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Previously on Energy Saga
As a new war has begun, Aang begins traveling to different nations to send aid to Zuko's government in the Fire Nation. Meanwhile, his troubled student shows him something even more troubling.
Chapter Seventeen: Reflections
Chameleon Bay, 120 AG
Never in his wildest dreams did he think this day would come. He was officially retired for nearly a quarter-century. He was also branded a traitor and imprisoned for fighting against members of his own family in defense of their sworn enemy. Trapped in a cold cell and ostracized out of all his prior social circles, he managed to escape on his own dexterity and intelligence when the opportune time presented itself. Later, he achieved his lifelong dream of conquering Ba Sing Se, not showered in glory by his own people, but by liberating it from their grasp and helping the world recover from their sins. After this supposedly permanent transformation, he began a quiet life in his Ba Sing Se tea shop where he could spend the rest of his days drinking tea and playing Pai Sho.
Yet here he was now, donning his Fire Nation uniform and getting ready to board a Fire Nation ship where he would be taken to active duty as a reinstated general in the Fire Nation Army. He had closed down his tea shop the day before. This seemed ridiculous. He was in his eighties now and no longer at home here, but he was obligated – for his country – for his nephew. Zuko was like a son to him – always would be. He had matured into the just and capable Fire Lord that Iroh was proud of. But he was having difficulty now. A couple more of his most able generals had defected just the other day and now stood opposed to him. The best way to make up for that unfortunate loss was by having a former symbol back in action. And that symbol was him – General Iroh, legendary Dragon of the West and former Crown Prince of the Fire Nation. That would give the pivotal boost to the loyalists morale and momentum that they needed to achieve victory. With luck, it would be over soon and Iroh would be able to return to his shop in Ba Sing Se within a few months.
Chameleon Bay had changed significantly since the Water Tribe used its coast as a base outside Ba Sing Se during the final year of the Hundred Year War. With the world at peace, it was used as a harbor to travel between locations in the Earth Kingdom. The larger ships were not made for traveling in the shallower waters of the river that flowed into the bay, so a port was constructed here. Around it, what appeared as a small town grew over time. First came the docks and the employees who worked there, then came the inns and the taverns. Eventually those who made a living here set up long-term residency in the new settlement. General Iroh had traveled here from Ba Sing Se. Now he was waiting at the docks where he would rendez-vous with the ship which would transport him.
And sure enough the ship with the designated Fire Nation insignia that showed it was under Fire Lord Zuko's command docked before him. As the ramp hit the surface, the grizzled old veteran marched up where he was received by a short, stocky man about his age and a tall, slender but muscular man much younger.
"Welcome, honorable General Iroh," the older man stated with a bow. "I am Fung-Chen, the Admiral of this vessel. This is Captain Lee. He will be serving under your command, along with the rest of the Army men we carry."
"It is my honor to meet you, Admiral," the Dragon of the West told him with a smile. "It is a long journey that lies ahead of us. Do we have all the necessary provisions?"
Although Admiral Fung-Chen had never been acquainted with General Iroh, he understood the subtext of this statement. "The fresh stock of Jasmine Tea and the Pai Sho board are already waiting in your cabin."
"That's what I like to hear."
Southern Earth Kingdom
The Avatar and his family perched themselves on Appa's back, enjoying the warm and tasty fruit pies Hope had given them earlier. Even Migo – certainly no connoisseur of Air Nomad dining, took a liking to them.
"It was nice of that lady to give these to us," Vameira said through a full mouth. "Whatever you did to help her long ago must have been amazing. Wasn't she a baby at the time?"
"I was just doing what was necessary," Aang informed her. "She may not remember it, but in a way she helped me, too. Perhaps she has again."
"You mean she also gave you fruit pies when she was a baby?!" Kaddo uttered in disbelief.
"No, I'm not talking about fruit pies. Sometimes we need someone to give us a push and keep us doing what we're doing. Even the best of us need it from time to time."
"I know," Katara remarked slyly. Aang could not see it because his eyes were pointed at the sky ahead of him, but she was looking his way.
"Where's Momo?" asked Tenzin. "Doesn't he want some fruit pie?"
"I sent him ahead," Aang told him. "He's probably in Omashu waiting for us already."
"When will we get there?" It was not one of Aang's children who eagerly asked this. It was Migo.
"Soon. Most likely tonight or tomorrow."
The Queen of Omashu sat on a stool within her ornate dressing room and stared blankly at her open window. She was unable to see the beautiful starry sky which settled itself blissfully over Omashu tonight, but she could feel the gentle breeze glazing over her skin, giving her a drafting, calming feeling that served as an equivalent. Toph was enjoying a relaxing moment to herself for a change. This nice setting was not ruined even by the coming knock on the door.
"Your Majesty," came the unmistakable of Nala, Toph's head servant and personal attendant. "Is it ready yet?"
"No Nala, not yet," the Queen answered her underling irritably. Toph was supposed to be trying on a new dress to be worn at the next state visit by one of the governors of the northern provinces. The life of being a monarch in a large metropolis such as Omashu was always busy and everything refused to slow down for even a moment.
"Perhaps I might come in if you require any assistance?" Nala's voice came at her from outside the door again, this time with a note of concern.
"I can handle trying on a dress just fine, thanks!" Toph knew that Nala meant well, but she was overbearing at times.
"Okay, I'll just wait here then. Let me know if you need anything."
"Okay," Toph shouted back.
Toph simply wanted a little time to herself – but try telling Nala that. She knew what to expect from Nala by now. She had been around a while and also served under Bumi. Bumi always said Nala pampered him because of his old age. When Toph was first crowned, Nala tried to assist her in every single action of the day, out of a misguided belief Toph could not handle herself because of her blindness. Toph made known that she would not put up with such nonsense straight away. Just like her parents, Nala had trouble accepting that Toph was not fragile and helpless because of her blindness.
Suddenly, something crawled into the chamber. With her Seismic Sense Toph could already tell who it must be, although it was already pretty obvious by the yelping sound and the swooping around by the window sill.
"Momo, its good to feel someone familiar in here...you must have a message for me."
Indeed she was right. Queen Toph pulled the scroll out and moved her hand gently across the parchment. The ink was hardened to make it distinct enough for her to feel the shapes. It was a new form of symbolized writing that could be understood by blind people. This had been developed four years ago. The City of Omashu helped fund the project. Though described as an act of charity, Toph could not kid the fact that she was an interested party.
"Hmmm...its a new battle strategy that Twinkle Toes came up with," Toph said aloud to herself thoughtfully. "He wants to use Omashu as a base to launch an assault on the old colonial region and the province where Hukow is. That's actually fairly clever of him. The disgruntled expatriates in the former colonies and the stronghold of Hukow are the cornerstones of the resistance movement now and he knows where their bases there are. If those are neutralized before this chaos can expand further, that goes a long way towards ending this war before it really starts. Twinkle Toes did his homework for once. I'll sign the document, give my seal and finalize Omashu's support for him as soon as he arrives. He won't be able to execute the plan otherwise."
Toph then reached into a bowl of nuts on her tea table and grabbed out a handful, which she promptly stuffed into her mouth and munched on. Then she noticed that Momo was jumping up and down really fast while yelping. He seemed really ecstatic.
"What is it, Momo?" Toph asked him, not bothering to turn her head. "Are you trying to confuse me? You know I can't 'see' you when you're not touching the ground, right? Oh, I know – perhaps you see me eating and now you want some food, too. Well, alright then, you've had a long journey. I guess I can spare a few of these nuts for you."
And so she reached into the bowl and grabbed another fistful. She picked the nuts out one at a time and fed them one at a time to Momo. But no matter how many he ate, he would not calm down. If anything he was acting up more than before.
"Still hungry, huh?" scowled Toph. "Well, here – have a couple more. If that isn't enough for you, though, you'll just have to wait until your precious Avatar gets here."
Although she did not show it, Toph was truly grateful for Momo's company. It kept things interesting for her. Although she had no shortage of friends and people who cared about her, she did not get to see them often enough. Just recently she had grown self-conscious of the fact that she was still single, whereas her friends were now all settled down and had families. While it may seem that she was late to marry, Toph told herself otherwise. She was not late to marry, her friends had been too young. She was only thirty-two after all – still youthful.
Bumi had never married and had no heirs. That was why Toph was able to inherit the throne after his time was finally up. He had been a dedicated, popular, personable ruler, just like her. And like her, he never had much time left over for such things. His primary duty was to his people. Toph felt the same way and had grown really close to Bumi in the years before his death. It may seem a stretch to say she was like Bumi's daughter – maybe a niece. Well, actually, more like a friend. They were two great earthbenders standing side-by-side and that was how they understood one another. That transcended any age gap they might have had.
But nevertheless, she did want kids of her own some day. Her parents, who had their own residence in Omashu, made it clear to her that they wanted grandchildren at some point. She simply had not met the right person yet. Others such as Haru and Teo had flirted with her years before and then there was her girl-crush on Sokka, but that never held much weight. She kept thinking about Migo, but that seemed dumb. He may be a formidable earthbender and alright company in small doses, but he was also clumsy, shallow and constantly got on her nerves left and right.
A knock came on the door once more. "Yes, what is it?" Toph yelled in the general direction.
"Oh, just the dress again," came the pompous, meager voice of Nala once more. "I was wondering if I might see how it looks on you, my Queen, once you are done. The royal seamstress worked so hard on that outfit and personally I find it to-die-for!"
"Ugh, you want everything today, don't you?" Toph conceded, getting up and feeling her way towards the door. "Fine, just try not to faint at the sight of me like you did at the annual badgermole festival. I can't see what it looks like myself, but I can totally see that as being something you would do."
"I think I can handle myself fine, my lady," Nala answered, noticeably offended, but remaining respectful. "I was just a little dehydrated on that day. That's all."
"Whatever." Toph grasped the door handle, turned it and swung the way open for Nala to see. This door was not earthbending-operated as the servants spent a lot of time working in this section of the palace and not all of them were benders.
Nala waited intently to see the dress on its new owner. "Oh my!" Just as Toph predicted, Nala fainted and fell backwards to the floor with a loud thud.
"Hah," Toph smirked. "What did I say?"
One of her guards rushed from the hallway over to Nala and picked her up. Toph rolled her eyes. "Yeah, she fainted again. She just can't help herself. Well, this dress must be quite something to look at. Not like I would know, of course."
"Whoa!" The soldier had fainted as well, his body falling on top of Nala's.
"Huh," Toph said, confused. "I guess it must be a really good dress if you fainted at the sight of it, too."
Then she froze. Now she realized. "You've been here the whole time, haven't you?"
The attacker had himself suspended by a thin, but sturdy string, hanging from the ceiling, silent, motionless and with no part of his body ever touching the walls or the floor. He had been right in front of her in the middle of the room and in plain sight. Nala had seen him, the guard had seen him, even Momo had seen him.
Toph gasped as a needle struck her just below the neck. It was infused with some kind of syrum or other substance. Toph immediately became nautious and her legs collapsed to the ground. Toph felt two feet hit the ground as he dropped from his suspended string. There was no reason for this man to hide himself any longer. The Queen jerked her foot into the floor and sent an Earth line his way, but in the state she was in, it did not matter. The row of rocks rose feebly out of the ground and simmered away before reaching him. Toph had never sensed him before and she knew nothing about him. But apparently he knew all he had to about her. He had exploited the great earthbender's one weakness perfectly.
Barely able to speak now, Toph managed to utter something. "Oh no, the secret invasion plan – its no longer secret! And I can't give my approval for it. I must warn Twinkle Toes..."
But it was too late for that now. Quivering, Toph's full body at last submitted. Toph had never in her life felt vulnerable for her disability – until now. She lay motionless on the floor. If Toph could see, it would have been at this point that everything went black.
TO BE CONTINUED...
- AvatarRokusGhost is trying out a new writing method. While in previous chapters he thought long and hard about how to write each scene "just right," here he wrote the chapter out pretty fast and then underwent extensive tweaking revisions and reviewing once it was done. Writing with the heart and rewriting with the mind is supposedly better in a lot of ways. This is the first chapter where the new method is used.
- Although Aang is the protagonist of Avatar: Energy Saga, just like in Avatar: The Last Airbender, his role in this chapter is brief. This chapter focuses on other characters.
- The note that Aang sent to Toph using Momo is written in a style of writing that is sort of like Braille in the World of Avatar.
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