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|The Air Lord|
Previously on Energy Saga
Kaddo and Aang are attacked in the Northern Water Tribe by Chao Feng. Aang nearly dodges death when he is saved by Chao Feng. It is obvious that Chao Feng was required to capture the Avatar alive, while his group previously wanted him dead. Aang and Kaddo discuss what the reason may be for this before returning to the Southern Air Temple.
Chapter Twenty-Nine: The Air Lord
Fire Nation Royal Palace, 121 AG
Sweat poured down Neinei's face as she released her fire ball and held up her right leg, while bringing her right arm down to accompany it. It might as well be blood, she told herself. With rehearsed precision, she breathed heavily and unleashed a scorching hot stream of fire, which she kept in place with intense concentration. As the child of the Fire Lord and the princess of her nation, she had a high set of expectations to meet. Her firebending training had thus become the most important part of her day. During war time, the royal family had to work extra hard to maintain their image. As the Fire Lord had no sons and she was the eldest daughter, Neinei had to pull her weight.
After the completion of the exercise, Neinei addressed her instructor. "Thank you for the lesson, Master Ying."
"I can see you have been practicing, Princess Neinei," said Master Ying. "You were almost perfect that time."
"But almost isn't good enough," said Neinei in disappointment. "Is it?"
"No it isn't," said Master Ying firmly. "I expect to see improvement by the time of your next lesson. I want you practicing every day."
"Yes, Sir," said Neinei shamefully.
"Very well, then. You are dismissed."
War Minister Chan was seated at the front end of the grand table with the world map, while Fire Lord Zuko nested himself in his traditional throne. There would be another, longer meeting later that afternoon with all the top-level ministers and generals, but for now it was a private briefing with merely the two of them present.
"I'm just saying that whenever the nation is in a crisis, the citizenry is in a high state of worry," Chan articulated to Zuko. "But their morale is always boosted upon the birth of a crown prince. It symbolizes hope for the future."
"I've heard this before, War Minister," said Zuko, annoyed. "The court physicians have told the Fire Lady that another pregnancy may be the end of her and I do not intend to risk Mai's life to please anyone. Neinei is blossoming into a fledging crown princess. Anyone should be satisfied with the Fire Lord she will be someday."
"Fire Lord Neinei – that would be...something," said Chan nonchalantly. "She's quite the spirited one."
"Yes, she is. But enough," said Zuko flatly. "The agenda for this meeting is foreign and domestic policy. The royal family's personal affairs are not related to either."
With her firebending lesson now over, Neinei decided to see what her father – the Fire Lord – was up to. She knew that at this present moment he must be in the War Room. With all that was going on and the pressure she felt, Neinei resented being kept in the dark and would no longer stand for being left out of such tings.
When she reached the entrance to the War Room, one of the guards outside stepped in front of her. "I'm sorry, Princess, but you're not aloud in. Your father is having a private meeting today with –"
"Out of my way!" snapped Neinei, shoving the hapless man aside.
When Neinei pushed back the curtain she found her father and his War Minister at the head of the long table. "Hello, Father," she called out to Zuko. She had not bothered to acknowledge that Chan was in the room, too.
"Neinei, I'm in a meeting right now," Zuko told her. "Whatever it is, it can wait."
Neinei did not waste anymore time. "I wanted to sit in with you today."
"What?" asked Zuko.
"I'd like to sit in on this meeting," Neinei said again. "I might rule this nation someday, so I should be learning as much as I can."
"Absolutely not," said Chan angrily.
"Fine," Zuko said, overruling him. "But remember – you're just an observer."
"Yes! I mean – I understand." Neinei stepped forth and sat cross-leged at the opposite side of the front end of the table. Zuko smiled slightly while Chan glared.
Zuko turned back to his War Minister. "You may continue, Chan."
"Thank you, Sir," said Chan, gritting his teeth. "Even though this war has been on for less than one year which is a short time compared to the last one, which went on for one hundred years, the nation is in a great deal of turmoil as a direct consequence of it. This may have to do with most of the fighting being on our home soil this time. Recently there has been a rise in anti-bender sentiment. The Avatar's use of energybending has become well-known and all over the world bender envy has been intensified by his possession of the power to give bending abilities, yet hesitancy to use it. Given the Fire Nation's current state of affairs, this has hit us the hardest. Some talk of the renegade anti-benders rising to challenge both the Fire Army and the Phoenix Army – especially if they are joined by non-benders from the Water Tribe and the Earth Kingdom. They would use the chaotic Fire Nation as a starting point of a global non-bender revolution."
"I've heard of the growing bender envy trend," said Zuko impatiently. "How goes the rest of the front?"
"Progress is slowly but surely being made on the war front. We have the upper hand now, but Phoenix forces in certain areas are holding out harder than we anticipated. It has been frustrating for our commanders in those regions. Our own troops are spread too thin to make any redeployments. This could drag the conflict on for several more months. The thing is that we could overrun most of those areas in less than a week – if only we had more firebenders."
Zuko took a moment to ponder Chan's report. "I see."
Chan stared at Zuko as though he were waiting for him to say something else. "That's right – if only we had more firebenders."
"I heard that part," said Zuko.
Chan raised his shoulders. "Well?"
Chan let out a sigh. "Are you really going to make me suggest the obvious?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Very well then," Chan began. "Your friend is the Avatar. The Avatar gives people bending abilities. You can have him make us some more firebenders."
Zuko glowered. "That's not going to happen."
"Why not? Our nation could use it – and the Avatar should want it as well. Its what's best for the world – that's right up his alley," Chan countered.
Zuko waved this statement away. "Aang says that energybending is bad for the world and that he won't be doing it anymore."
"Perhaps he does not know what he's talking about."
"Do you believe yourself to be a greater expert on energybending than the Avatar?" Zuko asked Chan in astonishment.
"We've all seen what it can do! He's brought his own nation back from oblivion with energybending – he can give anyone any kind of bending. And remember his actions at the battle here in the capitol. His 'Shuten Shogai' wiped out the enemy force in a matter of seconds! I don't understand your hesitance – or his. This is the fountain that keeps on giving and you refuse to drink from it – even a little bit..."
Zuko had become seriously displeased. "We had our talk about that move earlier – although I can't remember telling you what it was called. You know very well what the price of that victory was. Aang found out all too late that energybending was wrong for the world. He is looking for a way to make Katara right again. Let's all pray to the spirits he is successful..."
Chan gawked at him. "With all do respect, Sir – the Avatar is not 'where he needs to be.' He should be here, making the world a better place with his energybending. Instead he's off on some selfish personal mission trying to cure the incurable. He's being irrational!"
Zuko had had enough. "War Minister Chan – I trust Aang's judgment. Also, Katara is my friend, too. That being said, if you mention anything about them or about energybending again, I will challenge you to an Agni Kai. Is that something you want?"
Chan was at a loss for words. "No, Sir."
Neinei laughed hysterically. "Haha – you got served!" This time, both Chan and Zuko glared at her.
Southern Air Temple
It was getting dark by the time Aang and Kaddo were nearing the Southern Air Temple on Appa – the sun just about to sink below the horizon. If this were not one of the places the sky bison had called home, they would have had a much more difficult time getting there, as the high-altitude air was misty and clouds were blocking their view at every angle.
"Your past lives better tell you exactly how to fix Mom," Kaddo told his father, "for all the traveling we've done."
"Be a little more optimistic," said Aang irritably. "The Avatar is as old as bending the elements. One of my past lives has to know something about bringing someone's bodily energy back."
"What if they don't?"
"Then we'll jump that hurdle when we get to it and come up with a new plan."
Kaddo sighed and stared down at the fuzzy shapes of the distant mountain ranges. "Do you think we'll run into that guy with the flaming sword again while we're here?"
"No," said Aang. "There's no way he could have followed us. We're on a sky bison."
"He had a katana which could absorb and kindle a blast of fire," Kaddo pointed out. "He might've found a way to transport himself across the world. You never know." Kaddo buried his chin in his arms in boredom. Moments later, he spotted the outline of the Southern Air Temple in the distance. "Look – there it is!"
"It's about time," commented Aang. "Appa's been flying day and night – he could use a rest."
"But...it seems slightly misshapen."
The Southern Air Temple did not look like itself. A spiked stone wall lined the exterior of the site so that only the top portion of the temple was visible. It was not easy to make out in the fog, but there was a troupe of airships docked about this wall – and each of them bore a Fire Nation insignia.
"Something's not right," stated Aang. "Take Appa's reins and fly low. I'll go in alone on my glider. Just keep circling the temple and I'll come find you later. I have a bad feeling about this."
Kaddo did as he was told and let Aang off just inside the perimeter before doubling back and steering Appa around the other side of the mountain. Aang landed crisply on the outermost edge of the temple's grounds and examined the area around him. The inner side of the wall reminded him of one of the Fire Nation prison camps he has seen in the latter days of the Hundred Year War. The walkways were barely recognizable. Statues had been torn down, several doors and windows were boarded shut and the artistic murals painted by the monks of old were nowhere to be seen. It felt like a foreign land.
Aang needed answers. He wondered the path as quickly as his airbending legs would carry him until he was in the central square, where the tallest towers were located. The windows were lit up inside one of the main buildings – one of few places where they were. What lay on the steps leading up to it made Aang jump six feet in the air.
At least a dozen Air Nomads were sprawled across the staircase. As he climbed the steps, Aang found the face of Feng Qu on one of them. He bent down to look closely at his face. Gone was the reassuring and humorous twinkle that one found in Feng Qu's eyes. He was dead.
"Oh, Feng Qu..." Aang whispered to the motionless body before him. "Who did this to you?" Feng Qu and the other fallen bore no scars or burns. It was as though someone had suffocated them in a drawn-out struggle. Aang had not expected to find anything like this when he came to the Southern Air Temple. Now the thought of going to the Avatar's sanctuary to communicate with his past lives had been driven temporarily from Aang's mind. All he wanted to do was find out what had happened. He went forth and opened the giant doors to the building atop the steps.
The main chamber was lined with decorative candles – not the meditative ones that monks used in ceremonies. Inside Aang found other people for the first time since he arrived at the temple, but they were not all people he had been hoping to find. Masked firebender guards stood at the opposite end of a long table – the table being lined with an assortment of various types of meats. Along the sides of the room were several young people in a kind of yellow and orange outfit Aang had not seen before. They looked like army uniforms – which seemed ridiculous considering that the Air Nomads did not have a formal military. He also did not see a single glider staff like his among them. Icarus was at the head of the table. He had altered his traditional Air Nomad clothes – which now had a majestic red-orange cape at the back. Around the line of his forehead, Icarus bore a golden crown with a crystallized shape of the symbol of the south wind crafted at its center.
"Avatar!" announced Icarus, rising to his feet. "It's so nice of you to grace us with your presence."
"What's going on here?" Aang inquired aggressively. "What have you done with the Southern Air Temple?"
"The Southern Air Temple is no more," roared Icarus. "This is now the Southern Air Fortress!"
"Can you explain what happened? I found bodies outside – Feng Qu was among them. Where's the rest of the Council of Elders?"
"Hah – the Council of Elders has been disbanded – they are no more. The Air Nomads are no more. We are the Air Nation – and I have declared myself the Air Lord!"
"Everything I see here contradicts what I taught you," Aang called across the room to Icarus.
"You're darn right it does," Icarus concurred smugly. "You may have given us our power, but after that all you did was hold us back! I grew sick and tired of following the defunct culture of a bunch of pacifists. Under you, we would never have become a great nation, but under the new order, we are not afraid to use our powers aggressively. I have taught my asphyxiation technique to the younger generation – and they've had plenty of practice. Look at this magnificent feast before you! They hunted it this afternoon."
"Did you kill Feng Qu and the others outside?"
Icarus chuckled. "That was most unfortunate. I did try to win them over. I shared my vision with them, but they did not agree with the idea of the new regime. They had to be eliminated. It was Feng Qu and Trinley who led that pathetic excuse for a resistance movement."
"Where is Trinley?" Aang asked loudly. "Did you asphyxiate him, too?"
Icarus shook his head. "No – not yet, anyway. He's fled somewhere just outside the main grounds, but we'll find him soon enough."
Aang was relieved to hear at least that Trinley was still alive. "Where did the airships come from?"
"That would be my doing," a familiar voice chimed in. From amongst the firebender guards came forth a tall man with huge, black sideburns. It was General Zhao Jr.
"Zhao Jr.?! How are you here?" Aang had destroyed his fleet at the Fire Nation Capital and assumed that he had been killed in the explosion.
"You must be surprised to see me, Avatar. My battleship may have been blown to pieces at our last encounter, but I managed to escape that day – though not unscathed." Zhao Jr. patted his arm to indicate he was still badly wounded, despite not being consumed by the full explosion of Aang's Shuten Shogai. "You've destroyed everything for me, Avatar. Twenty years ago you and that traitor Fire Lord Zuko ruined my county. Then when I try to bring the Fire Nation back to what it once was, you foiled me again! Now I'm going to participate in the building of a new nation – yours. I have been working with the honorable Air Lord Icarus to make a nation of airbenders based on good old-fashioned Fire Nation values!"
Icarus nodded. "Zhao Jr. has provided some the use of some manpower and airships to get us off the ground. In exchange, we've agreed to give some of our technology to him in the future to revitalize the Phoenix Army."
"What technology are you talking about?" asked Aang. "I don't recall the Air Nomads having any technology the Fire Nation doesn't."
Icarus sneered at this statement. "You're living in the past once again. Our technology comes from our new factory up north."
Aang gasped. By the "new factory up north" he must mean the Northern Air Temple. Aang remembered meeting The Mechanist during the Hundred Year War. He was one of the most talented inventors in all the world – a truly brilliant man – and a peaceful one at heart. Nevertheless, he was made to build machines of war for the Fire Lord after he came to the Northern Air Temple. Now he was being forced to produce inventions for the Air Lord the same way.
Aang assumed his fighting stance and held out his glider staff. "What you've done here is intolerable. This will end – now."
Zhao Jr. smirked. "So the Avatar's going to fight us."
Icarus took his own airbending stance. "This should be fun."
Aang's eyes glows as he bent spiraling air currents into a whirlwind and rose himself into the air on a mini-tornado. The Avatar shattered the long, wooden table and propelled the splintered wooden pieces at Zhao and Icarus. Zhao was prepared for this. He kicked up a fire arc which burned the table pieces to a crisp in mid air. The rest of the flame he directed toward Aang, though it was easily deflected. Icarus conjured a miniature tornado of his own and tossed some of the carving knives in. He rotated them together with his air currents before aiming them and shooting them toward Aang at high speed like a wave of extra-sharp arrows.
Aang easily moved to his tornado to the side and dodged the oncoming knives. Air blasts and fire blasts were hurled from all corners of the room at him by Zhao Jr.'s firebenders and the defected airbender troops. Aang batted each one aside efficiently. Then he rose concrete blocks out of the floor with his earthbending and skidded them cleanly across the room, knocking over the firebenders and airbenders. One of the firebenders still standing hurled another fireball at him. Aang blocked the attack and transformed his tornado into an air sphere. He proceeded to produce three long fire whips, slashing one at the firebender he just faced, another one behind him and the last one in the general direction of Zhao Jr. and Icarus. Both Zhao Jr. and Icarus managed to dodge the massive line of fire, but they lost a part of their balance in the process.
Aang brought his air sphere toward the back where the two of them were and raised an earth wall behind him to prevent the other firebenders and airbenders from coming to join them. Now a large section of the smoothly-carved stone wall was ripped out of place. At this point, Aang exited the Avatar State and put both feet back on the ground. He had no intention of damaging what was once the Southern Air Temple. Aang would be careful from now on. He would have to fight this battle without the Avatar State.
Aang pointed his glider staff straight at the face of his airbender opponent. "I made a mistake with you, Icarus."
The self-proclaimed Air Lord taunted this remark. "Don't flatter yourself, Avatar Aang! This is the way I have always desired – and what I've now decided to take for myself. No amount of your so-called 'enlightened teachings' could have changed this."
"No – I did not make a mistake in the way I taught you airbending," Aang clarified. "My mistake was giving you airbending in the first place. But that's a mistake I'm about to correct."
"Never!" Icarus barked back at him. With that, he pushed open the door behind him with a tremendous gust of air and dashed down the hallway behind.
Zhao Jr. punched forth a fire blast at Aang, which Aang knocked away with his staff. After trading a few more fire blasts with him, Aang swiped his glider down to the floor, sending Zhao Jr. against the wall. Aang rushed down the hallway after Icarus. Zhao Jr. had hit his head pretty hard and took a few moments to regain himself and chase after the Avatar. Zhao Jr. leapt into the air and propelled himself through the Air Temple halls with jets of fire emerging from his feet, but he was not quick enough to catch up to Aang. As soon as Icarus was in Aang's sight, the Avatar released the biggest gust of air he could muster – which sent Icarus flying through the air and crashing through another set of doors.
Icarus was flung back fifteen feet and fell with his head colliding with the stone floor with a loud thud. Aang dashed toward him to meet him with his staff thrusted forward. He was just at the entrance to a circular chamber with miniature windows lining the upper walls. Icarus's men ran forward in an attempt to keep up.
Aang had him backed into a corner. "You are beaten, Icarus. Stand down now."
Icarus regained himself and managed to scramble to his feet. He was out of breath. "Don't be so sure, Avatar. I have other friends that I invited here tonight. Here – let me introduce you!"
On the opposite side of the room, an opening appeared in the painted brick wall. Two Dai Li agents had revealed themselves. There was presently a narrow space between where the wall had been and where they stood. As earthbenders, the Dai Li were able to make their own way around.
"They came all the way from Ba Sing Se!" exclaimed Icarus. "And look – they brought a souvenir with them!"
The Dai Li were not alone. Beside them stood a tall airbending monk with a shaved head – clearly another one of Icarus's followers – and then there was a fourth person. Between them, the Dai Li clutched a young airbender girl with long, braided brown hair.
"Daddy – help!" Vameira called out to Aang.
"Vameira!" Aang yelled across the room to her in bewilderment. How was she here? How had Icarus gotten her?
Icarus signaled a gesture to the airbending monk who was with the Dai Li agents. The monk nodded in acknowledgment, then faced Vameira. As the Dai Li held her in place with their rock gloved-hands, he began pushing his arms out and pulling them back in. A distinguishable suction sound echoed its way about the chamber as Vameira fell to her knees, gasping for breath.
"No!" Aang shouted in fury.
"Release her!" Icarus commanded. When the monk obediently ceased performing asphyxiation, Vameira grasped her own throat with relief, having regained her breath. "You see, Avatar," Icarus continued. "You may beat me in a straight-up fight, but you cannot get to me before one of my men gets to her. It is you who must stand down."
Aang remained still, saying nothing. Icarus was right. If he carried on fighting, asphyxiation was quick enough to use on Vameira long before he could reach her – or reach Icarus.
Zhao Jr. had arrived at the scene and was now laughing. "Why are you so shocked, Avatar?" he said mockingly. "I thought this was what you liked to see – people from all nations working together!"
Icarus spoke to Aang. "Avatar – you will leave here and not cause any more trouble for my nation or your daughter will die."
Aang was out of options. He reluctantly relinquished his fighting stance, brought down his glider staff and hung his head. Then he slowly walked out the way he came in a graceless movement.
"Behold – the mighty Avatar flees!" Aang felt a ring in his ears as a deafening roar of laughter erupted from Icarus and his men.
As he departed the chamber, Aang remorsefully looked back around. The pair of Dai Li agents were now with Icarus and Zhao Jr., where they joined Icarus in his jeering. Several feet behind them, Aang could see that Vameira was being brought down the opposite hallway by two of Icarus's airbender guards. That hallway led to one of the outer towers. When Aang was growing up in the Southern Air Temple, that had been where beginning airbending classes were taught to children below the age of six. Now it was to be his daughter's prison chamber. The door to the tower had been replaced – it was now different than before. It must have been Zhao's doing, as the new installment was Fire Nation-made. It was just like the sanctuary door in the Crescent Island Fire Temple, which had five mechanisms that looked like dragons. This meant that the door could only be opened by five simultaneous fire blasts – or one fully-realized Avatar. However, instead of five dragon heads, this one only had two – one red one and one blue one – like Ran and Shaw.
"Well done, Gitsu," Icarus said, addressing the Dai Li agent closest to him. "My vision is secure now. Even the Avatar can't open that door all by himself!"
"It was quite easy, Air Lord," Gitsu informed him. "She walked right into our clutches and that lady from the council she was traveling with wasn't much of a fight."
Once Aang was gone, Zhao Jr. frowned at Icarus. "Why did you let the Avatar go? That was very stupid of you. You should have seized the opportunity and taken him prisoner!"
"It doesn't matter," said Icarus triumphantly. "Whether he's dead, captured or just out of the way doesn't matter to me. Now we have his daughter as leverage and that should keep him out of our hair. Anyhow, if he were held here there would be the risk of him escaping and causing trouble with the Avatar State on impulse. Its best if he's kept at a distance."
Zhao Jr.'s eyes narrowed. "Even while you have the girl as a hostage, he's still a threat. Besides, Sister Joo Dee said specifically that she wanted for him to be captured alive. She'll be very angry when she finds out you let him go."
Icarus scoffed. "Pah! The hell with Sister Joo Dee – I don't care what she says. I've got my nation, I'm going to take it to new heights and now no one else can get in my way!"
"I wouldn't take Sister Joo Dee so lightly if I were you," said Zhao Jr. darkly. "You don't want to come across wrong with...her kind."
Kaddo and Appa were both equally exhausted. They had flown around the temple several times when Kaddo spotted Aang flying toward them on his glider and made Appa dive through the air so he was at the level where Aang could hop on.
"What happened?" Kaddo asked his dad. "Did you go to the room to talk to your past lives? Did you find out how to help Mom?"
"No, Kaddo," Aang told him solemnly. "I found something entirely different down there."
"Icarus has gone crazy," explained Aang. "He's overthrown the Council of Elders, allied himself with the Phoenix Army and the Dai Li and taken to murdering anyone who opposes him."
"What?!" questioned Kaddo in disbelief.
"And worst of all," Aang added, "he captured your sister."
"If he's got Vameira, then we have to go back," said Kaddo. "We have to do something about it."
Aang shook his head. "He's threatened to end her if we so much as lift a finger against him. He can kill a person in a matter of seconds with his new asphyxiation move. If we make a move to rescue her now, she'll be long gone by the time we reach her."
"I see," said Kaddo. "Nevertheless, we can't just sit back and do nothing. Let's think of a way to break in undetected. We'll be in and out before they know what hit them – the father-son Avatar team – just like at the North Pole. Then once we get her to safety, we come back and kick their butts once and for all!"
"No," said Aang flatly. "I can't risk it right now. And it's time for you to go back to the South Pole now."
"What do you mean? We haven't found how to cure Mom yet."
"I'll handle that by myself," said Aang firmly.
"But Dad – you shouldn't have to handle it yourself. It's like I said when I found you on Faxian Island."
"You said you would 'be my courage until I found my own,' but now I'll be more courageous and comfortable knowing that you're safe. Kaddo – I'm not trying to get rid of you. Quite the opposite actually. Your mother is energyless, your brother could be anywhere and your sister is the hostage of Icarus. I can't have something happen to you, too. I need you to go back to the Southern Water Tribe – for me."
Kaddo's face went red and wetness outlined the edges of his eyes. "Yes, Father."
The flight southwards was silent and uncomfortable. Neither one of them had anything to say. Aang was distressed. Kaddo was crushed. They had both treasured their time together. Whatever they had been going through, at least they had each other. Now they would be losing that because as much as Aang had treasured it, he was not willing to risk Kaddo's life any more than he already had. When they approached Faxian Island, Aang offered to fly down and see if Kaddo's wooden boat was still where he docked it before – and it was. He let Kaddo off to spare them both the ride the rest of the way back, as it was already hard enough and Aang was confident that Kaddo was capable of bringing himself back to the Southern Water Tribe.
"Good luck," Kaddo managed to say sheepishly as he jumped off Appa and went back to his boat.
"Thank you," replied Aang. He did not take off again right away. He waited a few minutes sitting with Appa on the ground until Kaddo was out of sight.
"I know you're tired and hungry," Aang said aloud to Appa. "A time like this would normally be one where I would give you a recquiesence to boost your energy. I'm sorry, but I can't this time. Recquiesence is part of energybending – something I no longer practice. But I'll make it up to you. I'll get you a nice, tasty meal when the opportunity comes."
Appa yawned and grunted. Aang assumed that he understood. "What was I thinking, Appa?" Aang asked his flying bison rhetorically. "I thought I was bringing back the Air Nomads, but that wasn't the case. I gave airbending abilities to a bunch of people from the Water Tribe, Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation. I dressed them up for the part, but they didn't grow up as Air Nomads. They weren't meant for it. It's like Roku said – I was toying with the world, not saving it. Why didn't I have the sense to listen to him then? I wouldn't be in trouble now. The world wouldn't be in danger from whatever the Lion Turtle says its in danger from. Vameira would be safe. I would probably...still have Katara by my side."
Aang dwelled on this last thought for a few seconds, but chased it out of his head because it was too painful for him to stay focused on at the present. He began thinking about Vameira again. Aang found himself wondering how she had been abducted by the Dai Li in Ba Sing Se. He heard the one called Gitsu say that she was staying with a woman from the Council of Elders. He must have meant Nola, since she often instructed and looked after Tenzin and Vameira. But he could not see her losing a fight to the likes of the Dai Li so easily – she was stronger than that – one of his best students. How could they swipe his daughter from right under her nose? Now Aang found himself getting angry at Nola for her incompetence.
His thoughts were interrupted by a loud breeze through the palm trees, which ruffled the upper section of his tunic. Aang was certain it was time to fly away from this place – to where, he did not know.
Aang was soaring through the grim shadow of the night sky. Appa was all that held him up as he gradually felt himself collapsing under the weight of guilt. Others were constantly paying the price for his mistakes. Katara had paid for them. Kaddo had almost paid for them. Vameira was in the process of paying for them. Now all Aang had with him was his own guilt. Sending Kaddo away had been the best course of action he had taken in a while, since it had apparently become so dangerous to be a part of the Avatar's family. Was this Aang's punishment for bringing energybending back? To be left alone in the world?
With effort, Aang managed to shake himself out of his negative thoughts. This is no time to be thinking like this, Aang told himself. There was still hope – for everything. He would rescue Vameira, find Tenzin, restore Katara's energy and correct whatever imbalance in the world he had caused with energybending. Rescuing Vameira meant returning to the Southern Air Temple undetected, getting past Icarus and through the new dragon door. Aang had not heard from Tenzin since the Battle of the Fire Nation Capital. Discovering a way to bend back Katara's energy had not gotten any easier. Saving the world from a supposed something followed a vague path with few leads. And Katara – although in her energyless state – was safe in that her condition was not likely to worsen while she was with her family at the South Pole. Vameira was in danger every second she was in the hands of Icarus. As difficult as it would be, retrieving Vameira was the easiest task of any of the ones before him.
"I'm sorry, Katara," Aang muttered under his breath. "You'll have to wait just a little longer."
Now that Aang had resolved that his priority would be to save his kidnapped daughter, he had to figure out how to do it. It would be best with one other person with him – preferably a powerful bender. But who? The people of Southern Water Tribe were not on speaking terms with him. Toph was still not fully-recovered. Migo was not ready for this yet. Zuko was busy fighting his civil war. Trinley was in hiding. Aang was running out of friends to help him. Maybe going it alone was his only choice.
No – that would be impossible. He had heard Icarus say that "even the Avatar can't open that door all by himself." He was referring to the door with the two dragon heads. There had to be something special about that door that made Icarus say such a thing. It appeared just as all other such doors did in Avatar temples. In the Crescent Island Fire Temple, the door had five similar dragon heads which had to be opened by five simultaneous fire blasts by five firebenders or by an Avatar. The Southern and Northern Air Temples had similar sanctuary doors with two horns and three whirlwind symbols in the center. The temples in the Earth Kingdom and the Water Tribe each had their own distinguished set of doors. Each of the Avatar Temples also had a more secluded chamber – usually at the bottom – which held some of the Avatar's more secretive relics. These required either an Avatar or one bender from every nation – one waterbender, one earthbender, one firebender and one airbender – to open.
But all these doors could be opened by one fully-realized Avatar alone. The door Vameira was behind had to be different. However Aang broke into the Southern Air Temple without the alarm being sounded and Icarus hurting Vameira, he would also have to be certain the door could be opened when the time came. This was serious trouble.
Wait a minute, Aang thought to himself. The Lion Turtle said something about this in the dream vision he gave me.
"When trouble finds you again, seek out the one least expected as an ally."
So Aang would need to find "the one least expected" to help him with this. Who might that be? It would not be any of the individuals he thought up before, since they were all his friends who had been there for him several times – and who he could count on again in an instant. None of them could open the door, though. Whoever it was that he needed to seek out had to be the one to open the door with him.
The door in the Fire Temple was opened by five timed fire blasts. This door seemed like it would require two – one for each of the dragon heads. The red head would be unlocked by a blast of fire and the blue head would be unlocked by a blast of –
Yes – that had to be it. Colored fire was a rare gift – a specialized ability that not even all Avatars were capable of performing. But – in all his travels as Avatar Aang had only encountered one person who could make blue fire. That person was definitely not a friend – not someone Aang wanted to go see, let alone ask for anything. Apart from Ozai, she had been the fiercest opponent of him and his friends during the Hundred Year War. It seemed that she was also one of their fiercest opponents in the Fire Nation Civil War as well – only for Aang to find out later that it was not actually her. During Sozin's Comet, she had had a mental breakdown and spent a few years in an asylum. Upon her release, she tried to do a fresh start with Zuko and promised to make it up to him. She also promised Aang a favor, but neither he nor Zuko believed that she could be trusted. Along with Zuko, Aang snubbed her offer and she was sent to Ember Island.
Could he call upon that favor now? Was it still good after all these years? This was not a line of thought Aang ever intended to walk. Never in a hundred Avatar Cycles would he be considering this if it weren't for this situation. Even if she had regained her sanity, the mission of saving Vameira did not seem like the type of thing she would ordinarily do. She might want something in return. This was ugly business, but she was his best shot at getting past that door.
Aang grabbed Appa's reins and jerked them off to the side to set a new course. "Alright, buddy. I know where we have to fly. We're going to Ember Island – where Azula lives."
TO BE CONTINUED...
- I've had parts of this chapter in my head since before I started writing The Jasmine Dragon. Events that preceded the events of this chapter took place in Azula's Release.
- a blog about the primogeniture rules of the Fire Nation royal family. It is possible for it to be either male-preference primogeniture or equal primogeniture based on what we saw in the canon show. In the "Energyverse", it is male-preference primogeniture. posted
For the collective works of the author, go here.