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Previously on Energy Saga
While Aang continues on his journey, Tenzin, Kaddo and Vameira each have a mini-adventure of their own. Tenzin saves a clique of small children being held hostage by the Phoenix Army. Kaddo learns a valuable lesson about the importance of healing and being considerate of those around him. Vameira tries to escape from the Southern Air Fortress with the help of Rensa. Rensa ends up dead and Vameira is recaptured by the Air Lord himself.
Chapter Thirty-One: Realignment
Ember Island, 121 AG
As he was flying over Ember Island on Appa, Aang could easily think of all the reasons he did not belong there. He was nearing the home of Azula, the one who hunted him down – along with those close to him – during the Hundred Year War. Furthermore, it had been her who came up with the plan to harness the power of Sozin's Comet in order to burn down Earth Kingdom. She had suggested the idea to Ozai. Even if Aang tried to overlook that, he had heard that Azula shot lightning at Katara during her Agni Kai against Zuko. The very thought of it made Aang cringe. They had not been fighting each other at the time. The person he was going before had committed a foul and dishonorable act against the woman he loved.
But Aang could not bear to have Katara on his mind right now, for other reasons. Soon he would continue to wander in hopes of fixing Katara via some unheard of blessing, but now the Avatar required all his focus for helping Vameira, a much more immediate concern. But thinking about Vameira was also painful. At the moment, she was all alone in her unsanitary cell – paying for Aang's sinful blunder in granting Icarus airbending every second she was there. Feng Qu's destiny had been to die fighting to clean up Aang's mess. He had paid a price that should not have been his to pay. Aang would not allow his daughter have a similar destiny.
Of course, meddling with other's destinies ringed of the dangers involved in energybending. Although this next mission of his concerned his personal duty to his family, it seemed like it was his duty to the world that was crawling up on him. Everything he was going through now seemed a punishment – a punishment for bringing energybending. energybending had been wrong for the world, and now the universe was getting back at him through those he knew.
Enlightened as he was, the Air Nomad Avatar required hours of meditation each day to shake this mindset from him. He could not change past – and he had to change the future. This time, "changing" it meant changing it the right way. He had seen the repercussions of his missteps, and now he was the only one who could fix the situation. His negative emotions hindered his effectiveness in this difficult task. Things were not as simple as they used to seem. There was no clear path to success. He would have to go forward one step at a time, with a clear and decisive mindset.
When he arrived at the spot where Azula dwelled, Aang double-checked to make certain he was in the right part of the island. He was. But he had been expecting to find an elaborate beach house like the one Zuko had described to him on a few occasions. Instead, the Avatar saw below him what appeared to be a military barracks or prison complex. The miniature island mansion was surrounded by four tall guard towers and a tall, metallic wall. Even though it was nighttime, he could easily spot a handful of guards patrolling about the perimeters. This is an awful lot of resources just for guarding one person, Aang thought to himself.
Aang had always thought that she was living in luxury, and regularly went to the beach. At least, that was the idea he had gotten from when the topic of Azula came up with Zuko. However, he also recalled Zuko mentioning that "extra measures" had been taken since the Fire Nation Civil War started. They had tightened security for Azula's Ember Island exile within the past year. Resistance was in the air and for obvious reasons they did not want her roaming free at this time.
Aang did not have time to think twice or explain himself to anyone. He had flown to Ember Island for the express purpose of seeking out the one who could help him free Vameira, and he was going to follow through with that. The first step would be getting in to see her. He could worry about leaving with her and returning to the Southern Air Temple later. He crawled onto Appa's neck and lowered himself to his ear. He whispered to his giant flying bison, instructing him to fly down and hide in the trees – and that they would meet up again later.
Aang would need to be stealthy and quick. Since going up to the front door and knocking was not an option, he would have to enter from above. When he was directly over the top of the building, Aang peered down to make sure that the guards were looking the other way. Then, he seized his glider with his right hand and dived down from they sky, clutching his staff and opening it so he could ease his fall. By the looks of it, the soldiers knew something was not right, but by the time they turned around, he was mere feet above the rooftop, out of their line of sight. Aang could not help but smirk, being pleased with how smoothly this part of the plan worked.
But when his foot made contact with the roof and he loosened his bending of the air currents, his leg tore straight through it. As it turned out, this was not a solid roof at the top, but a layer of tarp! The surprised Avatar lost his midair balance and waved his arms and feet about frantically. With a loud ripping noise, his entire body plunged through the would-be roof and a loud alarm sound rang through his ears. Voices were shouting from the outside of the building. His presence was known!
Panicking, Aang dropped his glider, which slid away from him and down the nearest side of the ceiling. He had another fifteen feet to fall before he would come into contact with a rough layer of metal, which he could see now that he had crashed through the thin layer of tarp. Aang continued to wave his arms in vain, when two large metal frames emerged from either end of the ceiling, just below the tarp. These two frames came together, shutting him in. Aang hit the bottom and his limbs and torso ached with stiff pain. Now he was trapped – without the use of his glider – in this place, which was supposedly secure enough to hold Azula. What had he gotten himself into?
With the ceiling "closed" and the sky shut out from him, Aang was in such darkness that he could not visualize his hand if he held it within a foot of his face. But mere seconds later, he heard the sound of a door opening – which partially illuminated the place – and turned himself about to find an armored figure taking a firebending stance to confront the injured Avatar. Aang fought through his pain, determined to fight his way through this. The firebender kicked into the air, sending a blazing arc his way. For a split-second, Aang thought he was fighting one of the guards, until he realized that this fire arc was blue.
Aang kicked his own leg into the air, blocking the attack, but did not move to make a strike of his own. "Azula – is that you?"
"The Avatar?" said Azula, staring at Aang as though she did not believe he was real. "What are you doing here?!"
Aang was unsure what to say. He wished he had more time to think about how to articulate himself to her, but she was putting him on the spot.
"Are you deaf?" Azula repeated, annoyed. "I asked you why you are here, Avatar." Her tone was blunt and told Aang that he had to cut right to the chase.
"I came to ask you for something."
"Ask me for something?" asked Azula quizzically.
"Yes," stated Aang. "Years ago you promised me a favor when Zuko and I came to see you. I'm in a desperate situation now and I've come to call upon that favor."
Azula eased her fighting stance and goggled at him. "As I recall, you were not so keen on taking that offer – and that was another time." She stared at him, considering what he was saying. Now that he had regained himself, Aang could see her clearly, with the light from the open doorway being sufficient. The woman before him was larger than he remembered – though most of the new weight was muscle, not fat – and her face had lost any roundness it had had earlier. She was also a couple of inches taller, but other than that, Azula at thirty-five did not look all that different from Azula at fourteen. "You shot me down when I offered you a truce," she continued. "It's tempting to do the same to you now. Nevertheless, I will hear you out. Come. Let's go and sit down so you can tell me about this...something." She walked back through the door, beckoning for him to follow.
Inside this new room, the atmosphere was completely different from the outside. It was a lavish apartment, fit for a member of a royal family, with a wooden and carpeted floor rather than the décor of the plain metallic chamber. Near the center was a small, wooden table with comfortable seating cushions about it. Azula rested herself there and Aang followed suit. Even though the Hundred Year War was long over, it still was hard to believe he was sitting where he was. Aang had seen her only once in the interwar years – when she had been released from the mental institution. For months, he thought that she had come back for revenge and was with the Phoenix Army battling him and his friends once again, but then it turned out not to be her.
"In case your expecting me to offer you some tea, I'm afraid you'll be disappointed," Azula informed him. "I used to get regular shipments of jasmine tea from Uncle, but for whatever reason he stopped sending them."
"That's probably because he's dead," Aang told her. "Iroh perished with the rest of the Western Fleet – fighting a dragon."
"Ah – I suppose that would explain it, yes," said Azula matter-of-factly, as though Aang had simply informed her about a change in the weather. "They don't allow me out much nowadays and I'm a bit behind on outside events."
Aang nodded. "I don't know if you heard, but there was an impersonator of you."
"I did hear about that," stated Azula. "Personally I'm offended that so many people believed she was me. Whatever disguise she had on, she paled in comparison to the real thing. Heh, I wonder how the rebels are getting on now without their puppet."
"Well, the Phoenix Army movement has changed a lot since the battle at the Fire Nation Capital," explained Aang. "They've lost a lot of ground. Meanwhile, anti-bending groups are sprouting up to combat both the Fire Army and the Phoenix Army."
"Hah, figures," commented Azula with a roll of her eyes.
"I must say, this place is different than I was expecting," said Aang. "I thought you were treated a little more royally. It's nice in here and all, but a gilded prison is still a prison."
"I was," stated Azula. "My exile was merely confined to Ember Island, not complete house arrest. In the beginning, I was able to wander the island at will. They tightened security when the civil war started. They're afraid someone's going to try to find me and bring me into the resistance, but they're wasting their time."
"What do you mean?" asked Aang, confused. "Isn't it obvious that the Phoenix Army would try to seek you out for their purpose?"
Azula narrowed her gaze and shook her head. "No they won't. Everyone always assumes that they will, but why would they?"
"Because of who you are," said Aang simply.
Azula grimaced. "The Phoenix Army leaders are a lot of common thugs – warlords. They're not true patriots. They don't want anything to do with me."
"Nevertheless," Aang added, "You have a strong image – and many admirers among the Phoenix Army's clientele. They regard your time as a sort of golden age. You're a champion – a hero to them. Your presence inspires their followers. General Zhao Jr. had that idea when he brought that woman in to pose as you beside him."
"Hah! That sounds like it makes sense, but it doesn't – not when you really think about it," said Azula dismissively. Zhao Jr. only cares about Zhao Jr., and everything he does is in his own interests. He wants an Azula, but he wants an Azula he can control and show off to his men, to boost their morale. You see, there's a certain 'magic' about having Azula on your side. It's reassuring – because whatever side Azula is on always wins."
"I see." Aang had not expected this to be easy, but he had hoped for it to be better than this. He did not like the way Azula was now referring to herself in the third person, and took it as a warning sign. "But you're wrong. Clearly you don't always win. During Sozin's Comet you lost your final Agni Kai for the throne of the Fire Nation." He narrowed his eyes with resentment. "That was the duel where you fired lightning at Katara."
"Oh, yes – that," said Azula casually. "Well, I was not at my best that day, but I'm at my best now. In fact, I'm better than ever. I've become the perfect firebender. In my solitude on this island, I have nothing but time. Since I'm a logical person, I make the best possible use of that. Today, I'm never a single hair out of place on any move – and I'm even stronger than my father ever was."
Aang winced. "There's no way to be sure of that."
"Are you nervous?" Azula questioned him, eyeballing his expression.
"Heh, well – maybe you should be. This is why I found it hard to believe when you said you weren't here to fight. There's no one out there who wants me free – certainly not the Phoenix Army generals. They love to have an Azula trophy figurehead for their own purposes, but the real Azula is a completely different story. The real Azula won't sit back and let them have the spotlight and the power. The real Azula is a force to be reckoned with. The real Azula is something they fear."
Aang stared at her. "I see..."
"I never expected someone to try to free me, since no one has a clear rational reason for doing so. If someone's here, I automatically assume their goal is to fight and try to assassinate me. Not that they have a chance in doing that, of course. But anyway - we're getting off topic. What is it that you need my help for?"
"As you know, in the past I used this obscure bending art called energybending to give airbending abilities to people and rebuild the lost Air Nomad civilization. But one of my students, Icarus, has gone rogue. He's overthrown the old government I helped set up and turned the New Air Nomads into a militaristic absolute monarchy."
Azula smirked. "Your noble plan really backfired, didn't it?"
"In order to prevent me from taking away his airbending and making things right," Aang continued, "he captured my daughter and says that if I make a move to oppose him, he would kill her."
"Hmm...interesting," Azula said with a nod. She acknowledged what he was saying, but showed no signs of sympathy for his plight.
"I need you to help me rescue her."
"And why would I do that?" asked Azula skeptically.
Aang paused for a moment. "Well, this mission would involve you coming to the Southern Air Temple with me. You would be out of this place."
"You're getting ahead of yourself, Avatar," Azula told him. "I would have left here long ago, but the security right now is strong enough to hold even me. What makes you think you have the capability of escaping? You may be trapped here, like I am."
Aang groveled at the thought of being imprisoned here with Azula. "It's possible. Where there's a will, there's a way."
"But why me?" she asked. "Why not one of your friends? You have plenty of friends I'd expect you to turn to for this kind of thing."
"I'm not able to turn to them for this," Aang answered.
"What about the girl's mother? What about Katara, the waterbender?"
"Katara is definitely not able to help with this."
"Well, at the battle at the Fire Nation Capital – the turning point in the civil war – I used a powerful energybending attack to defeat the enemy forces. I had to perform it with another person, so I did the motions with her. But it turned out that doing that move meant sucking all the energy out of her body to power the attack."
The fallen Princess of the Fire Nation raised her eyebrows at this revelation and let it sit for a few long moments. "Ha...haha...HAHAHA!" Azula briskly burst into uncontrollable laughter that was agonizing for Aang to listen to. She cocked her head back and closed her eyes, tears creeping down her cheeks. These tears stood out like eyesores to the irritated Avatar. When Azula finally calmed down after a few minutes, she was out of breath. A master firebender was almost never out of breath, so this was an uncommon sight.
"Why did you find that funny?" Aang asked furiously.
"It's hilarious," said Azula, relishing the moment. "Wow. You have done more damage than I ever have. I assumed things would be 'happily-ever-after' for you once the Hundred Year War was over, but this is quite an ironic twist. There was a reason I always knew that you and I would never be found on the same side. You were too moral to be in my reach. When Zuko joined with your group, Zuko moved up a level, but with all I've done, I would never be able to reach up to your level. But instead, you've moved down to my level! Welcome to the moral low ground, Avatar!"
"Enough!" Aang rose to his feet with rage and assumed his fighting stance.
Azula's smile vanished in an instant and she took her fighting stance to mirror his. "Easy, Avatar. Are you really sure you want to fight me?"
Aang remembered why he came and loosened himself. "No, that's not what I came here to do."
"So...why me?" asked Azula once again. "You never fully answered my question, Avatar."
"Well," Aang answered, "there's a door. It's in the air temple where my daughter is being held hostage. It's like the ones from the Avatar temples in the Fire Nation – where they can only be opened by blasts of fire. But I've come to believe this door requires two blasts to open: one of regular fire and one of blue fire."
"Ah," said Azula with a smug grin spreading across her face. "Of course." With that, she pulled her arms to her chest and took a deep breath. Then she exhaled and shot an enormous sapphire-like flaming disc into the air, startling Aang. The disc rotated and broke into little pieces, each of which hovered toward the walls and lit the candles hanging from the ceiling. Now the entire room was illuminated with a flickering, blue lighting.
Aang stared up in amazement. "I see you haven't lost your touch."
Azula smiled widely. "Never."
"By the way, what is blue fire, exactly?" asked Aang curiously.
"Colored fire is of a mysterious nature," said Azula in response. "It's an extremely rare concoction only practiced by a select few gifted firebenders. Some say that those who can bend colored flames have blood from the dragons flowing through their veins, but I don't believe that. It's just a myth."
"When your brother and I went to the city of the Sun Warriors, we found dragons there. They taught us the true meaning of firebending. They showed us all sorts of colored fire: blue, green, purple, white, black, brown, pink, yellow and more."
"That's because dragons harness the power of all colors of fire. Each human can only bend one special color, if any at all." Aang was reminded of when he first learned energybending. Humans were only able to bend some energy, but spirits could bend all energy.
"Why is it that colored firebenders are so few?" asked Aang. "Is it really that rare a gift?"
"Well, they were a rarity even prior to the Hundred Year War, but they're almost nonexistent now," replied Azula. "There were a couple purges. My great-grandfather Fire Lord Sozin had all the colored firebenders in the Fire Nation military in a special unit. They were sent to the Western Air Temple in the campaign against the airbenders, as the Western Air Temple was the largest of the four. They played a decisive role in some early battles in the Earth Kingdom, so the Earth Kingdom began targeting them and almost wiped them out. Years later, under Fire Lord Azulon, the Fire Nation had forgotten the service that colored firebenders had done for them and a negative stigma about colored firebenders began spreading. Since blue and green were the colors of the Water Tribes and Earth Kingdom, their loyalty was questioned and people superstitiously believed they were possessed by evil spirits. So, the Fire Nation started targeting them within their own population. They were almost hunted to extinction by the time things changed."
"How did things change?"
"Through me, of course," stated Azula. She clearly thought she was pointing out the obvious. "I was a firebending prodigy from a young age and eventually, it was discovered that I was a colored firebender. My father realized this and, rather than admit that something was wrong with the royal family, changed the nation's policy and went out of his way to find me a teacher who could teach me the sub-skill. He finally found Mizio, who had been a noble before the government targeted his kind. Actually he was a cousin of the royal family, on my mother's side. He was also a descendant of Avatar Roku. He taught me to alter the fire I bent and augment it to a new nature. Of course, his color was green, not blue, and he passed away when I was twelve. Naturally I had to figure out a lot about bending colored fire on my own."
As Azula finished her brief history lesson, Aang felt anger at the fact that this skill had been used to help wipe out his people, but he knew that this was not the time and place to linger on that. "And how is blue fire different from regular fire?"
"Each color of fire has unique properties. Blue fire has more energy and does not need as much strain from the bender to control, so they can save their stamina. It's also hotter, burns with more intensity and lasts longer. If one can bend a color, it has to do with the traits of the person which color they can bend."
"What about the other colors?" asked Aang curiously.
"I don't remember all of them," Azula answerd, "although I do remember that purple can be dangerous – not just to those who come in contact with it, but to those who bend it as well. Mizio told me to watch out for purple fire if I ever saw it. But I've never seen any other color besides blue and green. All colored firebenders have become rarer and rarer. At this point, I may even be unique."
Aang nodded. "This is why I need you. You're the only person I know of who can do this. That's why it was prophesized that I had to find you."
"Prophesized?" repeated Azula quizzically. "You didn't tell me about that part."
"It was in a vision from the Lion Turtle – the creature who introduced me to energybending in the first place. He said on my new journey I would have to seek out the one least expected for help when I had trouble on my hands. That time is now. My daughter's in trouble, and you're the one least expected."
"Hmmm...I see," said Azula, nodding in acknowledgement.
"The problem is...I don't know how I'm supposed to trust you."
"Well, you're in a pretty sticky spot then," Azula told him. "I'm no expert on trust myself. It's something I've struggled with in the past. Trust is a concept I've been forced into accepting."
"What do you mean?"
"When I was younger I hardly trusted anyone. The only trust I had was misplaced in my father and my friends. My whole life was dedicated to my father and his plans during the Hundred Year War. I longed for a real connection with at least one of my parents, but I was simply a tool to his ends. I realized that all-too-late. As for Mai and Ty Lee, I trusted them some of the time, but I never really tried to gain their trust. I always tried to manipulate and control them. When they betrayed me, it was a major factor that led to my losing my sanity. So I went to the mental hospital, and I was all alone, with not a person in the world by my side. All I had to hold onto was my firebending, so I dedicated myself back to that. The doctors told me that I would never regain sanity and my firebending would suffer unless I learned to trust people again. I trust people in small doses now, but I prefer not to – call it doctors' orders. Trust sometimes has its uses, I'll admit. But controlling people is so much...simpler."
"I see," said Aang slowly. "That's all interesting, but it doesn't explain why I should trust you."
"You say that like it's a one-way path, Avatar," countered Azula. "There's also the issue of why I should trust you."
"Why is that an issue?"
"I can see right through you, Avatar. I know you don't care for me one bit – not that I need your approval. You should trust me because it's not rational for me to betray you on this mission after I'm out of here. I'll be making a fresh new start in the world and I don't want to begin my debut with betrayal. After dealing with you, I would inevitably want to deal with others as well. Redeem yourself – you must know where I'm coming from; I might redeem myself, but no one ever thinks to give me a chance I have to be a woman of my word, because....well, let's just say its good for business."
Aang paused. Although this was well-articulated, he was far from satisfied with her words. "Do you still think of your father? Does he have anything to do with your wanting to be the 'perfect firebender' now?"
"No," she said in disgust. "I have nothing to say to him – everything I do now I do for me. It's a stretch to call that man my father. Really, he was more like my master. I was to be used for his purposes. While I was in the mental facility, I continued to dream of his love and approval. In order to leave that place, I had to let that desire go. Up until that point, I was simply who he had wanted me to be. I was never really myself until I was twenty."
"I still don't know if I can trust you now," stated Aang. "I think my coming here was a mistake."
Azula laughed. "Like you have any other options."
"I do have other options," said Aang stubbornly.
"Spare me, Avatar," scoffed Azula. "You have no other options. If you had any other options, you wouldn't be here. You will leave here with me today – or your daughter will continue to suffer. You're determined to do whatever it takes to rescue her, and for that, you need a blast of blue fire. I'm not just your last resort. I'm your only resort."
"You are...absolutely correct," said Aang after brief hesitation.
"That's better," said Azula triumphantly. "You needn't worry, Avatar. It's been a long learning process, but I now know that fear can't always get you everything."
"Okay," said Aang finally. "So we leave here, then we rescue my daughter."
"How do we escape? I lost my glider getting in and you've been here longer than I have."
"Well, I found it most curious when you mentioned the door tonight," stated Azula casually. "It turns out that I have one just like it. Follow me." She turned and walked through the door on the opposite side of the room from the way that Aang had initially entered that night. There was a shadowy hallway of about twenty-five feet which she led him down. At the other end was a large double-door. Azula moved her hand to create a small blue flame above her palm, so that they could see the door now.
"Is this the way out?" asked Aang.
"Yes," confirmed Azula. "It's just like the one your little girl is behind, only the dragon's heads here are blue and green. Maybe they're mocking me with the fact that my old teacher's color was green. Anyhow, it's something I can't open because I can only bend blue flames."
"What am I supposed to do?" asked Aang. "I can't bend any type of colored fire, as far as I know. Being the Avatar doesn't help me here."
"True, but even if being the Avatar doesn't suffice in-and-of-itself, you are a powerful firebender. Perhaps it's a skill you have the potential for that you've never tried. You said the Lion Turtle – or whatever – told you this was destined. If this really is meant to be, you'll be able to perform it and your color will be green."
"Okay, so how do I try it?"
"Just look inside yourself and be one with the fire. Put your character into your breaths and release it in a blast."
Aang had hoped for some more helpful advice that he could understand. This was ludicrous, but perhaps it was not entirely impossible. Azula's teacher, Mizio, had bended green fire – and he was a descendant of Roku, Aang's most recent past life. Could there be a distant spiritual connection between them Aang could access? He was also with Azula, who was another descendant of Avatar Roku. Aang was regretting his falling out with his previous reincarnation, but now was not the time to dwell on that. Every second he was here, Vameira was enduring her captivity – and who knew what that was like for her? Aang closed his eyes and thought of Roku, whose guidance he could use at a time like this. Roku would surely not be pleased with Aang for his descent into energybending.
Aang's eyes glowed, shining bright enough so that Azula no longer needed to hold her flame. "Ah, you're doing some Avatar mumbo-jumbo," Azula said out loud, knowing that Aang could not hear her at the moment. "Fine then, consult your spirits. Just don't take long. I'm not a patient person."
Aang was standing on a tall, stone pillar among several, before a vast ocean under a red sky. It was twilight and he was standing in what appeared to be Wulong Forest on the day of Sozin's Comet. Aang saw something gigantic flying towards him over the horizon. What this a test? Would he have to fight Ozai here, in the Spirit World? No, it did not appear to be so. The approaching flying object was not an a Fire Nation Airship. It was a dragon.
Aang prepared himself to face the music with the past Avatar he should have listened to about energybending, but soon he saw that Fang's back was bare and that Roku was not with him.
"I see," said Aang aloud. "Roku won't deal with me directly now, so he sent you along to help me."
But when Fang was right in front of Aang, his nostrils flared and he gave Aang a look as though he were looking at fresh prey which would soon become his supper. Aang started to take a fighting stance, but then remembered that he could not bend in the Spirit World. The lonely Avatar panicked before the terrifying creature. Aang had nowhere to go, being stranded up here without his bending. He remembered feeling like this when he visited Ran and Shaw for the first time, with Zuko. They had appeared to be cornered, but they did the dragon dance prior to being judged. There was no dancing here, but Aang decided to pretend to do firebending moves. It couldn't hurt, he told himself.
Suddenly, the look in Fang's eyes told him to stop. Aang stood still resolved to remain calm, as though he were with Koh. He did not see what good this would do, though. Fang opened his mouth and blew fire at him. Aang lifted his arms to cover his face in vain, but soon found that this was not necessary. The "flames" were transparent and harmless, like a ghost. It felt like being tickled. Fang closed his mouth and lowered his head, as though bowing to the younger Avatar. It was just like meeting the Lion Turtle for the first time.
At long last, Aang understood. The knowledge had been given.
Aang was back in the physical world now. Without even thinking about it – as though he were a puppet being moved by unseen strings, Aang pulled his right arm back with a clenched fist and punched the air in front of him. His fire blast shone the color of an exotic emerald. "I did it!" he cried out in amazement. "I made green fire!"
"Congratulations," said Azula with a smirk. "Your color is green."
"What's green fire supposed to be like?" Aang questioned.
"As I recall, it's not as intense as blue fire, or even regular fire for that matter," Azula explained. "It's a cooler type of flame, but it's also harder to put out and will last longer if left on its own. Those are its basic properties."
"I see," said Aang. "And what does it say about the person?"
"The colors of blue, purple and green are somewhat related to one another," said Azula. "They represent health, wealth and relationships, respectively – the three spheres of human desire. Green is for relationships."
Thinking about his devotion to his family and his drive to restore the Air Nomads, this seemed to make sense for him. "What about power and ruling over people?"
"That falls under the wealth category – and purple fire."
"Purple is the dangerous color you mentioned earlier, right?" asked Aang.
"Correct," confirmed Azula. "These all bring your personality into your firebending – and these types of firebenders tend to be defined by their personality in everything they do."
"I see," said Aang. Although this was new to him, he was finding all this fascinating.
"Now let's open this door," said Azula impatiently.
"Right," agreed Aang. And with that, the two master firebenders positioned themselves in front of their corresponding colored dragon heads and shot blue and green flames, which triggered the mechanical devices within the door to turn and open the way forward for them. Soon they would be doing the same with the door at the Southern Air Temple, Aang thought to himself.
A short hallway was revealed that led outside. No sooner had the door opened, than two Fire Army guards rushed to confront them. They were both infantrymen in distinct red uniforms with long, sharp pike spears for weapons.
Aang wasted no time in bending his knees and kicking sideways across his body, sending a green arc of fire at the new arrivals.
One of the guards was flabbergasted by Aang's attack. "That airbender just threw green fire at us!"
The other guard rolled his eyes at his comrade's comment and continued to point his pike at Aang and Azula. "Obviously, he's not just any airbender then."
Aang knew what they meant. Since the world had changed in the past two decades, being an airbender was no longer exclusive with being the Avatar. By bending an element other than his native one, he had exposed himself to them. They could see that Azula was breaking out – and that he was involved in it. Soon the word would spread. How would he ever explain this to everyone? The Avatar refused to waste any time on his new task, and thus had not told any of his friends that he was coming here ahead of time. He did not have the time to worry about that now. He had no choice but to carry on doing what he was doing.
Azula hurled a fireball at the other guard, knocking him back, and turned to Aang. "Enough wasting time here. Where's your glider?"
"I saw it fall toward this wing of the building, but it's on the upper level," he responded.
She gave him a swift gesture. "Hop on my back."
Aang locked his arms around Azula's neck and placed the soles of his feet on her hips, with his knees bent. With two tremendous bursts of flame, she used jet propulsion to bring them up into the air, supporting both their body weights without breaking a sweat.
When they reached the top of the structure, Aang saw his glider, still undamaged. He snatched it up immediately. "Got it!" he declared. He proceeded to yank his bison whistle from his Air Nomad tunic and gave it a powerful airbending-enhanced blow to signal Appa.
The two guards that Aang and Azula encountered were now standing in their captain's office, their heads hung in shame as they delivered the news. "Sh-she has escaped, Sir," one of them uttered, downtrodden.
"What?! That's ridiculous!" said the superior officer dismissively. "There was no way she could have left this place on her own."
"She had help from the outside," his subordinate responded simply.
The older officer looked horrified at this news. "We must inform the Fire Lord immediately. Who was it that helped her escape? Was it a Phoenix Army advocate – someone on the island, perhaps?"
The young man gulped. "It was....Avatar Aang, Sir."
"There's something fishy going on," said Aang, clutching his giant sky bison's reins with both hands.
"What do you mean?" asked Azula.
"The door at the Southern Air Temple is blue and red. You're the only person I had ever seen bending blue flame. Over here, there's a door that's blue and green. I had never used any colored fire before in my life and 'my color' just happened to be green. That was...convenient. Too convenient, in fact. I feel like we used up all our good luck back there."
Azula scoffed. "You worry too much, Avatar. So this is what its like to fly on this thing," she added casually, staring down at the furry creature she was now riding. "Meh, I'll take my airship any day of the week."
Appa uttered a noticeable grunt. "You'd better not insult him," Aang told her, annoyed. "He might shake you off."
"Then I suggest you restrain that hairy beast from doing so," snapped Azula. "Otherwise, I won't be able to help you and your daughter will rot away in your Air Temple."
Aang rolled his eyes. "Let's just focus on the task at hand, shall we?"
"Fine," she conceded. "We'll go save your little girl. Then we can go our separate ways. You'll go find a way to cure your wifey, and I'll be free to pursue my own ambitions. I've looked forward to this day, although I never pictured it happening like this. My time in isolation is finally over. So...is the world ready for Azula's return? We'll find out!"
Her tone of voice did not relieve Aang's uneasiness. "What do you intend to do?"
"Anything I want." Azula's lips curled. "This is going to be a long ride, isn't it? In that case, I'm going to take a nap. Wake me when we get to the Air Temple." She made herself at home and spread her back across Appa's saddle.
She was unlike any other companion he had traveled with before. Something they shared in common was that they were both seeking second chances from a life they had clung to and lost. Other than that, their similarities were scarce. What had brought them together was that they each wanted something that only the other could give them. Azula wanted to roam free and Aang wanted Vameira safe and sound. The parameters of their association were explicitly defined by what they had discussed with each other – and why they would each hold up their side of the bargain. It was platonic and business-like, with no personal feeling attached.
As the Avatar, Aang had compassion for all people, since by default all people were his people. However, he did not particularly have compassion for Azula. At the very least he disliked her. In fact, Aang quite possibly more-than-disliked her, but only time would tell the degree of his sentiment. He did not yet know enough about the person his former adversary had grown up into. What was important to him now was Vameira. His new comrade said that she would help him rescue Vameira...but what then? They were not friends, they were partners in redemption – and the future held no guarantees.
As Azula fell asleep, Aang was left to himself, wondering.
Wondering if what he had just done was the right thing.
TO BE CONTINUED...
- Special thanks to his character review prior to writing this chapter. . The author re-read
- There were originally two other scenes in this chapter: one in the Southern Water Tribe and one in Omashu. They were ultimately cut for a two reasons: the chapter was long enough without them and including them would just have distracted from the main storyline of the chapter.
- This chapter begins and ends with flying on Appa, which is common for Energy Saga chapters.
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