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|Earth Kingdom Bandits|
Previously on Energy Saga
The gang congregates at the Jasmine Dragon after the end of the Hundred Year War. Aang has a conversation with Iroh which leads him to believe Jeong Jeong has some valuable knowledge about energybending.
Chapter Two: Earth Kingdom Bandits
Northeastern Earth Kingdom, 100 AG
After flying through the air for about an hour, everyone seemed exhausted. They had stayed up unusually late the night before and were busy packing their belongings the following morning. They had woken up early to say goodbye to Zuko and Mai, who took an early airship ride, as it was a long way back to the Fire Nation Capitol. Katara and Toph had wanted to go back to sleep after this, but Aang wanted to get to Jeong Jeong's house before midday. So he had asked everyone to hurry up and get ready. Now, Toph and Suki were laying down, eyes closed, with the edge of the saddle as a pillow. Sokka was doing something with his boomerang and Katara was staring down at the landscape of the Earth Kingdom countryside. It was a silent trip for most of the ride.
At last, Sokka spoke. "So, why exactly are we going to see Jeong Jeong again?" He looked up toward Aang for a bit, but then stared back down at his boomerang.
"He supposedly knows something about energybending. Or might know something. Since that's the only bending art I'm mostly unfamiliar with, I would say it's worth a quick day trip," Aang answered.
"Oh, okay," said Sokka, still focusing on his boomerang. "So wait. Why exactly do you need to know about energybending?"
Aang paused for a moment. "Just because." The truth was, Aang didn't really know for himself why he needed to know more about energybending. He just felt like he did. Like, it would help him fulfill his duties as Avatar somehow.
No one else seemed to know why energybending was so important to him either. They had left Ba Sing Se a few hours ago. As Iroh bid them goodbye, no one seemed that enthused about the whole expedition. Sokka seemed to be coming along out of boredom. Toph heard that Jeong Jeong was a good cook and hoped to get a free meal out of it. Suki was mostly just tagging along with Sokka. She still had a couple weeks left free until she was scheduled to rejoin with the other Kyoshi Warriors on Kyoshi Island. Katara didn't seem hyped up about the whole ordeal either, but she supported Aang's desire to make the journey. But Aang wasn't totally sure himself. Maybe it was just mere curiosity. But he was also following Iroh's advice to understand himself and his potential as Avatar. Aang was unsure. Everything was so confusing to him now.
The War had been won. Now came the task of rebuilding the world and bringing it back into good balance. This didn't seem quite as adventurous or dangerous as fighting the Fire Nation. But it was so much more complex and less straightforward. It wasn't as simple as Fire Lord Ozai being the target. The world was a big place and it seemed impossible to solve everything at once. Aang wasn't comfortable with simply what he knew now. Maybe energybending would help somehow. Or maybe he was just kidding himself.
Sokka now had his mind back on playing with his boomerang. Katara turned around and spoke now. "I still can't believe you were able to take away the Fire Lord's firebending. I didn't know such a technique existed. I guess you got what you wanted. You were able to defeat Fire Lord Ozai without having to kill him. That was part of this 'energybending' you keep mentioning."
Aang replied, "Yeah. I told the others right after the fight. A giant lion turtle creature told me about it after I consulted my past lives for a way to solve my dilemma. He said it was very risky. In order to bend another's energy, you must make your own completely unbendable. Otherwise, you risk destroying yourself."
Katara paused thoughtfully and then spoke again. "It's a good thing you're unbendable then. How does this relate to the other bending arts? I thought they were only based on the four elements."
Aang answered "Energybending is what people used before the elemental bending arts existed. In the era before the Avatar."
"That lion turtle must have been one old creature," said Katara.
Sokka budged in again "When we ask Jeong Jeong about this whole energy thing, think we could also ask him if he knows where we can get some more space rock? I've been hoping to make a new sword just like my old one."
At last, Aang spotted the house that fit the description the Iroh had given him. That must be Jeong Jeong's house, he thought to himself. So he began steering Appa downward toward a small clearing by the edge of the woods that Jeong Jeong's country house was sitated next to. And sure enough, the familiar figure of his first firebending teacher emerged from the front door as Appa and the gang descended. He looked much less scruffy than the first time that Aang met him, when he had been a fugitive living in the wild.
Jeong Jeong greeted them as they landed. "Avatar, to what do I owe the pleasure?"
"Hello Master Jeong Jeong. It's been a while. We're just on our way out of Ba Sing Se. We were staying at Iroh's place in the Upper Ring. The whole place looks nice since you guys liberated it."
"All in a day's work," said Jeong Jeong, failing to hide his smugness.
"So, Iroh told us that you were staying out here now with the War over and all. And we had a couple things that we wanted to ask you," continued Aang.
"Certainly. Here, why don't you all come inside. It's just past midday. You must be starving. I was just starting to prepare a meal."
Jeong Jeong's house was upscale. It was white all around and two stories consisted of two stories rounding a small courtyard in the middle. Inside, there was a large atrium right inside the front door. It looked grand, but like it had been abandoned for a long time until recently. Jeong Jeong had not used it from the time when he deserted the Fire Nation Army until he and the other members of the Order of the White Lotus liberated Ba Sing Se. There were numerous treasures and artifacts sitting on small wooden tables.
Each of the meals Jeong Jeong prepared consisted of a bowl of rice and an assortment of wheat, cabbage and roasted Komodo Chicken. Since he was a vegetarian, Aang passed on the Komodo Chicken and had some fruits instead. Aang, Sokka, Katara, Toph, Suki and Jeong Jeong sat around a small table set for six. Everyone sat straight up in their seats. Everyone except for Toph, who leaned back and put her feet up on the table.
"This is really good, Master Jeong Jeong. Very fresh," commented Suki.
"I'm glad you all like it. It's a recipe I grew up with. Now then, was there something you wanted to ask me about?"
"Yes. I was talking to Iroh the other night and he said that you had knowledge of a fifth bending art. I was hoping you could tell me more about that," said Aang.
At these words, Jeong Jeong stopped eating his food and paused uncomfortably. At last he said, "that, my young Avatar, is no concern of yours."
Aang had not expected Jeong Jeong to react this way. "Well, thing is, I've already learned part about it. I used a technique that the Lion Turtle told me about to take away Fire Lord Ozai's firebending in my final battle with him. That's how I defeated him without killing him."
Jeong Jeong winced "So you have already used it to help you save the world from its gravest threat. The world is safe now. You do not need to know anymore to fulfill your place as Avatar."
"But nothing! 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."
Jeong Jeong was talking about back when he was teaching Aang basic firebending and Aang had accidently burned Katara's hands because of his impatience. It was not a memory Aang liked to remember. He was taken aback for a second. Then he said, "I lacked good discipline then. I was impatient and just wanted to play with fire. But I have mastered that now. Iroh said I should try to understand everything I could do as best I can."
Jeong Jeong looked down for a moment, resentful. "Iroh should focus on his little tea shop and mind his own business."
This made Aang a little mad, but he did not express it. "Now that's not fair. Come on, you seem to know something about this. Why won't you say it. Do you think it's dangerous or something?"
"You are a fully-realized Avatar now! You have mastered all four elements, have entered the Spirit World and control the Avatar State," Jeong Jeong shouted. "And yet you still want more! This has got nothing to do with being the Avatar. You just want more power."
"No, that's not it at all," Aang answered, denying Jeong Jeong's claim.
Katara interjected "Master Jeong Jeong, I assure you – I've traveled with Aang for almost a year now. I've never met anyone more peaceful, selfless and caring than him. He just wants to know more about himself. He's not power-hungry at all. That's ridiculous."
"Yes, he is. And he is clearly not selfless and caring, as he is trying to take advantage now." Jeong Jeong snubbed her. "I'm afraid that I must revoke my earlier hospitality for you now and ask you to leave." And with that, Jeong Jeong stood up and motioned toward the door.
"But, Master Jeong Jeong-" Aang began.
"Go. Get out of my sight – all of you!" And with that, he turned around and retreated into the room behind him.
Everyone froze in their seats as Jeong Jeong stormed out of the room. Everyone except Toph, who merely said, "Sheesh. What's his problem?" and continued eating from her bowl of rice.
After a couple more seconds, Sokka said, "Well, that went pretty well. You think it's still okay to ask him about the space rock?"
That evening, the gang was camping out in the middle of the woods. It felt just like old times. Sokka and Suki seemed to have become more comfortable about openly displaying their new bond with each other and were sharing a tent to themselves. Toph did the same as usual and earthbended a small sleeping quarter for herself. Sokka and Aang went into the forest to gather some wood for Aang to start a fire on with firebending while Katara set up camp. Katara seemed to be getting along with Toph better than she usually did. Everyone was passing the time, trying to forget the heated encounter with Jeong Jeong earlier in the afternoon.
As Sokka and Aang hiked through the forest looking for wood, Sokka brought it up again. "The whole idea of going to see Jeong Jeong did seem like a waste of time anyway."
Aang disagreed. "If anything, that whole episode makes me want to know about energybending more. He was obviously hiding something. He knew more than he showed us."
Sokka seemed skeptical. "The comment he made about Iroh did seem a little uncalled for. But maybe you should just listen to him. You already saved world and all. What use is this energy stuff to you now?"
"Helping rebuild the world," said Aang, still not fully understanding what he was talking about.
The campout that night was pretty mellow. Once they had finished setting up, they sat around the fire, roasted some food and enjoyed the warmth. Toph was the first to turn in, having set up her Earth tent not far from where the fire was. Aang and Katara followed shortly after. Aang still had a lot on his mind. The next day, everyone was unsure about what to do next. They had no set plan now that Aang's little trip to see Jeong Jeong was over. Katara woke up fairly early and practiced her waterbending. Toph pointed out to the rest of the group that they were very close to an Earth Kingdom town near the foot of a mountain. This town was supposedly famous for its exotic tea and its view of the sunset. Nobody else had any objection to this plan. Sokka even said he badly wanted to check out the marketplace on the off chance that they were selling space rock.
After about half an hour of travelling, they found themselves at the entrance to the town. The place seemed gloomy. It had the look of a community that had clearly endured bad fortune. The buildings and pathways were dusty. The houses had been seriously damaged, with several broken roofs, walls and windows in plain sight. The street going through the center of town was nearly empty, save for an old man crossing the street with a cane and a middle aged woman in the middle of sweeping her front porch. Both were ragged and had numerous holes in the dirty clothes that they were wearing. However, if it were not for them, one would get the impression that the whole town was deserted. The majority of the stores and restaurants were closed today. Almost all the doors were shut. So were the windows. Aang noticed a few people stick their heads out to get a good look at him and his friends. Then they shut their windows abruptly. He got the feeling that they were all afraid of something.
They walked around the corner at the edge of town to a local tea shop, which turned out to be open. The place seemed dead. There were rows and rows of tables in a large room that could accommodate a much larger number of patrons. However, aside from two men talking in whispers at the far corner, Aang and the group were the only customers there. The old woman who ran the shop meekly escorted them all to a table and took their order.
"For a place that's supposed to be well known for their variety of exotic tea, you would think that more people would be here," Katara commented.
"And the town itself seems a bit on the down side, too," Suki added. "Toph, was this place like this when you visited before?"
"I've never actually been to this place," said Toph. "My parents were always extremely overprotective so I didn't get out or travel much. But when we would have guests over for dinner, they always told stories about the places that they've been to. They would always mention this place as the one that has some of the best tea in the region."
"This can't be right," said Aang. It's not that the tea wasn't good. It was excellent. But Aang remembered when he met Toph's parents. He couldn't picture wealthy guests of the prestigious Beifong family frequenting a place like this.
"Maybe it's just slow tea season," shrugged Sokka.
"Sokka, tea doesn't really have a season," said Katara impatiently. "And it's still summer, so the leaves are fully-bloomed now. It's gotta be something else." And with that, she called over the owner again. "Excuse me. I don't mean to sound rude or anything. But something just seems a little...off about this place. Did this town have any misfortune recently?"
"You're not from around here, are you?" The old lady explained "the Fire Nation took over this town a while ago. They wouldn't have normally bothered with a smaller town like this. But due to our close proximity to Ba Sing Se, they figured they could use it as a strategic stepping stone for invading the city. We were terrorized by bandits after Fire Nation departed. They're a local gang, used to be soldiers. But they suffered under Fire Nation rule just like everyone else. Now that the Fire Nation is gone, they've taken to looting and plundering the rest of us for personal profit."
Katara showed empathy for this story. "Aang, we have to help these people."
Sokka added "well, normally I would say no. But seeing as you were looking for a way to help rebuild the world – here's your chance. And none of that energybending stuff necessary for it."
Aang agreed, but ignored Sokka's latter comment. "Miss, when do these bandits usually come?"
"Oh, usually it's around mid afternoon. It's not every day though." She took a close look at all of them, sizing them up. "No offense, but I'm not sure if you kids are up to it."
"I'm the Avatar. It's part of my job description."
After they paid for their tea, they departed the shop and found an alleyway near the main entrance to town. There they waited for the bandits to come back, ready to ambush them when the time came. As it grew later in the afternoon, the few villagers who were remaining outside retreated into their homes and locked their doors.
At last, a clique of riders on ostrich horses rode into town. They mostly looked rugged, tough and muscular. Aang spotted a couple who still had Earth Kingdom military uniforms on. The lady had been right – they had used to be soldiers. The rider at the front of the group, who had a long mane of hair down to his belt buckle, dismounted and began knocking at the door of one of the large houses. When there was no answer, he got out an axe and prepared to swing it.
Aang swiftly emerged from his hiding place and confronted the man, pointing his glider stick at him. "Back away from there. Leave these people in peace."
The head bandit and his comrades turned to look at him. Then they began to laugh, but that didn't last long.
Aang swung in his direction and a forceful gust of air sent him swinging backward until he collided with the wooden wall and fell to the ground. After this, the rest of Aang's allies came out of their hiding places. Toph earthbended a long stream of rocks rising out of the ground, knocking down one of the bandits and forcing two more to jump out of the way, now off balance. Aang sent another gust of wind back and knocked the closer one into the rock wall Toph had just created. Katara brought out her bending water and dealt a hard hit to them and proceeded to turn the water into ice to freeze the bandits in their place. One of the bandits was getting ready to earthbend back at them when Suki dealt a couple chi-blocking punches to the man, disabling him. This was the first time that she got to use that trick Ty Lee had shown her in combat. Sokka sent his boomerang around to hit one in the head. But another bandit attempted to cut him off just when the boomerang was on its way back a second time. Then Katara sent another wave of water his way.
At last there were only three bandits left. Seeing how the rest of the battle had gone, they turned tail and ran away. Sokka yelled after them. Aang knew that justice needed to be served for these people to be safe from the threat the bandits had imposed and the bandits needed to be taught a lesson. So, he cleared his mind, rose himself up into the air and entered the Avatar State. He now had all the power of his previous reincarnations at his disposal. He felt the gargantuan surge of power as he prepared to deal his final blow toward them. Not to kill, of course. Just to render them incapable of fighting back for the present time. Then he could let the town authorities deal with them.
And then it came. It was tiny, almost like a pebble at first. It seemed like nothing of significance. Probably a bird or a bug, Aang thought when he first noticed it behind him. But it was more than that. It was something mechanical. A latch inside it opened in mid-air and a sharp blade came out in front. It continued soaring through the air, uninterrupted by this sudden transformation. Aang noticed it just in time. He stopped focusing on the runaway bandits, tilted his head to the side and exited the Avatar State. The mysterious knife-blade missed his head by inches and soared onward in the same straight path until it jammed itself into a tree in the distance.
Aang dropped to the ground and spun around, looking back into the center of town. He saw a man standing there. He was dressed all in black. He had tight garments covering his arms, torso and legs. He wore a large sash around his waist line, secured in a tight knot behind his right hip. He had a head covering similar to what the members of the sandbender tribes wore, only of a much darker shade. The majority of his face was covered in dark cloth, so only his eye line was visible. Just as Aang saw him, he dashed behind one of the nearby buildings and vanished.
As Aang caught his breath, Katara, Sokka, Toph and Suki rushed over to him.
"Are you alright?" asked Katara. There was an urgent note of concern in her voice.
"I'm fine," Aang replied, still kneeling on the ground, panting.
"Who was that guy?" Suki wondered aloud. "Was he with the bandits?"
"No he didn't come into town with them," said Toph. "He was already here. I could sense him with my feet."
Sokka turned angrily to Toph. "What?! You knew he was there – why didn't you say anything before?!"
"He didn't seem dangerous. I thought he was just another villager. He seemed just like them, hidden away indoors. The only difference was he wasn't trembling. He stayed perfectly still the whole time, which I thought was kind of odd. But I didn't think much of it. I had no idea he was hostile until he came out and threw that object at Twinkle Toes here."
Sokka calmed down. "Okay. Well, since you can 'sense' him and all, where is he now?"
Toph paused. "Gone."
"Gone? What do you mean he's gone? You could sense him when he was in hiding before. Why can't you do it now?"
Toph seemed helpless. "I don't know. But, after he ran behind that building, I couldn't sense him anymore."
"Why not? Did he use earthbending to go underground?" asked Katara.
"No. I would have definitely sensed it if he earthbended. He didn't use any kind of bending as far as I could tell."
"How could he just disappear like that?" Sokka asked again. "And who is he? If he's not with the bandits do you think he's with some Fire Nation group?"
"I suppose that's a possibility," Suki commented. "Of course, if he was so intent on killing the Avatar, why didn't he take the opportunity when he had a cleaner shot? He had much better chances of getting Aang when he was busy fighting the bandits in the middle of the street."
Katara turned to Aang. "You've hardly said a word. Do you have any idea about this?"
Aang paused for a moment ant took it all in. "I don't know." He thought about it all now silently to himself. He didn't think that the strange attacker was a member of the bandits. He didn't think he was associated with the Fire Nation either. This man had waited. Suki was right. He had a much better chance of killing Aang in the streets, if he was really intent on killing the Avatar. But he had waited instead. This was almost too horrible to think about. But there was no mistaking it. He had attacked Aang when he was in the Avatar State. He had purposefully waited until Aang was in Avatar State.
TO BE CONTINUED...
- The events of this episode foreshadow events that will take place later in the show.
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