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Previously on Energy Saga
Aang learns Shuten Shogai, the most powerful move in energybending, from Yue. He and Sokka travel across the Earth Kingdom to find someone to attempt to give airbending to. Finally, they come across a young boy on Faxian Island named Trinley. After its a success, Aang, Sokka and Trinley rush back to the South Pole on Appa so that Aang can marry Katara. Aang is excited to start his new life with Katara and begin training Trinley in airbending. But that night he receives a warning from Roku in a dream.
Chapter Nine: Azula's Release
Fire Nation Mental Facility, 106 AG
Aang sat idly by in the waiting room. The walls were of a teal-shaded limestone and the chairs made available to visitors were hard, rigid and uncomforting. None of the other people in chairs spoke. The only sound that was present was of the clerk at the front desk scratching his pen on a piece of paper. Indeed, this was not at all a talkative environment. Aang was experiencing a restless feeling. He passed the time by thinking to himself. He was preparing for meeting his friend Zuko, who had invited him to come to this place today. It was one of the more well-known mental hospitals in all the Fire Nation. Today was the day that Princess Azula would be released from their care after being declared "cured" by her doctors. I'll believe it when I see it, Aang had told himself. This was the woman who had chased him all across the Earth Kingdom during the Hundred Year War before striking him with lightning while he was in the Avatar State in Ba Sing Se. It was one of his worst past moments and he had not been in that kind of peril again until after the war was over and he fought the bandits in the Earth Kingdom town.
Aang had not been there for the comet-enhanced Agni Kai between her and Zuko, but he had heard plenty about it from Katara. At her small coronation ceremony, Azula had presumably gone mad. This was forwarded by her father's treatment of her and Mai and Ty Lee's betrayal of her at the Boiling Rock. When the duel was not going so well for her, Azula shot lightning toward Katara so that Zuko would jump in front of her rather than redirecting it. Katara had been forced to continue the battle in Zuko's stead. Azula was subsequently frozen in ice by Katara's waterbending. Worn out and defeated, Azula cried, spat fire and screamed hysterically, giving entirely into her insanity at last. Aang still had no idea why Zuko had asked him to come along for this – he was not looking forward to it. Azula was certainly no friend of his. Even after all she had done, it was understandable why Zuko would be here. After all, she was still family to him. But why was Aang dragged into it?
At last, the tall, dark haired, dignified figure of Fire Lord Zuko came forth. Aang got up and trotted over to greet him. At first, he said nothing. Aang was still unsure of what he was supposed to say to his friend on a day like this. Zuko appeared to have the same floundering about the situation as he did. The Fire Lord shyly waved his hand at the Avatar and an awkward silence followed.
Aang took it upon himself to break the silence for them both. "Hello, Zuko. It's good to see you again," Aang told him mildly.
"Likewise," Zuko added back. "How have you been? How is your new 'project' coming along?"
"It's going great," Aang informed him without allowing their eyes to meet. "Trinley's still at the very top of the group, but I initiated a couple more students who he's helping me with. The whole group is still kind of small, though."
"Well, it sounds like you're off to a good start." Zuko continued "You've accumulated quite a reputation through this. I'm sure you've heard – the rumors all across the land of the Avatar giving out bending abilities."
"Yes, I know this is a well-known phenomenon. And to think it was so difficult finding Trinley to begin with. Now people are coming to me. But I have to turn a fair amount away – not everyone is the right type of person to become a good airbender." At this point, Aang decided to cut the small talk short. "So why am I here with you today?"
Zuko informed him "ever since the end of the Hundred Year War, Azula has been a sort of rallying symbol for opponents of my rule. Not just Zhao Jr., but most of the guerilla insurgents, think of the fact that she's still around as a token of inspiration. Even by just being here, she has been at the center of a lot of trouble. And you remember what she did during the War – I don't have to remind you about that." Aang was indeed relieved that he refrained from doing so. "And while the doctors may say she's all better now, I'm not quite sure of that. She was able to fool a lot of people when she was younger. She could easily have fooled them. And if she did – well, I've got a lot of threats on my hands as it is without adding her to the mix."
"Right..." Aang acknowledged. He was in full agreement with Zuko thus far. "So where are you going with this?"
"Well..." Zuko continued, uneasy about what he was about to say. "I know you took my father's firebending away in your final fight with him. If you did the same with her bending abilities, she would be much less of a threat."
"I'm not sure that's such a good idea..." Aang said to him. Although he suspected she would cause trouble once she was free, just as Zuko did, he saw no need to do that to her yet. She had not done anything to warrant such an action. Also, it would be harder if she knew what he was doing and she resisted actively. Ozai had been worn out and was clueless when Aang Energybent on him. But Azula would resist him if she knew his intent and Yue had said performing the move would be much harder under these circumstances. That was why it was so important for Trinley to submit to him when he gave him airbending. Additionally, Aang still felt uneasy about his previous conversation with Roku. Perhaps he should not energybend any more than he had to.
Zuko dodged Aang's response. "Let's go meet her. Then we can decide what's best from what we see."
The head practitioner in charge of managing the facility came out from his offices and met with Aang and Zuko. He led them forward to where Azula was staying and told them to wait outside the room while he went inside to talk to her and finalize her status. Then she would come out to meet them once this last evaluation of her condition was finished.
Azula emerged before them. She was older and more clean-cut than last time Aang had seen her. But she was still recognizable nonetheless. Azula looked up and down Zuko's body, eying his Fire Lord outfit and majestic appearance. "Hello Zuzu. You're not like last time I saw you. You do look good now." She gestured to his scar. "Except for that of course, but that's nothing new."
"Thanks," Zuko responded dryly.
Aang could feel the tension in the air. "Well, I'll let you two be alone now," Aang chimed in, signaling his intended exit.
Zuko stopped him. "No, Aang – stay."
"The more the merrier," Azula commented to them, much more laidback than they were. When neither of them obliged for her, she continued. "Listen Zuzu, I know I wasn't incredibly nice to you before. And I used fear to control people. That was...wrong. The people here have helped me figure that out. But you're Fire Lord now, not me. Let's just make a fresh start. What do you say?" Although these were her words, she seemed to use the same cold, manipulative tone that Aang and Zuko had been accustomed to from her.
"I'm not sure it can be that easy," Zuko countered. Aang was feeling more and more awkward standing there.
"You know what, Zuzu, you're right. I should make it up to you somehow. If you ever need a really big favor, I'm your woman." She turned to Aang. "You too, Avatar."
Zuko hesitated. He glared at her, sizing her up as she had done to him. "I'm afraid you can't be trusted. Sorry."
Aang still remembered her as the person who shot him with lightning and very nearly pushing the world irreparably out of balance. She was much different than her brother. Azula had always been evil to him. Aang had altered his opinion of Zuko when the time came. But Azula seemed a different breed of evil than Zuko had practiced. She was power-hungry and merciless, wearing no guise of honor in what she did. Even if she was more complex than that, Aang had no reason to take that chance with her.
"I agree with Zuko," Aang stated firmly.
Azula appeared disappointed, but not upset. "So what happens now?"
"You will remain banished from the Fire Nation Capital," Zuko explained to her. "You can reside at the family estate on Ember Island for now. Your allowance will be adequate and I shall arrange visits whenever it is advisable."
"Fine, then," Azula told him coolly. "Don't bother escorting me out. I can find my own way." And with that, she marched off in the other direction.
"Well, I think our work here is done," Aang told Zuko as Azula left them. She seemed more balanced than he thought. He did not feel the need to do anything further. Maybe her treatment had worked.
Aang walked silently with Zuko out the front entrance to the facility. The air outside was nice and breezy. They were on an island, so the moist, wet feel of the seaside soothed him.
"I guess there was no point in bringing you along after all," Zuko told him.
"It's okay." Aang was relieved to be leaving now. But that new feeling of relaxation did not last long. He saw out of the corner of his eye someone standing behind a pillar, watching him and Zuko. He stopped in his tracks and turned his head toward the person, who was now running in the other direction.
Aang was infuriated. "Oh, no you don't!" he yelled to the eavesdropper as he started to run after them. Zuko was surprised by this immediate change of course and followed Aang, a few paces behind him. Aang was in hot pursuit of the mysterious fellow.
This individual was dressed the same way as that attacker he had encountered in the Earth Kingdom village years ago. He was dressed all in black, with his face covered so only his eyes were visible. Now Aang could see that on his sash was the same symbol that was on the weapons he found after that encounter in the Earth Kingdom and the fight against Zhao Jr. and his disloyal gang of Fire Nation soldiers.
So far, they had not succeeded in harming him. But they had come too close for comfort. Aang was not about to let them get away this time. As the man rounded the far corner of the building, Aang remained closely on his tail. He was catching up to him now. Being an airbender had its advantages at a time like this. Meanwhile, he could hear Zuko panting behind him.
The man approached the edge of a small cliff by the waterfront. He appeared to be preparing to make a jump for it, but Aang would not allow him to escape. Aang made a leap forward and pushed him down to the ground using energybending. The man fell face-down in the dirt and Aang caught up with him, turning his body over so he was facing upward at him. Aang proceeded to tear off his face covering, revealing the face of a dark-haired, hazel-eyed man with sharp eyebrows who appeared to be in his thirties.
The man's eyes widened in reaction to Aang's display of energybending. "So, it's true..." he muttered aloud, peering into Aang's eyes.
Aang pointed his fists down at his subdued opponent, ready to bend at him again at a whim. "You've been following me," Aang told him angrily. "I don't know what you're all about, but the game ends here!"
Zuko had caught up to them now. He looked down at him and echoed Aang's attitude. He positioned his arms, ready to firebend at him. "Tell us who you are and who you work for right now or I will end you!"
The man looked up at Zuko and gave him a scowl which seemed to say don't bother. He then reached under the top of his outer jacket and pulled out a small vial from within. Inside was a dark gray – almost black – liquid. He downed the whole vial in a single gulp and glanced up into Aang and Zuko's eyes. Then he took a deep breath and closed his eyes. A few moments later his head bobbed downward and he moved no more.
Bewildered, the Fire Lord knelt down and placed his fingers upon the mysterious man's neck. After detecting no pulse, he pulled his hand away and got back to his feet. Zuko simply stared down at lifeless body and asked Aang "Wo do you think he is? I've never seen anyone like him, anywhere."
"He's one of the people that have been following me wherever I go," Aang acknowledged. "I think they may have had something to do with Zhao Jr.'s plot against you. They also attacked me while I was in the Avatar State."
"It's those same people who did that," Zuko said, shocked. "But...that was so long ago. Why haven't you done anything about it until now?"
"It's hard to fight an enemy who shows up when you least expect it, strikes hard and then vanishes the second you try to get a closer look. They're very quick and secretive. This is the first time I've gotten this close to one of them."
Zuko took a second to take all this in. "I wonder why it is they're doing this."
Aang stood tall and erect, gazing down at the body of the man who he had just assaulted. "I don't know what the reasons behind their actions are. But whatever their purpose is, they're willing to die for it."
TO BE CONTINUED...
- This is the first chapter where a member of the unnamed organization speaks.
- This is the last chapter of Book One: Beginnings.
- This chapter is shorter than the last one. The events of it are important for later, but did not logically fit in with the events of the chapter preceding it or the chapter proceeding it.
- Special thanks to the many Azula fans of Avatar Wiki.
For the collective works of the author, go here.