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|More from Manzai||Adventure||G||Positive||No update page|
|"You did not betray Sozin. Sozin betrayed you."|
|— Taro, to Kuzon|
Escapes is the sixteenth chapter of the AU fanfiction story.
Kunchen and Taro arrive in the Fire Nation capital and sneak into the prison under cover of darkness. They attempt to free Kuzon, but Kuzon has become so despondent he doesn't want to leave. Taro and Kunchen convince him he bears no responsibility for the war, and Kuzon does the same for Taro. They break out of the prison, free as many other prisoners as possible, and sneak into the Royal Palace disguised as guards.
Taro and Kunchen waited until nightfall, then slipped off the boat on a glider. There weren't many people out at night in the port of the capital city, but there were enough that the two airbenders could go unnoticed. They were looking for any sign of where Kuzon might have been taken. It didn't take long for them to find a poster advertising the impending execution the following day. "'Tomorrow, in the courtyard of the Hall of Justice'," Taro read. "That's probably where they keep political prisoners."
"Makes sense," Kunchen agreed wryly.
The Hall of Justice was heavily guarded, but Kunchen and Taro had gotten into Fire Nation bases of about the same level. It was a many-storied building, taller than many in the city. They glided up to the top level, knocked out a guard and removed his keys. Taro pulled a torch off its holder on the wall, and they went down hall after hall, checking each cell for Kuzon. Many of the prisoners were only there for trying to emigrate from the Fire Nation or stealing a loaf of bread. Taro very much wanted to free them, but he could not. He could not risk a commotion from freeing all these people. He and Kunchen moved silently, so as not to wake them up.
After an hour or two, they finally found Kuzon's cell. "Kuzon! Kuzon!" Kunchen whispered, "We came to save you!" Taro unlocked the door and flung it open.
Kuzon moved into the light, but the look on his haggard face was disaffected. "You shouldn't have come. I'm not leaving."
"What?" Taro asked him, angry and incredulous.
"I have nothing in this world, Taro. I tried to protect the world from my brother and look what I got for it: I was exiled from my home, I lost the last family member I had. We've been fighting him for twenty years and we still can't stop his expansion. All the lives he's taken, all the damage he's done... I helped him, Taro! I helped him start it!" Kuzon was half-shouting, but choking on many of his words. "Why should I be alive when so many others are dead? Why?" he asked with quivering eyes. "It's not fair. I'm tired of it. Sozin told me the Balance was a lie. Now I realize he was right."
"I don't understand you, Kuzon," Taro spoke up. "What family did you lose? The genocidal maniac? He's who you're lamenting? I'm sorry, I know he's your brother, but...Look Kuzon, there are two things you told me that I'll always remember. You said that Avatar Roku told you that your chi was in the exact opposite proportion as Sozin's. That means you keep him in check. You are destined to oppose him, even though you can never win completely. That's how this world works. That is the Balance. We can never wipe out all the evil in this world, but we can always try. And we have to try." Kuzon scoffed. "You also told me you believed Aang would come back one day. I know you believe the Avatar will return--"
"You do, Kuzon. Don't lie to yourself, you still have hope. Don't start pretending you're a mopey jerk now. Fight for that hope. Fight so that when Aang comes back from wherever he is, there will still be a future for him to protect."
Kuzon lightly ran his fingers over the scar on his left cheek. "I don't even know if I was right to oppose Sozin. You don't understand. Airbenders don't have real families. But Sozin was my brother. That's not a relationship you can throw away easily. Loyalty should be to family first, no matter what."
"Kuzon, for everything we have done in our twenty-three years as friends, listen to me now: You did not betray Sozin. Sozin betrayed you. He took advantage of your loyalty and forced you to do something you knew was wrong." Taro paused, but his thoughts went on. His own guilt had been dredged up.
"If anyone was responsible for what happened at the Temple it was me. I knew Afiko hated the other monks, but I didn't say anything. He was my mentor, he raised me. What if he influenced me more than I thought? We could be captured and I might sell all the airbenders out, do exactly what he did! I'm as guilty as he is. I should have just gone with him that day." Taro was half talking to himself now.
"You think me questioning my guilt is ridiculous? How could you have had anything to do with Afiko's betrayal, Taro? That's not your fault! Afiko made that choice, not you! You've defended the airbenders with honor for twenty-three years. I know you would never betray us. Afiko is the traitor. Are you Taro or are you Afiko?" Kuzon shouted, trying to force some sense into his friend.
"Are you Taro or are you Afiko?" Kuzon yelled again.
"That's right, and I'm Kuzon, your best friend for twenty-three years. And I know that you are not responsible for what Afiko did."
"I know you aren't responsible for what Sozin did," Taro replied with a smile.
Kuzon looked at them, the people who cared about him enough to come all the way to the Fire Nation to try and save him, and he realized Taro was right, just as Taro realized Kuzon was right.
Kunchen was good at sensing auras, and he could tell a sudden change had come over the two men. "I guess you two just needed to hear that from someone else...from a friend." He smiled at the peace that had come over both of them.
Kuzon walked out of the cell and took the keys from Taro. "What are you doing?" Taro asked. Kuzon moved to the next cell down and placed the key in the door.
He smiled at them and unlocked the door. "Hey! Hey, wake up! We're setting you free. Get out of here," he told the man in the cell. The man murmured some thank-you's as he sprinted away. "I'm sorry," Kuzon said softly to the other two monks. "I'm sorry that I needed to hear someone tell me that."
Taro smiled. "I needed to hear someone tell me too. Now apologize later. Free the rest of these people and get out of here!"
Kuzon went down the hall unlocking doors, but he had barely gone through one floor when the mass of people escaping put the guards on full alert. As he, Taro, and Kunchen rounded a corner with a fleeing inmate in tow they came upon a trio of guards. They leveled their spears at the group, one pointed right for the innocent inmate. Kuzon rushed forward, wrapped his arm around the spear and smashed it in half with a flaming chop as Taro and Kunchen blasted the guards with air. As they ran past the unconscious guards, Kuzon scooped up the leader's keys and handed them to the inmate. He left the three of them to go open some other cells. Kunchen, Taro, and Kuzon ran down halls and around corners. Soon they found the central staircase, which wrapped around the sides of the tall room, leaving a long drop to the first floor in the center. Guards were shouting in the hall behind them and others were beginning to climb the stairs. The three friends just looked at each other. The airbenders had escaped situations like this before. They all leapt over the railing and began to fall. Just as they were about to hit the ground, Taro and Kunchen created a cushion of air for them to land on. There was a locked exit door right in front of them, and Kuzon wasted no time in shooting a flame at the metal lock to soften it as much as he could. Taro and Kunchen combined their efforts and blew the door off with a wave of air.
The three stole away behind the building and down some alleys, but they couldn't find a safe escape route. There was a full-on prison riot now and guards and law officers were being dispatched throughout the city. "How are we going to get out of here?" Taro asked, looking around.
"Kuzon, do you remember any way out of the city? A way most people don't use?" Kunchen asked.
Kuzon thought for a minute. "The palace," he said. "There's a secret passage under the palace in case the royal family ever needs to escape. It leads down the coast."
"How are we going to get into the palace?" Taro asked. "It must be the most heavily-guarded place in the city."
Kunchen noticed soldiers running by with no real organization, just desperate to stop the riots lest they face Fire Nation military discipline. "Easy," he said. Sucking one straggling soldier into the alley with air and knocking him over the head, he began to remove his armor. "Put these on," he told Kuzon, handing him the helmet.
For the collective works of the author, go here.
|Enemies and Traitors chapters|
|Prologues - Brothers - Responsibilities - Necessities - Resources - The Avatar - Opportunities - Preparations - Betrayals - Changing Plans - Scars - Counting Losses - Exiles - Ghosts - Homecoming - The Traitor and the Firelord - Escapes - The Last Chance - Legacies|