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|"I am beyond your sordid legacy. I am free from attachment, as a monk of air should be."|
|— Taro, to Afiko|
Legacies is the eighteenth and final chapter of the AU fanfiction story.
Kuzon and his friends escape when Taro manages to put Azulon in a hold and threatens to kill him. Before they go, however, Taro asks Azulon if he knows the whereabouts of Afiko. Azulon tells them he has a house on the coast. Taro releases Azulon, then he, Kuzon, and Kunchen rush through the palace and down into the escape tunnels. The hurry through them all night and avoid the guards. They emerge far from the city on the coast and follow it until they reach Afiko's house. They find him bedridden, dying of lung disease. Afiko is remorseful about what he's done. He expresses hope that Taro will forgive him but Taro says he no longer feels anything toward him, good or bad. Taro says he has made peace within himself and is free of Afiko's legacy. He makes Afiko comfortable while Kunchen and Kuzon treat their burns, and then take their leave. They buy a boat with money Afiko gives them and sail into the sunset, to continue the fight against the Fire Nation.
Kunchen saw Taro's predicament and was about to rush over, but Taro, backing away from the guards, noticed Sozin and Kuzon had come to a draw. He looked to Kunchen, and found that he had just knocked the prince prone. Taro got an idea. He went low and made a full circle sweeping with his leg, knocking most of the guards over with air. He leapt to the southern wall of the room and removed a highly decorated kukri knife. As he sprinted over to Kunchen and Azulon, he stripped it of its jewel-encrusted scabbard and threw the scabbard clattering across the floor. Azulon was just starting to come to as Taro sat him up, locked his arm behind his back, and held the knife to his throat. Taro was just bluffing. He never intended to hurt the boy, but he figured the lives of the royals were of paramount importance to the royal guards. The royal guards might allow Taro to kill any one of them for the sake of the royal family, but Taro didn't think this spoiled prince would. It was the easiest way to escape without hurting anyone else (or getting hurt more himself). "Stand down, or I'll kill the prince!" he called, hesitating to move the skin around his jaw too much and sounding just a little funny.
Sozin hardly took notice. His son should be able to defend himself, and if he couldn't he deserved to die. Sozin himself was still busy staring down his brother.
Kunchen helped Taro restrain Azulon and they backed away through the large doors. "Stay back! Stay back!" Taro warned the guards.
Kuzon still stared at his brother. They both backed away a few paces simultaneously. Kuzon was standing next to one of the columns. "Goodbye, Sozin," Kuzon said sadly. With that, he swung his sword hard upwards and to his right, lodging it just above the gold molding on the column and into the soft red wood. He slowly let his hand slide off the hilt. He took one last look at his brother, then turned and swept out of the throne room, right through the dumbstruck guards, to join his friends at the door. The three friends exited with Azulon, and Kuzon closed the door behind him. Sozin just watched them.
In the hall, Taro made one more request of his hostage. He had been inspired by Kuzon's courage in trying to resolve his problem with his brother. He hoped to have a similar confrontation with Afiko, to show the wicked old man that his ex-pupil no longer suffered from his influence. "There's an airbender named Afiko in your father's court. Where can we find him?"
"He hasn't been to court for the past year. I heard he has a house on the coast just outside the city. If he's not there, I don't know," Azulon growled, too selfish to risk his life, but too proud to cower.
Taro tossed the kukri away and shoved Azulon out of his grasp. Azulon angrily wheeled and punched out fireballs as fast as he could, but Kunchen moved to intercept, dispelling them all in a small cyclone. Kunchen fired two very fast jabs of air at his midsection and then raised his palm, air hitting Azulon under the chin. The prince was lifted off the floor and hit it again about a foot back. "Sorry, nice try though," Kunchen said as all three sprinted away.
The secret passage was right there, down a few more corridors, disguised as a section of wall. Kuzon studied it and quickly remembered the dragon's head statue that required firebending to open the door. Kuzon carefully breathed some fire into it and the passage slid open. It ran for miles underground, and they spent hours following it in the blackness. Whether any guards ever pursued them they did not know, but if so they never caught up to Kunchen, Taro, and Kuzon. There was no light, but Kuzon guided them with a flame in his hand.
"Kuzon, do you know where this tunnel ends?"
"It exits at a volcanic cave on the beach just outside the city," he replied. "You want to settle things with Afiko like I did?" Kuzon asked, remembering what Taro had asked Azulon.
"Are you really going to forgive him?" Kunchen asked, unable to fathom that act himself.
"I...well, I don't think I can," Taro said. "He didn't care about his shoulder. He just wanted to see Afiko while he had the chance.
Kuzon was worried. Taro seemed very resolved to do this, and it wasn't like him to be so eager for a fight. It was very un-airbender-like behavior, even if Afiko was the one they were going after.
"No offense, but I'm a little tired of getting dragged along while you two settle your personal problems," Kunchen joked. "I think you two should have to come with me next time I go to that bakery I like all the way on the other side of Ba Sing Se."
"I think infiltaring the Fire Nation is easier than getting to that place," Kuzon replied, still keeping his eyes focused and moving forward. "...I'm very sorry you were hurt back there, Kunchen," he added sincerely.
"Don't worry about it. Any of us would do the same for any other."
Soon they emerged from a cave onto the beach. The distant skyline of Sozin's city could scarcely be seen in the dim almost-light of early morning, but they were fairly far away. The cave was nestled low to the ground among the beginning of a black sea cliff of volcanic rock, right where this cliff began to climb from the ground. Kunchen emerged and, spying the ocean, walked towards the surf to soak his hand in the water and see if that helped, but Kuzon stopped him. "I wouldn't do that if I were you. That's not the cleanest water. There are several industrial districts in the city, and they all empty their waste around here." Kunchen walked back over to his two friends as they headed away from the cliffs and the city to a row of fishing boats, each with a corresponding cottage, a few yards away.
A fisherman was preparing to set sail on one of the boats. Kuzon asked him for any information on an airbender or man named Afiko who might live around there. The others hung back and concealed their arrows under cowels. The fisherman told them that he had heard about an airbender who lived on a large estate in that area, with a house overlooking the cliffs, but no one had heard from him in a year or two. Kuzon thanked the fisherman. They helped him launch his boat and then set off again. This time they walked behind the beach and behind where the cliff faces began to form. Taro and Kunchen were in no shape to climb up a cliff face when they finally came to the house.
It only took about an hour to get there. It was big and unnecessarily fancy. It seemed forbidding, like the type of house local kids might say was haunted. "Well, let's get this over with," Taro said, opening the doors. Kuzon and Kunchen exchanged worried looks, apprehensive about how Taro would handle this confrontation.
The house was empty and very quiet. It seemed like no one was there. They moved silently, searching for any clue to where Afiko might be if not this house.
Suddenly they heard a terrible sound, like someone with a deep voice issuing several short screams. It was coming from upstairs, and they raced up to stop whatever terrible thing was making that sound. Kunchen thought Afiko might be torturing someone for his own sick reasons, and they all expected they would have a rescue and another fight on their hands.
Soon the noise came again, but this time they realized it was a cough. Someone had a terrible, hacking cough.
They followed the noise into an ornate master bedroom decorated in orange, and in its center in a large bed lay Afiko. He was completely ravaged by age. He was deeply wrinkled, liver spotted, and pale. His beard was snow white and he could hardly open his eyes all the way to look at Taro as he approached his old teacher. Taro noticed he was holding a handkerchief with something red in it. As he got closer he saw that it was blood.
"Taro?" Afiko said, slowly turning his head. His voice was nothing more than a soft, raspy whisper. "...Is it you, Taro? Oh, I'm s--" Afiko was interrupted by an urge to cough, as he had been constantly for the past year. He quickly covered his mouth with the handkerchief and violently hacked into it several times. Then he closed the handkerchief in his hand and swallowed before going on. "I'm so glad you're alive. And Kunchen! So the airbenders survived? Tell me they really su--" More coughing. It really was a very violent cough, hard to watch or hear. "--survived!" Afiko finished.
"Yes," Taro answered calmly. But he remembered to whom he was speaking. Old feelings welled up and he became angrier. "I managed to help some get away, despite your best efforts. We have to live in hiding. Aang never returned, so Sozin's agents are constantly hunting for us. It's a hard life but we've done well, and we have each other. You failed, Afiko."
Afiko coughed again, and Taro almost felt badly for using the tone he had. "I'm dying, Taro. I only have a few days left. My lungs are shutting down." Afiko said, then coughed. "They were used to the pure air in the mountains. Breathing the smog from all these factories for twenty years has destroyed them. I'm dying, and I know it's entirely my—" coughing "—fault. I had to live in the Fire Nation after what I did. There was no other place for me to go. I thought I would be the one surviving monk and you would be my pupil, but all I did was give myself a death sentence." He coughed more. "When the doctors told me I would die within a year, I finally realized how wrong I had been. I had to die to realize it, but I finally did. I betrayed the monks to save my life and yours, but you lived without me, and I contracted a chr—" this time he just wheezed loudly "—chronic disease as a direct result. I finally realized it had all been for nothing. I can't beat up a disease. It doesn't matter how strong or shrewd I am, I am going to die. And now I will go into the Spirit World, and Koh will eat my face for my sins." He coughed once more. "I won't ask you to forgive me. That would just be selfish. I know I am beyond redemption, but I can finally die with some peace knowing my misdeeds were not completely irreparable."
Kuzon and Kunchen had been expecting another fight, and didn't know what to think of all this.
"You have counteracted my mistakes, Taro. Knowing some airbenders, especially you, are still alive will allow me to die with some peace. It's all because of you." He coughed again louder than ever, and Taro saddened at the sight. "Saying this may just make you hate me more...but I am very proud of you. You have made yourself into a great man, despite my--" Afiko coughed again "--influence. Go now. You should leave the Fire Nation as soon as you can." Coughing. "There are riches littered throughout this house, and medicinal plants in the garden. Take some for your jaw, Taro, and whatever else you need. Please have good lives, all of you." Afiko coughed once more.
Kuzon and Kunchen turned to leave, and Taro rose to his feet but stayed by the bed. He took Afiko's bloodied handkerchief from his hand. Taro ripped off a portion of his own sleeve and gave it to the old man. "Here. You need a new one. Let me get you some water."
Taro was about to walk away but Afiko was shocked at his kindness. "You...you really have forgiven me?" he wheezed.
"No," Taro said simply. "I'm treating you as I would treat any sick and dying man. For years, I carried terrible feelings of inverted guilt from what you did. My people and I suffered terribly at your hands. But I have learned what it means to be a true Air Monk, not from you, but from this firebender. I know what true freedom means. I no longer feel your guilt. I no longer feel anything for you, including hatred. Karma has punished you better than any airbender could. I will not give you a single word of affection, nor a single word of condemnation. You richly deserve what has happened to you, Afiko, but I will not begrudge you your final peace. I am beyond your sordid legacy. I am free from attachment, as a monk of air should be." Taro went and got Afiko his water, and placed a cool cloth on his old master's warm head. Afiko coughed one last time, but no one said anything else. When Taro took his leave, he did not look back. He had said what he truly felt, what he knew in his airbender heart.
The three friends discovered several containers of gold pieces just sitting out downstairs, and they gathered some aloe-like plants in the garden to treat their burns.
The fisherman from earlier that day returned home in the evening to find a bowl full of gold pieces on his doorstep, and a note telling him to give away all the valuables in the old mansion on the cliff.
His neighbor woke a little after he had—but still early in the morning—to find his boat missing. At first he panicked, but then he noticed a chest filled with two-and-a-half times what the boat was worth outside his front door.
At that moment, miles from shore, the three friends were sailing away into the barely-risen sun, off to keep up the fight against Sozin and live out the rest of their lives as happily as they could. The future looked as bright as the blazing orb in the sky. Taro enjoyed the peaceful scene, glad just to be there with both his friends, despite everything that had happened.
Kuzon lifted an arm to shield his eyes. "We would have to be going east at sunrise," he complained.
"Oh, well maybe you'd like to head back to the Fire Nation and just wait in your cell a few more hours, eh?" Taro shot back.
"Geez, relax, I'm just saying..." Kuzon replied.
Kunchen flicked his fingers and gave each of them a little tap over the head with two gusts of air. He sighed audibly and shook his head. "You two..."
"C'mon, you know we're just kidding." Kuzon said. He turned to Taro. "We'll always be friends, right?"
The aging airbender slowly turned his gaze from the ocean and smiled at the firebender. "Sure thing, buddy."
Sozin had removed Kuzon's sword from the column and placed it with his own in a double scabbard and put them away forever in a storage room somewhere in the palace. He wanted never to be reminded of them again.
For the final time in his life, he was genuinely sad.
"Zuko, come back!" Nine-year-old Zuko sprinted down the palace hall, looking back in terror at the disembodied sound of his sister's voice. "Don't you want to play house with us? Mai can be your wiiiiife," she teased.
"Azula, come on, he doesn't want to," came a half-hearted protest from Mai, to no effect.
Zuko spied a closet on his left and ducked inside. There were two chests perpendicular to each other at one corner. He slid into the gap between them and crouched down, just in case the girls realized he was in this closet. Zuko tried to slow his breath. He felt something hard against his back.
He waited until he heard footsteps move past the door, away down the hall, and into another hall. He got out from behind the chest and, dusting himself off, he inspected the item that had been poking him in the back. It was the hilt of a sheathed sword.
It was pretty difficult to lift, so he dragged it out of the corner and inspected it. He unsheathed the sword, only to find the scabbard actually held two swords. Twin dao broadswords. Zuko looked at them in admiration. They were beautiful. Zuko felt compelled to try and pick them up, even though he really wasn't strong enough yet. He tried though, then carefully placed them back in the scabbard.
Zuko thought he should probably get out of the closet now, but he wanted to take the swords with him. There was something about them... Maybe they're magic, little Zuko thought. Almost everything in the closet was old and dusty. Everything in there was probably just left to be forgotten. Zuko didn't think there was any way someone would miss the swords, so with much effort he picked them up and awkwardly carried them back to his room.
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|