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|Cave of the Ancients: Part One|
Previously on Energy Saga
Team Avatar begins a new journey, going to visit a mysterious cave where there is a shrine to one of Aang's past lives from long before Avatar Yangchen. Along the way, they meet Migo, an earthbending local who agrees to guide them up the mountain. Then, there is a hint that an old enemy might have returned.
Chapter Fourteen: Cave of the Ancients: Part One
Base of the Mountain,120 AG
As he leaped across the wide chasm that stood in his way, there was only one thought on his mind – defeating his opponent in combat. Finishing the job. Killing him. The task that lay before him was so great that no other Avatar in recent history would have anything to compare it to. All four elements might not be enough this time. The power that he was up against was unknown to anyone and seemingly all-powerful. But that is a false statement. Nothing in this world is all-powerful. What he's up against has a weakness – a way to be destroyed. Just like anything else. And he would exploit that weakness wherever he found it. If he did not, the world would fall out of balance. For he was the Avatar – and this was his duty!
Aang rose sharply from lying down to sitting, his legs and lower torso still buried in his sleeping bag. His dream had shook him promptly awake and his entire body was sweating heavily. He could feel Katara's body beside his, still fast asleep and undisturbed. But he had no desire to join her in rest anymore. Thanks to the dream, he was wide awake. Panting, Aang looked about to where the outside of the tent was visible before him. The sun was now visible just over the horizon. It was dawn.
Aang pulled on a light set of clothes and walked about the campsite, thinking of the dream he had just had. What could it possibly mean? It seemed like one of those visions he had had with his past lives when he started his energybending training. But what he found more disturbing was the thoughts that he was thinking within the dream. They did not seem to fit well with the Air Nomad teachings he was raised with. But Aang did not have that much time to dwell on the thought of the dream – still clear in his mind – as everyone else soon woke up and began packing their supplies for the day ahead.
They ate baked moon peach custard for breakfast, employing Sokka's portable camping stove to cook it. This cheered Aang up from his strange dream as it had been one of his favorite morning meals as a child growing up with the Air Nomads. Everyone was lukewarm and silent as they ate, being tired from the night before and having woken up early. Aang wanted to cover as much ground as possible on the mountain today and this required an early rise on everyone's part. As soon as everyone was packed and ready, they ascended the baseline of the mountain, with a long climb ahead of them. As their temporary guide, Migo led the way.
"We haven't done this much climbing for a long time," Mai remarked. "Since we took Neinei for her visit to Ran and Shaw."
"Wasn't that five years ago?" Katara asked her.
"Six now," Mai replied simply.
"It seems now that strange everybody does it," Aang chimed in. "I recall it being quite a unique endeavor when Zuko and I went to learn from the original source of firebending in the Sun Warrior City."
"Heheh," added Zuko. "It wasn't easy getting the Sun Warriors to go along with it, I'll tell you. And what you said isn't quite true. Not everyone can go there themselves – many have to practice with transported dragon flames. They're pretty expensive buy, since they need to be taken from the city and transported a long distance with great care so they don't flicker out along the way. Visiting the masters themselves is considered a luxury. Not all can make the journey – especially those that live in far away rural areas."
"Well it's good you started a new tradition, Zuko" Katara told him, trying to make their talk as they ascended the mountain less solemn.
"Well, it was the least I could do, really," said Zuko, brushing off his complement. "My great-grandfather, Fire Lord Sozin started tradition of hunting them in the first place. The people of the Fire Nation needed to get back to learning their proper roots. And it was important that we get back on dragons good side and end the tradition of hunting them. Well, technically it was Uncle who did that."
"But at least you ended the tradition of certain Fire Nation nobility marrying and having families at exceptionally late ages," Mai reminded him.
"True," admitted Zuko. "But my parents didn't care to follow that trend either."
The nine of them hiked up a winding, steep trail, Migo calmly lead the way. Behind him were the couples Katara and Aang and Mai and Zuko, with Toph marching awkwardly between them. Sokka, Suki and Ty Lee brought up the rear, with Ty Lee prancing almost on her tip-toes between the sharper rocks. As they continued, the trail grew more narrow and steep, making their hike all the more difficult. And as they got higher up the mountain, the Sun, as if in conjunction, got higher in the sky, bringing the hot, burning feelings of the day to their bodies. Luckily, Katara had packed enough cool water for all of them and took the liberty of bending a gulp a piece toward each person. Although, she had to try it with Toph twice, since Toph could not position her mouth right the first time due to her blindness.
Eventually, the trail had grown too steep for them to continue on uninterrupted, as it was now nearly vertical. Fortunately, there was a ledge some twenty feet to their left where a narrow, but nonetheless flat trail was available for them. It was just out of reach – that is, if it were not for earthbending. Toph knew that this was a perfect moment for her to show off, sensing the terrain with her seismic sense. She lifted her foot up, ready to pound it back to the ground and create a passage. However, her thrill was crushed when Migo – standing in front of her – dug his own foot in the ground and with a loud thrust, a neat pathway came out from the side of the mountain which they could use to cross. Migo was applauded for his efforts by everyone in the group, save Toph.
"I was about to do that..." Toph muttered, barely loud enough to be heard.
Katara shot her a look, then turned to Migo and said in an attempt to keep the conversation friendly "that was some exceptionally talented earthbending, Migo"
"Thanks," Migo responded modestly.
"Meh, it was alright," Toph commentated.
"So," Katara continued, brushing Toph's second remark aside, "you said you had earthbender lineage? I suppose it runs in your blood then, lucky you. You and Brawki both spoke highly of your mother. She must have been quite a lady."
"Indeed," Migo stated. "That's what I hear of her. She died when I was very young, so I don't really remember her. My father I know nothing of at all. My instructor Brawki taught her as well – says she was a quick learner and a lifelong friend to him. He knew her well, even agreeing to raise me – her son – after her passing. I just know of her as my mother. But everyone else knows her as Ratana of Gaipan."
Suki, Sokka and Ty Lee immediately gasped upon hearing this line from Migo.
"You're kidding, right?" said Toph in disbelief.
"Who?" Aang asked quizzically.
"She was a powerful earthbender who served in the Hundred Year War," Katara told him. "Even people in the Water Tribes knew about her. She died a few years before the war ended."
"She was a war hero," continued Toph. "My parents told me before they invited her over to a dinner party once."
"You met her?" asked Sokka.
"Yeah," answered Toph in reminiscence. "She talked about earthbending a lot – no surprise there. She seemed thoroughly unimpressed by Master Yu. When I told her I was an earthbender as well, she offered to display some moves in our courtyard, but my parents wouldn't allow it. They didn't seem to like her very much and at the end said they'd made a mistake in inviting her over."
"Well, this explains why I've never heard of her before," Aang interrupted. "I was frozen in a block of ice this whole time."
"She helped inspire me to want to learn earthbending. I wanted to train and practice more from the day after she left. I wanted to be just like her. But my parents wouldn't hear of it. They crushed my dream – told me because I was blind I would never amount to anything with earthbending. Soon afterwards, I did what I saw as the only solution – I ran away. There I met the badgermoles, who inspired me all over again. They proved my parents wrong – that I was not helpless for being blind."
"It's cool you got to meet her when she was active," Suki told her. "I know she was the only woman on the Terra Team."
"Hah!" Ty Lee said scornfully. "That doesn't impress me at all – the Terra Team were a bunch of pushovers."
"Not while she was on them, they wouldn't have been," Toph snapped at her.
"This is what its like being related to someone famous who died a long time ago," Migo stated. "Everyone always knows more about her than I do. I hardly remember her at all. All I have are the stories people tell about her."
"How did she die, if you don't mind me asking?" Toph said to Migo, more polite than she had been before.
Migo shrugged. "Killed in action, I think."
"Hmmmph," Toph added with sympathy in her eyes but not in her voice. "She must've had some opponent then, considering who she was..."
"Yes, definitely," Sokka agreed. "I heard she once took down three giant armadillo bears with her both hands tied behind her back."
"I heard they were sabre-tooth moose lions!" exclaimed Ty Lee.
"That was nothing," Toph added with heads turning in her direction. "I heard during the Great Siege of Omashu she held out against half the Fire Nation Army for three days by herself."
"What?" Aang scoffed. "That sounds exaggerated to me."
"Why you so skeptical, Aang?" Katara asked her husband slyly. "You're the one who took out half the Fire Navy fleet at the North Pole."
"That was...different..." Aang noticed that Zuko was looking in the other direction now, avoiding being drawn into this part of the conversation.
"Why?" she asked him again. "Since you're the Avatar you have a monopoly on doing exceptional stunts."
"Yeah, give the rest of us some credit, too, Twinkle Toes!" Toph yelled at him with a jab to the arm.
Aang patted the spot where Toph had punched him, then scratched his backside and gazed onward.
As dusk was reaching them, the gang arrived at the spot where Migo had led them. There they found a small, flat circular ridge, just sizable enough for them all to sit in comfortably. They had come as far as Brawki's directions would take them without any sort of "signs" from the Cave or elsewhere. So it seemed, there was nothing to do but wait for such a sign. In the mean time, they sat in a circle and Sokka and Katara began to prepare some food for them to eat – pickled fish and fruit pies.
"So now we wait," Sokka commented. "For some mysterious whatever – oh well. At least we have good food in the mean time. Although I must say I've never been a big fan of fruit pies."
"I haven't been up here in a while," Migo said, looking about. "But I'll never forget this place. This is the same cliff I almost fell off of long ago when I was starting my earthbending training."
"How did that happen," Toph asked him with a mouthful of fish in her mouth. She was acting friendlier toward Migo, now having bonded with him.
"I tried earthbending a small rock beside me, but I accidentally through the large one beneath my feet instead. So I slipped. That would have been the end of me right then and there if Brawki hadn't been watching. He moved another large rock beneath me, which caught my fall."
"Haha!" Toph sniggered at him.
"I know. But after that occurrence, Brawki told me I had some of my mother's potential, since I was naturally inclined to throwing bigger rocks rather than smaller ones."
Suddenly, their dialogue was interrupted by the arrival of a brown bird descending to their location with a ribbon tied round its feathers – a messenger hawk. As expected, this was for the Fire Lord. Zuko allowed the bird to perch itself next to him and unraveled the scroll it carried, which he began to read to himself.
Zuko rose promptly to his feet. "It's a black ribbon message," he stated. "I'm sorry, but I have to leave."
"What did it say?" asked Sokka.
"It was very brief. There's crisis looming and it is urgent that I return to the Fire Nation Capital immediately."
"Okay," Aang told him. He understood that Zuko had to put his duties as Fire Lord as his top priority.
"Well, I suppose I'm going, too," Mai informed the others.
"No," Zuko told her firmly. "It is best that only I go back. This does not concern anyone else." With that, he gave Mai a kiss and a quick hug. When they parted, Mai appeared uneasy, but content to stay behind as Zuko had said.
Zuko was just turning to head back down the mountain, but then he turned back around. "Since this is an emergency, I will need to make the journey as fast as possible. I'll go back to Omashu first."
It became apparent that he was addressing Toph now. "Oh, right! Katara, can you help me with that?" Toph was now opening her travel sack.
"Certainly." Toph dictated a short, but official message, which Katara wrote down on the blank letterhead Toph was carrying. Then she gave it to Toph to sign, as was required of official decrees. Although she could not see what she was writing, she had practiced with care many times until she memorized the motions. She had Katara hold the paper still while she did that. Toph finished it off by stamping an official seal in the bottom right-hand corner.
"There you go," Toph told him. "You can take one of the Omashu airships back to the Fire Nation now!"
"Isn't your own royal airship back at Omashu still?" Sokka asked Zuko.
"Ours are faster," Toph answered, grinning. "Well, you better get on your way – got to be in the Fire Nation as quickly as possible."
"I'll send this decree back with the messenger hawk," Zuko said aloud, taking the message from Toph. "I won't have to worry about dropping it along the way back to Omashu."
"You should just have Momo take it instead," Sokka remarked sarcastically. "He's capable."
"Our messenger hawks are professionally-trained," Zuko reminded Sokka. "No offense to the lemur." And with that, Zuko turned from them without a full goodbye and rushed down the mountain as fast as his legs would carry them. Nine on the journey had become eight once again with Zuko gone and Mai remaining.
As they finished their meal, they were at a loss for what to do next. Brawki had said that if their finding the cave was meant to be, the way would become obvious for them. But was there not anything for them to do in the mean time to trigger it? Aang was unsure of himself. He was not used to feeling powerless.
Aang had stopped sitting still and begun pacing back and forth. Night had fallen and the others were trying to make sleeping arrangements. Aang ignored them. His mind was now fully-committed to finding this cave. He looked around aimlessly in every direction as if it was going to pop out at him from somewhere it had not been before. He recalled Brawki speaking of "whispers"...or something like that. Perhaps he was supposed to listen for the "whispers." Wait...listening. That reminded Aang of neutral jing in earthbending – waiting and listening. Perhaps earthbending was the key to finding the cave. "Toph, Migo, - come here!"
Aang, Toph and Migo each dug their feet in the ground and sensed the terrain around them with their Seismic Sense. A large underground gap with an opening would surely be the cave. Aang had improved greatly at Seismic Sense since his former years, though he obviously did not rely on it like Toph did. He could feel the mountainside, the motions of Katara and Sokka as they tried to set up camp and even the crawling critters from distances away. But nothing like a cave yet. The others were assuming that they would not find the cave tonight as the three earthbenders tried their hardest.
But Aang did not sense a cave yet. He wondered how the others were doing. "Do either of you sense it?"
"Yes..." replied Toph with uncertainty in her voice.
"You do? Where is it?"
"This doesn't make sense – its in every direction. Even back where we came from."
Aang was confused. "Toph, how can it be in multiple places at once?"
Afterwards, however, he felt it as well. At last, he had found it – sort of. He could sense it all around him – not in any one location. It seemed Seismic sense was scrambled when you used it to try to find the Cave of the Ancients.
"I don't think it can be found by Seismic Sense," Migo shouted at them.
Unfortunately, it seemed he was right. Unless...there's more to this situation than either the eye or the foot could see. Aang kept his concentration. Perhaps this is the spirits at work here. And as the Avatar, he was the bridge between the physical world and the Spirit World. Aang continued to use his Seismic Sense and reached out to the spirits simultaneously. This had a noticeable effect, though it did not seem to help out much. Aang felt like he was spinning. The cave was blurred into rays shooting in several directions. Acting on the neutral jing with spiritual energy clearly had an effect, but waiting and listening was no longer enough. If Aang's spiritual energy was not picking it up on its own, maybe bending his own energy would aid him.
As soon as he bent the energy within his body, everything became clear. "I know where it is," Aang declared. Toph and Migo stopped concentrating and everyone else stopped what they were doing at once.
Aang was now leading the way. He dashed up as hastily as his airbender legs would carry him while everyone else was struggling to keep up. They swiftly climbed the northwestern side of the mountain. As the others were gasping for breath and unable to talk, Aang told them how he had found the cave. Their reaction was bewilderment.
"Let me get this straight. So you have to have a combination of earthbending, Avatar abilities and energybending?" Sokka yelled up to him. "Man, no wonder this place is impossible to find."
"Well, I suppose that the cave did want to be found by us," Migo added, panting.
"What mumbo-jumbo are you talking about, new guy" Sokka asked Migo irritably. "Might I remind you that this – is – a – cave. It does not think. It does not feel. It does not want. It has no say in whether you find it or not."
"I've never been there myself, but from what I've heard and what you're saying, I can tell you've never been there either," Migo snapped back at him.
Finally, Aang stopped climbing and stood still while the others caught up to him and caught their breath. Some of his companions were on the verge of vomiting. Once they had found themselves, they looked where he was looking. There it was at long last – the famous and legendary Cave of the Ancients. They had made it. Although, it barely looked like a cave at all. The large archway at the opening was smooth and the straight path that led inside did not look at all like they had been formed naturally. It seemed like a half-cave, half-temple. It looked grand and attractive, though not exactly inviting.
"Well, lets go, shall we?" Aang said, turning to the others and smiling.
Aang was content now that he made it this far. The rest of the way to Doru Kun's shrine had to be a piece of moon cake. Yes, surely the hard part was over. Then Aang saw something that made him freeze in his tracks.
Although he was facing a dark passageway, there was no mistaking it. He was facing a giant wolf. This wolf was more enormous and more terrifying than anything he had ever seen. It made Appa seem like Momo by size comparison. Each leg was a towering column. Each of its light brown hairs was about the size of Aang's glider. The eyes were an opaque, whitish shade of gold.
As an Air Nomad, Aang lived a in harmony with all living things. He had even rode the Unagi and learned energybending from the Lion Turtle. But he felt no such comfort from this wolf before him – only fear.
Slowly, the wolf lowered its head, until he was gazing into Aang's normal-sized eyes with his orb-sized ones. And then...he opened his mouth...wide!
TO BE CONTINUED...
- The Giant Wolf was first seen in the canon show when Aang was on the way to Koh's lair. It is a creature from the Spirit World.
- Certain events originally stated to occur in this chapter will instead occur in the next one, since the chapter was split into two parts.
- I had a funny line in mind for Sokka to say to Migo when he was lashing out at Migo's idea of the cave "wanting to be found," but I knew it would not be right for this site.
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