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|The Ghost of an Avatar's Past|
Previously on Energy Saga
With a little convincing from Toph, Aang decides to try contacting Avatar Doru Kun in the Great Earth Temple in Ba Sing Se, in order to shed some light on the Lion Turtle's words and how to save Katara. While he's in meditation, though, a revolt breaks out in Ba Sing Se and his friends fight off hordes of Dai Li agents and Chao Feng's clique who try to capture him. As matters grow more intense, Aang finally manages to reach out to his distant past life.
Chapter Thirty-Seven: The Ghost of an Avatar's Past
Ba Sing Se, 95 AG
The constant presence of peril reigned at the Outer Wall of Ba Sing Se during the ever-apparent wave of siege. On one end, there was the might of the forcefully-expanding Fire Nation; on the other was the capital of the Earth Kingdom: the impenetrable city. An unstoppable force had met an immovable object. And each side loathed the other, with most of those who fought having at least two generations before them in the same, unending conflict that had consumed the world. The very idea of peace no longer existed in memory – only stories. All those who recalled it were long gone, and the reality they knew might as well have been folklore, like the Avatar – and the Air Nomads of old.
The Earth Kingdom had set up a more-or-less permanent base just inside the Outer Wall, where they coordinated their resistance and sent massive waves of troops to do battle with the Fire Nation on the other side. Above ground, countless benders and warriors were housed and trained for combat. Just below ground, in the lower part of this base, were a far more unkempt and quiet set of quarters. It was where prisoners of war were held, and was only accessible through a spiraling stairwell opened through earthbending. The stairwell was ordinarily closed, but it was ajar at the present. A pair of voices rang from above, which gradually grew louder. It was a man and a woman.
"This is ridiculous!" snapped the woman. "It's unfair, Commander!"
"You're lucky you're not court-martialed, Captain!" the man snapped back.
"How about just thanking me," suggested the female captain. "Because of my latest assault, we gained more ground than we have in weeks and we brought back two armored tundra tanks."
The male commander shook his head. "You don't get it, do you? It was a foolish move you made. You nearly got your whole platoon killed, Captain. You behaved irrationally out there. General Sung is furious!"
"Hah, General Sung! I'd love to give him a piece of my mind. The most incompetent general ever – he has no nerve. I had to make a move for him."
"I'd keep your mouth shut," her commander told her sternly, "unless you want to be charged with insubordination, too."
She remained angry, but calmed herself with a deep breath. "How long have we been fighting this battle for? A year? Maybe a little more? It's a dire situation when these fiery tyrants have finally grown arrogant enough to go for Ba Sing Se. It's time we ended it!"
"Hah – ending it," said the man, laughing without humor. "That's thinking impossibly far ahead. Now you really are being irrational. You are confined to barracks for the time being, where you will guard the new, important prisoner. Those are your orders, Captain Ratana."
Captain Ratana begrudgingly saluted her superior and hung her head, reluctantly accepting her punishment for going against the accursed general's wishes. She knew that her place was on the battlefield. It was where she belonged. Instead, she was down in this dump that harbored captives from the Fire Nation. Now, there was one from the Earth Kingdom, too. She marched gloomily to her new post: a confined area that held a single prisoner - meant for extra security. Aside from the bricked walls and the steel bars of unbendable metal, there was only a small desk that her direct commanding officer sometimes used, with naught but a messy stack of papers and a rusted tea kettle atop it. Ratana peered into the cell with her eyes blazing, at her only company down here, a man of about her age – one of those she fought.
The man was as cheerful as she was the opposite. "Ratana of Gaipan, my personal prison guard. I never thought I'd see the day."
Ratana narrowed her eyes. "You're the one I've been wanting to fight most. I'm a champion bender on my side, and you on yours. I've been looking forward to meeting you. Now, the time finally comes – and you're a damned prisoner of war!"
"Sounds like you're somewhat of a prisoner yourself," he said matter-of-factly. "I could hear your voices all the way down the hall."
"You should not have been listening!" Ratana snapped at him.
"Easy, there," said the man, putting up a hand. "You'd better control your temper down here. From what I hear, your general doesn't want me harmed."
"No," she replied, shaking her head. "Not yet, anyway. I'm sure he plans to give you a swift, public execution when the time comes." She was eager to wipe that smug smile off his firebender face.
The man, however, was not in the least put off by these words. "Doesn't matter. I'll have escaped from this place long before then."
"You seem awfully sure of yourself."
"Well, I'm not one to toot my horn... but I am my father's son. I've been captured three times before and I've never needed any assistance to bust myself out. This whole ordeal is nothing new to me. It's like a game I play, over and over."
"You haven't had me as your guard before," said Ratana, staring piercingly straight into his eyes. "Whatever you try to pull here, I'll catch you and stop you! I always find a way to do what I must. Since I was younger I've had to fend for myself. I don't expect one in your position to understand that. You've had everything handed to you."
The prisoner shook his head. "Oh, no. Growing up in among us is no fire gummy cakewalk. Only the strong survive in my family. Any show of weakness is not tolerated, even from children. My grandfather doesn't believe in the concept of a proper childhood. My dad's different from the rest of them, though. He would bring me to play in the palace courtyard and tell me bedtime stories of the first firebenders... and the first earthbenders."
"Why would your father tell you of the badgermoles? That's ours!" said Ratana, as though the thought of them discussing the topic offended her.
The man shrugged calmly. "My dad always made a point of knowing and understanding everyone, not just ourselves."
"I was never particularly close to my father," Ratana said with her arms crossed. "But when I was little, he also told me the story of Oma, Shu and the badgermoles."
"Well, what do you know," said the man cheerfully. "We're not completely different."
"Not every version of the story is accurate," said Ratana, narrowing her eyes again. "I doubt the one you heard was."
"I'll tell you my version and you can tell me anything you find wrong with it," said the man, grinning slyly. "In the meantime, why don't you get us some tea," he added, gesturing to the rusted kettle on the officer's desk. "It's a long story, after all."
Ratana's eyes lit up in fury. She was aggravated that he dared to put forward such a familiarity with her, but in a few seconds, she settled. "Sure, why not? We're both stuck here for the time being."
"I hope it's jasmine. Jasmine's my favorite."
Ba Sing Se, 121 AG
That siege and the war it was a part of had long ended. The world had finally received a taste of the peace it yearned for, but that was not the case now. Another fight was happening in Ba Sing Se. General Sung had retired a few years ago, but some who served alongside had returned to action, including General How, Head of the Council of Five. How, along with his comrades Fong and Tyro, positioned himself atop an ostrich horse at the seam of the wall that divided the Upper Ring from the Middle Ring – a short handful of blocks from the Earth Kingdom Royal Palace. Behind the three generals was a formidable lineup of Earth Kingdom Royal Guard troops with dark armor and lime-green feathered helmets. Ordinarily, they would be at the palace protecting the king. Today, however, they were just as useful protecting the king here as they were back at the palace. Soon they would be facing the oncoming Lower Ring Revolt.
"Haru is in town now," Tyro aloofly uttered aloud. "I wonder how he's coping." On the other side of the dividing wall, the sound of the crowd was becoming louder and closer by the second.
"If I were you, I would put personal thoughts aside and focus on your duty to your king and your country," Fong said monotonously, facing forward.
As Tyro turned irritably to Fong, How put up a hand to signal him to halt. "We don't have time for the two of you to have you usual squabbles. We're going to need every ounce of energy we have for when they get here."
"For our enemies, you mean?" asked Fong bluntly.
"For when we fight... the insurgency," said How awkwardly.
Fong did not have time to say anything else in response as the towering wall was shattered like broken glass, revealing a mob of lower-class citizens of all ages, shapes and sizes – and a good number of whom were presumably able earthbenders. General How had hoped that the presence of such a well-suited and well-equipped army would be an intimidating sight and that those in the uprising would give up some of their resolve. Instead, they viewed the royal symbol on the soldiers' uniforms with disgust, and they attacked the flanks without hesitation. Despite their lesser military experience and lack of advanced armor or weaponry, the mob soon became too much for the Earth King's troops, who were routed and driven back.
How watched in shock as Fong and Tyro were shaken from their horses and dragged across the ground, being kicked and insulted with every passing second. Now, he was the only one in charge of this doomed outfit. Although half of his men were no longer standing, How made a vow to himself that he would fight on with his all until the end – but that was something he soon reconsidered.
For many years, How had been well-regarded by all of his Earth King's subjects. He had served them with distinction against the Fire Nation. As for now, although he was not a representative of his countrymen, but of the "old government" they adamantly denounced. Now came the inevitable: the revolutionaries swarmed into the Upper Ring. Their futile line of defense had been crushed.
Defeated, How gazed at the faces of the revolutionaries. They were not at all like those of the Fire Nation he once fought. It was not hatred he found in their eyes, but the yearning desperation that comes from going through a painful struggle. It did not seem right to make war on one's own people like this. Then again, if they were doing the same, how could one say they were of the same "people?" General How, though, would not have much longer to ponder that. He would not have much longer - period.
Great Earth Temple
"How much longer you think this will take?" Sokka asked, exasperated, as he brought his long blade about to meet that of his opponent before kicking him in the chest and knocking him to the ground, taking a fraction of a second to catch his breath before getting his next customer.
"Hopefully not long," Toph answered matter-of-factly as she kicked the ground and levitated a couple small boulders she hurled at their anonymous enemies. "Aang must already be asking Doru Kun about Katara."
"We'll see how much good it'll do," said Sokka, downcast.
"A lot!" snapped Kaddo, while concentrating hard on keeping an assailant at bay with swift slashes of his water whip.
"Any minute now, the Avatar should reemerge," Trinley interjected thoughtfully. Unlike the rest of them, he was not in the midst of heated battle. Instead, he poised himself in the entrance to the room behind the altar, where he used his airbending to deflect sais or shove away the occasional on-comer who managed to break through their line of defense. "Once he comes out to join us, we can all escape and put Doru Kun's advice into action together."
They were all much more in control of the situation than they were before. Gathered together at the rear of the temple's chamber, each of them had settled into their position. Sokka, Suki and Hinko collectively fought three opponents at once with their swords – or in Suki's case, fans. Beside them the younger crowd of benders – Tenzin, Kaddo, Vameira, Sakema and Neinei, whom most of them now knew as Rouyu – halted the advances by hitting them with their various elements. Of course, no matter how many times these enemies were knocked over, they always got up again. Migo and Toph stood side-by-side, lining the enormous room with earth trench after earth trench. They were throwing rocks less often at this point, as the trenches had proven more effective in buying them time, as the others were fairly agile and capable of dodging boulders. As Trinley continued to guard the hidden door, he noticed that they were gaining an edge, and that their combined efforts appeared to be working. Any adversary who tried to force their way through to the Avatar or leap past the defenses was soon driven back.
But then, a hoard of small objects whizzed through the grand doorway and into the temple. Sokka had noticed them as soon as they made contact with the floor. Popping noises sounded from separate corners of the chamber and drafty puffs emitted from the new artifacts. As the smoke filled the room, Sokka recalled where he had encountered similar weapons. He had glimpsed those exact kind of object over two decades ago, during an adventure involving a rare waterbending scroll. It had been stolen by Katara from a band of pirates, who had in turn stole it from another waterbender. That coveted scroll had been long forgotten, though, once the pirates decided to fight the Fire Nation soldiers for the prize of the Avatar instead.
The fighters in the temple dressed in black suddenly relinquished their stances. This had not come as much of a surprise for them. Meanwhile, Tenzin and Trinley both swung their arms about simultaneously, directing the air currents and pushing outward to expel the obscuring vapor from their area, allowing them to see what was in front of them.
When the smoke cleared, a tall, bearded man was present. He wore the same outfit as the other unknown figures, except that he lacked a face covering. The symbol on his chest was colorful, with the eye of the central moon decorated bright red on the left side, purple on the orb in the middle and pale, sky-blue on the right. A set of round beads lined the necklace just above his shoulder-level. Two long, kodachi blade daggers rested on either side of his belt. The man's eyes were sharp and looked as though they were trained to strike fear wherever they stared. "I come for the Avatar."
"We know that," Migo responded loudly, as he rotated his straight knee-cap and kicked the floor forcefully, levitating part of the square stone tile into the air. "We come to stop you." With that, he punched the air, sending the rock projectile at the one he addressed.
He swerved slightly in response, doing a minimal motion of evasion so that the rocky tile passed inches from his body. Brother Memnon did not skip a heartbeat over this. "Step aside and nobody else gets harmed today."
"No!" shouted Migo, readying another tile.
Brother Memnon brandished a large, three-sectioned san-ja-gun nunchuku. The nunchuk spanned over four feet in total, and the divisions matched the symbol on his clothes: red on one side, blue on the other and purple in the middle. Once he drew it from his tunic, however, he grasped the midsection with a clenched fist and swung the weapon so rapidly that the colors were barely visible. The strength was enough to cut Migo's second oncoming tile in half. Memnon's comrades came back onto the scene and rushed forward, though most of everyone's attention was now focused on him.
Brother Memnon whirled his weapon around and twisted the red third. For a second it appeared that the red part had turned dark. Then it became apparent that spikes had been released from the interior, which must've been hollow. Memnon looked about, then, in a rocking motion, shook the section in the direction of the altar.
The Avatar's friends darted for cover as the miniature, spiny projectiles flew through the air toward them. Trinley managed to deflect the majority with a spiraling gust of air. Sokka found himself pierced in the arm, before subsequently falling to his knees. The Southern Chief struggled back to his feet, holding his sword shakily in front of him. "What, what was that?" he voiced aloud.
The Queen of Omashu bent down and picked up one of the other thorns from the tiled ground. "I rebognize the smell. These darts have the same venom on the tip that I was given. It's a much smaller dose, but it'll still have an effect."
The red nunchuk compartment had another set of spikes prepared, but Brother Memnon pressed the center-edge of the weapon and the darts retreated back to their home within. He reached for the blue section and pulled out a black, five-pointed metallic star – a shuriken! Brother Memnon took hasty aim and hurled it at the opponent of his closest to the secret door – Hinko. Fortunately the well-trained southern warrior dodged by a fraction of an inch.
"Uncle Sokka, are you alright?" asked Vameira, on the verge of a stammer.
"I'll be alright," Sokka answered gruffly. He turned to his wife, who was kneeling over him in shock. "It looks like the red section of that guys weapon has poisoned spikes and the blue one contains shuriken stars. Look where he puts his arm and ready yourself for whatever comes." Suki managed a nod in response.
Avatar Aang sat inside the meditation chamber behind the altar his companions so vigilantly defended. He himself was still oblivious to their struggles, his mind being calm as he found himself opposite the ethereal body of Avatar Doru Kun. Having tried so hard to finally reach this point, Aang at last opened his mouth. "Avatar Doru Kun – it is an honor to meet you. I have much to ask about today. I am Avatar Aang, and-"
Doru Kun, not wasting any time, cut him off. "I know who you are. Part of my power goes to you every time you're in the Avatar State."
Aang was taken aback by the tone of Doru Kun's response. "We're inside the Great Earth Temple in Ba Sing Se. I knew this would be right place to get in touch with you."
Doru Kun winced, as though he did not follow Aang's logic. "Why?"
"Well...you're an Earth Avatar, and Ba Sing Se is the capital of the Earth Kingdom," explained Aang, surprised at being made to do so. "I also used sacred beads that belonged to Avatar Kyoshi."
Doru Kun's eyes narrowed. "I come from one of many kingdoms on the Greater Earth Continent – and my people have always hated the people of Ba Sing Se. And I don't see how another Avatar long after I died has anything to do with this. So...what is your purpose in getting in touch with me, Avatar Aang?"
"A couple of things. First, I have to save my wife. She's...not right. Also, I got a dreamlike vision from the Lion Turtle that says I have to save the world somehow.
"Why would I know about either of those? You should've contacted an Avatar closer to the time you live."
"I've uncovered some things about you," Aang clarified. "I also had this dream – like a past life memory – where I remembered being you – and it was parallel to what I'm facing today. I also visited your shrine in the Cave of the Ancients. It told the story of some of what you encountered as Avatar, which sounded relevant to what I'm having a problem with. That confirmed my suspicion."
"Hmmm," said the spiritual ghost of Aang's past life. Doru Kun was stroking his large beard, pondering this. "Remembering your past life like that doesn't sound like something ordinary for the Avatar Spirit. Any Avatar can contacts their past lives for guidance – as you are now – but that's it. And yes, I know about the Cave of the Ancients. It's far more ancient than I am. I know that it's a sacred ground with mysterious power. You didn't happen to see a giant wolf there, by any chance?"
"Yes, I did," said Aang, nodded. He felt like he was finally getting somewhere in his new journey.
Long Feng gritted his teeth as he stared at the Great Earth Temple, waiting to see signs of what was happening inside. It was not long before he decided that he could bear the uncertain tension no longer. "There is not much time! We have to plan out what our next move is."
"We?!" asked Gitsu in a raised voice.
"Look, I'm sorry about berating you before. Things just weren't going well for us and I had to make myself look better. I'm fully-prepared to reinstate you as my captain. I'd hate to lose you, Gitsu. You've given me much faithful service over the years."
"Yes, I like to think I have."
"What we need to do is decide how we're going to deal with the revolutionaries – who will reach the palace in a matter of minutes. And how we're going to deal with these...people – when the time comes."
"Careful – he's still here," Gitsu whispered to Long Feng cautiously. He was gesturing at the wounded man kneeling on the ground beside them. Chao Feng, however, did not appear to be listening. He had ripped part of his sleeve off, which he was using to bandage his wound from earlier.
Long Feng waved this statement aside. "Nevermind him. He'll soon be done for. We'll just worry about rallying the revolutionaries when they get here."
"What about the Avatar?"
"We'll catch the Avatar somehow if our partners don't," said Long Feng, determined.
"Yes, they're not the kind you can get away with double-crossing," agreed Gitsu. "It's too bad we had to get involved with them in the first place."
"They were the ones who had the plan for today. We wouldn't have been able to do anything without them."
Gitsu raised an eyebrow. "You used to have ideas of your own..."
Wimpering, the once-proud Chao Feng lifted himself to his feet and limped away from the Great Earth Temple, into the streets of the now-chaotic Upper Ring. Long Feng and Gitsu were curious about where he was heading to, but by the time they turned to get a second look, Chao Feng was nowhere to be seen.
Great Earth Temple
"So how do you think I can help with this?" asked Doru Kun.
"I need to know more about energies and energybending," explained Aang. "You fought an energybender. This is about the power of the one you saved humanity from."
"Do you mean...The Mystic?"
"Yeah. It said on the tablet: 'the one who could numb the body, disable all bending, torture the soul and embed unrivaled fear in the bravest of spirits.'"
Doru Kun nodded. "That's him, alright. In the beginning, he was an eccentric wanderer. I don't know who he was before that or from where he originated. He was just known as 'The Mystic.' All I know is that he stumbled upon the Spirit Library and uncovered ancient information. After that, he disappeared for a while and came back a master in a lost art. It was sort of like bending that we know, but different – not exactly in harmony with nature. I never found out too much about it. I just knew that he was using it and he needed to be stopped."
"It's called energybending," Aang told him.
"So, you already know of it?"
"Yes, it's around today."
"How can that be?" asked Doru Kun, surprised. "I thought that I made sure it was gone for good after I finished The Mystic off!"
Aang broke eye contact with his past life. "Well, I sort of brought it back into the world myself."
"Why would you do that?!" asked Doru Kun, gawking at him.
"I thought it would be good for the world," Aang stated with guilt. "I used it to bring back my people. That was my main motivation. I made the world as I thought it should be. I thought that I was being helpful, but really I was being selfish."
"You'll have to watch out," said Doru Kun seriously. "An Avatar corrupted is his own worst enemy."
"I know that now," said Aang reassuringly. "I started to think better of it. I want to put things right now. Anyway, go on."
Doru Kun grimaced, but continued with his tale as Aang requested. "When The Mystic resurfaced, he began a reign of terror, harnessing incredible power that no one in any nation had ever heard of. As the Avatar, I went to confront him. Although I didn't know of his power, I knew that he was a threat. I also heard that he could effect other people's bending abilities. Fortunately, I was learned in the art of the sword from an elder in the village I grew up in. I thought I would be prepared for anything, but nothing could've prepared me for when I faced The Mystic. He wiped out my entire Avatar Legion before the day was done."
"What do you mean by 'Avatar Legion?'" askd Aang curiously.
"I guess you wouldn't know, since I was the last Avatar to have it. It used to be a tradition carried on by all Avatars. The Avatar Legion was a trusted faction – hand-picked by the Avatar himself or herself – to help the Avatar in keeping the balance when it was too much for the Avatar alone. It consisted of those from each part of the world and remained distinct from any nation. Since a traditional legion is one thousand men, the Avatar Legion would have two-hundred-fifty from each element – generally benders, sometimes non-benders."
"I see. Interesting."
"I made sure to include some from all parts of the world, except for the firebenders," Doru Kun added. "I only allowed Sun Warriors for them."
"Why only Sun Warriors for the firebenders?" asked Aang quizzically. "I visited their temple once. They were hidden away. They were thought to be long extinct!"
"Hah! The Sun Warriors are the best firebenders in the world – everyone knows that! They may be a distant civilization on one of the more remote Fire Isles, but they're more powerful than all the Ember Estates and the Fire Sages' Theocracy combined."
Aang thought about this for a bit, then shook his head at himself. "The world that you lived in was clearly a much different place than mine. We only have so much time, so let's get back on topic. What more can you tell me about The Mystic? How did he kill everyone in your Avatar Legion?"
"The Mystic had a lot of unexpected tricks with his new power," explained Doru Kun. "Not only did he harness incredible force, but it was like he was in your thoughts the whole time. He had a move where he gradually drew power on an individual and said there could be trouble if we attacked him then. Whomever he was feeding energy from seemingly had their life endangered then."
Aang was now reminded of the Avatar State, which he, like other Avatars before him, used to call upon the strength and skill of his past lives, but this put those past lives – and the Avatar Spirit itself – at risk. "I never learned how to do that, but it sounds like energybending, all right. I remember learning this one move called the energy shove, where energy from in you is temporarily pushed out in an attack. There was once a move to counter that by preventing that energy from returning to your body, but there was no point in me trying to do that, since there are no more energybenders around."
Doru Kun raised an eyebrow. "Did you come to seek my wisdom or to give me your wisdom?" He continued, ignoring Aang's scowl. "I couldn't really see his energy going in and out of his body, but it seemed like he did do something of that nature. At the end of the day, though, when it was just down to me and him, he concentrated himself for something big."
"Was it Shuten Shogai?" Aang had never had to concentrate himself when he performed the dreaded move, but he could not help but believe he was about to find out what he was looking for.
"It's when an energybender sucks someone else's energy out of their body and converts it into raw destructive power."
"No, it wasn't that," said Doru Kun, shaking his head. "It was something when his eyes went black."
"What do you mean 'his eyes went black?'" asked Aang, baffled.
"I mean exactly what it sounds like!" said Doru Kun impatiently. "His eyes became orbs of pitch darkness, like staring into them was staring into space – not like they were empty sockets, but a boundless, night-filled void. When this happened, he harnessed even more incredible power than he had before. It was pretty much his version of the Avatar State."
"So what did you do?"
"I showed him my version of the Avatar State. I glowed my eyes with the light of my past lives and clashed against his unknown force with the force of all the Avatars. It was a bitter struggle, but I struck him down him in the end. And so, The Mystic was no more."
The current Avatar nodded his head, thoughtful, but frowning. "What about the move I mentioned before, with the sucking out of others' energy? Did he ever do that?"
"Yes, come to think of it," confirmed Avatar Doru Kun. "He did it several times before the last part of our battle. The people he used for weren't themselves afterwards. It was like they were as good as dead."
"Did you ever find a way to cure them?" asked Aang anxiously.
Doru Kun shook his head. "No. Is this the main reason why you contacted me?"
"Yes," said Aang with disappointment creeping through his throat. "Without knowing what it truly was, I did that move with my wife." Aang prepared himself for more scolding from his previous incarnation.
Doru Kun, however, did not oblige. "I'm very sorry to hear that, Avatar Aang," he said solemnly. "It looks like I won't be able to help you today."
"Well, there was something else," Aang went on. "The Lion Turtle told me it was about saving the world again. So, was that the end of it?"
"Not quite," Doru Kun continued. "After I defeated him, I still didn't how The Mystic had come to have what he did, but I wanted to make sure it didn't come back into the world again. I retraced his steps to the Spirit Library. Wan Shi Tong told me about his visit and showed me where he looked. We both realized what a danger it was to the balance, so we got rid of all the information together."
"That's right," Aang interrupted. "One of my old teachers told me Wan Shi Tong destroyed the section on energybending. Did you look at any of the information before destroying it?"
"No, that was not my mission," Doru Kun informed him. "I remember vague terminology on energies, controlling energies, the Pre-Avatar Era, world-shaping, but I did not dwell on them. My task was to seal away the knowledge forever. That is why I made sure everything in that section was gone."
"One scroll survived. I have it with me."
"I see," said Doru Kun, raising both his eyebrows. "Was that how you learned of this in the first place?"
"No, it was actually one of the things that warned me not to energybend anymore," said Aang, correcting him. "I started energybending by learning from the Lion Turtle and the Moon Spirit."
"Hmmmm, interesting," said Doru Kun, stroking his smooth, sharp beard. "Anyway, once the section was removed from the library, I had to track down another source of the knowledge – the last of the Dark Spirits."
"What's a 'Dark Spirit?'" questioned Aang. "I've never encountered one."
"Of course you haven't," said Doru Kun curtly. "They're extinct."
"How do you know?"
Doru Kun stared. "Well, there was one left...and I killed it. That makes them extinct."
Aang was annoyed by this simplistic condescension. "Go on."
"My training had paid off well. Since he was in the Spirit World, I had to slay him without the help of my bending. This was after I had gone to the ends of the earth looking for him. He was deep within the Spirit World, well beyond the regions mortals would normally venture. This was my final journey as Avatar. I did not return from the Spirit World that time."
"How did you find the spirit?"
"It was a tough search," Doru Kun admitted. "But there was a trail to follow and I pieced together the hints. The Sages Bane went looking for the spirit around the same time I did."
"The Sages Bane?" asked Aang quizzically. "Who are they? What did they want with it?"
Doru Kun shrugged. "I don't know. They're a very secretive group. Nobody really knows much of anything about them or their motives for what they do; but they've been around pretty much forever."
"Well, that's all I know about it, Avatar Aang," Doru Kun said finally. "If you need to know more, you could try asking the first Avatar, assuming it's true about this 'energybending' existing back then."
"I could never talk to the first Avatar!" complained Aang. "I barely got to you!"
"Then, you're out of luck."
"I guess I'll figure it out on my own," said Aang stiffly.
"Oh, and a heads up," added Doru Kun. "You're about to get a rude awakening when you exit meditation."
"How bad?" asked Aang, surprised.
"Pretty bad," Doru Kun told him. "A danger awaits you."
"I remember the first time I talked to Avatar Roku he told me something like that," said Aang thoughtfully. "His spirit manifested itself in the Avatar State and helped me extinguish the threat."
Doru Kun nodded weakly. "Yeah...I'm not going to be able to do the second part of that for you."
"What do I do, then?"
"You're fully-realized now. You figure it out."
Aang frowned. "What should I do about the Lion Turtle's words? How do I save the world from something that's my fault?"
To Aang's surprise, Doru Kun laughed. "You're not the only Avatar who's ever made a mistake, and don't go thinking you're special among Avatars just because you have to save the world more than once. Just trust yourself, and do what needs to be done. Farewell, Avatar Aang."
As Brother Memnon pulled the pair of kodachi daggers from his belt, the fury from his eyes spread throughout the rest of him, as though that negativity directly controlled his actions. It was the look of someone hungry for a victim. Indeed, he was free to take his pick. Suki and Trinley had both suffered harsh wounds in the past few minutes. Hinko and Tenzin, meanwhile, were locked into duels with two of the other men, and found themselves more vulnerable. Everything seemed to have taken a turn for the worse all around.
That was when Aang reemerged from the secret doorway. "Looking for me?"
"Aang!" yelled Trinley, excited.
"Dad!" cheered Kaddo.
"Twinkle Toes!" shouted Toph without bothering to turn around, for she could "see" him with her feet.
"So, the Avatar finally shows himself," stated Brother Memnon from behind the rest of them.
Aang wrenched his mouth in a serious fashion and turned to Sokka, who was closest to him. "What's going on here?"
"Quite a bit," Sokka informed him. "A revolution began in the Lower Ring shortly after you entered meditation. Then we encountered some Dai Li agents and these people trying to capture you."
"I warned Kuei last night about a possible uprising," said Aang regretfully. "Even I didn't think it would happen this morning, though. Well, we have to escape this mess. You go figure out how we'll get to an airship and deal with the Dai Li and revolutionaries along the way. Leave the man from the Sages Bane to me!"
Brother Memnon's eyes widened in astonishment. "What?! How do you know our name?! Whatever – doesn't matter. It's all over for you today, Avatar!"
Aang assumed his fighting stance and narrowed his eyes as Sokka ushered his children and the others to flee the temple. "It's time for explanations. What do you want with me?"
Memnon's lips curled. "If you haven't figured that out yet you will soon enough."
"What is your goal?" asked Aang, readying himself to airbend. "Why are you trying to capture me? Why did you attack Queen Toph? Why did you assassinate Fire Lord Khomin and try to assassinate Fire Lord Zuko?"
"Sometimes the world needs destruction and rebirth," Memnon explained further. "I'm not a firebender, but I always liked that part of the Phoenix King's philosophy. The balance of the world is tipping, and chaos begets more chaos. You can't win, Avatar."
"We'll see about that!" Aang declared vigorously. With that, the Avatar lit up his eyes and tattoos, harnessed the inner-strength of his chi, and brought his arms together in a swift motion, manipulating the air currents around him into forming a tremendous, spiraling twister that stretched almost to the ceiling.
Within a few seconds, however, the airbending move slowed and calmed itself down. Brother Memnon's hair moved slightly, as though he were standing in a gentle breeze. "That was the infamous Avatar State? I think I've heard some exaggerations."
Stunned, Aang could sense the truth sinking in. By talking to Doru Kun, who was more than four Avatars before him, the extra strain must have exhausted the Avatar Spirit. He would have to take some time to rest and regain himself, but now was far from an ideal time for that. The Avatar gasped as Brother Memnon charged at him with his silver kodachi daggers clutched on either side of his black robes. In a spur-of-the-moment action, Aang clenched his right hand into a fist and slugged it around as Memnon was about to stab his right arm. A burst of purple flame came forth and collided with Memnon's left dagger, causing him to drop it in a spurt of panic. A closer look showed to them both that the blade was bright with heat and the handle had already begun to melt.
Aang began to catch his breath. The use of purple fire had given him a sickening chill, and he was now more desperate than before to leave the Great Earth Temple. While Brother Memnon and his comrades were all still with shock, Aang darted for the wall of the temple and punched the stone bricks as hard as he could, forming a four-foot hole with earthbending. The Avatar ducked under the top and ran to catch up with the others with due haste.
"Run and hide, Avatar," Memnon muttered coolly. "Our plan is coming about, one way or another."
Earth Kingdom Royal Palace
"Where do we stand?" Aang asked Sokka quickly, once he had rejoined his friends. The evacuation was nearly as hectic as the revolt itself.
"The children have taken shelter for the time being. Suki and Trinley have gone to fetch our other friends staying in town. Unfortunately, the Southern Water Tribe airship has been destroyed, as has the Earth King's personal one."
"We'll have to take the Omashu one, then!" declared Toph. "Migo and I can go fetch it!"
"Can you manage that?" asked Aang.
"Of course," said Toph, grinning. "Probably better this way. The Omashu airships are the best and the fastest! It's going to be one crowded airship, though..."
Aang was starting to calm down, but this did not last long. "Where's Tenzin?"
Hope looked about frantically, standing in the doorway to her home, concerned for her own well-being as well as those close to her. It was a relief on both counts when Tenzin and Neinei returned from around the corner. "Tom-Tom, come quick!"
The Fire Nation ambassador walked up beside his fiancé. "Neinei, thank the spirits you're alright!"
"I told you, Uncle Tom-Tom, it's Rouyu!" Princess Neinei snapped irritably.
"Is it really that important that we keep pretending now?" asked Tom-Tom, jittery.
"Yes, it is! I'm the heir to the throne of the Fire Nation. Things are more dangerous than ever for me now. Is my father well yet?"
"He's not much better, no," said Tom-Tom, shaking his head.
"Well, we don't have time to fret about it," Tenzin stated with decisiveness. "We have to get him and get out of here!"
"I know a shortcut to the palace neighborhood," announced Hope. "Everyone follow me!"
"Great," said Tenzin, calming down. "We'll have to watch out for Dai Li agents."
Neinei yanked her red hood tightly over her head, covering most of her white hair. "Where did the other ones go?"
Ba Sing Se Underground
The members of the Sages Bane were not far from where their league had contacted the Dai Li in to begin with. This abandoned catacomb held a decayed secret passageway few knew about which led outside of the Inner Wall. The flickering candles which lit the way forward infuriated Memnon with their movements. Today had been a catastrophe he would rather bury and close off to darkness. The small handful of Sages Bane members that flanked his sides said nothing, daring not to disturb their master's wallowed silence.
"This is all Long Feng's fault," Brother Memnon spoke aloud. "He should've been more ready for today. Now we have no Avatar. Our plans are stalled!"
"Why are we leaving Ba Sing Se now, Brother Memnon?" asked the man to his left. "Shouldn't those responsible for this wreck be dealt punished?"
"We'll deal with the Dai Li later," said Brother Memnon fiercely. "They have been a failure and must be attended to, but for now we need to reconvene and see how the overall plan is working – on all fronts."
Another one of their own caught up with them. "Sir, we've received a message - an important one," Chao Feng called out, bright red blood dripping off his chin.
"Chao Feng, I almost forgot about you," said Brother Memnon malevolently, cracking his knuckles.
"Sister Joo Dee has accomplished the primary objective!" proclaimed Chao Feng.
Brother Memnon loosened his stance, no longer intent on doing in Chao Feng. "Then we have no need to stay in this place any longer," he said as his lips curled. "We must go to her. This is something we've waited for a long time!"
"That was quite an ordeal," Sokka announced, panting. Having just taken off in Queen Toph's airship, the experienced chieftain could feel the wind blowing his warrior's wolf-tail back and forth. As they flew away from Ba Sing Se, Sokka found his ears shaking with the loud sound of the scene of destruction and commotion below.
Aang covered his airbender tattoos on their bald surface with the palm of his free hand. "It's regrettable, but we all had to flee Ba Sing Se – for now."
"I'm sorry about this, Avatar Aang," Kuei said grimly, sitting with his arms atop his knee-caps. "I've lost my own throne yet again, and you all were put in unneeded peril today. I should've listened to you better last night. I should've paid attention to warning signs."
Aang knew exactly how the Earth King felt, having ignored his own string of warnings about energybending. "You mustn't blame yourself. When the time is right, we can help you regain your rightful place – and put things right."
Kuei turned about and lifted himself to his feet. "I suppose so. For now, though, I need my rest. I just hope no harm has come to any of my family members who aren't up here with us." The Earth King marched deeper into the airship with solemn humility and left the remainder of them behind.
"It's good that we were all able to meet and get on an airship at the same time," stated Suki. "It was a stroke of luck that Haru, Smellerbee, Longshot and the others were nearby – and that Hope knew how to get to where we were. I noticed her and Tom-Tom even brought someone else with them when they came on board with Tenzin."
"But now we have more trouble ahead," Migo said gloomily, his dark hair and chinstrap beard looking like he had just woken up. "I mean...it's awful. First the Fire Nation, then the New Air Nomads and now Ba Sing Se..."
"The world is gradually falling into evil hands," Toph uttered simply.
Kaddo raised an eyebrow at his father's former earthbending instructor. "I disagree! The Dai Li and their allies might be evil, but the revolutionaries have legitimate concerns and demands. It's understandable why they would want to revolt against him," he added, gesturing to the way Kuei had left them. Everyone else was now glaring at him.
"You're oversimplifying a complex issue," Aang said to his son sternly. "Ba Sing Se's system has its flaws, but Kuei has done his best as a ruler and his subjects have appreciated him for the last twenty years."
Vameira, looking around, chimed in with a different comment. "Rouyu, Migo, you two look so much alike when you have an angry face. It's almost as though you're related," she said with a faint giggle.
Neinei and Migo exchanged an awkward side glance with one another. Her oldest brother, likewise, appeared confused. "What an odd thing to say, Vameira," said Tenzin.
"We're all safe and sound now," said Sokka, still catching his breath. "So, did you learn how to fix Katara?"
Aang shook his head sadly. "No, but I learned a lot besides that. Anyway, we have to decide what our next move is. We have a lot on our hands."
"At least we have the time to come up with a plan," noted Toph. It's a long journey back to Omashu. Don't worry, though, Migo. We have plenty of tea on board."
Migo grinned meagerly, allowing the solemness of the atmosphere about him to dissolve. "I hope you have jasmine. It's my favorite!"
Earth Kingdom Royal Palace
With the Upper Ring at last occupied, Long Feng stood nervously at the top of the steps of the former royal palace, his wrinkly, aged fingers shaking. "Looks like the time has come," he whispered aside to faithful Gitsu, his only standing advocate who would accompany him.
"Yes," Gitsu stated, much more poised and competent than his leader. "I think that we acted just in time. The other agents and I were able to aid the revolutionaries in securing a few key government buildings in the final stages."
"They should consider us on their side, then," Long Feng spat out quietly.
"Our motives are still unclear to them," Gitsu told Long Feng in a serious tone. "They're suspicious of us, but they're willing to listen. Now, it's your time to win them over."
Egged on by Gitsu, the gray-haired, gray-mustached elder statesmen approached the front of the steps and began to address the crowd. "My fellow citizens, I am one of you! I was born in this city as the humble son of a merchant, and, like you, I had grown tired of the way this city was ruled. That is why my Dai Li comrades and I knew that the time was right to strike. This revolt has brought us justice by expelling the corrupt system of government that has plagued this city for too long with stratified social classes, unjust taxes and costly military buildupd. Even after one hundred years of war, the Earth King would not let us have the peace we dreamed of.
"Long ago, before many of us remember, there was another war. Chin the Conqueror's war did not last for a hundred years, but it devastated our land just like any other. Once it was over, the fair peasants of this land revolted against the Earth King, crying to be free. When Avatar Kyoshi came to Ba Sing Se, they hoped that she would stand for the right side, but instead she defended the establishment under the pretense of protecting cultural heritage. She kept us away from the reform and revolution we needed. I once thought that I could mend the broken system from within, when I served as Grand Secretariat some two decades ago, but I was wrong. The system needs to be changed, not saved.
"Thanks to the Avatar, we were stuck with the same archaic government centuries longer than we should have been. At last, it is time to usher in a new form of government altogether – one that Ba Sing Se deserves! But we must be strong. There are still those out there who would turn things back to the way they were before. The only way to secure ourselves is by removing the Earth King and the Avatar. Avatar Kyoshi foild us once before – and now Avatar Aang must face justice. As long as he is alive, the Earth King will prevail. We must march on! Death to the Earth King! Death to the Avatar!"
TO BE CONTINUED...
- This chapter is currently nominated for Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series in the Fourth Fanon Awards.
- The picture for this chapter, used to depict Doru Kun, is a portrait of Miyamoto Musashi, a renowned Japanese swordsman of the seventeenth century.
- Metal was called "unbendable" at the beginning of this chapter, because Toph had not yet discovered the art. At that point, it was still thought to be unbendable.
- Long Feng, at the end of the day, is still the same self-serving politician that he was before. The version of events he gave at the end is a fabrication, but close enough to the truth to be believed by some.
For the collective works of the author, go here.