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|Return to the Cave of the Ancients: Part Four|
Previously on Energy Saga
Brother Memnon grants the capability to firebend to a bunch of wolf-bats lurking in the Cave of the Ancients, which appears to pose some trouble for Team Avatar, until Aang is able to connect with them and the wolf-bats attack the leadership of the Sages Bane instead. Later, Migo and Neinei succeed in striking down Brother Memnon, but Aang appears to be killed by Nola. However, it turned out that Aang survived and that he is able to bend in the Avatar State again after talking to Roku, who also taught him a new Avatar Level technique. Things seem to finally be going well, but Nola resorts to using Chan for a Shuten Shogai attack, and everything in the vicinity caves in. What will happen now?
Chapter Forty-Six: Return to the Cave of the Ancients: Part Four
Cave of the Ancients, 121 AG
"Come on!" Avatar Aang shrilled to his friends who had been present for Nola's Shuten Shogai. "We have to escape the cave-in."
Havoc was happening all around them. Rocks were falling from the cave ceiling, buildings in the city of the First Avatar were crumbling and being reduced to rubble and passages out of the city itself were blocked by the ensuing cave-in. Soon, breathing itself would become a hazard in the enclosed area deep within one of the Earth Kingdom's greatest mountains. Now, it was only barely possible to escape through the passage that the Avatar and company had entered through.
Thinking back to Nola using Chan to power her Shuten Shogai attack, Aang realized just how mad and twisted she had become. She was no longer anything resembling the girl who came to him years before to become an airbender. Maybe she had always had cold-blooded intentions in her heart, but she had seemed like a totally different person before she made Aang give her energybending at the Southern Air Temple. Her deceptive identity had been crafty enough to be real.
"What was Nola thinking?!" Sokka blurted out in astounded bewilderment, as they all trudged on.
"Maybe she perished by her own Shuten Shogai," Azula put forward.
"I doubt it," said Aang, shaking his head and clutching his glider like a shepherd's staff.
"Has she become plain insane?" Trinley asked disbelievingly.
"It's hard to tell if she's merely desperate or if she's truly insane," said Aang. "It is possible, though. She's had her energy bent out of place three times: once to grant her airbending, once to take her airbending and once to grant her energybending. I can scarcely imagine what that would do to a person."
"Why did she have you take her airbending first?" Zuko asked quizzically.
"Only the Avatar can hold more than one kind," Aang stated simply.
"You guys, someone's coming!" Toph pointed out once again with the help of her seismic sense. It was good that no one ever took her bending, Aang thought to himself. She would be the most helpless without it. Aang, Migo, Azula and Zuko all took their fighting stances, expecting to encounter a rogue Sages Bane energybender in the dark passageway. It soon became apparent, though, that that was not the case. Aang soon saw that the approaching person's outline was familiar – and consisted of a round, pointed hat and a thick, braided string of hair.
"Gitsu!" Ty Lee shouted in delight, clapping her hands tenderly together.
"Oh, Gitsu, we thought you were dead," Azula said with complete calm casualness.
"Nope, I made it...by the skin of my teeth. Almost literally." Gitsu bore gashes all over his body, but he stood upright nonetheless. No one needed to ask why the rest of the Dai Li agents were not with him. Like Aang had been once, Gitsu was now the last of his kind. "What happened? I heard a really loud noise and then rocks started falling all around."
"Nola used Shuten Shogai in the middle of the underground city," Aang informed him. This was, of course, the cause of their present trouble. Before them now was the burdensome task of escaping the cave-in.
"Gitsu, what's the area like up ahead?" Sokka asked, purely serious for once in his life. "Is it clear?"
"Nope," said Gitsu, moving his head from side to side. "The way to the main cave entrance looks like it's blocked for miles. And there's no way to earthbend through it without risking getting crushed by more rocks." This was not good news.
"So, what now?" asked Kaddo, looking to those bigger than him for an answer.
"We find another way out of here," Aang told his son. That was a lot more complicated than it sounded.
In the aftermath of the thundering ground quake, Chao Feng wandered freely. His metalbent hand-shaped bindings had been broken when a chunk of the stony cave ceiling landed near him. It was a stroke of luck for Chao Feng – and the fact that it did not land on him, thereby crushing his body, was an additional stroke of luck. Coming into the chamber where the remains of the once-proud city of the First Avatar stood, he could tell that a major fight had recently taken place there. Now, it was deserted save for him and one other person up ahead. He prepared to energybend, thinking that it was one of the Avatar's allies – but then he saw that she was one of his own.
"Sister Joo Dee," Chao Feng noticed her presence. "You're alive."
"Of course I am," said Nola, as though offended by the observation. "I see that you made it away from the Avatar."
"I was captured," Chao Feng informed her. "But I'm free now."
Nola narrowed her eyes into a piercing gaze. "You know what we say about being taken prisoner, Chao Feng."
Chao Feng nodded, unfazed. "Better dead," he responded. "But I suppose it's different now that we've revealed ourselves."
"The rules change when we say they change!" Nola snapped at him. "Not before. Nevertheless, it doesn't really matter now. Today was the day we finally made ourselves known, and a lot of things could have gone better."
"Did we lose Brother Memnon?" Chao Feng asked her in a deep tone.
"And Brother Zhang Sang?"
"Brother Zhang Sang, too," Nola confirmed without elaborating any further on the circumstances.
"The elemental benders have proven stronger than we expected," said Chao Feng. "At least you're still around, Sister Joo Dee. We'd be leaderless without you."
"And now I am going to lead us to victory," said Nola, raising her voice once again. "I have a plan. I'm going down that passage to a secluded area for a while," she added, pointing off down the farther corner. "Buy me some time and keep people away from this place."
"Can I assist you in any way?" Chao Feng offered.
"No," Nola said sternly. "I need to charge up for something only I'm capable of."
As the Avatar and his allies scouted the surrounding passage, looking for a way out of their rocky prison, Zuko, Neinei and Azula each carried a hovering flame in their palm, which the others – save for Toph – huddled in close proximity to. Since most of the shining crystals had shattered, they had to resort to fire to light their way forward once again. With the route back to the cave entrance blocked – possibly for miles – it would take them everything they had, plus some luck to find another exit. Migo, Toph, and Gitsu took to feeling the walls of the cave, looking for nearby empty spaces in the surrounding area. They used earthbending to open up paths between the passages, but it was a delicate process that they needed to be careful with. If they opened the way forward in the wrong place, they could cause a rocky avalanche, which would either consume them or ensure that they would indeed be trapped in the Cave of the Ancients forever.
Toph had discovered a lead that she thought was their best bet to returning to the outside world. She gradually began earthbending another small tunnel, one step at a time so as to avoid unnecessary risk. Migo started helping her to speed things up. Aang decided that he would join in as well, and glowed up his eyes for an instant, calling upon the strength of his past lives, and then shifting a layer of rock aside. He briefly entered the Avatar State again, and repeated the move. Then yet another instant glow, and another shifting of rocks.
"I have to take a break now," Aang announced after carving a few paces' worth of extra room. "I need to conserve my energy. These instant glows wear me out very fast."
"Why don't you earthbend regularly? Trinley asked him.
"I can't just do it regularly," Aang told him irritably.
Just then, Toph felt that they were not alone. A band of ten surviving Sages Bane members was coming toward them from around the corner. Their numbers had dwindled significantly in the quake following Nola's Shuten Shogai, but they were still ready to pose a threat.
"Oh no, not now!" Kaddo shouted, rolling his eyes, as the ten figures dressed in black approached.
The skirmish was one of the most unpleasant since they had come to the cave. Not only were the energybenders formidable and aggressive as ever, but the Avatar and his companions had other thoughts that worried them. Azula, Gitsu, Trinley, Migo, Zuko and Toph bent their respective elements in calculated defense, so as not to wreck the cave passages any further. Sokka, Suki and Mai, meanwhile, brandished their weapons and lunged forth to strike their opponents while Ty Lee poked chi-blocking punches at them, one at a time.
Aang used an instant glow again, because a full Avatar State would be too risky under the circumstances. After the first instant glow, he punched a pair of fire balls from either of his arms at two energybenders. After they ducked below his flame, the Avatar momentarily glowed up his eyes again and charged at them with a forceful push of airbending. The Sages Bane members fled from him down another passage. When Aang's brief grace of airbending wore out, he made his eyes glow again and continued the pursuit. He repeated this process a couple of times, but in the end he lost track of the pair he was chasing. He had also lost track of where he was relative to where he had been before.
Aang bent over and took a second to catch his breath before looking around to try to retrace his steps back to the others again. His train of thought was interrupted by a voice which called from behind.
"Hello, Avatar Aang." Nola was standing before him, her legs stretched at differing angles and her arms hanging loosely at her sides. Her entire body appeared to be pulsing. She was illuminated like the bright morning sun, standing out in the dark cave like a star in the night sky.
"Nola!" Aang had not expected to be alone with her again so soon – but perhaps this was exactly where he needed to be. In the end, Nola was like the personification of the battle he should have been fighting all along. The Fire Nation Civil War, resurrecting the Air Nomads, his other opponents along the way and his other Avatar duties over the past several years had just been background noise. Whatever happened between him and Nola would settle everything – and hopefully allow him to put this whole mess behind him. Aang was eager to do so, particularly because the mess stemmed from his own selfish desire in resurrecting the Air Nomads he grew up with and making his trials easier than they ought to have been.
The Avatar prepared himself for whatever Nola intended to throw his way. "Why aren't you in your fighting stance?" he asked her. "Isn't that what you came here for?"
"We'll get to that in a minute," Nola told him calmly. "First, Avatar Aang, I have one last move to show you."
"No thanks, Nola," Aang said to her in firm defiance. "I don't need to learn anything more about energybending."
"I think you can make an exception for this," Nola smirked with malice in her eyes. "It's called the Necra State – my counter to your Avatar State. It's basically an upgraded version of the energy feed where you draw from those within a radius," Nola explained, her body shaking with the intensity of its bright aura. "Having taken the time to meditate and charge my energy up, I believe I can extend that radius to this entire cave. Your energy flows differently than others, and thus the Avatar Spirit will protect you, but it won't protect anyone else."
All of a sudden, Nola's eyes went black – and Aang was reminded of what Avatar Doru Kun had said about The Mystic. "His eyes became orbs of pitch darkness, like staring into them was staring into space – not like they were empty sockets, but a boundless, night-filled void. When this happened, he harnessed even more incredible power than he had before."
"Where did Aang go?" Suki asked aloud, having wounded the man from the Sages Bane she had been fighting and forcing him to retreat.
"He was just chasing those guys," said Migo.
"He had to have gone that way," Sokka pointed the finger of his outstretched arm to the passage down which Aang had chased the two energybenders.
"He can't have gotten far," Toph stated, crossing her arms. "We should-aahhhh!" The Queen of Omashu's body grew weak and she fell down to the ground. Migo's body gave way moments later – even more violently than when Brother Memnon had performed the energy feed on him.
Sokka and Azula stared in shock and confusion as the two earthbenders' limp bodies remained flat and shaking, as raw energy was drawn from them. Azula put her hand to her head as a sharp pain hit her forehead and her chi diluted on her, causing her four limbs to lose their strength and fail to prevent her body from falling. Likewise, Sokka felt as though his entire body had been chi-blocked at once, and collapsed to the ground. One by one, the rest of them followed.
After her eyes turned black, Nola hovered into the air, her arms compressing the dense, raw power she was calling upon from those around her. She levitated herself slowly, with countless particles of pure energy swirling all around her. The Avatar looked on as she seemed to tower over him. Battered from his previous engagement and exertion of his limited abilities, Aang was not in the best condition.
But he had no choice. Aang went into the Avatar State and conjured up an air sphere around him, rising up to Nola's level. He had not used Avatar State this much since he had been trapped in the iceberg.
Just before dealing her first strike, Nola looked into his brightly-lit eyes with her black ones. "Now, Avatar – experience Hell!"
The Avatar's children were lying on the ground side-by-side. Tenzin, Kaddo and Vameira lay sprawled along the cave floor, unable to get up. It was like a platypus bear were sitting on top of each of them.
"So let me get this straight," said Tenzin. The howling wind-like currents caused by the moves of the two titanic clashers were strong, even from afar, and they had to yell everything they said to be audible to one another. "Dad's fighting Nola to end it all now, right?"
"Yes," Kaddo told him. His hair was blowing up and down, as was Vameira's.
"And we only live if Nola survives?" asked Tenzin.
Kaddo would have nodded if he felt up to lifting his head. "Yep, that's pretty much it."
"Well that settles it," Tenzin declared, downtrodden. "We're all done for, no matter what happens."
"Don't say that, Tenzin!" Vameira called over to her oldest sibling. "Dad'll think of something."
"Like what?" Tenzin asked her with a humorless laugh.
"I don't know."
Migo and Toph felt the pressing weight of the swiftness of the currents and the phenomena of their energy being drawn as they lay together on their fronts, each reaching over to hold the other's hand.
"Toph!" Migo turned his head on his side so that he could see her face properly. "There's something I've been wanting to ask you."
"What's that?" Toph asked him, aloof-sounding. She did not bother to turn any of her body, as that would not have improved her senses at all.
"Will you marry me?"
"Huh!" Toph grunted abrasively. "You have strange timing Migo, you know that?"
Migo smiled weakly at her. "So what's your answer?"
"Well, if we ever get the chance...than yes," Toph told him. "I will."
The face-off had begun between Avatar Aang, harnessing the power of the elements, and Nola, harnessing the power of the energies. Aang's eyes glowed white with the energy of his past lives. Ending him would end the Avatar Cycle, Nola's ultimate goal – and she would stop at nothing to accomplish it. Nola's eyes turned black with the energy of those in the cave. Ending her would mean ending Tenzin, Kaddo, Vameira, Sokka, Toph, Zuko, Migo, Suki, Mai, Ty Lee and all the rest of those present today. Aang remembered what Avatar Doru Kun had said about when he faced The Mystic in a similar manner.
"I thought I would be prepared for anything, but nothing could've prepared me for when I faced The Mystic. He wiped out my entire Avatar Legion before the day was done."
Such an outcome would be unacceptable for Avatar Aang. He was at terrible disadvantage because he would be holding back and she would not.
Aang extended his chi to get a grip on the ground beneath him and released his hold, sending a towering wave of earth toward his dark-eyed opponent. Nola controlled the spiraling currents of energy and pushed herself above the oncoming rocks, which went straight through the energy without scratching it as they would with water or any other form of solid object. Nola shook her arms and bent a large amount of spiraling energy around each one, so that she had two energetic tentacles formed. They were shaped like twenty foot long waterbending tentacles. As she brought them around to strike him, Aang diverted the currents in his sphere and sent a beam of compressed air to her midsection, pushing her away from him. Nola was not fazed for long, though. She struck back with her tentacles and nearly sliced off the Avatar's left foot. Aang retaliated by extending a thirty-foot fire whip from his left hand and swinging it quickly so as not to give Nola enough time to react and deflect it. The fire stream hit Nola across her right arm, close to her elbow. He had nearly cut her lower right arm clean off!
The Avatar hesitated after his semi-successful attack. Even scratching Nola was dangerous now. First, he had to first push her out of the Necra State somehow. Aang remembered the move that Roku had taught him about saving the Avatar Spirit if he got struck down in the Avatar State. He had an idea of what to do, if he could only get close enough. It would be very risky, but it would also probably be his only chance. As Nola brought her giant energybent tentacle arms back around to finish him off, Aang zigzagged through the air, managing to avoid her obscenely powerful attacks long enough to get within a foot of her body and hover right in front of her.
Then, Aang did something Nola had not been remotely expecting – he closed his eyes and made the Avatar Spirit drop its guard, so that he was just as vulnerable to her energy seeping as any other soul in the cave. His energy latched onto hers and they began to flow as one, with their respective fates tied to one another. There would be only a split-second delay before she garnered control – where not only did he function like another hostage for her, but she functioned like another past Avatar for him. Aang immediately did as Roku had instructed him and severed the connection, cutting them both off at once.
The pair who fought for the destiny of the world and who both had once called themselves Air Nomads fell twenty feet down to the hard, unkindly cave floor which gave them a rough welcome back to earth. Aang's eyes had stopped glowing – and Nola's eyes morphed back to their original color. Her connection was cut off from those she drew energy from. Once again, it was just her and him.
Aang composed himself with all his spiritual stamina – and reentered the Avatar State.
Having been near the edge of the radius, Chao Feng was the first to regain himself once her hold was broken over his people and the Avatar's. Perhaps it was fate. After all, he helped her ready herself by giving her time, even if he did not know that her plan involved her drawing on his energy. He rose to his feet and walked toward the center of the area that the Necra State had encompassed.
When he reached the chamber, Chao Feng found Sister Joo Dee crouching on the ground and the Avatar looming over her, his eyes glowing. So, for all her talk, she had been unable to vanquish him. Sister Joo Dee had failed in her duty. However, the Avatar had unwittingly made himself vulnerable once more by going into the Avatar State. Chao Feng had a clear, hidden view of him. He was like a sitting turtle duck waiting to be crushed like a spider bug. Now he, Chao Feng, could finish him off. Sister Joo Dee would inevitably die as well, being in such close proximity. The loss of yet another leader was unfortunate, but necessary after the unexpected setbacks they had suffered.
This fell perfectly in place for him; he would be the one who ended the Avatar Cycle, and would get all the credit for it. Brother Chao Feng, or better yer – Chao Feng, Energybending Master of the World. He like the sound of that. Thanks to him, the Sages Bane would win the day yet. In order to destroy the Avatar from afar; all he needed was someone to use. Having recently seen a group of bodies still immobile from the effects of the Necra State, Chao Feng remembered the Avatar's son – the waterbending boy.
He would do.
The Avatar's children were struck by a trance-like phase after Nola had lost her pull over them. Tenzin groaned while Vameira tossed and turned from side to side. Kaddo was merely lying motionless on the ground when Chao Feng marched over, grabbed his hand and dragged him along.
"What are you doing?" the young waterbender said aloud in alarm. "Stop!"
Hearing his brother's voice, Tenzin looked up to see what was happening. "Kaddo!" Seeing his brother in danger gave him the will to rise to his feet and chase after Chao Feng. "Let go of him!"
Chao Feng clutched Kaddo's hand with one arm and extended the other in the direction of Aang in the Avatar State, ready to send the upcoming energy stream there. Tenzin took his wooden glider staff and swiped it sideways, sending a blast of air toward his target. Chao Feng's legs shifted slightly off-balance, but he retained his stance and continued directing the energy out of Kaddo's body. The boy began losing feeling in the side of his body opposite from where Chao Feng was holding onto him.
Vameira had seen the trouble that her brothers were facing and came running right behind Tenzin. "Let him go!" she shouted at Chao Feng. Vameira lifted her glider above her head and brought it from top to bottom until it slammed into the cave floor. Sparks were starting to emit from Chao Feng's outstretched hand when the blowing air knocked him over. Letting go of their brother's hand, he moments later banged his cranium against the sharp cave wall and his head began to bleed.
"Kaddo, are you okay?" his brother and sister both shouted at once. Tenzin grabbed him by the sides and shook his body repeatedly.
Kaddo breathed heavily, his mouth and eyes drooping like limp rags. Tenzin and Vameira were relieved to hear him speak again. "I'm okay." And so he was. His airbending brother and sister had acted just in time.
As Aang spoke, all of the past Avatars spoke with him. "Nola of the Sage's Bane, you and your forefathers have threatened the balance of this world, and now...you shall pay the ultimate price!"
Nola stared up into the Avatar's glowing eyes, trembling at his mercy. He could only guess what thoughts were racing through her head in these moments. Avatar Aang crossed a soaring stream of water with similarly-formed ones made of earth, fire and air. Bringing the spiraling currents up above his adversary's figure, he took one last look into Nola's eyes. Then, with an almighty push, he thrust it down.
That was it.
The people whom the Avatar had brought with him to the Cave of the Ancients were just beginning to regain the movement in their limbs. Sokka felt dazed, like one felt after awakening from a long, dreamless slumber. "Uhhh..."
"We're alive?" Suki asked aloud, to nobody in particular, lifting herself up by the arms and surveying the still-lying humans in the vicinity.
"Aang must have found a way to get the better of her," Zuko commented, blinking his eyes.
The children of the Avatar were already up and about, having had their own wake-up call. As the three of them rushed over to meet the others, the Southern Chief noticed something on Vameira's side. "Vameira, you're hurt!" he exclaimed.
"It's a cut, but I'm okay," Vameira assured her uncle. "I'll live." Sokka had not yet noticed that he also had a similar cut.
Aang spent several long moments staring down at his former airbending student. A pool of crimson red blood forming along her sides, and there was an opening in the center of her chest where the stream of four elements had pierced her body. He now recognized her once again as the girl who came to him years before asking to learn airbending. The Avatar began to wonder if, had she grown up a true Air Nomad, not born to the Sages Bane, would she have been different? Her actions made her seem like a cold-blooded individual with a heart of pure evil, but the wrong ideas had been passed to her from successive generations.
In the end, though, there had been no hope for her. Not only had she had her natural bodily energies bent out of place three times, but she had proven too dangerous to be kept alive. Even when fallen down, she was a force to be reckoned with – not just because of her strength, but because of her chaotic nature.
Ultimately, Aang had done something that stood contrary to his Air Nomad life values. He had committed murder. He had made sure to do it swiftly, but he could not truly tell whether he had done this to be merciful to Nola or to get it over with. Did he do what he did as the Avatar or as a human being? Was it even possible to separate the two? He did not feel comfortable answering this for himself. What he did know was that everything had had a catch with energybending – and that now, not only he, but the world, could escape from its pull of turmoil.
Aang found familiar faces waiting for him. "Dad!" Tenzin, Kaddo and Vameira cried out in unison. All three of his children darted over to hug him tightly. Vameira held him a little longer after her brothers had let go.
Kaddo beamed. "Is it awesome having the Avatar as a dad or what?"
"Totally," Tenzin agreed.
"I'm glad we're all okay," Vameira said with a smile.
Aang curved his hand around his daughter's cheek when he noticed something. "How did that get there?!" he asked in bewilderment, pointing to Vameira's cut right arm.
"I honestly don't remember getting this scratch from anything," Vameira told him with a shrug. "It just sort of...happened."
The Avatar examined his daughter's injury more closely. "It's a large wound. It'll heal in time, but it may leave a permanent scar." Aang turned to his middle child. "Kaddo, can you come do some healing on your sister's arm? It may ease her pain."
"Sure, once I'm done healing my own arm." Kaddo had bent some water from his pouch and began healing his right arm with his left.
"Oh, you have a cut, too?" Aang noted sympathetically. "Very well. By all means, take care of yourself first." The Avatar then saw that Tenzin had a similar gash. All three of his children had been wounded that day.
"Hey!" The sound of Azula's voice made Aang jump inside. If she wanted to do their Agni Kai rematch now, it would be a most inopportune moment. Of course, he could never count on her to give him convenient timing. Instead of readying herself for a fire duel, though, she crossed her arms and leaned back with a smirk. "Not bad, Avatar."
He was greatly relieved at the tune of her words. "Not bad yourself, Azula." Aang then saw her starting to rub her right arm with her left hand, like she had an ache there. The Avatar spun around to find Sokka, Suki, Toph, Migo, Zuko, Mai, Gitsu, Ty Lee and Trinley doing the same. "Wait a second. Does everyone have a wounded right arm?"
"It looks like it," Sokka said casually, only mildly interested in the coincidence.
The Avatar thought back to when he fought Nola and sliced her right arm with his stream of fire. Now, his companions would all carry scars – as a reminder of how close it came for them. "Well, Kaddo, it looks like you have a big job ahead of you."
"Got it," Kaddo acknowledged.
Kaddo's healing would take a while, so Aang indulged himself to walk back down to the city at the center of the cave one last time on his own. He stared around the rubbled chamber, recalling it in its former glory and thinking back to all that he had said and done inside of it. With one final look around, the Avatar felt that he was able to make peace with himself and move on from his experience. He slowly took the Scroll of Forbidden Knowledge that Jeong Jeong had given him out from his Air Nomad tunic – and threw it into the Abyss of the Ancients. Aang looked back up to find a large pair of eyes staring down at him tenderly. It was the Giant Wolf, and it seemed that he wanted to take Aang somewhere else now. Unlike when the Avatar saw him before, he was squatting, not standing.
"So, I get to ride on your back this time? That's a relief."
Riding the Giant Wolf was a whole new kind of experience. Its racing gallop was faster than any sky bison the Avatar had known in his childhood. He would never have been able to keep up with the Giant Wolf at this place, even with ten times the speed of his airbending running.
It was difficult for the Avatar to tell where they were going, as he had to focus himself on holding tightly onto the fur of the creature's backside. When he looked up, though, it became apparent that they were no longer in the Cave of the Ancients. The area that they had come to was one that Aang did not know. It appeared to be some sort of sandy beach with lush trees lined with emerald green leaves on an island in the center of a tiny lake
Avatar Aang dismounted and stood on the dry, sandy land. He was not alone there. At the edge of the lake, another person sat with their feet in the water. Their face and body were covered by a dark green hooded robe. Before Aang could get a closer look at who it was, the island at the center rose out of the water, revealing a face Aang knew all too well, even though he had only actually been before it twice.
"Thank you for your service today," spoke the Lion Turtle. "I am most grateful."
Aang was about to say that no thanks were required, for he was doing his duty and repairing the damage of something he was responsible for. But then he realized that those words were not meant for him. The Lion Turtle was talking to someone else. A second later, the Giant Wolf bowed his head and turned to leave.
The Avatar spun his head around and watched after the departing cave guide. "He helped me, too – in the Cave of the Ancients, I mean. He brought me to Avatar Roku, whose advice saved my life along with everyone's I hold dear."
The Lion Turtle looked down upon the Avatar, who seemed so small by comparison. "The Giant Wolf is a giga-creature like me. He is an intelligent beast who can pass between the Mortal and Spirit Worlds."
"I see," said Aang. "And where are we now, exactly?"
"Never you mind that," the Lion Turtle told him. "In a way, you're an in-between like us – as the Avatar. But your loyalty and attachment is forever bound to the Mortal World. It was in the oath you took long ago as the perpetual guardian and savior. You are the ultimate bridge, though. While we can pass between the worlds through this location, the Cave of the Ancients would be meaningless without you around."
"Shihang Shi mentioned something similar." Aang could have sworn he saw the Lion Turtle's eyes cringe at the sound of the Spirit of Aether's name. The Avatar turned curiously to look closer at the person in the robes next to him, who had remained motionless and silent thus far. But their face still remained hidden. "The Giant Wolf, though...he acted much differently this time I came to the cave than last time."
"As you may have suspected, the Giant Wolf is the patron guardian of the Cave of the Ancients – and therefore, of your legacy," the Lion Turtle confirmed for him. "He was trying to halt your journey into energybending the first time you came. This time was different."
"He knew it was all wrong with me energybending, then," Aang said, narrowing his gaze and letting his knee-caps sink into the sand. "Did you?"
"I should have known better about that," the Lion Turtle said with a trace of regret. "When you sought a method to defeat the Fire Lord without destroying him utterly, I decided to put you at ease by offering you knowledge of a long-lost solution. Because of your attuned spirit, I thought that you would be capable of resisting the temptation to delve further. I thought it might help you given where you were to have energybending back for a short while. I was wrong, and thus I am partially to blame for all that has transpired. Even I am not above mistakes."
"I understand." Aang had come to terms with his role as well. Like Earth King Kuei before him, he was humbled by his experiences. For the first time in years, Avatar Aang felt almost like his old self before the gift of energybending had inflated his head. "Did you know the truth about where energybending could lead?"
"I did, and I should have approached you again sooner, but the energies manipulated me for whatever reason," the Lion Turtle told Aang solemnly. "In the end, the energies are stronger than any worldly being."
"I should've known where it might lead as well," Aang admitted, exposing his palm. "I should've learned things the easy way, but I made myself learn them the hard way – and I paid the price." He had paid an emotional price along the way, watching others suffer for his wrongdoings, and now he had paid a more tangible price, having been stripped of his own bending ability.
"In your darkest hour, it can be tempting to wallow in our fault, against our better judgment," the Lion Turtle wisely explained. "If you were not corrupted once I reintroduced energybending to the world, sooner or later another Avatar would have been, and the heirs of The Masters – whom you knew as the Sages Bane – would have found a way to acquire it from them. You confronted and defeated them like another Avatar might not have been able to. So it's good that it was you who had this task." Aang remembered that Trinley had said the same thing. It was good for him now to hear the Lion Turtle confirm it was case. "Even punishing ourselves can be self-centered. We can never punish or reward ourselves too much that it gets in the way of doing what is required of us."
"It'll be a lot harder for me to do what's required of me now that my bending capacity is limited," Aang said, downtrodden, as he hung his head and stared down at the millions of pieces of sand. It was good that he was still able to call on his pat lives to access the four elements, but it was not quite the same as bending on his own.
"You need not worry," the Lion Turtle said to him. "I can restore your full bending ability here. We are out of the Mortal World and no imprint of chaos will be made."
"Thank you, great Lion Turtle." Aang stood up and bowed gratiously. "I am returning to my rightful realm of bending the four elements and keeping the balance. I will never ask anything of powers beyond that again, except for one thing..."
"Does it have something to do with her?" Aang was baffled by the Lion Turtle's question at first, but then he turned to the green-robed figure beside him and gently pulled down the hood. It was Katara.
"Yes, it does actually!" Aang said, raising his voice and turning back up to face the Lion Turtle. "Can you tell me how to bend the energy that has left her body back into place?"
The Lion Turtle gazed down at Aang with solemn, remorseful eyes. "Avatar Aang, it is harder to undo than to do. The energy you speak of was converted into a different form when its ultimate end became destruction. Of course, energy can be neither created nor destroyed. Her energy still exists, wherever it is, but even if you could bend in the Avatar State, it would take a greater bending of the energies than even you can do. It is beyond your capability."
Aang's heart sank. He had also forgotten that he felt nothing of energybending from the Avatar State. "Is it beyond your capability?"
The Lion Turtle paused for several long, agonizing moments. "It would be one of the greatest tasks I have ever performed, but I daresay it might be possible."
Aang heart rose once again. After talking to Yue, Doru Kun and Shihang Shi had all been dead ends in his quest to save Katara, this was the first positive affirmation of any level that he had received on the question. "Then, will you do it? I'll do anything. Anything!"
"I don't mean to get your hopes up by saying I might be able to do it. After this endeavor, I would be unable to return to the Mortal World for a while," the Lion Turtle asserted. "It would have to be justified."
"I can justify it," Aang proclaimed, his heart pumping fast.
"How do you go about that?" the Lion Turtle inquired to him. "Is it because everything has gone really wrong for you and now you're entitled to things working out for once?
Aang shook his head frantically. "Not at all."
"Katara is one of the rare ones filled with genuine goodness," Aang spoke aloud, making sure that he got every word right in his head before uttering it. "Maybe I don't deserve her after all I've done...but the world does."
"In what way?"
"From a young age, Katara has always been a boundless influence on everyone she touches, whether it's me, her family, her friends, or complete strangers: from the villagers of Jiang Hui to an imprisoned group of earthbenders on a metal rig. She also kept us all going when we were lost in the middle of the desert. That's the most literal example of what she does all the time, as our collective inspiration. She personifies truth and human struggle. She may not be the world's savior on her own, but she is without a doubt, a guiding light for the world."
A tense pause followed. "Interesting," said the Lion Turtle. Aang felt like he had a whole Ba Sing Se of butterflies racing around in his stomach as fast as the Giant Wolf had carried him. "There's no question that the world needs the Avatar – but perhaps it needs Katara just as much. I've never said such a thing about an ordinary human before."
Aang was encouraged, by the Lion Turtle's tone, which sounded quite impressed. "So, are you convinced?"
"I am convinced," the Lion Turtle said, still very serious. "But I'm afraid that is not the end."
"What do you mean?"
The Lion Turtle spoke in a soft, sad tone of voice. "As I said, this will be my biggest endeavor yet. It will exhaust all my efforts and I will not be able to return to the Mortal World for a while once it's done. In other words, if I do this, I cannot do what I said earlier."
Aang wondered what the Lion Turtle meant by this – and then he realized. It was either get Katara back or get his full bending capability back. "So, which will you do?"
"You are the Avatar," the Lion Turtle told him in a flat tone. "You choose. Whatever you decide, I will honor."
At this revelation, Aang felt his insides shatter.
Cave of the Ancients
Once Kaddo had finished with all his rounds of healing, everyone's focus shifted once more to getting out of the cave. "Why have they not risen yet?" Migo pointed to the immobile body of a Sages Bane member who had not risen to his feet since Nola went into the Necra State. "We're all up and about now."
"It appears that since their energy was less stable than ours, the Necra State took a bigger toll on them," Trinley responded. This had been true for all of them, save for Chao Feng, who was at a farther distance than the rest of them. "This was a result of their energies having been meddled with and in turn their being given the power to meddle. None of it was in tune with the natural order of things, and finally that weakness has caught up with them."
Sokka looked down, narrowing his eyes. Although the Sages Bane would be out much longer than they were, they would not be paralyzed forever. "Well, whatever we do about them, we can figure out after we get our escape route settled."
"There seems to be a small opening just south of here," Toph announced, making a discovery with her seismic sense for just about the hundredth time since they entered the cave.
With Toph leading the way, the collective members of the Avatar Legion ran up an inclined passage and found a glimmer of light at the end of a long, pitch dark tunnel. The light was not coming from one of the many shining crystals in the Cave of the Ancients, but from the afternoon. This way would lead them to the outside mountain. The hole was too tiny to fit through, so Migo and Gitsu opened the route with a couple of coordinated earthbending thrusts. Once the way was open, the survivors climbed out one at a time. From their position, they could see a calm Earth Kingdom river running through the peaceful valley below. The first sounds they heard were of sparrowkeets flapping their wings and chirping in blissful rhythm with nature.
Aang sat off by himself when all was said and done. It was not long after the Lion Turtle told him that he had a decision to make that he realized it was really no decision at all. His past lives always said that as the Avatar, he had to put his duty to protect the world above certain personal desires. He had known what he had to do. Forsaking his history had been his greatest mistake in the past, and he could not allow that to happen anymore.
The Avatar wondered how he would explain what his position was once he returned to the Mortal World. He had undergone a great sacrifice – having given up something he loved.
Then something came which broke the silence and disrupted the unrest between the Avatar and his inner thoughts. "Aang?" Katara spoke in a tired, airy voice, like she was waking up from a really long dream.
Although he would be able to call upon his past lives anytime he required their strength for the sake of protecting the balance, Avatar Aang would surely miss using his bending for fun and recreation.
Cave of the Ancients
"Well, looks like another adventure of ours has drawn to a close," Sokka said, stretching his arms out and cocking his back muscles.
"When you're friends with the Avatar, adventures are pretty common," Toph added with a laugh.
Trinley was in a less cheerful mood than everyone else around him. "I hope that no one will be too hard of Aang when they find out about this. He may have had a hand in it, but his desire in the beginning was pure. He just wanted airbending to live on."
"Airbending still will live on.," Tenzin boasted proudly, sticking out his chest. "When the time comes, one of us will probably have to teach it to the next Avatar."
Vameira nodded. "Yeah, but hopefully that won't be any day soon."
"Well, in the meantime – Toph and I have an announcement to make," Migo spoke over the rest of them.
"What is it?" asked Ty Lee. She had just sat down with her legs hanging over the edge of the mountain cliff.
"We're engaged," Toph told them.
"Congratulations," said Mai, giving her dose of praise in her usual flat, calm voice.
Suki beamed at the couple. "Your biggest adventure is yet to come then, you two."
"I'm sure it is," Migo said with a laugh. "Though we've got some pretty steep competition already."
"Why didn't you two tell us sooner?" Vameira asked.
"He just proposed to me when we were in the cave," Toph replied for them.
Zuko stared at him and shook his head. "You sure have strange timing – cousin."
Toph smirked. "That's what I said!" Blushing, Migo scratched the back of his neck.
"What did you do for a ring?" Neinei inquired of him. "Did you earthbend one of those shiny crystals or something?"
"Hey, that's a good point," said Toph, raising both eyebrows. "You need to give me a ring, Migo. Our engagement can't be official until I have one!"
Migo kicked himself. He knew that he had forgotten something. "Sorry about that, Toph," he told her. "I thought the intensity of the moment would stand out enough. Besides, you never seemed like the jewelry type."
Without warning, Toph slammed her foot into the ground and her fiancé shot into the air by the earth column she created. "If you think you're ducking out that easy, you've got another thing coming!"
"Well, they're off to a great start," said Mai, as bored-sounding as ever. Hesitantly, she turned to Azula, trying very hard to act friendly. "So, are you coming back to the Fire Nation now?"
"After today, I won't force you to stay on Ember Island any longer," Zuko assured his sister.
"Thanks, but no thanks," Azula told them, waving her hand in the air. "I think I'll leave the Fire Nation for a while and go...exploring." These words of hers were met with many shocked stares.
"Why do you say that, Aunt Azula?" asked Neinei.
"Even though I'm not an energybender, I saw a little too much of myself in that airbender-gone-bad woman," Azula told them, referring back to Nola. "From a young age, my father set my path according to his vision. When I was older, I tried setting my own path with my own vision. Then I realized I was just making my own version of my father's vision. Even after I severed my connection to him, he was still running my life and I didn't know it. I may come back to the Fire Nation someday on my own terms, but I just have to go away and try something else for a while."
"What kind of something else, Azula?" Ty Lee asked curiously.
"I don't know," answered Azula. "But I'm looking forward to being myself for the first time in my life."
Even though he was unsure of what she was saying at first, Zuko smiled. "I did the same thing, with Uncle's help. I'm proud of you, sis."
"Thanks, Zuzu," Azula said to him, smirking. "It's uncharted territory, so I'll have to discover it all on my own."
"Well, I don't know what I'm going to do now, but I can tell you what I'm not going to do." Gitsu made sure that the whole group could hear his announcement even though no one had asked him specifically what his next plans were. "I'm not going back to Ba Sing Se. After participating in a coup against the Earth King for a second time, I doubt Kuei will be too pleased with me."
Sokka suddenly put on a very serious expression. "Ba Sing Se will have a hard time getting back on track. Things can't go back to the way they were before. If Kuei wants to regain his title, he'll need to approach the revolutionary leaders and make some concessions. The world is changing, and Ba Sing Se must change with it."
Suki poked Gitsu in the shoulder. "Maybe you could come help with Republic City," she suggested. "He is a metalbender now," she said to Toph, after seeing that she was uncertain about that idea.
Crossing both arms, Toph let out a soft grunt. "Huh, maybe."
Eyes closed and tears slowly lurking down his cheeks, the Avatar wrapped his arms around the woman he married, savoring the moment – and daring to believe it. He never wanted to let go. It was like if he did, she would be lost again forever.
"Aang?" Katara asked, blinking. "What's going on?"
"Katara..." Aang whispered in her ear. "I...I love you."
"I love you too, Aang," Katara told him fondly, releasing him with her arms and giving a mild smile.
Not looking into her bright blue eyes for long, Aang turned his head away. "I love you, but I don't deserve you."
Katara looked at him quizzically. "What do you mean?"
"I'm unworthy," he told her, downcast. "Seriously, what I did to you was repulsive and unforgivable. What matters most is that you're safe. I do not ask you to take me back."
"I don't understand, Aang," Katara said to him, bewildered. She had only just noticed her surroundings. "What's going on – and where are we?"
"We're in some in-between place the Giant Wolf brought us," Aang said simply. "I'm sure he'll be around to guide us back to the Cave of the Ancients soon."
Katara looked confused. "The Cave of the Ancients? Weren't we just on board Zuko's barge?"
Raising an eyebrow, Aang the realized that she had no recollection since the Battle of the Fire Nation Capital. "Katara, what's the last thing you remember?"
Katara thought of a moment, scratching the line of her forehead. "Well, you and I were doing Shuten Shogai at the attacking Phoenix Army ships. We completed the steps, and then...everything was blank from there. It seems like there was some stuff after that, but it's all blanked out, like a dream. If it was a dream though...it wasn't a very good one."
"Katara, I was wrong to use Shuten Shogai – especially with you. When we did the move, we destroyed the attacking warships, but it ruined you in the process. It was your energy that was used for the attack. Your body was left without energy and you've been an empty shell since then."
Katara winced at her husband's revealing words. "I trusted that you knew what you were doing with energybending. I told you that."
"I know. I remember," Aang told her solemnly. "But I didn't."
"I had only just started to become uncomfortable about energybending. I thought there might be a danger, but I never thought Shuten Shogai would be unsafe. After all, Yue taught it to you, and she was a nice girl when we met her as a human." Katara backed away from the Avatar, crossing her arms together. A couple seconds later she turned her head back and softened her expression. "At least you found a way to fix it."
"I traveled across the world to find a way to fix it," Aang explained in a pleading tone. "I looked in several places for the truth. I talked to my distant past life Doru Kun, but he knew less than I did. At the end of his days, though, he had full peace of mind, something I can only dream of. I realized that I never should have dove into energybending in the first place, and by the time I knew better, it seemed like it was already too late."
Katara paused for about a minute, thinking about what he was saying. "I forgive you," she told him, reaching her arms out to grab both his hands. Katara appeared happy for a moment, but then she turned sad again. "If only we could bring back Tenzin..."
"Oh, Tenzin's alive," Aang told her. He had almost forgot that she did not remember anything since they fought the Phoenix Army at the Fire Nation Capital. "He met us in Ba Sing Se. But a lot else has happened in the time you were out."
"Like what?" Katara asked him curiously.
The Avatar did not know where to start. "Well...Tenzin's alive. But Appa's dead."
"Appa's dead?! How?"
"He was shot by a projectile while Azula and I were rescuing Vameira from the Southern Air Temple."
Katara raised an eyebrow. "Now I'm really confused."
"Icarus went rogue and took over the New Air Nomads. We finally defeated him in the same battle we ended the Fire Nation Civil War in. Later, it turned out Nola was part of the organization of assassins we couldn't identify, who were descended from ancient energybenders who wanted to end the Avatar Cycle." Aang gave a quick, oversimplified summary of all that had transpired in the past months since Katara had been energyless. "We defeated them, but I have to go into the Avatar State every time I bend now." He decided that he would not tell Katara the whole truth about his bending and the decision the Lion Turtle offered him.
"You can only bend with the Avatar State?!" Katara widened her eyes in alarm. "Aang, that's terrible! You'll have to find a spirit or some other way to energybend your own bending back."
The Avatar calmly shook his head. "No, I won't change things that don't require changing. I said that I would stop the search when I got you back and now I will. I can't continue down this path for something else," Aang told Katara, who continued to look puzzled. "Maybe it's only right I don't get completely off the hook after all that's happened. I can still fulfill my Avatar duties by using the Avatar State. In that way, it'll merely be a minor inconvenience. I just won't be able to bend recreationally day-to-day anymore."
"Are you sure about this?"
"I'm sure," Aang said to her. He was genuinely not worried about anything for the first time in about a year. "I was the key that allowed energybending to come back. Now that the key is deactivated, energybending won't be wrongfully spread into the world again. Ironically, it was Nola of all people who made it this way."
"What do you mean?" Katara asked.
"With the Avatar State, I have access to all my past lives' techniques whenever I need them, but the skills I acquired via energybending won't be passed on to the next Avatar."
Katara batted her eyes in surprise. "And that's a good thing?"
"Yes," said Aang. "Energybending...can be dangerous sometimes."
Katara looked into her husband's certain eyes and slowly allowed her own uncertainty to fade away. "Alright, if you believe it's right and you can live with it, then I support you."
"Thanks, Katara. Energybending belongs to the Spirit World now." Aang looked upon his wife with great fondness, still processing the fact of her being there before him. "Katara..."
"I'm not going to lose you again," he told her. "Not ever."
- Some people like to comment more than others, which is okay. As most of you know, though, every writer likes opinions and feedback. If you've never left a comment and you pick only one chapter to comment on, this is now the one, since there are no more left.
- The idea of the infobox picture of Nola came from the picture of Aang on the cover of Sozin's Comet.
- Katara was in Omashu before, so the Giant Wolf ventured outside the cave to collect her. Since the Giant Wolf is typically not seen by most when in the Physical World, it would have looked like she simply vanished to any bystander in Omashu at the time.
For the collective works of the author, go here.