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Previously on Energy Saga
Aang grieves over the death of his life companion sky bison, Appa... - and rejects his Air Nomad heritage by throwing away his wood necklace and eating meat. Trinley helps bring him out of this shadowy moment and reconnect with his heritage, discovering a lost breed of sky bison and giving Vameira her first.
Tenzin goes to the wreckage of the Fire Nation Royal Palace and finds Zuko and Neinei - with white hair, indicating they had been saved from death by the former Northern Water Tribe Princess Yue, the present human form of the Moon Spirit. Meanwhile, Migo runs back home to tell Brawki that he wants to marry Toph, but Brawki flips out at the idea and captures Migo to stop the marriage.
Chapter Thirty-Five: Legends
Southern Water Tribe, 121 AG
Sokka and his eldest son sat upon the seaside wall together, overlooking the margins of their territory off the coast. In theory, they were keeping a lookout, but no enemies had come to attack their land in a long while – and none were expected for a long while more. Instead, they leaned back as they stood at their post and shared a leisurely conversation – if you could call it that.
"Father, the world is a different place now than it used to be," Hinko said with contention. "Our land must modernize as much as possible, whatever the cost!"
"I don't see how much more modernization we can do right now," Sokka returned. "Our villages are lined with sophisticated defenses, we've been embracing technology, we have our own fleet of airships."
"Dad, everyone has airships except for the Foggy Swamp Water Tribe and the Sun Warriors. Even the Air Nomads have airships! It's not enough to have airships anymore – and it's not about this or that technology. It's about a whole new way of living."
"Just take a moment and look how far we've come already," Sokka countered. "Even the Northern Tribe hasn't done all we have in terms of technology. People always used to say they were way more civilized than us, but we've kept up."
"You might have heard that, but there are still others that continue to say we're behind. And why must it always be about keeping up with the north? We should surpass them! Would you rather talk down to them or get talked down to?"
"I'd rather neither," said Sokka coolly. "I'd never look down upon anyone. I briefly served in the Northern Tribe back in the Hundred Year War. Some of them may be snobs, but there are also lots of good people up there."
"That's now what I meant," said Hinko, pulling his hand off his spear and waving his finger. "Forget the Water Tribes and look at the other nations. Everything's changing and we need to show the world that the Southern Water Tribe is modern now."
"So, what should we do?" asked Sokka. "Totally give up on our way of life? Instead of hunting, fishing and ice dodging, we should set up an extensive bureaucracy like the Earth Kingdom and the Fire Nation and sit in meetings all day? Progress is a noble goal, but we have to take caution and preserve our culture along the way..."
Neither of them noticed Suki and Kaddo climbing up behind them. "I hope we're not interrupting anything," said Suki.
"Not at all," said Sokka. "We were just discussing the brave new world this place will be when Hinko becomes chief."
"I see," said Suki. "I thought I should let you know that we got a letter from Aang."
"Is it true about Uncle Aang traveling with Azula?" asked Hinko.
Kaddo shrugged. "We can't know, can we?"
"So, what did it say?" asked Sokka briskly.
"Well, first of all, he rescued Vameira," announced Suki.
"That's wonderful news," said Sokka. "If only he had never given Icarus airbending to begin with, though."
"You must be really relieved, Kaddo," commented Hinko.
"You bet," said Kaddo, looking down.
"So, what else?" inquired Sokka.
"He's traveling to Ba Sing Se," said Suki.
"I see," said Sokka, frowning.
"He also wants us to all go join him there," said Suki.
"And he wants us to bring...my mother," added Kaddo.
"Absolutely not!" bellowed Sokka.
"Please, Uncle Sokka," urged Kaddo. "He wants to help her."
"Hah – he's going to 'help' her...sure," said Sokka sarcastically. "He may be the Avatar – some legendary hero people worship, but this is all his fault. Some hero he is. No way are we resolving this on his terms!"
"He's made some mistakes, but he can't change what's done," said Kaddo defensively. "The bottom line is that he's the only chance to fix her now."
"He can't fix her – no one can! Go ahead and stick up for your father, kid. Really, you should be as angry at him as I, if not more so. He ruined your mom! You're quite a poor son of hers if you side with him at a time like this!"
"Sokka!" yelled Suki. "That was uncalled for – you're taking this too far!" Hinko backed away a few inches, wanting to stay out of the ordeal.
Kaddo restrained himself from an outburst and acted as though unprovoked by his uncle's words. "He's just done what he thought was the right thing. That's what he's doing now..."
"Look at all the good he's done by that," said Sokka irritably.
"She has to be fixed somehow," stated Kaddo. "We can't just pray to spirits for her to get better."
Sokka shook his head furiously. "No! He's not going near her again. I won't let him have another chance to harm her."
To Sokka's surprise, his nephew did not follow him in losing his temper. Kaddo took a calm, deep breath. "Uncle Sokka, my mother... Katara...she wouldn't want things like this."
"How do you know that?"
"Because she knew when people needed her and she knew when taking a chance for someone she cared about was worth it."
Sokka paused for a few moments and stared into Kaddo's pleading eyes. "Suki, can you go tell them to prepare an airship?"
"Certainly," said his wife, smiling approvingly. With that, she trotted down from the wall, trailed closely by Kaddo.
"It looks like we're going to Ba Sing Se," remarked Hinko, reentering the realm of conversation.
"Maybe we can inquire about some other things when we meet him," said Sokka distantly. "They say Azula is at large again...and Aang had something to do with it. I'd like to hear what he has to say about that."
Earth Kingdom Waters
Aang and his companions had left Air Temple Island, riding a sky bison to the nearest town. Once they restocked on supplies, the four persons boarded a ferry bound for Ba Sing Se with Pooka – Vameira's new sky bison. Aang was the new guardian and protector of herd – their anointed shepherd. He would return to the island one day to take up this role, once he was done with his other business. Aang had sent letters to his friends in different parts of the world, asking them to meet him in the Earth Kingdom capital.
"We should have taken an airship," Trinley said to Aang as they were standing on the edge of the vessel. "It would've been faster."
Aang shook his head. "After our escape from the Southern Air Temple, I don't think I'm quite ready for an airship again."
Trinley nodded in acknowledgement. "So, what's the plan now?"
"Well, Vameira's safe and sound – we all are. I can finally go back to trying to find a way to help Katara – and the world, according to the Lion Turtle."
"But, why are we going to Ba Sing Se of all places?" asked Trinley, slightly confused.
"There are a lot of possible solutions to look into," said Aang. "But I feel like a good place to start would be to find out more about Doru Kun. He was from the Earth Kingdom and the many libraries in Ba Sing Se might shed some light on the subject."
"Do you think he faced or encountered Shuten Shogai?"
"He fought an energybender," said Aang matter-of-factly. "Why not?"
"True," admitted Trinley. "It's funny – I remember you almost used Shuten Shogai with me when we were fighting the pirates in the Fire Nation."
"Maybe you should've," said Trinley regretfully. "It would've seemed more correct than what we have now. I feel partially responsible for everything, being the first artificial airbender."
"Don't think such things!" said Aang sternly. "You have no fault. If I had used Shuten Shogai with you, you would've been just another person who paid price for my mistakes."
Trinley hung his head over the railing. "Even so..."
"You didn't know anything was wrong about energybending. If I almost used it with you, it was merely circumstantial."
"Actually, I was going to use it with Nola first, before I switched to using it with you," recalled Aang.
"I wish Feng Qu was here," remarked Aang. "We could use one of his jokes right about then."
Trinley smirked. "No offense to him, but I'd rather have Rensa with us on this boat."
Aang nodded. "She was always reassuring with her presence."
"She knew what to say, what to do and when it was right," added Trinley thoughtfully.
"She was a good woman. I knew she would be a good Air Nomad when I energybended her."
"I heard she nursed some refugees in the Earth Kingdom during the Hundred Year War," said Trinley.
"She was selfless," acknowledged Aang. "Of course, all the new airbenders came from different backgrounds in their former lives. You came from Faxian Island, Feng Qu and Shao from very different places. Icarus...I should've known better about him..."
"Then, there's Nola," said Trinley, blocking Aang's train of thought.
"Of course, I can't forget about Nola," agreed Aang. "Definitely an odd case."
"Huh – yeah," said Trinley in agreement.
"She was an interesting one," said Aang. "Unlike the rest of you all, I never really knew where exactly she came from before she joined the New Air Nomads. One of her favorite places in Ba Sing Se, so maybe she came from there – not sure. Or maybe she was from the Fire Nation. I remember, when we fought at the Fire Nation Capital, her and War Minister Chan got along like old friends."
Trinley shrugged. "She was never a very open person – and she took no joy in the Air Nomad lifestyle. She never cared for air ball or sky bison rides. I expected her to leave when she first came, but she stayed on despite not being excited about being an airbender."
Aang smirked "She asked me to give her energybending on multiple occasions."
"I remember that."
"I even considered giving it to her for a time – the New Air Nomads would've grown faster with another energybender around – but I never did."
"It's a good thing you didn't give in to that temptation," said Trinley. "Energybending has caused enough trouble."
"I know," said Aang.
"Why didn't she like being an airbender, though?" questioned Trinley.
"She didn't answer that when I asked her," replied Aang. "She denied it, even though it was obvious. By then, her attitude was so far removed from when she first approached me – all excited and ready to try new things. She always had so much potential and a sense of a greater purpose about her in everything she did."
"Heh – I bet she would've been eager to try Shuten Shogai with you when you asked."
Aang thought for a moment. "Actually no, it was exactly the opposite. She said she was injured from the fight, but she wasn't. She was very resistant to doing Shuten Shogai with me, almost as if..."
"As if she knew what was coming?" asked Trinley, hardly believing himself for asking.
"No, that's ridiculous," said Aang, trailing off.
"Hello, my big airbending boys," Azula suddenly said from behind them. "I hope I'm not interrupting."
"Not at all," said Trinley. "I was just leaving." He promptly marched back in the direction of his cabin. Trinley had not gotten along well with Azula since they joined forces. He still did not feel quite accustomed to her presence with them.
"Nice day," said Azula nonchalantly.
"I guess," said Aang in a similar tone.
"You must be looking forward to being in Ba Sing Se," said Azula, leaning over the rail beside him. "You'll see your friends again."
"Yeah," confirmed Aang simply.
"I guess you won't need to hang around me anymore..."
"We did what we set out to do together," said Aang stiffly.
"You sound like you're still mad about me torturing you and shooting lightning at you," said Azula plainly.
"What do you think?" retorted Aang mildly.
"Come on, Avatar," she said. "It was a bluff. If you can fool your friends you can fool your enemies!"
"Friendship might be going a little far to describe us, Azula," said Aang.
"Oh, boo-hoo!" said Azula mockingly. "You're so antsy, Avatar. What's your problem?"
"You might be better at having friends if you behaved differently," advised Aang. "I'm sure Mai and Ty Lee would back me up on that."
"Hah – those two traitors?! I'll admit that I could've treated them better, but at the end of the day, they're the ones who stabbed me in the back! When our friendship was ruined, it was their fault – not mine!"
Aang put up a hand. "Whatever you say."
"The truth is that I'm just fine," explained Azula. "Ultimately, though, I'm stuck with my past in the Hundred Year War and everyone refuses to give me another chance."
"Hey, I gave you a second chance," said Aang. "Then you betrayed and tortured me."
"When we left Ember Island, we made a pact. You said you wanted me to help you rescue your daughter and I fulfilled that promise."
"That's not the point," said Aang, irritated.
"Then, what is the point?" returned Azula. "You said you would do it by any means necessary. Well, we escaped with Vameira and everything in between was part of the means, including you being tortured."
"You should lighten up, Avatar," said Azula with attentiveness. "Be a little less uptight and rigid like you've been since you took out waterbender babe's energy."
"I'd rather not talk about Katara with you," asserted Aang.
"Whatever," said Azula indifferently. "But you have standards to live up to. You're a legend – people look up to you. Before the Hundred Year's War everyone bowed before the Avatar's wisdom. Then you became the enemy of the Fire Nation and the failed savior of the rest of the world. You managed to restore yourself to your former glory – at my expense, but that's ancient history now. If you have this kind of position, you have to live up to it."
"People don't like the Avatar position the way they used to, given my actions in the past year or so."
Azula sighed with amusement. "It must be tiring for you. You have your full human life to worry about, with all the experience, emotion and turmoil that entails, but unlike the rest of it, you also constantly carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. You're quite a unique person at the end of the day for it."
The way Azula said all this made Aang more uneasy. "I'm the Avatar. This is what I do."
Azula sighed yet again. "Well, I'm taking a nap before we get to the city. I'll see you around, Avatar."
"What will you do when we get to Ba Sing Se?"
Azula laughed. "Why ruin the surprise?"
Aang was hit with more unease as Azula opened the door to go below deck. As she went down, Vameira was on her way up.
"Hi Dad," greeted Vameira. "Are we almost there?"
"It'll be a little while longer," answered Aang. "Go get some rest."
"Okay," said Vameira aloofly. She seemed worrisome and deep in thought.
"What's wrong?" asked Aang, concerned. "You look like you have something on your mind."
"Dad, I've been confused about something for a while. I can't get it out of my head."
"What is it?" asked Aang affectionately.
"It's that firebender lady with us. Is she a good person or a bad person?"
In his modest form of imprisonment, Migo sat upright with both of his hands bound tightly. Brawki had gone to one of the nearby towns to purchase some food, leaving Migo in his place. The other night, Brawki had laid the floor with thicker slabs of wood that earth from the ground below would not be able to penetrate – also lining the bars of the "cell" with that wood. Brawki had taken the further precaution of removing the coal for the fireplace and anything else which contained either soil or rock. Although Migo's hands were tied, he was skilled enough to bend formidably with merely his legs or even his elbows. Brawki had wanted to leave nothing bendable on the premises.
However, Brawki was not aware that Migo had learned to bend metal – from the very same person that he would withhold him from marrying. Brawki was clever enough to think of everything else, so this was the one available trick that Migo could keep up his sleeve. The problem was that Migo had only practiced metalbending on the basic and intermediate levels. Metalbending was challenging in-and-of-itself, but it was especially challenging without actually touching the metal in question. The nearest object which contained metal was the rusted tea kettle on the old wooden table. It was over a meter away from the bars, but it was all that there was to work with.
"Come on, Migo," he told himself, rising to his feet. "Pick it up – just like it's a regular rock."
Migo rose slightly and twisted his elbows around, imagining that his elbows were his fists and that the tea kettle was a small rock. The kettle remained where it was, but Migo continued with the motions, feeling sweat pouring down from his scalp. "Come on...bend, baby, bend..."
Just like in the Southern Water Tribe, rumors had reached Omashu regarding Aang's exploits with Azula. A wave of confusion spread throughout the many streets as the delivery system gave its subjects the news, including the attack and subsequent destruction of the Southern Air Temple. Everyone and both their parents were having trouble making sense of the story, since it seemed something of a Solstice Fool's prank.
In the midst of all this, Queen Toph sat on her repelling, reclusive throne in the desolate hall illuminated by the dim glow of flickering candlelight, twiddling her fingers and urging her legs to accelerate their recoup.
With an echoing snap, her head servant entered at the opposite end of the hall. "How are you, M'Lady?" asked Nala.
"I'm fine," Toph pouted in response. "I'm almost fully-recovered now. I can earthbend on a regular basis as long as I don't strain myself."
"That's good news," said Nala cheerfully.
"I know," Toph groanced. "All the same, I think I ought to be completely over it. It's been several months since the attack! How strong can that venom be?"
Nala nodded with empathy. "It was strong indeed. That's why the effect is so long-lasting. I think you'll be over it soon, but don't rush it."
Toph let out a sigh and blew a couple of her hairs off her forehead. "So what purpose have you come for, Nala?"
"We received a messenger hawk just now. It's from the Avatar."
"Twinkle Toes – he must be going through a lot right now," said Toph, lifting herself in her chair with newfound interest. "Has he said anything about Azula?"
Nala shook his head. "No, he just said that he's going to Ba Sing Se."
"He says that he wants to work more toward fixing Katara. He thinks Ba Sing Se is a safe place to do it – and that he can find out more about his distant past life Avatar Doru Kun. He was an Earth Kingdom Avatar who encountered energybending in his lifetime."
"That makes sense," said Toph.
"He also said that he wants you to join him there, but you should probably stay until you're more recovered..."
"I'll go," said Toph decisively, denying Nala's recommendation.
"Oh-okay," said Nala, defeated. "May I accompany you this time?"
Toph rolled her eyes. "You will anyway, so there's no point in me saying no."
"Thank you, M'Lady," said Nala, perky. "I'll have them prepare your airship for immediate departure!"
Another thought entered Toph's mind. "Have you heard anything from Migo?"
Nala shook her head. "I'm afraid not, M'Lady. He's not been seen around the city these past few days. Why do you ask?"
"Well, the last time I saw him I got the feeling he was about to..."
"Never mind. Let's prepare to leave immediately."
Finally, the kettle rose a few inches off the tabletop. Migo leapt in excitement, moving his elbow about faster. At last he was able to lift the kettle up and bring it over toward the bars. The kettle would not fit in the cell, but Migo was able to put his hands down and cut the ropes by moving them back and forth adjacent to the flat edge of the handle. Within a few motions, the bindings were cut and Migo's hands were free! Fortunately for him, metalbending was far easier when one could touch the metal, so Migo grabbed the kettle, twisted it into a blunt form and knocked the wooden parts of the bars until they gave way, allowing Migo to escape from Brawki's now-accursed cottage unscathed.
Pleased with himself, Migo dashed through the forest, choosing his path carefully so as not to run into Brawki on the way. He did not understand Brawki's actions and he did not want to. Migo was going back to Omashu straightaway and nothing would stop him from proposing to the woman of his dreams! On a subconscious level, though, Migo did not know why he hurried. It was not like he would get to Omashu and she wouldn't be there.
Ba Sing Se
"It looks like you got here just in time," said Tom-Tom. "Your dad's in rough shape."
"Do you think he'll be alright?" asked Neinei, worried. She and Tenzin had just arrived at her uncle's lavish apartment suite in the outer section of the Upper Ring, along with the young Pema and the Fire Lord.
"I think so," said Tom-Tom reassuringly. "He just needs some rest – lots of it."
"Thank you for your kindness," said Tenzin with appreciation.
"Don't sweat it," said Tom-Tom. "It's a family problem...and it was an awful thing that happened."
Neinei was relieved to find it all under control. "What's it been like living in Ba Sing Se, Uncle Tom-Tom?"
"It's the best," said Tom-Tom, upbeat. "I never want to leave. By the way, awesome hairdo, Neinei!"
"Oh...thanks," said Neinei, fondling the now-white strands atop her head.
"Just make sure that you stay in the Middle and Upper Rings," Tom-Tom cautioned.
"Why?" asked Tenzin. "My dad's gone to the Lower Ring. What's wrong with people from there?" As a son of the Avatar, Tenzin had learned not to accept any form of prejudice.
"There's a lot of thugs down there," said Tom-Tom simply. "Once they see you have money, you'll be a target."
"I didn't remember it being so dangerous," said Neinei.
"Things have changed around here lately," clarified Tom-Tom. "The additional tax burden has hit the poor hard. Class tensions have been worse than ever. Lately there have been riots every other week."
"I see," said Neinei.
"If you get a chance, though, check out some of the local restaurants," said Tom-Tom. "My favorite is on General How Street – its got a blend of Northern Water Tribe and Kyoshi Island cuisine. I had a cocktail lunch there with some local bureaucrats yesterday."
"Kyoshi and Northern Water Tribe?!" asked Tenzin in alarm. "I don't like the sound of that."
"You're in the city now, air boy – get used to exotic stuff," said Tom-Tom with a laugh. "Of course, there are plenty of other places – restaurants, stuff to do at night, all that. I'm going to a great place with some friends tonight. I'd invite you kids along, but you're too young, so you're on your own."
"Don't you have work during the week?" asked Neinei quizzically. It sounds like all you do is party."
"Well, we've got good relations with the Earth King these days," said Tom-Tom. "Being the Fire Nation ambassador is no longer a demanding job."
The conversation was interrupted when the door to the apartment swung open. "Ah, perfect timing," said Tom-Tom. "Meet my fiancé. She's a local singer."
"Hope!" exclaimed Tenzin.
Hope smiled as she put down her satchel on one of the tables. "The Avatar's son? Nice to see you again."
Neinei was puzzled. "You two know each other?"
"She met my father when she was born," said Tenzin. "And she gave my family fruit pies a while back."
Hope nodded. "Sure did. You must be Tom-Tom's niece – and who's this?"
"This is Pema," answered Tenzin. "She's an orphan who's been traveling with me. I'm trying to find her somewhere to stay now."
"Hmmm...does she bend?" asked Hope curiously.
Tenzin shook his head. "It doesn't seem like it."
"Well, we'd be happy to put a roof over her head for now," offered Hope. "Right, Tom-Tom?"
"Of course," he said. "We'll do some poking around and see about finding her parents while we're at it."
"That's right," said Hope tenderly. "And if we can't find them, we could always adopt her – I wouldn't mind that."
"We'd be quite the multicultural family of non-benders," commented Tom-Tom. "Wouldn't that be something?"
"How did you two meet?" Neinei asked them.
"It was at one of her concerts," said Tom-Tom. "I can't recall all the details..."
"He had a little too much to drink that night," Hope jumped in. "In the middle of one of my songs he ran onto the stage and started dancing. Security tried to remove him, but I thought it was pretty funny. The next day we met for tea at the Jasmine Dragon. Then we started seeing each other regularly."
"And you ended up engaged?!" asked Neinei, bewildered.
"Well, someone's gotta keep him out of trouble," Hope added slyly as she and Tom-Tom exchanged a kiss.
"I'll go work on setting up a bedroom for your father," said Tom-Tom, tired of reminiscing.
"I'll help out," Hope told him – and thus Tenzin and Neinei were left alone.
"Are you sure you think Pema and your father should stay here?" Tenzin asked Neinei. "Your uncle's a nice guy and all, but not sure if we can rely on him..."
Neinei waved this objection away. "It'll be fine. Hope seems to be sensible enough for both of them."
"What will you do now?" Tenzin asked her.
"I can stay here until my dad recuperates," said Neinei. "In the mean time, I'll keep it secret who I am. There's no telling who I'll run into around here. I'll get Hope and Tom-Tom to stick to the story."
"Have you got a pretend identity worked out?"
"Yes," said Neinei. "For now, my name is Rouyu."
"Okay," said Tenzin with a nod. "Don't forget that you have white hair."
"Yes," said Neinei, looking down. "What should I tell people about that?"
"Tell the truth," suggested Tenzin. "Say that you were saved by the Moon Spirit, but if anyone asks for details, say you don't like to talk about it. Maybe don't say what nation you're from, either – just that you're a refugee orphan who came to Ba Sing Se to make a new life. Ba Sing Se's got a lot of people don't like to talk about their past. As for Hope and Tom-Tom, just say they're your foster parents."
Neinei gawked. "My foster parents?! They're less than ten years older than us. Isn't that a little weird?"
"Whatever," said Tenzin impatiently. "Say you're staying here...because you're Hope's costume designer. Then there are your mannerisms to think about..."
"You're royalty," said Tenzin plainly.
Neinei scoffed. "I'm not going to tell anyone that!"
"It's about how you act," Tenzin clarified. "If people notice, you need something to tell them."
"I'll say my parents were merchants who did business with some noble families or other high society types," said Neinei. "I'll keep it on the down-low and say it rubbed off on me."
"I guess that's good enough for now," said Tenzin, still uncertain.
Suddenly, Hope ran back into the front room and rejoined them. She turned to Tenzin. "I forgot to mention it earlier. The Avatar's in town!"
"What?" asked Tenzin in surprise. "My dad?! Since when?"
"I heard he arrived less than half an hour ago," responded Hope. "I can help you find him if you like."
"Th-that'd be great," said Tenzin, staring in wonder.
At that moment, Avatar Aang was standing by the marketplace in Middle Ring, where the Ba Sing Se Airship Hangar was located. He was waiting for people he knew to start arriving. Trinley had gone to check up on the local news and Vameira and Azula were each getting tea.
Before too long, Trinley rejoined him. "Aang, we need to talk!"
"What is it?" asked Aang curiously.
"I've been listening to some of the locals," said Trinley frantically. "They've said some...disturbing things about what we've been doing and what's been going on. Ba Sing Se might not be such a safe place for us after all."
"The social structure is very fragile at the moment – on the brink of revolution, in fact. And the Earth King might not be able to do anything to about it!"
"Ba Sing Se has had problems for a long time," said Aang dismissively. "And Kuei is a capable ruler now. I'm sure he can handle the situation."
Trinley shook his head. "There's a lot of discontent about the taxes used to pay for the failed Earth Kingdom intervention in the Fire Nation Civil War. All over town revolutionary pamphlets are dubbing it the 'New Chin War.'"
"How did this happen so fast?" asked Aang in alarm. "Ba Sing Se was stable not too long ago! Well, my presence here might add to the tension, so I think we should keep a low profile – and go straight to king when we're able to."
"That might not make much difference," stated Trinley. "Long Feng and the Dai Li are reportedly active around here again."
"Well, we did run into the Dai Li at the Air Temple and we can deal with them again if need be," stated Aang. "Anything else?"
"Yes," said Trinley with mild hesitation. "There's Azula – and what people say about her – and you."
Aang grabbed his stomach to settle himself. "This I must hear."
"First of all, the Fire Nation is worse than ever before," Trinely began. "There was a major attack on the royal family – most of them are unaccounted for."
"I hope Zuko's okay..." said Aang solemnly.
"Well, he's not around at the moment," stated Trinley. "There's a power vacuum in the Fire Nation and it's perfect timing for a new leader to rise out of the ashes. They say...it may be Azula."
"What?!" asked Aang, bewildered.
"It makes sense – Zhao Jr.'s gone, the regional warlords have lost their influence and now Azula, their champion from the last war, emerges. It's well-known that she destroyed the Southern Air Temple – a tribute reminiscent of the genocide at the start of the last war. Everyone's talking about Azula now. She's strong, she's active and she represents a better time for the Fire Nation people. There are a lot of people who want her to lead. She's become the prime choice for Fire Lord."
"She couldn't help but come out on top as she was helping me," said Aang, still taken aback.
"You knew what kind of person she was!" Trinley derided. "She made herself known – as well as removed a potential rival. Now that the legitimate government of the Fire Nation has fallen, there's precious little to stop her if she tried to take over. You know what she's capable of..."
"I should've seen this coming, but its still comes as a surprise. She'll try and take over the Fire Nation, then the world perhaps..."
Trinley nodded. "It'll be the Hundred Year War all over again. With the way our luck's been, it'll go on for another hundred years."
"Following in her father's footsteps..."
As though on cue, Azula and Vameira returned to their side, each carrying a miniature cup of steaming-hot tea. The Southern Water Tribe airship had landed and they all knew that their group would soon grow larger. Trinley stared at Azula, and then darted his eyes back to Aang. He, then, proceeded to gesture for Vameira to follow him closer to where the flying machine had landed.
Azula could feel the mood in the air. "I guess this is it."
"Yeah, I guess it is," said Aang.
Azula looked into his eyes as though reading his mind. "Well, Avatar, you have your little girl back – you got what you want. Now it is time for me to get what I want, so stay out of my way while I take it!"
"You know I can't do that."
"I figured," said Azula with a roll of her eyes. "So we part for now."
"We'll meet again," said Aang coolly.
"So we will – under different circumstances," said Azula dryly. "It's been interesting, Avatar."
"Yes, it has been interesting." That was as close to a good-bye as either of them would go. "Are you leaving town?"
"Yeah, its probably best for me not to stick around here," said Azula. "Not quite yet, though. I have one errand to run before I leave Ba Sing Se." As the passengers from the airship emerged, Princess Azula of the Fire Nation briskly turned and departed without another word.
Vameira rushed to exchange hugs with Sokka, Kaddo, Hinko and Sakema. Aang was not far behind in partaking in the reunion. "Hello everyone. Where is Katara?"
"She's still on the airship at the moment," Sokka informed him stiffly. "Suki's with her."
"Oh, I see," said Aang, disappointed. Sokka was clearly reluctant to have brought her along.
"Are the rumors about you and Azula true?" the Chief of the Southern Water Tribe asked the Avatar.
"I'm afraid they are," Aang conceded.
"You have some explaining to do, old friend," said Sokka.
"I'll explain it to you all later," Aang informed him. "It's a long story."
Sokka raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"
"I'll tell it to you as long as you take the time to listen," Aang told him. "It's good to see you, Sokka."
"Good to see you too, Aang." That was it for then and there – no handshake or hug. Further reconciliation would take time.
"Where are the others?" asked Kaddo loudly, looking around at the other airships in the vicinity.
"You're the first;" his father informed him. "Toph should arrive within the hour, though. Kaddo, have you been practicing that move I taught you?"
"The Old Southern Style one? Every day!"
Aang clicked his teeth with pride. "Remember that I only had time to teach you the first part of it. You must be pretty good at it by now, but I'll show you the next step soon."
"I can't wait!" declared Kaddo excitedly. He then turned to face Vameira. "I'm glad you're okay."
"I did miss arguing with you while I was captured, Kaddo." The brother and sister shared a momentary hug.
"Dad!" This was clearly directed at Aang, but had not been spoken by Kaddo or Vameira. Aang spun about to find a teary-eyed Air Nomad boy looking him in the eye.
The Avatar found himself speechless. "Tenzin...Tenzin!" Aang could not believe his eyes. The pair of them ran to each other, Aang wrapping his arms around Tenzin in awe, which Tenzin reciprocated.
"I heard about Mom," said Tenzin when released.
Aang nodded, gazing into Tenzin's matured, glazy orbs. "I'm going to help her."
"I know you will."
And so the pain of separation was mended. In spite of everything, Aang now had all his children with him – and that brought him great comfort. After their reunion, Aang and Tenzin did not speak of past events between themselves – it went without saying that they forgave one another. The fight they had had was irrelevant – it no longer seemed real, like something out of a dream – or a past life. Those had been two different people. Everything had changed so much since their argument about the Fire Nation pirates in Omashu. Tenzin was no longer the same son that ran away – he had grown up. Likewise, Aang was no longer the father Tenzin ran away from – he had had pivotal realizations since then – about himself, his Avatarhood, his energybending and the importance of what really mattered in life.
Kaddo smirked at his older brother. "Oh, great – we have to deal with you again."
"Yep," said Tenzin proudly. "Like it or not, I'm here to stay."
Kaddo shook his head. "That's too bad," he said, patting Tenzin on the shoulder.
Tenzin, Kaddo and Vameira picked up right where they left off – as though they had never been apart. Aang could tell how happy the siblings were to see each other again, no matter how much they tried to hide it.
Tenzin gawked in Vameira's direction. "Where did that sky bison come from?!"
"His name is Pooka," Vameira told him. "I got him when we were on Air Temple Island."
"I see," said Tenzin. "Let me ride it!"
Vameira raised an eyebrow. "No, I don't think so."
"Pssh! Whatever, I'll just ask Dad," sneered Tenzin. "Dad, can I take that bison for a ride?"
Aang shook his head. "That's not for me to say. Pooka is Vameira's sky bison and thus only she can give others permission to ride him. He's her companion for life. They share a bond that I cannot and will not interfere with."
"But where's my sky bison?" Tenzin whined. "I'm the oldest! I should've gotten one first!"
"Someday we'll go back to the island where we found him," explained Aang. "You can get your own sky bison then. That won't be for a while, though. There's too much else to be done now."
Tenzin turned back to his sister. "Vameira, can I please ride your sky bison?" he begged.
"No," said Vameira, smirking.
"Fine," said Vameira, sticking out her tongue. "But you have to be nice to me from now on!"
"Okay," said Tenzin, hanging his head.
"Now that we're all on the same page, we'd better find some accommodations for while we're here," Aang announced happily. "Maybe that same house in the upper ring is available for rent." The Avatar remembered how he felt when he and his friends celebrated in this city following the end of the Hundred Year War. It was a blissful moment. Nevertheless, the world had felt incomplete with only three of the four major nations represented. Today, Aang had a similar feeling with his family. He had finally reconnected with all Tenzin, Kaddo and Vameira, but something important was missing. He needed his wife – their mother.
He needed Katara.
After the sun fell and darkness reigned over the city of walls and secrets, a slender woman in her late twenties was making dinner in her brand new apartment. She was quite an unusual person for where she was living, in that she had arrived recently. Although Ba Sing Se was heavily-populated with refugee and immigrant families, they were not typically found in this area of town. The people who lived here typically lived in the same houses as their parents did and worked the same professions. This woman's neighbors were 10th-generation blacksmiths, 14th-generation watchmakers or something of the sort. She, however, was simply trying to slip into town unnoticed. She had made some rash decisions in her turbulent past, which she longed to escape from and start anew.
As the woman lit her stove, she heard rustling noises outside her window. She tried to tell herself that it was nothing, but it sounded too much like something to ignore – and so she strode over to her sill and peaked outside, but found nothing save for an empty alleyway ringing with the hooting meow sound of cat owls. The lady shrugged it off and went to return to her food preparation.
However, seconds later, a similar sound invoked the very same uneasiness in her. She approached the window again – this time more alert. "Who's there?" she said out loud. A few seconds later, she drew her dominant arm back and punched the air in front of her, sending a bursting line of blazing hot flames toward the window. Yes, this woman was a firebender – another trait which made her unusual for this neighborhood. She approached the window yet again – this time finding herself kicked in the chest!
The intruder swung their way into the apartment with a graceful movement supported by robust arm-strength. The woman grew fierce and defensive, for she did not fear this person – yet. She shot another fire blast at them, which the disturber effortlessly extinguished with a kick of their own.
"You look surprised to see me," the intruder told the woman. "Odd – considering that you believed yourself to know me well enough to be me."
The woman who had moved to Ba Sing Se rose to face the unexpected arrival, this time trembling. "P-Princess Azula?"
"Now it's my turn to ask the question – who are you?" Azula questioned boldly.
"Never mind," Azula said in disgust. I can see for myself who you are – you're nobody. Since even you're so unimpressed by your own name that you use someone else's, perhaps it's left better unsaid."
"My Princess, believe me, when I fought beside General Zhao as your double, I had nothing the best of intentions in mind..."
"My double?!" said Azula, exasperated. "More like impostor."
"I just wanted to help restore our nation to its former glory," the woman cried out.
"Save it," said Azula calmly while putting her hand up to silence her. "You're intentions were not in-the-least noble, but I understand you. You wanted to be somebody – and I can't blame you for wanting to be me. If I weren't me, I would want to be me. You probably looked up to me when you were younger – heard stories about my actions during the war. The name 'Azula' still means something to our people."
The woman gave a sigh of relief that Azula was sparing her. "Yes, you are a legend, my esteemed Princess. I did what I could while you were gone. Now that you're back, I am ready to serve you however you wish."
Azula laughed. "Haha – I think you're missing the point. Now that I'm back in action, I have to keep my reputation pure. Someone like you posing as Azula pales in comparison to the real thing – and with your actions, the name of Azula gets diluted. It would be hopelessly tarnished if every glory-seeker like you were able to impersonate me and got away with it. I can't have that."
Her eyes widened and she got down on her knees to beg. "Please...please." The woman who pretended to be Azula was paralyzed and breathing heavily. Suddenly, two jets of blue fire streamed toward her out of the real Azula's fists. Then, she breathed no more.
TO BE CONTINUED...
- This is more or less a transitional chapter.
- The conversation on the boat between Aang and Azula was originally longer and touched upon the topic of Aang's family – including his parents. Aang, in turn, asked Azula whether she had any intention of settling down, to which she replied that it was not a priority of hers.
- "Solstice Fool's" means the same thing in the Avatar World that April Fool's does in the real world.
- The name Neinei comes up with for herself – Rouyu – is a play on words. The "Rou" part is for red and the "Yu" part is for moon, so it comes out to be Red Moon.
- This is "false Azula's" only appearance in Book Three. She was last seen in Battle of the Fire Nation Capital: Part One.
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