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Previously on Energy Saga
As if Team Avatar has not experienced enough for one day, a pair of shocking confrontations in the Earth Kingdom and the Fire Nation prove to them that their peaceful world will not remain so for long.
Chapter Sixteen: Mobilization
Northern Water Tribe, 120 AG
Katara and Aang's initial plan after leaving the Cave of the Ancients was to travel to the Southern Air Temple and retrieve Tenzin, Kaddo and Vameira before returning to Omashu to spend some time visiting Toph. Shortly after reuniting with Appa, however, they received word of Zuko's confrontation with his top generals in the War Room and the outbreak of open war in the Fire Nation. News like that did not take long to travel, even across the distance between the Fire Nation Capital and Omashu, especially in a world with airships and messenger hawks so common. Therefore, Aang decided that it was time to meet with the leaders of the other nations to properly deal with the crisis. He sent Momo to the Southern Air Temple to inform Shao and Nola about the change in plans and prepared to set off for the Northern Water Tribe to see Chief Arnook and his advisers. It may not have been the most convenient way to start – going to the other side of the world – but Aang saw no need to rush, plus it had been a while since he had a lesson with Yue and was anxious to call on her again. He wanted to talk with her about his trials in the Cave of the Ancients.
Katara and Aang were now flying on Appa over the northern ocean and were nearing their destination. Migo was with them. Although he had not been thrilled about leaving his village to guide them to the Cave of the Ancients, he did not insist on returning immediately. When he asked Aang if he might accompany them, Aang had no reason to say no. Everyone else had returned to their respective homes. Sokka and Suki went to the Southern Water Tribe, Ty Lee went back to Kyoshi Island, Mai rejoined her husband in the Fire Nation and Toph resumed her life in Omashu.
"I've never been to a Water Tribe before," Migo disclosed to them, clutching the sides of the sky bison's saddle and lying on his belly. "I heard my mom went to one once."
"I'm sure she had quite a gratifying time," Katara acknowledged with a smirk. Her mind was busy focusing on the new tunic she was sewing for Kaddo. Then she turned to Aang. "Isn't it a little out of our way to be coming up here just to be going back to Omashu once we're done?"
"I must prioritize in order of importance," Aang answered, slightly annoyed. He did not bother to turn around at the saddle and continued to stare straight onwards. "First I must visit the Northern Water Tribe, then the Air Nomads, then the Southern Water Tribe and finally I'll have a talk with the Earth King in Ba Sing Se. We can stop by Omashu in between the Southern Air Temple and the Southern Water Tribe." Aang had trouble coming up with a rational reason why that must be the order in his mind, but the truth was that he longed to drop in on Yue soon, given his findings at the cave.
"I've never been to Omashu either," Migo commented.
"It sounds like you haven't been much of anywhere," Aang pointed out. This was starting to make sense to Aang. He had decided to tag along with them now hoping to be invited to Omashu with them later. Migo had in fact mentioned Omashu a few times on their journey to the North Pole. Migo could have just gone with Toph, but he was too timid to take that simple route. No, traveling across the world with him and Katara knowing that they would be going to Omashu eventually was certainly easier than that.
"Nah, I haven't," Migo admitted. "Actually I've scarcely ever left my village, to tell you the truth."
"I can't believe that Zuko was hiding this from us," Katara thought out loud. She was disinterest in Migo's ramblings. "He said that the Fire Nation was in a time of peace. Now, its war all over again."
"Zuko wasn't hiding anything," Aang countered. "The Fire Nation was at peace. This all just snuck up on him."
"Don't be so naïve!" Katara snapped back at him. "You saw the look on his face. He knew that something was up – he anticipated it. Now .we're going to the Northern Water Tribe to help him fix his mistakes. Stop defending him and think of the consequences. This changes everything about the world we live in. Think of your children and their future!"
"I do," Aang shot back at her. "He knew something was wrong because the messenger hawk carried a black ribbon message. Zuko is our friend. We're all on the same team. This will all be resolved shortly. I am the Avatar."
Katara crossed her arms and held her head in the air. "It was dishonest of him to pretend everything was okay when it really wasn't. He did that to everyone. To you and me. To all his friends and family."
Aang dropped Appa's reins. He was near his breaking point now. "He's doing the best he can!" he shouted at Katara. "Put yourself in his position. What more do you want?"
"I want you to start looking at things the way they really are for once!"
Aang did not respond to her. He was fuming. Migo stared at them both. He was unsure of what he should do in the midst of this heated exchange. Nevertheless, he manages to say "ummm...we're there."
And so they were. Dead ahead stood the majestic capital of the Northern Water Tribe. At the deepest point in the city stood the tall, icy tower that was their destination. After landing there, the three companions worldessly dismounted Appa and entered through the opening atop the grand staircase.
Among all the nations, the Northern Water Tribe had changed the least in the past twenty years. The Southern Water Tribe by now was almost fully rebuilt and had modernized to keep up with the Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation. The Earth Kingdom had undergone the pains of decolonization and political reforms in Ba Sing Se. Even Omashu had changed. Under the rule of Queen Toph, packages in the mailing system with more valuable objects now came in metal cases, which were more secure because they were only able to be opened by an elite team of earthbenders who had been trained how to metalbend. In the Fire Nation, Fire Lord Zuko had been gradually undoing the faults from the past one hundred years down the wrong path. He had also initiated contact with the Sun Warriors. He had broken a promise by doing so, but he viewed it as a change for the better. The Air Nomads were back in the picture at the Southern Air Temple and somewhat in the Northern Air Temple as well. As for the Northern Water Tribe, though, it was just as Aang remembered it on all visits. Since Katara's contention with Pakku, women were now allowed to learn combative waterbending unlike before. However, it was still considered unusual for a them to do so. In all respects, the Northern Water Tribe remained dignified but isolated and conservative on traditional social norms.
As they entered the tower, the elder, bewhiskered Chief Arnook greeted them. He had gray hair and was hunching on a smoothly-carved walking stick. "Welcome, Avatar Aang – and friends. We've been expecting you."
"Greetings, honorable Chieftain Arnook." Aang put his hands together and did a formal bow while Katara and Migo stood idly by.
"Well, come on, let's talk inside." Arnook gestured for them to follow.
Inside was a formal round tavle with a fine rim around the edge and a Water Tribe national symbol etched into the center. Surrounding the circular table were eight elegant, frozen chairs. They were just comfortable enough to sit in. Aang sat down in one of them. He had Katara close at his left and Migo on his right side. Aang and Arnook sat directly across from one another. Aang had never seen the chief's four advisers he had with him. All of them were much younger than the chief himself. Perhaps some were barely old enough to have fought in the Siege of the North twenty years prior.
Aang began the meeting by recapping the incident between Zuko and his general in the Fire Nation War Room scarcely one week earlier. Aang was not there himself but told it as best he could and emphasized the point that the Fire Nation was now in a state of civil war and that the defected generals were now amassing their forces from the ranks of those involved in previous uprisings, displaced colonials and other disgruntled citizens. General Zhao Jr., the son of Admiral Zhao, who had attempted to stage a coup against Zuko a few years following the Hundred Year War, was among them. Supposedly Princess Azula was also on the loose, though nobody seemed to know her current whereabouts. The chaos that was now engulfing the Fire Nation would eventually engulf the world. Aang was counting on Chief Arnook to realize this and play a part in the multilateral effort to nip this catastrophe in the bud.
When Aang finished, Chief Arnook turned to his adviser on his right-hand side, who whispered into his ear. Arnook nodded to whatever it was he was being told. Aang was quite annoyed as he believed this should be an open discussion. If this man has something to say to Arnook he should say it to everyone present, Aang thought to himself.
Arnook nodded once more and turned to face Aang. "Very...interesting. But what has this to do with us?"
Katara winced. "You're kidding, right?"
"Once the insurgency overthrows Zuko and takes control of the Fire Nation they will restart the Hundred Year War," Aang continued. "You must understand this."
"I remember the Hundred Year War well," the old chief replied. "All our people do. Even during the more peaceful years the threat of warfare still loomed over us. We spent decades dreading the day when we would again see the black snow and know what was coming. I cannot deprive my people of this peace and send more of our young ones to their death on the battlefield. Many of them are teenagers or in their early twenties. They have had the luxury of knowing peace their whole lives – something us older folk envy them for."
"If we act soon, the peace you speak of will last for many years to come," Aang went on. "We can handle this fairly easily if we just stand united and work together. All nations deserve to live in peace – the Fire Nation included."
This last point did not sit well with the chief. "I hold no ill will toward the Fire Lord Zuko and the Fire Nation now, but they were the ones who began the last war, which devastated us all. Perhaps they can wait for peace a little longer"
This was not going as Aang hoped. He had an idea they might be tough, but not this tough.
"I'm sorry," Arnook told them at last. "But we respectfully decline."
"Why did you bother to see him just to tell him 'no?'" Katara asked them irritably.
"It is not prudent to refuse an encounter with an Avatar on any occasion," Arnook told her stiffly.
"It's allso imprudent to waste an Avatar's time," she added.
"Easy, Katara," Aang said, calming her down. "Thank you for your time, chief."
Everyone rose from their seats. Aang spoke to him again. "There is one more thing I would like to do while I am here."
"Yes, of course," he replied, already knowing what it was. "She should be waiting for you in the Oasis, as usual."
Aang noticed the saddened expression on the old man's face. "Thank you."
Aang, Katara and Migo all entered the breezy, heated Spirit Oasis together. Migo looked around, examining the area with fascnination.
"Yue? Yue?" Aang called to her.
"Hmm...she does seem rather shy for a spirit," Migo remarked.
"Come on," Katara said, pointing toward the exit. "Maybe its not the right time for her." Katara was anxious to see her kids again.
"No, she's here," Aang responded. "Yue...Yue?"
He looked down at the two Koi Fish circling each other in the miniature pond at the epicenter of the spiritual location. A small ball of light rose into the air out of the white one and formed into the spiritual figure of Princess Yue, the moon spirit.
She seemed tired – well, as tired as a non-living being could possibly be. "Hello Aang, what is it?"
"Yue, hi," Katara chimed in cheerfully. "It's good to see you again. Don't worry. Momo's at the Southern Air Temple now, so he won't try to eat you." Yue was not the least bit amused at this feeble and tasteless attempt at an inside joke.
"Hi, I'm Migo," Migo said, smiling wide and waving. "I'm new."
"Well, now that the introductions are out of the way, how can I help you?" Yue asked Aang, rolling her transparent eyes.
Aang told Yue about the Cave of the Ancients – about the wolf, about the cave itself and about Doru Kun. He also briefly mentioned Azula, but did not spend much time on the subject as it was not relevant to her area of expertise.
"Hmmm...yes, that does sound like energybending was at work..." Yue added as Aang finished.
"What do you mean?"
Yue was impatient. "Look, I don't have time for this right now. I'm the moon spirit, so teaching you about energybending can't always be my top priority. If you'll excuse me, I have spirit business that I must attend to."
"Wait, I must know," Aang cried out to her.
"Sorry, but this time you'll have to figure it out on your own." And with that, her spiritual form disappeared. Aang stood there, bewildered.
Southern Air Temple
Aang hardly spoke at all on the ride from the Northern Water Tribe to the Southern Air Temple. He spent the several long nights on Appa that the journey took lost in his own thoughts. By this point he had grown sick of thinking about the mysterious cave, the coming war and Yue's shortness with him. All he wanted now was to get to Omashu as swiftly as Appa would allow.
It was nearing nightfall when they touched down at their destination. The Southern Air Temple was shining in the radiant glow of the rescinding late afternoon sunlight. Just as Appa set his feet upon solid ground and was able to get a long-awaited rest, Shao emerged from the interior of the temple to receive them. He had something white and furry perched atop his right shoulder – Momo. But there was no one else with him. Aang found this odd. He had expected Nola and his children to be waiting for them as well.
"Greetings, Great Avatar Aang," Shao uttered politely with a respectful bow to his teacher.
Aang waved this formality away as he jumped to the ground from his sky bison and his winged lemur glided eagerly from Shao's shoulder to his. "Not necessary, Shao. You can just call me Aang. We've known each other long enough."
"So where are the modified gliders that non-airbenders can fly?" Migo asked, frantically looking around. "I want to ride one!"
"Sorry Migo, the modified gliders are at the Northern Air Temple," Aang told him. "The one's we keep here work for airbenders only. Shao, where are Tenzin, Kaddo and Vameira? I thought they were supposed to be here with you. I would like to leave before too long. I don't want to keep our friend Queen Toph waiting too long."
"Oh, they're just off finishing a game of Airball. I saw you were coming and told them they could finish while I came to let you know. They're all packed and everything, so I don't expect you'll have to wait too long otherwise. How did the meeting in the North go?"
"Not so well," Aang sighed. "And where's Nola?"
"She's off somewhere," Shao answered with uncertainty. "She said she had something to take care off."
"She wouldn't say..."
"Well, that's annoying..." Aang commented irritably. "When you see her, tell her that she'll be needed for a mission to the Fire Nation after my trip to Omashu. You too – I'll require all the top airbenders. Hopefully we can end this war before it gets worse. If we don't, all the nations will be effected."
"Indeed," Shao agreed.
"Hopefully all will go smoothly. The firm neutrality of the Northern Water Tribe is a setback, but its a manageable setback. I've been developing a secret strategy in my head which could potentially end the war quickly. It will involve Omashu. When you see Nola again, tell her to get in contact with me immediately. I'll need her to implement the plan."
"May I ask what it is?"
"I'm not saying yet," Aang stated flatly.
"Oh, okay," said Shao, disappointed. "Icarus is waiting for you in the Lower Garden. He says he has something he wants to show you."
"Well, I'm on a tight schedule, but I'll go see what he wants." And with that, Aang marched into the temple, leaving Shao, Migo and Katara behind.
The lower garden was a lush landscape filled with fresh plants and blooming flowers. It was where the Air Nomads grew much of their fruits and vegetables. As they did not eat meat, what could be found in this extensive terrace constituted most of their daily diet. It was this place that kept them from going hungry. It was one of the more well-guarded parts of the temple – and for good reason. Without proper access, the airbenders in the temple would be left vulnerable with a depleted food supply. What few flying lemurs there were remaining also frequented the place and ate from the plants. The Air Nomads did not usually mind unless there was a food shortage.
Sure enough, Icarus was standing there. Sweat ran down his shaved forehead illuminated by the receding sun. He must have been training. "Hi, Aang."
"You wanted to see me?"
"Yes, its that new airbending technique that I invented. I've wanted to show you for a while."
"Oh yeah, I remember you telling me about that at the council meeting just before I went to the Fire Nation. Sorry, I was too busy at the time. I was on a tight schedule. I am now, too, as a matter of fact. But the kids are off playing Airball, so I have a moment."
"Ha! The Avatar – always on a tight schedule, of course. But at least I am blessed with a moment of your time now."
"Well, let's see it then," Aang said with an encouraging gesture.
"I think this new move will come in handy now that we have a war on. Now, if you'll bare with me a sec – I think I saw one here earlier." Icarus was now looking around for something, spinning his head about and looking in the direction of all the surrounding plants. "Ah, here we go," Icarus exclaimed, pointing toward a lemur's tail sticking out from beneath a berry bush.
Aang was confused as to what a lemur had to do with Icarus's new move. He was also discomforted by his forwardness is saying it "will come in handy with a war on" when the Air Nomads were not yet formally involved.
Aang oversaw in silence as Icarus took a fighting stance and thrust both arms forward before sharply pulling them back once again. Aang could tell that Icarus's chi was flowing intensely with the motion. He watched as the lemur emerged from his hiding spot in tandem with Icarus's movements and rose to his hind legs. The lemur grabbed his neck and began to cough. He was frantically gasping for breath. It was then that Aang realized what Icarus was doing.
He was sucking the oxygen out of the lemur's body so that he could not breath!
"That's enough!" Aang yelled. "Stop!"
Icarus at once ceased suffocating the lemur, who dashed off into a distant patch of shrubs, panting. Then he turned to Aang. "Pretty good, huh? I call it 'asphyxiation.' It can be used on any sort of opponent for a quick and easy kill."
"This does not honor the Air Nomad tradition of respecting all life."
Icarus was slightly taken aback. "Maybe not, but it can be, depending on the end. It may be used to protect certain lives by eliminating those that threaten them."
"How long have you been doing this?"
"A few months. I've practiced on some two hundred animals so far – mostly lemurs. Now that the we have a war I look forward to using it on a human soon."
"You've been doing this to lemurs? Flying lemurs are endangered!" Aang was outraged. "And no. I forbid you from using this technique again."
"Avatar Aang, just stop for a moment and think of the possibilities..."
"There are no possibilities! This is the last I want to hear of this." And with that, the Avatar stormed off to reconnect with his family. He was frustrated with how Icarus had turned out. Icarus, like many of the newer airbenders, did not grow up as an Air Nomad. He had been recruited into them when he was a full-grown adult. He was acting like an Air Nomad, but he did not feel like one. This was a problem Aang had run into with a handful of the elder students. Some cases were more apparent than others. Just then, he spotted Nola flying on her glider and land at the temple where he was to meet Katara and the kids. Whatever it was she was doing, she was done with it now. Now he could mention the war plans to her just before he had to leave. What luck, he thought to himself.
Tenzin and Vameira were pumped up and in a good mood. Kaddo was poised beside Appa and looked like he could not wait to leave. Katara was conversing with Shao and Migo. Nola had just landed on the terrace and closed up her glider.
"Hi everyone," Aang said, pretending to have high spirits. "So, how was Airball?"
"It was fun!" his eleven year old daughter exclaimed to him. "It would have been even better if Tenzin hadn't cheated."
"I did not cheat!" the eldest sibling objected. Vameira stuck out her tongue at him.
"I'm just glad to finally be leaving this old place," said the middle child and only waterbender.
"You know, your mother and Uncle Sokka always found this place fascinating," Aang told his son. "They aren't airbenders either."
Aang turned to Nola. "I need to speak with you now."
Aang and Nola walked just inside and had a brief conversation in hushed voices. During this time, Tenzin and Vameira whipped out their gliders and spared, sending air blasts each other's way. Kaddo stood around awkwardly, looking bored. As the rest of them waited, Katara tried to make out what her husband was saying to Nola several feet away.
When Aang and Nola returned, it was obvious that Nola had been intrigued by whatever it was Aang had told her. "This would be most unexpected. Do you think it would work?"
"Of course it will," Aand said with confidence. "If we act quickly enough, its a sure thing. But it is of the utmost importance that it remain secret. We don't want to tell too many people yet. I've only told one person and that one person is you."
"I'm flattered," Nola told him with the faintest trace of a laugh.
Aang beamed. Expressions of humor, on any level, were a rarity for Nola. "Now if you'll excuse me, we better get going." Aang looked at the scene before him. The sparing match had taken a rough turn and Tenzin now had Vameira pinned to the ground. He was sitting atop a small Air Spout and had conjured up an Air Shield, which he was using to repeatedly whack his sister Vameira in the face.
"Alright, let's go now," Aang called out to everyone. As the family of five – plus Migo – climbed onto Appa, Aang seized the reins as Katara scolded Tenzin furiously.
Xi Wang Shizhen
Xi Wang Shizhen. "Say that five times fast." That's what Tenzin said when he heard the name of the place they were stopping for lunch on their way to Omashu. Xi Wang Shizhen was a colony of the Fire Nation in the Earth Kingdom during the last few years of the war. Many of its displaced refugees tried to make it to Ba Sing Se as they did from other parts of the continent. However, the road from Xi Wang Shizhen to Ba Sing Se was long and arid. It was quite easy to die of exhaustion or starvation on a march such as that. Although it was immediately returned to the Earth Kingdom by Zuko due to not being a colony for very long, many of the refugees never made it back when the war was over.
Nevertheless, the town had rebuilt itself substantially in the last few years. Local commerce had been stimulated again. There was a popular local inn which also had a restaurant. Aang and company decided to eat there after they landed. When they entered the newly-refurbished building, Katara asked for a table for six and the hostess led them to their seats.
"Did you see the sign on the way inn?" Migo inquired to everyone else.
"No, what did it say?" Aang said quizzically.
"No firebenders allowed."
"What – really?"
"Yes, I saw it too," Katara remarked with disgust. "I keep forgetting how many places haven't accepted that the Hundred Year War is over. Its not just the Fire Nation."
"Do you want to eat somewhere else?"
"We're already here," Migo shrugged. And no one else brought it up after that.
Aang could not stop thinking about the asphyxiation move. This had not been a part of his vision for the New Air Nomads. It went against everything he and the Old Air Nomads stood for. Respecting all life down to the tiniest spider-fly caught in its own web. It was true that Icarus was not born an Air Nomad, but Aang hoped he would have made more of an impression on him by now. Reconstructing an entire culture was tougher than it sounded like it would be when he spoke to Sokka while harvesting sea prunes. Sure...just "energybend some more of them." That would be all it takes. Aang did not know how to handle things like Icarus showed him. It shocked and chilled his innards just to remember it. The disregarding of morals, the suffering of the lemur and the sense of satisfaction held by Icarus. Aang told himself that he knew that this was a part of his duty as Avatar. To recreate the lost one of the four nations – the lost part of the balance. And that meant sucking it up and dealing with the growing pains. It was like Avatar Yangchen told him long ago:
- "Avatar Aang, I know that you're a gentle spirit and the monks have taught you well, but this isn't about you, this is about the world.
- Many great and wise Air Nomads have detached themselves and achieved spiritual enlightenment, but the Avatar can never do it, because your soul duty is to the world. Here is my wisdom for you. Selfless duty calls you to sacrafice your own spiritual needs and do whatever it takes to protect the world."
Then again, had not Avatar Roku more recently told him that it was just the opposite? That recreating the Air Nomads was part of his own selfish desire and not his Avatar duty to the world?
Aang was interrupted in his train of thought as a pretty young woman with flowing light-brown hair wearing a casual, lime-green dress and a hint of lip-stick approached their table. "Hello, I'm your waitress for today. What can I start you out with?"
"Ummm..." Aang began.
The waitress gasped. "My spirits! You're Avatar Aang, aren't you?"
"Well...yes I am."
Suddenly, a heavy-set man with a walrus mustache approached the table from behind where she stood. "Excuse me. I couldn't help but overhear. Did you say you're the Avatar?"
"Well then. I'm afraid you'll have to leave."
"What? Why?!" Katara said, alarmed.
"Well, as it says outside, there's no firebenders allowed in this establishment.. And as the Avatar you are a firebender, so that includes you."
"This is ridiculous," Katara objected, crossing her arms. "Aang helped save your people and bring them peace."
"Well, perhaps if he had shown up a little sooner, we wouldn't have been occupied in the first place." This man was clearly still harbored some deep resentment.
"Well, lets go," Aang conceded. "We don't have any other choice." No one else spoke as they rose from their seats and left the place behind, their stomachs growling to add insult to injury. It was a sour dose of the tension that still lurked in all parts of the world that had been consumed by a century of warfare. Such tension did not disappear overnight.
"Aang! Avatar Aang, wait up!" The young waitress was hurrying over toward them just as they had started to re-board Appa. She was carrying several small bags with her. "I'm sorry that I gave you away like that, I just never expected to see you in there of all places. Anyways, I got you some fruit pies to go. I hear those are a popular Air Nomad cuisine. Its the least I could do."
"Thank you for your concern," Aang told her firmly. "But we don't need you to steal food for us."
"It's not stealing. As a waitress, I get a free meal a week, so I used up a few of my extra turns left over to get you this."
"Thanks," Katara told her. She would not ordinarily have accepted this, but she saw how hungry the rest of the group was. "That was nice of you. I hope you don't get in trouble with your boss."
"Oh, don't worry about that," she said with a roll of her eyes. "I don't plan on working for him much longer. As soon as I have enough saved up to cover travel expenses I'm going to Ba Sing Se to pursue my lifelong dream of being a dancer."
"You are a kind young lady," Aang told her. "We are grateful."
"Nonsense. Like I said, its the least I could do. I know you don't remember me – and actually, I don't really remember you either – but we've met. A long time ago you changed my family's life."
"What's your name?" asked Aang.
TO BE CONTINUED...
- Unlike most ES chapters, this ends on a high note rather than a grave or suspenseful one.
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