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Previously on Energy Saga
Aang wakes up on Ember Island, initially believing that Azula took him there, but then he finds out that it was Katara and Sokka who brought him with them. Everyone recuperates and makes plans to head to the Fire Nation Capital, where an inevitable decisive battle will be taking place.
Chapter Twenty-Three: Revelations
Fire Nation Royal Palace 120 AG
Zuko found Aang sitting alone in one of his home's many fancy lounges. Aang had arrived earlier that day with Sokka, Katara, Vameira, Kaddo and the warriors. Upon their arrival, Zuko had seen to it that they were fed a late lunch of roasted dumplings and tart pies with fresh fruit. It was one of the finer delicacies he had to offer. Zuko was grateful for their being there and wanted it to be known. He was still uneasy about them coming – feeling that he should be handling the situation on his own. But he also knew that Aang and the others were the best chance they had for defending the city and they always accomplished the impossible when they worked together.
Zuko had received a letter from Uncle shortly after Aang had arrived. The Western Fleet were on their way. And Iroh also had Tenzin with him. Zuko knew that Aang and Katara had been worried about him immensely since he ran away and was glad they would soon see each other again.
"Hello Zuko," Aang greeted him.
"Hi," Zuko returned. "How did you like the food?"
Aang merely grunted.
"I see," said Zuko. "I could have sworn it was one of your favorites."
"It was good," Aang told him. "But with those I care about here and the Phoenix Army rapidly approaching, everything else seems trivial."
"It's not going to be easy. Toph is going to be the lucky one."
"Yep," agreed Aang.
"Not only are we facing almost half the Phoenix Army," Zuko continued, "Zhao Jr. is bringing a secret weapon with him."
"A secret weapon," said Aang curiously. "Any idea what?"
"I don't know for sure," Zuko told him. "But I do hear that Ormar is at large."
"What's Ormar?" asked Aang.
"He was the fiercest dragon in the litter that Ran and Shaw bore right after the war ended," Zuko explained. "Ormar's been rabid from a young age. He ate two of his unhatched siblings as soon as he crawled out of his own egg."
"I see," said Aang. "Ran and Shaw are his parents then. I forget, which one was the female?"
"Ran was the female. Shaw was the male. I wasn't sure of that myself until I found out later. I was too busy concentrating on more pressing matters." Aang and Zuko's trip to see them had been quite an adventure.
"So why would he be a secret weapon?" asked Aang.
"One of the Phoenix Army leaders adopted him years ago when he was just a captain serving in the Eastern Fleet after the war. He spent some time training and raising Ormar. He's only two decades old, which is nothing in the lifetime of a dragon, so he's still nowhere near fully-grown. But if he's set loose in a city like the Fire Nation Capital, he can wreck hell. I wouldn't put it past the Phoenix Army to do that."
"Well, I guess we'll have to watch out for dragons then."
"So are you ready for your big meeting with Jeong Jeong yet?"
"I don't know," Aang replied uncertainly. "Last time he kicked me out of his house for asking him about energybending. I haven't seen him in forever. Well, at least it will take my mind off what's to come for the time being."
"Did I tell you where he was staying?" Zuko asked him.
"The Dragon Roof Inn."
"Figures," said Aang with a roll of his eyes.
"I know. It's not the most upscale lodging in the city, either. Jeong Jeong never cared much for anything fancy. It's close to the rim of the volcano. When my servant takes you tonight, you'll have a long ride ahead of you."
"Alright," said Aang. "Can we change the subject now?" Aang was not looking forward to visiting Jeong Jeong on his deathbed. He had gotten a cold shoulder from him since they all shared a meal at his place years before. What was Aang supposed to say to him now? Aang would almost rather face Ozai again.
"Sure. You, Katara and Sokka were the first ones to arrive, but the Kyoshi Warriors and the Council of Elders will be joining us tomorrow. Uncle and the Western Fleet have to refuel and resupply, so they'll arrive in two-to-three days." Zuko decided to hold off on telling Aang that Tenzin would be coming with Iroh. They had a tough time ahead of them and Zuko was sure that the pleasant surprise of seeing his first-born son would put him in a good mood.
"Three days – the Phoenix Army might already be here by then."
"Hopefully not," said Zuko stiffly.
Aang leaned back thoughtfully in his lounge chair. "Remember when we said we would rebuild the world together – and from that point on it would be an era of love and peace?"
"Yep, I remember that," said Zuko. "That didn't work out so well, did it? Despite our best efforts the same thing happened all over again."
"That's the frustrating part about changing the world," said Aang. "It usually doesn't want to change."
"I don't believe that," Zuko argued. "The world wanted to change – and still does. The people were yearning for the peace that we gave them. I think the problem is that people allow themselves to be controlled by their own fear. The world is harsh and divided. As long as it is, those lusting for power – like Zhao and my sister – will exploit that fear."
"Then something has to be done about that."
"Like what? I've worked hard to mend relations with the other nations during my reign, but they still consider the Fire Nation their enemies. You and every one of our friends coming into town will really stand out. We don't get many foreign tourists in the Fire Nation Capital. And the trade rate is still far below what it was a hundred and twenty years ago. People aren't comfortable coming here. They don't trust enough to reach out to one another."
Aang pondered this for a few seconds. "What if there was some place in between the four nations – not belonging to any one? Like a haven where all could choose to come and live peacefully. There they could be free to interact on a proper level."
Zuko thought about this vision. "A united republic of all peoples – that would be something indeed. It would welcome displaced refugees and those looking to make a new life for themselves no matter where they come from or what their past allegiances were. I think this idea has promise."
They were interrupted as one of Zuko's loyal and punctual servants entered the room. "Sir, I am ready to escort Avatar Aang to the Dragoon Roof Inn."
"We'll talk more about this later," Aang said as he left the room.
Dragon Roof Inn
Aang felt uneasy as he entered the room. It seemed like a dream – revisiting a part of his past he preferred not to remember.
"Have you forgotten that when last we met, you let your abilities get the best of you in your firebending training and you burned the hands of your young waterbender friend here? And then, like now, you suffered a failure to listen... You are a fully-realized Avatar now! You have mastered all four elements, have entered the Spirit World and control the Avatar State. And yet you still want more! This has got nothing to do with being the Avatar. You just want more power... Go. Get out of my sight – all of you!"
Jeong Jeong was resting in a quaint little four-poster bed nestled in a the far corner of the room. "So, Avatar – you've arrived. How have you been?"
"I've been good... What about you?"
"As you can see, I've been much better," Jeong Jeong told Aang. "Listen, I overreacted a little when you asked me about the fifth bending art years ago. I should have explained to you why it could be dangerous."
"Ummm...don't mention it," said Aang ineptly.
"But – I'd like to talk to you about it now, while I have the chance," said Jeong Jeong. "Why don't you tell me about your experiences with this so far?"
"Well, its kind of a long story..."
"I may not have much time left," said Jeong Jeong. "But I have time enough to listen to the long story."
"Well, alright. It all started a few days before Sozin's Comet," Aang explained. "When I found out about the Fire Lord's plan to burn down the Earth Kingdom, I knew that I needed to do something about it. My friends wanted me to kill Fire Lord Ozai, but that went against everything the monk's taught me about the sanctity of life. I panicked – but then I met the Lion Turtle..."
Jeong Jeong was in awe. "A Lion Turtle – you actually met one? That must have been something – they are incredible creatures – and very wise."
Aang nodded. "I remember what it told me like it was yesterday."
"The true mind can weather all the lies and illusions without being lost. The true heart can touch the poison of hatred without being harmed. Since beginning-less time, darkness thrives in the void, but always yields to purifying light... In the era before the Avatar, we bent not the elements, but the energy within ourselves. To bend another's energy, your own spirit must be unbendable... or you will be corrupted... and destroyed..."
"It was then that he told me about bending another's energy," Aang continued. "About energybending. When I fought the Fire Lord I was ready to finish him off while in the Avatar State. But I decided – by my own morals – that I had no right to end it that way. Instead, I bent his energy and took away his ability to firebend."
Jeong Jeong scowled. "So you risked being corrupted and destroyed just to end it on your own terms? That's quite a gamble you took."
"Don't forget the first part," Aang scolded. "As long as my mind and heart were true, I knew that I could keep my spirit unbendable for that. Anyway, after the war was over, my friends and I gathered at the Jasmine Dragon in Ba Sing Se. When I told Iroh about what I did to his brother, he told me that you might know something about it. So the next day we went to your house in the Earth Kingdom for lunch and you were...fairly dismissive of telling me anything."
"I remember that part well enough, thanks," stated Jeong Jeong. "No need to recall it again."
"Fine. I didn't see or hear anything more about energybending for four more years. We stopped an attempted assassination plot on Zuko led by Zhao Jr.. While I was fighting Zhao Jr. and his men I enhanced my own chi by bending my energy. I didn't plan it – it was sort of by accident. I started practicing it regularly. Then when I was talking to Sokka one day he suggested that I try to use energybending to give people airbending. If it was able to take bending abilities away, we figured it might be able to give them as well. So we started off by traveling to the Eastern Air Temple where I met the same guru who taught me how to control the Avatar State. He could teach me about energies and I thought if I learned about energies in general I would figure out how to bend them."
"What did the guru think of your idea to make people into airbenders?" Jeong Jeong interrupted.
"Well, he wasn't a big fan of the idea at first," answered Aang. "But now he helps out the New Air Nomads as our spiritual expert. I think he's gotten over whatever initial doubts he had."
"Okay. And what did he teach you about energies?"
"I put pressure on my tantien and looked deep inside my body. There was a center of gravity – like a nucleus – guiding all my bodily energies. It seemed like a locked door, but it opened later as I started to energybend. He told me a good deal about how they work, but eventually he had no more to teach and I was on my own. After that, I got a vision from Yue telling me that she knew energybending and to come to the North Pole where she could teach it to me. She told me that the spirits were the first energybenders and that they created the Spirit Oasis. Then she taught me some new moves. The first one was recquiescence. It involves bending someone's energy to give them an energy sensation and reinvigorate them. That one was fairly easy. Then she taught me energy shove, where you release some of the energy from your body to push forward and knock over or incapacitate your opponent."
"The energy leaves your body?" asked Jeong Jeong in disbelief.
"Only for a brief time. It returns to your body once its done its job. That's why it was so tough. When it leaves your body and comes back is hard to get used to. I feinted when I first tried it. When there were other energybenders around, there was another move that prevents the energy from returning to your body, but I'm the only energybender in the world, so that's not an issue."
"But you actually feinted when you first tried it?"
"Only when I was training. Once I got used to doing it, I didn't feint anymore. But when I feinted from it I had memories from my past lives."
"What do you mean?"
"I went through this dream where I relived an experience from one of my previous reincarnations. It wasn't an ordinary dream. When I had it, I was Roku. I saw it from his point of view and his thoughts were in my head."
"As the Avatar, my energy is different from that of others. I had a few of these dreams while I was training – then a couple times since: once when I was on my way to the Cave of the Ancients and once right before I came here when I fought Azula. I saw one of Avatar Yangchen's memories. She told me that my past lives did not want me to visit all of their memories, so I shouldn't energybend anymore. Then I woke up on Ember Island with my family and the Water Tribe warriors."
"So when did the Princess-Moon Spirit teach you to give people airbending?" asked Jeong Jeong.
"She didn't – she didn't know how. But she taught me some other moves before I left – including the strongest one – Shuten Shogai. She showed me how to perform it – which I need another person with me to do – but told me never to use it unless there was no other option."
"Why did she bother teaching you at all if you need another energybender and there are no other energybenders around?"
"The other person doesn't need to be an energybender. They don't even need to be a bender."
Jeong Jeong winced at this. "Odd, but okay. Have you used it yet?"
"No, but I almost have," said Aang. "I intended to use it with Trinley when us airbenders fought a gang of pirates – but they surrendered while I was telling Trinley how to perform it. I may very well have to use it before this war is over."
"And how did you find out about giving people airbending?"
"Once I mastered the fundamentals of energybending, I left the North Pole with Sokka to find someone to test granting airbending to. I had not learned how to do it, but I knew enough about energies to try it. We found a young boy named Trinley on Faxian Island and we knew he was the one. After he told us he was ready and accepted the risks involved I bent his energy and he became the first New Air Nomad. He's the head of our Council of Elders now. But I had to wait to train him until after the wedding."
"After the wedding?"
"Yeah, Sokka and I lost track of the date on our travels, so we found out it was on the day we met Trinley. We kind of had to rush back..."
"I see you have your priorities straight," said Jeong Jeong stiffly.
"Anyway," said Aang, ignoring the last statement. "The night of my wedding, Roku visited me in my dream. He told me that I made a mistake and that I should not energybend anymore or it would be bad for the balance."
"So so far you have myself, Pathik, Yangchen and Roku warning you of the danger you're getting into, yet you still proceed. Where do you look to justify what you're doing? What's your motivation?"
"I use energybending to fulfill my Avatar duties – to bring balance to the world. Over the years I brought back the Air Nomads from the brink of extinction. I continued to train with Yue. When I was compelled to seek out Doru Kun's shrine at the Cave of the Ancients, I combined energybending with my seismic sense in earthbending to locate the cave. When I reached the shrine, I found out that Doru Kun fought an energybender when he was alive."
"If Avatar Doru Kun has truly encountered an energybender, you should look into that further," said Jeong Jeong. "It's one of the few places you can turn for your past lives' wisdom in terms of energybending. Alright, you have learned a great deal as you have trained in this ancient art. Now I shall tell you what I know. Years ago – when I was an officer in the Fire Nation Army – I began questioning the ideals that my country was standing for. It was around this time that I joined the Order of the White Lotus. When I was an initiate, one of the elder members at the time entrusted me with a scroll – the Scroll of Forbidden Knowledge. It had once belonged to the library of Wan Shi Tong and it spoke of an ancient time before ancient times."
"He took it from the Spirit Library?" asked Aang.
"No, this scroll had been taken from the library long ago – before any of us. It was the last part of a whole section which was destroyed thousands of years ago."
"I remember when I went to the library," commented Aang. "We were looking for information about the Fire Nation, but the entire section about the Fire Nation had been burnt."
"This section Wan Shi Tong destroyed himself."
"Really?" said Aang, surprised. "But he's a knowledge spirit – he supported all knowledge."
"He made an exception for this," said Jeong Jeong. "Like you said, this scroll also spoke of a gift to humanity from the spirits. It was something that would help early humans evolve and progress. Many used this justly and wisely. But there were also those who misused the gift and disturbed the natural order of things. The world began to fall out of balance with every bold step in the wrong direction."
"Couldn't those who were just and wise use their bending to right where others went wrong?" asked Aang.
"It's not that simple," said Jeong Jeong. "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. You might have already created a few of these with what you've done so far."
"You mean you think I change traits about the people I give airbending to other than their bending?"
"Precisely. It could be that your 'New Air Nomads' might have had their energies corrupted. What you have done might bring the very worst out in them later – but that's just a theory."
"I see," said Aang. He thought about each and every one of those he had made into airbenders. They mostly seemed alright to him, but they were not quite the same as the Old Air Nomads he remembered. An exception was Trinley – his first and best student – who was different from the rest of them. Perhaps it was because he was highly spiritual from a young age. Icarus was just the opposite. After he used his asphyxiation move on the pirate captain, Aang had threatened to remove his airbending if he ever tried it again. But Jeong Jeong said it was harder to revert things back than to alter them in the first place. Should Aang have stopped with Trinley? Should he not have started at all? Should Aang simply have killed Ozai like everyone told him to?
"There were those that were able to take advantage of the world's fall from balance," Jeong Jeong continued. "In this scroll they are referred to as simply 'The Masters' and it says they can give the gift as well as take it away. That sounds like the energybending you described to me. They forced whole masses of people into a life of servitude and suffering and forced them to be happy about it. By bending your energy, they controlled your destiny. Those who resisted were haunted consistently until they had no hope left. I never forgot hearing about them. It seems almost unthinkable that something like this ever existed – or that it could ever exist again. That is why I reacted so harshly when you came to me before."
"What happened to them?"
"The scroll gives a narrative – its not very detailed. The Masters began to desire more and more power and compete with one another – they aspired to do anything the Providence Spirit itself could do – and the world was driven further out of balance until something had to be done about it."
"Well I'm fully capable of preventing anything like that," said Aang. "I haven't given anyone the power to energybend and I have no plans to."
"It's not just energybenders you need to worry about," countered Jeong Jeong. "Once the energies have been bent enough, the energies themselves can become the enemy – and let's not even go there. You may be able to keep your spirit unbendable, but can you control the chaos once its been unleashed? You have the power. As the Avatar, the world's destiny is intertwined with yours. This energybending of yours may become the desired option in the most desperate of times – like in the coming battle in this city. You must do what is right when the time comes."
"Thanks. I'll remember that."
"Aang," said Jeong Jeong solemnly. "Turn back – before it's too late."
"I know you mean well, Jeong Jeong. I really do," Aang contended. "But don't you worry about the balance. I can protect it fine. I am also grateful for your helping do this in the last war."
"T'was part of my duty," said Jeong Jeong stiffly. "I am a member of the Order of the White Lotus."
"Of course," Aang added with a smirk. "The Order of the White Lotus – the oldest and most secretive organization in the world."
Jeong Jeong suddenly looked uncomfortable. "Actually, that's not true. There is an group that's older and even more secretive than us."
"What?" Aang said, astounded. "Who?"
"We don't know their name. We know them only by their symbol – a full moon with a colored eye in the center and mostly-covered one moon on either end."
"I've seen that before!" exclaimed Aang. "Shortly after I left your house last time, a mysterious assassin tried to kill me with a switchblade while I was in the Avatar State. I saw the same symbol on a knife when Zhao Jr. tried to overthrow Zuko. Do you think Zhao was one of them?"
Jeong Jeong shook his head. "I doubt Zhao himself had anything to do with them, but they may have wanted his plot to succeed."
"I managed to trap one of their members later, but he killed himself before I could get anything out of him."
"They're pretty hard to get secrets out of – and they have access to a lot of secrets. They have infiltrated every level of every government in the world at some point. Anyone who does not serve their purposes is swiftly removed. They have infiltrated us once or twice in our history. We have tried to infiltrate them before but we were unable to."
"What kind of stuff have they done?"
"We know that they were involved with the assassination of Fire Lord Khomin on the First Day of Black Sun. Shortly afterward, his son Sozin took the throne at a young age. The White Lotus has always worked to protect the balance of the world and where we have, they have been there to oppose it – elusive but detectable. We believe that they also wish to end the Avatar Cycle."
"I see," said Aang. "I already had that part figured out. But I also noticed the guy reacted when I used energybending on him. Do they have something to do with energybending – or The Masters?"
"Maybe. What is certain is they pride themselves on being anywhere and everywhere to give the impression of omniscience. They will find you if they want to. It's not a question of if. So you must be prepared for them when they do."
Aang did not know how to respond to this.
As Toph opened her eyes, she flexed and stretched out her feet. Since opening her eyes did not have the same meaning for her that it did for other people, it was habitual for her to do this every time she woke up. Upon touching the stony bed frame, she found that she was in her recovery bed with Nala sitting in a chair at her side. She was conscious for the first time in a long while, but felt lethargic and had difficulty making simple movements in addition to having piercing aches at every corner of her body.
"Good to see you're finally awake, M'lady," Nala said as she noticed Toph was awake. "You're still in a fragile condition, but your physician said you were making progress."
"Ugh!" groaned Toph. "What's going on? Fill me in."
Nala knew that Toph wanted to cut to the chase. "The syrum that assassin injected us with was quite strong. He gave you a larger dose than me – that's why I recovered before you. The dose he gave you might have been fatal, in fact. It's a good thing that they found you so quickly. But you've been unconscious for quite some time now. Avatar Aang and his family arrived on schedule, but they're long gone now. Unfortunately the plan to end the Fire Nation Civil War early on was not executed. The war has escalated quite a bit while you were sleeping."
"How bad is it?" asked Toph.
"Fighting has spread all over the Fire Nation," answered Nala. "The Fire Army is doing their best, but the Phoenix Army grows stronger every day. They're about to launch an invasion of the Fire Nation Capital. The Avatar, the Fire Lord and the rest of your companions are going to try to hold them off. I'll make sure that you receive news of that battle as soon as it arrives. You won't be out of bed for a few days at the very least, but your physician says he will be able to reassess your condition by the end of the week and decide how to go from there. I think the best thing for you to focus on now is –"
Nala was interrupted as Toph leapt out of bed. "Get me some crutches," Toph said through gritted teeth. "And prepare my airship for takeoff. I'm leaving immediately. I'm going to the Fire Nation Capital."
"No!" said Nala, bewildered. "You must stay here and rest."
"Not with this going on I'm not." Toph hunched her back and felt a wave of agony as she staggered forward.
"You're in no condition to go fight now!" yelled Nala. "It's foolish. I don't think your friends would want you to go, either."
"If they've known me this long and they think I'm gonna let them have all the fun, they must be pretty thick."
"I beg you, M'lady. You must not go," Nala insisted.
"I've already made up my mind," Toph told her. "You can't stop me."
"Fine. Then I'm coming too," Nala said defiantly. "Let me accompany you."
"No Nala. I need you to stay here and watch over the palace while I'm gone."
"Th-this is foolish," Nala stuttered. "You'll get yourself killed."
"I can handle myself," said Toph. "I carry my own weight. I don't care what anyone else tells me."
"I-I feel so – helpless," said Nala. She was on the verge of tears.
"I'm sorry." And so Queen Toph of Omashu limped on, leaving Nala behind to sulk.
TO BE CONTINUED...
- This chapter contains initial discussion about the founding of the United Republic.
- Jeong Jeong was staying at the Dragon Roof Inn to review a new local firebending academy when he became sick.
- It is often said that there are no references to deities in the world of Avatar. There is actually one – in the third part of Sozin's Comet. Ozai says that after generations of Fire Lords tried to find Aang, the universe delivered him to him as an act of "Providence." This is the "Providence Spirit" mentioned in this chapter.
- The Unknown Organization – still unnamed – is inspired by The Fraternity – a fictional assassin's guild that acts on the fate of the world – and the Illuminati.
- Although this is not the most "action-packed" chapter, it plays an integral role in the series. It contains a recap of past events and some foreshadowing as well.
- Toph's section of this chapter is dedicated to do the same. - due to her waking up from a coma. May he soon
For the collective works of the author, go here.