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|Hopes of Redemption|
Previously on Energy Saga
The battle at the capital continues. Team Avatar endures a lot of struggles and makes tough decisions. Iroh and most of the Western Fleet perish, with Tenzin and a small handful of survivors making it away from Ormar alive. Without reinforcements, the tide turns against the loyalist Fire Army as the Phoenix Army forces prepare to storm the capital. Aang finally ends it all by using Shuten Shogai with Katara and destroying two airships and a battleship at once. Alls well that ends well - or so it seems. By using Shuten Shogai, Aang unintentionally sucked all Katara's bodily energy out of her.
Chapter Twenty-Six: Hopes of Redemption
Ba Sing Se, 121 AG
At precisely six o'clock in the afternoon, a young man by the name of Ping gathered up his scrolls, tucked them into his satchel and departed his Ancient History exam, thus concluding his last round of tests. In just two weeks time, he would be graduating from Ba Sing Se University with a degree in Anthropology. After countless hours of studying with the aid of caffeinated tea from the Jasmine Dragon, mountains of homework from semi-eccentric professors and endless all-nighters following procrastination over the weekends, his educational experience had finally reached its end. The next step he would take would be to start seeking employment, but there was plenty of time to worry about that later.
For now, Ping had his mind set on heading to his favorite local tavern to meet his close friend Pong, with whom he shared several common interests, along with a similar-sounding name. For instance, they both held a minor in Political Science and therefore were in many of the same courses. They also kept up with current events and liked to pass the time having intellectual debates with each other on such matters.
As Ping opened the creaky, dust-covered wooden door and entered the tavern, he found his comrade Pong sitting atop a stool with the daily paper spread out on the bar in front of him. When Pong heard the sound of the front door opening and shutting and felt the drafty breeze of fresh air disrupt the stuffiness around him, he turned his head around and laid eyes on the newcomer. "Ping!" he called out.
"Pong!" Ping returned. "What's up?"
"Not much." Pong patted his hand on the next stool, signaling for his friend to join him. "You?"
"Not much," Ping reciprocated. "I just got out of my last final."
"Well, congrats man," said Pong with a smile. "Let's celebrate!"
"Sounds like a plan," agreed Ping. "Yuan," he called out to the bartender. "Two boulder ales, please."
"Ummm...no," Pong contradicted. "Make mine a terra-brandy. I hate boulder ale, as you should know by now."
Ping laughed heartily as he reached into his pocket and handed Yuan a pair of gold coins. "Can you believe its really been four years already?"
"It's been four years for you," Pong corrected. "It's been six and a half for me. My father never fully recovered from his service in the Hundred Year War, so I had to take off a couple semesters to help run his business. And I even worked part-time when I wasn't working full-time."
"Oh yeah, that's right," said Ping admittedly with a slap to his own forehead. "Six and a half years is a long time to be doing that on top of going to Ba Sing Se University. What does he have you do for him again?"
"Well, six years and four months to be exact," Pong replied. "Mostly I help edit his encyclopedias."
Ping nodded. "So, anything of note in The Ba Sing Se Times? With two finals and some last-minute studying in between them I didn't have a chance to read it today."
"The war in the Fire Nation," Pong told him matter-of-factly. "What else?"
"I hear ya. That's all we've been hearing about for quite a while." Ping sighed. "Were there any new developments?"
"Well, the Fire Army pulled off a string of victories earlier this week. The most significant was the recapturing of Fire Fountain City, which was the last Phoenix Army stronghold in a major city area. General Mongke got commended at his own ceremony following that battle. As of now the loyalist forces have the Phoenix Army retreating on all fronts. You would think that would mean it was all over with. However, although the Phoenix Army is scattered, they are still sizable and can continue fighting a guerilla war for several months. Therefore, it will still be a while before total victory is achieved."
"At least its winding down now ," said Ping taking a sip of his cold, drafty boulder ale. "Thank the spirits for that."
"If you ask me, its been winding down ever since the battle at the capital. The Phoenix Army forces were basically cut in half that day. The Avatar the Fire Lord for the win!" Pong laughed as he noticed his friend's expression. "Oh, that's right – I forgot. You don't like the Avatar."
"What I found most interesting about that was not the final outcome, but how it was brought about. The battle was essentially lost, but the Avatar finished it himself by wiping out two Phoenix Army airships and a battleship in a matter of seconds! He buried his enemies into the ground and gave off an incredible display of power in the process. He sacrificed his own wife in order to do this."
"Whoa – not at all," Pong countered with a raised voice. "That's a complete fabrication. He did not 'sacrifice' her. She's still very much alive. What he did was suck out her bodily energy to power the attack, but it wasn't intentional. It was a move he'd never done before and he didn't know what he was doing."
Ping shrugged and took another sip of his drink. "Well, it sure got him what he wanted."
Pong shook his head. "Don't forget that the current Avatar is an Air Nomad. He's a peaceful one."
Ping shrugged and looked back to the paper in front of his friend. "So what else is in there?"
"A while ago – even before the battle at the capital – the Council of Five initiated their own intervention in the Fire Nation Civil War, led by General Fong. Of course, that was a complete failure and ended in Fong's disgrace. The Council of Five are some of the most important men in the Kingdom, apart from the Earth King, and they did not come out of that looking good. Kuei really has his hands full trying to keep order in the political arena. Certain people are already saying that they miss the days of Long Feng. Those who served in the Dai Li – or had connections to them – during the Hundred Year War are under intense scrutiny and their loyalty is being questioned. It sounds like we need to be more careful or else we'll have a civil war of our own before too long."
"It's just politics as usual," Ping scoffed. "I doubt anything will come of it. It was something else that really intrigued in The Ba Sing Se Times last week. I have it here in my pocket – I still carry it around." Ping pulled the older paper and held it up in front of Pong, pointing to a headline on one of the back pages.
Pong read the headline and sub-title aloud. "Global Avatar Approval reaches new lows as unconventional perspectives of bending are on the rise. Yeah, that sounds like something you would like. Bender envy is nothing new, though. So where's it coming from?"
"Actually, its the Avatar that sparked this new trend. After his action at the capital it became clear that his primary concern was not the balance of the world, but flaunting his own power," Ping began. "And I'm not the only one who thinks this way," he added, noticing Pong raising an eyebrow. "Bending ability was always thought to take shape through spirituality, genetics and random chance. Non-benders have always been jealous of benders, but they accepted the hand they were dealt as natural fate. But ever since the Avatar became able to take and give bending abilities at will, it became apparent that that wasn't always the case. The idea of one being a bender or not becoming an alterable variable changes everything. It makes the Avatar the decider for all. When he recreated the Air Nomads, he granted bending to a lot of non-benders, but he turned away a lot more when they came to him requesting bending abilities. The Avatar himself is now to blame for withholding bending from them. Those with bender envy and a feeling of anger at it have intensified their hatred of the Avatar and benders in general."
Pong crossed his arms and shook his head as his friend finished. "You're such an anti-bender, always wanting everything to be equal. You just have to hate all benders. What did they ever do to you?"
"I don't necessarily hate all benders," said Ping. "I don't hate you."
"But I'm not – okay, well, technically I am. I do have the ability – and my parents enrolled me in classes for it as a kid, but I never had much talent. I've always been more of a bookworm. Nowadays I just use my Earthbending for convenience purposes on occasion."
"Right," said Ping. "Like I was saying, I don't necessarily hate all benders. I just hate the effect it has on us."
Pong winced at him. "What do you mean? Think of all the progress humanity has made with the help of different types of bending."
Ping waved this objection away. "That's becoming less and less relevant. Technology is stepping in. Look at the Southern Water Tribe. They've gotten over their lack of benders very well by industrializing. And a hundred and twenty-two years ago sky bison and dragons ruled the skies. Now we have airships in their place. Anyway, the four bending arts – the traditional four, that is, not the energy one that the Avatar practices on his own – divide the world into four nations with each element at the center of everything. Isn't it weird we continue to place so much emphasis on this one trait about ourselves?"
Pong shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe."
Ping continued. "Well, what incentive have non-benders to continue to go along with this system now? Personally, I've always considered myself a citizen of Ba Sing Se more than I considered myself a subject of the Earth Kingdom. I don't have anything more in common with someone from Omashu or Kyoshi Island than I do with a non-bender from any of the other nations."
"So you're saying that you want to abandon the four-nation model for the sake of non-benders?"
"Believe it or not, I think benders would be better off as well. Hear me out on this. There was a girl from the lower ring I heard about last week. Her father was an earthbender. Her mother was a non-bender whose family lived in the Earth Kingdom for generations, but had ancestry from the Fire Nation. No one on that side of her family tree had been a firebender since her great-great-great grandparents. But, through random chance, she ended up a firebender. When her family found out, she was sent off to boarding school in the Fire Nation and 'encouraged to integrate' with the people over there, even though she shared no recent background with them. Now, she's lost in a foreign land. Realistically, she'll probably never see her parents again."
"Tragic," Pong conceded. "But that's often what happens to those born with a different type of bending than their nation's. She's lucky that the Hundred Year War is over now or else she would have it much worse."
"But it shouldn't have to be like that," Ping argued. "There is one thing that the Avatar has done that I do approve of. He and Fire Lord Zuko have set plans in motion to construct a city in an area between the nations where all people will live in harmony together."
"I know. I heard about that."
"Some day I bet this city will be bigger than Ba Sing Se."
"Ha! Bigger than Ba Sing Se? Normally I'm a pretty open-minded person, but now you're just talking crazy."
"Not only will it be bigger than Ba Sing Se, but it will bring non-benders from all over into one place, where they will see how much they have in common. Then, I predict we'll see some real changes."
"Okay, whatever," said Pong with a roll of his eyes. Having finished his drink, he had started trying to get Yuan's attention once more. "Do you want another round?"
Southern Water Tribe
It seemed an ordinary night for those of the Southern Water Tribe. The half-full moon shone like a distant beacon and the usual nighttime breeze was in the air. The village overlooking the boundless horizon of icy waters was totally at rest, now that everyone had gone to bed. Well, not quite everyone. There was one dweller who remained awake, even at this atypical hour. Something that made him even more atypical was the fact that this man was an airbender – the Avatar, in fact.
Aang sat upright on top of his woolly bedspread, staring into space. He was not sure how long it had been since things had changed. It could have been days, weeks or months for all his body could tell. The sheer shock itself had not yet worn off. Aang was still processing it – still reliving the pivotal event in his mind: how after hours of fighting their hearts out, the team had given up hope and made plans for escaping; how he had decided that would not stand by and let that happen; how he overcame all odds by defeating the enemy forces with a single movement; and how this well-intentioned, but desperate action to save them all had resulted in his beloved Katara being rendered a pale image of her former self. All too late, Aang had realized the truth: that he should have listened to Roku and the others about the dangers of energybending all along.
After the battle ended, everything seemed like a blur. Aang sat beside his energy-less wife on the Fire Lord's barge while things simply happened around him. Zuko ordered his vessel to return to shore, now that there was no one they had to run from. When they docked at the shore, the noise of the cheering crowds sounded like torture. These people did not know of Aang's new, personal turmoil. To them, he was their conquering hero. Things got worse once they returned to the palace and everyone was together again. War Minister Chan had the nerve to suggest that Aang use the move Shuten Shogai again and again to bring the remainder of the Phoenix Army to submission, using high-level prisoners of war as the "ammunition" each time. To Aang's relief, Zuko had promptly shut Chan up and berated him for making such a proposal.
Later, Aang went to attend the meeting that Zuko had set up to lay the foundations for the United Republic. The next step after winning a war was winning the peace. With prominent leaders from the Fire Nation, Air Nomads, Water Tribe and Earth Kingdom present, this was the ideal time to begin planning the project. Aang had been looking forward to this ever since he and Zuko had their first conversation in the lounge before he went to see Jeong Jeong. Now, Aang did not care. The only place he wanted to be now was beside his helpless forever girl so that he could make every effort to shake some energy back into her, no matter how futile they would turn out.
Zuko's advisers were put off by the Avatar's aloofness, but Zuko himself was understanding. Being a close friend of both Aang and Katara, he understood Aang's intentions and knew how hard it was for him. Zuko offered to let Katara stay in the palace where the doctors of the Fire Nation royal family could try to "cure" her. Aang appreciated this, even though he knew it was an empty courtesy gesture. Both he and Zuko could tell that this would come to nothing, since Katara's condition was something that no doctor in the world could fix.
Although Fire Lady Mai found what happened to Katara disturbing, she did not have the same strong bond with her that the rest of them had. She was just glad that the Fire Nation Capital was safe, along with her family. Queen Toph, on the other hand, was struggling to keep herself together and not show outward signs of vulnerability to everyone else. She did not hold Aang responsible, but she felt the loss of someone who had been a mother-figure to her during her childhood. In an attempt to cope, she concentrated heavily on working at the United Republic project, which had become her retreat from her life. Migo stated that he would "be a gentleman" and accompany Toph back to Omashu, saying that she was still injured and could use someone else there to oversee her recovery.
"If you really have nothing better to do, than be my guest," Toph had said flatly in response to this notion. At this point, everyone around them had already figured out how they felt about each other and saw right through their attempts to conceal it.
Aang did not feel like sticking around the Fire Nation Capital much longer. Since he was not being productive, nobody objected to him wanting to leave. A few days before Toph and Migo returned to Omashu, Aang returned to the Southern Water Tribe on Appa with Kaddo, Vameira and his stiff wife. Vameira had kept to herself, hardly speaking at all. Kaddo, for the most part, seemed like himself. He even kept trying to lighten the mood with his typical humor, but without much success.
The Water Tribals, Air Nomads and Kyoshi Warriors traveled to the South Pole at the same time as they did. There was definite tension in the air. Aang blamed himself for what happened and so did Sokka. At the United Republic planning meeting, he had given Aang a cold shoulder and requested not to be seated next to him. He seemed equally annoyed that the Air Nomads were coming to visit the South Pole, saying that they "didn't belong there." After the homecoming, Sokka decided to throw a return feast for all those who went to fight at the capital and their families. He neglected to invite Aang – or any of the airbenders, for that matter.
But that was not the worst of it all. As Chief of the Southern Water Tribe, Sokka issued a decree that Katara would be moved into the hut next-door to his, with no visitors allowed. This was an unprecedented action in the tribe – forcibly taking a man's wife out of his house. But, as Sokka had said: "It's not her anymore. It's just her physical body, so I don't want to hear any complaints of her being taken away from you. Besides, this is all your fault. Now her physical body is all that's left of her, so the least I can do is protect that from you!" Sokka had told this to Aang as soon as they were all back in their village – and the words had been stinging in Aang's mind ever since.
At twilight on the evening of the feast, Aang walked up to the edge of the icy cliffs outside the village and sat there to watch the sun set over the distant horizon and the day gradually turn into night. When the sun had almost disappeared, Trinley – another person not invited to the main event – joined him.
"Hi there, teacher," Trinley greeted him with a mild smile.
Aang barely acknowledged Trinley's presence. He was lost in his own thoughts – and Trinley's attempt to start a conversation on a casual level had not been successful.
Trinley decided to cut right to the chase. "Listen, I know that you've been through a lot lately and my sympathies go with you, but you can't carry on like this. We Air Nomads need you back at the Southern Air Temple. I sense troubled times ahead. You should never have left Icarus in charge. He's not stable and it's a mistake to trust him after the signs he's given. When we return to the Air Temple, we need to confront him and make sure things are okay. The Council of Elders need the Avatar to stand with them."
Aang shook his head. "Sorry, Trinley. I'm not going back to the Air Temple. Not ever."
Trinley's purple eyes widened. "What!? Why not?"
"I made a mistake, Trinley. I'm not going to play a part in continuing it."
Trinley stared at him in disbelief. "You spent months searching through the Earth Kingdom for someone like me to test energybending on. You and I took a great risk together for something we believed in. I gave up everything I had back home with my mother to join you. We worked for years to build a new culture and a new way of life as we restored the world to its former balance. Are you telling me that you think that was all...a mistake?"
"I'm afraid so."
Trinley's eyes glazed up like shiny, violet orbs. He hardened his expression and turned abruptly to leave for the village again. Soon afterwards, Trinley and the rest of the Air Nomads left the South Pole.
Nola was an exception. She remained in the village for a couple extra nights to assist in Vameira's airbending training. Right before she departed on her glider for the Southern Air Temple, she met with Aang in his hut to discuss her progress.
"She's improved somewhat," Nola had told him. "Her moves are more accurate and confident than they were a few months ago. She still needs a lot of practice, though. She doesn't catch on as fast as her brother does."
Aang nodded. "I'll just have to make her train harder and more often." Aang sighed thoughtfully. "I do miss Tenzin. I hope he returns soon, wherever he may be. I hope he's okay..."
"Vameira said the same thing," Nola added. "She says she misses him and worries about him every day. She's been talking non-stop of the things they did together before he ran away."
"Wow," said Aang in astonishment. "I haven't heard her talk at all much about anything since the battle. I almost thought she lost her voice or something."
Nola shook her head. "No, she talks plenty. True, she didn't talk much right after the battle, but that only lasted a few days. She's talked all the time since then. Now she just doesn't talk...when you're around."
Nola stared at him thoughtfully. "I can see you're stressed. It's understandable. As the Avatar, you're expected to bear the weight of the world on your shoulders, but you pull it off well and we're all very proud of you," said Nola admiringly.
"Oh," said Aang, taken aback. "Well...thanks."
"Nevertheless, I can see why it might get hard on you sometimes. It's quite a lot of responsibility you give yourself ," Nola told him sympathetically. "It's okay to admit it. You also had the lonesome distinction of being the last airbender on Earth. Now, you're the last energybender. It's such a burden to undertake. You shouldn't have to undertake it alone."
Aang shook his head. "I made mistakes. I won't ask anyone to share them with me that hasn't already. And I won't let energybending spread any further into the world, either."
"Fair enough. I understand."
And now, much later, here Aang was – still loafing about and lost in his own thoughts. It was as though much time had passed and no time had passed. Aang decided he could no longer sit idly by. He had seen so many miraculous things happen with energybending. There had be some way for him to restore Katara to her former self. And if that was the case, he had to find out what it was. He needed to travel the world again until he found answers. Maybe he could also reunite with Tenzin along the way. He would retrace his steps in his journey to learn energybending and see if any of his old sources could shed light on a way to bend energy back into someone's body once it was gone. He had wasted enough time already, so he would leave tonight – alone. In the mean time, Kaddo and Vameira could stay with their grandfather, Hakoda. Aang had spoken to the former chieftain earlier that night, so it was all set. But Aang would not leave until he had one real conversation with Vameira. Slowly, Aang lifted his knees and approached his daughter's bed.
He lowered himself onto the miniature bedside stool. Aang just sat there for a few minutes, watching her sleep. As usual, she had undone her braided ponytail before going to bed, so her sleek, slender hair was allowed to flow to its full length and covered her upper body like an extra blanket. She seemed tender and peaceful with her eyes closed, her diaphragm pushing in and out with the soft sound of her breath and her smooth hands laying on the sheets next to her face. Her childhood so far had been much more like Aang's childhood than her mother's childhood. She had the luxury of growing up in a time of peace. Even now, she had still managed to hold onto her innocence in rough times. In a few short months, she would be twelve – the same age that Aang had been when his own life had changed forever.
"Vameira..." Aang spoke softly.
His daughters sleepy eyes blinked twice before opening fully. She turned to look up and make eye contact with him for a few seconds. Vameira then grabbed her covers and turned herself over so she was facing the other direction, towards the wall. Aang put his arm over to stroke her beautiful hair, but as his fingertips glazed her strands, she scooted away a few inches so that she was just beyond his reach.
"So that's how it is, then? Vameira, I know how you must feel right now. Believe me, I feel the same way. You know there's nothing more important to me than your mother, your brothers – and you. I've done what I thought was best for all of us. I never meant to hurt anyone."
"It's the truth," Aang cried defensively. "I screwed up big time – I admit that. But I promise that I'm going to make things better now. Listen – I'm leaving tonight. I won't be back for a while. I'm going to find a way to help your mother – and maybe find Tenzin, too. When I come back, we'll all be together again and things will be back to normal."
Vameira remained motionless and silent. Aang wondered what kind of effect – if any – his words were having. After a minute or two of sitting there, he rose up and left her side.
When he was all packed and ready, Aang approached the sleeping Appa and stroked the giant sky bison's fur, indicating it was time for him to wake up. Appa let out a loud grunt and looked intently on his owner, before welcoming him with an affectionate lick on the face.
Aang smiled slightly as he tossed his bag onto the saddle before climbing on himself. "I guess it's you and me again, buddy. Yip...yip," Aang muttered meekly.
As Aang flew away from the South Pole, he could not help but remember when he left this place just after meeting Katara and Sokka for the first time. Sokka had accused him of endangering his people by signaling the Fire Navy and banished him from the village. Sokka did not banish him this time, but he might as well have. Now it was as though twenty-one years of experiences had just been erased from his life. It was like they were a dream – like they were never real. It was a dream Aang longed for and one he would escape reality to chase after.
A downpour began. This would be a source of annoyance to Aang, but now it was as such that he did not care either way. As he allowed the tiny droplets from the darkened sky above to shower over his body, Aang thought about possible places to check for further energybending knowledge. The words of Jeong Jeong rang in his mind.
"Once things are bent out of their natural state it is much harder to unbend them back to the way they were. There are also unintended consequences. When something is altered from its natural state – even if its for a good reason – it leaves an imprint behind – an imprint of chaos."
It did seem odd to be looking for knowledge on energybending again. After all, energybending was what got him into this mess. Anything he tried would be part of the problem. But he had nowhere else to turn to for a solution. Once this was over, Aang told himself he would never ask anything else from energybending. He was going back to all his previous sources, but there was only one thing he was still interested in learning.
Aang would obviously have to talk to Yue. For that, he would have to visit the Spirit Oasis in the Northern Water Tribe. Then there was the mysterious Cave of the Ancients. Then there was the Scroll of Forbidden Knowledge he had obtained that was once owned by the late Jeong Jeong. Also, as the Avatar, he was the bridge between the Physical World and the Spirit World. He would have to consult the spirits on this. After all, spirits were the primary teachers of energybending, just like badgermoles were for earthbending, dragons were for firebending, sky bison were for airbending and the Moon and Ocean Spirits were for waterbending. The krakens were originally supposed to be the source of waterbending, but that was beside the point.
Then there was the Lion Turtle...the ever-elusive Lion Turtle. It was the Lion Turtle who sparked Aang's descent into energybending – when he had longed for a way to defeat Ozai without taking his life. Aang wanted to save the world, but he also wanted to preserve his personal Air Nomad values. Was he being selfish, even then? If only it had ended there, but the Aang always seemed to want more – and when he did want more, other people paid the price for him. Now he was like Avatar Kuruk. Because of his own missteps as Avatar, he had lost his loved one and was destined for a boundless pursuit of them. However, Aang could not help but feel he was more directly responsible for Katara's state than Kuruk was for Ummi's.
As the storm grew rough and Aang grew tired, he decided that it was about time to take a rest. There were several islands within flying distance to land on. Aang was feeling a dreaded exhaustion overcome him.
As Aang grew more and more tired, he could just barely make out a distinct shape on top of the water below. It was shaped like an island, but it was moving, and...it appeared to have a head. Aang blinked three times and rubbed his eyes, making sure he was not hallucinating, but when he looked again, the object had vanished.
Was that...? No, it couldn't have been.
Aang took frequent stops over the next few days. On the fourth night he had Appa land on the beach of one of the smaller islands off the coast of the Earth Kingdom continent. Aang lept from Appa's back and curled up in the soft sand. He did not bother to unpack or set up camp. He merely let himself relax on the sandy ground beneath him. If he had paid more attention to the setting, he would have noticed how familiar it really was. Just inland from the beach where he lay was a path to a small village. Just down that way was the place where he had met Trinley for the first time.
Light had emerged by the time Aang opened his eyes once again. The lush, tropical scene about him gave no comfort. Aang rose his head and stomach up, rubbing his belly and scratching his thin layer of hair and beard of four days growth. He gazed in front of himself at the ocean and...there it was.
It was the Lion Turtle.
The Lion Turtle was just as poised and majestic-looking as the last time Aang had seen him. His giant head stuck out from the elegant shell with lush landscape on its back. This was unmistakably the same being that Aang had met many years ago before his decisive battle with Fire Lord Ozai.
"It's...it's you!" Aang called out with a stutter.
"Indeed, Avatar Aang. I must be brief, for there isn't much time. I come to inform you – although these are troubled times for you, your troubles are not over. There is more yet to come."
"More?! I can't take more!"
The Lion Turtle remained calm at Aang's outburst. "This time it is not about you. This time, it's about the world. You may have been through a lot; but you must face more in order to do what is needed. When trouble finds you again, seek out the one least expected as an ally. You will have to endure the dreaded pain of loss, bring back old traditions and stop the ones from ages past before they reclaim what was once theirs. All the while, it is pivotal that you keep your heart and mind true. Your own energy must stay unbendable. Never allow them to waver even a little bit, for that will be your downfall. Remember – power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. That is all I can tell you for today."
Aang listened to the Lion Turtle's words furiously, then became tiresome once more. Exhausted, he went back to sleep.
When Aang awoke again, the sun had risen high in the sky and was staring almost straight down into his eyes. He rose his elbow in front of his head and turned his face to the side to avoid being blinded. Looking out to the boundless ocean, he saw no sign of the Lion Turtle. Aang was unable to tell if his brief conversation with the Lion Turtle had been real or merely a dream. Upon surveying the area, he found that someone else had found him now.
"Dad?" In his thick Water Tribe coat, Kaddo walked down the shore toward his father, an expression of concern on his face.
Aang stretched out and rubbed his eyes, making sure that it actually was his son and not a hallucination. "How did you get here?"
Kaddo pointed thirty feet back the direction he came to a freshly-carved wooden canoe pushed up on the sand with a long paddle sticking out.
"You came all the way here on that?" asked Aang, bewildered. "How did you catch up with me? I was on Appa – a sky bison."
Kaddo shrugged. "It wasn't hard. You were going pretty slow and I had my waterbending to help. It was still pretty tiring, though. How are you holding up?"
Aang was still dazed and made his reply without looking directly at his son. "I'm fine – apart from losing everything dear to me."
"You say you've lost everything dear to you while I'm standing right here. Gee, Dad – thanks," said Kaddo sarcastically.
"That's not what I meant."
"I know," Kaddo responded. "And I know its difficult with Mom and Tenzin not around. So...you really think it's possible? I mean – bending Mom's energy back and all."
"I have to try, don't I?"
"I guess you do."
"So..why'd you come all the way here?"
"I figured I could help you."
"No," said Aang firmly. "Get in your canoe and go back home. I don't need anyone else getting dragged into this mess."
"No," said Kaddo defiantly. "You look like you definitely need help from somebody."
"I'm fine," said Aang. He was slightly more perky now and rubbed some sand off his knee caps. "Don't worry about me. Just go back to the South Pole where you belong."
"Why did it take you four days to get here?" asked Kaddo. "On the day of your wedding, you traveled from here back to our home in just a few hours."
Aang let out a faint smile at the mention of this memorable occasion. "That was the day I met Trinley, too. It was in the village just inland from here. He and his mother were pretty eccentric at the time. Trinley still is – a little bit."
"Why don't we go to his mother's house and ask if she can give us a fresh meal and a hot bath?" Kaddo suggested with a grin.
Aang shook his head. "She's no longer there. She passed away a few years ago. It was hard for her not to see her son very often after I took him away from her. I guess that's just another way that I've been careless with my energybending. I never fully considered the consequences of what I was doing because I believed in it so much."
"Well, we'll find out what it is you have to do now – together."
"I already told you I don't need you for this," snapped Aang irritably. "I know what I need to do. I know what I need to know."
"And what's that?" asked Kaddo skeptically.
"Energies make me who I am, but...I can't let them control who I am," said Aang uncertainly. "Does that make sense?"
Kaddo gawked at him. "No! No, it doesn't – not even a little bit."
Aang thought to himself for a moment. "Yeah, you're right. It doesn't."
Kaddo nodded. "Face it, Dad. You're insane."
"No, I'm not!" Aang shouted defensively.
"It's okay. Any sane person would be insane if they've been through what you've been through. It just means that you're human. Dad..." Kaddo stepped forward, so he was right in front of his father as his eyes began to water. "I can help you."
"Are you sure you still wish to be associated with me after what I've done? How come you haven't lost faith like your uncle and your sister have? Maybe you just don't care about your mother..."
"What?!" asked Kaddo in alarm. "Of course I do!"
"Do you? It would explain a lot if you didn't. I've seen you fight with her all the time."
"Of course I care," Kaddo repeated. "Families can fight a lot, but at the end of the day it doesn't matter."
"Well, how can you care about her and not be mad at me for what I've done? You should be mad at me. I'm mad at me..." Aang trailed off as he lowered himself to the ground and tears began to form in his own eyes.
"What happened makes me mad," said Kaddo matter-of-factly. "But that's in the past now. We can't concern ourselves with what was. We must act on what is."
"Since when do you quote Gyatso?"
"Since I've heard you do it a billion times." Kaddo saw that his father was slightly more cheerful now. "So do you really think it can be done? Bending energy back into Mom's body, I mean."
"I'm not sure. Jeong Jeong did say that it was much harder to unbend than to bend when it came to energybending."
"Yes much harder," repeated Kaddo. "That implies its not impossible, then."
"Almost impossible is not impossible. If you've given up already, maybe you're the one who didn't care about her enough."
Aang glared at him angrily. "I haven't given up on her! I'll never give up on her. If I had only a one percent chance of ever bringing your mother back to normal I would spend the rest of my life chasing that one percent down!"
"What is it, then?" Kaddo asked simply and unintimidated.
"I don't know. I guess I'm just so...discouraged." This was true. Aang felt like he had lost the hope and the will needed to continue.
"I see," said Kaddo. "Mom always made you hopeful and gave you courage. Now you've got to do it yourself."
Aang stared at his son's face, saying nothing. That was sufficient for a response. Without warning, Kaddo rose up his leg and kicked him hard in the shin.
"Ow! What was that for?"
"Come on, Dad. We're going. I'm going to be your courage until you find your own."
Aang was almost ready to concede. "You're quite sure about this?"
"Thanks, Kaddo," said Aang, scratching his whiskers with one hand and brushing some more sand of his Air Nomad clothes with the other. If Kaddo of all people was acting more mature than him, this must be quite a wake-up call.
Kaddo nodded. "First things first. Let's get you cleaned up and grab something to eat. Then...where do we go from there"
"I suppose we'll start with the Northern Water Tribe. I'll talk to Yue again. That seems a logical place to begin. If that doesn't work out, we can work out the next stop on our journey then."
Kaddo rolled his eyes. "In other words, we're going all the way around the world again – literally. It's okay. I can see my friends there while you go talk to the spirit princess."
Aang smirked. "Well, let's get going, then." And so began a brand new adventure for both of them. It was good to have Kaddo here with him. Aang had a fresh goal to pursue and it was nice to have someone close to him at his side. He was ready for an uncertain quest to save Katara from her fate worse than death.
And maybe he could think about the vague "vision" from the Lion Turtle along the way.
TO BE CONTINUED...
- The names "Ping" and "Pong" are an obvious reference to a game played on a table with a ball and paddles. In the canon show, Pong was originally supposed to have a neighbor named Ping.
- "The Ba Sing Se Times" is a reference to the site newsletter.
- When Pong said he edited his father's encyclopedia for six years and four months, that was a reference to Avatar Wiki and how long it has been around.
- The Lion Turtle's words provide some foreshadowing on what is to come in later chapters.
- The lines said by Aang and Kaddo about Gyatso were also said in the previous chapter by Aang and Katara.
- This chapter is kind of depressing, but that's not the case with the next ones
- Book Three: Atonement will have twenty-one chapters, which is more than originally anticipated. The coming chapters will contain some material that I have looked forward to writing for a while.
- Book Three: Atonement will contain death – in multiple generations.
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