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|The Lost Island|
Previously on Energy Saga
Claiming to have been tricking the Phoenix Army by pretending to be on their side, Azula rescues Aang before they both go out to save Vameira and leave the island alive. Aang still has doubts about her. After encountering Shao and Nola, Trinley finally joins them, then as they get Vameira and are on their way, Icarus comes after them on his new airship and, as Azula beats him at his own game, he shoots Appa down from the sky.
Meanwhile, Zuko and Mai get a nasty surprise on their anniversary when a group of assassins from the unknown organization arrive to spoil the fun. Mai gets injured and Neinei joins in the action, over the objection of her parents. In the end, it looks like it didn't turn out well for them.
Chapter Thirty-Four: The Lost Island
An Island, 121 AG
The morning sun heated the sand-covered shores of the lone island where Aang, Vameira, Trinley and Azula had found themselves following their flight from the former Southern Air Temple and subsequent chase by Icarus's gargantuan airship. The members of the unlikely group had all recuperated from their injuries and were safe from harm for the present moment. One would expect to find the mood among them jovial and welcoming of the fortunate circumstances, but instead it was mild and soundless.
Avatar Aang had his knee-caps buried in the beach and behaved indifferent to the creeping waves as the noisy, stubborn tide grew nearer. In front of him was poised the breathless form of Appa, with the large shell-mark on the once-strong bison's back. Beside the body lay the now-detached saddle, which would never be used again. Appa and Aang had shared uncountable adventures with one another, enduring tumultuous ups and downs at each other's side. Appa was not merely a pet or a friend to Aang – the Avatar regarded Appa as part of himself. During the Hundred Year War it had been unbearable to be separated from him even for a little while – and Aang had been willing to go to the ends of the world to get Appa back. Now he had lost him for good and there was nothing Aang could do about it.
Vameira and Trinley also mourned. Appa was family to them as well, though it was not nearly the same for them as it was for Aang. Appa was Aang's Avatar animal guide and Air Nomad life companion. "I-I love you, Appa," he said with a sniffle. "You were always there for me, and Katara, and our friends, and our children - until the end. You went down bringing us to safety."
Right now, Aang felt as if he would never truly be whole again. Vameira and Trinley looked on from several feet behind, having the tact not to disturb him.
Azula, on the other hand, was bored of standing around, doing nothing – and approached the Avatar. "We should plan our next move now, don't you think?" Aang said nothing in response, attempting to ignore her. She altered her approach. "So...how long do sky bison normally live?"
"They live about forty to fifty years," answered Aang solemnly. "Well, they did live that long. Appa was the last of his kind, so it's all in the past tense now."
"I see," said Azula. "Well, Appa lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven! Well, twenty-seven good years in him, anyway. He could've done worse." Azula paused talking as she saw Aang hanging his head and sobbing. Then she changed her tune. "Alright, I'm done playing the 'cheer-up' game. It's not my strong suit and I won't pretend it is. Now get a grip and come to your senses, Avatar!"
Trinley walked up beside Azula. "Shame on you! Can't you have some decency and give Aang a moment?"
"He's had long enough!" Azula snapped. "We're wasting time here. What we need is food, shelter and to find a way off this island, now that our method of transportation is out of use."
Appalled, Trinley opened his mouth to say something else, but was cut off by Aang. "She's got a point. We need to find something to eat and a place to sleep." Trinley was taken aback by Aang's quick change in attitude.
"I'll take care of food," announced Azula. "You guys take care of the rest."
"Okay," said Aang. "I'll go exploring and see to finding a spot to set up camp. Trinley – can you find something to build a shelter from."
"Sure," said Trinley agreeably.
"I want to help make the shelter!" Vameira chimed in.
"Go with Trinley, then," Aang instructed. He proceeded to pull his wooden necklace with the carved symbols of the element of air from around his neck. "Trinley, this is the same kind of necklace that Monk Gyatso used to wear. It's design signifies airbending mastery in the Old Air Nomad tradition. I would like you to wear it."
"But that's your memento, Aang," said Trinley, astonished. "I can't take that from you – it wouldn't be right."
"It's okay," said Aang impatiently. "I don't want it, anymore."
"No," said Trinley without budging. "It's yours."
"Fine," Aang responded, annoyed. "Vameira, do you want it?"
"I'm not a master yet," stated Vameira.
"Alright, then," said Aang, frustrated. With that, he turned toward the water, pulled his arm back and threw the necklace as hard as he could out into the sea. Moments later, a faint, distant splash came from the bay. Then he turned back to the very surprised Vameira and Trinley. "I'll dig a grave for Appa in the beach now. Then I'll go find a spot."
"I can help make the grave," Trinley offered.
"No, I want to do it alone," Aang told him stubbornly, walking away from them.
"He's really stressed, isn't he?" Vameira said aside to Trinley.
Trinley nodded. "Your father is preoccupied now."
"Of course," agreed Vameira. "He just lost Appa."
"It's not just that," said Trinley, shaking his head.
"Is he worried about what's going to become of us?" asked Vameira.
"No," replied Trinley. "He's too brave to feel defeatist about that."
"He must be thinking about my mother then," suggested Vameira.
"I don't think so," said Trinley. "It seems like something...deeper is bothering him."
As night fell over the island, the group reconvened under the clear dark sky filled with shining stars, which were bright in appearance due to there being no major civilization nearby. Trinley, being quite resourceful, had constructed a tent from branches and canopy, with help from the energetic Vameira. Trinley also built a fire for them, after Aang had made an attempt of his own.
"Making a fire looks complicated the way you do it," remarked Aang.
"It's not merely how I do it. It's the way most people do it," stated Trinley as he brandished two sticks together over a small pile of larger logs. "It takes much longer when you're not a firebender."
"I still don't see what was wrong with the one I made," said Aang, staring on as the logs lit and Vameira held up her hands to catch the warmth of the flames.
"Your purple fire was burning through the wood too fast," explained Trinley. "It wouldn't have lasted long. Sometimes simple is the way to go."
"Here's what I gathered," Azula proclaimed to the rest of them. "A little bit of fruit and one sparrowkeet I hunted this afternoon. I'm afraid that's all we have for food, since I've been forbidden from mentioning the obvious..." she added with a sideways-glance at Aang.
"If you even think about touching Appa, I will end you!" he snapped back at her.
Azula sighed. "I get that he was your 'buddy' and you adhere to the whole 'respect life' idea, but he's already dead. Respect won't do him any good now. Anyway, I looked through his saddle There was no tent or any other supplies, but I did find a miniature camping stove, so I think I'll make a stew."
"Knock yourself out," said Aang, puzzled. "Since when do you cook?"
"Along with firebending, I picked up a handful of other skills during my time on Ember Island. I was there more than a decade and had a lot of time on my hands." She placed the container over the fire and tossed in her supply.
Trinley nodded. "Anyone have an idea where we are?"
"We're somewhere in the northwestern Earth Kingdom," informed Azula.
"How do you know?" asked Aang.
"I followed the positions of the stars in the sky on our way here," she answered.
"The stars are pretty tonight," Vameira commented, looking up.
"Of course they are," said Aang gloomily. "We're in the middle of nowhere."
"You're not as upbeat as you were when I remember from years ago," said Azula observationally.
"Times were different then," replied Aang tersely.
"She does have a point," noted Trinley. "If something's bothering you, Aang, please let us know. You're free to talk about it with us."
"Yeah, Dad," agreed Vameira.
"I'm fine!" Aang retorted. "Just leave me alone, all of you."
"All done," said Azula matter-of-factly, not in the least put off by Aang's standoffishness. "Who wants to try my dish?"
"No thanks," said Vameira.
"As Air Nomads we tend to be vegetarians," said Trinley. "Thanks, though," he added politely.
Azula shrugged. "More for me, then."
"I'll have some," interrupted Aang.
All three other heads turned sharply toward him. "What?!" asked Azula, as surprised as the others.
"You heard me," said Aang.
"Okay." Azula separated out a second portion and passed it around the fire pit to the Avatar.
Trinley and Vameira held their mouths open in sheer disbelief as Aang clutched the bird meat and sunk his teeth into it. With the twisted expression on Aang's face, the taste did fit well with him. Nevertheless, he forced himself to swallow it down. "Hmmm...not bad."
Earth Kingdom Coast
"How much longer are these repairs going to take?" asked Icarus impatiently.
Paro looked under-confident. "From the looks of it, we're looking at a little more than a week."
Icarus was furious. "A week?! Seven days from today, the Avatar could be anywhere in the world."
"I'm sorry, Sir," apologized Paro. "Our men are working the best they can. The airship sustained a fair amount of damage. If we did not land when we did, we would've been doomed."
"Ugh! Curse them – the Avatar and that infuriating princess from the Fire Nation who did this to us!"
"If I may say so," Paro began. "The Avatar does not seem like a big threat at the present. Perhaps, for the time being, we could divert our energy into rebuilding ourselves and recovering from the blows we've taken."
"No," Icarus refused. "I will make the Avatar pay if I have to squeeze every last ounce of energy at my disposal in order to do so. We'll find where he is – then chase him down. Also, we have the mysterious assassin organization to worry about. They want the Avatar captured and in their hands. If we don't give them what they want, they'll come after us."
"I see," said Paro, hanging his head. "Very well, then."
"Good - get to work!" bellowed Icarus. "Hmmm...I wonder where the projectiles we fired earlier landed," he added thoughtfully.
"You said that you met Avatar Aang once, Sarook?"
"Yes, Commander – it was at my home, in the Northern Water Tribe, earlier this season. He just happened to be passing through and I approached him, asking if he would grant me waterbending abilities. He said that performing such actions disturbs the natural order of things even though I know he's done it before."
"Haha – well, now you know better. You can't expect a bender to offer you any kind of salvation, let alone the Avatar. Benders have kept those who cannot bend oppressed for generations – it's in their nature!"
"Agreed," agreed Sarook. The two individuals were going down the coast of the Earth Kingdom, not far from where Icarus's airship was grounded.
"But things are about to change. We have a sizable force gathered – including you. From here we travel to the Fire Nation, where we connect with the active non-bender groups there. It will be the launching point of the world revolution!"
"Sir – what's that?" asked Sarook, pointing. He had found a long piece of metal lying in the sand up ahead. The armored projectile bore the Air Nation insignia on it.
His superior officer bent down to examine it. "Hmmm...what have we here? This kind of weaponry looks brand new. I think – with some modifications – we could put it to good use."
Aang hardly slept at all that night. The events of the previous days had all happened so fast that they were only now starting to catch up with him. His continued mixed thoughts about Azula remained a source of unease. Aang had done the unthinkable by trusting her to begin with, and then she cast him aside, and then he found himself with her again. The Avatar had a hard time making a read of her. He was not fooled into thinking her generous. In the end, she wants to get out ahead somehow – in her own interest. Aang could not yet tell how this worked out, though.
The other major toll on his mind was, of course, Appa. Aang thought he had made peace over this before he turned in. In the middle of the night, however, he had an odd feeling – like Appa was still with him. A few times he even swore he heard Appa grunting outside the shelter.
With the morning light upon them and nothing else to do, Avatar Aang hiked uphill to a barren cliff overlooking the water, where he stayed, watching the repeating waves yearning over the water toward the shore make their mark on the land – and then retreating.
He was soon joined by Trinley, who had caught up with him. "Good morning, Aang."
"Good morning, Trinley," Aang reciprocated monotonously.
"I see you're up early," Trinley noted.
Trinley turned sympathetic. "We all know you miss Appa – it's okay."
"I felt like I heard him last night," stated Aang, wondering what Trinley would think of that.
Trinley nodded. "Vameira says she actually saw him."
"What do you mean?" asked Aang curiously.
"She said she woke up and walked out of our shelter," Trinley explained. "Then she saw Appa flying in the sky over her head – like he was still alive."
"Poor child," said Aang. "Her grief is causing her to have hallucinations."
Trinley nodded, then proceeded to change the subject. "Why did you throw away your necklace?"
"It was an important piece of my Air Nomad heritage," said Aang. "Something that's gone now."
"What are you talking about?" asked Trinley. "The spirit of the Air Nomads is still around. It's not about the temple – or the bison. It lives on through you, me, Vameira and Tenzin."
"Maybe it lives on through you," Aang retorted. "I'm not an Air Nomad – not anymore. I renounce that part of me."
"What?" asked Trinley, alarmed.
"I won't identify myself as an Air Nomad anymore," said Aang. "It's not right for me, so I'm going to leave it behind. Unfortunately I'm stuck with the tattoos, but I can leave it behind in other ways: try meat, let my hair grow out and get some new clothes when I get the chance. I wonder what the latest fashion trends are in the Fire Nation and the Earth Kingdom. I'll look into it."
"I don't understand, Aang."
"I was determined to make a place for airbending in this world," said Aang solemnly. "I did my very best. Now, my plan to create airbenders backfired upon us all and the source of airbending itself is extinct! My desire to recreate airbending is the source of all this chaos."
Trinley hung his head. "Sorry. I guess I played a part in the 'backfired plan' to create artificial airbenders."
Aang shook his head. "You turned out fine, Trinley, but you're the exception, not the rule. The point is that...I have failed as an Air Nomad. I disown it. I disown myself for the Air Nomads. I am banished."
"So if you're not an Air Nomad, what are you?" asked Trinley. "Water Tribe? Earth Kingdom? Fire Nation? Nothing?"
"I don't know," said Aang, not meeting Trinley's eyes. "I'll have to think about it."
"So it's just like that," said Trinley, disbelievingly. "Because of a couple missteps along the way, you forsake your identity – where you come from?"
"I'm sorry, Trinley," Aang told him firmly. "This is the way it has to be."
"You're being unreasonable," Trinley retorted. "We all make mistakes. We don't have to go into self-exile for every wrong decision we make."
"Well, it's not only that," Aang added. "Whether I like it or not, I've disgraced the values of Air Nomad life. I did so back at the temple."
"What do you mean?"
"Well..." Aang began, reluctantly. "When I was captured in Vameira's former cell by Zhao Jr. and Azula, they took me to another cell, where I was chained up. Azula came to see me in my cell and – I just lost myself. It had taken a lot of convincing when I was on Ember Island, but I had decided that I could trust her. In a time of desperation, I placed all my final hope of saving my daughter with her. I trusted her on behalf of my life – and Vameira's. When she abused my trust, turned against me and came to me later...I've never been that angry before. I felt something I've never felt. I felt...bloodlust."
"This is all in the past," said Trinley. "What does it matter now?"
"Don't you see what I mean, Trinley?" asked Aang impatiently. "I wanted to kill her."
Trinley was stunned. "Do you mean...you wanted to kill her because she was a threat? Or so that you could then escape and find Vameira yourself?"
"Neither," replied Aang. "I wanted to kill her out of anger."
"In cold blood, then," said Trinley, looking down. "Well, you have a point that that's not befitting of an Air Nomad."
"Yeah, now you get it."
"All the same," countered Trinley. "What if it was a test? You wanted to kill her, but you didn't."
"Well, if that was a test, I didn't pass it. I was tied up," said Aang, shaking his head. "I would've killed her if I had my hands free – I'm sure of it. I would've failed. I've never felt that much anger at one person at once. Circumstances may be different now, but I can still feel now some of what I felt before. I despise that woman, even if she's on our side. How can I call myself an Air Nomad after this? It would be like living a lie."
"Aren't you being too hard on yourself?" asked Trinley. "You may be a powerful, supposedly wise Avatar, but you're still only human – and therefore make mistakes."
"The enlightened monks of the Air Nomads are supposed to be above this kind of mistake!"
"No one can ever truly be above any sort of vindictive feeling," said Trinley calmly. "You thought yourself above it and others thought you were, too – but you're not. Everyone has their breaking point, Avatar Aang – even you. Monk Gyatso had his breaking point. He attacked and killed many during the genocide."
"Don't compare me to Gyatso!" snapped Aang. "Monk Gyatso was a wise, enlightened, benevolent man. He was a great Air Nomad! I am not worthy to be spoken of in the same sentence as him. He killed in a selfless way – to protect others that he cared about! He had no feeling of anger or revenge in him. Not once in his life!"
"How can you know what he felt?!" asked Trinley in a raised voice. "Look, being enlightened is not putting yourself on a pedestal, being enlightened requires you to know your own limitations. Before the battle at the capital, you thought you were on top of the world! Now you feel like you're at the bottom of the pit! When are you going to snap out of it all and just start acting reasonable again?"
"Back off, Trinley," said Aang abrasively. With that he started to walk back down toward camp.
Trinley, however, followed him. "I'm trying to help. Look, maybe you're stuck on this mindset because of all the unnatural things you've done in the past. If you stop doing them, you could think better of yourself."
"I've already stopped energybending," said Aang, resigned.
"Then maybe it's the purple fire," Trinley suggested. "I've seen the effect it has – it changes you. It wasn't your color to begin with. Try bending only regular fire again."
Trinley smiled mildly. "You always said that forgiveness is a lot harder than revenge."
"Well, I haven't been true to my own advice, have I?"
"You didn't let me finish," said Trinley. "There's something that's even harder than forgiveness: self-forgiveness."
When they reached the bottom the campsite, they found Vameira nestled beside the charred pile of thick logs that had been last night's fire for them. "Vameira – where did Azula go?" Aang called out.
"Oh, she went off to look for food again," Vameira told him. "Can we go exploring now?"
"If by exploring, you mean, look around and see if we can find out how we're going to leave this island, yes," said Aang tersely.
"I think we should go up the hill and inland," Trinley suggested. "We haven't seen the top of the island or the center yet."
"Sounds like a good place to start," agreed Aang. "Let's go."
"Yippee!" squealed Vameira.
For the next couple minutes, Aang, Trinley and Vameira marched up the forested area, with the fallen leaves crowning the soft, grass-covered ground. They spoke little for the time being, as each of them was focused on taking in their surroundings. Aang sensed a chill reaching up his spine, for he desired to depart from the place that his sky bison had left the physical world as soon as was possible.
"Look, look!" Vameira called out just as the three of them were reaching the end of the tree line. "There's some white, stringy stuff on the ground. What is it?"
"It's bison fur," Aang moped, picking up a clump and funneling it through his hand. "Appa must've shed it just as we were flying over here."
"Strange," said Trinley, stroking his smooth chin. "I don't think we flew over this part of the island."
"Do you have another explanation?" Aang grumbled.
"Maybe the lost sky bison flew over here," submitted Vameira. "I remember Rensa talking about the mysterious lost breed of sky bison."
"Oh Vameira..." Aang began, rolling his eyes in pitiful sorrow.
"They were said to be lost well before the Hundred Year War, so it's possible they could still be around," added Trinley.
"Rensa told me about them several times," added Vameira. "It's a great story..."
"That's what it is," Aang said impatiently, "a story. They're simply a legend – they don't exist! Even if they did, they would have disappeared long ago. The sky bison are extinct now. We have to accept that. We're not doing ourselves any favors pretending otherwise. Let's keep moving." He resumed his hike up to the summit and let Trinley and Vameira keep up.
When they reached the top, Aang, Vameira and Trinley laid their eyes on scattered pieces of old, abandoned architecture – ruins. Upon closer examination, they found that they bore symbols which represented the element of air.
"Wow, what a stroke of fate!" exclaimed Trinley. "These ruins are from an old Air Nomad settlement that existed here centuries ago. Who would've thought that the three of us could come across it now? Let's see what's inside!"
"I see," said Aang. "In that case, I'm not going inside. I'm staying here."
"Oh, Aang..." said Trinley with a roll of his eyes.
"If this is an Air Nomad place, I don't feel comfortable going in. It wouldn't seem right. You two go on ahead, though."
And so Aang waited outside the ruins of the archaic temple and outpost while Trinley and Vameira went forward. Presumably there was much to be seen, because Aang felt like he was waiting for well over an hour. In past days, Aang would have been nothing but fascinated to accompany them and catch a glimpse of the Air Nomads past. "I was willing to do anything to preserve the Air Nomad heritage...but now I've lost it," Aang thought to himself. "Now I've lost Katara...and I am willing to do anything to get her back. Will this make me lose her more than I already have? Is that possible?"
As Aang was thinking this, Trinley came back and approached him. "Aang, you have to come see this." His former student beckoned him to follow.
Aang wanted to decline the invitation, but the earnestness in Trinley's voice reminded him of when Katara had wanted to show him something at the Serpent's Pass. She had shown him a newborn baby to a refugee couple they had been traveling with. Katara had shown Aang something which helped him regain hope when he felt like abandoning it. Aang decided that he would give a chance to whatever Trinley had in mind.
Trinley led Aang down a layer of stone steps to a collection of identical wooden slabs – each about ten feet in height – all on a miniature rounded platform. "Look at them – aren't they beautiful?"
"Ah, training panels," said Aang, recognizing them at once. "A vital tool in any airbender's training." Training panels were a common device in the instruction of new airbenders. The panels were made to spin with air currents and the novice had to go through without touching them. It was supposed to teach them to change directions at a moment's notice. Vameira always hated these when she was younger. She had trouble with them because of her slow reaction time. She always got hit by them left and right - and Tenzin teased her to her add insult to injury. "They're much more elegant here than the set we had at the Southern Air Temple." Each of the panels contained an smoothly-carved air symbol inside a painted circle at the center, with extravagant lining along the edges depicting leaves and other earthen shapes.
"If you look at the accompanying tablet, you'll find the date that this structure was made is recorded precisely to the year and month," Trinley informed him. "This historical treasure is exactly 1,951 years old!"
"It's been around for almost two thousand years," said Aang admiringly. "It's sure kept well. It looks fresh – like it could almost be brand new."
"Yes it does," agreed Trinley. "Completely unscratched – and I'll bet it'll be like that for a thousand more!"
"What was your point in showing me this?" questioned Aang.
"There's more to the inscription on the tablet," Trinley assured him. "It talks of a prophecy for a person – an airbender guardian – that will come here and discover the 'lost ones.' They will become the shepherd and protector of the lost folk. This airbender will also be the worldly protector of the natural order – and banish a great threat which he himself called forth."
"You think this applies to me?" inquired Aang skeptically. "I know nothing of any 'lost folk' – and I don't see what connection I have to this island."
"You're an Air Nomad – it's in your roots whether you acknowledge it or not – and fate has brought you to this place. As the Avatar, you are a worldly protector, and you have to fix the imbalance you made with energybending – hinting toward a threat you yourself called forth!"
Aang could not truthfully deny that this "threat" sounded like it could be the one "from ages past" like the lion turtle discussed – with energybending. However, he was having trouble believing that the rest of it applied to him. "I don't know..."
"You're the Avatar!" stated Trinley. "I tried to talk to you about the sensitive way, but the bottom line is – you don't have a choice. You're the world's protector – the defender of the balance. You can't abandon your roots now – or you'll only abandon your roots as the Avatar as well. You have to be the hero the world needs you to be."
"Are you saying that even punishing myself is too selfish for me?"
Trinley nodded while staring into Aang's eyes. "Yeah."
Aang sighed. "Fine, Trinley. I'll take what you have said to heart." At this moment Aang remembered part of what the Lion Turtle originally told him. "The true heart can tough the poison of hatred without being harmed."
Trinley grinned weakly. "Sometimes we need those around us to remind us who we truly are."
"Dad, Trinley – come here! Look what I found" Vameira had rushed to see them, holding a little pile of white hair in her hand, some of which had fell upon her orange and yellow robes. "This fur is freshly-shed. It has to be."
Suddenly, Aang, Trinley and Vameira were overwhelmed by a rambunctious roar of a giant, horned creature flying above them. The three paralyzed airbenders gaped at it in awe, running up into the old temple's remains, following the giant creature. This was...impossible. It was Appa, but it wasn't. As they darted around a corner, the bison landed in a clearing, surrounded by others of its kind. It was the legendary sky bison heard – real and right there before their eyes. The trail of fur Vameira had uncovered led straight to their mating ground on this remote isle amidst the northwestern seas. Each of the gargantuan mammals was just like Aang remembered growing up, except for the fact that they had more lines displayed across their backside than the original sky bison did.
"I've...never seen anything like this," said Trinley in awe.
"Nobody has seen a sight like this in more than a century," said Aang.
Fire Nation Capital
Tenzin gaped as he reached the end of the deserted street leading to the giant circle at the center of Royal Caldera City. He had come as quickly as possible – going so far as to carry Pema on his back as he ran – but it seemed it had been in vain. The royal palace had become naught but a pile of ashes and rubble, casting an invisible shadow over the city it had brought life and direction for ages past. With it gone now, the whole of the nation it represented would be riddled in uncertainty.
Tenzin, however, was not really thinking about the Fire Nation as a whole. His immediate worry was a far more personal one. He yearned to know what had become of the royal family – more specifically, Princess Neinei.
Already expecting the worst, Tenzin climbed onto the giant ash heap that was once the royal palace and began calling about through the piles of wastes. "Hello? Is anyone there?!" Tenzin knew that this was probably not only futile, but unwise, for he did not know who may be listening, but he could not help himself. "Can anyone hear me!?" Tenzin sniffed in despair. "They've perished," he whispered to himself.
Tenzin turned around to where Pema stood at the edge of the ruin. A look of concern had formed upon her face. Even a young child could tell when something was wrong like this without knowing exactly what it was. But she was not alone. To her left stood a silent, slender figure in a bright red cloak, the hood hanging over their eyes so their entire face was obscured.
"Who are you?" asked Tenzin, running back to them. "Don't touch her!"
The cloaked person put their hands in the air, as though about to shove Tenzin to the ground and make off with Pema. Tenzin prepared to airbend. Now that he had seen the scene for himself, his only goal was to escape this place unscathed with Pema. He should never have brought the child here. It was too dangerous. Without the Fire Lord, this place would indeed be crawling with strange folk like this cloaked individual looking for trouble.
"Get away from her!" he yelled. He punched an air blast forward, knocking the cloaked person off balance.
"Tenzin – stop!" shouted Neinei. "It's me!"
"Neinei," asked Tenzin in shock. "Neinei!" he repeated, this time rushing to wrap his arms around her neck.
"Uhh...hello to you, too, Tenzin," said Neinei, taken aback by his strong emotional embrace of her.
"I guess I should introduce you," said Tenzin, beaming. "Neinei, this is Pema. She can be annoying sometimes, but I'm sure she'll grow on you."
"Hello," said Neinei, waving sheepishly. Pema giggled and tugged at Neinei's cloak, which Neinei then snatched away.
"Oh my – what did they do to you?" asked Tenzin. He had noticed that the left side of Neinei's face was covered in scars and red, blistering burn marks.
"They came...on my parent's anniversary," said Neinei, hanging her head. "It was awful."
Tenzin was suddenly much more serious. "What are you still doing here? This place is dangerous for you now!"
"I haven't left because I have to watch out for my father," said Neinei solemnly. "He's alive, but he's in terrible condition. He's still unconscious."
"What happened to the rest of your family?"
"My mother was wounded, but they escaped," answered Neinei. "I went with them initially, but I came back to fight by my father's side. Our attackers were quite a handful and someone had to be there with him, even if he is the Fire Lord."
"I see," said Tenzin. "Neinei, we have to get away from this place now! People think you're all dead – hostile forces will overwhelm the capital!"
"Is there anyone nearby that you know we can trust?"
Neinei shook her head. "With everything that's happened, I think we can assume that nowhere in Fire Nation is safe for us anymore. Our best bet is probably to go to Ba Sing Se. There's no civil war in the Earth Kingdom – and my uncle Tom-Tom lives there. He's the Fire Nation ambassador to the Earth King. If we seek asylum with him, we can decide what to do next while my dad recovers."
"Let's go, then," said Tenzin decisively.
"We have to move fast," said Neinei agreeably. "Pema will have to walk while we carry my father through the mountain passages. We might be able to catch a transcontinental boat ride if it's still possible. And we'll have to be discreet and hide our true identity. I'll see about getting some Fire Nation clothes for you. It will look suspicious to see an airbender with us."
"What about your father? He's the Fire Lord. Won't he stand out?"
"You don't need to worry about us," said Neinei dismissively. "Even though he had the burns before I did, we both look different enough now."
"How did you survive exactly?" Tenzin asked her. "It looked like quite a disaster."
Neinei paused for a moment before answering. "At first, I didn't think we did. In fact, I was certain that it was the end for us. We were already gone – or almost, at least. It felt like I was on my way to the Spirit World...but then, out of the blackness, the spirit lady came."
"The spirit lady?"
"Yes," confirmed Neinei. "She came with a message. She said that she had helped in bringing the unholy gift back into the world where it doesn't belong. Now she needed to do her part to make amends and make things right – through my father and I. Our second chance would aid in giving world a second chance."
Tenzin's eyes widened. "Are you saying that..."
Neinei nodded. "Yes, I am." She proceeded to pull down her hood – and Tenzin gasped! Neinei's hair – like that of her father – was as white as the snow at the South Pole.
"Choose well," Aang said to Vameira. "A sky bison is a companion for life." Holding the apple that her father had given her, Vameira walked over and approached a cluster of some of the more miniature ones.
Aang knew that he should cherish this moment well. He would miss Appa for as long as he lived – though his memory would live on through all that ever rode on the back of the caring and courageous creature. At least Aang could take some joy in watching Vameira now; as the ever-present spiritual connection between sky bison and airbenders was passed on to another generation.
The Avatar's daughter returned to him a few minutes later, accompanied by a tender, budding calf which stood at about the same height as she. "It looks like you chose your companion well," said Aang. "What's its name?"
"Remember – he's only a baby, so you can't expect him to carry the same kind of weight as Appa did," Aang cautioned her. "For the next two years, you can only have one person riding him at once – perhaps two, if they're both children – but until he gets bigger, under no circumstances should Pooka be carrying multiple adults."
"Okay, I understand," Vameira said while fondly petting the fur behind Pooka's neck.
"It's late in the afternoon," stated Aang. "Why don't you two take the remaining hours of the day and go get to know each other some?
"Yeah," said Vameira excitedly. "You mean it?"
"Just come back to our camp around sundown." Aang stood and watched as his daughter went off with her new sky bison. His daughter's sky bison – this was something Aang had not dared to think was possible until now. It seemed like it was out of a dream. For years Aang believed Appa to be the last of his kind – not merely the last sky bison, but the final sky bison – and that the species would disappear from the world at his passing. Aang had intended to make the best environment possible for his children and all subsequent generations to learn airbending in – but regretted that there could not be more sky bison in the new world. Several surprising events within the past year had shaken up the Avatar's view of things – at last one of them was in a positive way.
And so Aang came to a realization. He understood. Every ending is a beginning. Every beginning is an ending: birth, life, death, beginning, middle, end; through lifetime after lifetime the tale of the Avatar repeated itself in an infinite cycle, just as others who are not the Avatar leave behind a legacy of their own. In a balanced world, this is all possible. That is why the balance is at the center of it all. As the Avatar's duty is to protect the balance of the world, the Avatar requires an appreciation for the way harmony ties all things together.
"It was wonderful," said Vameira, in a fast-talking mood. "We went down by the water for a while, then we went up in the clouds and flew around the island about a hundred times. Then we went down on land and raced each other. I won the first time with my airbending-enhanced running, but Pooka won the second and the third..."
"Sounds like you had fun today," said Trinley matter-of-factly. He had just finished starting a fire with two sticks, the same way he had the previous evening.
"I'm still confused as to how there are more sky bison," Azula cut in. "But I don't really care what the explanation is – we have a way off this island. That's what's important."
"Mine can't take us all at once," Vameira informed her. "Pooka's not big enough, yet."
"Right," agreed Aang. "Early tomorrow morning, I'll approach one of the larger ones and see if they can give us a ride to the coast. We'll have plenty of time to figure things out from there. Right now let's just focus on nourishment and a good night's rest."
"Fair enough," said Azula agreeably. "Figuring things out once we get to land shouldn't be too difficult. I think we're pretty close to Yu Dao. That's a larger settlement."
Aang nodded. "It was amazing...seeing the sky bison today...and seeing the ruins of the old temple."
"Maybe some day you could come back to this island and build a new temple," suggested Trinley. "The sky bison seem to like this spot."
"Perhaps," said Aang.
"Well, to change the subject for a bit – we have more food tonight than last night," Azula said proudly. "I hunter two birds today – one for me and one for you, Avatar?"
"No thanks," Aang declined calmly. "I'm an Air Nomad – I don't eat meat." Vameira smiled at these words of her father.
"My, my, you've been on the road for months and now these late night visits are becoming habitual," Brawki commented gruffly.
"And just like last time, I have something to tell you," Migo declared triumphantly.
"Uh-oh. What crazy rumor about your mother did you hear this time?"
"No, nothing like that," said Migo, shaking his head. "Brawki, I may be getting married soon!"
"What?" asked Brawki in alarm.
"You heard me," said Migo, beaming.
"Wow," replied Brawki, still taken aback. "I wasn't expecting this. So who's the lucky girl?" He sat down in the rugged, wooden chair by the fireplace.
"Actually, she's seven years older than me, so I wouldn't call her a 'girl,'" explained Migo, pulling over an extra seat. "She's one of my companions I've traveled with."
Brawki smirked. "This calls for a good cup of tea – jasmine is your favorite, if I recall. So how will you propose?"
"I'm not sure yet, but I'll think of something," stated Migo. "We've been spending a lot of time together."
"Ah, I see. No doubt you've been wooing her with your charm and earthbending talent."
"Meh, she's not that impressed by my earthbending," Migo corrected him. "She's an earthbender herself."
"Really?" asked Brawki, raising an eyebrow as he prepared the rusted kettle.
"Yes – she's really good at it. Seismic sense is her strong suit."
What trace there had been of a smile on Brawki's face faded. "Is she the blind one?"
"Yep," confirmed Migo. "Toph – you met her when we went to the cave."
Brawki pounded his fist on the dust-covered table, startling Migo. "You can't marry her."
"I will not allow it," said Brawki firmly. "It's not what you're meant for!"
"What are you talking about?" asked Migo, bewildered. "Brawki, I've known you my whole life. You never mentioned me being 'meant' for anything!"
"You are the son of Ratana," Brawki stated. "You shall not become the consort of Omashu."
Migo shook his head. "I don't see how my mother, whom I never knew, has anything to do with this..."
"I forbid you from courting Queen Toph."
"Hah! Brawki, I'm twenty-six. You can't forbid me from doing anything."
Brawki narrowed his eyes. Migo had always looked up to him and Brawki was irritated that he picked now to usher in a new wave of independence and defiance. "This isn't easy for me," said Brawki, getting into his earthbending stance. "But if I must, I will prevent the marriage by force."
Migo reciprocated without missing a heartbeat. "Bring it!"
With a menacing grimace about his mouth, Brawki lifted a rock from the ground below, smashing it through the wood of his floor on the way up – and threw the rock toward Migo's chest. Apparently, Brawki did not mind damaging his own home in this fight. Migo dodged the rock, which collided with the shelves at the other end of the room, smashing its contents upon the floor.
Migo responded by erecting an earth wall through the hole that already existed in the floor. He through right and left hooks forward, punching smaller slabs out of the wall one at a time. Brawki, however, was not put back by this. Migo was good, but Brawki had trained him. With a jerk of his arm, he threw one of the slabs back at Migo, knocking him down, so his legs were in the hole. With a twist of his foot, Brawki made the ground soften and spiral Migo's body in, submerging him up to his chest and burying both his arms and both his legs.
Brawki pushed the earth wall back into the ground and approached him. Brawki sent an earth pillar from the ground to the ceiling, about an inch and a half in diameter. He hastily made many similar cyllindars, circling Migo – like bars of a cell.
"Let me go!" shouted Migo angrily.
Brawki sighed and shook his head. "I know you're not pleased, but this is for the greater good."
TO BE CONTINUED...
- The idea for this chapter came after newly-released information revealed that Aang would discover a lost sky bison herd to carry on the species. The lost herd was mentioned earlies in Fire Nation Pirates.
- The name "The Lost Island" carries multiple meanings. The island that Aang and company came to was lost, as was they sky bison breed that they discovered. Aang himself was "lost" as he went through an identity crisis in this chapter.
- The historical artifact with the wood panels that Trinley and Aang look at together is the same device that is seen in The Legend of Korra.
For the collective works of the author, go here.