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Chapter 13: Cold
To Aang, the welcoming lights of Republic City allowed him to breathe a sigh of relief. He was finally back and able to help his children. Appa, too, seemed to be in high spirits.
I can't believe Susanowo would do something...well, nice...
He grimaced; it was still unclear. The Avatar hated that uncertainty.
Appa soon touched down in the Sky Bison quarters, and Aang was already out of the saddle before his friend touched the ground. A door and a set of stairs were his only two obstacles now, yet his steps grew heavy. He couldn't explain it, but a sense of dread nearly overcame him.
That same sense was washed away as he reached the door to the main hall. He could finally see his children and ensure that they were—
Tenzin turned to face him, a vacant stare occupying his expression. But Aang, as much as he loved his son, wasn't focused on that. No, he was focused on the body of his daughter, Sora's lifeless, pale body.
Strangely, the next sounds from his lips were not cries of pain or grief; he was in shock. Instead, he asked a simple question. "How?" His voice was hoarse; even he almost didn't recognize it. My darling, Sora...it was you...
Sokka was saying something about a man named Solf Koruhagi, but that hardly even mattered as the Avatar crossed the room. Usha's vision...it was you. Tears finally began to fall, but still no sound came from him. She was right...this is more painful...than anything...my little girl...gone.
It was ironic, Aang noted as he brushed the hair away from her face that, for someone who had died so painfully, Sora looked more at peace than he could've hoped for. It did not make things any easier, however.
While Aang contained his grief within silence, Tenzin lashed out, sending a compressed air wave at the wall, accompanied by a strangled cry. As the wall caved from the force, Aang looked away. How he wanted to embrace his son now! But it was not the time.
"Toph..." His voice was still husky. "Who is responsible?"
"Twinkle-Toes..." She put a steadying hand on his shoulder.
The Blind Bandit sighed. "Solf Koruhagi, he's an Equalist. This all happened around the same time as Kiryu Iran's escape."
Aang nodded. "I suspected...about Iran, but this...Koruhagi...who is he? Where is he?"
"That," Gareth stepped forward. "Is something I can help with. My men discovered an Equalist base about two blocks from the warehouse where they were initially stationed, in the old theater."
The Avatar closed his eyes. "I don't think I'm in the right state of mind for a mission of any kind at the moment."
"This is why we're waiting." Sokka stated. "As unpleasant as this is, funeral arrangements need to be made, and we have to contact Katara."
Aang nodded. He needed her now, and she would need him.
"Don't forget," Ty Lee interjected. "Zuko will want to be here too."
"My nephew is already on his way." Iroh hobbled into their midst. "The Royal Airship has a device called a radio that is linked to both the palace and this tower. I was able to contact him at his stop in Ba Sing Se. He'll be here within a couple of hours."
Gareth leaned forward. "I do not mean to sound insensitive, Avatar Aang, but now might be the best time to move against them."
"Quiet, Gareth...I'm thinking."
"Pema...I cannot tell you how disappointed I am..." Kiryu Iran sat on what Pema knew, regardless of appearance, was intended as a throne. "...That you would betray our cause."
"They aren't all bad! We—I—should've known that."
The Equalist leader shook his head. "When Solf found you curled up in that alley after those benders killed your parents, he mentioned a fire in your eyes. Have you forgotten their memory so quickly?"
"No! I will never forget them! But I've seen now that the line between a bender who murders a family and an Equalist who stabs a noncombatant to prove a point is surprisingly thin!"
Iran turned away. "While I believe that death is sometimes necessary for growth, what Solf did was...problematic...for us."
"Problematic?" Her incredulity, her anger, was evident. "He killed the Avatar's daughter! This will bring about your end!"
He chuckled. "I suppose it was the wrong thing to do, but there is nothing we can do now."
Pema's eyes narrowed. "You don't even care! I-I can't believe I didn't see this before...you...all you want is power. You could care less about equality!"
"You can believe that if you so desire, but it will change nothing. The truth...equality will be realized." He waved his men forward. "Take her to an open room, and guard it well."
The Sky Bison quarters were becoming Tenzin's as well; he spent so much time there. This time, however, there would be no lighthearted exchange with Teela. This time, there would be only stoic silence.
Tears still flowed; they had been flowing basically non-stop since their return to the tower. Sora...spirits...it's...it's all my fault...
As the Sky Bison shifted to get closer to Tenzin, the Airbender shook his head. If he hadn't gotten involved with the Equalists—
"Tenzin? Is...is it true?" Chikyuu shuffled through the door, eyes glistening.
He sighed. I don't need this right now. "Yeah...yeah it is Chief..."
"B-b-but...how? Why?" She slid down and brought her knees to her chest. "Why would anyone do that?"
"When you figure that out, let me know." Tenzin replied tersely.
The Earthbender glanced up at him. "Are you gonna—?"
"I'll be fine, Chikyuu!"
The outburst caused the little girl to lurch backwards, and accompanying that was Kyani's admonishing voice. "That's enough, Tenzin. We've all had it rough; leave her alone."
The Airbender turned his head to face his cousin. "You've had it rough?! You can't...you can't imagine what I am feeling, thinking. You can't possibly know what I am going through!"
The wind picked up, and Kyani took a step forward. "Tenzin, calm down. This will solve nothing."
The wind died down, and the Avatar's son closed his eyes. "Leave. Now."
Kyani raised his hands in defense. "Fine. I'll go. Come to me when you're ready for action and ready to stop the pity-party. We all loved Sora, Tenzin; don't forget that."
The door creaked as it closed, and Tenzin would've breathed a sigh of relief, if it had not been for the young Bei Fong's continued presence. "Don't you have somewhere to be?"
That question, for whatever reason, made something within Chikyuu to snap. She narrowed her eyes and stood, marching over to Tenzin. "Stop it right now! Stop being mean to your friends!" She glared up at him. "We cared about Sora too, but you've been acting like you're the only one who hurts!"
Tenzin's eyes widened. "It was my fault, Chikyuu! I am solely responsible!"
The air left his lungs as a small earth pillar shot out diagonally and struck him in the stomach. "This isn't your fault; it isn't mine!" Tears fell freely. "She died because of a bad man doing bad things, nothing else! Now get up and stop pushing everyone away!"
His heart was heavy, and he was lost. He couldn't get up.
Aang, Toph, and Gareth stood together; they had a plan. "A final assault, we can wipe out the Equalists here and bring Iran and Koruhagi to justice."
The Avatar nodded. "I agree, but we'll wait for Zuko. When he gets here, we'll make our final plans, then move."
Toph and Gareth nodded, but only one knew what had been left unsaid. Aside from Katara, Zuko and Toph were the only other people who might be able to pull Aang from the Avatar State if he lost control.
He hadn't in years, but this...this might have been the straw that broke the Camelephant's back.
"You're going after Iran? I want in." Tenzin walked down the stairs, rubbing his stomach, with Chikyuu not far behind.
Aang raised an eyebrow. "Are you feeling sick?"
"What, this? No..." He gave a weak smile. "Chikyuu just knocked some sense into me."
"As it seems the Bei Fongs have had to do with you Airbenders from time to time." Toph smirked. "Good job, Chikyuu."
The Avatar put a hand on his son's shoulder. "Are you alright now?"
The young Airbender looked up at his father. "No...my sister...she died. It'll be a while before I'm 'okay'. But...that could be sped up if I was allowed to help bring her murderer to justi—."
"No. You are far too clouded by rage and grief, and I will not allow you to continue down the slippery slope of revenge."
"What about you?!" Tenzin cried. "I know you're as grieved as I am! There is no difference!"
"The difference...is that I have accepted the inevitability and have begun meditating on Sora's life. Like an Air Nomad should."
"Dad..." Tenzin turned away. "If you keep bottling up your emotions, only further pain will come. I may be a wreck, but at least I am releasing my rage in small portions, rather than the alternative." His eyes glistened, but defiance was there as well as grief. "You cling to the idea that emotions and attachment are weaknesses, even in some small part. You are trying, in the only way you know how, to contain them, but it will only result in an explosion."
Before the young Airbender could react, Aang brought him into a crushing embrace. "You win, Tenzin," he said through the tears. "I won't bottle up my emotions."
"We will talk, Tenzin; we'll talk about everything when this is over."
"Does this mean I can come with you?" He asked hopefully.
- This chapter was shorter, but I felt it appropriate to not only focus on the emotions of those closest to Sora, but to also set the stage.
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