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|Gatherings and Struggles|
Previously on Energy Saga
Migo goes back to Brawki to talk about his mother's past. Tenzin is now on Iroh's ship, serving in the Fire Nation military. Aang is still unconscious and encounters one of his past lives in a dream, but still does not know where he is or what became of him after his last fight.
Chapter Twenty-Two: Gatherings and Struggles
Ember Island, 120 AG
Aang awoke on a flat, sturdy mattress, covered by a smooth, white silk blanket. Wherever he was, he was sure he had been asleep for quite a while. He wasted no time in pushing away his sheets and getting to his feet on the hardwood floor beside his bed. He quickly assumed his natural bending stance. Aang had no memory of coming to this place and therefore remained mistrustful of his surroundings. The last event that entered his mind was his bending duel with Azula in the former colonial territories. Then he feinted from the effort it took to keep throwing energy shoves at her.
That was right. He had feinted. In the middle of an active battlefield. It was a miracle that he was here in one piece at all. Now confident that he was alone, Aang began caressing over his body with his palms and flexing his muscles. He had no scars or injuries as far as he could tell. Aang decided he would be better off if he knew exactly where he was. If he could first answer where, that might help answer why and how. Aang walked toward his window and peered out. It looked about midday from the Sun's position in the sky. He spotted the smooth sandy beach being doused back and forth by breezy, unyielding waves. Aang recognized this place at once – Ember Island!
Of course, Ember Island was where Azula had gone to live in exile after being released from the mental institution. She must have made this her base of operations after she escaped and joined forces with the Phoenix Army. Maybe after Aang feinted Azula had taken him captive – and he was now being held as the prisoner of the Phoenix Army. If this was the case, he was being locked in a gilded cage. His room was sizable, his bed was comfortable and he had access to a fair amount of sunlight. Aang could not figure out what Azula's motives would be for keeping him in a place like this. Perhaps now that she had caught the Avatar she did not want her prize damaged? Perhaps she wanted to preserve him good and healthy to display as a captured trophy and boost the moral of the troops under her command? This seemed like the most plausible explanation, but it was unlike the Azula Aang remembered from the Hundred Year War.
However, Aang did not have time to dwell on that now. He had to focus all his efforts on finding a way out of this place. He bolted to the door and pushed it open forcefully, though this was unnecessary because the door was unlocked. Azula probably had this whole house set up as an effective prison for him and locking the individual doors was not necessary. She had been given a similar luxurious arrangement herself.
Now Aang recognized this hallway. It was the house that he and his friends had stayed in before Sozin's Comet arrived. This was Fire Lord Ozai's former Summer house. Aang had firebended with Zuko in this very hallway. Now that the Phoenix Army had captured the Fire Lord's house on Ember Island, they most definitely had their eyes set on capturing the main palace and seizing the throne.
Suddenly, Aang heard footsteps coming from around the corner. Stealthily, he nudged himself against the corner wall, then when the footsteps were very close he sidestepped, spun around and threw out his fist, shooting an air blast forward and knocking his opponent to the ground. But it was not a Phoenix Army soldier who faced him.
It was Sokka. "Whoa, Aang. Easy there, buddy."
Fire Nation Royal Palace
Fire Lord Zuko was prepping for his regular duties and pacing the courtyard corridors with War Minister Chan by his side. Their mood was meek. They walked in silence for several paces before Chan spoke.
"Our intelligence tells us that there is a planned invasion of the capital soon."
"I know," said Zuko flatly.
"The son of Admiral Zhao is leading it," Chan added.
"I know." Zuko was in a frustrated mood today. "Do you know anything that I do not already?"
"I have a full report from our sources on the battle in the former colonial region that the Avatar participated in," Chan stated, holding an up a scroll.
"I heard that engagement did not go so well. What does the report say about it? And does it say what happened to Aang and the rest of my friends – are they alright?"
"Well, the Phoenix Army completely routed all the foreign forces," Chan recalled. "The towns, which were once colonies and have since been returned back to the Earth Kingdom, were burnt to the ground. Earth King Kuei has yet to make an official statement about this. As for the Avatar and the Water Tribals, they made it out of there alive as far as we know."
"Hmmm, I see," uttered Zuko thoughtfully. After a few seconds he looked back at Chan, who was moving his closed mouth nervously and biting his lower lip. "You appear like you have something else you would like to add, Chan."
Zuko's War Minister fidgeted. "There was one more key section of the report. The second wave of Phoenix Army soldiers were supposedly led by your sister, the Princess Azula."
"What!?" Zuko blurted out angrily. "How!? She's supposed to be in exile on Ember Island. How can she possibly have led an attack hundreds of miles away from there?"
"My guess is that she must have escaped somehow," said Chan. "And your wife – Fire Lady Mai – mentioned a confrontation with her in the Cave of the Ancients. It must be assumed that she is in fact on the loose and commanding Phoenix Army troops against us. If I might say so, my lord, this does seem like something she might do."
"I don't think we need to recall your first impression of her," Zuko said dismissively. He was about to add that his first impression of Chan was not so great either, but was not in a mood to waste time and felt like staying on-topic. "I was hoping that the cave was 'playing tricks' on Mai and the others when that happened. They said a lot of cooky stuff about that place. It even seemed weird to me from the outside. Anyhow, I'll order my head of security to conduct a full investigation into how exactly she got off Ember Island and what she may be capable of now." This last part was essential. Zuko had no idea what new tricks Azula might have learned in the years before now.
"Oh, another thing," said Chan. "She apparently used red fire in the battle, rather than her preferred blue fire."
"Huh, that is odd indeed." Zuko had no idea why Azula would be using red fire instead of blue fire. Azula was always one to flaunt how she stood out among others and harnessing the power of blue fire was a rare gift. Blue fire is able to outpace red fire in intensity and damage. So if she had the advantage of blue fire on her side, why not use it?
"If Azula is leading the opposite side, we're in for a tough one," Chan said aloud.
"According to Mai, 'Azula' said that I was her prime target," Zuko stated with conviction. "So if Zhao is gearing up for this attack on the Fire Nation Capital, Azula might be joining him."
"That, indeed, is a possibility," Chan agreed.
"If that's the case, then we need to gather some forces of our own," Zuko said decisively. "As great as our homeland defenses are, we'll have a tough time standing up to both Zhao and Azula and their armies. We must act fast. What are some of the closest battalions we have to the capital that are not already here?"
"The Western Fleet and their attachments are not too far from here. Although they're busy at the moment, they may be our best bet."
"Ah, of course," remarked Zuko. "Uncle's in that division now. It's been too long since I've seen him, although I wish it was under better circumstances. And he's got Admiral Fung-Chen with him. He helped win an important battle for us early on near Jang Hui."
"Sir, while we're on the subject, perhaps we should request some foreign assistance in this defense? If the Avatar and company made it out of their last venture unscathed, that means they're available."
Zuko pondered this. "I guess so." Zuko did not like involving all "his" friends in his mess, but he also knew that they were the best chance the capital had at fending off the invaders. Plus, the war now involved more than just the Fire Nation and he could not pretend to keep this ordeal to himself.
"I'll send word to them via messenger hawk, then?"
"Yes," concurred Zuko. "Send a messenger hawk to Aang, Katara and Sokka once you are sure of their location. Also, send a hawk to the Southern Water Tribals, the Kyoshi Warriors and the Air Nomads. I would say to send one to Omashu as well, but we can't request anything from Toph at this time."
"I'll see to that," Chan told him, scribbling a quick note to himself. "Well, this works out conveniently. There was another thing I had to mention. I am sorry to say that the esteemed firebending master Jeong Jeong, who is in the capital now, has fallen ill and taken a turn for the worse.
"Oh, that is a tragic peace of news," said Zuko solemnly. "Is there anything that can be done?"
"I'm afraid not," answered Chan. "He is not expected to make it through the week."
"Wow. First Bumi, then Pakku and now Jeong Jeong. Members of the Order of the White Lotus from the old days seem to be becoming rarer. This is unfortunate, no doubt. But why did you say this was also convenient?"
"He has requested Avatar Aang's presence at his deathbed."
Fire Nation Waters
General Iroh walked around his warship while the younger members of the crew mopped the deck. He approached Tenzin, who was among them, near the front of the ship. "How you doing my boy?"
"I'm doing fine, Sir," replied Tenzin meagerly.
"That's good to hear," said Iroh slyly. "Don't forget to dry the deck off once you're done."
Tenzin shrugged. "That shouldn't be a problem. I'll just blow on it."
Iroh nodded. "It's a bit different having an airbender aboard. It does come in handy sometimes."
Tenzin winced. "Thank you, Sir."
"Something on your mind, Tenzin?" asked Iroh.
"I want to see some real action," Tenzin blurted out. "This isn't what I expected when I signed up for this."
Iroh laughed. "Quite the young and impatient type, aren't you? Well, you'll get your wish soon. Our fleet has been summoned to the Fire Nation Capital. The Phoenix Army is gearing up for an invasion and they need more Fire Army soldiers and Fire Navy ships to fight them off. I'm writing back soon to tell them we're on our way."
"Excellent," said Tenzin while soaking his mop in his bucket.
"And rumor has it that Avatar Aang will be there as well," added Iroh. "You can see your folks again."
"Remember the promise you made before," Tenzin reminded Iroh. "The one that you wouldn't tell my parents that I was here on this ship with you."
"Of course," Iroh reassured him. "You're a bright boy. I wouldn't expect you to have forgot that."
"If you were any brighter, you would realize I'm writing to Zuko, not your parents, Iroh thought to himself.
Aang was now sitting on the outdoor steps in between Katara and Sokka. Kaddo and Vameira were playing some game and Appa was taking a nap. Aang was relieved, but confused. "How did we come to be here? What happened in the battle?"
"As soon as the Phoenix Army reinforcements arrived, I rushed over to where Appa, Kaddo and Vameira were to make sure they were safe," Katara told him. "Our forces had already begun retreating by the time I found them. The three of us got on Appa and we flew around, looking for you. We saw that you were dueling Azula with energybending. I could tell by your eyes that you were about to pass out. I had Appa fly low and we got to you in the nick of time. Kaddo and Vameira hoisted you onto the saddle while I held Azula off with a few quick water whips. Appa had to dodge a few fire blasts for us as we were making our escape."
"Well, it would have been nice to have won the battle," Aang said, disappointed. "But at least we all made it."
"Once I knew the battle was lost, my concern shifted to my family's safety," said Katara.
"You shouldn't have brought Kaddo and Vameira along," said Aang sternly.
"Perhaps not," admitted Katara. "Then again, if I hadn't, we might not have gotten you out in time. They were very brave about it. You should give them some credit – they aren't little kids anymore."
"What became of the rest of our forces?"
"Most of the warriors are here with us," said Sokka while polishing his boomerang. "They set up camp close by. "Trinley took charge of the Air Nomad forces after you fell. I think most of them survived – all of the Council of Elders did. The Earth Kingdom forces – we still don't know about."
"So why Ember Island?" asked Aang.
"It was the safest place for us to recover," Sokka stated. "It's probably the only place in the Fire Nation left where the Phoenix Army doesn't have a presence."
Aang nodded. "We should decide what our next move is."
"Okay," said Katara. "We've had a bit of a setback. All we can do now is make the best of it."
"The Phoenix Army and the Fire Army are now fighting each other on several fronts," Sokka informed him. "The Phoenix Army is currently the strongest in Kirachu, Hing Wa and Fire Fountain City."
"Fire Fountain City?" asked Aang disbelievingly. Fire Fountain City was one of the most populous settlements in the Fire Nation besides the Fire Nation Capital. If the Phoenix Army capture and hold it, that would be a significant gain for them.
"Yes," said Sokka. "But we can't let that get our spirits low. The Fire Army is holding strong throughout much of the country."
"We can't forget about General Zhao," Katara broke in. "He isn't fighting anywhere at the moment, but he's gathering a lot of troops together. He must be planning a large-scale attack."
"True," agreed Sokka. "We can't be sure where he's going to strike. We should reexamine his latest movements from the past couple weeks or so. That may give us a –"
Suddenly, they were all distracted by a messenger hawk who had swooped right in front of them before perching itself on Katara's right arm. It must have a busy day today, because as soon as she took the scroll that was addressed to them, the hawk took back off and promptly flew away.
Katara unrolled the message and read it through. "It's Zuko," she told them. "He says the Phoenix Army is planning an offensive on the the capital as we speak."
Aang turned to Sokka. "Well, that takes care of our planning for us."
"Yes," said Sokka. "Off to the Fire Nation Capital we go."
"The airbenders will meet us there. So will the Kyoshi Warriors," Katara added, looking at Sokka. That meant Suki – Sokka's wife – would be with them, too.
"Well, I guess everyone will be there, then," Sokka remarked. "It'll be just like old times. Except for Toph, of course."
"Oh, I should send a message to Migo," Aang declared. "I'm not sure what became of him and the rest of the Earth Kingdom Army, but I'm sure he wouldn't want to miss this."
"Do you think Migo will be much of a help to us in the capital?" Katara asked skeptically.
"Of course. He did help out with finding that cave."
"But where is he now?" Sokka inquired.
"Wherever he is, Momo can find him. He can find anyone. Can't you, Momo?" Aang scribbled a quick note and tied it around Momo's waist before sending him off.
"Daddy, you're awake! We were worried about you." Vameira had just run over to where they sat. Kaddo was right behind her.
"I'm fine. I'm not injured. I just exhausted myself a little, that's all."
"Can we go home now, then?"
"Not yet, Vameira," Katara told her. "We have to go to the Fire Nation Capital first."
"To fight some more firebenders?" asked Vameira.
"Well, now the real action begins," Kaddo chimed in from behind. "What we went through before was just a preview."
TO BE CONTINUED...
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