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|Fire Nation's Final Hope|
Previously on Energy Saga
Aang finally talks to Doru Kun, and while he does not learn how to fix Katara, he does learn a little more about his destiny with energybending, as well as the history of Avatar Doru Kun's epic battle with The Mystic. As for the unknown organization, they are unknown no more: well, their name is found out, at least. They are called the Sages Bane and they will stop at nothing to capture the Avatar. For what purpose remains a mystery. Right when Aang exits meditation, he and his friends must flee Ba Sing Se to escape the ensuing revolution, which hands control of the city back over to Long Feng.
Chapter Thirty-Eight: Fire Nation's Final Hope
Omashu Airship, 121 AG
The flying hunk of metal of the blind monarch of Omashu was even more enormous than any of the airships used by the Fire Nation during the Hundred Year War. The interior was lined with dozens of compartments stretching from the front to the rear of the zeppelin. The only characteristic of the craft more remarkable than its size was its speed, which would allow the Avatar and his companions to arrive at the great Earth Kingdom city of Omashu within a few days. The airship had stopped a mere two times in its journey: once shortly after leaving the capital of the Earth Kingdom for the engineers to perform some much-needed maintenance repairs that they had not gotten around to before the Ba Sing Se revolution broke out, and a second time early in the afternoon to gather up some supplies.
Four silent individuals nested themselves into one of the smaller, darker compartments at the back corner of the aerial vessel. There was a father and a daughter with shiny, white hair neither of them would have acquired naturally for decades to come, and a young man and woman, both of whom were more mild and solemn than one would usually find them.
After a handful of quiet minutes, the young man spoke. "I thought he would have shown more signs of recovery by now. Whoever those people were nearly did him in when they razed the palace."
"He would've died," stated Neinei certainly. "We both would have, if it had not been for spiritual intervention." Time-wise it had not been long since the attack inside the Fire Nation Royal Palace on her parents' anniversary, but the multitude of events that had taken place since then made it seem like much longer. "I remember hearing the name of the one who attacked us. It was a man called Zhang Sang. If my father dies, I'll make him pay."
The woman looked upon the headstrong girl with pity, brushing her long, sleek hair out of her face. "He can still make it," said Hope. "Hope is more than a name for me. My parents taught me never to give up on something important. The best hope for all your people, is your father's healthy recovery."
Fire Nation Waters
The former Crown Princess of the Fire Nation had had a productive day so far. Shortly after the crack of dawn, she had led her most ardent supporters to take out a treacherous village which had given weaponry to a rival general, whom she had bested in battle the day before. They had burned the village to the ground, killed every resident – man, woman and child alike – and salvaged whatever loot they could get their hands on for themselves. This would serve as a harsh reminder to those that dared to take up arms in opposition. Now that she had consolidated the remaining forces in her nation, the people had the option of being with her or against her. The friend of her enemy was her enemy, just as the enemy of her enemy was her friend.
After sacking the unfortunate community, Azula had landed at a port a short distance off to rally the Phoenix Army troops and give them a memorable speech to take with them on their next voyage. Now, she was standing at the helm of the flagship of her mighty fleet, flanked on either side by a pair of tall, broad-shouldered firebenders dressed in crimson, stream-lined armor with skull-like face coverings. With her head held high and her spirits along with it, Azula's straight, pointed bangs blew in the wind, as she narrowed her beady eyes and lifted one side of her thin mouth.
The footsteps behind her signaled the arrival of Colonel Wan, one of her more poised and loyal underlings, who had come to deliver his report. "We have our course set for Omashu."
"Excellent," said Azula in response, turning to face Colonel Wan. "We'll be seeing the Avatar again. Won't that be nice?"
"It will be quite something," concurred Wan.
"I doubt he'll agree," said Azula casually. She walked over to the edge of the helm, as though pondering to herself. "I like seeing old friends, but they're never as psyched about seeing me. Why is that?"
"I-I don't know," said Wan uncomfortably.
"I think you do," Azula replied, looking into Wan's eyes with a stare that felt like it pierced his skull. "I wonder what the Avatar and that little girl of his have been up to since we last saw each other."
"I haven't the slightest idea, Princess – I mean, Fire Lord Azula."
Azula shook her head at him. "It's princess, still. The official coronation will be after we return to the homeland."
"As you will then, Princess Azula."
"The time will come soon enough. I'm close to what I was meant for – I won't have it taken away from me a second time. The desperate citizens of our land have turned to me. Of course they would at a time like this. I'm their final hope for stability."
Princess Neinei leaned against the rusted metal railing of the airship, gazing off into the shining stars of the night sky. The bright and smooth-textured full moon looked peaceful, which came as a relief to her since the recent events had been anything but. It was strange, but Neinei felt strangely comforted in the moon's presence, and felt as though she ought to extend her arm over the valley beneath them and reach out to it.
Neinei's spontaneous moon-gazing session was interrupted by an airbender she knew well. "Hi," he greeted her.
"Hello Tenzin," Neinei reciprocated, without taking her eyes off the moon.
"How is your father?" asked Tenzin, concerned.
"Not so well," said Neinei mildly. "I was just praying for him."
"Praying here?" asked Tenzin quizzically. "Well, it's as good a place as any I suppose," he said with a shrug.
"I was praying to the moon," Neinei clarified. "My bending is not stronger at night like if I was a waterbender, but I still find the presence of the full moon soothing, like I have a connection to it."
"Well, that's not surprising. I've heard the stories of the brave Princess Yue of the Northern Water Tribe from my parents and my uncle," said Tenzin, himself looking at the full moon. "I hope that you don't have to give your life the way she did," he added nonchalantly.
"Yue was the one who taught your dad energybending, wasn't she? My parents mentioned that."
"Yes," Tenzin said with a nod. "She taught my dad to perform Shuten Shogai, a powerful move."
Neinei broke her gaze at the full moon and raised an eyebrow at Tenzin. "Isn't that the move that ruined your mother?"
"My father made the mistake of using it the wrong way," Tenzin expressed to her. "I don't think he had to stop using energybending altogether. He did so out of guilt. It could still be useful to us at a time like this. He just has to fix my mother and use Shuten Shogai more wisely next time."
"It can't be used wisely," said Neinei, raising her voice. "How is that possible? Whatever the case, it requires a human vessel."
"In a battle, one can use it with a captured enemy as the vessel," suggested Tenzin.
"No, Shuten Shogai sucks all of the energy out of a person's body. The soul needs energy to express itself. This is like a fate worse than death. No one deserves that..."
"Sometimes, such a sacrifice might be necessary under dire circumstances," Tenzin countered. "My dad could simply have used Shuten Shogai with false Azula, rather than my mother at the capital. Or he could've stopped the revolt in Ba Sing Se by just aiming the move at the oncoming mob. He would've damaged part of the city, but saved the whole city."
Neinei's eyes widened. "Tenzin, you're a good person, but you sound scary when you say this. I'm from the Fire Nation, you're from the Air Nomads. My nation conquers, your nation is peaceful. I'm the one telling you that this is a bad idea. Shuten Shogai was not meant to be used for good purposes. It just seems like too horrible a move to be real."
"Even an enlightened Air Nomad must recognize that a duty to world trumps everything else. Shuten Shogai is the answer to solve all our troubles. If one can win a battle, a handful can bring down a nation! A few of these and – bam! My father will be able to restore all the balance that has been lost lately."
Neinei's eyes flashed with an awkward combination of disdain and empathy. "Your dad realized the error of his ways. Please don't think like he did before."
"I'm sorry," said Tenzin sternly. "I just really can't see a downside."
"Well, you mentioned that your dad talked about energybending bringing about some imprint in the world. This sounded like the more energybending was used, the more dangerous it would be to put things right."
"I suppose so," said Tenzin, not sounding convinced. "I never understood how that was supposed to work, though."
"However it works, the world is falling apart now – first with my nation, then yours and now the Earth Kingdom. Whether energybending plays a role or not, it's time to put things right before they spin irreparably out of control."
"What are you saying?" asked Tenzin.
"My nation began the last war," Neinei told him, determined. "We have to help keep the balance this time. Since my dad isn't able to help, it's time that I take things into my own hands. I'm going to stop hiding my identity, reveal myself and take charge of the situation!"
Tenzin was not at all expecting this quick change in attitude. "Are you sure?"
"Yes," said Neinei decisively. "For too long my dad tried to protect me too much. He was reluctant to let me in on meetings or war developments. He tried to send me away when I fought by his side against our attackers. Since then, I've been lurking and diddling around too much. I have to step up and actually do something! I'm going to go tell the others who I am now."
"What will Hope and Tom-Tom think of that?"
"I don't care! This isn't up to them."
As he saw the fire in her eyers, Tenzin shook of his uncertainty and looked upon her with admiration. "Great, I'll come with you."
"I don't need you!" snapped Neinei. "This is my own affair."
"Don't worry, I'll hang behind and let you lead the way. I'll just be there for backup."
"Fine," said Neinei with a roll of her eyes. She marched back into the interior of the airship, reluctantly allowing Tenzin to follow at her side.
With her hands hardened and her legs stiff, Neinei tore through the long, metal corridors, while Tenzin rushed to keep up. When they reached the entrance to the large room at the forefront of the vessel, they found the tall, gangly, yellow-robed Trinley standing outside.
Tenzin darted up to him, preferring that he be the one to say the first words. "Hi, Trinley."
"Hi Tenzin and Rouyu," said Trinley, somewhat surprised to find them there. "What's going on?"
"We're here for the meeting," Tenzin blurted out.
Trinley put his hand out and shook his head. "Sorry, it's adults-only today. We're going to talk about the current crisis and how we're going to deal with the Phoenix Army, the Air Nation remnant and the new hostile government in Ba Sing Se."
"I'm going in," said Neinei stubbornly. "I must be there!"
"And why is that?" asked Trinley.
"Because I must represent the Fire Nation royal family in my father's stead. My name is not Rouyu. I am Neinei, Crown Princess of the Fire Nation."
Trinley gawked at her, widening his eyes and then narrowing them again. "That's very low of you," he said after a few seconds.
"What do you mean?" asked Neinei, taken aback.
"Zuko's closest friends are on this airship. We're all really worried about him and his family. How dare you take advantage of their misfortune and try to assume one of their identities in order to gain a position of power!"
"It's the truth!" Neinei stated in disbelief.
"Liar," said Trinley coolly. "When you introduced yourself to us, you said that your name was Rouyu."
"I was trying to keep my identity hidden at the time," explained Neinei.
"Why keep it hidden from us though? Besides, you don't look anything like her," Trinley told her irritably. This was an exaggeration, but Neinei's appearance was significantly different with her whitened hair and one side of her face covered with scars and burns.
"She's telling the truth, Trinley," Tenzin jumped in. "I know her! I recognize her."
Trinley scoffed at the younger airbender's defense. "Tenzin, where did you find this girl, exactly?"
"At the ruins of the Fire Nation Royal Palace in the Fire Nation Capital."
"Maybe she duped you," suggested Trinley, wincing at him.
"No, it's her, I tell you!"
"Look, I have to go," said Trinley angrily. "I advise you not to mention again, or you'll find yourself cast out. Everyone else has been through a lot, so for their sake, not yours, I won't tell them what you told me just now. Good day!" As Trinley opened the nearby door and slammed it behind him, Tenzin and Neinei simply stood there, dumbfounded.
Migo poised himself on the outer edge of a crowded, circular room on the airship, beside Toph, who had changed into a regal set of emerald-green robes. Next to them stood Aang, Suki, Sokka, Piandao, Bato and a handful of Chief Sokka's most trusted Water Tribe warriors. This room was in the center of the front end of the airship, right behind the cockpit. It was made for meetings such as this one, though it was not so often used, and even less often did it harbor so many people from different parts of the world.
Everyone expected had arrived when the door swung open one last time. Trinley entered the room and stood on Migo's other side. He was not as friendly as typical of him, and breathed heavily through his nose as his mouth was frowning.
"Did something happen?" asked Migo. "You seem to be blowing off some steam."
"It's nothing," Trinley grumbled.
"I think we can begin now," announced the Avatar, looking at everyone about him. Everyone seemed ready to hear what he had to say, with the exceptions of former Earth King Kuei and Toph's head servant Nala, who appeared uncertain.
"Before we do..." Queen Toph interjected. "I should mention that we have a new arrival on board. We picked him up when we got supplies this afternoon." With a gesture of her right hand, two of Toph's earthbender guards parted and revealed a heavyset man, with a thick chinstrap beard lining his gruff, otter-bear-like face. It was Brawki.
"What are you doing here?" Migo called out across the room irritably.
"Relax yourself, my boy," said Brawki, waving his large left arm reassuringly. "I come in peace, though I bring news you all might find disturbing."
"What is it?" Aang questioned him.
"I'm afraid that your location is not a well-kept secret. This vessel is being tracked. Air Lord Icarus has a massive airship at his disposal, even more formidable than this one, if I might say – at the risk of sounding impertinent. He has made it his goal to pursue the Avatar wherever he may be on earth. The Phoenix Army has also regrouped itself, and the memory of their humiliation at the Battle of the Fire Nation Capital is fresh in their minds. From the looks of it, you might have to fight both of them around the same time. You must head to Omashu. It is the best stronghold in the area."
"Whoop-dee-doo!" interrupted Sokka. "That's where we were going anyway."
Toph was not amused. "Sokka, shh!"
"It makes sense that the Air Nation remnant wants revenge," stated Suki. "But I don't see why the Phoenix Army is going berserk against us all of a sudden. They should have their own problems sorting things out in the Fire Nation."
"There are no more domestic troubles for the Phoenix Army now," explained Brawki. "They have all-but won the Fire Nation Civil War, as Azula has brought most of the major factions together and proficiently eliminated any resistance that has come in her way. The word is that she is now leading her amy to Omashu to confront the Avatar and assert her domination. Omashu is in close proximity to the Fire Nation, and they recognize the Avatar as a threat from history."
Aang let out a deep sigh that the whole of the room could hear. "We knew all along that the Phoenix Army would attack the other nations eventually. And we all know what Azula's like. I'll stop her myself when she comes." So he would be fighting the Fire Nation once again. Aang was not surprised at that. However, he could not help but cringe at the thought of engaging in battle against some of the few airbenders left on the planet.
"Be careful, Aang," warned Sokka. "Remember what she was like in the old days..."
"That was a long time ago," stated the Avatar. "She's changed somewhat since then. I think I know how to handle her."
"She gave you trouble recently, too, Twinkle Toes," noted Toph. "She shot you full of lightning at the Southern Air Temple when you rescued Vameira."
"I'll be more prepared this time," said Aang, trying not to think about it too much.
"Besides that, Icarus and Azula are not our only problem," Toph added.
"Do you mean the Dai Li and the Sages Bane?" asked Aang.
"No, not the Dai Li," answered Toph darkly. "And we haven't heard anything else of 'Sages Bane' since leaving Ba Sing Se. There's another threat – something totally new."
"What's that?" Aang asked curiously.
Sokka looked quizzical. "What do you mean, anti-benders?"
"There is a man who has been operating in the Fire Nation called General Munra," explained Queen Toph. "He has organized dissidents in their nation, along with non-benders from each of the other nations to form his Anti-bender Militia. They have acquired some advanced technology to compensate for lack of bending ability. They blame Twinkle Toes for creating imbalance in the world and causing trouble for non-benders. They say that the Avatar is their number one enemy – and they are rumored to be on the move right now, most likely to go wherever we go."
"Hmmm...will they be a problem?" asked Sokka, stroking his chin with his strong finger tips.
"Yes," said Toph. "Especially with everything else we already have to deal with."
Trinley pondered to himself for a moment before speaking up. "If all these people know where we're heading, I doubt that the Dai Li will sit it out."
"They were intent on capturing me before," said Aang. "If the Dai Li get another chance, I'll bet they'll still try."
"It's possible they'll be in the mix," admitted Toph. "Those Sages Bane people wanted them to capture you, for whatever reason. If the Dai Li promised you to them, they still need to hold up on their end of the bargain."
"Forget the Sages Bane for now," Sokka interjected. "You're saying that we have to deal with the Phoenix Army, the Air Nation remnant, the Dai Li and this new Anti-bender Militia?! Man, we're going to have one rough day, even by our standards..."
"And included in that package are Azula, Icarus, Long Feng, Gitsu and this General Munra person..." Migo added.
"One big, happy party," Toph said in dreary sarcasm.
Aang scratched his fingers between his cheek and the edge of the bald top of his head. "Toph, I'm afraid that just by being here, I'm endangering your city..."
"Don't sweat it," said Toph, smirking and crossing her green-robed arms. "Under normal circumstances, I might share your sentiment, but since it's you were talking about, I doubt that anyone who chases after you will believe you're gone until Omashu is leveled to the ground."
Aang knelt on the floor and lifted his hand awkwardly to his chest. "This problem with all the nations...the world is not in good balance. I feel like my energybending caused a lot of it. Is this all part of energybendings imprint on the world? I remember thinking that energybending was just what the world needed. I had influences on both ends. Jeong Jeong, Pathik, Roku, Yangchen and Sokka all warned me not to go deeper into energybending. On the other hand, I had people like Nola egging me on, encouraging me to energybend more. She even asked for energybending herself. It's so easy to fall into temptation, but everything became clearer after what happened to Katara."
Brawki approached Aang and laid a grizzled hand on his shoulder. "That's all in the past now, young Avatar. Together, all of us can make things right and restore the balance."
Aang nodded and lifted himself back to his feet. "Yes...you're right."
"Speaking of saving the nations, it is said that the entire Fire Nation royal family has gone missing. Now, the only hope for getting the Fire Nation back on track is you!" Brawki was not pointing to Aang, but to Migo.
Migo stared at Brawki as though he had just been in an asylum. "Me?!"
Brawki nodded. "Yes, it's time you knew."
"Does this have something to do with my mother again?" asked Migo, crossing his arms abrasively.
"Partially," said Brawki. "I'm sure that you know all about your mother by now, but what about your father?"
"My father? I know nothing of him. I don't even know if he was an earthbender or not."
"Oh, your father was a powerful bender, just like Ratana," Brawki told him. "He wasn't an earthbender, though. He was a firebender."
"How can that be?" inquired Migo, shocked. "My mother spent her life fighting firebenders."
"Your parents met during the siege of Ba Sing Se," explained Brawki. "It was a forbidden love across enemy lines. Your mother's comrades in the Terra Team discovered it after your father was killed in battle. Ratana's former friends chased her down and killed her when they found out. Before they caught up with her, though, she was able to find me and entrust me with you. I didn't know what of if you could bend yet, when I accepted you into my custody. I was worried you'd be a firebender, but, spirits-be-praised, you ended up an earthbender."
"I never knew any of this," said Migo, his mind boggled.
"Rumors spread of your mother's untimely demise," Brawki continued. "Some said that she betrayed her country and was executed. That was actually close enough to the way her killers saw it. Only I knew the truth: the circumstances of your birth, the identity of both your parents and the significance you had not only in the Earth Kingdom, but in the Fire Nation."
Migo batted his eyes and took a moment to catch his breath. "Brawki, what are you trying to tell me?"
"You are the son of Ratana and Lu Ten, grandson of General Iroh, and a legitimate heir to the title of Fire Lord."
TO BE CONTINUED...
- In the canon show, Azula says that her title would be Fire Lord when she took after her father, not Fire Lady, which is the title for the wife of the Fire Lord. This must mean that female Fire Lords are also called "Fire Lord."
- "That can't be it! Where's the rest of it?" Afraid so. This is the shortest chapter in Book Three, with just under 3,925 words.
- While writing this chapter, the author made a typo in his first draft which made him chuckle. The funny mistake might not be right to disclose on this page, though. If interested, you may contact him on IRC or some other means.
For the collective works of the author, go here.