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|The Parting of Ways|
Previously on Energy Saga
Aang's conversation with Jeong Jeong about energybending does not go as planned. Team Avatar helps an Earth Kingdom town by fighting off some horrible bandits. Aang is attacked by a mysterious figure while in the Avatar State.
Chapter Three: The Parting of Ways
Earth Kingdom Town, 100 AG
A few hours had passed since Aang and gang had their run-in with the bandits who had previously terrorized the Earth Kingdom town they now found themselves in. Shortly after arriving in the settlement with the simple intention of sampling local tea flavors, they heard of the troubled situation the people faced. Although they were now free of the Fire Nation, they were faced with a group of former Earth Kingdom soldiers who had turned into thugs preying on the misfortunes of the community. Avatar Aang and his companions decisively committed to stopping them. They waited for the bandits to return and fought bravely to help save people, just like old times. And, as usual, they were victorious. At least it seemed to be going that way.
As the skirmish drew to a close, a mysterious encounter took place. An unknown man attacked Aang when he was in the Avatar State, getting ready to finish off the last couple of bandits. He had been waiting silently and patiently until Aang went into the Avater State. There was no mistaking it – if he had wanted to kill Aang earlier he had plenty of cleaner opportunities. Although everyone has heard of the Avatar, most people don't know about the Avatar State.
At the beginning of last Spring, General Fong of the Earth Kingdom had tried to force Aang into the Avatar State so that he would be able to defeat the Fire Lord and end the War much sooner. But General Fong was misguided. All he knew was that in the Avatar State Aang's eyes glowed and he was more powerful. Aang himself had also been ignorant about the Avatar State at the time – until Avatar Roku told him about it. Roku told him how all the strength of the Avatar Spirit's past lives was available to him in the Avatar State, but that if he was killed in the Avatar State, the Avatar Spirit would die with him and the cycle would be broken. Fong and Aang had not known this.
But this man who just attacked Aang did. What other reason could he possibly have for attacking Aang when he was the most powerful? This man had the unquestionable goal of ending the Avatar once and for all. Nearly as unnatural as him was the weapon he employed. Some tiny device that strangely transformed into a sharp blade in mid-air. Aang had been all over the world and he had never seen nor heard of anything like it. He hoped that now that he had saved the world from the Fire Lord that things would just come easier to him from now on. But perhaps he was wrong.
As these thoughts crowded Aang's brain, the liberated townsfolk gave him and his friends the hero-worship they were ever-so accustomed to. Gradually, people were emerging from the hiding places that they took shelter in while the bandits were ready to attack. Their looks of fear and confusion quickly transformed to that of joy and admiration. They were amazed. Amazed that indeed the Avatar had helped them out once again in such a short span of time. First he saved their kingdom from being burned down by the Fire Lord. Now, he saved them from the awful bandits that tainted the peace they had longed for so long. People were enthusiastically rushing out of their homes to thank Aang and the rest of the team.
"The Avatar has saved us!"
"The outsiders have expelled the bandits!"
"Finally, we can live at peace again!"
As Aang, Katara, Sokka, Toph and Suki walked down the center of the main street in town, the townsfolk crowded around them to greet their liberators. Aang felt a little better to see what good result came from his encounter a few hours before. Katara was blushing. Toph had to earthbend away a young man who kept tugging at her shirt uncontrollably. Sokka spotted the old lady that ran the tea shop they had entered upon coming to town and pointed her out to the rest of the group.
"Well, I guess I underestimated you kids. You really did this town a great service. I hope that you will come to my tea shop again sometime." She bowed to Aang upon finishing these words.
"All in a day's work for the Avatar and pals!" Sokka boasted.
"Our town leaders wish to see you so that they can thank you in person," the old lady continued. "You should meet with them." She bowed again.
They followed the old lady's directions to the center part of town, where they were greeted at a larger-sized house by a middle-aged man with dark hair in a light blue coat with an Earth Kingdom symbol just visible on the shirt beneath it. He was flanked by an attendant on either side.
"Welcome, young Avatar and companions. I am the Sheryf of this community. I extend my deepest thanks for what you have done for our humble town. Because of you, I believe we can prosper just like we used to. I can't thank you enough for this."
"Don't mention it," replied Aang, always the modest type.
"You will be pleased to hear that the remaining bandits that escaped at the end have been caught and arrested. They are ready to stand trial along with the rest of their gang. I feel that it's now only appropriate to offer you a reward for your unwavering pursuit of justice."
"Oh, that won't be necessary," answered Katara.
"Some supplies for our travels would be nice," interrupted Sokka. Katara shot him a dirty look.
"Consider it done." With that, the Sheryf extended a bow, which Aang and his friends returned before turning to leave.
After their brief meeting was over, Aang, Katara, Sokka, Toph and Suki returned to the tea shop where they had first heard of the bandit problem the town was facing earlier that same day. Unlike before, when the establishment had been practically deserted, the place was totally packed. They arrived just in time to not have to wait for a table. The manager, who had bowed to them before in the street, noticed them as soon as they came in. She led them over to a table by the window.
"This place sure seems livelier," commented Toph. Indeed, every table was full and they had to raise their voices slightly to have an ordinary conversation.
They were all offered a couple of free rounds of tea for the table of whatever flavor tea they wished. With the business the place was getting, it did not seem like that would be much trouble for them.
"Well, this is pretty cool," said Sokka cheerfully.
"Yeah," agreed Katara. But Aang was not sharing in their sentiments at the moment.
"Hey, guys. Not to bring the mood down, but I think we should talk about that strange man dressed in black that got away."
Katara seemed more aware now. "Oh yeah. Do you really think that what you said earlier is true? About him trying to kill you in the Avatar State I mean."
"Of course," said Aang impatiently.
"I noticed his presence with my seismic sense the second that we came into town," Toph interjected. "If he was here intent on picking a fight with Twinkle Toes here, then he would have known we came here after we left Jeong Jeong's house. Do you think he was following us?"
"Well, if you 'saw' him in your own way here, did you 'see' him in the same way around Jeong Jeong's house the other day?" Sokka interrupted.
Toph gave an expression of minor annoyance. Then after a quick pause, she answered, "No, I didn't notice him there. And I obviously didn't see him while we were on Appa either," she added. "So I have no idea how long he was tracking us."
Suki pulled out the weapon of mysterious would-be assassin. "I picked this up right after our encounter with him. I looked it over. It's pretty simple, really." She held it up in the palm of her hand for all except for Toph to see. It was in a rounded shape about the size of a large cherry or a small plum. "It looks like it's a harmless solid object from the outside. But when you throw it in the air, giving it a little forward spin..." she said as she rotated it slowly. With a small clicking noise, the outer covering gave way and a compressed knife-like object stretched out, pointing forward and shifting the overall weight of the object. "...the mechanical insides open up and what appears to be a harmless orb is now a deadly weapon. Part of what makes it unique and effective is that it is not even exposed as a weapon until after it is thrown."
Everyone else stared in awe as she explained it to them. Then, as she was folding the knife back on the inside, Aang noticed a symbol on the outer covering. It had the gold round full-moon shape in the center, with a crescent on either side facing outward. And on the inside...was a purple eye with horns coming out of it.
"What's that?" Aang asked, pointing it out.
Suki looked where he indicated and stared at the drawing blankly. "I don't know. I've never seen that sign before. Beats me."
Katara seemed confused as well. "But what motive could this guy have for wanting to end the Avatar Cycle. Why would he want to do such a thing?"
Aang acknowledged her. "I've been thinking about that myself. The War of a Hundred Years is over now. I don't think it has anything to do with the Fire Nation." Aang seemed just unsure as she was. "My only guess is – maybe it's related to energybending? Maybe he heard I used it on Ozai and wanted to prevent me from learning anything else?"
Sokka scoffed "Oh come on Aang, don't bring up that energy stuff again. If anything, the guy probably just wanted to-." But what Sokka thought his true motive was, they never found out. Sokka was now looking out the window at something he appeared to have spotted all of a sudden.
"What is it, Sokka?" asked Katara.
"It's that guy outside. He looks really familiar."
Sokka was pointing to an Earth Kingdom man out the window. Another outsider, he had just entered town and was looking around the street with some kind of fascination. He looked like he was in his late twenties or early thirties and had an unkempt sort of appearance. He had just come to a halt in the center of the street. He was looking about like he had lost something.
Katara seemed annoyed. "What is going on? What does this have to do with anything?"
Sokka ignored her – still looking out the window at the man in the street. He suddenly stopped searching around and turned abruptly around to face down the street toward the entrance to town.
"Ah, there you are. Quit disappearing on me like that. You've just gotta cause trouble everywhere you go. Have you been stealing cabbages from that poor merchant again?"
A large, majestic-looking brown bear came running down the street to meet the man Sokka had pointed out. All of a sudden, everyone recognized him. There was no mistaking it now. He looked much dirtier than the last time they saw him. He had also dropped some weight and apparently found a way to stop wearing glasses. But behind all that, Kuei was still the same old pompous and naïve Earth King that they remembered. Bosco still looked exactly the same except he wasn't wearing Earth Kingdom robes.
Before anyone else could say anything, Sokka called out "Earth King! Hey Earth King – over here!"
Shocked, Kuei turned around and caught Sokka's eye through the window of the tea shop. He looked around himself nervously as passersby began to stare. "Umm...sorry. I believe you have mistaken me for somebody else, young man."
"It's me – the Avatar," said Aang. "We came to see you at the royal palace in Ba Sing Se. We roughed up half your army."
"Oh – you think I'm the Earth King. Heh, heh," Kuei laughed uncomfortably. "That's funny. People say I look like him all the time. But I'm just a simple traveler."
People in the street were staring at the Earth King, Sokka and Aang. At the moment, Kuei could hardly look less like the Earth King. And who were those people in the tea shop calling out to him with all these outrageous stories.
"Why don't you come in and join us for some tea?" Katara asked out to him.
Timidly, Kuei motioned for Bosco to follow him and they entered the tea shop. The tea shop owner said that the bear would have to wait outside. But Aang said he was a friend of theirs and she changed her mind, bringing over an extra-large seat for Bosco to settle down in.
"So, how's it going, your kingliness?" said Sokka.
"Sshhhh! I'm trying to stay undercover," said Kuei. "Nobody can know that I'm the Earth King, okay. I'm just a simple traveler for now."
"Sorry, your secret is safe with us," Katara reassured him.
"Why don't you tell us about your travels? We haven't heard anything from you since leaving Ba Sing Se," said Toph.
Finally, the ecstatic Earth King calmed himself down. He took a sip from his tea and began recounting his exploits since they last saw each other. Aang, Katara, Sokka, Toph and Suki all listened intently at the thrilling stories he had from his travels incognito. During his first week traveling alone, Kuei had had a run-in with pirates and been robbed of everything he was carrying except clothes. He had to get a job picking tea leaves on a farm to feed himself and save up enough to start traveling again. Then a few days after he left that, he had a run-in with an angry circus master who tried to steal Bosco. Kuei and Bosco just barely managed to get away. He had met a lot of interesting people on his journey. Most of them were peasants and other types of people that Kuei wasn't accustomed to meeting in his life as the Earth King. Just a couple days ago, Kuei had stumbled into a village with some kind of celebration festival going on. It was then that he heard the good news that the Hundred Year War had finally ended. He was now slowly making his way back to Ba Sing Se to resume his duties as Earth King, a changed man.
"Now that I have seen and experienced the life of ordinary people, I feel that I can understand their problems more and am able to return to my post and serve them in a more enlightened manner," said Kuei. "I'm still staying in disguise until I get back to Ba Sing Se, though. By the way, now that the War is over, what's happening in there?"
"General How is leading the city right now – or trying to. Some of your subjects in the Upper Ring are debating reinstating Long Feng to power," answered Katara.
Kuei looked uneasy. "I had better get back quickly then. I don't want to risk Long Feng plotting something new. He was my trusted advisor for most of my life. It was finding out the truth about him that broke me out of the shell I had lived in my whole life." Kuei did not like recounting a part of his life we wished to forget and move on from. "Well, that and riding on Appa," he added.
"I am sure you will lead your people well upon your return," said Aang. He could tell that Kuei had matured a lot since he saw him last.
Kuei smiled and finished his tea. Then he left the table and went to ask the lady who ran the tea shop about something.
After a few moments, Katara asked everyone else "So, what happens now?"
Everyone looked a little awkward. They had all felt this moment coming for a long time. Since they had departed Ba Sing Se and Zuko and Mai returned to the Fire Nation. They had had a great adventure together and they had helped Aang save the world and restore balance. In the process, they had formed friendships with each other that would last a lifetime. But now that their task was completed, there was no real reason for them to continue traveling together. It was at last time for them to go their separate ways.
"It looks like it's time for Katara and I to return to the South Pole. We've been away long enough. And our tribe needs us," said Sokka. Katara bowed her head and nodded in agreement.
"Well, I don't know if you need to go back quite yet," said Suki. "We never did get to finish your training the first time you visited Kyoshi Island. I have two weeks left on leave before I officially rejoin the other warriors. Could use that time to give you some more private lessons."
Sokka was tempted by this offer. "I agree, that would be kind of fun. What about Katara, though?"
"I'll be fine getting back to the South Pole on my own," said Katara.
"I can give you a lift on Appa," said Aang.
"It's been a while since I've seen my parents. I wrote them a letter and all, but I should probably get back to them," said Toph thoughtfully. "I hope things are different now."
"Hey, you helped save the world and their entire country from burning to a crisp," said Sokka. "They would have to be insane to try and shelter you again. And they can't now even if they wanted to." Toph laughed.
Aang seemed concerned. "I sure hope that assassin won't come back anytime soon."
"He's a wimp and a coward. He ran away," said Toph. "Don't worry Twinke Toes, you could totally take him in a straight-up fight. After Fire Lord Ozai how tough can that guy possibly be?"
Aang laughed uneasily, feeling a little bit better. The five of them all shared one final group hug. Then, Toph left and ran with earthbending to help propel her faster toward Gaoling. Sokka and Suki began their journey toward Kyoshi Island. Then, Aang and Katara were left by themselves in the doorway of the tea shop.
"So what do you plan to do now?" Katara asked Aang.
"I'm not sure," answered Aang. He had no idea where to go next. He did not have a normal home to go back to like the rest of them did. He should probably start taking up his Avatar duties. But where would he even begin with that? The world was a big place and he was unsure where he'd be needed most now that Ozai was defeated. He also still had learned barely anything about energybending, which Iroh told him to look into. Maybe he would have a better idea once he dropped off Katara. He dreaded the idea of parting with her again.
"Why don't you stay at the South Pole for a little while after we get there."
'Hmmm, I don't know..." said Aang. Of course he wanted to, but he felt like there was more for him to busy himself with. He couldn't neglect his duties as Avatar.
"Oh, I see," said Katara. "Now that you're a fully-realized Avatar and all, you're too good for some simple old-fashioned penguin-sledding?"
Aang thought to himself again. Well, what was the harm in taking a break for a little while? "Yeah, okay. Sounds good."
Aang and Katara walked out, holding hands, towards Appa. For the first time since he found out he was the Avatar, Aang's mind was totally at rest.
TO BE CONTINUED...
- Some of the events of this episode were inspired by scenes in Slayers Next in the story arc involving the Seyruun royal family.
- This is Kuei's first appearance in Energy Saga.
For the collective works of the author, go here.