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Previously on Energy Saga
The unknown organization is planning on coming after the Avatar once again, for whatever it is that their purposes may be. Tenzin has been removed from recent events, having been stranded with his fellow soldiers on a deserted island, so he just found out that his mother's energies were drained by his father. Meanwhile Aang goes to see Yue again, but is disappointed to find she has no way to fix Katara.
Chapter Twenty-Eight: Shifting Gears
Southern Water Tribe, 121 AG
"Just a minute," Hakoda responded while fiddling with his brand-new steam stove. "This is an imported invention and I need to figure out how it works. This should only take a sec."
"But I'm hungry now!" said Vameira impatiently. It was nearly midday and she had not eaten breakfast.
"Sheesh, you're a handful," Hakoda replied in a tired-sounding voice. "Why don't you have some of the leftover seal jerky?"
Vameira gawked at him. "Because I don't like meat."
Hakoda sighed. "That's right, airbenders don't eat meat – I always forget. Just be patient then."
"Ugh!" Vameira sat in the chair by the window and crossed her arms.
"I remember back in the day when only the Fire Nation had the most-advanced items," stated Hakoda. "Now, every nation has to have their share of airships, industry and manufactured goods. Even the Southern Water Tribe is getting on board. I predict things like this will only become more and more common around here."
Vameira was not interested in the lecture. She turned to staring boredly outside at the icy terrain and the sunny sky which reigned over it. "I want to go out flying."
Hakoda shook his head with his eyes still on his new stove. "Wait for the skies to clear. It's best that you don't get caught in a storm while on your glider. Your father had that happen to him once and it took the Moon Spirit to save him."
"Grampa – the skies are clear! They've been clear for hours."
The elderly Hakoda turned about and peered out the window. "Oh – so they are. I guess I've been busying myself with this so long I didn't notice the change in weather. Well – okay then. Have fun."
Vameira rose to snatch up her glider, which had been leaning against the back wall and hastily dashed out the door, leaving Hakoda alone with his fresh piece of cooking equipment. He was not alone for long, though. Right when his granddaughter left the room Hakoda's daughter-in-law Suki arrived, accompanied by Ty Lee and two younger Kyoshi Warriors in their mid-to-late teens.
"Hi, how are you?" Suki greeted the grizzled former warrior with a hug.
"Hello Chief Hakoda," said Ty Lee with a smile. "It's good to see you again." The two younger warriors behind her waved sheepishly, having never met Hakoda before.
"I'm not the chief anymore," Hakoda corrected her. "My son Sokka's running the show now. So what brings you ladies here today?"
"You mean you didn't hear?" asked Suki. "Sokka's holding a regional summit on the United Republic project here in the Southern Water Tribe. The Kyoshi Warriors are here with their own delegation."
"We wanted to personally thank you for your support so far," added Ty Lee.
As Hakoda grinned, the wrinkles on his face curved along with his mouth. "Your welcome – I needed something else to occupy my time in retirement. But I sure hope you're not planning on having the summit in my hut!"
"Oh no, no," said Suki reassuringly. "We're just stopping by." Suki noted that the former chief was in such a cheerful mood and was not as solemn as on previous visits. She was also relieved that had not asked for an update on Katara's condition yet and hoped that the topic would not present itself this time.
Hakoda chuckled merrily. "Good, because as far as crowds go, this is as much as this little dwelling can hold."
But the hut soon became more crowded. Just then, two new visitors emerged through the icy doorway. These were the Air Nomads Shao and Nola.
"Good grief, I'm getting visitors from all over today," remarked Hakoda. "Earth Kingdom subjects and airbenders. Well, I'll take that over the visitors from the Fire Nation we used to get any day. So are you two in town for the summit, too?"
"I am," replied Shao, eyeing Nola with perceivable annoyance.
"I'll go too, but I can't stay very long," said Nola. "I'm leaving on a trip soon."
"I think the fate of the free world is important enough that whatever trip you have to take can wait," Shao said with contempt. "Not to mention the difficulties at home the Council of Elders has to deal with." He noticed Nola wincing at him and did not pursue the matter further.
"So to what do we owe the pleasure?" asked Hakoda.
"I came to drop off some airbending scrolls," said Nola simply, taking three miniature rolls of parchment from her garment. "They're for Vameira. I can see that she isn't around at the moment."
"No, she's off flying on her glider," Hakoda clarified.
Nola rolled her eyes. "Then just tell her to practice her basic exercises three times a day. I won't be able to oversee her training while I'm away."
"Where are you going Nola?" Suki asked conversationally, trying to keep things friendly.
"Ba Sing Se."
"You go there pretty often," noted Shao. "You must really love that place."
"It's Ba Sing Se," Nola countered defensively. "Need I say more?"
Shao's eyes narrowed. "Vameira is already behind in her airbending training. She needs a master to teach her. The scrolls are not the same."
"What do you want me to do about it?" snapped Nola.
"Take her with you."
Nola appeared to be pondering this. "I suppose I could do that," she conceded.
"Yes – please do!" chimed in Hakoda. "Don't get me wrong – I love the girl to death. But she's been quite a handful. Frankly, I think we could both use a short break from one another."
"We'd better go inform her so she can pack," said Shao. And with that, he and Nola both motioned farewell to the others and left the old ex-chief's hut together.
"I think it's good that you're letting her come with you," Shao told Nola as they walked through the village. "She can use a vacation after what she's been through," he added solemnly.
"Dealing with a stressed adolescent non-stop – I am so looking forward to that," Nola commented sarcastically.
Shao glared at her. "Why do you always need to be such a downer?"
"Mind your own business."
Northern Water Tribe
"What do you mean it didn't go over so well?!" Kaddo spoke these words on top of the icy cliffs where he and his father stood, which overlooked the city. They were marching inland together, toward the upper slopes.
"It didn't – Yue said she won't see me about energybending anymore," Aang clarified.
Kaddo was baffled by this new turn of events. "So what are you going to do to help Mom now?"
"It'll be okay," said Aang reassuringly. "I can talk to my past lives about trying to find a way to fix your mother. Some of the older Avatars must know something – Doru Kun did. Anyway, how are Sid and Kirto these days? It's been a while since you saw them last."
"They're good," Kaddo replied simply. "They're actually thinking of coming to visit the South Pole sometime soon. They both have relatives who came to help rebuild after the war with the Fire Nation."
"That's great," said Aang, smiling. He was happy to be talking about something else. "You'll get to hang out with them some more."
"That's assuming that we're back there and done with our business by then."
"I'm sure we will be," Aang said with optimism. "Now its time for me to show you the new move I was telling you about. That's why we came up here. There's the perfect spot." Aang pointed toward an inclined ledge that led down to a crevice formed on top of the ice sheet. It formed a tiny cave – the ceiling of which was lined with sharp icicles.
Chao Feng watched as his prey was approaching. After all this time traveling, the Avatar was in sight. He had his young waterbender son with him. Chao Feng cared not for the boy. Ideally it would be best if the Avatar was by himself, but Chao Feng did not see the kid as one to give him much trouble. If he made things difficult, Chao Feng could just dispose of him quickly and then focus his efforts on the Avatar.
They were almost at the cave now. Just a little longer...
"Assume the position," Aang instructed. Kaddo stood at the entrance of the cave, bending his knees and raising his cupped right hand in front of his body and slightly above his head level.
"Good," said Aang. "Now do the motions."
Kaddo twisted his left foot around and brought his right leg back, along with his right hand, which was now supported by his left. When he had gone all the way back, the snow beneath him began to shake. Then Kaddo thrust forward so he was back in his starting position and extended his arms outward in both directions. The snow rose out of the ground, creating a seven-foot stream of water in front of his eyes. Then it extended in both directions and froze, creating an ice wall.
"Wow," said Kaddo. "That's pretty cool. Thanks for teaching me that, Dad."
"Actually that's just the first step," Aang lectured him. "It works in your favor defensively the way it is now. Attacking with it is what comes next. Get back into your starting position and let's try this aga–"
As Aang had been pointing forward and melting the new-created wall of ice, he noticed a stiletto soaring through the air towards his outstretched arm. He just managed to pull out the way before turning to see the man dressed in dark clothing. The attacker stood out from everything around him due to the contrast with the background.
Aang took his fighting stance. "One of you again? It certainly has been a while. But I must say your aim has gotten worse over the years. That shot wouldn't have been fatal even if I hadn't dodged it. So are you going to run and make us chase you?"
Chao Feng drew his katana in response. He also took out four more stilettos, which he held out between each of his fingers.
"I see," said Aang. "You look like you're done messing around – good. I'd very much like these random engagements of ours to end." Aang swept his leg into the air, sending a fire arc forward.
Chao Feng raised his katana and dowsed it in the fire, as though he were blocking an opponent's blade with his own. The flames continued to burn around the sword, though the katana itself was undamaged and the fire did not make its way past the handle. Chao Feng lept forward – still clutching his burning katana – and tossed another stiletto at Aang's outstretched leg, which the Avatar barely managed to evade.
Aang looked at Chao Feng's weapon. "A flaming sword...I see." Aang was going to say something else but had to leap backward to dodge his opponent's next stroke, which would have scorched his torso if it had been successful. "Watch out, Kaddo! He moves pretty fast."
"I can see that," Kaddo yelled. "Time to take care of that weapon of his with some water." Kaddo pulled a water whip out of the ground and flung it toward the man's weapon, but the member of the unknown organization twisted his body around to dodge and tossed two stilettos – one which would have hit Kaddo's forehead had he not ducked and one which scratched his elbow.
"Kaddo – be careful!" shouted Aang. "Why don't you just let me handle this?"
"I'm fine – it's just a tiny cut. I'll hear myself later." Kaddo stepped toward the assailant, who now had his eyes on Aang. "We're not through yet. So do you do any bending yourself? You don't look like you do."
Chao Feng ignored Kaddo and swung his flaming katana at Aang once again. Aang's Air Nomad tunic caught fire and he took a step backward so he could dodge the next stroke as he tore off his shirt, leaving his upper body fully-exposed in the frigid North Pole weather. Aang swung forward with his glider to push his opponent back. Chao Feng, however, had a firm stance and managed to prevent himself from being blown back. The flame around the katana remained the same as it was before. The weapon must have been specially-made.
"You're quick," Aang told him. "But you're not as quick as an airbender." Aang dashed forward and swept the man's leg with his own while shooting a block of ice out of the ground at Chao Feng's hand which grasped the burning katana. Chao Feng let go of the sword, as it flung out of his hand, but managed to catch it by the handle with his opposite hand and swing it back in front of him, putting his guard up once again.
"How come you don't say anything?" Kaddo asked the stranger as he threw another stream of water at him.
"I did not come for chit-chat," Chao Feng responded. He now faced both Aang and Kaddo head-on. He jerked the katana forward a little, letting some of the fire escape from the sword and deflect Kaddo's water stream.
"Did you come to get your butt whooped?" Kaddo asked cockily. "Cause that's what you're going to get. That's what happens when you challenge the Avatar and Son."
Chao Feng dashed forward, swinging his blade in both directions to fend Kaddo off and drive Aang back into the cave. Aang conjured a fire whip and swung it towards Chao Feng so it passed through the flaming sword and Chao Feng's dark clothes caught fire just below his shoulderblade. Frantically, Chao Feng dropped his weapon and dived into the snow so both his katana and his clothes were no longer burning. The shivers of his breath were not audible as he was exposed to the cold air through a hole in his clothes.
Now that his katana was no longer on fire, Chao Feng turned back to using stilettos. He aimed two at Aang which Aang sidestepped to dodge – but this proved unnecessary as Kaddo had rushed to the scene and managed to perform the new move he had learned, creating an ice wall which caught the stilettos.
Aang turned to his son and smiled. "Not bad – you're catching on."
"Thanks," said Kaddo. "I try."
Aang spun back around as he saw the ice wall collapsing. Chao Feng had smashed it with his blade and it shattered before Aang. The other side of the wall was still intact at this point. Chao Feng pierced the bottom with a stiletto and aimed a sidestroke in the area before kicking it in the center so that it fell towards Kaddo's direction. Kaddo heated the ice so it became water again, but was knocked down regardless. Chao Feng was a couple paces away, so he tossed a few stilettos high into the air. They made contact with the sharp icicles of the cave ceiling, which fell down toward Kaddo – like knives from the sky descending upon him.
Aang saw what was happening and – without thinking – dived on top of Kaddo so that the ice spikes would impale him instead of his son. If this is how it must end, so be it, he told himself. No one else would pay a price because of his mistakes. With some luck, he could find a way to help Katara from the Spirit World.
Suddenly, Chao Feng's eyes widened as though something had gone horribly, horribly wrong. He jumped forward and with all his strength pushed Aang and Kaddo out of the way of the falling ice spikes and managed to stay out of the way of them himself by turning on his side.
Aang slid against the back wall of the frozen cave. He looked up in astonishment. Chao Feng was now backing away from Aang. He no longer had the upper hand or the element of surprise on his side, so he picked up his katana and dashed around the other side of the crevice.
"What just happened?" Kaddo wondered aloud.
Aang – equally-confused – sprung to his feet and in the direction Chao Feng had gone. Chao Feng, however, was nowhere to be seen. Aang stared around the icy landscape before him, still processing the events of the past few minutes.
Kaddo caught up to his father and asked him the same thing as before. "What happened back there?"
Aang, bewildered, did not make eye contact. "He made the spikes fall. I jumped forward to stop the spikes from hitting you."
"Then he jumped forward to...stop the spikes from hitting you," Kaddo finished.
Aang nodded. "That was...the last thing I was expecting."
"I win again!" Migo declared triumphantly as he completed his final move.
Toph shook her head at him. "No fair – you can see the board." She slouched in the comfy chair of her royal study.
Migo wagged his finger at her. "No, no. You can't use that as an excuse. This board was custom-made just so you could play this game. It's made of solid earth and labeled in the kind of writing that can be felt. Also, the tiles are scented, so you can tell what they are by how they smell."
Of course, Toph knew all this, as she had commissioned the making of this game board, just like she had supported the symbolized writing system which could be read – or rather, felt – by blind people. But she refused to let Migo win an argument with her that easily. "It's still no replacement for being able to see."
Migo laughed. "You think just because you're a queen now you know so much better than the rest of us?"
"Well, I am a few years older than you. You should listen to your elders." Toph then acted much younger than she was when she stuck her tongue out at Migo from across the table.
"Well, uh, I'm a few years –um" Migo said with uncertainty, "–smarter!"
Toph smirked. "It's a good thing your metalbending is better than your wittiness. Otherwise the citizens of the Fire Nation Capital would have all been roasted by the Malevolence."
"Don't forget about Azula," Migo reminded her.
"I think you mean 'False Azula.' She turned out to be an impostor, in case you forgot," Toph corrected him. "Ugh – enough of this lounging around. I want to move right and fight again already. That attack on me was so long ago."
"Remember what your doctors said," Migo told her more seriously. "You need to take it easy for the next few weeks or else you could get even worse. That syrum that the attacker gave you was quite strong. You're lucky to be alive."
Toph sighed, knowing Migo was right. She crossed her arms and sulked in her chair when the door on the opposite end of the room was entered by Nala. The Queen of Omashu's head servant marched forward and gave her monarch a traditional courtesy bow before speaking. "Greetings M'lady...and Master Migo."
"What is it, Nala?" Toph asked sternly. She was in no mood for Nala's pampering.
"Oh, nothing really," said Nala. "I was just wondering how your recovery was going. You do seem a little better than before, if I might say."
"Yeah. I'm fine."
"That's good to know," said Nala cheerfully. "Did you get plenty of rest last night? Remember that the doctor said you should be getting plenty of rest."
"Yes, I slept perfectly fine," said Toph irritably. "Thank you."
Nala nodded. "I see. Can I get you a snack? It's important to eat a lot and your breakfast this morning looked smaller than usual. Would you like a nice bowl of fresh jook? I hear it can be good to eat when you're feeling under the weather."
"No," said Toph flatly. "I'm not hungry."
"Oh, okay," said Nala. "I suppose you're not in the mood for jook. How about something small like a few pau buns or crab puffs? Crab puffs are very nutritious and healthy."
"I love crab puffs!" said Migo with excitement. "Can I have some too?" But then he noticed Toph glaring at him from across the table. "I mean – uh – no thanks. I'm not hungry either."
"No Nala, we're fine," Toph added.
Nala was looking really desperate. "Perhaps some assorted fruits? Fried dough? Bean cured puffs?"
"No Nala!" Toph yelled. "We do not want anything to eat! Leave us alone!"
"Oh, okay," said Nala, hanging her head in disappointment. She turned and departed the room, sulking.
Migo waited until they were alone again. "She can be quite a handful, can't she?"
Toph nodded and rolled her eyes. "First it was my parents telling me what to do. Now its her. At least I can order her to back off whenever I feel like it."
"She obviously cares a lot for your well-being," Migo noted while taking a sip of his hot jasmine tea. Jasmine was his favorite. "And at least you got to know your parents. I can't remember ever seeing my father. All I had of my mother were other people's memories of her."
"At least there's no shortage of people who have something to say about her," said Toph reassuringly. "You know that you came from somewhere great."
Migo took to staring at his feat. "I don't think I can be proud of that like I once was."
"Are you talking about what those soldiers said to you in Ba Sing Se?" Toph inquired with concern. "I don't believe that for a second. Ratana – a traitor? That's like saying the Earth King is a traitor. She's practically a national symbol. Besides, didn't Brawki clear up any misunderstanding you had about her when you went to see him?"
"No. He didn't tell me everything."
Toph leaned back thoughtfully. "You know who you remind me of?"
"Who?" asked Migo quizzically.
"First of all, you're both avid jasmine tea drinkers and Pai Sho players," Toph began. "That's the obvious part. You also have this eccentric wisdom about you...not in the same way as him, of course. You both lost close family members to the Hundred Year War. Then there's the mysterious background and how things aren't always what they seem. I think you'll figure that out as you find out more about your mum."
"Thanks, but I don't see how an entire platoon of soldiers from Ba Sing Se can be liars," said Migo dismissively.
"Why don't you leave the palace for a while?" asked Toph. "I'm in this elegant prison because my condition forces me to be. If I were you I would get some fresh air and exercise." Toph put her hand on her cheek. "Besides, I can't put up with you around the clock," she added jokingly.
Migo stood up and stretched. "I suppose I could help out at the displaced refugee settlement outside town for a while. They'll be some of the first inhabitants of the United Republic, so the future is with them."
"That sounds great."
Northern Water Tribe
"Alright, let's try to solve this puzzle together." Aang was back down in the city now. He and Kaddo had gone to one of the downtown tea shops and ordered two cups of tea. Kaddo had a cup of spiced tea before him while his father favored the ginseng.
"Oh – is this one of those places that has games you can play? Awesome!" said Kaddo. "But can we see if they have Pai Sho instead? I'm not that good with puzzles and I can never tell which piece goes where."
"No – I was using a figure of speech," said Aang, annoyed. "I'm talking about these people who have been stalking and attacking us. I think this is long overdue – I've been dealing with them since before you were born. We need to deduce who they are and what they're motives are based on what we know about them."
"Huh – so what do we know about them?" asked Kaddo. "Nothing – right?"
"Wrong," stated Aang. "When I first encountered one of them years ago he attacked me purposefully while I was in the Avatar State. It was clear that he was aiming to kill – and by doing so while I was in the Avatar State, it can be assumed that he wanted to end the cycle of the Avatar. Just now, however, we met a new attacker from the same organization. Although he was fighting us, he did not want me dead. At least not right now. He held back on going for fatal blows and when I put myself in danger to save you, he went so far as to save me. I don't much about these people, but I have a hunch they have the same goals as they did before. They're simply going about their work differently."
Kaddo looked confused. "Assassins don't typically save their target's life. That sort of defeats the whole purpose of being an assassin..."
"I know," said Aang, nodding. "But he wasn't trying to kill me. Maybe he was trying to capture me. They may need me for something?"
"What would they need you for?" asked Kaddo. He put his elbow on the table and leaned his head into his palm.
"I don't know. Obviously something that happened in the past twenty years caused these people to 'shift gears' – or change their strategy."
"So what might that have been?"
Aang wondered to himself for a second. "I guess we should start at the beginning. Shortly after the Hundred Year War was finally over, my friends and I were in the Earth Kingdom and we rescued a village from being harassed by a gang of bandits. Unexpectedly, I'm attacked while I am in the Avatar State by an assailant with a small, but deadly switch-blade. A few years later when Zhao Jr. led his first attempted coup against Zuko, one of his men carries a dagger with a symbol on it that linked him to the group. For the next several months as I travel around and learn energybending, I know I'm being followed by someone – it has to be them. Right after Azula gets out of the mental hospital I finally catch one of them, but he poisons himself before I can learn anything from him. The next several years were quieter, but I knew they were still there. Instinct tells me that they were behind the attack on Toph, although I can't prove that. Then when Jeong Jeong was on his death bed he told me that the Order of the White Lotus knew of this group and that they had clashed a few times throughout their long history. Now one of their members comes after me again but doesn't go for fatal blows. It's clear that he wants me alive – for now."
"Okay," said Kaddo, taking a sip from his spiced tea. "So why did they shift gears?"
"Like I said, it must've been something that happened since the first time," said Aang simply.
"Well, this pertains to you," Kaddo explained. "Whatever caught their interest must be something you did. What significant stuff have you done in the last twenty years?"
"Let's see, then. I married Katara and we had you three kids. I've kept the balance of the world day-in and day-out. Zuko and I started the United Republic Project."
"Those can't be it," Kaddo commented skeptically.
"You're right," admitted Aang. "I helped put down the initial attempted coup against Zuko. Then I fought with him in the civil war."
"I don't think this is directly related to the Fire Nation," said Kaddo.
"According to Jeong Jeong, this organization assassinated Fire Lord Khomin so Fire Lord Sozin could take the throne."
Kaddo was not convinced. "Why would the initial assassin attack you after your victory against Ozai if his ultimate goal was Fire Nation world dominance. He would've made you his target earlier."
"I supposed you have a point," said Aang in disappointment.
"What about how you used energybending to bring the Air Nomads back from extinction?"
"Hmmm...I've wondered if it had something to do with energybending before. I remember now – when I hit that guy outside the mental asylum with an energy shove he said 'so, it's true' – like he knew the nature of what I had just done."
"Then they're interested in the fact that you can energybend," said Kaddo with confidence.
"Unfortunately...that makes the most sense."
"Why 'unfortunately?'" asked Kaddo matter-of-factly.
"I don't want anything more to do with energybending," stated Aang. "After what I did to your mother I came to terms with the error of my ways. I just want to know what I need to in order to bring her back and then I'm through with it all."
"It sounds like they don't want you to be through just yet," noted Kaddo. "Maybe your using Shuten Shogai made them interested. It was...powerful."
"It was," said Aang. "But what kind of person would want that move for the kind of price I paid?"
"I don't know," Kaddo replied. "A greedy, selfish one, maybe. Enough of that, though. What are you going to do about talking to the past Avatars and helping Mom?"
"I'll talk to them in the Spirit World," said Aang simply. "They must have something to tell me. They've all been there over a century and know the nature of spirits. Roku told me about the Tui and La when I first went to the Spirit Oasis. Maybe they can also shed some light on the Lion Turtle's prophecy."
"What Lion Turtle prophecy?"
"It wasn't like a direct prophecy. It was like a dream or a vision. It was pretty vague...but it sounded like something to do with saving the world again."
Kaddo's mouth fell open. "Saving the world? You've already saved the world. Isn't it hard enough to just save Mom? This is getting out of hand."
"I am the Avatar," Aang stated firmly. "I will do whatever I must."
"Fine," said Kaddo indignantly. "So where are you going to go to talk to the past Avatars?"
"I'd like to communicate with them as best I can," Aang explained. "I'll go to the holy spot where I first opened up to my past lives. I'll go to the Southern Air Temple."
"You've got to be kidding me," said Kaddo in disbelief. "We just came here from the other side of the world and now you want to travel all the way back around the world again?"
"It's what's best," said Aang decisively.
"Wow," said Kaddo in amazement. "Talk about inefficient. What was the point of coming here, then?"
"I though the meeting with Yue would go better than it did, okay?"
Ba Sing Se
Long Feng heard a knock on the front door of his new residence at the outskirts of the Upper Ring in Ba Sing Se. Each room in his new house contained works of art. He had taken to collecting – being at the point where he would take up anything as a hobby to move on and leave the past behind. He had been out of power since he was in his mid-forties. Now in his sixties and – having served his sentence, he wanted to make the most of what time he had left. Although he reminisced on the old days regularly, he had long given up any hope of restoring himself to his former glory.
Until recently, that was. The people of the city were dissatisfied with the current state of affairs – just enough to miss the days when he was in charge and Ba Sing Se was a peaceful, orderly utopia. For years Long Feng dreamed of ruling once more the same way a common citizen dreamed of winning the Ba Sing Se lottery – an impossible desire. However, a new opportunity made it seem all the more possible.
That was what the knock on the door was about. Long Feng opened it and revealed his visitors, which included his right-hand man Gitsu along with a handful of other Dai Li agents who had been with him during the latter days of the Hundred Year War.
"Greetings, Sir," Gitsu told him dutifully. "Your most loyal of followers are at your disposal tonight."
"Excellent," said Long Feng. "It's good that so many of you are present. Tonight we will discover how to make things the way they once were. Come – we have a short distance to walk first."
"Where are we going?" asked Gitsu curiously.
"We're going to a remote and reclusive underground location where we can discuss the plans with our new partners. They will be our allies in this plot."
"I see," Gitsu said with a nod. "Who are these people and where did you find them?"
"They came to me," Long Feng responded shortly. "They don't like to talk about themselves much."
For a few more than twenty minutes Long Feng and his faithful followers walked through the streets and alleys of Ba Sing Se. In the corner of one of the more distant dark alleyways they found a stairway which led underneath the city into an abandoned catacomb. At the bottom of those stairs lay a long hallway lit by candles lining the sides of the walls. At the end of the hallway there was a room where they found three people: two men and one woman – all dressed in black outfits with vague symbols and their faces covered, save their eyes.
"You're here," said the man in the center. "Good."
"As I said we would be," confirmed Long Feng. "How about some introductions?"
"Very well," said the man coolly. "I am called Brother Memnon. This is Brother Zhang Sang and Sister Joo Dee. We all know who you are, Long Feng."
"Hmmm." Long Feng nodded. He chuckled and turned to face the woman of the group. "Sister Joo Dee, eh? I used to know a whole bunch of women by that name. It's a great name, isn't it?"
Long Feng's misguided attempt to lighten the mood was not well received. The woman called Sister Joo Dee stared blankly at him without a word. Memnon's eyes gave the same impression as if he were rolling them, even though he did not physically do so. "Let's get to business," he said dryly.
"Yes – let's," confirmed Long Feng.
"You want Ba Sing Se," stated Brother Zhang Sang. "We can help you with that."
"I see," said Long Feng. "And what do you want in return?"
"We will tell you what we need from you when the time is right," Sister Joo Dee told him.
Long Feng narrowed his eyes and shook his head. "That's really not how negotiations work."
"Were you expecting a conventional back-and-forth deal-making process?" asked Brother Memnon.
"Something like that," Long Feng returned. "At the very least it would be appropriate to give us courtesy of knowing what we're getting ourselves into."
"You can consider that to be 'need-to-know' for now."
Long Feng was baffled by his words. Gitsu managed to give a response. "If you go to the merchants in the Middle Ring you'll find absolutely none that try to do business like you're doing. If you acted like this with them they'd tell you you're crazy."
"We're not merchants in Middle Ring," Sister Joo Dee told him coolly. "Don't refer to us as such."
"Who are you, exactly?" asked Long Feng.
"That brings us to our next condition," stated Memnon. "You will not ask questions about us – ever."
"Why are you so secretive?" asked Gitsu with a wince.
"What did I just say?" asked Memnon irritably.
Long Feng was becoming frustrated. "Look – this isn't how I'm used to being treated. Show me the respect I deserve or I won't work with you."
"Let's not over-complicate things," Brother Memnon told him.
"The way I see it, things are simple," said Brother Zhang Sang. "You want Ba Sing Se. You can't have it without us. We'll help you get it. You give us what we want."
Long Feng scoffed. "What if I don't want it as bad as you think I do?"
"We have no time for games," Memnon said with frustration. "We know where your heart is. We know the lengths you'll go to get what you want. Let's not waste time."
Long Feng was not pleased. "Hmph! What about logistics? How will you get me back into my former post?"
"You'll find out soon enough," said Sister Joo Dee.
"In the mean time," added Brother Zhang Sang. "No funny business. We'll know if you have any ideas."
"We'll always be one step ahead of you," Brother Memnon told him. "Never the other way around."
Suddenly, Long Feng felt a rock glove around his neck. The man on the opposite side of him than the one Gitsu was on had him by the throat. "Yao Ming – what on Earth are you doing?!" But then Long Feng got a second look at his face. "You're not Yao Ming!"
"No, he's not," stated Brother Zhang Sang.
"Yao Ming's taking the night off," said Sister Joo Dee with a smirk.
"We're just proving a point. You can come over here, now." The man from this organization who was dressed as a Dai Li member walked over and stood behind Brother Memnon. "Don't try to hide anything, Long Feng. We'll know if you try to get the better of us."
"Ugh – you're insane!" said Long Feng while grabbing his neck and breathing heavily.
"This concludes our first meeting," said Brother Memnon. "We'll be in touch with you again soon."
"You'll find out," said Sister Joo Dee.
With that, Long Feng and his men turned and left, leaving the members of this group of people alone together.
"So it's in motion, then," remarked Sister Joo Dee.
"Yes," agreed Brother Zhang Sang.
"Yes," concurred Brother Memnon. "But I must say I'm annoyed at Chao Feng's bungling at this pivotal hour. I told him not to overstep his bounds. He knew how to handle the Avatar – track, attack and capture. Don't kill. The idiot might have screwed it all up for us."
"I see no reason to worry ourselves," said Brother Zhang Sang. "He almost killed the Avatar, but he didn't. Chao Feng is proving quite competent."
"We shall have the pleasure of killing the Avatar eventually," said Sister Joo Dee. "Even if we must wait. We need him first."
"All the while, we need to stay in the dark," said Brother Zhang Sang. "The Avatar may question what we're up to."
"I have set a plan in motion to neutralize the Avatar," declared Brother Memnon. "If he returns to the Air Temples anytime soon he'll be in for a nasty surprise."
Long Feng was walking with Gitsu and the rest of his men back to the extravagant Upper Ring. "Well, that's the end of that! Let's all just forget that little exchange ever happened."
Gitsu turned to his leader quizzically. "What do you mean, Sir? This is not the kind of thing you walk away from."
"Do you really think continuing to associate with these people is practical?" Long Feng questioned. "They won't even tell us our side of the bargain!"
"With all do respect," Gitsu countered, "they just offered us Ba Sing Se. What could they possibly ask in return that would make it a raw deal for us?"
TO BE CONTINUED...
- The author experimented with writing in this chapter. The first four sections of this chapter began and ended with a speaking line. This differs from the norm in Energy Saga, where a description of the setting precedes a round of action or dialogue. Here, some of the details of the scene were mixed in with the dialogue. The readers probably have an established idea what the Southern Water Tribe, the Northern Water Tribe and Omashu look like already. The final section of this chapter was written more or less using the previous method. The author has not decided whether he will use the new format in the future.
- "Yao Ming" is a reference to the basketball player.
For the collective works of the author, go here.