone else has it. We must keep the gift for ourselves, and give it to no one."
Chao Feng interjected from behind. "Perhaps we could only share it with a trusted few."
"Stop!" Brotheer Memnon ordered loudly. "We can decide on this later on, after we finish purging the world of elemental bending. Right now, we have more pressing matters to attend to."
"Brother Memnon's right," Nola stated, settling herself down. "Now that he has served his purpose, we have to kill the Avatar. He is our sworn enemy."
"It looks like he's gone into the cave, Sister Joo Dee," Chan noted.
"No matter," said Nola. "We'll follow him in. We have him right where we want him. He's trapped!"
"Careful, Sister Joo Dee," Brother Memnon cautioned. "He's more of a threat in the cave."
"Bah!" Nola scoffed. "As strong as the Avatar may be with all his elements, he can't stand up to a room full of energybenders."
"Eliminating the Avatar must be our top priority," declared Brother Memnon. "Only then can we beat the world he looks after into submission. The time is ripe now that the elemental bending world has been plunged into chaos by the Fire Nation Civil War."
Chan was more hesitant. "I'm not sure we should be so aggressive. I would advocate a more cautious approach."
"And why is that?" asked Nola, narrowing her eyes loathsomely.
"Well, we finally have the power we've sought to regain since time immemorial," said Chan. "After countless generations, I hadn't dared to dream that my own generation would be the one to get the gift back until we heard the Avatar was they key. Now that we have it, we should be careful not to lose it again."
"You're disgraceful!" snapped Nola. "Start thinking like an energybender! You now possess the ultimate power in the universe, the world is at the mercy of your fingertips – and you're acting like a coward!"
Brother Memnon slowly took his first step into the Cave of the Ancients. "Split up and search the cave from top to bottom," he directed, gesturing to his underlings. "Wherever they're going, we'll find them."
Cave of the Ancients
For several long minutes, the group walked in a straight path, though they would come to more forks further along, if memory served. They walked silently for a while, their path lit by enormous red and blue flames controlled by Aang and Azula, respectively. Aang hoped that in the pitch blackness it would be harder for the energybenders to follow – though that was probably wishful thinking. They would not have come all this distance without knowing they had some kind of light or method to illuminate their way in here.
"This place is so tranquil," said Suki, looking at the cave walls, which were more elegant than their naturally-formed counterparts.
"I think we're coming up to the part with the shiny crystals," Ty Lee commented, recalling her previous adventure at this place.
"One of those would go nicely on a necklace," said Suki.
"I think I hear a waterfall up ahead, so we must be close," Migo told them.
"I might be looking at the scenery more myself," Sokka said gloomily. "If it weren't for the army of energybenders coming to kill us all."
"I'm confused," Toph said aloud from right behind Aang. "How is Nola an energybender?"
"I gave her the ability," answered Aang.
"I thought you never gave anyone energybending," said Sokka, surprised.
"I didn't intend to," Aang informed him. "It was when I was captured at the Southern Air Temple and I was under the influence of a venom. That substance put me into a trance and made me compliant with them."
"How did the rest of them become energybenders?" asked Sokka.
"Well, once one person gains energybending they can give it out to anyone they want," Aang explained simply.
"Sounds like things can get chaotic pretty fast with energybending," Sokka said in wonder. "I guess it's really bad if it's given to one wrong person."
"Nola's been doing this all along," said Kaddo, shivering – but not merely from cold.
"I can't believe it," said Vameira, bewildered.
Tenzin gave a sharp, sideways glance at his younger siblings. "I can."
Vameira folded her left palm over her right fist. "No wonder she didn't put up a fight in Ba Sing Se when the Dai Li came to abduct me."
"I have a question," Ty Lee announced to all around her. "What happened when I hit the guy earlier and he fell limp, but then his comrade touched him from behind and he got back up and carried on fighting?"
"That was recquiesence," Aang told her. "That was the first move that Yue taught me in energybending. It shoots a sensation through your body and reinvigorates you, like energized healing – and, apparently, it can restore blocked chi paths."
Ty Lee frowned indignantly. "That doesn't sound very fair!"
"There's a lot about energybending which isn't fair," said Aang, only partially to Ty Lee.
It seemed like time did not exist in the Cave of the Ancients – with no sun or moon, just the dark cave interior in continuous, perpetual nighttime. Eventually they reached the part with the shining crystals and entered an aquatic-turquoise lit passageway. Aang had a similar feeling that he had last time, like there were voices whispering all around him. Unlike last time when it was eery and he felt judged, the voices seemed to come together in a nice way – like they were singing a beautiful song – one he longed to hear more clearly.
Toph reached down to feel the hard cave floor with both her hands. "Alright, I think we've put a safe enough distance between us and them for the time being."
Brawki unloaded some packs from his shoulders, Migo stretched his arms out and Kaddo and Vameira both sat on the rocky surface, exhausted. Tenzin adjusted his Air Nomad tunic and flaunted his glider.
"Let's figure out our next move, then," Aang proclaimed, standing tall while grasping his staff tightly.
"Well, these Sages Bane people are finally out in the open," Sokka noted, crouching down and stroking the frame of his boomerang.
Toph point sharply at Gitsu, looking away from him since it made no difference, but feeling him just fine with her feet. "You've dealt with them before, haven't you?"
"That's true, Gitsu," said Azula, rounding on him. "You said you knew that woman by voice."
"Well, yeah...I dealt with them before," Gitsu replied, uncomfortable. "While I was serving Long Feng, we went underground Ba Sing Se together to meet three of these people. They identified themselves as Brother Memnon, Brother Zhang Sang and Sister Joo Dee. She had a face covering on at the time."
"What was your meeting about?" questioned Azula.
"They said that they would help us plan a coup to overthrow the Earth King," Gitsu disclosed, tapping his fingers nervously. "I thought that once it was all done with, they would leave and not bother us again."
"Gitsu, did you really expect someone to hand you a silver platter with what you want and then just walk away?" Azula scoffed at the Dai Li agent. "Maybe I overestimated you."
"Well, I guess it doesn't really matter anymore..." said Gitsu.
"All that matters now is that we do what we have to in order to survive," Toph said, decisive. "We have to beat them!"
Sokka stroked his chin, deep in thought. "They did say they thrived when we were divided."
"We can't let that happen," Migo declared.
"Does that mean we'll all be working together, then?" Azula put forward, amused. "How peculiar..."
"Listen, everyone, I'm really sorry about everything. This is all my fault," Aang told everyone, hanging his head with regret. "Getting dragged into this battle was not meant for any of you."
The others stared at the Avatar: Vameira with sadness gleaming in her eyes, Suki bristling with uncertainty and Sokka and Migo hardening their expressions.
Shrugging her arms, Azula was the one who spoke up. "Maybe it wasn't, but you and I have unfinished business, Avatar, and the only way we'll ever get around to having a fairly-fought Agni Kai is if we resolve this mess first."
"What?" Aang could hardly believe she was acting so cavalier at a time like this.
"Besides, I'd like to be able to do what I want in the world," Azula said, grabbing one of her bangs and casually tossing it back. "And I doubt that will happen if it falls to these energy people."
"Right," Aang said slowly. "I guess we're in agreement, then."
"I think we're doing the right thing by drawing them into the cave," Brawki chimed in. "There are many passages and surprises in here. There's too many of them for us or the Sages Bane to keep track of entirely, but if we can predict their movements, we can use them to our advantage."
"Plus, we must be thorough," Aang said cautiously. "If we fight them out in the open and even one of them escapes us and goes out into the world, they can go into hiding, seek out disciples and come back someday with another army of energybenders."
Sokka nodded in acknowledgement. "They'd give out more of their gifts and we'd be back where we started."
"Exactly," said Aang. "Today is the first and last chance we will ever have to undo the imprint of energybending in the world."
"As long as we can build a good strategy centered around my firebending, I think we'll be good," Azula said reassuringly, but in condescention, as though she were indifferent to the fact that the rest of them were there.
"Ummm...hello, we're in the middle of a cave!" Migo countered at her, scowling. "We should work with the surrounding. Earthbending will be our strongest suit here."
"We can't afford to think like that today," said Aang, raising his hands to calm. "Energybending doesn't exist relative to the elements, so the characteristics of the four elements relative to each other won't help constitute an effective strategy. We must have a balance of all strategies indiscriminately – whatever the time calls for."
"Whatever, Avatar," said Azula, rolling her eyes and folding both of her arms.
"There's a problem," Trinley interjected. "They know all about our attacks, but we don't know much of anything about theirs."
"Except Aang," said Sokka, gesturing to the Avatar.
"Well, let's start with what we know," suggested Toph. "They bend energies..."
"And as we saw back there, energies are pretty strong," said Migo, facing down in helplessness. "This complicates things."
"No, it simplifies things," Gitsu stated aloud to everyone. "Personally, I don't care what it is they bend. It doesn't matter a copper piece's worth if they can't bend."
"Good call," Sokka said, beaming. "Let's cut them off from their source."
"We can't cut them off from their bending source!" Aang snapped, frustrated. "They bend pure energy."
Sokka's smile vanished. "Oh...right," he said, embarrassed.
Gitsu turned to face the leaders of the Kyoshi Warriors. "Why don't you ladies do what you did to us at the battle at Omashu?" he inquired. "Hit their pressure points and stop them from bending."
"Well, we already tried to chi-block them back at the entrance to the cave," Ty Lee told him, annoyed. "They just used that recquiesence move of theirs and they were up again within a few seconds."
"I know," Suki said to the Dai Li. "Why don't you guys use your rock gloves? I remember you used them to bind my hands. If you did that to a bender, they wouldn't be able to bend."
Gitsu frowned. "That won't work here," he said, shaking his head. "If they can lock an opponent's hands together, rock gloves can hold all but the most experienced earthbenders. When we used them at the cave entrance, though, those guys tore them apart. Rock gloves are too easy for them to deflect, and ordinary rock is too soft to be effective against them."
Migo, having been stroking his beard in ponderance, looked like a fiery light was bent into existence inside his head. "I've got an idea!"
"What is it?" asked Suki.
Aang was correct to assume the energybenders would be able to find their way through the cave somehow. With a technique similar to chi enhancement, the Sages Bane could manipulate bodily energy in their eyes to allow themselves instant and continuous night vision. They divided themselves into patrols to search and hunt through the cave passages. Meanwhile, Nola, Chan and Memnon congregated closer to the entrance.
"The Avatar has fled into the caverns at the heart of the mountain," said Brother Memnon.
"He can run all he wants," Nola commented dryly. "It's only a matter of time before we find him and strike him down."
"Don't expect it all to be too easy, Sister Joo Dee," Chan told her. "This isn't what you're used to."
Nola rounded on Chan, fuming. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"You had a simple enough task, getting close to the Avatar, Sister Joo Dee," Chan said with calm resentment. "I had to deal with the Fire Lord and Fire Lady."
"Oh, save it, Brother Zhang Sang!" Nola blurted, as though smoke were emitting from her ears. "Your job in Fire Nation was essentially done for you. Don't forget that I'm the one who got the gift back from him. It took years to finagle."
"Let's concentrate on what's going on now, shall we?" Brother Memnon directed them, raising his voice.
"Very well," Chan conceded.
"We must be prepared for a drawn-out battle when we confront the Avatar," Brother Memnon added. "Using Shuten Shogai inside a cave is a bad idea, so we won't be able to defeat him quickly."
"There is another option, Brother Memnon," Nola said, forthright.
"What is it?" Brother Memnon questioned gruffly.
"One of us could go into the Necra State," Nola suggested.
"No, we can't!" Chan told her, the visage of shock lining up to his pupils.
"Brother Zhang Sang is correct," Brother Memnon said firmly. "Even at the height of energybending, few would be mad enough to use the Necra State in battle. If one of us did it, it would be too risky – and our own would be in danger, as well as the Avatar and his companions."
"But it would make winning so much simpler for us," Nola denounced, grimacing in rage. "Any one of us in the Necra State could tear him right apart!"
"Sister Joo Dee, I forbid it," Brother Memnon told her, with an unspoken threat that would arise if she brought her idea up again.
Nola gave them both a begrudging scowl. "I suppose we have to find some other way to end him, then."
Deep Inner Cave
And so the calculated, yet fragile plan was put into action. When the Sages Bane reached their section of the cave, the Kyoshi Warriors would chi-block them. In the few seconds it took before another energybender could give them a recquiesence, the Dai Li would use metal gloves to trap their hands together, so they couldn't bend anymore. But first, the Dai Li had to learn how to metalbend. And so, while Aang and their other strongest fighters stood out in front to draw them in, Toph and Migo gave the Dai Li a crash course in metalbending. Migo had persuaded a couple of the Kyoshi Warriors to donate their armor to serve as their training metal.
"You lily livers need to start metalbending faster!" Toph shouted. Although acting angry, she took pleasure in every moment. "In case you haven't noticed, we're on a tight schedule."
"Easy for you to say," Gitsu shot back at her. He was concentrating with all his might, but the piece of metal in front of him remained dormant.
"Listen," Migo announced sternly. "At the end of the day, metal is no different than the earth you've already been bending, except that it's been processed and purified." Migo looked about, to see how his attempt at motivation was working. "Just stop thinking of it as any different, and the metal will yield to you."
Gitsu nodded, then moved both arms about vigorously – before dropping them to his sides once again. "Ummm...yeah. It's not yielding."
Toph stroked her chin. "Hmmm." She approached the Captain of the Dai Li. "Gitsu, look at me!" Putting her hand on shoulder, she positioned her head in front of his to give the illusion that she was looking into his seeing eyes with her blind ones. "I believe that you can do this. I expect that you can become a metalbender."
"Uhhh...okay?" said Gitsu, puzzled.
"No one ever expected you to be anything but Long Feng's lackey, but not me," Toph declared, upbeat. "I think that you can be a metalbender. Does that help?"
Gitsu blinked his eyes several times. "No!" he yelled, pushing Toph's hand off of him. "What kind of lame way to teach bending is that?!"
Toph let out a deep sigh. "It was worth a shot."
"How did you first learn how to metalbend, Toph?" Migo asked her.
"I was captured by a couple thugs sent by my parents," she explained, putting a hand to her cheek. "I sensed the vibrations in the metal until I realized for myself it was just processed earth." Toph suddenly smirked in a way that always made those who knew her best worrisome. "Hmmm..."
"What?" asked Migo, trying to figure out what farfetched tactic she had on her mind.
Migo did not wait long for an answer to this, as Toph widened her legs apart and then pushed in with all the force of her upper body. The scattered metal from across the area flew over, pushing all the startled Dai Li agents into a single area. The metal then shaped itself into perfect cylindrical columns around the captives. "Listen up!"
"What are you doing?!" Gitsu shouted from inside the cage Toph had constructed. "Let us out of here!"
"The only way you're becoming metalbenders fast enough to make this plan work is if you're under pressure," Toph announced, grinning mischievously. "No one's going to break this cage for you. You have to do it yourselves, using metalbending."
"Toph, are you sure this is a good idea?" asked Migo, uneasy.
"No," Toph said with a shrug. "But we're desprate."
Migo ran his fingers through his chin-strap beard. "Good point." He turned back to the Dai Li. "Try feeling the metal and sensing the vibrations, so that you can detect the earth inside it."
Several long minutes passed with the Dai Li still trapped inside the cage. Migo began twiddling his thumbs in boredom. The Dai Li had taken his advice and kept their bare hands around the metal bars, trying to connect with it the way they could connect with normal earth. Finally, they were able to bring about some small movements. Gitsu and a couple others managed to pull apart the bars wide enough to slip a leg through. Others moved the metal a few inches. The rest just made minor dents.
Toph sensed something with her feet that made her go back on her word and collapse the cage before the Dai Li were finished metalbending it open. "That'll have to do," she yelled suddenly. "We don't have anymore time for practice."
Migo felt the ground as well. "I can sense it, too," he agreed. "It looks like they're coming."
Trinley, Tenzin, Kaddo and Vameira had gone off to scout out surrounding passages. Aang had not expected the Sages Bane to find them so soon, or else Aang would not have let them go. Now, he regretted their splitting up prematurely. On top of that, his children had said they were not going far, and should have been back already. This was adding yet another notch to his growing stack of worries.
Now he, Azula, Sokka and Brawki stood side-by-side in their fighting stances, blocking the way to the cavern that the Kyoshi Warriors, the Dai Li, Migo and Toph were currently in. Then, the dreaded moment came. Dark outlines of figures dressed in black emerged into visibility dozens of feet away from them, but were rapidly approaching. Sokka ran for cover behind a nearby rock and took shots hurling his prized boomerang ot time and again while Aang, Azula and Brawki bended. The enemies were dressed head-to-toe in black bandages, so the only visible part of their body was the same murderous glare found in all their eyes. There was no mistaking it. The Sages Bane energybenders were focused on annihilation.
"This is quite a load of trouble you've made for us to deal with, Avatar!" Azula shouted out to Aang. Now known for her overconfidence, even she could not deny the formidability of their foes. The former Fire Nation Crown Princess gave left hook after right hook, blocking bursts of energy with balls of bright blue fire.
"Leave him alone!" Sokka called over, attempting to get close enough to strike one of the Sages Bane with his sword without being hit by oncoming energy.
"No Sokka, she's right," Aang said with regret. Sporting rock gauntlets stretched over both arms, the Avatar used them to block all the energy he could, while using the remainder of his body to bend trenches of earth underneath the opponents' feet.
"But, Aang-" Sokka began.
"I'm done blaming others for my mistakes," Aang stated, indicating his peaceful, yet tough, acceptance of the present. "I can't change what's done. I can only change what I do now." Together, Aang and Brawki halted the Sages Bane advances with their joint master-level earthbending for a good minute. In the end, however, it was no use, and they were overwhelmed – and outnumbered.
Sokka took a risk by looking back behind the line the four of them were holding. "I think they're in position."
"Let's let these guys through, then...and hope for the best," said Aang, not at all looking forward to what would come next.
Aang, Azula, Sokka and Brawki fell back. Azula punched out one last fire blast and Brawki lifted up a tall wall of earth to buy them time. Then, all four of them ran back into the passage toward where the Dai Li and the Kyoshi Warriors were. It was not long before a loud crash behind their rushing feet signaled that the Sages Bane had broken through Brawki's wall. Apparently, it had been seven members of the Sages Bane that they had been fighting, even though it had seemed like a lot more. A familiar pair of eyes showed behind one of their uniforms. Chao Feng had returned.
"Where did the rest of them go?" Azula asked aloud. "We saw a lot more than that before."
"They must be searching down some other passages," said Sokka.
Aang put his now-bare hand to his mouth. "I've got to go!"
"Aang!" Sokka yelled after him.
Aang ran through the cave as fast as his airbending-enhanced running would allow. It felt like his mind was racing the same way – the Avatar beating himself up in his head for letting the group split up earlier. Once again, those he cared about were in peril and he felt responsibility for it. At last, Aang saw three shapes moving up ahead, and he was relieved to see that they were not of the Sages Bane. Two of the individuals were dressed in Air Nomad attire, while the other donned Water Tribe clothes. They were the children of him and Katara – but Trinley was not there with them.
Aang would have given each of them the high, but he did not have a second to spare for pausing or small talk. "Where's Trinley?" he asked, raising his voice in urgency.
"He got caught up in a fight," Tenzin told his dad quickly. "He told us to run back and get help."
"Unfortunately, we're in need of some help ourselves," Aang said seriously. The Avatar pulled off one of his shoes and traced his bare foot across the cave floor, reaching out with seismic sense as Toph had taught him years before. "He's made a run for it, but he may be hurt. Come with me."
Aang darted through the crystal-lit cave passages toward the area he sensed Trinley from. Tenzin, Kaddo and Vameira hurried to keep up, their hairs bouncing up and down with each step. Finally, they found Trinley's form sprawled across the illuminated ground, with patches crimson red blood staining his Air Nomad tunic. "Aang, what are you doing here?"
"I'm coming to get you," Aang said, leaning over his friend's injured body. "How was it?"
"Terrible," Trinley spoke through his wounds. "I don't think I harmed or injured even one of them. I just barely got away."
Aang nodded solemnly. "Kaddo, he needs to be healed. But all of us need to get back to the others. They're in the middle of a fight."
"We can run there pretty fast," Vameira told her father. "Just lead the way."
"I'm not an airbender," Kaddo complained ecstatically. "I can't run at an enhanced speed."
"And Trinley's injured," said Aang, putting his middle and index fingers to his face. "Okay, I'll carry Trinley. Tenzin and Vameira, I need both of you to carry Kaddo." He was met by lank stares. Trinley seemed to think the idea mad, and the Avatar's children were not thrilled by it. "Don't look at me like that. It's only for a little bit. Kaddo, once we get there, I need you to heal Trinley."
Kaddo lifted his feet from the ground as Tenzin and Vameira hoisted him up, each supporting their brother with one of their shoulders. Meanwhile, Aang picked up Trinley with both his arms. Then, the three airbenders ran – Tenzin, Vameira and Aang speed-stepping through the cave. By the time they reached the scene of the battle the rest of their friends were fighting, Kaddo had gotten quite dizzy. Tenzin and Vameira were happy to put him down when they did, because it appeared that he was almost ready to throw up. Relieved to be on his own feet, Kaddo darted behind a corner so that he could heal Trinley in peace. Aang, Tenzin and Vameira went to see what was happening with the fight.
Unfortunately, the plan was not going well. Two Dai Li agents and one Kyoshi Warrior had already been slain – and so far they had only managed to entrap one energybender. The situation looked dire – and the Sages Bane's energy squeeze was always a move to watch out for. Azula was holding off two energybenders at once in what seemed to be an even match-up. Sokka and Brawki, on the other hand, were backed into a corner. If they only had twenty more Azula's, the Sages Bane would not be as much of a threat.
Aang intervened, pushing the Sages Bane away from him with the hardest air blast his lungs and muscles could possibly create. He became locked into a fight with two energybenders who had previously been going after Sokka and Brawki. Like Azula, he gained the upper hand against one of them and had him on the run. Unfortunately, the other one took advantage of the Avatar's distraction and prepared to punch forth an energy shove. But then, a ball of red fire soared through the air and knocked the energybender off balance.
"Zuko!" Aang exclaimed with momentary joy, happy to see that something had finally gone the way of him and his friends.
"Hey, Aang," said Zuko. "Sorry it took so long." He was wearing a white vest with an emblazoned Earth Kingdom symbol at the center over a dark green undershirt – the same attire of an Omashu palace servant, and apparently the best clothes that the Fire Lord could find at such short notice. Zuko had arrived with Mai and Princess Neinei to assist in finishing the Sages Bane off.
Tenzin rotated his hands around one another to whip up an air wheel, which he jumped on and used to encircle the same energybender repeatedly. The man from the Sages Bane kept his eye on the airbender, becoming dizzy. After three or four cycles, Tenzin sped off into the distance, tempting the man to chase him. The energybender had become dizzy and less consistent with his aim. The young airbender dodged one energy shove after another as they got further and further from the rest of the fight. Tenzin had no illusions – he was less skilled than his opponent, but he could keep pace just by avoiding him for long enough.
The chase brought them to an area with stone columns and buildings in the center of a gigantic cave clearing. This had to be the city at the center of the cave that Tenzin's father had told him about. Between two temple-like structures, there was a large cliff, with nothing but a gaping dark hole in the vacuum. Tenzin paused a few feet from this place and the dazed energybender attempted to take his fighting stance. The young airbender swung his glider downward with tremendous force of wind and the air blast hit the man in the chest. Screaming, the Sages Bane member stumbled backwards and fell into the black chasm. Tenzin did not hear a noise of him hitting the bottom.
With the Fire Lord's arrival, the rest of the Avatar's friends already present felt a great boost in morale. Kaddo had returned from his healing session and was now streaming his water whip around at the enemies. Meanwhile, the Kyoshi Warriors had chi-blocked three of the Sages Bane fighters at once. The Dai Li proceeded to lock hand-shaped metallic projectiles into cuffs around the energybenders' arms.
Only one of the Sages Bane that had come to fight remained standing, and he was backed in a corner, with Mai, Zuko, Neinei, Aang and Kaddo rounding on him. Undaunted, Chao Feng drew his katana and held it in front of his face, getting into his dueling position.
"Oh, right!" Kaddo scoffed, rolling his eyes. "Like any of us are going to be stupid enough to light your sword on fire again!"
"That's no longer necessary," Chao Feng told him as he stroked his blade from top-to-bottom with his index and middle finger on one end, and his thumb on the other. "I can do it myself." As his digits ran down the katana, bright-white, energetic sparks danced and encircled the blade – like shards of a lighting bolt.
Zuko and Neinei shot fire balls at Chao Feng in unison. Chao Feng reacted by swinging his energybent sword about. As the sword made contact with the fire, the flames immediately simmered away and disappeared. He did the same a few seconds later to a blast of blue flame hurled forth by Azula. Kaddo bent and stretched out his water whip, but Chao Feng sliced it with his sword and the bubble of water collapsed and splashed on the cave floor. Migo and Toph launched two enormous boulders at Chao Feng which were surely heavy enough to crush him and snap his sword in half. But Chao Feng swung his blade once more and as the katana made contact, both rocks shattered into dust. The blade remained unscathed.
Chao Feng charged forth and engaged a pair of Kyoshi Warriors. One raised her fan to block the attack, but Chao Feng's sword cut straight through it, with the fan splitting into many pieces. He continued his stroke to slice her in the abdomen. The other Kyoshi Warrior wielded her sword, coming to avenge her fallen comrade. But the instant the two blades clanged against each other, her own was cut cleanly apart by Chao Feng's energy-driven one.
Everyone backed away from Chao Feng now. He was only one man, but he could stand up to all of them. There was no attack he would not block and fighting him in any manner was futile. Even the Avatar was helpless. Sokka, however, was not giving up. He drew his own sword and stepped toward Chao Feng.
"Sokka, it's no use!" Suki yelled after her husband in a panic.
"I don't care," said Sokka, lunging forward. "Somebody's got to do something."
Chao Feng narrowed his eyes and brought his sword about to clash blades with Chief Sokka of the Southern Water Tribe. Unlike the other weapons, Sokka's sword did not break.
"What the...?" Chao Feng uttered in bewilderment as the sparks traveled from his blade to Sokka's.
"Hah!" Sokka said triumphantly as his weapon began to conduct the energy like Chao Feng's. "I knew that making a sword from space rock would pay off!"
Sokka and Chao Feng began a duel. Tirelessly, the pair of warriors traded blows with their energy-conducting weapons. All the others – even the Avatar – scattered around the clearing and became spectators, knowing there was nothing they could do to help. In between strikes, Chao Feng let go with one arm and through half his weight into an energy shove, which Chief Sokka cleanly dodged. Every so often, Chao Feng would try to gain an edge by throwing an energy shove in between blows. Sokka took advantage of one of these moments to strike at Chao Feng's torso from the opposite angle. Chao Feng wailed in pain – not just from the cut itself, but from the extra energy penetrating his bloodstream.
Chao Feng fell to the ground and dropped sword and Sokka brought the tip of his own in front of his neck. Chao Feng looked up at his conqueror, breathing heavily. Then, the energy left the two weapons, which reverted to their ordinary state. Moments later, there was a clink behind him from metal projectiles fastening his wrists together.
The captured Sages Bane members were brought to the corner of a small dead-end passage. The energybenders had been chi-blocked by the Kyoshi Warriors so they could no longer bend for the time being. As an extra precaution, their bound hands were pulled apart from the rest of their bodies to prevent them from recquiesencing themselves if the chi-blocking wore off. After regrouping, Tenzin had showed the others the way to the underground city, where they decided to make camp.
"Woo-hoo!" Gitsu yelled, throwing both hands in the air. "These guys aren't so tough when you know how to beat 'em. A little bit of the right kind of metalbending goes a long way!"
"Hey, don't forget about us!" Ty Lee jived at him.
"Of course," he said to her, batting his eyebrows. "Can't forget the art of chi-blocking, brought on by some of Kyoshi's fine lady elites."
Ty Lee blushed. "Hehe."
"She did found both our groups," Gitsu said matter-of-factly. "I guess that makes everyone here practically cousins."
"I wouldn't go that far," Suki told him, crossing her arms and narrowing both eyes.
"Big deal," Chao Feng interrupted from in back of them. "So you trapped some of us. You're only delaying the inevitable."
"I don't believe you're in a position to talk like that," Gitsu said, cocky, while displaying to Chao Feng his own rock-covered fist.
"Let's not forget who actually defeated him," Sokka announced smugly.
"When our group doesn't return, they'll know what part of the cave you're in," Chao Feng told them darkly. "Then you will face the full strength of our forces." Gitsu's smile faded as he realized that Chao Feng was probably right.
"What else can you tell us about they're doing?" Aang asked their prisoner. Chao Feng scowled and twisted his head away from the Avatar. Unlike Wan, Icarus and Long Feng, Chao Feng was not easily intimidated – even under this pressure.
"I saw the way they were interacting before," Azula said aloud. "He knows their leader well. He's close to him."
Chao Feng lifted his face once again, hearing her speaking of Brother Memnon. "He trained me in combat from when I was a small boy."
"Well, that's lucky for us," Azula stated triumphantly. "Maybe we could use him to bargain with them."
Chao Feng did something none of them knew he was capable of. He laughed. "Ransom? Extortion? Those tactics don't work on us. We're all equally expendable."
"How do we know you're telling the truth?" Azula questioned, approaching Chao Feng and bending down so that her eyes were level with his.
"It doesn't matter whether you do or not," Chao Feng said indignantly. "You might as well just kill me now. I'm useless for information or for hostage purposes. I'm just glad I got to taste the great power while I was alive."
"No," said Aang, shaking his head. "No, we're not going to do that."
"You elemental benders are hopeless. Not only are you outmatched, but you're crippled by your own stupidity."
Sure enough, the higher level Sages Bane members were at that moment discussion Chao Feng's absence. "We haven't seen anything of that group. They didn't report back," Nola indicated, looking in the direction of the passage Chao Feng had gone down earlier. "The Avatar must have defeated them."
"Chao Feng was among them," Chan noted.
"Unfortunate," Memnon said dryly and without any level of concern.
Nola narrowed her orbs and continued to look onward. "I don't think that the three of us can stand idly by any longer."
Deep Inner Cave
Mai, Neinei, Zuko, Toph, Migo, Brawki, Sokka, Suki, Ty Lee, Gitsu, Azula, Tenzin, Kaddo and Vameira were now close to the heart of the city of the First Avatar. It would take the Sages Bane a little while longer to reach them at this depth. With Trinley fully-healed, everyone was in the right condition and they could stretch their legs for some well-earned rest before their next strike.
Inside the grand chamber, the well-crafted architecture was perfectuly preserved through the millennia, with none of it fractured or decayed. Either spirit or cave forces were clearly at work in the site of the First Avatar – which Doru Kun had come to much later. This was where Aang had discovered the shrine to Avatar Doru Kun and found out that his past life had fought an energybender. It had seemed such an alien concept at the time, but now Avatar Aang was doing just that – all of them were, including his children.
"It's great to see you up-and-about again, Zuko," Aang said cheerfully, patting the Fire Lord on the back.
"I only just recovered, but I knew you would be in trouble and I would have to come join you," said Zuko, looking in a solemn expression at his old friend.
"What do you mean?" asked Aang.
"Hello Zuzu." Azula had come over to greet her estranged older brother. "Long time no see."
"Hi." With the brother-sister reunion over with, Zuko turned back to Aang. "Chan's with them, isn't he?"
"Yes, he is," said Aang, raising an eyebrow.
"And he goes by 'Zhang Sang' when he's with them?" Zuko asked.
"Yes," Aang confirmed. "Brother Zhang Sang, apparently."
"How did you know that?" Sokka asked Zuko.
"I had time to think," Zuko explained to them. "Chan was incompetent. He made a lot of bad calls as War Minister."
"Right," said Sokka, nodding slowly with skepticism. "That doesn't make him a member of the Sages Bane, though."
"Is that what they're called?" asked Zuko.
"It is," said Aang. "They're descended from an ancient group of energybenders who want to end the Era of the Avatar."
"I know that, too. The Moon Spirit informed me while I was out," Zuko told them, pointing to his now-white mane of hair.
"I see," Aang nodded. After all he had seen, Yue talking to Zuko was relatively easy to believe.
"As I was saying, with Chan it was beyond anything normal," Zuko told them in casual openness. "No one could possibly be as dumb as he pretended to be."
"Sure they can," Sokka contradicted with a slight shrug.
"No, you don't get it!" Zuko shot back at Sokka, exasperated. "He didn't just advise me to make bad decisions. He consistently advised the wrong decisions. It's impossible to be that incompetent without trying, because someone has to be right accidentally part of the time. The only plausible explanation was that he had an ulterior motive."
"I see," said Aang. It was becoming clearer to him.
"Shortly after I fired Chan as War Minister, a man named Zhang Sang broke into the palace and tried to kill Mai and I. Thinking back, I realized Chan had made a threat the day he left, and that Zhang Sang, moved like he did and sounded like he did." Zuko paused thoughtfully. "The rest I figured out through grace of spirits."
"Well, it's a good thing Yue talked to you when she couldn't talk to me," Aang said with genuine gratitude. The Avatar looked past the white-haired Fire Lord's scarred head and saw his oldest son sitting off on his own, near a dark pit which extended just around the corner.
"Tenzin, you did well so far today," said Aang. But his older son turned his head away and folded his arms over his knees. "What's wrong?"
"I...I killed him," said Tenzin, trembling.
"The man you were fighting?"
"Yeah." Tenzin nodded mildly. "I sent him down this hole. It wasn't my intention to finish him off, but it doesn't matter. I've failed as an Air Nomad."
Aang remembered his own conflicted journey with his tainted value of respecting all life after Appa died. "No, you haven't," Aang told his son, kneeling down beside him. "Not unless you believe you have. I thought the same of myself not long ago. It's not like you did it out of cold blood."
"I guess not," Tenzin conceded, still sounding uncertain. "I just can't get it out of my mind," he added, hanging his head. "Dad, you were right about Shuten Shogai – and energybending in general. It's a terrible thing."
Sokka came up beside them. "I wonder how deep this hole is. I'm going to drop something and count the seconds."
"That won't do any good," Aang informed Sokka, rising back to his feet. The Avatar felt the history of his connection with the cave. "It's the Abyss of the Ancients. Nothing that's gone down has ever been known to come back up again."
"I know you're the Avatar and all," said Sokka, shaking his head. "But your suddenly knowing so much is beginning to creep me out."
Aang managed a faint laugh as he turned to survey the rest of his comrades. Among them were Azula, the Kyoshi Warriors, Migo, Toph and the Dai Li. The unlikely group of companions were all getting along better than one would expect. Especcially Ty Lee and Gitsu, who seemed to be bonding exceptionally quickly. A bothersome thought entered the Avatar's head. Aang was unsure of what it could be until he noticed that Trinley was not there with the others.
Avatar Aang spun his head about and saw that his first airbending protégé had walked into one of the surrounding passages, lit by shining crystals. He was slowly putting one foot in front of the other.
"Trinley?" Aang called out to him. "Where are you going?"
Trinley did not answer Aang, but merely continued walking slowly, like he was guided by an invisible thread. It was as though he had a spiritual connection of some kind, and he was being drawn somewhere. Aang was reminded of when he was drawn to the statue of Doru Kun in The Vault long ago. That had been shortly before he came to the Cave of the Ancients for the first time. Aang decided that he should follow Trinley down the passage. After all, Brawki had confirmed that the Avatar was not the only one who could connect to the cave.
Trinley led the Avatar far from the city at the center of the cave. The tunnel grew brighter – almost bordering on daylight, as the number of crystals lighting the walls increased. The two New Air Nomads entered a pristine chamber. Aang wondered if he would talk to a past life or spirit in this place, for it seemed an appropriate location for such a task. Then, there was another tunnel at the edge of that area. There were no crystals in this one, and for the first time since right after entering the cave, Aang lit a fire in his palm to see the path in front of him. Suddenly, Trinley stopped walking and rotated his body to face the Avatar. His face was naught but a blank stare as he stood silent.
"What is this place, Trinley?" Aang asked his old friend. "Trinley?"
Then, Aang noticed another one of his old friends was right behind him. Her lips curled and her eyebrows slanted themselves. "Surprised to see me?" Nola asked him, before striking.
Sokka was discussing strategy with the rest of the group back at the First Avatar's city. "We're in a big, open chamber, so I think we should try my aerial idea," Chief Sokka continued, despite that all his listeners appeared unenthused. "Waterbenders can levitate themselves with a big-enough spout, earthbenders can launch themselves and others with rock columns, firebender have jet propulsion, and airbenders can manipulate the air currents around them. What method do energybenders have to fly? Nola had to climb all the way down from the Southern Air Temple. As far as we know, they don't have one."
"Just because we haven't seen them airborne, doesn't mean they don't have a way to do it," Migo countered skeptically.
"Yeah," Suki agreed solemnly. "Besides, this chamber isn't all that big."
"We handled them pretty well while there were fewer of them," Azula recounted for everyone, raising her voice above that of Chief Sokka. "Let's divide and conquer. Small groups are more manageable to deal with."
"How would we do that?" Migo asked in alarm. "By using some of us as bait!?"
"The lesser-attuned energybenders are hard opponents," Sokka pointed out, stroking his chin. "Memnon and Nola will be tough to deal with no matter what we do. What do you think, Aang?" Sokka asked, turning to the empty space between Toph and Zuko. "Aang?"
"I saw him go that way," Mai indicated, pointing to the passage that Trinley had been in earlier.
"Why didn't you say anything?" Sokka asked, irritated.
"I thought he was just going for a walk," Mai said with a bored shrug. As she said this, a loud noise sounded in the distance, like something being smashed, along with a rumbling rock cracking violently.
"Uh-oh..." said Migo.
"Something bad has happened, hasn't it?" Toph uttered aloud. She and the rest of those present dashed in the direction Aang had gone not long before.
The Avatar brandished a long, stringy fire whip in his right arm and retained the stance of an earthbender – legs wide apart and feet firmly on the ground. Nola leapt from one direction to the next at great speed, easily dodging the rope of flame he had conjured.
Aang ceased attacking his opponent momentarily and just took a good look at her. "Why Nola? Why? I granted and taught you airbending."
"Airbending is not what I wanted!" Nola arched her back and pointed her hands forward. Ten identical streams emitted from her fingertips. The energy was like lightning, only continuous and off-colored. Aang was not familiar with this kind of energybending, but he knew he ought not to get close to attack, which seemed like it would surely be lethal.
"Don't you see, Avatar?" Nola's dark strands of hair stood on end, like she had been shot full of lighting herself. She was looking less and less like the young girl who asked him for airbending training. "With each form of elemental bending, you gain control over that one element, but with energybending you can do... anything!" She bent over and pounded the ground with her fist, sending a small shockwave out from her position and rattled the cave floor around it.
"No, you're wrong Nola," Aang countered her. "The power of energybending is not unlimited. Don't forget that elemental benders won the war." Aang inhaled deeply and exhaled a mammoth breath of wind.
"Bah!" Nola scoffed. "You had spirits on your side then," Nola said dismissively. "But there are no spirits to help you now, Avatar Aang!" She twisted her arm around and controlled the currents of energy within her, then pushed forth a tight jet of compressed energy at the Avatar.
"Now that you mention spirits, I have to tell you something, Nola," Aang said urgently as he dodged her attack. "I talked to a spirit before I came here," Aang informed her. "He says that if I don't resolve this mess, he'll destroy the Spirit Oasis and cut off the Physical World from the Spirit World." Aang proceeded to kick a rock up from the cave floor and jab it in Nola's direction.
"And why does that matter to me?" Nola asked jeeringly. "Spirits are obsolete now that we energybend. We are the spirits now!" Nola pulled her arm back and sent Aang an even stronger charged energy shove than the one he had encountered from Brother Memnon earlier. "Nola, you're in way over your head," said Aang, countering her energy shove with an air blast. "I don't doubt that you're powerful – but you can't take the place of a spirit."
"Don't tell me what I am or am not capable of!" Nola snapped in a rage. "Today is the day we abolish the four nations and start over. We're going to build a whole new world the way we desire, and you won't be part of it!" Nola split a part of her chi apart and released a fragment of her own bodily energy into the air. Then she shattered it into countless tiny energy specks and – with a rounded kick forward – sent these dust-like particles raining onto her opponent, knocking him back ten feet. Aang fell to the ground, shaking uncontrollably.
"It's almost a shame that you're the Avatar," Nola said as she towered over Aang's fallen form. "You had developed quite the mind of an energybender, Aang. Well, sort of. You have determination but no imagination. Even after all these years, you're still a lost child longing after your precious Air Nomads. With incredible power in your reach and infinite possibilities at your disposal, all you could think of was reconstructing what you grew up with." Nola bent over Aang and placed her hand on his forward. Aang's insides burned with pain as an energetic sensation coursed its way through his body. Nola grinned with enjoyment, lifting her head up to watch him suffer for a fer moments before reaching behind his head and positioning for an energy squeeze. "And now...it's over."
Aang had just begun to contemplate his own end when a blast of fire burst forth and hit Nola in the chest. Zuko had arrived on the scene, along with Migo, Toph and the other friends of the Avatar.
Nola hopped away from the new arrivals, dusting herself off. "I retreat for now," she called back, laughing maniacally. "But good luck stopping us now, Avatar Aang!"
Zuko bent frantically over the Avatar. "Aang, are you alright?"
"I'm okay," Aang said, slowly getting up and rubbing his forehead. As he rose to his feet, he stumbled and required Kaddo and Zuko to help him stay balanced.
"You seem dizzy," Kaddo told him.
"It must have been that last move Nola did on me." Aang was indeed feeling faint – and had the urge to keep clutching his arrow-tattooed forehead. "It's like an energy surge of some kind went through my body."
"Why did you run off like that?" Zuko spoke aggressively.
"I was following Trinley," Aang informed them.
"What?" asked Toph, raising her voice.
"It wasn't his fault," Aang stated, waving her accusation away. "He was being led on by her. It was like he was bloodbent or something."
"No, it wasn't bloodbending," Trinley said solemnly. "It was like I was drawn there in a trance – as though my will was being tempted."
"How did she do that to you?" Vameira inquired.
"I know how," Trinley answered, his face looking guilty – as if some severe event was his fault. "I've already been energybent before, so my energy is more unstable than any of yours. It's easier to manipulate energies once they've been bent out of their natural state before." Aang wished he could offer some reassurance, but he knew Trinley was right.
"Even so," said Sokka. "She has to be really strong to do it continuously, at that long-range."
"I'm going after her!" Aang eclared, deciding he had waited long enough to end what he started. The Avatar felt strange when he ran in the direction Nola had gone. As an airbender, he was used to running far faster than a normal human being. Now he was remarkably slower. Was the cave slowing him down in a mysterious way? Despite his connection to the place, Aang could not sense anything of the sort.
"You'd better run faster," Sokka called from behind him. "Or she'll get away."
Suddenly, Aang stopped running. He remembered the last energybending move she did on him. The Avatar brought his left arm and swung a punch at the area in front of him, as though to send forth a ball of fire. Nothing.
"Aang?" asked Sokka, concerned. "What's wrong?"
TO BE CONTINUED...
- The expression "a copper piece's worth" is the same as "a dime's worth" in the real world.
- Icarus's passing was foreshadowed in The Air Lord, when he defied the Sages Bane and said, "the hell with Sister Joo Dee," despite General Zhao's statement of caution.
- The part where Toph tries to motivate Gitsu by telling him she believes he can be a metalbender and no one else does is a reference to The Promise Part 2.
For the collective works of the author, go here.