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|Battle at the Fire Nation Capital: Part One|
Previously on Energy Saga
Team Avatar congregates in the Fire Nation Capital, anticipating the arrival of the Phoenix Army soon. Jeong Jeong suddenly has a lot to tell Aang about energybending. Aang visits the old master on his death bed, where he tells the younger Avatar about the Scroll of Forbidden Knowledge and potentially dangerous repercussions with energybending. Although fascinated by the new information, Aang stands firm, saying that he will not stop energybending.
Chapter Twenty-Four: Battle at the Fire Nation Capital: Part One
Fire Nation Royal Palace 120 AG
The day the Fire Nation Capital was attacked began like any other. It was a beautiful sunny morning and within the city people began with their daily routine. The house of the Fire Lord was no exception. Fire Lord Zuko and his sizable band of companions congregated in his dining room for an ordinary breakfast of flaming fire flakes, komodo sausage, noodle soup and dumplings with a variety of different fillings.
As Zuko was hosting a respectable crowd of nineteen, he saw to it that they had plenty to go round. Among those Zuko was feeding were himself and his wife Fire Lady Mai, along with their daughters the princesses Neinei, Viola, Lu Tenia and Prim-Prim. His friends Katara and Avatar Aang were also present with their son Kaddo and their daughter Vameira. Katara and Aang's older son Tenzin would have been there as well if he was not on a ship several miles away with Zuko's uncle Iroh. His whereabouts were known to Zuko but unbeknownst to Katara, Aang or anyone else. Chief Sokka of the Southern Water Tribe and his wife Suki, Leader of the Kyoshi Warriors, were there as well, though their children were not. They were currently staying with their grandfather Hakoda back at the South Pole. Next was Ty Lee – Suki's fellow Kyoshi Warrior and second-in-command. The Air Nomad Council of Elders were also present, as Aang had seen to. There was Trinley the Wise, Rensa the Kind, Feng Qu the Jolly, Shao the Serious and Nola the Gloomy. Last but not least was Migo, who had found his way to them after Momo arrived at his home. All these persons enjoyed a fresh, delicious breakfast together just as they would on a normal day.
However, they all knew that soon this would not even remotely resemble a normal day. This day could possibly mark the turning point in the Fire Nation Civil War and it was almost certain that many lives would be lost along the way. As this reality sunk in, the mood at the table became solemn and everyone took to eating their meal quietly.
"I wonder how Tenzin's doing now," said Katara, breaking the silence.
"Wherever he is now, he's safer than we are," said Aang grimly. "There's no bigger front to the war than this one."
"I'm sure he's just fine," said Zuko encouragingly. He knew the truth, but would not speak it. Zuko had decided that Katara and Aang would be better off finding out later. It would be a good surprise for them in troubled times.
"Why do you say that?" asked Aang.
The Fire Lord was put on the spot. "He's a tough little boy. He seems like he can handle himself pretty well. I have no idea where he is, but you needn't worry about him." Zuko's lie was just barely good enough to be bought.
"Hmmm..." Aang did not seem to want to talk about Tenzin right now. "So what does everyone think of the plan Zuko and I came up with about building the United Republic?"
"It sounds great and all," said Sokka in his signature down-trodden tone. "But given our current situation I'd say its thinking kind of far ahead."
"I think it sounds great," said Katara, giving her brother a look.
"Me too," said Mai in her usual bored-sounding voice. "Surprised you guys didn't try it sooner. It would have spared us a lot of trouble before now."
"The Kyoshi Warriors would be proud to help out any way we can," Suki declared proudly.
"As would the Air Nomads," Trinley added through a mouthful of dumplings.
Zuko beamed at them. "Thanks guys. We'll need all the help we can get."
"It's settled then," Aang announced "We're all on board. But unfortunately Sokka has a point. We do need to get through today before we can start working on building our new United Republic."
Sokka eyed him. "Thank you. Don't forget about the Phoenix Army's new 'secret weapon.'"
"We can worry about that when it gets here," said Zuko dismissively. "Whatever it is, I'm sure we can handle it, considering all we've been through."
Sokka opened his mouth to respond before closing it again and staring Zuko in the eye. It was the stare of knowing that Zuko was probably right but not liking to be out-witted.
"Well, if worst comes to worst Avatar Aang can always use Shuten Shogai when he fights their secret weapon," Nola chimed in.
"That's true," agreed Trinley.
"Hopefully it won't come to that," Aang responded. "I'll only ever use it if I absolutely have to."
"Why so hesitant?" asked Nola.
"Because I made a promise of Yue," said Aang shortly. "Now, I want to make sure all the kids are out of the way of the battle well before the Phoenix Army arrives," Aang announced with resolve.
"Well, we're sending our children to the bunkers," said Mai. "The secret ones that the Fire Lords used in the Hundred Year War. Well, they used to be secret, anyway. Their existence had become common knowledge now. We could easily fit Kaddo and Vameira down there with our kids. Many of our civilians will go down there as well."
Princess Neinei crossed her arms. "I don't want to go into a bunker. Keeping us safe by sending us down into a volcano? That's real smart of you, Mom." Mai shot her eldest daughter a look, but did not reply.
"That sounds like a plan," Katara said, "for Vameira that is. We have to keep Kaddo above ground during the battle. We need him."
Kaddo grinned. "Of course you do."
Vameira frowned. "I want to stay above ground, too."
"Why, honey?" asked Katara.
"I feel very sorry for all the people who live in this city," said Vameira thoughtfully. "We're here by our own doing, but this is their home. They didn't have a choice. They didn't pick this fight – it picked them. I want to be with them and help them however I can."
Katara and Aang looked fondly upon her. They did not want Vameira in danger, but they were proud of the daughter they were raising. Kaddo, on the other hand, scoffed at her statement. "You shouldn't worry about these people, Vameira."
Vameira looked at him, offended. "Why not?"
"You know the Phoenix Army is going after the Air Nomads first, right?" said Kaddo condescendingly. "They began the last war by hunting down all the airbenders. This time they intend to finish what they started."
"No they won't!" yelled Vameira, stammering. "They're invading the Fire Nation Capital, not the Air Temples."
"They're doing that while all the best airbenders in the world are conveniently gathered here for them, aren't they?" said Kaddo slyly.
"Kaddo, stop trying to scare your sister!" Katara ordered sternly.
"I'm just telling it like it is," Kaddo said with a shrug.
"Don't listen to him, Vameira," Aang said reassuringly. "This war is about the Fire Nation."
"It's about the Fire Nation now," Kaddo continued. "When the Phoenix Army has this place secured they'll target the other nations to restart the Hundred Year War. Everyone knows it's true. They need to wipe out the airbenders first to let the other nations know that they mean business."
With this, Vameira buried her head in her mother's shoulder and Katara patted her daughter on the back.
Aang glared at his son. He was not pleased. "Kaddo, why don't you go down to the docks and pay Guru Pathik a visit? I think he would love to give you some spiritual counseling."
The cabin occupied by Pathik on the Air Nomad Ship was dim, fragrant and misty. The Air Nomad Ship – it seemed odd to call it that. More accurately it was a Southern Water Tribe ship being leased to the Air Nomads on a need-be basis. The New Air Nomads – like the Old Air Nomads – had no formal military, let alone a navy. Pathik's quarters largely consisted of empty space – lacking anything but the barest necessities. The elderly guru still clung to a simple lifestyle, which served him well, as he was now a respectable one hundred and seventy years of age, and some said he did not look a day over ninety-nine.
"Welcome young one," said Pathik while still in meditation. "What can I do for you?"
"I was sent here," groaned Kaddo. "Well, actually I was sort of banished here. I was joking around with my sister, but my parents didn't like my sense of humor and decided I had to leave."
Pathik chuckled. "The things you young ones do. Now that you're here, would you like me to read your bodily energy?"
"Nah – energy is my dad's thing."
"Energy belongs to no one individual," Pathik told him calmly.
"Listen," said Kaddo indignantly. "I know you're the spiritual counselor for the Air Nomads and all , and that's great – good for you – but I'm not an Air Nomad. I'm a waterbender. Like I said, I was sent here by my parents."
"You may be a waterbender, but you are also half an Air Nomad," Pathik corrected him. "You might not be an airbender and you may not indulge yourself in their culture, but you will see some traits of theirs in you nonetheless. As hard as it may be for you to believe, it isn't just bending which defines the four nations. And it matters not why you were sent here. This place is not my usual scene, but I came from the Eastern Air Temple to give spiritual counsel at this decisive battlefield. Whatever the circumstances, we are here and we should make the best of it."
"I guess..." said Kaddo hesitantly.
"You should not dismiss energies so quickly, either. They have relevance for all of us."
Kaddo sat down opposite the guru. "Ugh – alright – I'll play along. Why don't you tell me about energies?"
"The energies in your body hold great power," Pathik began. "They are stronger than any sheer force or attack. Each of us has this unbelievable potential inside of us and it plays a part in everything we do. As you know, they control whether or not you are a bender – and what type, but they control so much more than that: they allow you to express yourself, they give meaning to feelings such as love, hate and everything in between, they allow you to have a connection to the spirits from the physical world, they shape your personal inner potential and they can even control your destiny. That is why all soothsayers and fortune tellers must study how to read energies with different methods."
Kaddo yawned. "This is getting too academic for me."
"I can see you're quite the young, impatient type," said Pathik with a smile.
"So, Guru Pathik, energy allows you to do things and have potential and all that stuff?" asked Kaddo.
"Correct," confirmed Pathik.
"Can people exist without these energies?" asked Kaddo.
Pathik, who had been cheerful up until this point, now grew uncomfortable. "Without any energies at all? I suppose it would be possible. As long as you have breath and a beating heart, you can survive physically. Still, I would rather not think of that. The very possibility sends a chill up my spine. What an empty shell of a person they would be."
Fire Nation Royal Palace
In the Fire Lord's dining room, the crowd had dispersed and Aang, Katara, Sokka and Zuko were the only ones remaining at the table. Now they were just waiting to be attacked. It would literally be any minute now.
Sokka was bored. "So Zuko, are you looking forward to your upcoming family reunion?"
Zuko winced. "Not really. Azula will probably want an Agni Kai rematch when she gets here. I'm confident I can beat her again, but it wouldn't be a pleasant part of my day."
Sokka looked uncertain. "I hear she was quite a handful last time even without her sanity. Didn't she strike you with lightning."
"Yeah, but I redirected most of it," Zuko clarified.
"He would have redirected all of it if Azula hadn't cheated by aiming her lighting at me instead of him," interjected Katara. "Then it was up to me to outwit her. Of course, she wasn't herself that day."
"She had a lot going on in her head," said Zuko. "But she may be different than we last saw her. Twenty years changes a lot about a person."
"We haven't seen her much in that time, so what would have changed?" asked Katara.
"Hopefully we won't have to worry ourselves with Azula today at all," said Aang. "It'll all be over for them if they don't penetrate far before the reinforcements come. However formidable Azula and the Phoenix Army may be, they can't stand up to both us and the Western Fleet."
Just then one of Zuko's servants rushed into the room. "Sir, there's an airship here. It bears the Royal Seal of Omashu."
Capital Airship Strip
The leopard-mammoth-sized airship from the Earth Kingdom city of Omashu touched down in the docking area at Royal Caldera City in one of the finer sections of the Fire Nation Capital. A small ladder came from within and Queen Toph emerged and limped forth, supported by her crutches. As she reached the bottom and placed her bare feet on the concrete ground, she felt a horde of footsteps rushing her direction that she recognized as belonging to her friends. "Are you all surprised I'm here on such short notice? I told you – Omashu's airships are the fastest in the world."
"I thought you were in a coma," said Aang disbelievingly. Just like everyone else, he was stunned to see Toph here.
"Well, as you can all see, I'm out of it now," said Toph with a wide grin while pointing to her own sightless eyes.
"Welcome to the Fire Nation Capital, Toph," said Zuko in a mockingly formal tone. "Hope you enjoy yourself here. Don't hurt yourself."
"Are sure you're ready for this yet?" Sokka asked her uneasily.
"Yes!" said Toph in defiance. "I'm perfectly fine – don't mind these crutches. I've still got my bending with me. I'm the greatest earthbender in the world – and the only master metalbender. Now are we gonna stand around here and ask stupid questions all day, or are we going to... What's that?" Toph interrupted herself and held out her ear to indicate she had heard something.
"What's what?" asked Sokka. "I can't hear anything."
Katara turned to where Toph heard the unknown sound. "Wait. I hear it too. Is that the attack?"
"I don't think so," said Zuko. "It would be much louder if we were being bombarded already."
What began as a faint noise became more and more distinct. It started to sound like a human coughing. "It's coming from inside my airship!" she said aloud to the rest of them. Everyone followed Toph as she marched to the rear end of the flying machine and lifted a latch to open the way to a storage compartment with a lump of baggage and several wooden crates. Toph used her seismic sense to detect movements in one of the crates. She jerked her left foot down and the crate burst open. Toph then gnarled and grabbed her shin. With her condition, even this simple display of bending had taken a toll on her.
"It's Nala – Toph's head servant!" Katara exclaimed.
Nala, who was sitting with her knees up to her shoulders, kept on coughing. "Y-yes. H-hello everyone."
Toph regained herself. "Why, Nala?"
"It's nothing, M'lady," said Nala reassuringly. "I've just got a little bit of a cough from being cramped up in that crate for several hours. It's really hard to breathe in that infernal wooden box." Nala bent her head and let out another cough, while spitting on the concrete.
"No, I mean why are you here?" asked Toph impatiently.
"Oh – right. I knew you were going to be in for a difficult time and I got worried about you. I wanted to help however I could and figured that I should come along with you to the Fire Nation Capital. When I asked you about that earlier you shot me down, so I sneaked on board your own airship and hid myself in one of your travel crates. I'm sorry that I disobeyed your orders, M'Lady."
Toph shook her head. "Nala, you're unbelievable."
"No Toph, you're unbelievable," Aang corrected her.
Toph moved one-by-one as Katara, Aang, Sokka and Zuko took a turns to saying hello and hugging her. Toph could only manage a half of a hug while standing with her crutches.
"So what have I missed so far?" Toph asked them all collectively.
"A lot," said Katara simply.
Sokka nodded and patted his stomach. "There was a nice breakfast with dumplings and sausage. You might be able to have some leftovers if there are any."
"I ate on the ride over here, thanks."
"Well, other than that, we're pretty much just waiting for the Phoenix Army to get here, which should be soon," said Sokka. "You came just in time to catch the action."
"They've got some old friends of ours," added Katara. "Princess Azula and Admiral Zhao's son."
"Lovely," said Toph sarcastically.
"Zuko and I also came up with a new plan," Aang informed her. "We're going to put it into action once the war is over. It will be the beginning of a new world and help the four nations live in peace with each other – for longer than twenty years this time."
"Really Twinkle Toes? Let's hear it then."
Aang and Zuko proceeded to give her a brief overview of their "United Republic" project, how they came up with it and how it would foster cooperation between the nations. They mentioned that the rest of "Team Avatar" had already pledged to help build it and that there would be a new city where all lived together in harmony that could also serve as a beacon to the rest of the world.
Toph grinned. "I like it. I think we should also have bending battles in this new city. That'll be fun!"
Zuko looked doubtful. "I think you misunderstood the whole point of this place. We're trying to get the four nations to live in peace, not fight each other. They're already good at doing that without a United Republic."
"No, not real battles," said Toph. "Recreational stuff – competitive bending – a pro-bending league. It would be like Earth Rumble only with all kinds of bending."
"Oh," said Zuko. "Ummm...I guess that would be okay."
"It might help the nations bond with each other and use their combative bending skills for something besides war," said Aang. "But I'm not sure I approve. I don't like bending being reduced to the sphere of entertainment. Its not true to its purpose. We already have plenty of other venues for entertainment."
"I'm just talking about giving people what they want, Twinkle Toes," said Toph. "Whatever negative feedback you have, I don't care. I think its a great idea."
"Well, people are always going to like bending, Aang," shugged Katara. "Nothing's going to change that. I'm sure whatever we come up with will be fantastic."
Loud booming sounds coming from the direction of the harbor cut their conversation short. This time it was the unmistakable sound of flaming boulder bombardment. War Minister Chan rushed into the vicinity and over to Zuko to tell them what they already knew. "Sir – they're here."
The entire breakfast crowd was present, plus Toph and Nala. From the edge of the waterfront, they could see a dozen empire-class battleships and giant airships. The Phoenix Fleet had come prepared. Visible on board their nearest ships were a squadron of armed and ready Yu Yan Archers in addition to their traditional trebuchets.
All of a sudden, a Fire Army airship flew from the volcano to trade fire blasts with their nearest counterpart in the Phoenix Army. Both blasts collided with the balloons in direct hits and the two airships both crashed and burned into the mountainside, producing a pair of deafening explosions and subsequent rock slides. The battle had merely begun and already there were many casualties on both sides. Since it ended so quickly for those on board, their story never got a proper telling.
"They're in sight already!" exclaimed Sokka.
"This is off to a bad start," said Zuko irritably. "I thought the Great Gates of Azulon would at least have held them up for a while."
A blazing round boulder coated in fire shot through the air headed for the downtown area a few hundred feet behind them. As soon as he saw it, Aang leaped up high into the air and managed to slice it apart with an airblast from his glider. The boulder split in two and each halve fell into the water, making huge splashes that sprayed onto the closest docks.
"Trinley, you and the rest of the council block the bombardment from hitting the lower town area," Aang told him.
There were three main areas in the Fire Nation Capital: Royal Caldera City within the crater at the top of the volcano – where the nobility and finer districts were, Harbor City at the base of the volcano with the prominent industries lay in addition to various lower-class and middle-class neighborhoods and the harbor itself, which was heavily fortified and was the Fire Nation Capital's "gateway to the world." Today the Phoenix Army sought to neutralize and occupy each one-by-one.
"Got it." Trinley, Rensa, Feng Qu, Shao and Nola stood side by side together while facing the enemy ships and began hurling gusts of air forward and around, creating a giant circle which soon turned into a sphere. The council readied themselves to push aside any flamed arrows and projectiles that came their way. This was the largest air barrier Aang had ever seen. It took five competent airbending masters to make it possible. The air currents had to be extremely powerful, since the rocks they faced were much denser than air. The barrier was so effective that stepping into it right now would be dangerous. Everyone watched as the five of them put up the enormous air shield.
"Hah!" said Feng Qu while rotating the air currents. "Who would've thought after all these years that the Fire Nation would have needed the Air Nomads to protect them?"
There was a deep level of irony in Feng Qu's jest about them helping the Fire Nation to avoid oncoming attacks with their defensive barrier. Air was the element of avoidance. They were relying on five Air Nomads to protect the Fire Nation from the Fire Nation when over a century ago all the Air Nomads failed to protect themselves from the Fire Nation.
Despite their skill level, this was hard work for them. Aang noticed each of them gradually break up a sweat. In the case of Rensa, Feng Qu and Shao, the sweat continued to creep down their body while they struggled to keep their focus. In the case of Trinley and Nola, the sweat disappeared soon after it began. There was an airbending technique which allowed the user to manipulate the air around them to dry off sweat continuously. It was a difficult move in and of itself, and only Trinley and Nola were skilled enough to perform it and maintain the barrier simultaneously. A pair of flaming arrows shot toward the docks from the bows of the Yu Yan Archers only to be deflected aside where they were unlit by the water below. The members of the council briefly lost balance which they swiftly regained.
"Keep it up as long as possible," Aang directed them.
Fire Lord Zuko turned back to his War Minister. "Have we seen this 'secret weapon' of theirs yet?"
"Yes Sir. Basically it's a large metallic vehicle that can submerge itself underwater," said Chan informatively.
"We did something like that at the Day of Black Sun Invasion," said Katara.
"How big is it?" asked Sokka.
"It's massive," Chan told him vaguely. "It's really quite something. It ripped through the Great Gates of Azulon on its way."
"It ripped through the Great Gates of Azulon," said Zuko, bewildered. "What do you mean by that?"
"That's what it did," Chan answered simply. "It has these big claw like arms attached to its sides. Once it cleared the way, the rest of the fleet made their way in. Word has it that the Malevolence has wheels on its bottom so it can ride on land. It's a multi-purpose vehicle. Also there are some holes that open up along the outside and we think they're for firebending out of. Speaking of bending, though, the metal coat on the outside appears to be impenetrable. I doubt any form of bending could stop it."
Aang grimaced. "We have to do something about this."
"He's right," agreed Katara. "That thing will be unstoppable once it gets to the streets of this place. The entire city would be at its mercy!"
"It sounds like a pretty tough nut to crack to me," said Toph, helpless for ideas.
Zuko stroked his chin. "There has to be a way to beat it. It can't actually be invincible. People always said Ba Sing Se was invincible but our past experience goes to show that isn't the case."
"Ba Sing Se – that's right!" Katara called out. "Remember that drill that was going to break through the Outer Wall?"
"Yeah, I do," hollered Aang.
Sokka smiled and nodded. "So we need to bring it down from the inside then. Let's do it!"
Aang looked on into the harbor, where he beheld Phoenix Navy ships beginning to instigate heavy damage and Fire Navy ships desperately rushing to halt their advance. "I have to stay here and focus on stopping those from coming any closer."
"Same here," added Katara. "You'll have to use something besides waterbending to cripple that monster from inside."
"Ah bending, shmending – who needs it? Me and my boomerang will pull off the job somehow."
Katara frowned. "This is serious, Sokka."
"I'll go," Migo said from behind them. "I'm an earthbender – that should be useful. I volunteer myself for this mission."
Aang nodded. "You two will make a good team."
"Sounds good," said Sokka.
"Let's see," said Aang. "The Malevolence has to come up for air at some point. That'll be your opportunity to board it. I suggest you leave now so you don't miss it."
"Not just yet," Toph cut in. "Wait."
"No!" said Aang angrily. "You shouldn't have come here in the first place, Toph. And you're definitely not going on this expedition."
"He's right," said Katara. "You can't endanger go into the Malevolence with crutches."
"Yeah, you'd just be holding us back if you came," said Sokka in agreement.
"How stupid do you people think I am?" said Toph, annoyed. "Of course I'm not going – that would be suicide for me. But Migo's going and he needs something from me. Migo, I'm going to teach you to metalbend."
"You're going to teach me to metalbend?" Migo echoed.
"Yes, I'm going to teach you to metalbend," Toph repeated.
"Alright, that's settled now," declared Mai. "I think its time to send the kids down to the bunker."
"Yes, now would be a good time for that," concurred Aang.
Zuko matched suit. "Yes. Neinei, you know where the bunker is. Take yourself, Vameira, Viola, Lu Tenia and Prim-Prim down to safety."
"No, I don't want to go," said Neinei stubbornly. "I already told you that."
"Neinei..." Mai began.
The Fire Nation Princess put down her foot in defiance. "No! I'm not going down there with all this going on. I won't! If you want me to, you'll have to drag me there yourself. I'll be kicking and screaming and – and –"
"And firebending?" Zuko asked her with the faintest trace of a smile.
"Y-yes. And firebending. I will be kicking and screaming and Firebending – the whole way down."
Zuko put his hands on his hips and considered his daughter for a second. "Alright Neinei, you don't have to go to the bunker, but while you're staying up here, you'll make yourself useful running errands and delivering messages."
"Thank you, Father," Neinei said as she did a traditional Fire Nation bow.
"Is that a good idea?" asked Mai. "It doesn't sound safe."
"She'll be much farther back – nowhere near here," Zuko told her. "If things get rough, we can always send her down later."
"I'd like to stay as well," announced Vameira.
"Fine," Aang said mildly. "Same deal."
"So you two managed to secure yourselves a position as a pair of errand girls," said Kaddo pompously. "That's cute. As they said earlier, I'm needed up here. I'll be taking part in the real action." Vameira and Neinei both scowled at him.
"Yes," Katara told her son. "This is going to be a big battle with many casualties. That is why I need you, Kaddo, to use the healing abilities I taught you to help the wounded."
"Ha-ha!" laughed Vameira.
Kaddo was dumbfounded. "Wha – no! This is a war and I'm a waterbender. I need to be in the real action. I'm ready to fight. Healing is women's work – I want a man's job!" Kaddo was outraged. "I know – let me go with Uncle Sokka and Migo to take down that Malevolence thing."
Katara stepped toward her middle child and lowered her head, so her eyeballs stared directly into his and their faces were mere inches apart. "Listen. Stop thinking about what you're doing and start thinking about what you're doing it for. Your grandfather always said that being a man was knowing where you're needed the most. The fact is – you and I are the only waterbenders here. One of us has to go out and fight while the other stays back and heals. Either one of us is capable of healing, but I have much more experience in combative waterbending than you do. So it has to be me that goes to fight and it has to be you that stays to heal. I know you badly want to get your piece of 'the action,' but this isn't about you. This is about where you're needed and the people counting on you. Now ask yourself – are you man enough to handle that?"
Kaddo hung his head. He was speechless. "Yes, Mother."
"Great," Kaddo groaned. "I'm at the biggest battle of the war and I'm stuck in the sidelines playing nurse! Wherever Tenzin is, I'm sure he's seeing way more action than us."
Black Cliffs Channel
At that very moment, Tenzin was with General Iroh aboard Admiral Fung-Chen's empire-class battleship. They were just passing where the Day of Black Sun invasion force had congregated two decades prior. Iroh and Fung-Chen stood at the front of the ship with a small battalion of men behind them.
"Long has it been since I set foot in the Fire Nation Capital," Iroh said aloud before himself. "I had imagined my next visit would be under different circumstances."
The Admiral brushed this statement aside. "The circumstances are well enough. The Phoenix Army has grown fast, but they cannot stand up to the might of the Western Fleet. When we meet them, the day will be ours."
Iroh raised an eyebrow. "Are you forgetting they have a secret weapon?"
Fung-Chen scoffed. "Pah! I don't see what secret weapon of theirs could possibly make a difference."
"Let's hope you're right," Iroh said solemnly. "How are you holding up, Captain Lee?"
"Never better," Lee said with a wicked grin on his face. "Today I feel I could take on the whole Phoenix Army myself."
"Well, good, because we're about to face almost half of them. And how are you holding up, Tenzin?"
"I-I'm ready," Tenzin gulped. This was what he had been looking forward to for so long, but now that he was here, the butterflies were beginning to creep his stomach.
"Excellent," said Iroh. "We must all be prepared for anything."
But nothing could have prepared them for what happened next. A deafening roar filled the sunny sky and an long flying reptile with maroon-red scales soared from over the cliff and into their view. This was the offspring of Ran and Shaw – Ormar – and he loomed over the fleet like a living, fire-breathing storm cloud. Tenzin gazed up in awe. Although he had seen pictures of dragons and heard stories about them, it was something else altogether to actually be in the presence of one. Ormar flared his nostrils and puffs of steam issued from within them. Without warning, the towering beast descended upon them and began laying waste to the proud ships of the Fire Navy's Western Fleet.
From inside the navigation compartment at the front of the Malevolence, one could look see a beautiful sight of the underwater ocean floor through clear window like a big, moving aquarium. It might have been enjoyable to watch some of the fish as well, but the fish around the harbor swam away quickly, dodging the metal juggernaut like some untold predator. The Malevolence continued to plow its way toward Harbor City and the rest of the Fire Nation Capital with nothing in its line of sight that could conceivably slow it down.
This magnificent underwater machine had three times as many gears as on any of the flying machines that were in the sky above. In this room alone there were sticks and knobs that steered the vessel itself, controlled its claws, launched torpedoes from the underwater cannon and gave short bursts of extra speed. Up front, watching the scene out the underwater window, were a tall middle-aged man with dark hair and thick sideburns and a young woman donning royal robes, well-groomed bangs and a noble headpiece atop her short hairstyle.
Out of the deathly quiet, the man began to speak. "The Malavolence truly is a fine piece of work, my princess. Today, we see the end of that abysmal traitor of a Fire Lord once and for all."
"You have a lot of faith and certainty in this machine, Zhao Jr. It gives us a technological edge, but that is not enough. Like always it will be bending which decides the battle."
"All I come for is victory. I do not care what delivers it to us, but it will be mine. Now, nothing can stop us!"
Sokka and Migo had sneaked onto the underwater vehicle when it had emerged for air shortly earlier. Sokka climbed down the entrance ladder, grasping the handle of his sword with all his might. Migo was right behind him. When Sokka set his feet on the floor, he kept his guard up and walked slowly forward, trying to maintain his stealth. However, four guards had heard them coming and came to give a not-so-warm welcome. Sokka sliced through the air with his blade, trading blows with a guard who wielded dao blades. With each clang of steel between him and his opponent, Sokka found an edge and finished off by striking his opponent's midsection while he himself was drawing back to strike Sokka's head. Sokka knew he could not have been an expert by how he gave such an easy opening.
As an earthbender, Migo was accustomed to throwing huge rocks around, so he tried to replicate it with the metal. However, Migo could only manage to bend small pieces of metal, as he was still new to the practice. Nevertheless, Migo was able to make up for this by sending the metal at high speeds and aiming for the most vulnerable points in his opponents, including the eyes and the throat.
With one man fallen to Sokka and two by Migo, there was one left and it seemed like he was a firebender. The firebender formed a blazing whip and swung in Sokka and Migo's direction. Sokka and Migo both ducked out of the way. Fortunately this man had the aim of a drunkard and greatly underestimated this warrior with a sword and boomerang who managed to sneak onto their ship and his companion who possessed the unheard of ability to bend metal. After a long swipe at them, the firebender lost balance as Migo bended the metal under him, making him slip and hit his head against the wall with a loud thud, knocking him unconscious.
"Not bad, Migo. Toph taught you pretty quick."
"I'll be sure to pass on the complement," said Migo, panting. "I told her that she should consider teaching more people to metalbend."
Sokka reacted quizzically to this. "More metalbenders? I don't think I'd go that far..."
"So, what's the plan?" Migo interrupted. He was eager to get on with the task.
"The plan is the same as before," said Sokka informatively. "We break something, an engineer comes to fix it, we knock him out, we seize the blueprints, we find the vulnerable spot and finally you work some of your new metalbending magic to cripple this glorified junk pile from the inside. Then we get out of here before its too late and get back to the others."
"Okay, sounds good," Migo returned.
"Good. So now we have to break something." Sokka stared back and forth around the hallway. "This'll do," he added, pointing to a large pipe with a lever on it. "Just bend that into the wall and we can hide behind it until the engineer gets here. Ow!"
Migo had accidentally bent it "out" rather than "in" and it ended up hitting Sokka in the chest. "Sorry, I'm still a little rusty."
Sokka stared at him sternly. "Well, get less rusty, we have a job to do."
In the harbor, there was now fighting going on on several fronts. Suki, Ty Lee and the rest of the Kyoshi Warriors had boarded the Phoenix Army vessel which carried the enemy's toughest firebending masters. When Aang had questioned this idea, considering that all the Kyoshi Warriors were non-benders, Suki had pointed out to him that the Kyoshi Warriors knew how to chi-block and the most powerful bending in the world would be rendered useless if one's chi paths were disabled. Sure enough, the front line of that Phoenix Army battalion had backed away, limping while the remainder of them were trying to keep their distance. However, they were not quick enough for Ty Lee's acrobatics and after running, jumping and somersaulting past the others she managed to block the chi of their captain and grip him in a headlock.
The Fire Army sent warriors and firebenders to the front of the harbor with a division of their own archers stationed behind them. They took a stand in an attempt to push back the Phoenix Army's advances onto the mainland. Despite their superior organization, the Phoenix Army proceeded to penetrate further into their territory with each successive attempt. Fighting their own countrymen was something new to most of those present. An unheard of duel was taking place in between the flanks of both sides. Ogodei of the Rough Rhinos swung his chains in a vicious circle as he faced the burly Kahchi, with his Guan dao – also of the Rough Rhinos. Ogodei had remained loyal to Fire Lord Zuko while Kahchi had defected to join the Phoenix Army's revolution. Around them soldiers stopped what they were doing and looked on the pair – comrades for several decades and now turned enemies.
The way that led to Harbor City remained protected as the five members of the Air Nomad Council of Elders exhausted themselves by keeping their barrier alive, although it grew weaker with each successive hit. Meanwhile Katara and Aang were both darting around the harbor, engaging in combat on as many Phoenix Navy vessels as they could.
Katara jumped from ship to ship, freezing the area in front of her at each step. Her presence became marked by the abundant number of miniature ice bergs that were now in the surrounding water. She streamed long whips of water and swept them at the warriors on the ships closest to her, making every stroke count and not wasting an ounce of effort. One of these ships had three trebuchets on board and could launch flaming rocks very fast and efficiently at the airbenders' barrier. Katara took action by bending a wave upward before making it into an ice ramp for her and coming onto the deck. There were about twenty spear-wielding Phoenix Army warriors before her. Katara created two quick spirals of water around her hands and froze them into ice gauntlets stretching up her forearm and almost to her elbow. She used these to block the crowd of spears being thrust towards her and launch drops of water out of her fingertips like bullets, which pushed the men back temporarily. She then brought that water back to her fingers and formed ice claws, which she grew longer by bringing in more water from below until she had ten ice knives to deflect the spears with. She warded off the warriors and then struck them hard – mostly in the sides. Katara preferred injuring and incapacitating to killing, but in the dead heat of battle with fast-paced combat and split-second decision making, nobody can be perfect.
Aang also took to waterbending in this fight, as water was obviously a common resource in this arena and as the Avatar he could use that to his advantage. He had five different types of bending at his disposal while all those he faced either had one or none, so he had no shortage of surprises up his sleeve for them. He had taken out several ships so far. The Phoenix Army had taken notice of this and now targeted him with blazing rings spinning his way at every new step that he took. Aang evaded them with his superior airbending agility and unequaled reaction time. Aang encountered a pair of fierce firebenders and bended the jets of fire that came his direction around his waist and back at them as though he were practicing waterbending. "That is why you don't mess with the master of all four elements," he told himself.
Aang eyed Katara. "This is like old times, isn't it?"
Katara smiled back at him on her way to another ship. "Are you thinking of the Siege of the North or our failed invasion of this place on the Day of Black Sun?"
"Both, I guess," Aang responded while deflecting an oncoming fire blast with a miniature wall of flames. "Probably mostly the North Pole, with all these trebuchets and flaming rocks." Aang lost patience with the ship that he was fighting on and slammed his clenched fists into the ground, releasing an energy tremor and temporarily paralyzing those around him. With everyone on board the Phoenix Navy vessel neutralized, Aang shot up a flare to signal the captain of the nearest Fire Navy ship to steer over to their location and take the Phoenix Navy men as prisoners of war. And then administered recquiesence on himself and carried on his assaults.
Katara laughed. "Haha! Since when are you so nostalgic?"
"Since you and I started fighting firebenders again," Aang said with a twinkle in his eye.
Katara laughed again. Then she became serious once more when she spotted a Phoenix Navy ship which had almost made it all the way to the dock. Katara rushed to take action as she sprinted over, garnered a massive tidal wave and thrust it over the enemy vessel. Then she reeled the wave back in and formed it into the shape of a giant bubble hovering above the deck before promptly freezing it into an ice disc. She finished off by smashing the disc into several shards and showering the Phoenix Navy vessel in an unyielding rain of ice spikes.
Then, as the Fire Navy ship that Aang had just signaled dropped anchor next to the vessel full of immobilized enemies, one of its sides exploded, blasting a hole in the ship, which began sinking. Then a giant metallic claw emerged from the sea and proceeded to grab and snap at the confused Fire Navy men, who dropped their weapons and ran in vain.
The Malevolence had reached the harbor.
Fire Nation Royal Palace
The grand entryway of Fire Lord Zuko's palace was unrecognizable from its usual level of function. Soldiers and guards stood at every corner, while civil servants ran frantically about, monitoring the updated status of the battle. Kaddo sat near the central pillars, attending to the vast gathering of wounded – military and civilian alike. Neinei and Vameira rushed in through the towering front door with Neinei carrying a small scroll in her fist and Vameira supporting a frail young man with cuts and burns covering his entire body.
Neinei approached one of the soldiers leaning against the pillars. "Commander Lao, you've been ordered to transfer your men to Sector Ten. We're losing ground there."
Lao took the scroll from his princess's hand and glanced at it. "Alright, I'll get to it."
"That felt good," Neinei said to Vameira as Lao marched off.
"It's like I'm giving an order. I bet that's the way it will be when I'm older."
"You weren't giving an order, you were delivering one," Vameira jeered. "There's a big difference."
"Hey, a girl can pretend if she feels like it," Neinei countered.
Vameira rolled her eyes and gestured for the man she brought with her to go to where her brother was sitting. "Kaddo, you have a new customer," she called out.
"I'm on it," he replied.
"So how's the healing going?" Vameira asked him.
"It's fine," answered Kaddo through gritted teeth. "How's your part going – can the two of you handle it?"
"Actually there's three of us." Nala had just walked in the door and stood behind Vameira. "And I personally find it quite rewarding to help out, even if it's only in a small way. When M'lady assigned me here, I was most gracious about it, although I can't help but feel like I've been sent to the 'kid's table.'"
"Yep, pretty much," Vameira giggled at her. "Toph wanted you out of her way and this was the most efficient way to do that."
Nala crossed her arms and held her nose in the air. "Hmph!"
Royal Caldera City
"I can't believe her! I gave her an explicit order to stay in Omashu and she followed me here by hiding in a crate. She's insane! I wish she would get her own life one of these days." Toph was standing by the near edge of the central crater and Royal Caldera City. She was overlooking the scene at the harbor and ranting to Zuko, who was in her company.
"Listen, maybe you're right and she can be annoying, but we need to focus on other stuff right now, like the battle.," Zuko said to her, thinking to himself at the same time: "I thought people were supposed to mature with age."
Aang glided to their spot and landed right before them. "Katara and I held them up for now. They still have a second wave coming."
Toph sighed. "Well, I'm going back down to the harbor to see if there's anything I can do down there." And with that, Queen Toph slowly but surely descended the mountain on her crutches.
"There's also something else," Aang added to Zuko, largely ignoring Toph's exit. "The Malevolence has reached the harbor. It has begun laying waste to our defense fleet and the airbending barrier is almost spent."
"That's not good news," commented Zuko. "Hopefully Sokka and Migo are almost done with their job on there or we'll be in a tough spot."
"Yes," agreed Aang. "We would be quite vulnerable and desperate if it comes on land and starts firebending at us without us having a real way to fight back."
"Desperate enough for you to unleash your famous Shuten Shogai?" Zuko asked curiously.
"Maybe. Hopefully we won't be that desperate. Yue told me to use it sparingly if at all and I have remained true to that. I have not had to use the move for real yet."
"Don't you need another person to perform it with you?" asked Zuko.
"Yeah," said Aang. "If it came to that, I suppose I'd do it with one of you."
Zuko smirked. "It sounds like the firebending dance you and I did at the Sun Warriors temple."
Aang hesitated. "Yeah – pretty much." Aang felt like that analogy did not quite fit.
"I see," said Zuko. "Of course it's not the Malevolence I'm most concerned with."
"You're more concerned with Azula?" asked Aang.
Zuko nodded. "I can't believe we're fighting her again after all this time. It doesn't seem real."
Aang let out a faint laugh. "I can't remember a time I met her when I wasn't also attacked. Even when we went to her release – I wasn't attacked by her that time, but I had to fight that assassin outside."
"Yeah. She gave us that phony act of having redeemed herself. It was so well put together I almost believed it. I also recall she promised she would do us each 'a favor' someday. Did you actually buy that?"
Aang shook his head. "It's Azula. You can't believe what she says. Then again, I wasn't ready to believe you either when you approached us at the Western Air Temple all those years ago. You surpassed our expectations and turned out alright."
"I doubt that's the case with her," said Zuko dismissively. "What I wonder the most is when and how she got off Ember Island. I didn't hear anything of it before. My Head of Security is investigating it. He better come up back some good answers."
"That's not the only fishy thing about her. When I fought her in the former colonies, her fire was red. Not blue, red."
"Yes. I cannot see why she would bend red fire when she has mastered the feat of bending blue fire. Blue lies above red on the scale that Ran and Shaw showed us."
"Beats me," said Aang. "It's almost as if she's a whole different person."
The Malevolence had slowed down and the metal walls were beginning to make unkindly sounds. Sokka and Migo had managed to find the vessel's vulnerable spot, which Migo had pulled apart and done ample damage to. Now the gears were faulty and those on board were confused and in disarray. With everyone they had met either dead or knocked out, word had not spread that Sokka and Migo were aboard. They were rushing through the halls and back to the entrance when Migo took a short detour. Sokka followed him to a room filled with long, metal shells that the Phoenix Navy loaded into their underwater cannons. Torpedoes.
"What are we doing here?" Sokka asked Migo, baffled. "We're wasting time. We need to leave!"
Migo seemed to be ignoring him. "They fire these things out of their underwater cannons. We take one out, then I metalbend it at them from above once they resurface. They're crippled now, but this will totally nail them!"
"We don't know when they'll resurface again," said Sokka impatiently.
"The machine is broken now," commented Migo. "We just gotta push a little harder and it'll be finished."
"Oh whatever – just hurry up," Sokka conceded.
"I'm on it."
Zhao Jr. gave off an evil eye. "Something is clearly not right."
"Wow – genius! Did you figure that one out all by yourself?"
"Shut up!" he roared at his fellow commander. "Why don't you just go back and look into what's causing this trouble?"
She gave him a look, then departed the room. When she was out of earshot, Zhao gave one of his deck officers an order. "Prepare to resurface. I'm taking a life boat and transferring to my flagship. I can monitor the rest of the invasion from there."
"Yes, Sir," said the tall but timid young man before him. "May I ask why you're leaving while she's back there?"
"It's a precaution just in case things don't work out. I won't be able to rule the Fire Nation if I'm dead."
As Sokka and Migo arrived at the entrance ladder, they found someone waiting for them. "It's the Fire Nation Princess!" exclaimed Migo.
"Azula!" said Sokka. "You're here." He immediately assumed a fighting stance.
"Indeed. Aren't you two the Avatar's boys through and through. How quaint. Unfortunately your little adventure ends here." She formed blazing balls of fire in either hand and began hurling them at Sokka and Migo. Each time she threw one, she left just enough flame behind in her hand to ignite it and form the ball once more. This was a kind of firebending they had never seen before. As the hallway filled with her darting fireballs, Sokka and Migo struggled to avoid them.
"We shouldn't have left right after Toph taught me metalbending," said Migo, barely dodging one of the balls. "I should have asked Ty Lee to teach me chi blocking as well. This is a time when it would be quite useful."
"Suki's my wife and Ty Lee taught her chi blocking, you know," yelled Sokka. "It's not something that you can pick up easy. It's quite complicated and takes a while to learn. You wouldn't have had time to learn it."
"Whatever," shouted Migo. "Let's just focus on the now." Migo – in a burst of overconfidence – attempted to lower the ceiling onto her head, but merely dented it slightly.
"It's going to be hard to get to the surface," Sokka admitted. "With the ship underwater and all." Then, almost in answer to his question, the Malevolence shook and the three of them could feel the vessel moving upwards. Then they felt a light draft of air vent their way. The Malevolence had resurfaced.
"What?! Why?" Their opponent was confused. "Zhao – of course! That scumbag." Sokka swung his sword at her while the machine was shaking and she was distracted. She barely managed to block the blow with firebending. Sokka's hand burned and he dropped his now scorching hot weapon that had touched her flames. He fell over, hit his head and became dizzy.
Seizing the opportunity, she threw a fire blast at him to finish him off, only to have Migo stand in her way.
Migo's Earth Kingdom tunic had caught fire. He hastily pulled it off over his head and through the burning garment back at her. This provided a momentary distraction. In that time, Migo tore a large metal pipe off the wall as though he were merely picking up a small twig and swung it hard, hitting her across the brow of the head and striking her down.
Fire Nation Royal Palace
The explosion was so loud it was literally heard all across the Fire Nation Capital. In the Fire Nation Royal Palace, the Avatar's circle of friends eagerly awaited news of Sokka and Migo's venture into the Malevolence. Katara and Aang were pacing the room while the others waited idly by. Suki and Toph were sitting on the floor together, tense and silent.
"What happened to them?" Katara asked aloud. "They left hours ago."
"I'm sure they're fine," said Aang, trying to convince himself of that as well as her.
Zuko walked restlessly back and forth. "The Malevolence was confirmed to no longer be a threat, from last I was told. It sounds like they finished the job and they've done us all good. But even without the Malevolence we've got a tough uphill battle until help arrives. I'm not sure why we haven't gotten any word from the Western Fleet yet. They must've gotten held up by something."
Finally, Migo came running into the palace. He was sweaty, shirtless and carried two bodies over either shoulder – his comrade the chief and his prisoner the princess.
"Migo!" Katara and Aang shouted in unison.
"Hello guys," said Migo, panting. "Sorry we're late. At any rate, mission accomplished. The Malevolence is no more."
"What happened to Sokka?!" asked Suki in alarm.
"He's breathing so I assume he's okay." Migo lay him down on the floor in front of him and let the other body down as well.
Zuko gave Migo a thumbs up. "Well done."
"Nice job," said Toph, nodding and shaking.
"Yes, nice job, but – what about Sokka?!" asked Suki again.
"Here, I can heal him," said Katara, stepping forward.
Aang stepped in. "No, allow me." He placed his hands on Sokka and sent the energy power of recquiesence through him. As always, the effect was immediate and he jumped to his feet, ready to pull out his boomerang before he realized where he was.
Suki gave her husband a light jab in the arm before locking him in a tight embrace.. "Don't do that to me!"
"So, uh, what's up, everybody?" Sokka spoke as casually as though they were at the Jasmine Dragon having tea again.
"Hey Katara," Ty Lee whispered. "I never noticed when he had his shirt on, but wow! Migo is ripped." Toph overheard and shot Ty Lee what would have been a dirty look if she could actually see her.
"Who else did you bring, Migo?" asked Aang curiously.
"It's Princess Azula," Migo declared triumphantly. "We got her."
"Azula!" exclaimed Katara.
"My sister..." said Zuko. He walked over to look at her. "Wait..."
"This makes sense now," said Aang in the same tone as Zuko.
"I was going to say she didn't seem herself," Mai chimed in.
Just then, Zuko's Head of Security entered through the door. "Sir, I have finished my investigation on the status of Azula. As it turns out –" He intrerrupted himself as he saw the woman on the floor. "Well, speak of the face-stealer."
"Yes," said Zuko, turning to face him. "And what were the results?"
For the second time that day, someone told them something they all already knew. "The woman you've got there – she's not really Azula."
TO BE CONTINUED...
- This chapter is 10,150 words and by far the longest one yet. Until now, the longest chapter was The Search for a Candidate at 6,348 words.
- This is the first chapter where Neinei's sisters are named: Viola, Lu Tenia and Prim-Prim. "Lu Tenia" is a female version of Lu Ten and Prim-Prim is taken from her uncle Tom-Tom (Mai's brother) and Katniss's little sister in The Hunger Games.
- Aang and Toph's banter about pro-bending and "entertainment purposes" is a reflection of the current plan to replace Wikia talk pages and the subsequent reaction from the majority of users.
- The Malevolence was named after a ship commanded by General Grievous in the Star Wars: Clone Wars TV show.
- The expression, "speak of the face-stealer," is for the Avatar world what "speak of the devil" is for us.
For the collective works of the author, go here.