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|Battle of the Six Armies: Part Two|
Previously on Energy Saga
Stationed in Omashu, Aang and his formidable Avatar Legion take on the Phoenix Army, the Air Nation, the Dai Li and the brand-new Anti-bender Militia under General Munra. Team Avatar takes on their foes and defends the Earth Kingdom city of Omashu. As time goes by, Azula and Icarus strike an alliance and the opposing armies – with the exception of the Anti-benders – team up, with each of them somehow harboring the goal of capturing the Avatar and delivering to the Sages Bane, whose main motives still remain as unknown as their name once was. Meanwhile, Aang gets into an argument with the little ones as Tenzin, Kaddo and Vameira wish to get off the sidelines and have more of a piece of the action. Adding in the looming confrontations with old acquaintances into the mix, Avatar Aang has a lot on his plate.
Chapter Forty-One: Battle of the Six Armies: Part Two
Front Wall of Omashu, 121 AG
As the Battle of Omashu raged on, the Sun, which before had risen to its highest point in the sky, began the next part of its cycle, and was now slowly drifting downward, toward the horizon, amidst the clashes of swords and the banging about of various bent elements. In the middle of the afternoon, the Southern Water Tribe faction had made another gargantuan assault to drive back the Phoenix Army forces in front of the mountain-city. Chief Sokka naturally led the push himself. Although he had behaved confidently prior to making this bold move, the Phoenix battalion at the front of the field seemed to be holding out better than expected, from what Aang could see at the bottom of the Front Wall. Reinforcements were deployed, those being the Fire Army loyalists of the former Western Fleet, accompanied by a handful of Omashu Army men.
The Avatar was growing quite concerned by the time that he glimpsed most of the Avatar Legion there retreating back over the bridge – wearing blue, red and green alike. At the rear were two Water Tribe warriors carrying a third between them. Aang's heart skipped a beat when he saw that the one they were carrying was Sokka! Sokka drew looks of alarm from Aang, Suki and the others stationed behind the gate with his arms limp as if they were chi-blocked, his head hanging and his tunic shredded apart like a badly-wrapped birthday present with bright red stains lining the cuts.
"Sokka!" Aang yelled, running forward to lift his friend out of the arms of the warriors, Suki shaking her legs intently to catch up with the speedy airbender.
"Hello Aang," Sokka responded, his usual upbeat tone as broken as his aquatic blue tunic.
Eyes watering, Suki stared down into the eyes of her wounded husband and tied the fingers of her own hand gently around his. "Sakema, come heal your father!" she called out.
"Oh please don't get so dramatic just yet," said Sokka, a trace of his familiar sarcasm back in his faint voice. "I'll live. I've been in worse condition than this."
After gesturing over her daughter – who already had water bubbles forming around her hands – Suki turned sharply back to face her husband. "Stop being so smug! You're right – this happened at the Fire Nation Capital, too. You can't keep worrying us like this!" The refined woman from Kyoshi Island paused her rant and took a deep breath. "Look, after today, maybe you should consider scaling back on active duty."
"Whoa, wait a second," Sokka said so abruptly that it made Sakema jump as she attended to the first of his scratches on his leg. "Being is a warrior is what I do – it's who I am! I may not be in my teens and twenties any more, but I still have all my strength in me. My father was more than ten years older than me when he retired."
Suki smiled weakly. "But Sokka, your dad lived his whole life until he was older than you in a constant state of war. He worked to give the generations that followed him a time of peace. You can honor him by enjoying that gift."
Sokka scowled at his wife over the working arms of his daughter. "In case you haven't noticed, we're not exactly in a time of peace right now. When I first met you, you weren't pulling any punches. Why are you carrying a different tune now?"
"Having a family changes things," Suki told him simply. "Look, all I'm saying is there's no need for you to go on every mission yourself."
Through this charged dialogue, Aang stood beside them, watching Sakema heal Sokka and Suki making her plea. The Avatar was thinking to himself that Suki was right about one thing: having a family did change a lot. At his last great battle, events had been playing out just like they were now. The opposing army seemed vast and endless in their most desperate moments – and Sokka had gotten injured. Last time, Aang had charged up his oldest friend with recquiesence, an energybending move. Although he hated seeing his friend suffer as he was, Aang would not even consider using energybending now. This time, he let Sakema handle it with her art of healing. When they fought at the Fire Nation Capital, they had needed things to go their way – and when they didn't, they resorted to fleeing, before Aang decided to end everything with Shuten Shogai. Aang had stopped energybending now, but what if they became that desperate again? The Avatar's insides cringed at the very thought.
"We're losing ground," Sokka stated through a grunt. "We have to make another assault. But perhaps I'll do as you say and delegate the responsibility to someone under me. I couldn't lead it well if I wanted to."
"We do need to take action soon if we're to keep the Phoenix Army at bay for much longer," Aang said matter-of-factly. "Do you have someone in mind who can take your place for now?"
"I'll go." The words came from behind Suki and Aang. "I'll take the charge," Hinko said again, brandishing his shiny long dagger and standing tall and confident.
"Are you sure?" Sokka asked his first-born. "This is going to be a very dangerous task. You haven't as much experience as some of the other men."
"I'm sure," Hinko repeated, his head held high.
"Then go forth," said Sokka, grinning. "I'm proud of you, Hinko. You'll make a great chief some day!"
Suki appeared more concerned about Hinko's going than her husband did, but after a few more seconds, she nodded in acceptance and embraced her oldest son in a tight hug. "You really will be a great chief someday. You may have much to learn, but so did your father at your age."
Aang decided to step away and allow the family to have a few minutes alone. It was now that he noticed that Sokka was not the only one that had returned wounded from the charge. A few of the Omashu soldiers had bloody stains on their green outfits. Of course, these were the lucky ones. There were less of them here now than there were earlier. And then there was Tenzin's old friend Wang, who was sprawled across the ground with a blood-covered chest and a sprained ankle.
The Avatar approached him. "Wang, you're hurt."
Staring up at the upright Air Nomad, Wang shook his head. "I'll get over this soon. I may look bad now, but I'll be back out there before you know it!"
"No," Aang said sternly. "You've done enough fighting for today. Once Sakema's finished with her father, I'll send for her to come heal you. After that, you should get to shelter and recover for the rest of the day."
Wang hardened his expression at these words. "I've failed, haven't I? I should've fought better."
"On the contrary," Aang told him. "You fought bravely – as bravely as anyone. But now the time has come for you to accept your time on the field today is done. It's for the best. You're no good to your son dead."
Wang broke eye contact and nodded his head solemnly. "If it's not too much trouble, can I write a letter to my family?"
"We need all our messenger hawks here for matters concerning the battle," Aang said firmly. "But you can send a letter with my lemur. I'll let you use Momo for that."
"Thank you, Avatar Aang," Wang said gratefully. "When Hiroshi grows taller, I'll always tell him of your kindness."
Aang returned a mild smile. He could not allow himself a slowed-down moment. The state of the battle loomed overhead and dominated his thoughts. The way the battle was playing out was uncertain and uneasy. The Dai Li seemed to have disappeared, the Air Nation were not at the Front Wall yet as they were expected to be, while the Phoenix Army concentrated enough forces at the Front Wall for both of them. Meanwhile, the anti-benders had all consolidated at the Back Wall, where his children were – and his former earthbending instructor was on her way to confront them. The front and rear of Omashu were both being struck hard.
Toph, Migo, Penga and the rest of the metalbenders had arrived at the site where the Anti-bender Militia were hammering their attacks at the stubborn, but giving way, Back Wall of Omashu. Each of the metalbenders under Penga wore an identical suit of lined metal armor. Even though it may have seemed like it, these outfits were not mass-produced. She had taught them to make their own uniform the same way. It was a rite of passage when each metalbender made their own, signifying mastery of the art.
"Uh-oh," Migo said, looking up at the sky. "It looks like we'll have the Air Nation to deal with here on top of the Anti-bender Militia."
"I thought they were going to the Front Wall," said Toph irritably. "Well, that complicates things..."
Kaddo had been kneeling on the edge of the long wall, watching the action beneath him. He had seen the anti-benders eroding away at the lines of Omashu troops and the Back Wall with their exploding projectiles. He had not had many to heal because the anti-benders tended to finish off those they faced. Now the young waterbender's attention was diverted and he spun around to see the owners of the new voices. "Toph, Migo, Penga, what are you doing at the Back Wall?!"
"We're going to stop the Anti-benders," Toph told him simply, crossing her arms. "Where are your brother and sister?"
Kaddo walked toward the metalbenders, scratching the back of his head uncomfortably. "Ummm, they're around. I'm sure they'll be back any second."
"You're lying. I can tell."
"Oh yeah, I forgot you could do that...heheh," said Kaddo, showing his teeth.
Toph was not laughing back. "Where are they? The truth."
"They've gone up to confront Icarus on his airship," he said quickly, knowing he had no other way out.
"What?!" said Toph in alarm. "How?"
"They flew up on Pooka."
"That's a strong bison...I flew on him myself the other day," Toph said casually. "But this action completely disobeys your dad's instructions."
Suddenly, a projectile hit the top corner of the towering wall, not ten feet from where Kaddo and the metalbenders stood. Actually, it was right by where he had been sitting before they arrived, so if he had still been there, that would have been the end of him. The stone beneath their feet crumbled and Kaddo, Toph, Migo, Penga and the rest of the metalbenders fled back a few feet, not merely to stay balanced, but also to distance themselves from the yellow gas with the strength of ten chi-blockers.
"I didn't hear anything about the projectiles exploding as well as releasing the anti-bending vapor!" Migo shouted, as though trying to raise his voice to the level of the collisions.
"The larger ones do," Kaddo clarified, ducking on the floor and covering his head. "As soon as they hit the rocky surface. The Anti-bender Milita have stopped messing around. They're probably impatient and intent on finishing us all off quick!"
Another loud firing noise signaled yet another projectile soaring through the air. This one was headed straight at them! Kaddo, Toph, Migo and Penga froze in place. Having been caught off guard a second time, there was nowhere for them to go to now. In a few short moments, the projectile would be there and they would all be done for. Hopeless, Toph could not see the projectile, but she could tell where it was from the noise and repercussion around her. It was right in front of them.
And then it was gone. Just like that. The projectile had not hit them, nor had it exploded. It simply disappeared. If she was not still in utter shock, Toph would have been scratching her head. She was bewildered by the sudden turn in their favor as though an unseen spirit had saved them by making the object vanish in mid-air.
Migo stood himself up straight and hardened his expression. "It's time we ended the Anti-bender threat now," he said in a commanding tone.
"I agree," said Toph, shaking the feeling of surprise off and turning back to the field. "It's time to show these cocky non-benders who's boss," she added, grinning widely.
Penga could not help but smirk as well. "Lead the way, Queen Toph."
As the metalbenders marched forward, determined, Toph looked back at Kaddo one last time. "Stay put. Don't go anywhere!"
Kaddo nodded serenely as the metalbenders went off and he was once again left by himself. He now heard loud noises coming from the distance at the other direction. It seemed that there was trouble at the Front Wall. With nothing to do where he was, Kaddo began walking to the front end of the city. He, Tenzin and Vameira were already in trouble, so a little more disobedience did not seem like that bold a move. It was time for him to go to the Front Wall, where he belonged.
As the Dai Li trudged on through the dark, dreary tunnels with stink all around them, their robes began weighing them down with their wet legs and pants. "I don't know how anything could stand to live down here," Gitsu thought out loud, exasperated, swatting purple pentapi off his uniform.
"Quit your complaining!" Long Feng barked back at his second-in-command. "We're well on our way to our prize. The Avatar is near!"
"After all this, we'd better get him," Gitsu replied irritably.
"We will," Long Feng said, almost absurdly sure of himself. "Nothing can go wrong. Everything has been going well for us lately, ever since I planned and executed our revolution to take back control of Ba Sing Se!"
"What are you talking about?" Gitsu muttered, so only he could hear himself. "I did pretty much everything for that..."
It was a whole new setting on the field beyond the Back Wall now that the metalbenders had rushed to the scene. Undeterred by the might of the Anti-bender Militia's technology, they dashed at the mechanized tanks and seized hold of them one-by-one, bending the metal on the outer covering to crush their mechanical makeup, drive them off course and, ultimately, destroy them.
As Migo and Penga concentrated their efforts on the mechanized tanks next to her, Queen Toph charged at the enormous machine at the rear of the anti-bender forces which had been shooting the bulk of the projectiles they had encountered. The one was known as the Blind Bandit stole all formidability from the towering piece of machinery, as she grabbed the metal that built up the device and tore it to shreds like it was made of toilet paper. She then took one of the long rods on the edge and swung it at the three tanks and the dozen chi-blockers right behind it, scattering and driving them away.
Inside Munra's own mechanized tank, the leader of the Anti-bender Militia had his eyes widened and his arteries pulsing as he saw his forces being overwhelmed. "We must regroup. Dodge and evade!"
"We can't dodge and evade!" Sarook yelled, panicking. "They're everywhere!"
General Munra searched frantically for some way to deal with the metalbenders' domination. But it was all in vain. The Anti-bender Militia was falling. Any attempt to regain themselves and continue pushing onward was futile.
Air Nation Airship
While the metalbenders had the anti-bending threat under control, Tenzin and Vameira had just landed beyond the rail of Air Lord Icarus's vessel and dislodged themselves from Pooka. Vameira scratched tenderly, but seriously, behind the flappy, humongous ears of her baby sky bison. "Pooka – time for you to go. We'll meet again later." With that, the furry white creature pushed off with all six of his little feet and flew back down to Omashu.
"That remains to be seen," Tenzin said, indicating his second thoughts about the spontaneous sabotage mission. "So, now that we're here, have you thought of how we're going to do this?"
"I suppose we'll break something that looks important to the operation of the airship," Vameira said, staring into space. "It'll have to land, then."
"Not much to go off of, but it's a start," Tenzin said, partially annoyed, partially unable to let him be annoyed under the circumstances. "We're lucky that no one saw us come aboard."
"Let's get to cover, then," Vameira told him, peering in both directions.
The two young airbenders ran over to the ladder opposite them and climbed up with about ten steps to enter the door at the top. Fortunately for them, there was no one present at the top. They had come to a long, deserted hallway, with nothing but the sounds of cogs turning and air shafts blowing for company.
"Everyone must be stationed in a different part of the ship," Tenzin thought aloud, taking in his surroundings.
"Hmmm," said Vameira, scratching her chin. "We're at the rear of the vessel, which means we must be near the entrance to the engine area."
Tenzin shook his head. "No, the entrance to the engine area is at the front of an airship."
"Only on Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation airships," Vameira corrected him. "This is an Air Nation airship. "When The Mechanist made the blueprints for these, he used the Southern Water Tribe style design."
Tenzin raised an eyebrow. "How do you know that?"
"I overheard a few things in captivity," she said matter-of-factly.
"Isn't the engine area going to be heavily-guarded, though?" Tenzin asked skeptically.
"I don't think so," said Vameira, shaking her head. "Icarus is undoubtedly preparing his troops to invade the city. They'll all be readying themselves for that."
"Good point," Tenzin conceded. "Well, let's check the doors on the inside. It'll most likely be in the center."
Tenzin began checking the doors on the same side they entered through going toward the back of the craft, while Vameira looked in the ones in the opposite direction. Vameira was on her third door when she beckoned to Tenzin to follow. The two of them walked slowly into the long, dimly-lit chamber, with machinery on either side of them that neither of them recognized. Tenzin paused and reached over to grab Vameira's shoulder when he heard a pair of voices only ten or so meters around the corner of the giant metal box they crouched behind. It was impossible to make out what they were saying from that distance and with the sounds of the turning air cells in the background. After what seemed like a few minutes, but could easily have been less than one, the pair of voices stopped talking and were replaced by two pairs of footsteps. One was walking away from Tenzin and Vameira, as the other came toward them.
Vameira looked into her brother's eyes as he bent his knees and crept to the edge of the hall. As soon as the Air Nation guard reached the corner, Tenzin leapt up and seized the man by the neck, jerking his head over and banging it against the metal frame, rendering him unconscious.
"Nice work," Vameira told her brother, impressed.
"Alright, now that we're here, we need to cause some damage," said Tenzin, surveying the many identical valves which connected to the cells. "Neither of us are metalbenders, so we can't do anything to the valves."
"Then we'll have to bend the air out of the cells directly."
"The currents in there are very strong and hard to manipulate," said Tenzin, uncertain. "I've also never bent air I can't see before."
"Well, we'll manage," said Vameira. "Unless you've got a better idea."
Tenzin pondered for a few moments, then shrugged. "Let's do it."
Icarus's lip curled as he looked out the window of his command bay, at the landscape and the Back Wall below. The metalbenders had engaged the anti-benders on the field, leaving the bantered Back Wall wide open. His troops were ready to storm the city from above and make Omashu the first real, outside conquest of the Air Nation. But as they closed in on the wall, the airship began sinking through the air at an accelerated pace. At the rate they were falling, they would surely crash into the Back Wall itself, not land on it.
"Air Lord...Sir, we're losing altitude!" said Paro, his eyes widening as he beheld the vessel's sudden, premature descent.
"I'm going back to the engine area to see if something's up," Icarus announced to him. "You steer the ship for now!"
The sabotage of the air cells was going well. Tenzin had been leery at first, but after gathering all the strength in his hands he could muster, he was able to direct the air currents out of place and out of their chamber. Vameira was a little more sloppy about it, damaging the valves as she directed the air out. Together, they had completely broken about four cells.
"You know, this might sound odd, but this is kind of fun!" exclaimed Vameira.
"Yeah," agreed Tenzin. "We never did anything like this at the Southern Air Temple."
"That's Southern Air Fortress," said the Air Lord, having just discovered his unwelcome guests. "So, the spawn of Aang has come to try and stop me. How very quaint." Towering over the younger airbenders in a spurt of anger, he seemed twice his regular height.
"Yeah, we came here to stop you," said Tenzin, his eyes narrowing. He was much more serious now. "Show us what you got, so-called Air Lord. We're not afraid of you!"
"Foolish boy," Icarus snarled, his eyebrows pulsing. "Your father never got it, and neither will you. I have a vision for the future of airbending in the world. Your father was living in the past, and it's time to leave the past behind. Today, I'm going to rid the world of the original Air Nomad bloodline, so the world will be cleansed of any person who dares to bend air, except for my nation!"
"Ha!" said Vameira skeptically, already assuming her fighting stance and curling her hands into clenched fists. "Your nation is already gone. With the Southern Air Temple destroyed and your control over the the Northern Air Temple fallen apart, you're finished!"
"No!" Icarus shouted in anger. "The Avatar may have ruined me, but I'll bounce back and recover my glory..."
"In your dreams, you Ozai wannabe!" Tenzin snapped back with a laugh.
"Why, you little twerp!" Icarus bellowed in rage. "I'll show you!" Icarus whirled his fist in the air, funneling the currents around him to form a mini-tornado and send it towards Tenzin. Tenzin was hindered by the blow, being knocked back and hitting the hollow metal covering of the cell he had just drained.
"Hey, don't hit my brother like that!" Vameira yelled as she swung her arm around like a glider staff, swimping a blast of air in the direction of the Air Lord. He slid back about half a foot, but was not stopped by this simple blow. He rushed forth and seized Vameira's neck with one hand, lifting her a foot and a half in the air.
Icarus laughed maliciously, as he held Vameira up tightly by the neck. "What a shame. Your father worked so hard to free you from my clutches, only for it all to end like this for you today."
"Vameira!" Tenzin yelled out, regaining his strength at his witnessing of Vameira's distress. "You put her down – now!" With difficulty, he lifted himself to his feet and thrust both arms forward, sending a strong gust of air forward and knocking Icarus off-balance.
Icarus let go of Vameira and she dropped to the floor, gasping and holding her neck with both her own hands. It was not long before she regained herself and took her bending stance once more. With a second to spare, Tenzin and Vameira rounded on the air cell nearest them and bent the spiraling currents from within. A streaming jet of air, almost as hard as any rock, burst from the valve and hit Icarus square in the chest. The Air Lord flew backwards through the air and hit his head on the metal wall of the room, before falling ten feet back down to the floor, knocked out.
Tenzin stared down at the unconscious form of the Air Lord, twisting his face in utter disgust. "I can't believe that so many airbenders agreed to follow this guy over our dad."
Vameira, on the other hand, merely glanced at him momentarily before tugging on her brother's Air Nomad tunic. "We have to get out of here! The airship is about to crash into the Back Wall!"
Just over the tip of the mountain range on the eastern side of Omashu lay a simple, deserted plain, lacking in the activity of the battlefield adjacent to it. A horde of men from the Fire Nation, Earth Kingdom and Water Tribes alike, who lacked the ability to bend, marched gloomily onward, having recently been humiliated by the ever-pursuant metalbenders. They had thought that they had successfully manipulated technology to a level where they could contend with benders, but having their machines built out of metal did not render them invincible as it may have a quarter-century ago. Battered and disillusioned, those that were lucky enough to do so left in defeat.
"I guess this is the end for our cause," Sarook said solemnly, more to himself than to anyone else. "We'll just have to get used to being non-benders in a benders' world."
"For today, this is the end," Munra corrected him. "We gave them a run for their money. The stand for true equality we took today will not be forgotten. Sure, the benders were able to undo our supposed advantage with their metalbending, but some day – perhaps years or even decades from now – someone who believes in our cause will find a way around that."
King Bumi Central Square
The serene gulp of fresh air after emerging from the sewers seemed like spiritual bliss after hours of navigating the murky, stenched underground of the city of Omashu. Long Feng unscrewed the lid of the hole himself, and thus it took longer than it would have if one of his impatient men had held the honor, but the new leader of Ba Sing Se absolutely insisted on doing it on his own, swatting off words of complaint like purple pentapi from the minute before. When the Dai Li had finally ascended to the surface, time was scarce, so they could not marvel in the moment for long.
Gitsu surveyed his surroundings. They were at the intersection of several main streets at the front of the city, with a towering, maniacal statue of the Mad Genius King himself looming overhead. It was not long after they came to this place that the Captain of the Dai Li heard the rapid footsteps approaching. "Sir, I think we're in the wrong section of town. There are soldiers coming. They must've heard us! We have to go back and find another point of entry..."
"Nonsense!" snapped Long Feng, wiping smudge of his robe while remaining alert. "We can't retreat now, when we're so close to fulfilling our goal."
"With all due respect, there are likely more of them than there are of us," Gitsu noted. "We're at our best when we have the element of surprise on our side, which we won't now."
"Silence Gitsu – if I want your opinion, I will ask for it!"
Gitsu leaned back and batted his eyes. "I resent that, Sir. I've been with you for years, serving you loyally ever since my early days when I joined as a teenager. I stuck by you even after you had fallen from grace – and helped you do the impossible and regain power."
"Shut up!" Long Feng countered furiously. "You are under my command, you do as I say. Get that through your thick skull! I know what I'm doing..." At these words and with the Omashu soldiers near, Gitsu looked at the other agents, who now shared his sentiments. They had had enough.
Disillusioned by his master's lack of competence, Gitsu sighed and addressed his comrades. "My friends, I'm afraid that we've all been chasing a dream. We tried to restore ourselves to our former glory, but unfortunately, the cunning, respectable leader who trained us is long gone. Come, let's get out of here and leave this sad, sorry old man to his fate." At Gitsu's words, the rest of the Dai Li agents nodded solemnly in agreement, like they were in mourning.
Moments later, an odd combination of earthbenders, airbenders and non-benders burst onto the scene. Trinley, Teo and the Omashu soldiers arrived from separate directions, the former pair ready to airbend and the local troops with spears and rocks at the ready. "You picked the wrong place to try and surprise us today," said Trinley, addressing his adversary. "I'm afraid you played right into our hands. Care to surrender?"
"Pah!" Long Feng spat. "Don't make me laugh, you rag-tag amateur benders and warriors. It is you who are at the mercy of me and my Dai Li agents!"
"What Dai Li agents?" asked Trinley.
The ex-Grand Secretariat looked about in shock, finding himself to be alone. "Not again...some things never change." Shaking, Long Feng raised his hand to his heart, taking in the betrayal and abandonment. For the rest of his days, it seemed he would be rendered a laughing stock and a nut for this. Born with nothing, he had made something of himself and tasted everything, only to have it taken away from him again. Years later, he had tasted it again for merely a second, like a dream, only to be forsaken by those nearest him. That cycle was enough to drive any man mad. "You can never trust anyone, can you?" he said aloud, as the metal circles clinked around his wrists.
By the time the Phoenix Army had reached the rim of the city, the bombardment had already destroyed the entire fore-section of Omashu's walls. The Avatar Legion was no longer able to have archers lining their rear flank, and thus Longshot and those he fought with had been sent back. Smellerbee, meanwhile, was fighting on, along with Haru and most of the Western Fleet. Princess Neinei had engaged herself in a duel with one of the leading Phoenix Army generals. It was a proper Agni Kai, and the men in the Phoenix regiment paused and watched as this arrogant brat of no importance took on their commanding officer. They were quite shocked when she hit him in the chest with fire blast after fire blast and overpowered him, though they would not have been surprised if they knew who she was.
The red-cloaked "Rouyu" was not the only spectacle that drew attention on the battlefield. A mysterious new arrival – a brown-robed warrior – was now fighting for the Avatar Legion. Although lacking any bending ability, this person was a formidable fighter who carried a pair of daggers, which they shoved into the hearts of Phoenix Army troops left and right. Omashu soldiers whispered wondered about the "brown man" and where he had come from. The daggers were Fire Nation-make, so rumor had it that they were one of the last remaining Fire Army loyalists – an anonymous supporter of the Avatar. Others said that he harbored his own reasons for being there, or that he was a hired mercenary. Wherever he came from, it did not matter for the time being, as he was helping give them the advantage.
As the gate remained on the verge of being stormed, still more fighting took place on the field, where Hinko was leading the Southern Water Tribe troops. They had not been seen or heard from in a long while, and Suki was beginning to wonder. Then she caught the eye of another one of her family members. "Kaddo, what are you doing here!?"
"I figured you guys could use some help on this end," Kaddo said simply, fastening his water pouch around his waist.
"Did your dad say you could transfer to the Front Wall?" she asked, narrowing her eyes.
"I don't think it matters now, but he didn't teach me that move for nothing."
A heated column of Phoenix Army troops – both warrior and bender alike – were marching across the bridge and had almost made it to the gate. Following his own cue, Kaddo dashed forth and streamed a pair of water whips from his pouch. Standing in the gateway, Kaddo lined the two whips across the ground with either arm, shaking them up and splashing them upward, knocking the front line off balance. Kaddo then froze the eight-and-a-half foot bed of water into an ice wall, which extended across the bridge and became a barrier between Omashu and the Phoenix Army. The advancing forces hacked and picked at the ice – too thick to be melted with a single blast of fire. As the poking spears had nearly cracked the wall apart, Kaddo liquefied it once more and sent it back against them. In the Old Southern Style, he swept the enemies away, swarming the soldiers, some of whom were knocked over the edge, screaming in vain as they plummeted hundreds of feet, having mere seconds to contemplate their entry into the afterlife.
Kaddo's ploy with the tumbling ice wall did not win the day by itself, but it bought precious time for his side. Avatar Aang was not with his legion there at the moment, being occupied elsewhere.
The Back Wall was now as bantered as the Front Wall, having several holes poked in it from the earlier anti-bender onslaught. The Antibender Militia were defeated, thanks to Toph, Migo and their fellow metalbenders, but Icarus had been poised to attack at the Back Wall. As soon as Aang found out about the intended surprise attack, he came as quickly as his airbending-enhanced running would allow. What he found was that the airship had crashed into the wall. Surveying the giant frame of the craft at his foot-level, he soon found out that this was no piloting mistake. His two airbending children climbed over the top of what was left of the wall, kneeling on the ground as they caught their breath.
"Tenzin, Vameira!" Aang exclaimed, bewildered. "Were you on the airship?"
Tenzin nodded in response. "Yeah, we brought it down." He was relaxed and unconcerned with his father's tone of voice, having faced something far more significant.
Suddenly, another came over the top of the wall. Icarus rose up, grunting furiously, his Air Lord robes torn and bantered, and his face bruised and beaten. Nevertheless, he was far more energetic than either of the children following the crash.
Aang shook his head sternly. "We'll talk about that later. Go find cover! This is my fight now." Tenzin and Vameira exchanged a brief look, then did as their father asked, scurrying off behind the stable where Vameira had brought Pooka.
"Ain't that gallant of you, all-powerful Avatar!" Icarus said mockingly, readying himself to airbend. The Air Lord curled his lips, having found a silver lining in his disastrous circumstances. Now was the perfect time to capture Aang in order to turn him over to Brother Memnon's men later – but not before having his own fun with him.
"Icarus, I'm going to give you one last opportunity to stand down," Aang stated with his knees bent and his glider staff extended forward.
Icarus roared with laughter. "You always were weak, Avatar – even with all the power in the world."
"Make no mistake," said Aang, narrowing his eyes. "I will not be holding back." He swung his staff about and swiped a sharp current of air toward his rogue ex-pupil.
The self-proclaimed Air Lord did not find this unexpected. Bending his knees and kicking off hard from the ground, Icarus sprung fifteen feet in the air and jabbed an air blast in Aang's direction mid-jump. He then reached to his waist and pulled forth an empty sword hilt. In a matter of seconds, Icarus had stretched his arms around and conjured enough currents to bend a consistent, streaming gust of air out like a blade. It was his wind sword, one of his proudest techniques in airbending.
Aang, though, had more kinds of bending besides air at his disposal. He bent his spiny legs and slammed his fists onto the ground, encasing both his hands and forearms in a thick covering of rock. As Icarus swung his wind sword at his shoulder, Aang brought his right arm up and blocked the blow with one earth gauntlet. With his left arm he punched Icarus in the chest.
Icarus, however, recovered from this momentary spurt of pain and swung his sword in a circular motion toward Aang's left elbow. Close to having half his arm sliced open, the Avatar reacted quickly and nudged Icarus's wrist. The Air Lord gasped as his wind sword flew out of his hand and beyond his reach. With his weapon gone, he had to change his tactic. Icarus leapt back five feet and extended his arms back out, pulling the air around his opponent toward him. The rocky coverings dropped from around Aang's arms and fell back to the ground from whence they were made. Aang covered his neck with all ten of his fingers, gagging at the asphyxiation move as he began to lose balance in his stance.
"Not so tough now, are you?" Icarus sneered with pleasure. "With no oxygen, even you can't breathe! I won't let you die, though. I'll stop once you pass out."
Aang had no idea why Icarus was not going for the kill, but he could not think about that now. Losing his breath, the coughing, panting Avatar had to act fast to free himself. Already feeling his legs growing heavier, Aang lifted one foot off the ground with all the strength he still had and slammed it on the rocky surface. A short earth column – not even three feet tall – appeared from beneath Icarus's feet. It was just barely enough to make him trip and allow Aang to catch his breath.
After Icarus fell over, Aang brought his other leg into the air and kicked a curved wave of fire at the Air Lord. "You were always drawn to the raw power of bending, Icarus. You never had any appreciation for its subtleties. You never cared for Air Nomad culture. You were exactly the kind of student I wanted to avoid when I started the New Air Nomads."
As Icarus started to get back up, Aang jerked his right arm forward and erected two hollow earth columns around his feet, trapping him in place. Appalled, Icarus punched the air in front of him, sending a blast of wind at the Avatar's side, which Aang easily dodged.
Aang lifted a small rock from below his feet and punched it into Icarus's chest. With the Air Lord bending over, he erected two more earth columns around Icarus's arms, trapping him in an awkward position with his chest hoisted a foot above the earth, held up by his encased arms and legs like a table-top.
Aang stared down at him in thoughtful remorse. "Even though I always met with those seeking airbending before going through with it, it was only a matter of time before I slipped up and energybent the wrong one, after so many. I just wish I had realized the dangers of energybending sooner, so I could've avoided all this." Aang looked back toward the airship and found that another of his former students had climbed onto the wall. "Paro, long time no see," the Avatar said, pointing his glider staff threateningly at him. "I must say, I'm quite disappointed with you for taking up the same ways as your fallen peer here. So, would you like to carry on?" Aang prepared himself to bend again.
"N-no," Paro stuttered, holding both hands above his head. "No, we-we surrender."
"A wise choice," Aang said, loosening himself and nodding. "I will see that you are treated mercifully." He looked down to face the Air Lord once again. "I've got to go now, Icarus. I have other matters to attend to. The Omashu police force can handle you from here."
"Come back, Avatar!" Icarus shouted, his bald, tattooed head sweating profusely, as Avatar Aang rushed off into the distance. He furiously shook his limbs, trying to escape his earth entrapment, but the stubborn rock would let him budge.
Aang found Trinley, Tenzin and Sokka congregating outside a nearby shelter on his way back to the Front Wall. He was happy to see that Sakema had performed well and that Sokka was looking like himself again. "I see you've fully recovered," said Aang, grinning.
"Never better," Sokka returned in a similar way. "So, what did I miss?"
"Well, the anti-benders and the Dai Li have retreated, the Air Nation has surrendered, and Icarus and Long Feng have been taken prisoner," Aang informed him.
"It looks like things are finally going our way," Sokka replied with a smirk. "Then we're only fighting the Fire Nation, like in the old days."
"Well done, Dad!" said Tenzin, grinning confidently.
"I hate to be a kill-joy here," Trinley announced over the rest of them. "But we've still got our work cut out for us with the Phoenix Army. They have the upper-hand and our defenses at the Front Wall are all-but shattered. We're in serious danger!"
Undaunted, Tenzin waved his arm dismissively. "It doesn't matter. We've already won. My Dad just needs to use Icarus to conquer Azula and we'll win the day!"
Aang suddenly became much more serious. "What do you mean, use Icarus to conquer Azula?" he asked, his eyes narrowing.
"Just use Shuten Shogai with Icarus's energy," Tenzin answered matter-of-factly.
"I already told you, I won't do that," said Aang firmly.
"He does have a point," said Trinley. "Even if energybending is bad for the balance, our short-term circumstances call for it." Aang was surprised to hear this from Trinley.
But not as surprised as he was to hear the same from Sokka. "I might have to support the idea as well."
Aang gawked at him. "What?! You started telling me to stop energybending before I met my turning point. How can you do a full reversal now?"
"If it's as bad as Trinley says it is, I don't see another way," Sokka said simply.
Tenzin looked up into his father's eyes pleadingly. "Dad...Icarus killed Feng Qu, Rensa and Appa. He tried to kill me, he tried to kill you and he tried to kill Vameira. Why would you turn away a chance to save the day for his sake?"
"No matter what he's done, we cannot sink to his level and act for revenge," Aang snapped at his son. "This is against Air Nomad virtues I taught you!"
Tenzin did not reflect his dad's anger, but shrugged to make his point. "Technically, this isn't really killing him."
"No," said Aang darkly. "It's worse. Death, as grim as it may be, is natural. What Shuten Shogai does to people whose energy it takes is unnatural."
Trinley hung his head awkwardly. "I don't know...I can tell that you're right about what you say, but I'm still...conflicted. It really seems like it's necessary now, even if there's a catch."
"There's always a sinister catch with energybending," Aang stated definitively. He stared at Tenzin, Trinley and Sokka in disbelief. "I understand. You all would fall into the same trap I did, but two wrongs can never make a right, even now. You just don't understand."
"People are dying in this battle left and right and all those you care about are here," said Tenzin, wincing at his father. "You have a way to end it all in an instant, but you won't. You're right, Dad – I don't understand!"
The Avatar found himself taken aback. "It is when it's most tempting that it is most important to resist."
"None of this would've happened if it weren't for meddling in energy to begin with," said Trinley guiltily. "I played a part in this. You should take away all the bending you've given out to finish it. All the Air Nation's bending should go...and mine along with it."
Aang looked into Trinley's eyes with pity. "I wish it was that simple, but I can't avoid the consequences of energybending with more energybending."
"If you're not going to use Shuten Shogai, what are you going to do?" Sokka asked uneasily.
"I'll stop Azula some other way," Aang said as he opened his glider and took off toward the main gate.
Azula was down from her airship once more and had begun marching across the bridge to the gates of Omashu, flanked by the largest wave of Phoenix Army troops that the Avatar Legion had seen. Azula narrowed her eyes and hardened her lips and sharpening her limbs. It was the pose of someone about to burn everything in their path to a crisp. The Omashu soldiers and the men of the Western Fleet Remnant looked on, prepared to fight to the death, which was already knocking at their door. There was no way they could stand up to this surge. It was an unspoken truth among them that this would be the end.
The Avatar glided over the lines of troops and the Front Wall, ready to land on the bridge and confront Azula and her army on his own. This day was playing out much like the last major battle they had all been in. Sokka had gotten injured and needed either recquiesence or healing to recover. Later on, the temptation to use Shuten Shogai and cheat to get out of a tough situation came. This time, the temptation was so great that even Trinley and Sokka would give into it. But Aang now knew that giving in was never the right thing to do. As Azula had just made it halfway across the bridge, he shut his glider once again and let his feet sink to the ground, landing smoothly in front of her.
Not knowing what to say, he said the first words that came to mind. "Hello, Azula. Long time, no see. How have you been?"
Azula flashed her eyes, then relaxing her determined expression. "Avatar, what a pleasant surprise. I've been fine. Yourself?"
"Alright, let's cut with the nonsense!" Aang said sharply. "You will not touch this fair city – your battle is with me."
Azula hung her head back humorously. "Hah! Nice try, Avatar, but no way. We're coming in and we're burning this entire proud metropolis to the ground!"
"Why?" asked Aang. "There are innocent people there you had no conflict with."
"If you wanted single combat, you should've sought me out to begin with," Azula told him, smirking. "It's your fault for coming here and endangering these people in our conflict. Their blood will be on your hands. Now, step aside." Azula stiffened herself and resumed marching toward the gates of Omashu, passing Aang on the way. She was so confident now she did not even mind turning her back on him.
Aang's thoughts were racing back and forth as he tried to decide what his next course of action would be. "You once told me you were stronger now than your father ever was!" he called out to her.
Azula paused and rotated her head to respond over the shoulder. "Yeah, what of it?"
"Well, Ozai was a powerful firebender," Aang said casually. "That's quite a boast. I don't think I believe it's really true."
"Why would I care what you think?!" Azula yelled furiously. She was now facing Aang straight on. "Who are you to pass down judgement?"
"It's not what I think," Aang said, now more calm "It's a matter of what's true versus what's not true. The legendary Azula is a liar."
"Don't try and stir me, Avatar! You know the extent of my firebending. You've seen what I can do!"
Aang put an arm up to silence her. "My point is...you have to beat me in a one-on-one fight to prove it – not only to the world, but to yourself. It's the only way you can say so for sure."
Azula calmed down and loosened her stance. She squinted her eyes and scratched her chin for a few seconds, considering. "Alright, Avatar. You get to have it your way. One condition, though. I want an Agni Kai. You must bend only fire – none of those other elements. That way, it's fair."
"Fine by me," said Aang.
King Bumi Central Square
At last, the decisive final duel of the battle was underway. The standing members of the Avatar Legion witnessed it from the Front Wall. Among them were Brawki, Migo, Neinei and the brown-robed one, who was a short distance away from the rest. While Azula had told her troops to remain on the other side of the bridge until the ordeal was finished, those inside Omashu had already begun having their doubts about her.
"The Phoenix Army isn't moving on this end," noted Brawki, peering off at the plain beyond the bridge. "But some of them are marching around at the eastern end. They could be readying to launch an attack at a different angle."
"Azula's keeping him occupied," Migo concurred. "It's no surprise that she wouldn't be genuine about going along with it. We'll have to go intercept their forces wherever they may go."
Brawki nodded in agreement. "Listen, Migo. I know you're not keen on the idea, but once this is all over someone will have to bring the Fire Nation back under control, so they don't threaten the other nations again as they have today. There's no one else now that the Fire Nation Royal Family is gone. It's not morally your choice anymore. It's your responsibility."
Migo took a deep breath and stared into space. "Alright. If I must, I will go to the Fire Nation to take my place on the throne."
"Glad you finally came to your senses," said Brawki triumphantly. "I know you're fond of the queen here, but the world needs you to do this."
Neinei, who had been standing right next to them, knew that she had to speak up now. "No, you don't have to do anything, Migo. I'm Princess Neinei, daughter of Fire Lord Zuko. I am of the royal line of the Fire Nation. If anyone brings things back under control, it'll be me!"
"Rouyu..." Migo began.
"Listen, it's time to stop playing around, girl," Brawki uttered with impatient condescension. "You may say you're the Fire Princess, but there's no way to prove it other than your word."
"She's telling the truth – I would recognize my own daughter anywhere!" All their heads turned in the direction of the new voice joining the conversation. The person in brown robes had pulled down their hood.
Migo and Brawki's jaws both dropped at the same time. "Fire Lady Mai!" Migo blurted out.
"Mom!" Neinei exclaimed in joy. Teary-eyed, she ran into her mother's arms and enveloped her in outstretched arms. "I missed you so much!"
"I missed you, too," said Mai, patting Neinei on the head.
"It's good to see you safe and sound," Migo said after letting them be for several seconds. He was relieved that Neinei and Mai were there and that the burden of Fire Nation royalty was lifted from his shoulders.
"Thank you," Mai said dryly. "I wouldn't say we're all exactly safe and sound yet, though. The Avatar is in for a rough fight if Azula's anything how she used to be.
Migo nodded seriously. "Oh she is – for sure."
"You're not bending purple fire," Azula stated as she evaded one of Aang's red fire blasts with ease. "Are you mocking me, Avatar?!"
Aang jabbed straight ahead with his right arm, them did the same with his left in a one-two motion, sending a pair of small balls of fire at her shoulders. "I'm not using it anymore. It wasn't good for me."
"You can be so stupid sometimes, Avatar," said Azula, smirking. "It's hilarious." Clearly not shy about using colored flames herself, Azula cracked her knuckles together and thrust her hand forward, sending a continuous stream of blue fire at the Avatar.
Aang dodged this attack, as well as the two jets she sent forward with both legs in a somersault immediately afterwards. Shaking his elbow, Aang created a smooth, thin whip of scorching red flame, which he swung left, right, up and down, forcing Azula to avoid in several directions. To his frustration however, she had no trouble at all dodging his attacks. She was ahead of each crack by at least a few inches, and did not break a sweat in doing so.
Azula did a back flip and landed gracefully four feet from the tip of Aang's fire whip. She puffed up her cheeks and inhaled as hard as she knew how, then stepped forward with one foot, pushed both her elbows out and exhaled, sending a continuous blast of blue flame three feet in diameter. Aang jumped to his left and stood on the edge of the bridge, dodging the burst of flame. Azula ceased sending the wave of fire at him and threw her arms about in a circular motion. She did not seem to be aiming an attack. It was more like she was manipulating what was around her, and perhaps the balance of yin and yang itself.
Recognizing what she was doing, Aang hopped back to the center of the bridge and positioned himself directly in front of her. If she was going to shoot lightning at him, he was going to redirect it. The safer option would be to redirect it at an angle and save himself, but Aang knew he would have to take a risk if he hoped to gain the upper hand against her. He had to absorb the lightning and redirect it back at her. It would put him in severe danger, since sending the powerful force of lightning back in its original direction was infinitely more difficult than normal lightning redirection, but it would give him the edge he needed to beat her.
The moment came. Azula split herself an instant bolt of lightning, then waved her arms back around and gave a two-fingered point toward Aang. This was not a bolt sent to stun like when she pretended to double-cross him at the Southern Air Temple. This was an actual bolt of lightning sent to kill. As it hit Aang's shoulder and penetrated his body, the Avatar guided the electrical flow through his upper body in a precise flowing motion which would go back where it came from, but was not disrupted enough to cause damage. Aang pointed his own fingers back at Azula, then sent returned the lightning to its owner. The redirected lightning immediately struck Azula in the chest. Aang confidently believed that he had caught her by surprise.
But she did not fall back as she should have. Instead, she bent over and waved her arms about once again. Aang was confused. "What the...wait. Is that possible?"
Just as he had redirected lightning onto her, she redirected back at him. Aang dove for the ground, so the redirected stream passed over his head. "Did you just...double redirect your lightning?"
Azula grinned maliciously. "Don't act so surprised Avatar. I told you there was nothing with fire or lightning I can't do."
"I see," said Aang, still in shock. "You actually live up to that, then." He realized that he would have to end this soon or Azula would wear him out.
Aang kicked forward, sending a whirling round fire arc at Azula. She extinguished it by blocking with a kick of her own. Aang countered by jabbing four quick fire blasts at her chest and then punched his right arm in a hook motion at a downward angle, aiming for her legs. Azula stumbled slightly off balance. Now was his chance! Aang twisted his ankle and opened a spiral in the ground below his foe and former ally. The bent earth became like quicksand and the strong, proud Azula was whirled around and submerged up to her waist in solid rock.
Buried almost to her waste, Azula shouted out in anger. "You cheated, Avatar!"
Aang shook his head calmly. "Sorry that I couldn't be fair to you, but my duty to the world comes first."
Azula snarled at him with deep loathing. Even though she and Aang considered each other enemies now, she could not help but feel betrayed. The Phoenix Army battalion behind her saw what was happening, and charged forward, shouting an indecipherable battle cry.
Aang kicked the stone beneath him, sending a fissure through the bridge. The Phoenix Army men suddenly stopped charging and began to scramble back to the field. A fissure ran through the bridge, cracking hundreds of feet of solid rock apart in an instant. The jagged, chunky remains of the crushed bridge tumbled into the chasm beneath the great Earth Kingdom city of Omashu. Azula tumbled downwards, with all the rocks, still spiteful about the Avatar not playing fairly according to the rules they had agreed on. Aang, on the other hand, managed to leap off twenty feet into the air, hovering and smoothly landing back at the Front Wall. With no more bridge, all that lay before Omashu was an empty canyon.
Aang stared down at the pit Azula had fallen into. "At last...it's over."
Indeed, a group of Phoenix Army soldiers – under the command of Colonel Wan – had attempted to go to the Back Wall and invade the city that way while Aang was busy with Azula. In the end, however, it did not mean much. Migo, Sokka and Trinley led the remaining Avatar Legion to the Back Wall to face them. Once word got out to both sides that Azula had been bested by Aang, the tide and morale of the troops turned decisively in favor of those defending Omashu. Within another hour, Colonel Wan officially surrendered to Queen Toph.
Victory was achieved, but at a great cost. The casualties had filled every decent facility in the city, so only a small minority were harbored at the infirmary by the Omashu Royal Palace. Chief Sokka entered the building to individually thank the wounded men of the Southern Water Tribe for their service.
"Why is this place sectioned off?" Sokka wondered aloud.
"It's sorted into necessary divisions," explained Ying, one of Queen Toph's ministers. "Those who had fallen in battle are in one wing with the captured enemy prisoners. Our own wounded are on the other side."
"I see," said Sokka casually. "Well, show me to the other side where the Water Tribe wounded are. That's where I need to..." But what the chief saw next made him gasp. He was horrified to find Hinko's body among the slain.
"There you are!"
Kaddo spun around to find Toph standing in front of him, tapping her foot, with Migo and Penga right behind. "Oh, there you are," said Kaddo, pretending to be surprised. "I couldn't find any of you after you left the Back Wall."
"Don't try to talk your way out, Kaddo," Toph said, shaking her head. "I can tell when you're trying to be deceptive, remember?"
"Alright, busted, I get it," said Kaddo, showing both his palms. "But it's a good thing I didn't stay where I supposed to, isn't it?'
"Maybe," said Toph, smugly offering a token of respect, but stopping short of giving in. "You'll have to take that up with Twinkle Toes."
"My dad? Think you can help me explain to him?" asked Kaddo, grinning.
"Perhaps," Toph conceded. "No promises, though."
"I guess we all had some close calls today," Migo said solemnly.
"Yeah, we did," agreed Toph. "Speaking of which, what happened to that projectile that was about to hit us at the Back Wall that suddenly vanished in mid-air? I didn't feel it hit anything or explode." At these words, Migo and Penga exchanged an awkward glance. "What is it?" asked Toph, raising an eyebrow. "I can tell the two of you are hiding something from me."
"Well..." Migo began.
"Somebody jumped in front of the projectile and let themselves get hit," Penga cut him off. "They got hit, but the projectile didn't explode. The rest of everyone in the vicinity was saved due to their response."
"Then they're a hero," said Toph. "Who was it? I didn't feel any of the metalbenders leave our side."
Migo and Penga looked at each other uneasily once again. Toph stroked her bare foot on the ground, taking in the scene around her. Then she found out. The person who had done the sacrifice was in the same building they were. "Nala!"
"Hinko, my little boy!" wailed Sokka, holding the lifeless body of his son close to his chest. "It can't be – how did this happen?"
"I can tell you that," the prisoner behind him said coolly. Icarus had been chi-blocked by the Kyoshi Warriors so that he was unable to bend and locked in a pair of handcuffs and a metal chain wrapping around his upper and lower body. With his feet bound as well, this was a temporary arrangement before he would be moved to a proper cell. "I heard about that boy's mission after I got here. Rumor has it that he acted like a coward and begged for mercy as they slit his throat."
Sokka rose to his feet and drew his half-space sword from his sheath. "You shut up or I'll slit your throat!"
"You don't have the guts," sneered Icarus. "You're just another weak friend of the weak Avatar."
Sokka rose his sword up in a rage, but his arm was grabbed as he was mid-stroke and about to cut into the former Air Lord's body. "Let go of me, Aang!"
"It's not worth it," said the Avatar, looking his oldest friend in the eyes. He had just arrived as Sokka discovered the bad news. "He's of no threat to us now. We have no reason to harm him."
"Ah, another kooky lecture from the Avatar," said Icarus, rolling his eyes as he taunted them. "Some things really do never change."
"Shut up!" shouted Sokka.
"I know how you feel, Sokka," Aang said calmly and solemnly. "I don't want to see you strike him in anger now. That isn't you."
Sokka sheathed his sword once again. "Okay, I won't."
"You're doing the right thing Sokka," said Aang. "Revenge is never the answer."
"No offense, Aang, but that really doesn't make me feel any better."
Nala's body was still impaled by the bulk of the disarmed projectile. She groaned in agony on her bed, her face whitened and her lower lip covered in blood. Her gaze broke from the metallic frame in her chest when she saw that Toph was there with her. "M'lady..."
"Nala..." said Toph, bending over with her blind eyes starting to water. She rotated her head to face Kaddo. "You have to heal her! Now!"
Kaddo froze. With a wide-eyed and regretful expression, he shook his head.
Toph did not have to see him to get the message; his silence said everything. "No..." In a rare gesture, the Queen of Omashu dropped her head in the presence of her personal servant. "Nala, I'm sorry for what I said earlier." The memory stood out like a shameful thorn in Toph's stomach. It was due to Nala's valiant action that several lives were saved.
"It's okay, M'lady," said Nala, her hand shaking as she lifted it off her bed.
"You're going to be just fine, Nala," Toph said with hopeful determination.
"I don't think so, M'lady."
"You will," said Toph, trying to stay strong, touching Nala's hand with her own, so that she could feel her diminishing warmth. "We'll find a way to help you."
"You should go, M'lady," Nala said humbly. "Really, go on. I'm sure you have more important things to do now than wait here. You shouldn't concern yourself with a lowly servant like me."
Toph did something neither Nala nor Kaddo had ever seen her do and burst into tears. "Nala, you're so much more than that." She wrapped her head servant in her strong, earthbending arms.
"Thanks," said Nala, her voice fading. "That...means the world to me."
The Queen of Omashu crouched on the ground, weeping, as Nala buried her head in her lap. Toph held Nala tightly, but gently. She felt the tears creep over her eyes – a rare use for those orbs which lacked sight. Nala was comforted by her beloved queen as she gradually drifted into a sleep from which she would never awake.
After Colonel Wan was captured and the Phoenix Army remaining forces surrendered, the Avatar, his legion, his friends and all their allies who had acted bravely that day adjusted to the new way of things in their own way. Fire Lady Mai and Princess Neinei, the newly restored and reunited mother and daughter, took a stroll through the streets of Omashu, not far from Toph's palace. Stores, inns and restaurants lay on all sides of them, but none of them bothered to open themselves at the moment. It was like walking through a giant ghost town or an old Air Temple.
"Where did you go after you left the palace, Mother?" the white-haired Neinei asked the Fire Lady.
"We left the palace at the same time we said we were when you ran off to help your father," said Mai, in an almost-scolding way. "We had to flee the Fire Nation and stay in the Earth Kingdom with one of your great-uncle's friends from the Order of the White Lotus. I left and came to Omashu when I heard that you were here. I longed to get our family back together as soon as possible."
"Right," said Neinei agreeably. "Did you see any more of 'Zhang Sang' – the guy who was after us?"
"I'm afraid not. With the current political climate, we had to leave the country as soon as possible. We had to stay hidden most of the time before we arrived at the safe house."
"I had to stay hidden, too," Neinei added. "I took on a new name when I was traveling. How did you know I would be here?"
"I figured that Tenzin boy might've tried to track you down," Mai said with a roll of her eyes.
"Ah, of course," said Neinei, hitting her forehead with her palm. "I have to do something about him soon. I hope dad gets well again, soon..."
"So do I, sweetheart. So do I."
Omashu Royal Palace
Tenzin accompanied his father as he scaled the corridors of Toph's magnificent residence, heading towards the throne room. "So, it's finally over," said Tenzin thoughtfully. "I won't forget that battle anytime soon. It was really something. Everyone in our family did well."
"Yes," Aang said simply. Tenzin did not know about his cousin yet. Since he had had a long day, Aang thought it would be best to let the pieces come in degrees.
"So we just saw the last battle of Fire Nation Civil War," remarked Tenzin. "And it was fought in Omashu of all places."
Aang laughed humorlessly. "A lot has been ironic lately, in an almost-cynical way."
"It looks like you were right about Shuten Shogai," said Tenzin. But it sounded as though he still was not fully convinced.
"Energybending can be tempting at times," Aang said to him. "At the end of the day, though, we don't really need it. We just think we do."
"I have to speak with Toph and Sokka for a while," Aang told him as they approached the doors to the throne room. "Go see if you can find your brother and sister."
In addition to finding Sokka and Toph in the throne room – not unlike how he had met with them before the battle – Aang also glimpsed Guru Pathik meditating in the corner to the left of the throne. He had not done much during the battle, and appeared the calmest of all of them.
"So, what news is there?" asked Aang. He tried to make his voice as polite as possible, as both Toph and Sokka were in low-spirited moods.
"Everything is in order as it should be," said Sokka stiffly. "The city is on it's way to being rebuilt and most of the rubble has been cleared away already, thanks to earthbending. However, they didn't find Azula's body."
"I think we all know what that means," Toph added, grimacing.
"We shouldn't worry about that for now," said Aang dismissively. "Her army is defeated. She may still come after me, but the threat she championed is gone."
"Hopefully," said Sokka. "At least the rest of our enemies are all out of the picture."
"They doomed themselves in how they fought," said Aang. "We were a world united and they were a world divided. They weren't that great at being united even when they tried." The Avatar let out a deep sigh. "I suppose I should be proud of all my kids. They've grown up so fast."
"Wish I would be able to say the same for Hinko," said Sokka, downtrodden. "I shouldn't have allowed him to lead that mission."
"You mustn't blame yourself," Aang told him, reaching his arm out. Sokka, however, turned away.
"I guess we've all done our duty," stated Sokka. "We saved the world, as you said."
"Yes," said Aang, though he was uncomfortable when he did so. He remembered hearing that chaos begets more chaos. Was there more to come? "The Lion Turtle did mention we might save the world again," noted Aang. "I suppose that this was it. But we'll sure have our work cut out for us picking up the pieces this time."
Toph waved this statement aside. "We can worry about that later. Before anything else, I need to see to the recovery of my own city from the damage that was done today. I also have to rebuild that bridge that you destroyed when you brought down Azula."
"Yes," said Sokka with a solemn nod. "I, too, have to concentrate on certain things of my own now. I need to go back to the South Pole and start preparing for Hinko's funeral. His...funeral...I don't believe it. All this time I was thinking of the day when I would watch him get married – and when I would see him invested as chief after my own retirement. Instead, I must see to his funeral."
Toph felt her foot out to Sokka while Aang gazed at him sympathetically, yearning desperately for the proper words of comfort to give their friend. Unfortunately, there were none. The Queen of Omashu spoke to the Avatar instead. "What will you do next, Twinkle Toes?"
"Well, now that the world is more or less back in balance, I think I can finally go back to looking for a way to fix Katara – and restore her energy," Aang said decisively.
Toph smirked. "After saving your daughter, fleeing a revolution, fighting four hostile armies and defeating Icarus and Azula in single combat, I would say that you've earned a chance to make Katara right again."
"Yes, it's time to finish what I set out to do with Kaddo," said Aang, resolved to get back to it. "Spirits, that seems so long ago now."
"How are you going to do it?" asked Sokka, inquisitive.
"I'm not sure, but I have the time and space to figure it out, with everything calmed down," Aang said simply. "After going to the North Pole, talking to Doru Kun and countless time meditating on it, I'll just have to try something new."
Pathik suddenly interjected. "Your original teacher of energybending may have more to say."
Aang, Toph and Sokka nearly jumped, having forgotten that he was there in the corner. "You mean, he needs to speak with Yue again?"
"That's imposible," Aang said flatly. "Last time I saw her, she basically exiled me from the Spirit Oasis."
Guru Pathik chuckled. "You don't need to go all the way back there, Avatar," he said calmly. "You can communicate with her through other means."
"I can't get a strong enough connection to have a meaningful conversation with her from afar," Aang said firmly.
"You must use the Fire Nation Princess," Pathik said simply. "She has been touched by the Moon Spirit. Meditate with her as nearby as a medium."
"Neinei?" said Toph, bewildrered. "Is it possible?"
Aang waved his hand dismissively. "Even if it was, another spirit told Yue that she was forbidden from giving further information than she already had. She was quite clear last time when she said that she won't tell me any more about energybending."
"No," Pathik conceded. "But you can ask her where to find the spirit that approached her. If it is truly meant to be, they must know something about what you need to do."
TO BE CONTINUED...
- Only five chapters remain.
- The line when Vameira tells Pooka it's "time for you to go," is a reference to when Aang tells Momo the same thing during Sozin's Comet.
- Since the longer Avatar-style airships resemble zeppelins instead of traditional hot-air balloons, the heating of air might not work the way it's supposed to in order to make the ship air-born. The author assumed the airship would have a similar structure to a real-life zeppelin, but be powered more like a hot-air balloon. As he is not an engineer, this may or may not be realistic.
- When the defeated General Munra talks of finding a way around the advantage the metalbenders had against his mechanized tanks, he is foreshadowing the creation of the mecha tank – which were not vulnerable to metalbending – by the Equalists, a later movement with a philosophy similar to his. The inventor was Hiroshi Sato, the son of Wang Sato, who fought in this battle on the side of the Avatar Legion.
- Following the events of this battle, Fire Lady Mai gained a new nickname: "The Brown Spirit."
- The spirit that was brought up at the end of this chapter was mentioned before, not too long ago.
For the collective works of the author, go here.