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|Battle at the Fire Nation Capital: Part Two|
Previously on Energy Saga
The battle for the fate of the Fire Nation - and probably the fate of the world - finally begins. Team Avatar is in for a rough fight. The Phoenix Army has a secret submarine-like weapon called the Malevolence, which Migo and Sokka take out as Katara and Aang lead the battle in the harbor. When Sokka is injured, Migo uses metalbending to fight Azula, whom he later brings back as a prisoner. Azula - captured? This is unthinkable, but wait - its not actually her.
Chapter Twenty-Five: Battle at the Fire Nation Capital: Part Two
Fire Nation Royal Palace 120 AG
"She isn't Azula?" asked Migo, confused. "Everyone said she was."
"If she is Azula, she sure feels a lot different than before," said Toph while stroking her bare foot on the cold, tiled floor.
"It's not her," Ty Lee stated definitively. "Up this close I would recognize her, even after twenty years"
"Yeah, same here," added Mai.
"Why did you all not realize this before?" asked Zuko.
"We were kind of far away when we saw her," informed Katara.
"I fought her briefly in the Old Colonies, but I didn't get that close a look," said Aang.
"She did say she was Azula when she fought Migo and I aboard the Malevolence," commented Sokka.
Zuko turned to his Head of Security. "Can you explain this?"
"Certainly. Some months ago there was a middle-class woman from the Eastern Fire Nation who started masquerading as Princess Azula. This is the impostor you see before you. When the Fire Nation Civil War started, she was quick to join in on the side of the Phoenix Army rebels. She's a master firebender and did ample research into the real Azula's mannerisms and background, so she was able to play the part quite well Many genuinely believed that she was Azula. She used her assumed rank and stature to gather a sizable force under her command."
"Why did the other commanders of the Phoenix Army go along with her scheme?" asked Aang. "Surely they would know Azula when they saw her."
"She served their purpose at the time," Zuko's Head of Security answered simply. "The Phoenix Army uses nostalgia for the old Fire Nation days in their propaganda and while she played the part of Azula, she became a symbol for them – a rallying point for the whole of the Phoenix Army."
"I knew she didn't seem like Azula when we met her at the institution," said Aang matter-of-factly.
"Hey, I thought she was really Azula," said Migo defensively. "I had never seen the real Azula so when everyone said it was her I believed them."
"Relax Migo," Aang directed. "No one's blaming you for anything."
"I didn't visit the real Azula in the institution," Katara interjected. "The last I remember of her was when Zuko and I dueled against her under Sozin's Comet. From what I saw of the impostor – her pretty much just throwing fireballs at everything while charming everyone and her flaky wit – it seemed enough like Azula to convince me."
"But it wasn't," said Aang. "In the Cave of the Ancients and the Colonies and here – none of it was Azula. It was all this...person."
Zuko turned back to his Head of Security. "So if this Azula isn't actually her, where is the real Azula now?"
"She is still on Ember Island," he replied. "Just like always."
"Well, make sure she stays there," Zuko directed.
"Shouldn't be too hard," said Zuko's Head of Security. "She's been there nearly fifteen years."
Katara smirked. "How funny it is that Azula's still stuck on Ember Island. It's one of the few places in the Fire Nation not involved in the war. She's one of the few firebenders not fighting anybody right now."
"Anyway, moving on," said Zuko definitively. "Let's tie her up and move her into one of the cells. Azula – or rather the false Azula – is now a prisoner and taking out the Malevolence gone bought us some time. We still have Zhao Jr. and the rest of the Phoenix Army to deal with. My guess is they're launching their second wave any minute now. We have to hold out until the Western Fleet gets here."
"Right," said Aang. "We should prepare ourselves then."
Katara grabbed his shoulder gently. "Aang, before that, how about you and I go to the courtyard and have a talk?"
"Okay," said Aang.
"You can't go to the northern courtyard right now. That's the one with the pond that we normally go to," Zuko told them. "It's been converted into an outdoor recovery room for the wounded that have already been healed. They're resting all over the place. The southern courtyard is empty at the moment. You can take a moment there."
"Wow – sounds like our Kaddo has been quite busy," said Katara.
Aang shrugged. "Southern courtyard it is then." And with that he and his wife walked hand-in-hand from the room.
Southern Palace Courtyard
The Southern Palace Courtyard was visited less often than its northern counterpart. Rather than functioning like a private park for the royal family, it was home to the more elegant plants and flora – including a beautiful patch of crimson red flowers that seemed to be the very reflection of the sunlight on the grass. It was perfect on days when it was in full bloom. Katara and Aang felt the calm, breezy wind in their faces. This place was now their own tranquil bubble untouched by the outside battle.
"It's nice here," said Aang, still holding Katara's hand.
"It's nice enough," stated Katara. "I just wanted to be alone with you for a bit."
"Right," said Aang. "We haven't gotten to spend much time with each other like this since this new civil war started."
"Yeah, things have been troublesome," agreed Katara. "I'm sorry about the fights we've had. I know you have the right intentions and I should give you more credit."
"What are you talking about?" asked Aang rhetorically. "I should be the one apologizing to you. I've been distant and stubborn with you and the kids. I've shut you out, I've driven Tenzin away and I haven't been there enough for Kaddo and Vameira either, but I promise things will be different soon."
"Don't sweat it," Katara said back at him as she released his hand. "I'm trying to be less critical of people now. You've done your best – and Zuko's done his best too. I'm sure he did all he could to prevent this conflict from escalating. But we can't concern ourselves with what was. We must act on what is."
"Since when do you quote Gyatso?" asked Aang, surprised.
"Since I've heard you do it about a billion times."
Aang smirked. "After this is all over things will be different. Once we defeat the Phoenix Army today, the tide of the war will have turned and Zuko can finish most of the war on his own. We can go back to the South Pole, I can go back to teaching airbending and you can go back to teaching waterbending – but not until after our family takes a nice long holiday together."
Katara laughed playfully. "The almighty Avatar taking a holiday – did I hear that right?"
"Very funny. I do need to spend more time alone with all of you. Tenzin, especially. But also you, Vameira and Kaddo."
"Kaddo," said Katara with a roll of her eyes. "He's quite a handful – a spitting image of Pakku if I ever saw one. He's very rude and sexist."
"Does he give you trouble when you train him?" asked Aang.
"Not so much," Katara conceded. "But I'm his trainer and one of the best waterbenders in the world, so its a given that he looks up to me. However, he sees me as the exception, not the rule. He has little-to-no respect for other females – especially other female waterbenders. Honestly, I think he's spent too much time at the North Pole and for his sake we should hold back on taking him there again for a while. His friends there are not a good influence for him."
Aang frowned at this suggestion. As the Avatar, he frequently had to make trips to different parts of the world. His family was used to this and they had friends in every major city. Restricting their travel to an entire half of one of the four nations would be a hefty burden. "I don't think we can do that. I have to go to the Spirit Oasis at the North Pole every time I see Yue about energybending."
Katara was displeased at his lack of cooperation. "Well, perhaps you can go by yourself then. That is, if you still want to do that after what Jeong Jeong told you the other night about getting involved in energybending."
"I'll be careful," Aang told her. "Plus, I don't want to just walk away from it all based on what Jeong Jeong says alone. I've been talking to Yue about it much longer and it's only fair to hear her side of the story."
"I guess." Katara wandered toward the patch of flowers and stared admiringly at them. "These are fire lilies. They're my favorite flower, you know. You normally don't see a lot of flowers in the Water Tribes. I wish we could have had them at our wedding, but Gran Gran was dead set on buying our flowers from the Earth Kingdom. They've been my favorite ever since we stayed at Hama's inn right before the Day of Black Sun Invasion."
"Yikes, I remember that. She was...unforgettable."
"Yes, she was," Katara concurred. "The villagers believed these flowers would bring them good luck. Some of them took to carrying them on the night of the full moon so they wouldn't go missing."
"I wonder how much good it did them."
Katara shrugged. "She showed me these flowers when I was starting my waterbending training with her. They were the ones she sucked the water out of to show me one of her moves."
Katara knelt down and stroked the petals of the one nearest to her. "I wonder how that must feel – to have something essential for you just – ripped out of your body like that."
"I don't know how it would feel and I'm not in a hurry to find out," Aang responded. "But I do remember being bloodbended by her under the full moon. I assume it would be like that only taken a step further."
Katara sighed. "Maybe she wouldn't have gone crazy if she had taken more time to appreciate the things around her. Instead she resolved to control everyone and everything with her bloodbending."
Aang shivered slightly. "It reminds me of Icarus's asphyxiation."
Katara nodded. "That's not surprising. If you look at these moves, you can find a similar kind of technique in different bending disciplines I mean think about it. There's the water spout and the air spout."
"And the water wall, earth wall, fire wall..." Aang continued.
Katara paused for a moment. Then she plucked up one of the fire lilies and tucked it in her husband's Air Nomad tunic. "Now this will bring you luck for the rest of the day. You'll probably need it."
Aang smiled and grasped Katara's hand as she gave him the flower. He gazed longingly into her eyes and she gazed back into his. The distance between their heads gradually began to lessen as the tension pulled them forward until their lips touched and they shared a kiss for a few seconds. It would have lasted longer if it had not been for their interruption by Zuko, who had entered the courtyard.
Katara saw the grim expression on Zuko's face. "This can't be good," she said as she and her husband exchanged looks.
"What is it, Zuko?" asked Aang.
"The Western Fleet is under attack. They ran into the dragon Ormar on the way here."
Black Cliffs Channel
As Ormar continued to loom overhead and spew fire at every turn, all boats in the Western Fleet save the main one were now sunk or sinking. Even on the one remaining ship, most of the men had burned alive or met some other horrible demise, some tried to fight back, but as strong as their firebending was, it was nothing comparable to that of a dragon – even an adolescent dragon.
Upon the mast of his slowly-burning flagship, Admiral Fung-Chen had just made a brave last stand of his own. After taking his best shot, his officer's uniform caught fire and he slipped and fell down from the mast, breaking his neck following a long fall. Meanwhile, Iroh, Captain Lee and Tenzin sat huddled in a corner of the deck, dodging flames at every instance.
"Oh great, this is it. We're finished!" Lee yelled in raging panic.
"Calm yourself," Iroh said softly.
"Speak for yourself, old man!"
Iroh raised an eyebrow. "Excuse me?"
"You heard me," said Captain Lee indignantly. "You're just a publicity stunt to boost our morale – a decorative general from ages past. What good are you in a real fight?"
Iroh remained calm after Lee's insult. "I could challenge you to a real fight now, but we have more pressing concerns on our hands."
Tenzin could not believe his ears. "Captain Lee – apologize to General Iroh. You owe him some respect!"
"Tenzin, don't get involved," Iroh told him.
Tenzin ignored Iroh and continued to trash Lee. "Who are you to talk to him like that? At any age, he's more than twice the man you'll ever be."
"Shut up!" said Lee, outraged. "I'm your commanding officer – you do not speak to me like that."
"He's right you know," Iroh concurred. "Show your commanding officer the proper respect. Even if he doesn't practice the same principle, that's no reason for you to sink to his level of insubordination." Lee shot Iroh a look as he finished.
"Yes, Sir," said Tenzin through gritted teeth.
"Good," Iroh accepted. "Now that that's out of the way, we're all going to focus on getting out of this."
"Like I said before, we're finished," Lee said, defeated.
"For crying out loud – pull yourself together! This is no time to talk like that. This is a time for action. Gather your men and get to the lifeboats. I'll distract the Ormar in the mean time."
Lee sneered at him. "Hah – fat chance! What do you know about dragons? You never actually fought one. You pretended for years that you did and people like my father worshiped you for it – Iroh, the great Dragon of the West. You're nothing but a washed-up fraud, old man!"
"Enough," said Iroh firmly. "I have neither the time nor the patience put up with your nonsense. Bring your men to the life boats – immediately. That's an order." Lee looked disgusted, but did exactly as he was told. He turned and made his way towards the hold, where the remainder of the surviving troops and sailors had congregated.
Iroh then rounded on Tenzin. "You're a good lad, Tenzin. You just need to control your temper and be a little less rash in your decision making. I need you to be vigilant now."
"What do you want me to do?"
"Go with Lee and the others in the life boats. I'm counting on you more than I'm counting on him."
"I can help distract Ormar, you know," stated Tenzin. "He can fly and shoot fire. I can fly and you can shoot fire. We'd make a great team."
"No. Your job is to focus on getting out of here alive. The other soldiers may need your airbending help and you're no good to anyone dead," Iroh told him firmly. "That's an order," he added when he saw the hesitant expression on the young Air Nomad's face.
Tenzin stammered as he followed after Captain Lee. He was not confident with this plan. He felt like he needed some reassurance. Tenzin wanted to ask Iroh if things would be alright, but that sounded too childish and out of place. So he tried to come up with a way to ask that without asking it directly. "So, we'll play Pai Sho again once this is all over, right?"
Iroh paused, then met Tenzin's eyes with his own. "Sorry my boy, Lu Ten already has my next game."
"Oh, okay," said Tenzin, disappointed. As he departed the scene, Tenzin assumed that meant that things would be alright for them, but whoever this Lu Ten person was, he did not like him very much.
Iroh abruptly turned to face the front of the ship. Ormar was there – taking a break from his constant breathing of fire to eye the prey which stood before him.
Even the most courageous of warriors would have been struck with fear by Ormar's glare, but Iroh was undaunted. "Hello there," Iroh greeted casually. "I met your parents once, you know. Years ago they taught me the true meaning of firebending. I'm sure they taught you a lot of what you know – that goes without saying. I see you're growing pretty big – care for some jasmine tea?"
Ormar growled and flared his nostrils. Iroh's smile vanished. "Ah, it seems you wish to make things more serious. Very well, I'll cut to the chase. You seem lost. You let your anger drive your firebending. I was lost once, too, but your parents showed me the proper path. Your species is quite wise and knowledgeable about firebending, but you're a young dragon, so you wouldn't know. In fact, you're actually the original source of firebending. Hopefully its not too late for you. I'll try to do the same favor for you that your parents did for me." Iroh whirled his arms around in a hasty motion and displayed a magnificent flaming spiral. It was not like the firebending most of the world had become accustomed to during and following the Hundred Year War. It was balanced, beautiful and pure. Iroh desperately hoped that Ormar would be effected by this – for that was the last hope for both of them.
It was not to be. Ormar was infuriated by Iroh's straightforwardness and opened his mouth wide, spitting a tremendous jet of fire at the old soldier and former Crown Prince of the Fire Nation. Iroh had enough time to jump out of the way of the flame and avoid the attack. He sighed and shook his head. "How unfortunate. You would have so much to learn. I heard you were the most fierce and unruly of your litter. Perhaps it was wishful thinking, but I hoped that you would have been a quick learner."
Iroh wanted to help his nephew today, but that was no longer possible. At least Zuko had his friends with him. Now, Iroh had sworn to allow Tenzin and the rest of his men to escape destruction. He said he would distract the dragon, but that would not be enough, for he would not be distracted for long. The only way to ensure their safety was to end him.
Iroh acted quickly, bending the flaming breath away from him and allowing himself time to do what he had to do. The target was the fiery innards of Ormar that generated his breath. If enough heat were concentrated in any one place at any one time, an explosion would ignite. Iroh would have to push enough of his own fire and enough of Ormar's fire into there to cause this. This was the surest way to kill a dragon and the only sure way to perform that now was at close-range from his own ship. But at this close range the ship and everything on it would blow sky high as well. There was no way either of them would survive
This was not suicide. This was sacrifice. Iroh was preserving life. Each of the other men had much more time left than he did. They were young and might not understand – lacking his wisdom and experience – and some, like Tenzin, had a rash temper and much to learn, but in time they would grow, mature and make better of things. Ormar would have been the same way. However, for them to have that chance, Ormar must unfortunately be deprived of that chance and duty called Iroh to be the executor. If Ran and Shaw were here, they might make a different call, but this was not about right, wrong or fairness. This was simply the fate of things – the way the ball rolled. Iroh would be praised for this, but he did not desire so. In a lifetime of war, he was used to being honored for acts he was not proud of. That does not mean he would take them back. It simply means that circumstances could have been better.
"I'm sorry, Ran and Shaw," Iroh called out. "I know what its like to lose a child to war. I never wanted to inflict that on somebody else – let alone somebody who has changed my life for the better, but I have no choice."
As Ormar shot a gargantuan gust of flaming breath straight at him, Iroh put all his might into pushing back, driving the breath to where it came from. Only the highest level masters of firebending could ever dream of accomplishing this feat – and only on a good day. Fortunately Iroh was having a good day. He had provided Tenzin and the others with enough time to make their getaway. A spark lit inside Ormar, his torso collapsed and his enormous, slender body became dormant. The ensuing explosion engulfed the ship. Once the ammunition in the hold caught fire, the explosion grew bigger. As it came towards Iroh himself, he could not help but think of the irony of it all. His lie of several years was now made a truth. He had killed a dragon.
No one should pity me, Iroh said in his head. I have been to the Spirit World once before – and they do indeed have jasmine tea there.
Fire Nation Royal Palace
A somber mood filled the room after General Mongke brought the devastating news. The Western Fleet was wiped out. Most of them were already confirmed dead, including Admiral Fung-Chen. The beloved General Iroh had likewise fallen. The Fire Nation, the Order of the White Lotus and Team Avatar endured a major loss and they were forced to deal with the new reality: they were in the process of losing their battle, and reinforcements were not on the way for them.
It was a lot for them to deal with at once. Everyone was distraught and unsure of themselves. At last Katara spoke up. "Since we don't have time for a proper mourning now, I suggest we do a brief moment of silence for Iroh and then decide our next move. It's the best we can do now – we can't fret about it all day." She turned to Zuko and he nodded.
"For Iroh, a giver of great advice," said Toph.
"...a brilliant man," said Aang.
"...a caring leader," added Katara.
"...a father," added Zuko, looking down.
"Here, here," Sokka concluded. Everyone in the room held their heads in silence for a few long moments. Then they lifted them up again. It was time to get back to business.
"Okay, so what's the plan now?" asked Toph.
"Well, let's see," said Sokka. "We've facing a rabid legion of firebenders and warriors with warships and airships and all we have are ourselves and a much smaller, exhausted home defense force."
"Then we have to concentrate on taking down the biggest threats," Katara commented.
Zuko spoke slowly. "Yes, its our only chance." He had the uncomfortable feeling that something important had slipped his mind.
"I've been fighting the warships all day," said Katara. "I can keep doing it all night if I have to."
"We could bring all available troops to the harbor," stated Sokka. "We could give them a run for their money for a good time, but it would be sort of a last stand for us."
"And if we put everything we have into stopping the warships, we would have nothing left for the airships," said Zuko.
"I have an idea for that," Aang announced. "I can take out the airships, but I'll need all available airbenders with me."
Zuko froze. Tenzin was on the ship with Iroh and was probably dead now. Katara and Aang have no idea! And Zuko knew ahead of time. Should he tell them now? No, he cannot do that. They all just got a heavy dose of bad news. It would be the worst time to burden them with any more. But when would he tell them?
"What's your plan, Twinkle Toes?" asked Toph.
"Gather round, everyone," said Aang, motioning for people to come closer to him. "I have a little something here that will help us put an end to their airship threat once and for all!" Aang reached into his sleeve as if to grab something. Katara and Sokka raised their eyebrows, waiting to see what Aang had to show them. The five members of the Council of Elders were intrigued as well, since they would be involved in whatever it was he had in mind. Aang withdrew his clenched hand and opened his palm to reveal a ten black marbles. He proceeded to spin them in a circular motion with his airbending and gave them a wide, cheesy smile.
"What's going on?" asked Toph. She could neither see what Aang was doing nor decipher the rest of the room's reaction to it.
Nola stared blankly. "Ummm...he's kidding, right?"
Trinley grinned. "No. I don't think he is."
They just barely managed to avoid being consumed by the blast and the life boats became greatly damaged and soon gave way. Those on board had no choice but to swim for the nearest shore, which was thin and surrounded by cliffs. The men – scarcely more than twenty – stood by a steep rocky cliff with no other patch of flat land around them. With the tide against them, they would soon be underwater again.
"So the old man rid us of the infernal beast – that's great," Captain Lee said aloud to everyone as they reached land. "But the tides are coming in fast and it looks like we're all out of breath. We came all this way just to drown."
"Don't say that, Captain," said Tenzin, stretching his legs. "We have to follow Iroh's last orders and survive."
Lee maintained his typical pessimism. "And how do we do that, airbender?" As Lee spoke, his ankles were now underwater.
"I brought some rope from the ship. I can get us out of this jam." And with that, Tenzin sprung high into the air, with his glider to give himself some extra leverage and reached the top of the cliff. He then tied the rope around a nearby boulder and tossed down the other end, which was just long enough to reach the bottom. "Climb on up."
Lee and the rest of his companions stared at the rope in and up at Tenzin in amazement. They climbed up one-by-one until all of them were at the top and able to catch their breath.
When they had all reached safety, Lee reluctantly swallowed his pride and approached Tenzin. "Nice going...young airbender. I guess we have nothing to worry about now."
Tenzin sat on the grass and crossed his arms, his head pointing towards the distant Capital Island. "The hard part may be over for us, but my family and the others still very much in the middle of it."
Lee grimaced. "Forget about it – our mission is aborted. There's no way we can reach them now."
Tenzin could not argue with this. "All we can do for them now is pray."
Two middle-aged men stood idly by on the deck of one of the five airships which flew side by side and made casual conversation with one another. "Lovely weather today, isn't it?"
"Aye, Quon Ming," his comrade responded. "The sun is high and bright and the loyalists are just begging to be fire bombed."
"Very true," concurred Quon Ming. "They've concentrated all their defenses in the harbor. Everything else is ready for the taking."
His friend did not have time to respond, for he was knocked out by a swift blow to the temple. The culprit was a small object which had come out of nowhere. Quon Ming picked it up and examined it. Was it a bird or a projectile? No – it appeared to be a marble.
All of a sudden, a loud popping noise emitted through the elevated air. The balloon of the flying contraption had been pierced and the oxygen was draining swiftly from within. Quon Lee turned about and gawked at what was before him. He saw a group of airbenders on their gliders – each with a spinning circle of black marbles approximately three feet in diameter being rotated by one hand and their gliders grasped in the other.
Another marble bumped Quon Lee in the head and the airbenders proceeded to shoot marbles into the war balloons at high speed. By the time the firebenders came to the scene, the airships were already on their way down.
Fire Nation Royal Palace
Kaddo vigorously went on healing the endless line of injured that came before him. Vameira did not have much to do at the moment, so she sat beside him – her arms folded over her knee caps.
Neinei entered hastily. She brought urgent news with her this time. "Kaddo – you need to take a break from healing. Your mother has summoned you to the harbor."
"Alright!" said Kaddo. "I mean – I'm coming."
"Don't get to excited – she just wants you to help her freeze as much water in the harbor as you can to halt the warships a little."
"How is everything down there?"
"Our ground forces have engaged theirs and they seem evenly matched at the moment," answered Neinei. "Your uncle Sokka and the Water Tribe warriors are leading the charge. They're used to fighting Fire Nation soldiers without benders of their own. But the Phoenix forces have another flank coming in, so your mother has summoned you to block them faster with two benders."
Kaddo nodded. "Okay. I'm on it."
As he left, Neinei looked upon Vameira, who was keeping quiet at the moment. "You scared?" Vameira merely nodded in response.
Royal Caldera City
A vast crowd of tents had now gathered in Royal Caldera City. It was much safer here than in Harbor City and many residents were seeking refuge. Many more had gone into the bunkers – including the Fire Lord's three younger daughters.
Aang took his glider through the crisp, sunny air and touched down beside Sokka. They had both just come in from their respective missions. "How is the waterfront?" asked Aang.
Sokka seemed preoccupied. "Well, we managed to hold them off – for now. The water in the harbor is frozen, which has bought us some time, but their ships have no shortage of firebenders and they're are melting it as fast as they can. What about you – how did the marble plan work?"
"We managed to take out three of their airships and the other two retreated – hopefully for good," answered Aang. "Which was perfect timing, because we ran out of marbles to shoot at them."
"Listen Aang, about the energybending you did earlier – giving me recquiesence and all..."
"What about it?"
"Well, thanks," Sokka said uneasily. "But I think you shouldn't have."
"What!?" asked Aang in alarm. "Why would you say that?"
"Katara or Kaddo could've healed me with waterbending," said Sokka uncomfortably. "That would have been – more appropriate."
"Don't be stupid," Aang told him. "It's what I do. If you had been healed, you still would've been tired. This way you're energized and ready to get right back in there. I figured that you would prefer it that way. By the way – about your asking me to give you more waterbenders – I've reconsidered. I think it's a good idea. The Southern Water Tribe was also hit hard by the war – even if it wasn't quite as bad as with the Air Nomads. I shouldn't keep the gifts of energybending contained. They should be shared with all who need them – with the whole world."
"I don't think so, Aang," Sokka said defiantly. "Perhaps you don't know what you're messing with. Since energies control bending, feelings and pretty much allow someone's soul to function, they probably shouldn't be messed with at all. After what Jeong Jeong told you, you still want to continue this? Those tales he told you about the Masters and the ancient practitioners of energybending really creeped me out. Then there's an ancient group of assassins following you and hunting you who undoubtedly have some connection to all this."
Aang was now angry. "Why are you talking like this now? You supported it to begin with! You even came with me all the way to the Eastern Air Temple, the North Pole and throughout the Earth Kingdom so that I could learn energybending and bring it into the world. In fact, you suggested I use energybending to give people airbending in the first place!"
"I did, but I regret it now. I've thought about it more since then. It just seems like less and less of a good idea. It's not just Jeong Jeong that has opposed you on this. Pathik, Roku, Yangchen and yes, now me. I know you have good intentions, but you need to accept that some of the moves you were using were not designed to be used for a good purpose. Think of the 'imprint of chaos' that Jeong Jeong said was attached to each of your new airbenders now. It wouldn't go away even if you took their bending back now. Doesn't that make you think? You cannot ignore all this just for the sake of your dream come true." Dream come true – Roku had used that exact phrase when he appeared to Aang in a dream all those years ago.
"I refuse to be put off by some old piece of folklore Jeong Jeong came across." Aang pointed straight at Sokka's eyes. "And how dare you insult my airbenders. They are the new extension of my culture and it was they who defended us with their shield and protected countless lives. I am protecting the balance of the world. This is my obligation and responsibility as the Avatar and I will do it!"
"Have you noticed that energybending offers quick and easy solutions to things but there's always a catch? Think about it. You can enhance the strength of your own chi, but you wind up tired every time you do so. So you had to save the world but you had qualms about killing Ozai. No big deal – you just used energybending to take Ozai's bending away but you had to risk your own spirit's corruption and destruction to do so. So you had to restore balance after the war and you missed the Air Nomads. No big deal – you just used energybending to give airbending to people, but you have to leave this 'imprint of chaos' everywhere – just like you do every time you energybend. The more you do it, the worse it is for the world, not better."
"What do you know of energies?" snapped Aang. "You don't know anything about them besides what I've told you. Who are you to lecture me about them?"
"Well, the stuff you've told me was pretty frightening. Think about the part about how its much harder to undo something done through energybending than it is to do it in the first place."
"I don't need to worry about undoing anything," scoffed Aang. "I've never done anything I regret with energybending. Enough of this fearful nonsense. Energybending may be intimidating to those who don't understand it, but I will not be intimidated!"
For the second time that day, Aang found himself interrupted in the middle of a passionate conversation by Zuko, who now stood behind him. "I need to talk to you and Katara."
Zuko led him to a deserted ally where Katara was already waiting for them. Much of the city was empty as many residents had chosen to seek refuge in the volcano bunkers.
"What is it, Zuko?" asked Katara.
A lump appeared in the Fire Lord's throat. "It's about the Western Fleet and how it was attacked earlier today. Iroh sent me a messenger hawk a few days ago and told me something I think you ought to know."
"Can't this wait?" asked Aang with a roll of his eyes. "We have a lot of immediate problems to deal with."
"It's important," Zuko said in a hurry. "When he wrote to me, he said that he had a young airbender on his ship. It was your son, Tenzin."
Katara gasped. "And when Ormar destroyed the Western Fleet, Tenzin was...was..."
"Most likely," Zuko finished. Katara – now on the verge of tears – put her hand to her mouth in shock. "I was going to tell both of you soon," Zuko continued. "It's just that we're all in great peril now and I thought it would be best to wait."
Katara and Aang looked at their friend Zuko with an unkindness they had not shown him since he first offered to teach Aang firebending. "How could you keep this from us?" asked Aang angrily.
"I thought it would be a nice surprise for you to see your son when he got here with my Uncle," Zuko explained. "I never expected Ormar to come after them. I'm sorry."
"Well it certainly is a surprise Zuko," Aang told him stiffly. He could not believe this. On top of everything else, this was more than he could handle. One of his friends berates him for using his energybending to make the world a better place, another of his friends is a liar, one of their oldest mentors met a brutal end, the Fire Nation Capital was hanging by a thread and now Tenzin was probably burnt to a crisp by a runaway dragon. After the battle he could travel to where the Western Fleet had fallen and search for survivors, but there was only a shimmer of hope. If only he had been a better father and built a stronger bond of trust and respect with his eldest son. Then he might not have run away and would be with them now. Aang did not think he could take anymore. He wanted out, but he did not have that luxury. He was the Avatar – everyone was counting on him.
Zhao Jr.'s Flagship
The Phoenix Army had regrouped. They had taken a beating, but they had recovered from it. They lost a few airships and several warships, but they still had all the manpower they needed. Zhao Jr. had ordered his men from the broken ships to consolidate onto his warship. The way was now clear to make their final assault. And they still had two fast airships to firebomb their target and turn the Fire Army base into an inferno. The enemy was out of strength and at last the Fire Nation Capital was theirs for the taking!
Best of all, with the phony princess out of way, Zhao Jr. had no one to share the spoils of victory with once he claimed it for his own. He gathered his men on deck and gave them a fiery preparatory speech. "Men, this is the day we take back the capital and make the Fire Nation ours. This will be our final wave – we have enough forces here to easily overrun them. Accept no surrender and take no prisoners! Anyone who stands in our way must be eliminated – whether they actively stand in our way or simply get in our way. And don't distinguish between man, woman or child. This is not the time for hesitation. This is the time for victory!"
Capital Bay Docks
They all gathered now at the front of the bay. The Phoenix Army's maneuvering was clearly visible. Katara and Aang were giving Zuko a cold shoulder, but everyone was now equally preoccupied with something else. Two gigantic Phoenix Army airships and an empire-class battleship were across the harbor and about to make an assault. The sheet of ice from earlier was now all but gone. Meanwhile, on their side, the Fire Army defenses were battered and the soldiers still available were battered, disillusioned and disorganized. Despite all their efforts, the time had come to accept reality.
It was over. They had lost.
Zuko hung his head. "The Phoenix Army is going to ransack this whole island just so Zhao Jr. can collect his vengeance on me. At this point I should just give myself up. That way, at least they'll leave my people alone."
"Don't be stupid!" snapped Sokka. "That's just the kind of thinking Zhao Jr. wants you to have right now. This isn't over yet. The battle may be lost, but there are still a good number of loyal Fire Army units spread across the land. Winning the war is still possible and that's what we have to focus on now. You won't be doing your people any favors by allowing their country to succumb to the will of the Phoenix Army."
"Your people need you Zuko," Katara stated stiffly. Like Aang, she was still mad at him.
"Fine," Zuko agreed. "But we have to make it clear to them that I've escaped so that they don't ravage the capital looking for me."
"We can go by boat and propel it forward with our bending," suggested Aang. "The Phoenix Army will have their hands full securing the city. We can outrun their pursuit."
"We'll take my royal barge," said Zuko. "It's a fancy boat mostly for ceremonial occasions, but its faster than it looks. They'll know we've left but they won't catch us. That's the only solution I can think of. Once we're far enough away we decide...whatever it is we do next."
"Sounds like a plan," said Sokka.
Katara nodded. "It'll be tough, but at least we'll have each other."
"What about the citizens?" asked Aang.
"Yes, we have to evacuate them somehow," agreed Katara.
Zuko thought for a moment. "Toph, can you lead them?"
"Yeah," she returned. "Finally I can do something on my own around here."
"Listen then," continued Zuko. "There's an opening in the lower levels of the bunker that opens out into the ocean. I doubt the Phoenix Army knows of it. Chan can show you where it is. However, I'm not sure if we have enough room on our remaining vessels to evacuate everybody. It will be tough, but some may need to be left behind. You'll need to make that call yourself when the time comes. Whatever happens, keep things orderly."
"Once everyone is within the bunker, seal the entrances," Zuko added. "That way the Phoenix Army won't be able to follow."
"I'll go help with that too," Ty Lee added.
"Okay," said Zuko. "The rest of us should head down to the barge."
Toph tired herself by bending an Earth stage. She had not fully-recovered yet and bending took a toll on her. She was flanked by Chan, Nala and Ty Lee. Quickly, she gathered the attention of the surrounding mob of civilians – many of them women and children. "Everybody move in! The Phoenix Army is coming and we can't stop them this time. It's time to get you all to safety. We're going to climb up to the top of the volcano and congregate in the lower bunker. Those who are not injured please lend a hand to those who are injured or have trouble climbing mountains. Once we get there, await further instructions. We have a way for you all to escape." The citizens stopped panicking and followed her direction. As they ascended, Nala helped Toph down.
"Now that they know where to go, should we all go aboard the barge?" asked Nala.
"Not yet," answered Toph. "I promised Zuko I would do this – and they still need someone to guide them."
"That's very noble of you, my Queen," said Nala. "But I really think you should board the barge. You need to get back to your own people soon. You're no good to them dead."
Toph shook her head. "You can go if you want – I do not ask you to follow. I'm staying here though. Today, these are my people."
"I see. Then I'll stay with you too, M'lady." Nala could be annoying, but she was earnest – and she was willing to stand by her beloved Queen even in the face of grave peril.
A rare tear formed from Toph's gray, sightless eyes. "Thank you."
Fire Lord's Barge
Zuko, flanked by Sokka, steered the Fire Lord's barge to the front of the bay and toward the rocky wall. Katara, Aang, Mai, Neinei, Vameira, Kaddo, Pathik, Suki, Migo and the Air Nomads had joined them on board.
"Alright everyone, listen up," Zuko announced to the rest of them. "I'm going to blast a hole in the wall which we'll take this thing through on our way out of here and into the ocean. As soon as we find land, we can lay anchor and go on foot from there. Everyone get below deck!"
At Zuko's word, almost everyone filed down the steps in the middle of the ship to the lower level. The exception was Aang, who kneeled down, his hand supporting his head as he faced the approaching airships and warship.
Sokka took notice. "Aang – Are you coming?"
"Not yet – leave me alone!" Aang snapped. "I'm taking some time to think."
"Okay," said Sokka, taken aback. "Well when you're done thinking we'll all be waiting for you."
Aang barely noticed Sokka leaving. This day had been overwhelming even before Zuko told them about Tenzin. Aang decided he refused to believe it. Tenzin must have survived somehow. An airbender like him would not give in so easily, even in the face of a dragon. As soon as they left here, Aang would go to where the Western Fleet was and begin searching for his son, as well as any other survivors they could find. And then Aang would make amends with him.
So now what? They regrouped, retreated and lived to fight another day. The Phoenix Army would have control of the Fire Nation Capital and over time they would further solidify their domination of the Fire Nation at large – possibly making plans to invade the other nations. The Avatar's job would become harder the longer they waited. As if that were not enough, he also had some mysterious ancient society of assassins to deal with. Sooner or later, something bold and decisive would have to be done. Was it the right time for that now?
"It's not just energybenders you need to worry about. Once the energies have been bent enough, the energies themselves can become the enemy – and let's not even go there. You may be able to keep your spirit unbendable, but can you control the chaos once its been unleashed? You have the power. As the Avatar, the world's destiny is intertwined with yours."
"You are right Jeong Jeong," Aang muttered under his breath. "I do have the power. I have all the power in the world." Yes. Now was the time.
He would use Shuten Shogai.
Aang felt the gentle touch of a hand he knew as Katara's on his shoulder. "Aang? Are you alright?"
He sprang to his feet. "I'm fine. Never better, actually. We're about to win this battle. We can beat them. I know a way."
"I'm going to attack those ships using Shuten Shogai. More accurately, both of us will. It has to be me and one other person. I suppose I could do it with anyone, but I'd rather it be with you of all people. We'll win the day together."
"Will it be powerful enough?" asked Katara quizzically.
"I think so. I've never actually used Shuten Shogai before," Aang admitted. "But I think it'll be strong enough."
Katara smiled weakly. "You decided it was time to give it a go, then. So what do I have to do, exactly?"
"Just do what I do. I'll walk you through it."
"Wait Aang," said Katara with hesitation. "I'm a little nervous. I've never done anything with energybending before."
"It'll be fine," Aang said assuringly. "We just need to do this, then everything will be better from now on."
Katara seemed unsure of herself, but she nodded and faced forward, ready to experience energybending. "Okay, I trust you."
Aang grasped Katara's left hand with his right and made sure the centers of their chi were aligned with one another. Then he pointed his left arm forward and went through the motions Yue had taught to him. Even before he had finished, Aang could tell that this was beyond any move he had ever done before. His arteries in his right hand began pulsing and he started to feel great intensity and warmth, This feeling crept up his arm and through his shoulder blade, spreading to the rest of his body. When it passed through the center, his heart began to throb. It was as though he had twice everything he normally had inside of him. This spread across his insides, down his left arm and into his left hand, which was pointing towards the two airships and the warship. Then, his body began to shake as a brilliant stream of light shot out of his left hand and toward the two Phoenix airships and one Phoenix warship. Aang struggled to keep still. If he moved his hand, the stream moved with it – and he had to stay on target. Slowly, the intense feeling in his body began to disappear the same way that it had come in the first place: starting with his right hand and right arm, then the right side of his body, then the left side of his body and finally his left arm. Then, the stream ceased to emit from him. Aang caught his breath, his heart pumping fast.
The effect was immediate. As soon as the stream of light had made contact with one of the opposing airships, it turned into a glowing orb and expanded outwards, enveloping the other airship as well as the warship below. One of the airships exploded while the other suffered severe damage before losing its flight and crashing down toward the water where it collided with the warship, which was also destroyed. Aang was in awe at what he and Katara had done. Yue had not exaggerated about how powerful Shuten Shogai was in the slightest.
Now that he had regained himself, Aang let go of Katara's left hand and ran down the stairs to the below-deck area. The others were staring at him the same way he stared at the explosion. They had watched the whole scene out the window.
"That. Was. Amazing," yelled Sokka.
"That was Shuten Shogai?" said Zuko. "Wow...way to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat."
"Yeah, forget running away now," said Sokka, still stunned by what had just happened.
"We don't have to evacuate after all," Zuko announced.
The world had just turned upside-down for the better. One moment, the battle was lost, the Fire Nation Capital was in shambles, they were on the run and the future looked bleak and uncertain. Now there was cause for hope and rejoicing. It would take time and effort for the city to recover, but they were safe to take their time with that. Sokka and Kaddo were ecstatic, Zuko was relieved, Suki and Mai were speechless and Neinei and Vameira were jumping up and down. Rensa and Feng Qu beamed. Shao patted Aang on the back. Even Nola wore a smile – a smile which looked unnatural on her face.
Trinley was proud of his master. "So you've had that up your sleeve the whole time?"
"I guess since you have that, everything else is now pretty much obsolete," Sokka remarked to him, grinning. "Just two or three more of those and we'll have won the war. It's just too bad you didn't start using it sooner – would have been useful before, but whatever."
Aang was not concerned with the past or the future right now. He was just glad that the battle was won and everyone was safe. He turned around to embrace Katara, but was surprised to find that she was not there. His wife had not followed him down to see the others.
Confused, he ran back up the stairs to the spot where he performed the Shuten Shogai with her. What he found there made him freeze in his tracks.
It was Katara. She was on her knees with her mouth slightly open with a long strand of saliva dangling out. Katara was breathing quietly but heavily. She was clearly not herself.
Aang approached and looked into her eyes. "Katara?"
She did not respond. Aang couldn't tell if she could see him or not. Her eyes were wide open in horror and Aang did not find the usual twinkle in them. He felt like she was trying to cry out to him, but was unable to. Just then, the fire lily she had given him earlier fell out of his tunic and onto her palm – and Aang understood. Although she was not dead, she might have looked better if she was.
"What is it? What's going on?" The voice of Zuko came from behind him. The others had now followed after him.
"It's Katara," he replied simply, without getting up.
"What happened to her?" Suki asked, looking down at them.
Aang said nothing. After a couple more seconds, he got up and turned to Pathik. "Do you think you could read her energy?" he asked him, already dreading the results.
Pathik obliged, placing his hands over her chest. Then he immediately pulled them away as though electrified. He backed away from Katara, shaking. "Nothing...nothing at all!"
Vameira came over and knelt down where Katara was. "Mom? Are you okay?" She grabbed her mother's sides with both her arms. As she gazed into her mother's pupils, she found the same nothingness her father had. A tear began lurking down her cheek.
Kaddo simply stood where he was, bewildered.
Sokka broke his gaze at his sister and turned to Aang. "What did you do?!" he asked him angrily.
"I-I didn't mean to..."
The upside-down-turned world had turned upside down once again. Katara's veins were clearly visible like the wrinkles of a recently-drained raisin – her body now devoid of energy. Aang sat beside his daughter and caressed his wife's face, thinking to himself. This was not the way it was supposed to be. Yue told him that the other person bended the energy with him – not that their energy was the attack. It was not supposed to be like this.
Aang's dream come true was now officially a nightmare.
TO BE CONTINUED...
- This chapter is 9,527 words long, which is not quite as long as the previous one, but still a close second-in-length for Energy Saga.
- The end of this chapter marks a turning point in Energy Saga, where Aang significantly changes his attitude about energybending.
- The unnamed organization will be significant in Book Three. And yes – they will be named. So will their members/leaders.
For the collective works of the author, go here.