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|By Agent Slash||Genre||Rating||Reviews||Updates|
|More from Agent Slash||Action/Adventure, Drama||PG-13||Positive||N/A|
|Our Brightest Hour|
When I first started The Adventures of Team Avatar back in 2011, I never imagined it would take me here. At the time, all I wanted to do was make my own fanon that dealt with how I thought maybe things went after the Hundred Year War ended and the gaang defeated the Fire Nation. I didn't imagine I would end up creating an elaborate story spanning two trilogies that would be a huge part of my life for nearly four years. During my time working on this trilogy, I've grown as a writer and as a person and have become attached to these characters more than I ever could have imagined. I view this story as my mark in the Avatar fanon community here on this wiki. For years now, I've seen many authors make their marks by leaving what they consider to be their achievements on this wiki for everyone to see, contributing to a much larger entity that is the overall fanon community here. I consider everything I've written in the last four years to be my contribution. I don't know if it's a good one or a bad one, but I could not be happier with it. Thank you to all of my loyal subscribers who have stayed with me since the beginning and also those who have gained interest in my story along the way. And now, without further ado, please enjoy the conclusion to the Slash Trilogy.
The sun shined brightly down on what was once a prosperous land. The black, barren, deathly landscape was a stark contrast to the glimmering rays of light that were being broadcast down upon it.
At the summit of the highest mountain that overlooked the desolate valley were a man and his son, both dressed head to toe in white.
"Look, Bai Lung," said the man. "Everything that the light touches is yours."
"But dad," the young Bai Lung replied. "Everything the light touches is ugly and gray."
"Exactly," said the boy's father. "And do you know why that is?" Not waiting for an answer, he continued. "The other nations destroyed us by refusing to help. They are the reason that our land is one giant scar."
"Then why don't we do something to them?" asked Bai Lung.
"You will, Bai Lung," his father replied, placing his hand on his son's shoulder. "On the day that the sun is at its brightest, you will have the power to destroy them all. And during then, our brightest hour, they will all face the revenge they deserve. It is as the prophecy written by our ancestors has foretold."
"But how, dad?" Bai Lung further queried.
"When you become a man, you will learn the secret to the greatest power a bender can have," replied the father. "Although the conqueror has fallen, a warrior of light will arise and dominate every weakling in his path. So it is written. So it shall be done."
A stillness lay over the upper ring of Ba Sing Se. A stillness that was enough to drive any normal person mad. For Zuko, however, that was all there was anymore. Stillness. At least, that's what it felt like. He rarely moved at all anymore. The only times he got up for any reason was when his uncle Iroh came to visit.
Having lived in Ba Sing Se for so long now, Zuko often tried thinking about the old days when he came to this place with his friends. It managed to lift his spirits, even if it was to just the slightest degree.
Today was a particularly rough day for the former Fire Lord. It was the two-year-anniversary of the day his nation was destroyed. Candle light memorials were being held all over the world and people wore orange ribbons in remembrance of the tragedy.
Zuko listened as two of the tenants that lived in his apartment complex walked by his room. One of them was a loud-mouthed bigot who was spouting his opinions every time Zuko could remember him speaking. The other was a scrawny man who never said much, but probably couldn't even if he wanted to on account of the other man's shouting.
"The way I see it, those ash makers got what they deserved!" the bigot hollered, not caring who heard him. "They waged a hundred years of war and karma finally came back to bite them the ass."
Normally Zuko would have shoved this man over the balcony for saying such an outrageous thing, but he simply didn't have the energy or the will to do anything.
He then heard a knock befall his door just before it creaked open.
"How are you doing today, nephew?" Iroh inquired.
"Not good, uncle" was all Zuko muttered.
"I brought someone with me who might cheer you up," said Iroh.
A young woman with short, brown hair fashioned into a typical Fire Nation topknot entered the apartment and gazed warmly at Zuko. "Hey, Zuko," she said. "It's good to see you, buddy."
Zuko couldn't fight off the grin that spread across his lips upon seeing his half-sister, Kiyi, the product of his late mother Ursa reuniting with an old flame from her hometown of Hira'a. Both he and Iroh thanked their lucky stars that she was visiting Hira'a at the time of the tragedy or else she would be dead along with the rest of them.
"There's that awesome smile of yours," Kiyi said.
"I'll go make us all some tea," said Iroh, making his way towards the teakettle while Kiyi sat down on the couch next to Zuko.
"What happened wasn't your fault, you know," she said. "I know that's what you've been hearing for two years now, but you have to know that it's true."
"Kiyi, please," Zuko whispered. "Just don't talk about it. Just don't."
Ordinarily, Kiyi would have been much more persistent, but she could tell she was hurting her half-brother more than helping just by discussing it.
"Here is your tea," Iroh said, rushing over to hand them their cups.
Kiyi smiled as she raised the cup to her lips. "Thank you, Uncle Iroh," she said, sipping the warm brew.
Zuko didn't even acknowledge the delectable liquid and instead continued to stare blankly into space.
Silence filled the room as neither Iroh nor Kiyi wanted to say anything to upset the former Fire Lord. They just drank their tea, letting the darkness of this day do its work.
"Zuko," Iroh finally spoke up. "There are times when it seems that a person cannot choose his own future. There are times when it seems we are slaves to fate and that no matter how hard we try, we cannot escape from it. But even in those times when we are at our darkest – at the lowest we've ever been – it is that drive we possess as human beings that tells us things will get better, to keep going forward, that makes us strong and that keeps us together. That drive, Zuko, is called hope."
Zuko looked over at his uncle, his eyes welling up with tears.
"In the darkest times, hope is something we give ourselves," Iroh continued. "That is the meaning of inner strength."
Teardrops soared down Zuko's cheeks as he began sobbing and embraced his uncle. "I wasn't strong enough, uncle," he wept. "It's my fault!"
"It wasn't your fault, Zuko," Iroh assured him, tightly embracing his nephew in his arms. "It wasn't."
"He's right," Kiyi chimed in. "It wasn't your fault, Zuko." She joined in the hug as the three of them joined in a tender embrace.
Thousands of people were lined up in the streets of Republic City, holding candles in silence. The entire metropolis was like one giant light in the darkness that had engulfed the world as of late. People of all ages and nationalities were gathered to mourn the many lives lost during the day the Fire Nation Capital was destroyed as well as the lives lost in the aftermath.
Once the Fire Nation government was eradicated, the entire country was plunged into a state of anarchy, resulting in the deaths of many innocent people. The ones who could afford it immigrated to the United Republic, but those who weren't men and women of wealth were left to fend for themselves.
Several members of Team Avatar were in attendance as well. Aang and Katara were there along with Toph, Ling, Rong, and Momo who sat perched on Aang's shoulder.
Having ceased his activities as the Avatar since the day the Fire Nation fell, it was rare for Aang to make a public appearance anymore, but today he had to show his face.
Everyone looked to the top of the steps leading up to City Hall where Zhu had prepared a speech.
"On this night two years ago, the Fire Nation Capital City was destroyed by the maniac known as Jun and may he rot in Koh's realm for what he's done," he started. Qian's former assistant was having a difficult time getting the words out. He grew more and more emotional as he continued. "I was born and raised in the Fire Nation. It has always been a nation filled with good-hearted people that have come under oppression from an evil tyrant. Yes, even the people of the Fire Nation suffered during the war. Tonight we remember those people. Tonight we honor their memory. And now, with the help of the United Republic Council, we can make sure that no one else suffers their fate. As of tomorrow, we're starting a relief effort to rebuild the Fire Nation Capital. We will send as many lavabenders as we can find to plug up the volcano and rebuild the city."
This announcement was met with applause from the crowd. Zhu waited for it to die down before continuing.
"And we're going to take it even further than that," he added. "The council has just written a bill, that they hope will become a law, called SUBA – the Save Us from Benders Act – to prevent this from ever happening again. Once it's passed into law, any and all kinds of bending will be outlawed in the United Republic of Nations."
The reaction from the crowd was instantaneous. The solemnness had been shattered and was replaced with a symphony of puzzlement and outrage.
The members of Team Avatar present were just as shocked as the rest of the crowd.
Before any of them could raise their voices in objection, Zhu began to speak once more.
"The police force will still be able to use metalbending when on-duty," he continued. "As such, any and all kinds of bending will be regulated by the government of the United Republic of Nations. Thank you all for attending this memorial service and may we never forget the atrocities that were committed on this day two years ago."
"What are we going to do about this?" Katara asked, turning to Aang, surprised to see he was no longer standing beside her. She looked to the sky to see him gliding towards City Hall and elbowed Toph in the shoulder. "I think we better get inside."
It was sunset on Kyoshi Island. The wind rippled through the grass as the sun illuminated the sky in the most gorgeous shade of orange imaginable. It was deadly bittersweet for Suki and Sokka. As everyone else mourned the loss of so many lives in the Fire Nation on this day two years ago, they mourned the loss of just one life that was lost on that very same day: their unborn child.
It hadn't been easy on either of them. It took over a year for Sokka to recover. Sessions with some of the best therapists in the world along with the help and support of his friends made the pain easier, but once Suki decided to move back to Kyoshi Island, that was what ultimately made things better. The decision to quit the council wasn't difficult. By the time he left, Sokka had been fed up with the United Republic council so much, he considered it a blessing that he had to leave. They had been living there for a few weeks now and Sokka was feeling more at peace than he had been since it happened. Still, a dreary sadness still lurked in his heart. A sadness that worsened every time he saw the expression on his wife's face.
It was different for Suki. She had never recovered. No amount of therapy or support in the world could make her forget. Her misery was what kept Sokka from making a full recovery which ultimately made her feel worse. No matter how many times Sokka denied it, she knew it was true. During the two years since she lost her child, she had learned not to worry about anything. Nothing mattered anymore. Her only concern was figuring out how to keep living each day.
She stood looking out over the sea, gazing at the endless horizon, the wind blowing through her auburn hair.
Sokka approached her from behind, placing his hand on her shoulder. "How are you feeling?" he asked, lovingly.
Suki remained silent, transfixed by the setting sun.
Sokka embraced his wife, attempting to squeeze as much sadness and anger out of her as he could. "I know things will never be the same," he said. "But if we don't get through this eventually, then we're going to spend the rest of our lives wallowing in misery."
Tears streamed down the Kyoshi Warrior's face as she began to speak. "When I was a little girl, I never thought this is how my life would be. I never imagined my path would lead me here. I never dreamed that I would suffer through the things I have. I guess I just can't escape this, my destiny."
"You can escape it," said Sokka. "Your future doesn't control you. You control it. We have a whole new life here. We have each other. We have to find a way to be at peace. We just have to."
"And then what?" Suki asked, her tone still carrying a sense of calmness. "We try again? Have another kid? I don't know if that can ever happen."
Sokka became noticeably tense upon hearing this, but calmed himself, trying not to upset his wife. "What do you mean?"
"If something were to happen and I were to lose the child again, I don't think I could go on," Suki explained.
"Suki, I promise you that won't happen," Sokka assured her. "What are the chances?"
"There's still a chance," Suki replied. "It may be incredibly small, but I'm still not willing to take it."
"But we can't just-" Sokka began.
"Sokka," Suki snapped, turning around to face her husband. "Do you have any idea what it's like to have something growing inside of you? Something that's alive and fragile and depending on you for life and then to have that thing taken away from you by your own worst enemy along with the rest of your family? Do you have any idea, Sokka?!"
Trying as hard as he could to fight back tears, Sokka simply replied, "Suki, it was my child, too."
Seeing how much she hurt him, she threw herself onto her husband, bawling in his arms. "I'm so sorry," she wept. "I didn't mean-"
"Hey, it's okay," Sokka said. "You're right. I can't imagine how hard this must be for you."
"No, you're right, Sokka," Suki insisted. "It was your child, too."
The two of them held each other as the sun finally set and the moon arose to greet them.
Sokka looked up in the sky and whispered, "You said you would always be with me. Where were you when my child died?"
Suki, too distraught to ask what he said, continued crying as the two of them held each other tighter.
Aang burst into the council chamber, emitting a thundering echo as he slammed the doors aside. "What the hell was that?!" he demanded.
"Calm down, Avatar," one of the council members said.
"You think you can just outlaw bending like it's some kind of political issue?!" Aang persisted. "What gives you the right to do that?!"
"The council has already made up it's mind," said the man representing the Earth Kingdom.
"Whose idea was this anyway?" Aang inquired.
"It was mine," said the woman representing the Fire Nation, a woman in her mid-fifties with long, gray hair and a smooth yet assertive voice. "My name is Tian and I am a proud descendant of the Fire Nation as well as the wife of a noble and brave former general. You may know him, Avatar. He died because of your incompetence."
Aang knew immediately who she was talking about. "You're Kong's wife?"
"Yes," Tian replied. "And I am the current chairwoman of this council."
"I'm sorry for your loss, but this isn't the appropriate response," Aang said.
"I can assure you, Avatar Aang, we have been in agreement on this for some time. Even before your brother-in-law left."
"Sokka was a part of this?" Aang asked, hurt that his friend would take part in such a heinous act.
Before anyone could reply, the other members of Team Avatar came rushing through the door.
"I don't know what Twinkle Toes said to you, but it's nothing compared to the earful I'm about to give you!" Toph shouted.
"Guys, she said that Sokka was involved with creating this bill," Aang said.
Everyone stopped, wide-eyed at this revelation.
"You go talk to him about it," said Tian. "And while you're doing that, we might finally have some peace around here."
"I don't believe this," said Katara. "Sokka would never agree to something like this."
"I don't know if you've noticed, Katara, but Sokka has changed," said Ling.
"Yeah, I mean, he did lose his child after all," said Rong.
"I'm going to have to ask that you all leave immediately or I'll be forced to call the police," Tian warned.
"Bitch, I am the police!" Toph shot back.
"It's okay, Toph," Rong said. "They're not worth it."
"You're right, Rong," Aang chimed in. "We'll show ourselves out."
"This isn't over!" Katara said. "We'll all fight this!"
"You're damn right we will," Ling added.
The team of five retreated from the council chambers, allowing the politicians to resume their meeting.
The newly rebuilt Air Temple Island was something that Aang bragged about to this day. The reason being he built it all by himself.
Katara never thought he could do it, but it seemed he would never let her forget it.
The two of them walked in to find an Air Acolyte playing with their two children.
"Mommy and daddy are back!" Bumi cheered. The three-year-old boy had turned out to be just as rambunctious as his namesake and Kya, the latest addition to their family, was proving to be quite the same.
The nine months that Katara spent carrying Kya around were especially difficult as she had absolutely no contact with Sokka and Suki during that time. Her growing stomach just served as a painful reminder to the both of them that their child had been lost.
"How's my boy?" Katara asked. "Did you and your sister behave while me and daddy were gone?"
"They behaved fine," said the Air Acolyte taking care of them.
"Thank you, Heng," said Aang.
"It was my pleasure," Heng replied, giving a courteous bow to the Avatar and his wife. "Well, I'm off to meditate a bit before dinner. Have a good night!" he said, making his way towards the door.
"You too," Katara replied.
"Speaking of dinner, I'll go ahead and start making it," Aang said, heading towards the kitchen.
"Um, Aang, I kind of need to talk to you about something first," said Katara.
"What's that?" Aang replied, dismissively, not even turning around.
"Um, Bumi, sweetie, why don't you take your sister and go play in the other room?" Katara asked her son.
"I don't wanna play with Kya," Bumi replied. "She keeps pulling on my hair."
"Okay, then just go in your room and do something," Katara insisted. "Me and daddy need to talk about grownup things."
"Fine," Bumi whined, pulling his baby sister along with him.
"What is it, Katara?" asked Aang, acknowledging his wife's serious tone.
"I think we have to go see Sokka and Suki," said Katara.
Aang's eyebrows shifted downward and his face tensed up upon hearing what his wife had to say. "Why? Is it because of the bill?"
"The council is scared, Aang," Katara stated. "The people are scared. They need assurance that nothing like what happened to the Fire Nation Capital ever happens again. They need to feel safe. The council sees this bill as something that will make people feel safe. What we need is an alternative way for people to feel safe and the only person that can convince them that there is an alternative way is Sokka. He's the only one they'll even listen to."
Katara inhaled slowly and prepared herself for her husband's argument.
"You're right," Aang said.
And just like that, Katara was taken completely off-guard. "You agree with me?" she inquired.
"Yeah," Aang replied. "We need to find a way to stop this bill from becoming a law and Sokka is the only one they'll listen to. Besides, I'm sure Bumi would love to see Kyoshi Island." The Avatar smiled and changed the tone of his voice to a tender one. "And I know how much you've been wanting to see him again."
Katara couldn't stop the smile spreading across her face even if she wanted to. She ran over and embraced her husband, the two of them locked in a warm embrace in each other's arms as they lovingly held each other as time seemed to come to a standstill. "Thank you," she said. "Thank you."
The sound of a baby crying shot through Omashu like a flurry of bullets. Everyone within four blocks of the child could hear it wailing into the night, driving them mad.
Ai sat alone, trying her hardest to block out the dreadful noise. Her hands trembled as they worked their way down her body, feeling the child that was currently within her. The thought of being a mother terrified her.
Whenever she let her mind slip to that possibility, it made her physically sick with nervousness. Dizziness engulfed her like a whirlwind and she couldn't think straight. However, she was able to calm herself by gazing out at the stars on nights such as this. Unless, of course, there was an infant crying just four blocks away.
The timing on her pregnancy couldn't have been worse. It took a year for Yukio to have the will to travel in search of the Light Clan and then, just three months after they had left Republic City, they learned that Ai was with child. This prompted them to move to Omashu. She felt a hand touch her shoulder and was comforted to see the Woman in White offering up her most comforting smile.
"Thank you so much," said Ai.
"You are welcome," Yukio replied.
"Please tell me it isn't as scary as I think it is," Ai said.
"It is not," said Yukio. "I promise it is not."
"Just hearing that is such a relief," Ai said.
Yukio smiled as she knelt down and rubbed her friend's shoulders. "I know that having this child was not something that you planned, but soon you will see that this was the best thing that ever happened to you."
"I'm sure it'll seem that way in the future," said Ai. "But now... geez does it feel the opposite. Bo is working the graveyard shift just so we can afford to keep this place and I can't imagine how you must feel. It's been so long since we stopped searching for Bai Lung. You must be going crazy."
"You are right," Yukio said, not even attempting to sugarcoat how she felt. "That is why I am about to tell you something no living soul has any knowledge of except me."
Ai focused intensely on her friend, intrigued by what she was about to say.
"There is a land unbeknownst to the rest of the world, in a mountain range that no one knows exists. It is a black, barren, scarred land that no one has ever ventured to. It does not appear on any maps and is the most secret place on the planet. This is where the lightbenders reside. This is the Light Clan," Yukio revealed.
Ai's heart dropped to the floor. Her eyes grew misty with tears as she processed what she had just been told. "You've known where they were all this time and you never said anything?"
"I never wanted to have to destroy them," Yukio explained. "They were once my people. I never gave up hope that maybe one day they would resolve their problems with the world, but it is clear to me now that that will never happen. The only answer is to wipe them all out. Or at least what is left of them."
"What exactly were you waiting for, Yukio?" Ai asked, her throat stinging as the words left her lips. "For them to destroy Republic City and kill hundreds of innocent people?"
Yukio lowered herself down to Ai's level, placing one hand on her cheek. "I never anticipated that," she insisted. "I swear, I never-"
Not intending to wait one moment longer, Ai changed her tone completely and addressed the lightbender. "We're going back to Republic City to tell Aang about this so we can end this madness once and for all," she declared. "Then everyone will be happy." She marched down the hall and slammed the door to her bedroom, leaving Yukio alone in the dark.
Toph was known to put the types of days she had into two categories: good and bad. Today was filed under a special category known as extremely shitty. The only thing that could lift her spirits was what she had planned for tonight. However, that very same thing was also the only thing that could make her day even worse. She hoped for the former with every fiber of her being.
She sprawled herself over the couch with a pent-up groan of exhaustion, releasing all of the negativity the day had brought with it. "I wonder if Twinkle Toes can teach me how to open my chakras or something," she said aloud to herself. "Maybe that'll help me be less stressed."
She desired more than anything to just lie down and relax for a while. She had earned it after all. However, she knew she had to ready herself for the evening. She lifted herself off of the couch and slowly made her way into her bedroom. She discarded her bulky police uniform and changed into her ordinary clothes. Then she waited until a knock befell her door. "Come in!" she hollered across the house. The door swung open, revealing Wu Li on the other side. Of course, Toph had felt him coming before he even made it to the house.
"Hey, it's no big deal, but I've been meaning to ask you something," Wu Li started. "How come you don't lock your door?"
"Why should I?" asked Toph.
"It's kinda dangerous leaving your door unlocked, isn't it?" asked Wu Li. "Especially with you being the Chief of Police and all. I'm sure there are a bunch of criminals who would love to attack you at home."
Toph chuckled, genuinely amused by her boyfriend's assumption. "They all know better than that."
Ever since he moved to Republic City, Wu Li and Toph had entered a steady relationship that, honestly, Toph was surprised had lasted this long.
However, it wasn't that simple. It took a surprisingly enormous amount of effort from Wu Li to even get Toph to consider going on one date with him. By the time he finally got her to say yes, the wily earthbender was just about ready to throw in the towel. In the end, all of his hard work and persistence left him ecstatic.
Toph was enjoying it as well. She hadn't dated anyone in fourteen years, due to her failed relationship with Kato. It took time for her to warm up to the idea that a healthy relationship was achievable, but she was now a believer in that fact. Although that didn't mean she enjoyed going out of the house every night.
"Can't we just stay in?" asked the blind earthbender. "I don't feel like going out."
"Aw, come on," Wu Li pleaded. "I've been wanting to go back to that new place, Kwong's Cuisine. I've heard they have the best roast duck in the city."
"Believe me, that place is way overpriced," Toph said.
"You've been there?" asked Wu Li.
"Yeah," said Toph. "It was a police dinner."
"You really don't want to?" Wu Li asked.
"No, I don't."
Wu Li sensed something in Toph. Her heart was beating faster than normal and she seemed a tad on edge. It was good that she had taught him the basics of seismic sense. He wasn't nearly as proficient as she was, but he was good enough to tell when something was off. "I may be way out of line here, but is this about something else?" he inquired.
"I don't know. Could it be that you're upset over this whole SUBA thing?"
"I knew I shouldn't have taught you the seismic sense," Toph muttered through gritted teeth.
"So that's it?" Wu Li further queried.
"Yeah," Toph admitted. "It's just been on my mind all day. I don't know how we're gonna stop this thing."
"I'm sure Aang has a plan."
"The only person who could have stopped this thing is Sokka," said Toph. "But he's not here anymore."
Wu Li moved closer to her, emitting a warm, friendly vibe that got stronger with every step he took. "Look, if there's one thing I know how to do, it's how to take your mind off of something bad and have fun. Why don't we just go out and forget about this whole thing for a few hours?"
Toph laughed as her classic grin spread to the edges of her face. "Living in the city has made you a sap," she said, punching him in the arm. "Thanks."
"No problem," he said affectionately.
Elsewhere in the city, Ling had just finished tidying up the apartment. He took a second to admire his work, looking around at his spotless home.
Just moments after he finished, Rong made her way into the apartment, carrying several bags groceries in her hands. She stopped for a moment and took a look around. The cleanliness of the room dictated that she stare at it. "Wow," she said. "Nice job cleaning up."
"Think nothing of it," Ling replied, modestly. "I just wanted this place to look perfect for our twelve-year-anniversary."
"I was thinking about that on the way back from the market. Isn't it technically our three-year-anniversary?" Rong asked. "Since, y'know, we broke up for six or seven years?"
"I don't think it matters," said Ling. "Our relationship was just on hiatus."
"If you say so," Rong chuckled. "That was a pretty long and brutal hiatus."
Ling laughed along with her. "I'm just glad it's over."
"Me too," Rong agreed.
The two of them shared a quick kiss and then proceeded to unbox the groceries.
"Remember when we first met?" asked Ling.
"Yeah," said Rong. "You couldn't even speak."
"I remember exactly what was going through my head at that moment," Ling said. "At first I thought I was dreaming."
"Oh, that's so corny," Rong laughed.
"It's true, though," Ling said. "I honestly thought I was dreaming, because no one could actually be that beautiful."
"And what about after that?" asked Rong.
"Well, once it hit me that I wasn't dreaming, I just couldn't stop thinking about how beautiful you were. I mean, I stayed up all night thinking about you. And then when we went out the next morning to look for food, that whole time we were talking, I was just thinking, 'oh, my spirits, this is it! I love this girl'."
"That's very sweet of you," Rong said, giving her boyfriend another brief kiss.
"Geez, I must be really bad at this," said Ling, rubbing his hand across the back of his neck in embarrassment.
"Yeah," Rong said. "But that's one of the reasons I love you."
Ling walked over to the dining room table, a sweet smile taking over his face. As Rong prepared their dinner, heating their noodles over the stove, he continued to make conversation. "So I guess I'm gonna have to go to the Fire Nation for a while to help out with the relief effort."
"I can't imagine how hard that's gonna be," said Rong. "There really aren't even that many lavabenders out there, but somehow they expect you to be able to plug up a volcano."
"I know, right? It's a little ridiculous."
"A little," Rong agreed. "But they do need to find a way. I still can't believe that happened. All those people died. Jin, Zuko's mom, all of those innocent people."
"Yeah," Ling replied. "It sure has been a rough ride these last couple of years."
"I'll say," said Rong. "At first, it seemed like we always had the worst of it. Neither of us were ever happy, we were always at each other's throats, nothing seemed to work out for us."
"Yeah," Ling said. "But after that whole thing happened in the Fire Nation, Suki's miscarriage – all of that terrible stuff – it seemed like we were the ones who walked away more unscathed than anybody else."
"Nobody is gonna walk away unscathed from this Save Us from Benders Act," said Rong, turning around to watch the stove. "Not unless Aang can find a way to stop it."
"He will," said Ling. "He and Katara will both find a way. I'm sure of it."
A wave of melancholy washed over Rong as a new thought crossed her mind. "Things are so different," she said. "Not just in the United Republic, but in the Fire Nation, too. Is there even going to be a Fire Nation left to save once the capital is rebuilt? Who's even gonna lead? Zuko isn't capable of being the Fire Lord anymore."
"Hey, don't think like that," said Ling. "You have to be optimistic about this."
"Aren't you the one who always said optimism is a lie?" asked Rong.
"Yes, and look where that got me," Ling replied. "I've let my mind slip down this path way too many times before and trust me, it does no good. You have to believe that things can turn out right if for no other reason than to keep a calm state of mind."
Rong turned back to face her boyfriend, her eyes misty with tears.
"What is it?" asked Ling.
"I'm just so thankful you're back to the way you used to be," Rong said. "I mean, I thank the spirits every day for it, but hearing you talk like this..."
Rong didn't need to finish. Ling knew what needed to be done. He got up and walked over to her and brought their faces together, embracing in the most passionate kiss either of them could remember for a while. Neither of them broke away from each other. Neither of them wanted to. It was two sets of raw emotion having a go at each other and the result was the most sensual of delights. At that moment, there was only their love for each other.
By the time they were finished, it had felt like hours had gone by since they started. The only reason that it didn't go any further was that Ling had one more thing he needed to do.
Rong watched, frozen, as he got down on one knee and pulled out a ring from his pocket. "I was gonna wait until after dinner to do this, but I can't wait any longer," he said. "Rong, will you marry me?"
Overwhelmed with joy and bliss, Rong heaved herself on her boyfriend and began kissing him even more passionately than before. "Yes," she cried. "Yes."
Ling's eyes began watering as well, dripping with liquid as he began to laugh. After many years of suffering, he had finally achieved the ultimate level of happiness which he had sought after his entire life and he wasn't going to contain his excitement. He released all of his euphoria in fits of crying laughter.
"This is the happiest day of my life," said Rong.
"Mine too," said Ling. "Mine too."
Bumi had learned very quickly that soaring across the sky on the back of a sky bison was no minute thing. The child was practically stiff with amazement as he rode with his parents and baby sister on Appa's back. It was truly something his miniature brain could never have thought of. After all, what kind of three-year-old could comprehend the sight of the world itself zooming by underneath him or being able to actually touch the clouds? He had been asleep for most of the trip, but now that he was awake, he was as antsy as ever.
"Are you scared, Bumi?" asked Katara.
"No, I'm not scared," Bumi insisted, trying to be brave. "I have Momo to keep me safe."
The lemur chirped at the child and leaped atop his head, prompting a laugh from Aang and Katara.
"Where are we going again?" Bumi asked.
"We're going to Kyoshi Island," said Katara.
"What's on Kyoshi Island?"
"It's where Aunt Suki was born," Aang answered.
"Are we gonna see Aunt Suki and Uncle Sokka?" Bumi asked. His excitement at the idea of seeing his aunt and uncle made him forget he was thousands of feet in the air.
"Yes," Katara said.
"I haven't seen them in forever!" Bumi exclaimed.
"Yep," said Aang. "And there's all kinds of cool stuff there. There are the Kyoshi Warriors and the Kyoshi Museum and, if you're lucky, you just might get to see the elephant koi."
"What's an elephant koi?" Bumi asked. His eyes as big as stones and his curiosity was at its peak.
"It's a giant fish that lives in the ocean that's bigger than Appa!" Aang explained.
"What? No way!" Bumi said. "No way anything is bigger than Appa!"
"Well, I guess we'll just have to see for ourselves, won't we?" Aang said.
"And if you think the elephant koi are big, wait until you see the unagi," said Katara.
"The unagi," Katara repeated. "It's a giant eel that's three times as big as the elephant koi and eats them for lunch!" she said, making playful munching sounds to demonstrate for her son.
"That sounds scary," said Bumi.
"Don't worry," said Katara. "Daddy is good friends with the unagi. He helped him save Kyoshi Island once. So I wouldn't worry about that."
Then it appeared to them. It was difficult to spot through the clouds that concealed it, but they were able to make out the shape of the island.
"Is that it?" Bumi asked.
"Yep," said Katara.
As was expected, the citizens of Kyoshi gathered around, emitting various exclamations of praise and excitement that neither Aang nor Katara could make out. It was customary for the villagers to freak out this way.
The only thing that was upsetting about it was the fact that Sokka and Suki would be able to see them coming a mile away. So much for a surprise visit.
Still, it was probably better that way. That way Sokka and Suki would have time to prepare for the sight of the family of four. Appa finally touched the island's soft grass and the couple dismounted the bison, each with one of their children in their arms.
"Hi, everyone," said Katara, politely waving at the citizens.
"It's nice to see everyone again," said Aang.
Before they could say anything more, they spied an elderly man walking towards them. He was hunched over and walked with a cane and, unlike most leaders aged past their prime, made no attempt to look fierce or tough in any way. He had never been that kind of leader. He was a peaceful man and that was how he wanted to be remembered.
"My, how you've grown," he said as he approached the couple.
"Hi, Oyaji," said Aang.
"Are these your children?" he asked.
"Yes," Katara replied.
"They're beautiful. You are very blessed to have them," Oyaji said, warmly.
"Thank you," said Aang.
The reason for couple's short and simple responses did not fly over the old man's head. "You're looking for Suki and Sokka aren't you?" the old man queried.
"Where are they?" asked Katara.
"They're out by the shore," Oyaji replied.
"Thank you," said Aang, bowing to the old man.
Both he and Katara made a course for the beach with Bumi running alongside them. They were hoping to retain the element of surprise.
"I'm surprised we got to see Oyaji again," said Katara.
"I'm surprised we didn't see that guy with the foaming mouth," said Aang.
"Yeah, I know," said Katara as they strolled towards the shoreline. "What'd he take a vacation?"
Just as Oyaji started to walk back to his hut, a man came running to the scene and frantically scanned the area. "Aw, crap!" he exclaimed. "Did I miss him?!"
"I'm afraid so," said Oyaji.
"Dang it!" the foaming mouth guy said. He proceeded to sulk back to his house in disappointment.
Suki was sitting along the sandy shore of Kyoshi Island, as was common during most evenings. There was something about watching the sun setting over the vast, endless ocean that pacified her. Made her feel like she was one with serenity, even if it was only for a short while. It was one of those things that was better to experience rather than explain.
She was distracted by a gentle touch to her shoulder. She didn't need to turn around, for she knew who it was.
"Dinner is ready," Sokka informed her.
"Just a few more minutes," said Suki.
Rather than walk away or insist that his wife follow him, The Water Tribe warrior sat down next to her and gazed out at the setting sun himself. "It's beautiful out here," he said. "I can see why you like to come out here."
"Sokka," Suki spoke up. "I know what you're thinking. I know you feel like we've been drifting apart. Am I wrong?"
Sokka shook his head, confirming his wife's suspicions.
"Just know something, Sokka," Suki said. "No matter what happens, no matter how distant I may seem, the one thing that will always remain true is my love for you."
Sokka smiled and wrapped his arms around his wife, not even saying a word. The pacing of the moment dictated that they share a much longer emotional connection, but this was thrown off by the sight of a family approaching the shore.
Sensing something was amiss, Suki turned around to see Aang, Katara, and their two children walking towards them.
"Now Bumi, stay here with your sister and wait for mommy and daddy to come back," Katara instructed.
"Why can't I say hi to Uncle Sokka and Aunt Suki?" Bumi whined.
"You can," said Aang. "Just not right now. We have grownup things to talk about."
"You always have grownup things to talk about," Bumi pouted.
"Just please listen to us, okay?" Aang instructed.
"Fine," said Bumi.
"Thank you," said Katara.
The two of them made their way onto the beach, standing face to face with Sokka and Suki.
"What are you guys doing here?" Sokka asked.
"Well, first of all, hi," said Katara. "We've missed you."
"And secondly, we need your help," said Aang.
"Our help?" Sokka repeated.
"The United Republic Council is going to sign into law a bill that will outlaw any kind of bending in the United Republic," Katara explained.
"The Save Us from Benders Act," said Sokka.
"So you do know about it," Katara said.
"Well, yeah, but-"
"Sokka, how could you agree to such a terrible thing?" Katara questioned.
"I tried to stop it, Katara!" Sokka said defensively, but without raising his voice. "The Save Us from Benders Act is one of the reasons I left the council. Is this the real reason you came to visit? So you could just accuse me of stuff and guilt-trip me into fixing it?"
"No, that's not the reason we came here at all," said Katara.
"She's right," said Aang. "We honestly just wanted to see you and ask you for your help. Not to mention Bumi really wants to see his aunt and uncle."
Sokka turned to Suki to ask what her thoughts on the matter were, but he was startled to see she was no longer beside him.
Aang and Katara hadn't noticed either that Suki had walked over to their children.
The Kyoshi Warrior knelt down, bringing herself down to the same level as young Bumi.
The other three didn't make a single movement. They simply watched.
"Aunt Suki!" the child shouted in excitement. "I haven't seen you in forever and ever!"
"Hello, Bumi," Suki said, gently brushing the child's hair out of his face and smiling tenderly. "You're so much bigger than you were the last time I saw you."
"Yeah," said Bumi. "Mommy says I've grown a lot."
"You sure have," Suki agreed. "Bumi, I want you to always remember what I'm about to say. Your life is precious. Always be thankful that you still have yours."
Without saying a word more, she wrapped her arms around the child in a warm embrace, radiating an affection no one knew she was capable of anymore.
Everyone stared in silence as she walked back up towards her house as the sun set over the horizon.
No one spoke again for what must have been two minutes at the very least. No one except for Bumi who was fidgeting around with Momo. Each of the heroes was so moved by Suki's words that they were truly, simply, and inexplicably struck silent.
"I'll go," Sokka piped up.
"Are you sure?" asked Aang.
"If she can summon up the courage to look at him dead in the face and say that, then going back to convince the council to get rid of this law is the least I can do."
"Great," Aang said. "Now there's one more stop we need to make."
To say what Zuko was experiencing was like a dream would imply that it felt in anyway dreamlike. What Zuko was experiencing felt real. As real as anything he had ever done.
He stood before his people, all of them lined up in rows before him, and not one of them made a sound. They didn't sing him praises and tell him of all the good he had done nor did they revolt against him and blame him for the Fire Nation's destruction.
He stood, completely silent as well, and gazed out at each of them. He studied each of their faces and noticed that every last citizen, whether they were men, women, or children, had a slight smile upon their face. Not mile-wide smiles of utter joy or forced smiles like the kind the Dai Li encouraged. Each citizen had just a slight yet genuine smile upon their face.
He pondered away and frantically searched for a meaning behind it. He wondered what their expressions – each of them the same, but different in their own, unique way – meant. What could it mean? What?! After wracking his brain for what felt like an eternity, it finally dawned on him.
They were at peace.
This is the peace that they felt before they were killed by Jun. The peace that they were allowed to have after the Hundred Year War, knowing that the rest of the world no longer hated them. Knowing that a power-crazed tyrant was no longer their ruler. They didn't express it through celebrations or songs of immense gratitude. Their expressions said it all. By finally having that peace, they were allowed to feel that way.
"Such a shame that none of them are around anymore, isn't it?" asked a voice from behind. A voice that Zuko knew all too well.
The former Fire Lord turned around to see the woman he hadn't laid eyes on in fourteen years.
"Do tell me, Zu-zu, are you enjoying insanity? It's really not so bad once you get used to it," said Azula.
"What are you doing here?" Zuko asked.
"Even after all these years, you're still so uncivilized," Azula said. "How about a pleasant 'hello' first?"
"You're not real," said Zuko. "You're just in my head."
"Oh, I'm real, alright," Azula said. "I'm appearing to you now as an apparition."
"How?" Zuko asked. "How can you do that?"
"Well, I'm no longer alive," Azula explained. "So there's that."
"You always acted like you were better than me, Azula," said Zuko. "Like you were stronger. Well how come I'm living and you're not?"
A chuckle escaped Azula's lips in response to Zuko's inquiry. "Oh, Zuko," she said. "I let myself be killed. Being alive had gotten to be a bore. You don't actually think I let myself be taken down by Jun that easily?"
"You're lying," Zuko retorted. "Just admit that you weren't strong enough to beat him."
"And you were?" Azula taunted. "Oh, well, my mistake. I can see you've done a fabulous job killing him yourself. Is that why the whole nation has gone to Koh's lair?"
"Why are you really here, Azula?" Zuko asked, kneeling down to the ground in order to avoid eye contact with his deceased sister. "You don't expect me to believe you just stopped by to gloat after all these years."
"I'm here to tell you to give up," said Azula. "For two years now, you've held onto your grip on reality, but just barely. You've let yourself stay alive, but nothing more than that. You don't move, you don't speak, you're just a pathetic waste of space. Put yourself out of your misery and let someone else run the Fire Nation."
The gravity of Azula's words was bearing down on Zuko. Every natural instinct in his body advised him to heed her words. It seemed like the right thing to do. It was quick, it was painless, and there was an eternity of peace awaiting him in the Spirit World. With a newfound strength, he stood up, looked his sister dead in the eye, and said in a voice that almost sounded like a whisper, but was loud enough to be taken with the utmost seriousness, "No."
Azula took a step back. A paintbrush of surprise had colored her face white.
"There's still work I have to do," Zuko said. "I still have a reason to live. I won't let this be the end to my story. And I'll forever make you remember the day that I finally beat you. Here and now."
The white on Azula's face had shifted into a dark red, showing her brother the rage she had been so famous for towards the end of her life. Still, it was clear that she had been beaten and she didn't make any further attempts to sway her brother. "Alright then, Zu-zu. You can die with the rest of the world."
And just like that, she vanished.
But with the disappearance of Azula, came a face that Zuko remembered fondly, but hadn't seen in quite some time.
"Hey, wake up, buddy," Aang said, gently nudging his friend out of his slumber.
Zuko smiled upon seeing his old companions for the first time in years. Aang, Katara, Sokka, Suki, and Momo all greeted him with grinning faces of sympathy.
"Guys," he spoke up. "I'm so happy to see you all again."
"So these are the guys you always talked about?" Kiyi asked. "They're pretty cool!"
"Where's Uncle?" Zuko asked his half-sister.
Right on cue, Iroh came through the door with a slight look of concern on his face. This look didn't go unnoticed.
"Uncle, what is it?" asked Zuko.
"I'm afraid I've found someone that might upset you," Iroh informed his nephew.
"It's alright, Uncle," said Zuko. "I'm done being a broken man who needs to be cared for day in and day out. I finally see now why I need to be here. And I mean really be here. Not just exist here. Now whoever you have with you, I'm sure I can face them."
His look of worry unrelenting, Iroh stepped aside to let a woman into the apartment. A woman that Zuko wouldn't have expected even in the slightest.
"Mai," he whispered.
Everyone else in the room was as apprehensive as Iroh expected. "What is she doing here?" asked Katara.
"I'm not here to fight any of you," Mai said. "I'm here to warn you."
"Warn us about what?" asked Sokka.
"How are you still alive?" asked Katara.
"I was the only one who escaped the blast that killed the other Daughters of Ozai," Mai explained. "And I'm here to warn you about Hong Shu."
Suki wasn't even the least bit subtle with how she felt about hearing that name. "What the hell do you know?!" she spat. "Unless you can tell me where I can find and kill him, then get the fuck out of here!"
"I can tell you exactly where to find him," Mai said. "And exactly what he's planning."
"Nobody has even seen Hong Shu in two years," said Sokka.
"Believe me, he's still around. He's still been running his criminal empire from outside the United Republic," Mai explained.
"How do you know?" Katara questioned.
"Ever since the Daughters of Ozai... disbanded, I've been working as a spy," said Mai. "I've put any ideas of revenge behind me."
"What is he planning?" asked Aang.
"He's been in contact with the Spirit World again," Mai explained. "Remember Kela the Screamer? Well it turns out she had a brother. And it turns out that instead of fear gas, he wields some kind of nerve gas."
"And he's planning on using it on all of Republic City," Sokka concluded.
"Yep," Mai said. "And he's got loads of it. He's shipping all of it to his base in Yu Dao."
"When is he planning on using it?" asked Aang.
"In three days," Mai said.
"We'll be sure to put a stop to it after we get back to Republic City," said Zuko, speaking up for the first time since Mai entered the room.
"There's more," said Mai. "The Spirits have allowed him to separate from Shuang's body and return to his own. He's Hong Wu again."
"How?" asked Katara. "I thought once you were a spirit, you could only take over someone's body once."
"That's true," Mai said. "But he's not in someone else's body anymore. He's in his own. But don't worry, he can only do that once, too."
"I'm tired of listening to this traitor talk!" Suki snapped. "Where is he?" she asked through gritted teeth.
"Right now? I'd say he's probably on his way to Kyoshi Island."
"Then that's our next stop," said Suki. "I'm going to end this once and for all."
"We have to go back to Republic City first, Suki," Katara insisted.
"You go," said Suki. "I'm going back to Kyoshi Island."
"Suki, I understand you need to face him," said Aang. "But we need you to come back with us to Republic City. You're the savior of Ba Sing Se. Having you there will give us even more of an influence on the council's decision."
Suki's hand raced across the air to meet Aang's face, sending the Avatar to the ground. "Liar!" she screamed at the top of her lungs. "You don't want me to find peace! Just admit it! None of you want me to face him! You just don't want me to find happiness! You've always kept me from finishing him! No matter what! No matter the time or the place, one of you always had an excuse for me not to finish him! Now I have the chance and you still don't want me to take it!"
"Suki, he's just trying to-" Katara pleaded.
"Shut up!" Suki screeched. She was absolutely hysterical. "Shut the fuck up!" She turned her attention back to Aang, her eyes drenched in tears and her throat stinging like a buzzard wasp. Her breath was sharp and her composure was that of an earthquake as she shook without control. "Just admit it! You want me to be miserable! SAY IT!!!"
Aang slowly raised his head and looked at his old friend, shocked at what she had become. Every moment he stared into the wildness that was her eyes, he had to fight to keep himself from crying as well. This was not the woman he met on Kyoshi Island all those years ago. She was something else. In a timid yet sincere voice, he said, "Suki, all I've ever wanted for you was happiness."
Defeated, Suki let out an overwhelming howl of sorrow and sank to the ground, bawling her eyes out.
Sokka tended to her, stroking her hair and holding her tightly. "Suki, it's gonna be okay," he said. "Just come with us to Republic City and you can take Feng to Kyoshi Island as soon as we're done. It'll only take you a little while to get back to Kyoshi Island."
All Suki did was nod as she buried her face in Sokka's chest.
Millions lined the streets of Republic City. Thousands were gathered in front of City Hall, awaiting the announcement of the Save Us from Benders Act being signed into law by the council.
Hundreds of thousands more were lined up all along the streets of the city. Each of them stood silently and held signs out of protest. Standing at the top of the steps of City Hall were the members of the council, with Tian in the front. The council chairwoman took a deep breath as she stared down at the crowd. "Take a look around you," she said to the other council members. "Starting today, this city will once again become a beacon of peace and prosperity. And it will all be because of us."
Reluctantly standing to the right of the council was Toph, whose mind was rapidly thinking of ways to stop this from happening. "Hey, do you really need to sign the bill into law here? In front of everyone?" she asked.
"Yes," Tian replied. "This is an event that must be witnessed by all. This one moment has the power to affect the entire city."
"Yeah, but wouldn't it be easier-" Toph started.
"Quit trying to stall me, Chief Beifong!" Tian snapped, allowing her voice to command respect, but letting her face remain plain so that the people wouldn't notice her change in demeanor. "I think it's time to begin."
The internal panic was rising within Toph as she ran out of time.
"People of Republic City, today marks a great day in United Republic history as well as the history of the world," Tian addressed the crowd. "Today we take a step towards progress and eliminate the horrific art known as bending from our great nation!"
Less than half the crowd displayed their enthusiasm by creating a raucous applause. As raucous as less than half a crowd of people could be, anyway.
Come on, Twinkle Toes! Toph thought. Think of something!
"All of the members of the council, myself included, have agreed upon this bill," Tian continued.
Where are you, Aang?!
"And by signing this bill in front of me, the Save Us from Benders Act will officially become a law-"
"Outlawing any form of bending from ever being utilized again. And so, without further ado-"
"I sign this document-"
"Stop!" a voice called out from below.
While the other council members seemed flustered by the disruption, Tian retained her composure. After all, she had expected this. What she had not expected, however, was who was leading the protesters.
"Well, isn't this a surprise," Tian said. "I didn't expect to see you here, Sokka." While she tried to conceal it, the chairwoman was letting her animosity towards the former chairman shine through the cracks in her foundation.
"I need to have the floor, Councilwoman Tian," Sokka requested.
"With all due respect, Sokka, it is no longer your place to govern this nation," Tian said.
"I need to say this," Sokka said, asserting himself before the head of the council. "And I'm going to whether you like it or not."
"You won't stop this from happening today, Sokka," Tian spat. "Accept that."
"Let him talk!" Toph shouted.
"If any of the other council members have any objections, I'll stand down," Sokka said.
"I think we should let him say his peace," said the councilman representing the Air Acolytes.
"Yeah, let him speak his mind," the councilman from the Southern Water Tribe agreed.
The other two council members nodded in agreement and Sokka took the stand.
"Hi, everyone," Sokka said. "My name is Sokka. I'm from the Southern Water Tribe and I'm the former Chairman of the United Republic Council. I'm here today to tell you why this law will only bring harm to everyone."
Tian didn't waste any time in taking advantage of Sokka's disadvantage which was, of course, that he hadn't actually come up with anything to say. How could he, a non-bender, be expected to prepare any kind of defense for something he couldn't lose? Something he already knew how to live without?
"You seem a little unsure of yourself, Sokka," she stated. "If you're so confident that you know what you're talking about, why can't you say anything?"
"If you would just give me a minute-"
"The people are waiting for something to happen, Sokka," Tian continued. "We don't have a minute."
"If you would just let me talk," Sokka said, but Tian held her ground.
"Unless you can tell me right now why what I'm doing is wrong-"
"Alright, you wanna know why this is wrong?" Sokka asked, his demeanor changing entirely. He now commanded everyone's attention.
"Alright then. I guess I'll break it down point by point," he continued. "Point number one: bending is one of the oldest, most beautiful and most sacred art forms to ever exist. There are several things that we as humans crafted back during the dawn of our existence. Things that we used to leave our mark on this world like footprints. There's paintings, works of literature, and bending. Sure we learned it from other sources like badgermoles, dragons, sky bison, etcetera, etcetera, but we took what they knew how to do and crafted it into our own unique style. And it wasn't always about fighting. It used to be about being one with the elements and reaching levels of spiritual enlightenment that brought us happiness and wisdom. That kind of bending still exists. It isn't seen or talked about as much, but it's still there and that's something you want us to forget about, because it fits your agenda."
Everyone was awestruck by the way the Water Tribe warrior carried himself. His movements were so expressive and his expression was so pure, yet he remained rooted and firm so as not to lose his power. If you had told anyone in the crowd that he had been arguing cases like this for years, they would almost certainly have believed it.
"Point number two: and excuse my language, but what the fuck do you think gives you the right – or any government, for that matter – the right to suppress what is not only, as I said, one of the most beautiful and sacred art forms of all time, but something that is a part of who somebody is? And bending isn't just a part of somebody's character. It's a biological function! Basically what you're doing is you're policing what people can or cannot do with the natural abilities they've been given. Not only is that a human rights issue, it's morally reprehensible, but morality isn't exactly you're area of expertise, is it, Tian?"
As if it wasn't obvious enough already, the 'oohs' and 'ahs' from the people suggested that Tian was losing this battle. If you could even call it that.
"Point number three: And believe me, I don't need to make another point, but I'm gonna just so you're clear about what I'm saying. There's one thing I forgot to mention earlier when I introduced myself. I said I was from the Southern Water Tribe and I said I was the former chairman of the council, but what I forgot to say was that I am a member of Team Avatar. And for years, I fought alongside my friends, all of whom are benders, as a non-bender and I can tell you that benders save lives. Non-benders save lives. People save lives. Whether you're a bender or a non-bender, there will always be bad people who want to inflict evil and chaos upon this world, but it's what the good people choose to do that makes a difference. All of you benders out there, put your abilities to good use. Don't waste them on stuff like robbing banks or killing innocent people. The same goes for all you non-benders out there. Everyone just do what you can to make things right and use your abilities for the good of the world."
His point made, Sokka turned back and locked eyes with Tian. "Is that good enough for you?"
The flabbergasted Tian could do nothing but stare at her rival, who had left her in a state of speechlessness. Sweat trickled down her face as her mind scrambled for something to say in retaliation.
The applause was faint at first, but then erupted into a thunderous symphony of righteousness. Sokka proudly stared out at the crowd as they chanted his name. This was his hour. His time to shine. He felt emboldened. He felt a sense of pride he hadn't felt in a long time. Before he could further enjoy this feeling, he found himself suddenly being forcibly turned around and embraced by someone. All he could do was try to keep in good humor as Toph squeezed her affection into him.
"I couldn't have said it any better myself," she said.
"Oh, come on," Sokka chuckled. "I'm sure you could have pulled that off."
Toph let go of her dear friend upon hearing one of the council members speak up.
"I have decided to change my vote," said the representative from the Earth Kingdom.
"What?!" Tian snarled. "That's not how this works! You can't do that! We've already agreed on this!"
"I change my vote too," said the representative of the Southern Water Tribe.
"So do I," said the Air Acolyte representative.
"Me too," concurred the Northern Water Tribe rep.
Tian attempted to stutter out a rebuttal, but it was no use. She had been outvoted.
"You hear that everyone?" Sokka said, taking the stand once more. "The Save Us from Benders Act is dead! You are still free to practice bending!"
The uproarious cheer of happiness from the crowd told everyone atop those steps what they needed to know. Today was indeed a victory. Just not the one Tian had been expecting.
The rest of Team Avatar quickly made their way to the top of the steps and gathered around their comrade.
"That was amazing!" Katara said. "Where did you learn to speak like that?"
"I guess I always had it in me," Sokka said.
"Where was that kind of talk the day we led the invasion?" Aang joked.
"It was waiting for the right time to be heard," Sokka replied.
"I am sorry, but I must address the crowd about something very pressing," said a voice from behind. Everyone looked and were startled to see Yukio, Ai, and Bo at the top of the steps.
"You're back," said Rong.
"Holy shit! Ai is pregnant!" Ling declared.
"Yeah," said Zuko. "We all got that."
"Well, I'm just saying," Ling replied. "This is a big deal."
"Yes," said Yukio. "And now there is something I must say to these people."
Yukio took the stand and wasted no time in addressing the millions of citizens. "People of Republic City," she started. "I am sorry to interrupt this victory, but I have some rather grave news."
Everyone, her teammates included, stopped what they were doing and listened intently to the Woman in White.
"In two days, there will be an event known as the Brightest Hour," Yukio explained. "This is something that only happens once every one million years. On this day, for one full hour, the sun will be at it's brightest and will give lightbenders power beyond their wildest dreams. And it is during then that Bai Lung will use the power of a master lightbender to turn everyone in the world into particles of light."
Any traces of a righteous victory had been eviscerated. It had been replaced with a sense of complete panic and dread.
"Is she serious?" asked Mai.
"Very serious," Bo replied.
"But there is something that can be done about it," Yukio continued. "If I know Bai Lung, he will want to make a spectacle of the event. It will be in his nature to unleash Armageddon on Republic City before vaporizing us all as a show of strength. We can unite and be ready to stop him once he arrives. We can send Avatar Aang into the Light Clan to finish Bai Lung while we remain here and fight his soldiers. I know that you are hesitant, but remember that just moments ago, you were allowed the right to keep your bending. And you were encouraged by this man to use it for something good. Will you heed his advice or will you do nothing and wait for death to come and knock on your door?"
The crowd was silent. Each and every one of the citizens was pondering the decision to at least some degree. Even the ones who were courageous enough to embrace the idea of fighting the Light Clan were too timid to speak up and be the one to motivate the others. It was starting to look like Yukio's speech wouldn't have any sort of motivational effect after all.
Suddenly, two voices were heard from the crowd. "We'll stand up for Republic City!" shouted Miki and Ning. "We'll fight to the last of us!" the two Kyoshi Warriors cried out in unison.
"So will I!" called out Wu Li.
"And I," said Huong.
"And so will we!" said the three stooges themselves, Ho Tun, Penga, and The Dark One.
Suddenly cries of resistance and courage filled the air.
"We stand and fight!"
"This is our city!"
Then there was one single chant that every citizen emitted with a mighty bellow. "Fight, fight, fight! Fight, fight, fight!"
A grin spread to the edges of Yukio's face as she addressed the crowd one final time. "Prepare yourselves. In two days, they strike." She stepped back from the podium and rejoined her friends just as the council members retreated back into City Hall.
"That was a great speech, Yukio," Toph said. "But there's just one problem. How are we gonna find Bai Lung if we don't even know where he is?"
"Oh, she knows where he is," Ai spoke up. "She's known all along. Tell them, Yukio."
"I know where the Light Clan is located. I can take you to them and we can finish them off for good," Yukio explained.
The severity of Yukio's revelation struck Aang like a wild komodo dragon. "What in the name of Guru Laghima possessed you to keep that from us, Yukio? All this time you were with us and you never said a word."
Tears were dripping down Yukio's face as she tried to explain her actions to her friends. "I never wanted to destroy my own people," she sobbed. "I really thought there was still goodness in them. I honestly believed that some of them had not been corrupted." It was amazing how much of her composure she had actually managed to hold on to. So much pain radiated from the woman. So much grief.
Ai suddenly felt as though she had committed a crime. She had basically stabbed her closest friend in the back and she felt terribly about it.
"I'm sorry," Yukio wept. "I thought you would understand. I-"
Ai ran over and squeezed the Woman in White in a tight embrace. She clutched onto her dearest friend and held her as if it were the last time she would ever see her. "I'm so sorry, Yukio," she said. "I do understand."
Noticing that the triumphant aura that once surrounded them minutes ago had vanished, Katara decided to remedy the situation. "I have an idea," she said. "Why don't all of you come over for dinner?"
"Katara, we have things to do," said Bo. "We all have to prepare."
"He's right," said Zuko. "It sounds like each of us has their own mission. Aang has to go to the Light Clan, we have to go to Yu Dao to stop Hong Wu, and they need to prepare for the attack. We'll need all the time we have."
"Wait a minute," Aang said. "I never said I was gonna-"
"Wait, what's this about Yu Dao?" Toph interrupted. "You're gonna have to fill me in here."
"I'll explain everything to everyone," Katara agreed. "But not until after you all come over for dinner tonight."
"We can't-" Rong began.
"She's right," said Sokka. "We don't know what's going to happen in the next three days. Anything can happen. We all just need to sit down together one last time and think of the good times before the bad times find their way here."
Any objections seemed futile now. Sokka's words made sense to everyone. After all, a few hours between now and when they wanted to leave was hardly any difference.
As if anyone needed to say anything more, Yukio stood up and smiled warmly as she wiped away her tears. "I think that sounds like a wonderful idea," she said.
"Then it's settled," said Katara.
The air about Air Temple Island was mystifyingly serene. The island broadcast it's usual tranquility as each of the members of Team Avatar dined within the cozy confines of the sanctuary. This was the first time that every single member of Team Avatar, even past members like Mai, had all been in one room together.
"So you rebuilt this all by yourself?" asked Bo.
"Oh, yeah," Katara laughed. "And he never lets anyone forget it."
"Well, it is pretty impressive," said Bo.
"I'll tell you what else is impressive," said Rong. "These amazing celery sticks. Do you grow these yourself?"
"Well, the Air Acolytes grow them," said Aang. "But yeah, they grow them right here on the island."
"These macaroons are really good too," Ling said, reaching for another one.
However, before he could grab one, it was swiped out of his hand by Momo who gobbled it down.
"Hey!" Ling said in disappointment. "Come on, Momo! That was my last one!"
Everyone at the table had a laugh at this as the lemur chirped and flew onto Sokka's shoulder.
"Man, I can't remember the last time we were all in one room together when the fate of the world didn't depend on us," said Bo.
"The fate of the world still depends on us," said Zuko. "Just not at this exact moment."
"The last time you were here, you were trying to kill us," Ai said, half joking, to Mai. "And now look at you. You're sitting at the dinner table, sipping a cup of jasmine tea."
Rather than respond, Mai ignored her former teammate and kept eating.
"It seems like we've always been able to balance saving the world and our own personal lives," said Toph. "What happened?"
"Yeah," said Katara. "When did everything become so awful all the time?"
"I wish I had an answer," Aang said. "I really do."
Seeing that the conversation was about to take a dark and inevitable turn for the worse, Sokka tried to keep it alive. "Man, we have a lot of good memories together, don't we?" he said.
"Yeah," Rong said. "We've been through it all. Remember all those Ember Island trips?"
Everyone in the room let out a collective 'yeah'
"Those trips were always when I felt the most relaxed," said Suki.
"Remember when we entered that pro-bending tournament?" asked Bo.
"Oh, man!" Ling exclaimed. "That was fun."
"Not only did we enter it, we won!" Rong recalled.
"Yeah," said Bo. "That was a good day."
"Remember that one time all of our enemies got together and tried to kill us?" Ling said.
"Yeah," said Katara. "I wasn't sure if we were gonna make it out of that one."
"And then there was that one time we all had to save that small Earth Kingdom town from that giant monster," said Toph.
"You mean Hei Bai?" asked Sokka.
"Hei what?" asked Toph.
"I think she means the Lang Ren," said Aang.
"Although that little Hei Bai adventure was quite an experience for Sokka," Katara teased.
As everyone laughed, Sokka pointed his finger into the air as if to make a point. "I learned that day that the Spirit World does not have any bathrooms."
As Aang finished chuckling, he was hit with a wave of euphoric nostalgia. "Yeah, it used to be that when I was with you guys, there was no place I'd rather be. Why can't it be like that again?"
"It can still be like that," said Sokka. "Once we all get back from our missions, we can all start to rebuild the team."
"I know I'd like that," said Katara.
"So would I," said Aang.
"Yeah," said Zuko.
"Definitely," said Toph.
"Being separated from you guys the last two years has been the most painful thing," said Ai.
"Yeah, it's been hard," said Bo. "I mean, you guys are my family. You took me in back after we defeated Tai Kun and you guys had no idea who I was."
"Who any of us were," said Ling.
"Yeah," said Rong. "You guys are my family."
"And that's why we all have to make it back," Aang said. "No matter what happens, our family can't get any smaller."
"I have seen many things in my time," said Yukio. "And I have met many people. But never before have I encountered a group of souls such as yours. If these truly are my last days, I am happy to have not only met you, but to have become a part of your family as well."
Zuko smiled as he raised his glass into the air. "To our family," he said. "And if this is it – if we're finally going out – then let's spend these last few hours with the people we love."
Everyone else raised their glasses as well and let out a simultaneous "Here, here!"
The rest of the evening was nothing less than magnificent. For those short, few hours, everyone's worries were nonexistent. Stories were shared, laughs were had, and the weight of the last two years was lifted off of everyone's shoulders. Each of the heroes recounted a tale of their past and they fondly shared the memories. It was the kind of stuff that you could attempt to describe, but really, you simply would have had to be there and experience it to know just how pleasant it was.
At the end of the night, everyone gathered together outside to discuss their missions. While most of the group was assembled together, Aang had separated himself from the others.
Katara saw him all by himself and noticed something was eating away at him. It wasn't hard to figure out what it was either. She approached her husband from behind and gently placed a hand on his shoulder. "Listen, I know you're feeling doubtful," she said. "I know you feel responsible for what happened to the Fire Nation. I know you don't want to be the Avatar anymore, but you have to do this."
"I'm not capable of being the Avatar," Aang replied. "I never was. I'm just a pacifist. I'm just a monk. A man cursed with power I never asked for. I couldn't even save the world when it needed to be saved. I've had a few victories, sure. The Siege of the North, defeating Ozai, the victory against Jun back when we were kids. But more often than not, I was the one who screwed up. I let everybody down when I was the one who they counted on. I was the one who they looked to for salvation and time and time again, I let them down. And not just when I failed to kill Jun and the Fire Nation was destroyed. I let the Hundred Year War happen, I let Azula conquer Ba Sing Se, I let Banhen conquer the Fire Nation, I let the Black Sun Invasion fail and I let Hong Wu kill Suki and Sokka's child."
"But Aang, you can't let your failures define you. This is your chance to make things right. By beating Bai Lung, all of the lives that have been lost since this whole thing started will have meant something," Katara said. "And I'm sorry if I sound like Avatar Roku," she chuckled. "But I can tell you that every Avatar all throughout history made huge mistakes, but they always did their best to make things right and in the end, that's all that mattered, because the world endured."
Aang closed his eyes and took a deep breath before replying. "I guess I'm going to have to do this, huh?" he asked, resigning himself to his most important task.
"Yes," Katara said. "The world needs it's Avatar again, Aang. Show them that you're still here."
Katara knew she had achieved victory once she saw her husband crack a smile. The two of them embraced in a kiss for several moments and then broke away. "Oh, by the way," she added. "Take this in case there isn't any water near where you're fighting." She handed Aang a water pouch, which he proceeded to fasten on his waist.
"Alright," Aang said loudly, getting everyone else's attention. "So everyone knows what they're doing?"
"Yeah, we got it," said Sokka. "Me, Zuko, Ai, Ling, and Mai are all gonna go to Yu Dao to stop Hong Shu's plan."
"You mean, Hong Wu," Zuko corrected him.
"Right. Whatever," Sokka replied.
"Are you sure you should be doing any fighting, Ai?" asked Bo.
"As long as I don't do anything too crazy, I should be fine," she insisted.
"Then me and Bo are gonna stay behind in Republic City and lead the defense," said Toph.
"I'm going to Kyoshi Island to finish Hong Wu," Suki stated.
"And me, Katara, Rong, and Yukio are all going to the Light Clan," Aang said.
"Good luck to everyone," said Katara, extending her arm and facing it downward.
Everyone put their hands on top of each other's while Momo and Appa outstretched their paws and Feng reached out with his tail. Each of them threw them into the air, exclaiming "Team Avatar!"
Those venturing towards the Light Clan climbed atop Appa's back and felt themselves ascend into the clouds as Aang said, "Yip, yip."
Suki mounted Feng and prepared to leave herself, but was stopped by Mai.
"Hey," she said to her former teammate. "When you kill Hong Wu, make it hurt. Ty Lee was my sister too."
Suki nodded and whipped Feng's reigns, signaling the great beast to jolt forward and run into the bay.
Everyone still on the island watched as the eel hound swam away into the murky black waters of Yue Bay.
"Alright, we leave for Yu Dao at sunrise," said Sokka.
"Meanwhile we have to train the citizens to fight," said Toph.
"The citizens?" asked Ling. "You mean the United Forces aren't enough?"
"You heard Yukio," said Toph. "The lightbenders' power is going to be increased tenfold. We'll need everyone."
"I guess we better get started," said Bo.
A silence encompassed the Zaying Encampment. Not the suspicious kind of silence or the kind that would bore anybody, but the distinct kind of silence that made everyone feel at peace. It made it seem as if there was no danger.
In reality, the Fire Nation Army was right on their doorstep. No one knew what that meant yet. That could have meant that by morning, the Earth Kingdom province of Xiji could be under the dominion of the Fire Nation and every rebel in the Zaying Encampment would be dead. It could also mean that the rebel soldiers would bravely fight off the Fire Nation scum and by sunrise, everything would be fine.
Tya knew better though. She had witnessed the Fire Nation's cruelty for herself. A burning scar had been left on her heart by them and she knew what they were truly capable of.
She sat down in front of her seven-year-old son and spoke to him in a soft, sweet voice. "Hong Wu, do you know why the Fire Nation wants to hurt us?" she asked.
"Yeah," the young Hong Wu replied. "It's because they're evil and they like hurting people. I already know that."
"I'm just telling you, because I want to prepare you for what might happen tomorrow," Tya explained. "I can't predict the future. I don't know what is going to happen, but no matter what, you must survive."
It was truly a crime against the ears to hear such a sweet voice say such horrible things, which is why tears began to tread lightly down Hong Wu's face.
"Mom, I don't want to lose you," the boy said.
"Loss is a part of life, Hong Wu," the mother told her child. "Whether it is tomorrow or years from now, one day you will have to learn to live without me. My advice to you is this: when darkness stares at you and you look into its black and dismal eyes, you stare right back at it. Your courage will frighten it away."
"I will, mom," said Hong Wu. "I won't ever let it beat me. I won't ever let anything beat me."
Tya hugged her child closely and the two shared what neither of them knew would be their last embrace.
On an ordinary morning, the rising sun would bring with it much promise. The promise of warmth, light, and a new day. All it signified today was that there was one day left before the inevitable death of many. Maybe that's why Suki chose not to acknowledge it today. As she sat atop Feng's back, weaving her way through the vast sea of blue, she could think of nothing other than her mission. In the past, she had had many 'showdowns' with Hong Wu, but this was to be their final encounter. She could feel it.
Their history was an amazing thing to think about. How that one encounter on Kyoshi Island all those years ago made them sworn enemies and then all the hysterical things that happened from then onward.
Their numerous battles at the Fire Nation Capital, Ba Sing Se, Kyoshi Island, the Si Wong Desert, and every time both of them just managed to get away with their lives.
Even death could not deter her nemesis, as he found a way to live on through Shuang. Suki even began to wonder if that had been his plan all along. Nothing would surprise her at this point.
The most startling revelation of it all was the fact that he was her father. All these years, the man she had sought to destroy was her own flesh and blood. The story her birth mother, Ming, had told her on that dreadful night two years ago kept replaying in her head. The existential questions that story raised were enough to drive a person insane. Was Hong Wu a descendant of Kyoshi? Did that mean Aang was, in some way, Hong Wu's spiritual ancestor?
The answers to some of those questions were even more horrifying. Hana and Tenshi, Suki's mother and father, weren't her mother and father at all. Just her adopted parents. All along, Ju, one of her biggest rivals, was her twin sister. And the most gut-wrenching of all: Suki owed her entire existence to Hong Wu.
The Kyoshi Warrior learned a while ago never to think about that. If she allowed her mind to slip down that path, it would be her ultimate undoing.
Then the question came to mind which she said aloud to no one, "Would it be such a bad thing if I just stopped living?"
"Yes," said a voice Suki recognized the moment it hit her ears. She turned around to see her own great-great grandmother, Avatar Kyoshi, sitting along with her on Feng's back.
"What are you doing here?" Suki asked.
"Telling you not to take yourself out of this world," Kyoshi stated, bluntly.
"I never said I was going to," Suki replied. "I was just wondering why it would be such a tragedy if I did."
"Because you still have things to do here," Kyoshi said. "Your time has not yet come."
"Who's to say what time is our time?" Suki asked. "Why can't we make our own time?"
"We are all put on this Earth for a reason," said Kyoshi. "We are put here to live lives filled with incredible experiences and wonderful moments. Moments that we cherish even in the afterlife. You have not yet experienced life to the fullest. You have had some experiences and you have made some fond memories, but you have not yet finished your journey."
"Let me get something straight," Suki said. "I determine the course of my journey. I decide when it ends and what happens along the way and whatever I decide is how it goes."
"You may soon find that to be false," Kyoshi warned. "If you are victorious against Hong Wu, then you will indeed determine where your story goes from there. However, if you are defeated, then Hong Wu will be the one to decide when your story ends."
"That won't happen," said Suki.
"We will see," said Kyoshi.
Then, as quickly as she came, the former Avatar disappeared, leaving Suki and Feng alone.
The journey towards the Light Clan had been eerily relaxing. An air of calmness surrounded the heroes as they soared through the sky. It was almost as if it was trying to balance out the foreboding destruction.
As the sun set, Aang thought about how the next time they saw it, Bai Lung would be using it as a weapon to destroy humankind. Choosing not to think about it anymore, the Avatar steered Appa downward and landed on a conveniently-placed cliff just below them.
"We should rest," Katara said. "We'll need all our strength tomorrow."
"Indeed," Yukio agreed.
"Sounds good to me," said Rong. "I'll see you guys in the morning."
Katara didn't even get a chance to nod off. The moment she lay down, she felt a slight nudge on her shoulder. She looked up to see Aang standing over her with an obvious look of concern on his face.
"Hey, we need to talk," he said.
Rather than question him, Katara complied and got on her feet. The two of them walked in silence for a while, leaving Katara playing an internal guessing game as to what was on her husband's mind. "Are you going to tell me why we're walking out here?" she questioned.
"Just look around," Aang said.
Katara did as she was told and looked at the pristine picture that nature had painted that was the forest of this mountain. Leafy trees in the most lovely shade of green towered over her, accompanied by the tweets of numerous sparrowkeets and the croaks of the badger frogs. The midnight air was warm and peaceful and everything just felt right. Then the two of them came to a stream and the painting was complete. The flowing, blue water trickled ever so gently down its path, with small stones surrounding it on both sides.
Aang sat down on one of the stones and motioned for Katara to do the same thing.
At this point, Katara didn't have to keep guessing. She knew exactly why they were there. "I know why we're here," she said. "You want to have one last look at all of this before tomorrow."
"Yes, I do," Aang replied. "I just want to admire the beauty of the world one last time just in case all of it is destroyed tomorrow."
"But it won't be destroyed," Katara said. "You can beat Bai Lung. You're strong enough. Once you kill him, it'll all be over."
"You mean once I take away his bending, right?" Aang asked.
"I think you'll have to do more than that, Aang," said Katara.
"What?" Aang asked, unsure if he heard her correctly.
"The last time you and Bai Lung fought, you didn't finish him off and look what happened," Katara said. "As long as he still lives, the Light Clan will never die."
"Last time I fought him, I didn't get the chance to take away his bending," Aang said. "This time I'll make sure that he never lightbends again."
"Aang, we can't take the risk of him getting away," Katara insisted. "Look at what he's done to the world. He brought Jun back and that led to the destruction of the Fire Nation."
"Why don't you kill him then, Katara?!" Aang snapped.
"I'm already going to do my part," she said, remaining calm. "Me, Rong, and Yukio are going to wipe out every other lightbender we spot." Aang was speechless. Had this come from anyone else, he wouldn't be as shocked, but these words were coming from the mouth of the kindest, most caring person he ever met.
Before he could muster a response, Katara continued. "You didn't think we came along to fight your fight, did you? These people are dangerous, Aang. They've left a scar on the world and it'll never fully heal until they're gone."
"Bai Lung won't do any more damage if he can't bend," Aang repeated.
"Aang, please listen to me," Katara persisted.
"No, Katara!" Aang said. "I will never kill anyone ever again! I won't do it! I've already been trying to live with myself every day for killing Zhao and Long Feng all those years ago and for killing Jun after what he did to the Fire Nation! As long as I have the power to take a person's bending away, I will not kill anyone again!"
"Alright, Aang," Katara replied. "Just forget I said anything. Let's just sit here and be with each other in case one of us doesn't make it back tomorrow."
Aang sat back down on his stone and stared at the steam alongside Katara. And, after a few brief moments of awkward silence, the two of them shared in an embrace. "I love you," he said.
"I love you too," she replied.
Suki found herself to be quite restless as she and Feng made their way through the ice-cold, murky waters that led to the island that she called home. While her eel hound companion did all the work swimming through the sea, she was supposed to be resting up for her final showdown with Hong Wu, but the more she thought about it, the less she could sleep. And something about Kyoshi's words were gnawing away at her.
As she saw the island getting closer and closer, those thoughts began to fade away and she began to tremble in excitement. Her nemesis awaited her and this time, he wouldn't get away.
The island was a good thirty feet away from her now. Twenty. Ten. Zero. Feng crawled up onto the land and Suki hopped off the giant eel hound.
"Stay here, Feng," she instructed. "I'll be back."
Suki walked through the village, thinking about how many people, if any, would still be alive after Bai Lung's attack.
It wasn't long before she heard a voice from behind her that sent chills down her spine. "Suki," the voice rasped.
The Kyoshi Warrior turned around to see none other than Hong Wu himself, but there was something wrong. His voice sounded different and his ghostly, blue form indicated that he was reaching out to her from the Spirit World. Plus he still had all of the features of Hong Shu. "I thought you went back into your own body," Suki said. "So why do you still look like this?"
Then it dawned on her. This was not Hong Wu at all. This was Shuang. The psychotic waterbender and Zhiming Assassin whose body Hong Wu had taken over all those years ago to become Hong Shu.
"I take it from your expression, you understand exactly who I am," he said.
"Yes," Suki replied. "Why are you in the Spirit World and why are you showing yourself to me?"
"I'm here to explain everything to you before you face Hong Wu," Shuang explained.
"Talk fast," Suki said.
"Hong Wu's plan all along was to take control of my body," Shuang began. "By doing this, he would strike fear into the hearts of millions. The very idea of someone taking over another person's body would be terrifying and just the mentioning of his name would instill fear in anyone. In order to make it work, he needed to do it in front of a large audience so everyone could witness it firsthand. He chose to do it during your battle with Tai Kun in Ba Sing Se and with that, his reign of terror began. He met with me in private while he and I and the other Zhimings were hunting you down and we made a deal. I would let him use me and after he made his scene in front of everybody, he would go back into his own body and use facial reconstruction surgery to make it look like he was still in mine. Meanwhile, I would go down to Whaletail Island and start a new life there in peace."
The idea of Shuang having a peaceful life after the atrocities he had committed made Suki want to vomit, but instead she kept listening.
"But Hong Shu got greedy," Shuang continued. "He decided to stay in my body and for over a decade, my soul remained unconscious. I was completely and totally out of this world. Eventually, he used the very same facial reconstruction surgery I suggested and made my face look more like his. Then he built his criminal empire and eventually you two reunited. And although my spirit laid dormant, parts of my personality melded with his, creating an even more vicious, sadistic beast than before. That's why he killed Ming that night without hesitation. After he had killed her, however, he finally realized what he had done and decided it was time for him to leave my body. So he met with the spirits and was able to get his own body back. Once I had finally been freed, I attacked him for breaking our deal, but he overpowered me and killed me. That's why I'm in the Spirit World."
"Great," Suki said. "Anything else you wanna tell me?"
"Just one thing," Shuang said.
"Well, you take whatever it is you're about to say and shove it up your ass!" Suki barked. "And you better not even think about trying to return to the physical world, because if you do, I personally guarantee you I will fucking end you all over again."
"But Suki-" Shuang started.
"Get out of here!" Suki ordered.
Defeated, Shuang disappeared back into the Spirit World, leaving Suki all alone.
She turned her head to see a little girl, who couldn't have been any older than five, standing a few feet away, having been awoken by her screaming. The child approached her and spoke in a soft, quivering voice. "Is everything gonna be okay, Suki?" she asked.
Suki stared into the sky as the sun began to rise.
"I don't know," she admitted. "If the world is still here a few hours from now, I'll let you know."
The citizens of Republic City stood vigilant along the shores of their great city as they waited for the impending attack. Every able-bodied person in the city was ready and willing to stand their ground against the invaders, no matter what. It was truly a golden sight to behold. Everyone – benders, non-benders, heroes, average people – any and every last person united in a valiant defense of their home and lives.
Toph and Bo stood in the front, leading the charge.
Among those behind them were Iroh, Miki, Ning, Wu Li, Huong, the three metalbending stooges – Ho Tun, Penga, and The Dark One – the Si Guan Lian: Gahno, Ren, Kuong, and Otaka, the United Forces, the entire Metalbending Polic Force, and even Zhu had shown up.
As the very weapon the Light Leader would use to vaporize them rose in the sky, commanding the darkness to scatter away, they saw the ships approaching.
"Everyone get ready!" Bo ordered.
From the leading ship, Bai Lung's lieutenant, Chong, sporting a rather hideous set of facial scars, gazed at the metropolis as it grew closer. "Today is the day we rid the world of all those who destroyed us," he said to himself. "Today," he added, addressing his soldiers, "The entire world will go into the light!"
The lightbending soldiers responded with a frighteningly loud cheer that rocked the city.
Those who were opposing the lightbenders did not falter, however. They maintained their positions, although their sense of bravery wasn't as strong as had been moments before. Now that they had laid eyes on the Light Clan armada, some of them were beginning to worry.
"How close are they?" Toph asked Bo, referring to the lightbenders. "I can't see them out in the water."
"Very close," Bo replied. "The people are getting scared."
"I know," said Toph. "I can feel it."
"We need to do something fast or we're gonna lose this fight," said Bo.
"Then motivate them," said Toph.
"Why me?" asked Bo.
"I'm not good with speeches," Toph said. "And these guys need a boost of confidence."
"I don't even know what to-"
"Yes you do," said Toph. "This is your time, Bo. Say something."
Bo looked back out at the sea and saw the massive fleet of murderous lightbenders approaching. They would be on them any minute now. Unsure of what to do, the waterbender scrambled to come up with something to say. Then finally, something just clicked.
Bo turned around to face the citizens of Republic City. "Everyone, now is not the time to be scared! This is the time to show the Light Clan what makes this city so great! When we show them the bravery in our hearts and the power that we possess, then they will remember why it is that their kind is endangered! Now let's remind them why Avatar Aang and Fire Lord Zuko built this nation! Let all four nations unite as one! Are you with me?!"
The righteous cry of unity and strength from the people of Republic City was far greater than that of the Light Clan.
"Then let's fight!" Bo hollered.
As the people remained cheering, Toph punched Bo in the shoulder. "Good job," she said.
Then, without any more buildup, they were there. The metallic clank of the ships reaching the harbor signified the arrival of the storm. With a hearty battle cry, the lightbenders rushed off the ship and within seconds, air, water, earth, and fire, began to clash with light as everyone engaged in the battle for their own survival.
Toph bent the metal on the harbor beneath them and sent a flurry of metal bullets at several lightbending soldiers, killing them on impact. She then formed a large metal ball which she proceeded to whack several more lightbenders with. Three more of them came at her, each of them releasing light streams from their hands, but she raised a metal shield to deflect it. She then launched the shield at them and bent it down right on top of them, crushing them underneath it.
The Chief of Police was caught off guard, however, when a light orb surrounded her. The lightbender who bent it around her grinned as she started intensifying the light particles inside the orb, burning Toph.
But the blind earthbender was saved by another earthbender who shot a metal spike at the lightbender, killing her.
Toph nodded at the earthbender in thanks and ducked as a light whip came her way. She shot a metal disk at her attacker, slicing them in half.
Bo was having just as much difficulty as Toph was. As a group of lightbenders charged him, he cast a giant stream of water down on them, drowning them.
He then found himself under attack from five lightbenders who surrounded him on all sides. He shot several ice spears in all directions, one for each attacker. Four of them were killed, but one still remained.
The lightbender rushed towards Bo and fired a light dagger at his enemy which Bo ducked, barely avoiding it.
Bo fired back with a water whip, but the lightbender dodged it and formed another light dagger in his hand, swiping at Bo with it.
Bo formed an ice dagger in his hand and began fighting the lightbender in a hand-to-hand match.
The lightbender scratched Bo's shoulder, causing the waterbender to wince in pain, but he gained the upper hand with another water stream and shoved his opponent backwards. He then shot an ice disk at the lightbender, decapitating him.
Elsewhere, Miki and Ning were struggling to hold their own against a group of lightbenders.
Miki ducked down and swung her feet around in a circular motion, sweeping one of the lightbenders off of her feet.
Ning hit another with a series of jabs, effectively blocking his chi, and then used her katana to impale him through the chest. The two Kyoshi Warriors stood back to back, covering each other, which proved to be an effective strategy.
Miki took out her fan and hit another lightbender over the head with it, then jabbed her blade into his head.
Iroh was having little difficulty with the lightbenders. Even in his old age, he was as worthy an opponent as ever. He breathed fire in all directions, setting several lightbenders' faces ablaze.
He then launched a fire rocket at a large group of them, taking them all out upon impact.
Despite the heroes' success, the lightbenders were not going down easy at all.
Chong rushed at a firebender and impaled him with a light spike, while two more lightbenders by his side unleashed light slashes at everyone near them, killing two waterbenders, a firebender, four earthbenders, and three non-benders.
Another lightbender sent a light wall towards his opponent and shoved them backwards, allowing another lightbender to cut off their head with a light pike.
A non-bender charged a lightbender with a sword and swung the blade at the lightbender's head, but the lightbender ducked and stabbed the non-bender in the stomach with a light blade.
Yet another lightbender shot a firebender through the heart with a barrage of light bullets.
The two sides were evenly matched for the moment, but it would not remain that way. Any minute now, the Brightest Hour was about to begin.
Five members of Team Avatar were speeding towards Yu Dao as the sun rose. Each of them knew that Republic City was in chaos at this moment, but they each had to stay focused on the task at hand.
As their eel hounds raced towards the very first of the former Fire Nation colonies that would become Republic City, Sokka, Zuko, Ai, Ling, and Mai each took a moment to think whatever it is that people with the knowledge that they might die soon think about.
The city was in their sights. "Alright," Sokka said. "Are we ready to do this?"
"Ready," said the others.
"Great," said Sokka.
Without relenting or slowing down even a little bit, the eel hounds charged the city and weaved their way through the streets, with each of the heroes searching for Hong Wu's factory.
"Do we even know what this factory looks like?" asked Ai.
"It's really big and dark and probably really evil-looking," Sokka responded.
"There!" Mai called out.
Facing them was a massive structure that was bigger than any factory that any of them had ever seen.
"It's enormous," said Zuko.
"It's almost like they don't want us to get in there and spoil their big plans," Ling quipped.
"Alright, let's take it!" Sokka said. Both he and Zuko pulled on their eel hounds' reigns and brought them to a halt.
Each of them dismounted the beasts and charged into the factory.
"Ling, Mai, protect Ai!" Sokka ordered.
"I can take care of myself!" Ai shouted.
"I know you can," Sokka replied. "But if anything happens to you, I'll never be able to live with myself. I'm just making sure they have your back while you fight with us."
Ai didn't waste time arguing. "Fine!" she conceded.
They entered the factory and rushed past the workers, none of whom put up any fight. After all, it wasn't what they were trained for. They did, however, push the alarm, alerting the entire building to Team Avatar's presence.
"Bring it on!" Ling shouted. "This is no time to get cocky, Ling," said Mai.
As they made it further into the base, Zuko asked, "Where are they keeping all of the nerve gas?"
"They're loading them into cannons in the manufacturing room," Mai said. "It's all the way in the back of the base!"
"Great!" Sokka yelled. "That's just perfect!"
"Look out!" Ling shouted.
With the alarms blaring, Hong Wu's soldiers were now rushing to defeat the intruders. Each of them were armed with blades of different kinds.
The odds were against the five heroes, but that wasn't going to stop them. They charged at their enemies, ready to take them on.
Suki walked along a grassy field on the edge of the island that overlooked the ocean. She could see him now, standing there, looking out at the sea.
Her footsteps had not gone unnoticed. Her nemesis took a deep breath and spoke in the gravest of tones. "I see you've found your way back here," he said. "And so this war you and I have fought for all these years will finally come to an end."
"This time we finish it," Suki said. "No one escapes. No one takes over anyone else's body. Only one of us leaves here alive."
"I wouldn't have it any other way," said Hong Wu. "Although it doesn't really matter if the world is gonna end soon anyway."
"How do you know about that?" Suki asked.
"They've been broadcasting your friend Yukio's speech all over the world for the last two days," Hong Wu explained. "Everyone knows what's about to happen."
Not intending to focus on this any longer, Suki changed the subject. "Any last words you want to get out of your system before we do this?" she asked.
"No," said Hong Wu. "I'm going to wait until I beat you. Then I'll say what I want."
"Well, I have some words for you, Hong Wu," Suki said. Nothing in the world could have prepared Hong Wu for the three following words that came from Suki's lips. "I'm your daughter."
Hong Wu's demeanor completely changed upon hearing this. His eyes grew as wide as the horizon and they stared downward as he tried to get a grip on the idea that he could have any children or that Suki was one of them. "Did Ming tell you that?" he asked.
"Yes," Suki replied. "Less than an hour before you killed her."
"I loved her!" Hong Wu lashed out. "I didn't know what I was doing!"
"That doesn't change the fact that you killed her, you killed your sister, Mera, you killed your other daughter, Ju, and you killed my unborn child," Suki responded bitterly.
"You will reunite with your dead child soon enough," Hong Wu spat. "That is, if it was even alive enough in the first place to be in the Spirit World at all!
That was the straw that broke the camelephant's already fragile back. With a teary cry of sheer and unrelenting fury, Suki unsheathed her katana and lunged at her nemesis with it.
Hong Wu avoided the blow by leaping to the side and drew two of his signature knives. Before he could throw a single blow, Suki viciously swung her blade once again, forcing Hong Wu to jump backwards. The assassin then ducked down and managed to slightly pierce the skin of Suki's leg with one of his knives.
Suki couldn't afford to wince for even a moment. She swung her katana at Hong Wu's legs, but he shot up into the air and kicked her in the stomach, sending her crashing to the ground. She quickly recovered, getting back on her feet just as Hong Wu swung one of his knives just inches away from her face.
She drew her fans and shot one of them at his face, catching him off guard. Suki took the opportunity and roundhouse kick to his face, hurling him to the side and down to the ground. She grabbed her katana and plunged the blade downward towards Hong Wu's face, but the assassin rolled to the side and whizzed another blade at his nemesis, but one swing of Suki's katana sliced the knife in half.
She then charged her enemy, who had gotten back on his feet, and swung her blade at him once more. Hong Wu ducked and grabbed hold of Suki's wrist, twisting it and freeing the katana from her grip. He then threw the blade behind him, letting it sink to the bottom of the sea.
Suki was now only left with her fans and her bare hands. She didn't let that deter her, nor did she let the sentimentality she had with that sword sway her determination. The fans were all she needed. They were her primary weapons. An extension of herself. She drew them once more just as Hong Wu shot another knife at her. She sidestepped it and rushed at him once more, determined to beat him no matter the cost.
The danger the four heroes riding on Appa's back was far greater than the danger anybody else faced on this day. Aang was to fight the Light Leader himself while Katara, Rong, and Yukio were to kill every last lightbender in sight. It was an idea that sickened Aang and did not sit well with Katara or Yukio, but they were willing to sacrifice what made them feel comfortable for the sake of the world.
There was no doubt an army of lightbenders awaited them. Bai Lung was surely prepared to defend his land and took the precaution of fortifying it with as many lightbenders as possible.
Then finally they arrived. The mountains were drawing closer and closer.
"We are here," Yukio informed them.
The land washed over them like an ironic wave of darkness. Everything they saw was black and charred and barren. There was no life here other than the lightbenders who had remained here for millennia. Truly for a nation filled with people who were able to bend the element of light, this could not have been any less fitting.
"This is what the Dark Society did to them?" asked Rong.
"Yes," said Yukio.
"What did it look like before this?" Katara asked.
"It breaks my heart to remember it," Yukio said. "It was a paradise. Life flourished everywhere and people were happy. Panda lilies in the most beautiful shade of white lined the valley. There were trees and rivers and animals that scampered through the forest. It was wonderful. And now the legacy – the remembrance of what this place used to be – has been blackened and destroyed by that man and every one of his ancestors before him."
"He won't be a problem for much longer," Aang said. "It's going to end today. After this, he'll never bend again."
"Let's hope," said Rong.
"Alright, Yukio, where are we going?" asked Katara.
"We are getting off here," Yukio said, pointing to a ledge along the mountain just several meters away. "Aang, go to the top of Mount Tai Yang."
"Which one is that?" he asked.
"It is the tallest mountain in the valley," Yukio explained. "That is where Bai Lung will be waiting for you."
"How do you know?" Aang inquired.
"It is where all battles against the Light Leader are done here," Yukio said. "It is where he will be waiting for you."
"Alright," Aang said. He looked back at his wife and exchanged a serious glance with her. "Be careful," he said.
"You too," Katara replied.
Aang leaped off of the sky bison and twirled open his glider, soaring towards the peak of Mount Tai Yang.
"Alright, let's do this!" Katara said, the ledge now right beneath them. She steered Appa down and landed on the solid block of land. "Lead the way, Yukio," said Katara.
The three heroes charged into uncharted territory, ready to fight until the end.
Meanwhile, Aang was just moments away from facing the Light Leader himself. He was visible to the Avatar now. He stood out from the rest of the landscape, dressed in his usual white robes. His jet black beard flowed in the wind along with his hair and the two men locked eyes with each other.
Aang came to a halt and landed on the mountaintop, coming face-to-face with his adversary once again for the first time in two years.
Bai Lung was the first one to speak. "I can't believe you were actually foolish enough to come here," he spat. "You are aware that in a few minutes, I will have the power to turn the people of this world into particles of light."
"Not if I can take away your bending first," Aang said.
"You can't stop the prophecy, Aang" Bai Lung said, referring to the Avatar by his name for the very first time. "Although the conqueror has fallen, a warrior of light will arise and dominate every weakling in his path. So it is written. So it shall be done."
"You're not going to stall me," Aang said, taking an attack stance. "Let's finish this now."
Bai Lung took an attack stance of his own. "As you wish," he replied. He struck first, pounding his fist into the ground and emitting a wave of light all across the mountaintop.
Aang leaped into the air and bent an airbending slice at his opponent, who nullified it with a light shield.
The Light Leader unleashed a flurry of light bullets at Aang, who counteracted it with an earth wall, which the Avatar then proceeded to slide in Bai Lung's direction. Bai Lung shot himself into the air above the sliding earth wall and shot several balls of light down on Aang.
The Avatar weakened his attack by shooting a fire tornado into the air. The Light Leader, however, protected himself with a light orb and landed back on solid ground.
He then formed a chain of light which he whipped at Aang, but Aang fought back with a water whip, breaking the chain and wrapping itself around Bai Lung's leg.
The Avatar took advantage of this. He picked up the Light Leader off the ground and slammed him into the ground repeatedly.
Finally, Bai Lung, without even moving his arms, fired a beam of light at Aang, who, caught by surprise, barely avoided it.
His concentration broken, Aang released his grip on Bai Lung and the madman broke free.
Bai Lung proceeded to form a solid block of light and shove it towards Aang, who countered it with a light spear, splicing the block of light in half.
Having had enough, Aang created a sandpit beneath Bai Lung, shifting the earth beneath him into sand, then hardening it, burying the Light Leader underground. As Aang approached him, Bai Lung continued to mentally bend beams of light at him, but Aang deflected each one with an earth gauntlet around his arm. He stood behind the leader of the Light Clan and pressed his arm into his forehead.
Then it happened. The rays of the sun shined down from the sky brighter than Aang had ever seen and he knew what was going on. The Brightest Hour had begun.
Using this to his advantage, Bai Lung hardened the light particles in the air, supercharging them, and released them on the mountaintop, eradicating the ground which Aang stood on and freeing the Light Leader from beneath the earth.
Aang took to the skies by jet propelling himself into the air, but even though he had survived, it wouldn't mean anything if he couldn't stop Bai Lung.
His eyes shining bright yellow, Bai Lung smiled menacingly as he felt the immense power surge through his body. He created a light platform to stand on and stared into Aang's eyes. "Now I will fulfill my destiny," he said.
Back in Republic City, things weren't faring much better. The battle had moved into the city and the entire metropolis was ablaze with the fury of battle. The sun's ever-strengthening rays of light only signified one thing: Republic City was about to become a slaughterhouse and the lightbenders were to be the butchers. The Brightest Hour had begun and they were taking full advantage of it.
"Lightbenders, this is our time!" Chong bellowed. "The sun has given us the power to exterminate these vermin! Let us use it to wipe them out!"
Toph couldn't see it, but she could feel the bodies hitting the floor and hear the screams of agony from those who were being hit with supercharged light rays as she did her best to fight off the numerous lightbenders that were not hesitating to take her on. She impaled one of them with the metal cable on her wrist, but quickly took cover and surrounded herself with an earth ball. Then, still within the ball, she rolled it around, knocking down as many lightbenders as she could as they blasted it, weakening it bit by bit. She knew she couldn't hold out forever, but she would have to hold out long enough.
The citizens of Republic City were in the middle of a war zone and the truth was they were not equipped to deal with an ordinary attack, much less an attack where the assailants had enhanced bending abilities.
A woman in her early twenties sent a stream of water towards a lightbender's chest, but it was blocked by a light shield. The lightbender proceeded to cut down the woman by projecting a light javelin straight into her heart.
Two elderly earthbending men who couldn't have been younger than eighty charged at a lightbender, sending chunks of boulders at her. The lightbender hurled a light bomb directly at them, sending what was left of them spilling out onto the streets.
Near the Police Headquarters, a group of nine lightbenders had gathered in a line and were shooting down anyone who came their way. Bam! Bang! Zap! Pow! One by one, they cut down ten, twenty, thirty, fifty, a hundred, a hundred and fifty citizens in about a minute. Nothing could stop them. Suddenly, one of them was struck by a metal disk, his head getting cut clean off.
The others looked to where the disk had come from and saw that a unit of metalbending police officers, including the three stooges, had taken sniping positions on the roof.
Before the lightbenders could retaliate, the snipers managed to decapitate one more of them. Then they responded with full force, aiming a unified blast of light at the metalbending officers, most of who managed to duck. One of the unlucky souls, however, wasn't fast enough and had his face singed off while the others were forced to watch.
"There's too much doom here!" Ho Tun shrieked. "There's too much doom!"
"Pull it together!" Penga said. "We can't afford to lose focus for even a second."
Before they even knew what was happening, the lightbenders had elevated themselves onto the roof.
The metalbenders scrambled to their feet, with one of them getting cut down in the process. "Fall back! Everyone off the roof!" ordered the officer known as Chang, seconds before he was impaled by a light pike.
The rest of the unit fled, but the lightbenders were in hot pursuit of each of them. Everyone split up, but the three stooges all remained together as sprinted away from the lightbenders.
"It's no use!" The Dark One said. "They're not gonna stop!"
"We just have to get away from them!" said Penga.
"We can't!" said The Dark One.
"Penga is right!" Ho Tun said. "We just have to outrun the doom!"
The Dark One stopped in his tracks and turned around, clenching his fists. A tear ran down his cheek as he turned back to face his companions. "I love you guys," he said.
"Wait, what are you-?" Penga started.
The Dark One bent the metal on their armor and shoved them as far away as he could, sending them over the roof.
Penga used her metal cable to grapple onto another roof and land safely with Ho Tun just in time to see the roof that they had just been standing on burst into flames.
"No!" Penga and Ho Tun cried out in despair.
The smoldering mess that engulfed where their lifelong friend had just stood only served for the moment as a source of inconsolable rage.
Back on the ground, Zhu kept firing bolts of lightning at as many lightbenders as he could. "Keep fighting!" he said. "We can do this!" He shot down another one with another bolt of lightning. "If I'm going to go down, then dammit I'm going to do it defending my country!" His cries were met with a massive ball of light, sending his body flying yards away.
Meanwhile, Bo, Wu Li, and Huong were triple-teaming as many lightbenders as they could. Each of the three benders had an array of cuts and wounds to show for their efforts in defending the city, but they still persisted.
Their troubles worsened when Chong swooped in to fight them. "Let's see how many of you I can kill," he said, unleashing a devastating light stream at the trio.
The three of them separated to dodge the beam, leaving Chong to pick them off one by one. The one nearest to him was Wu Li, so that's who he moved in on first.
The earthbender lashed out at Bai Lung's lieutenant with several earth spikes, but Chong managed to dodge them all.
He grabbed Wu Li by the throat and formed a light blade in his hand.
Just several yards away, a lightbender blasted Toph's earth ball, causing it to finally crumble away. She gained her footing just in time to feel Chong stab her boyfriend through the throat.
Every soldier in Hong Wu's base was rushing the group of five. Sokka and Zuko were leading the charge with Ling and Mai covering Ai. Sokka whizzed his boomerang into one of the soldiers' faces while Zuko shot a fire stream at the rest.
The soldiers nullified Zuko's attack by sending a water stream to meet his fire stream and then fired a water slash at the two.
Ling countered by bending the metal off the wall and using it to block the attack. He then raised a metal column right beneath where each of the soldiers were standing and sent them crashing into the ceiling.
"We should almost be there," Mai notified everyone. She then hurled a dagger right into a soldier's face while Sokka cut down two more with his sword and Ai water whipped another, sending her crashing to the ground and letting Zuko deliver the final blow with a fireball.
They ran just a few moments longer and came to a large, metal door. "This is it," said Mai.
Ling ran at the door and rammed his fist into it, sending it flying back into the manufacturing room.
The five of them ran in and immediately spotted two people up on a catwalk overseeing everything.
"Can someone tell me why it's so damn difficult for an entire base full of soldiers to kill five people?!" Yakone shouted.
The factory workers, unsure of how to respond, just stared in suspense at the two parties, glancing back and forth, waiting for someone to do something.
Ai noticed that there were troughs of water lining the inside of the room. Their enemies had come prepared.
"You guys don't have to do this!" Zuko said. "Suki is fighting Hong Wu, as we speak, on Kyoshi Island! You won't have to answer to anyone after today! You can just walk away from all of this and nobody else has to die!"
"Not a chance!" Lin Hui spat.
"Lin Hui!" Ling called out. "I'm sorry for what we did to your mother. I'm sorry that we had to kill her, but she was dangerous! She was evil and she wasn't going to stop until she and the other Zhimings dominated the Earth Kingdom! But you don't have to go down her path anymore! Her actions don't have to dictate how your story unfolds!"
"Today I am going to avenge my mother's death," said Lin Hui. "And none of you fucking sweet-hearted shitheads will change my mind!" She leaped down off the catwalk and shot five stinging water whips at Ai, who countered with a water pinwheel.
Zuko took a shot at Yakone by sending a wave of fire up towards the catwalk, but Yakone leaped down to avoid it and shot a water stream at his foe.
Mai quickly came to Zuko's aid, throwing three of her daggers at Yakone, who narrowly avoided them by ducking.
"We're doing this together," Mai said to Zuko.
"I've got your back if you've got mine," Zuko replied.
Mai shot her arm forward, releasing an array of darts from underneath her sleeves. "I've got you covered," she said.
Yakone countered by engulfing the darts in a wave and then freezing them over.
Meanwhile, Sokka unsheathed his sword and swung it at Lin Hui, with the waterbender dodging each blow. She encased her arms in water tentacles, then solidified them into ice. She whipped her ice tentacles at Sokka, who swung his sword to block it, but he wasn't fast enough to stop the other ice whip from taking a swing at his legs, knocking him to the ground.
Ling bent the metal beneath Lin Hui's feet, shaking the ground and throwing the waterbender off balance.
While Lin Hui's guard was down, Ai summoned a mass of water to surround her, taking the octopus form. She launched all of her water tendrils forward, latching them around Lin Hui's feet and lifting the waterbender into the air. She tossed her across the factory, slamming her into the wall.
"Launch the gas now!" Yakone hollered.
"But, sir-" one of the workers protested.
"I said do it!" Yakone ordered. "We may not be able to take out the rest of the world, but we can kill every last person in Yu Dao!"
"Don't do it!" Sokka called out. "We'll all be infected too!"
The obviously conflicted workers were clearly unsure of what to do. After several moments of deliberation while the heroes and villains still clashed, the workers made a beeline for the exit.
"Useless sons of bitches!" Yakone spat.
"I guess we'll have to do it ourselves once you're all dead!" Lin Hui said. She shot an ice disk at Sokka, who ducked and slid along the floor, then grabbed his boomerang and nailed her in the face with it.
It seemed they were evenly matched for the moment. All any of them could do was wait for one side to get unlucky.
The brutality of Suki and Hong Wu's battle was not lessening. If anything, it only increased in ferocity.
Suki dodged two swipes from Hong Wu's blade, then grabbed him by the arm and flipped him over her shoulder. She then jabbed downward, but Hong Wu scratched her arm with a knife, causing her to recoil in pain.
The assassin got back on his feet and jabbed one of his knives towards her once more. She countered this by putting out one of her fans to block it, then bashing the other one into his arm. Hong Wu fell to the floor in pain, but rolled out of the way of another of Suki's punches.
He got back to his feet and spun around, slashing his knives at her, but she sidestepped the attack and threw one of her fans at him. Hong Wu ducked to avoid it and threw one of his knives at Suki, who jolted to the side to clear it's path.
The two of them ran at each other, with one fan in Suki's hand and one knife in Hong Wu's.
Hong Wu swung his knife downward while Suki stuck her fan out in front of her, the two weapons meeting. The two of them stood, trying to overpower each other, with their weapons lodged against each other. They both shoved with all their might, but it was futile. They were both pushed back several feet from each other.
Finally, the two just stopped and stared at each other for a moment. Suki threw her fan to the ground and Hong Wu did the same with his knife.
Then the two foes ran at each other, with their bare fists as their only weapons, and socked each other in the face, causing each of them to fall to the floor.
At this point, any normal person would have passed out from exhaustion. And although Suki's body was telling her to shut down and that it couldn't handle any more, she stood back up and looked her father dead in the face as he, too, stood back up.
"Why won't you just die?!" she cried, tears streaming down her face.
"I don't know, sweetheart," Hong Wu replied. "Why am I still alive? Why am I here, but Ming isn't? If I had an answer to that question, maybe I could sleep at night."
"You're about to go to sleep forever," Suki said.
"We'll see," Hong Wu rasped.
Suki picked up her fans and Hong Wu picked up his knives. With the fury of two wild boar-q-pines, they sprinted at each other, weapons in hand, and clashed.
Katara, Rong, and Yukio were dashing through the caverns of Mount Tai Yang, seeking the lightbenders they were there to exterminate. "I don't get it," said Rong. "Why are all the lightbenders hiding in a cave?"
"So that we will not know when or where to expect them," said Yukio.
"Are they even gonna be a threat in here where there's no light for them to bend?" asked Katara.
"There's enough in here for them to bend," Yukio replied, motioning to the holes scattered throughout the cavern walls, leaking sunlight in.
"Look out!" Katara shouted. She bent a series of water spears at three lightbenders that appeared, before they even had enough time to launch an attack, taking two of them out.
Rong took down the other one by hurling an fire disk at him, striking him in the stomach.
Five more appeared and used their collective power to unleash a massive light wall that took up all of the space in the cavern.
Without any idea of what to do, Katara and Rong gazed upon the wall of light as it rapidly moved towards them. Then they watched in awe as Yukio shattered the light wall with her bare hands.
The lightbenders were taken aback as well. They watched in horror as Yukio levitated off the ground and saw her eyes glow in the brightest shade of yellow.
"You fools," her voice bellowed. "Do you know who I am? I am Yukio, the Woman in White. And you are a disgrace to the Light Clan name." She outstretched her arms and, in the blink of an eye, turned every one of the lightbenders into particles of light. She lowered herself back down to the ground and turned to the others. "Now let's keep moving."
They kept running through the cavern, not catching a glimpse of any more lightbenders. "Where are the rest of them?" asked Katara. "I think she scared them off," said Rong.
"No," said Yukio. "They're going to ambush us."
"How do you know?" said Katara.
"Because I used to come up here," Yukio said. "I know the layout of this cavern. Once we turn around that corner, this is where the cavern ends."
"Then get ready," said Katara. "This is it."
They ran just a few more meters, each of them preparing for the fight of their lives. They rounded the corner and came across the most enormous Light Clan group they had ever seen. The exception being Yukio who, in her time, had seen far larger.
What each of the three women laid their eyes on was not what they expected. None of these people were armed. None of them were snarling or shouting or itching for a battle.
Each of these people were all huddled together on the ground.
There were hundreds of them. Men, women, and children of all ages, all dressed in white just like the soldiers they had fought.
It then struck Katara what this was. These were the people of the Light Clan. Not the soldiers that they had fought all these years. Not their ruthless, fanatical leader who wished to bring the world to an end.
No. These were the people. Ordinary people. People who were subject to Bai Lung's rule and lived in poverty as the result of his warmongering and ineffective ways of restoring the Light Clan back to what it once was.
Groups of them, families it seemed, huddled together for warmth and out of fear. Others looked sickly and thin as if they were starving. Many of them were cowering in fear of the three heroes as it was obvious what they were there to do.
"Did you know about this?" Katara asked.
"No," said Yukio. "I had no idea there were still people left."
"Well," said one of the Light Clan citizens. A man with wrinkles running all over his face who looked to be about seventy. "Go ahead and kill us already. That's what you came here to do, isn't it?"
"Be quiet, Yachi!" shouted another citizen; this one a young woman. "You shouldn't get a say in whether or not we all live or die!"
"They're gonna kill us no matter what!" Yachi shot back. "And if they're gonna do it, I'd rather them do it now then have to stay in suspense."
"We can't let our emotions get the better of us," said Rong. "We came here with a job to do and we need to make sure that it's done."
Yukio chose not to speak. The Woman in White was trying to hide the fact that she was fighting back the tears welling up in her eyes.
"Katara, Yukio, come on!" Rong said. "Are we doing this or not?"
"No," said Katara.
"What?" asked Rong.
"We're not going to kill these people," Katara said. "Look at them. They're scared, they're weak, they're starving. They're just as much a victim of Bai Lung's wrath as the rest of the world."
"You're going to free us?" asked the young woman from before.
"Listen to me, everyone, Avatar Aang is battling Bai Lung as we speak," Katara informed them. "Once he defeats him, you will all be free."
Just as she finished speaking those words, the entire mountain started to tremble. The three heroes could only assume this was due to the battle happening outside.
"This is it," said Rong. "Something's happening. Whatever happens in the next few moments will determine the fate of humanity."
"Even if we perish," Yukio said. "It can be said that in the end, the people of the Light Clan were free."
Aang and Bai Lung stood opposite each other, each of them on their own platforms of light.
"Now it is time to cleanse the world of it's impurity!" Bai Lung hollered. He stared up at the sun and focused on it intensely, putting all of his concentration into it.
Aang had no time to react. He began to feel himself fading away, each little bit of him becoming particles of light, and there was nothing he could do to stop it.
"This is it!" Bai Lung bellowed. "This is what the Light Clan has been waiting thousands of years for! Finally we have our revenge!"
Aang couldn't stop himself from fading away. He had ultimately failed, just as he feared he would. The Earth shook and everything faded away as everything went white.
The next thing Aang saw was something he had come to expect to see during a final battle, but still had not anticipated to see here. He stood face to gargantuan face with the lion turtle.
"Aang, you have not failed," said the lion turtle.
"I have failed," Aang said. "The whole world is about to disappear from existence and again it's because of my weakness."
"Only the power of a master lightbender can turn others into particles of light," the lion turtle said. "You possess this power. If you fight back, you can win. However, the pepole of Republic City do not possess this power. If they are not aided soon, they will all perish."
"So what can I do?" asked Aang.
"You have two options," said the lion turtle. "You can unleash a power against them that will wipe them all out, thus sacrificing your pacifist principles. Or you can rewrite the timeline and make sure that all traces of the lightbenders, both in the past and the future, never exist."
"I don't know," said Aang.
"You must choose now. Bai Lung is moments away from achieving his goal."
Aang searched through his heart and soul for an answer. Should he sacrifice his principles, or do what no man should and tamper with the fabric of reality? He didn't have all day to decide. He had to choose now. He looked at the lion turtle and said, "I choose to alter the timeline," he said.
"You understand the consequences of these actions?" asked the lion turtle.
"I believe I do," Aang said.
"There lies doubt in your heart," the lion turtle said. "Here. I will show you the future so that you understand what it is you are sacrificing."
One of the lion turtle's colossal fingers moved down towards Aang's head and touched it ever so slightly, showing him, in rapid secession, the things that were to come.
He saw the Fire Nation shimmering in a restored state. He saw his children, Bumi and Kya, all grown up and leading happy lives with a third child among them. He saw spirits and humans living together in harmony. He saw a bright, young, tough-looking Water Tribe Avatar fighting a colossal metal robot in Republic City as well as a man with a mask who looked similar to Jun. He saw a wily Earth Kingdom Avatar fighting what appeared to be a villainous airbender.
The visions ceased to be and Aang found himself looking back at the lion turtle.
"It is now or never Avatar," it said. "You must choose."
"I choose to unleash whatever power I can on the lightbenders in Republic City," said Aang. "I can't be willing to erase the future lives of the good just to protect the present lives of murderers."
"You have chosen wisely, Avatar," said the lion turtle.
In a flash, Aang was back in the physical world. He now knew what he had to do. He lightbent the parts of him that had been erased and charged at Bai Lung.
Distracted by his task and thinking that he had won, Bai Lung paid no mind to Aang. That was, until Aang pressed his hands against Bai Lung's chest and forehead.
Bai Lung trembled and the whole world shook with supernatural might and a thunderous crackle echoed to all corners of the land as Bai Lung's bending was taken from him forever.
The Light Leader's platform immediately faded away and he plummeted down from the sky, screaming in defeat as he did so.
Aang flew down and caught him, landing the two of them on a ledge nearby. Aang's battle was over. He had finally, at long last, beaten Bai Lung. "Now the world will no longer have to be scared. People can rest knowing that Bai Lung will never attack them again."
The combatants of Republic City were slowly beginning to fade away. The lightbenders watched in glee as their enemies began to disappear before their eyes.
Toph knelt down beside her deceased boyfriend, her eyes fighting back tears, but wasn't allowed to wait long, because a second later, Chong was right on top of her.
"Time to die, bitch," he said.
Then something happened. The entire city shook and no one quite knew what was going on. Most people assumed this was because of Bai Lung's massive surge of power, but they were proven to be dead wrong moments later.
Everyone, Republic City citizens and Light Clan soldiers alike, looked to the bay and saw a sight no one other than Aang had seen in thousands of years. They saw a giant lion turtle emerge from the water.
While Toph was distracted, Chong fled to another part of the city.
The lion turtle stomped it's way up to the shores of the city and made its way through. The lightbenders could do nothing as dozens of them were crushed to death every second.
All of them tried to shoot the great beast down, but their efforts were in vain. It released a mighty roar as it knocked down everything in its path.
This was a giant – a colossus – in a human's world, and it was shattering every last human that it deemed evil into bits and pieces all over the city, with some unavoidable collateral damage.
Then, all of a sudden, everyone stopped fading. The effects of Bai Lung's attack had been stopped. What was even better was that the Light Clan's hour was up. The Brightest Hour had come to an end.
"They're powerless!" Toph called out. "We can stop them now!"
"Everybody fight back!" Bo said. "The Brightest Hour is over!"
Not that they had to with a lion turtle raging through their streets, but the remaining citizens of Republic City fought back with more strength than ever.
Toph kicked two earth disks into two nearby lightbenders, taking them down with ease.
Bo unleashed a water stream on three more, knocking them all back against a building.
Then Huong proceeded to suck all of the air out of their lungs.
"Keep going! We can drive them out of the city!" Toph said.
Chong sliced a non-bender's throat with a light blade and shot down two more with a light beam. The Light Leader's second-in-command turned around to face one more, but was instead met with the lion turtle's massive foot which crushed him instantly.
Bo took down one more lightbender with a slew of ice bullets just as Toph came over to his aid.
"I guess Twinkle Toes did it," Toph said.
"Yeah," said Bo. "He sure-"
Toph was horrified to watch as Bo was cut short by a light beam to the chest. She crushed the lightbending assailant by flinging a chunk of earth at her and tended to her friend.
Sokka, Ling, and Ai continued fighting with Lin Hui. Every time the waterbender shot another attack at them, it was more ferocious than the last. Sokka swung his sword at her once more, cutting off a chunk of her hair, as well as the rose that sat in it.
She shot back with another couple of water streams, which Sokka managed to dodge. "You think you can beat me with a sword?!" she screamed. "You think you can beat me with some pathetic hunk of metal?!"
"I don't have to beat you," said Sokka. "I just have to get you to move underneath the water troughs."
Before Lin Hui could react, Ling bent the metal water troughs, turning them upside down and flooding Lin Hui with the water that filled them while Sokka ran out of the way.
Then Ai froze the water over, turning it into ice, and froze their enemy solid.
Yakone was the only one that remained.
"You're outnumbered, Yakone!" said Sokka. "Give up!"
Yakone's eyes darted back and forth wildly. In a moment of uncontrollable rage, Yakone used the remaining water spilled down from the troughs and forced all five of his enemies back against the wall. "If I can't let the whole world suffer, then I'm just gonna have to be satisfied by your deaths!" he roared.
He climbed the ladder back up to the catwalk and pushed a button. "This whole place is gonna self-destruct!" he shouted. "Have fun rotting away in Koh's lair, you pieces of shit!" He then climbed the ladder up to the escape hatch and left, sealing the door shut.
"We have to get out of here!" Zuko said.
"Wait!" shouted Mai. "One of us has to stay behind to make sure the nerve gas doesn't leak out into the city."
"What do you mean?" asked Ai.
"The base has a safety protocol in case of an emergency that siphons out any dangerous materials in case of a leak," Mai explained. "If we don't activate it, the nerve gas will spread out into the city."
"There's no time!" said Sokka. "We have to get out of here now!"
"I'll do it," said Mai.
"What?!" asked Zuko. "No! You can't!"
"Come on, Zuko," Mai said. "You didn't think you and I were gonna have a happy ending after all of this, did you?"
"I still care about you!" Zuko said. "I can't let just leave you to die!"
"But you can get out of here," Mai said. "And you can finally start to live again."
"We don't have time for a final goodbye!" Ling said. "This place is about to blow!"
"I can't let you die, Mai!" Zuko repeated.
"Goodbye, Zuko," Mai said. She ran up the ladder and dashed for the control board.
Zuko tried to go after her, but was pulled back by Sokka and Ling. "Come on!" said Sokka.
"Mai!" Zuko screamed. "MAI!!!"
Mai faced the control board and pressed the button to activate the emergency protocol. She wiped the tears away from her face as she said aloud to herself, "It looks like the last one of Ozai's Angels is about to finally die."
It took the others a good two minutes or so to reach the outside of the base where their eel hounds were waiting for them.
They mounted the beasts and, within nearly thirty seconds of their escape, the base exploded in a fiery ball of roaring flames.
Zuko wept and the others put their hands over their hearts out of respect for their fallen comrade. In the end, she really had been a member of Team Avatar all the way through.
Suki and Hong Wu had reached their limit. Pretty soon, one of them would be too exhausted to continue.
Hong Wu swung his knives in Suki's face, but the Kyoshi Warrior avoided them and smacked her adversary in the face with one of her fans. It seemed that no matter what, neither of them could make a move clever or quick or powerful enough to take down the other.
They both stopped. Both of them were panting from exhaustion like there was no tomorrow. And for one of them, there wouldn't be any tomorrow.
Hong Wu ran at her with his knives once more, letting out a fierce cry of determination.
Suki grabbed him by his right wrist, but his left hand managed to slash her arm, leaving a nice crimson line running through it.
Before he could do anymore, Suki jabbed her nemesis several times, blocking his chi and reducing his body to a limp, motionless noodle. Then she took one of his knives and jabbed it into his chest, causing him to emit a rasping scream of pain.
Both of them shook involuntarily as Suki waited for the fatal blow to do it's work.
Hong Wu laughed as he lay dying in the grass.
Suki said nothing, but looked down on him, not even fully believing that he was about to be dead.
"This isn't how it was supposed to go," Hong Wu rasped. "We were supposed to live together in p-p-peace."
The only thing that could be heard was the sound of the ocean washing up against the land. The chaos had died down and now the island was reverting to its peaceful state.
"None of us knew this would happen," said Hong Wu. "We never knew that what we discovered would unearth all of this. Ming, Hoku, Konghe, The Mechanist, Mongke; none of us knew. Now they're all gone and... it seems it's my turn."
Suki remained silent as her lifelong nemesis drifted away before her very eyes.
"This world doesn't need me to destroy it," he said. "It will destroy itself. It is the nature of humans to turn on one another. It's what led to my mother's death. It's what led Xiang to turn on me. It's that nature to destroy that fills us that will eventually lead this world to ruin."
He made a serious effort to wheeze out his following words.
"All these years, I thought what I was doing was right. I truly thought that by killing all of these people, I was avenging my mother's death and the deaths of all the world's mothers and fathers and sons and daughters, but I just became a part of the endless cycle of murderers. Just like the ones who took away my mother."
The dying assassin turned over and looked at his daughter.
"Suki," Hong Wu said. "Thank you. Thank you for letting me escape from this miserable existence. Thank you for letting me see her again. Finally I can see her again after all these accursed, fucking years." He looked up at the beautiful morning sky and listened to the soothing sounds of the waves as they washed up along the shore.
Finally, Suki broke her silence. "What would you have done if you hadn't lost? If you had beaten me."
Hong Wu smiled as he continued to stare up at the sun. "I would've.... been..... happy."
Then came a gurgling, choking sound from within him and he released one more groan of pain before finally slipping away. At long last.
Suki gazed down at him for the final time. Her mortal enemy. Her most terrible foe. Her father was finally gone. He wasn't coming back this time.
She took two steps in the opposite direction before passing out in the grass.
Bai Lung stared up at Aang with wild eyes. He didn't even attempt to process what had just happened. All he could ask was, "How? How could this have happened? The prophecy foretold that I would win!"
"You know, Bai Lung," Aang said. "I always thought that prophecy was about you. That you were the so-called warrior of light that was going to destroy everyone in your path. But now I realize that you're the weakling and I'm the warrior of light."
"So now what? You think you're going to drag me all the way back to Republic City?" Bai Lung snarled.
"No," said Aang. He had seen Bai Lung eying the cliff the moment they landed. "If you want to jump, go ahead."
Bai Lung stood and stared down at the clouds for a moment, then turned back to face Aang. "You're not going to try and stop me?"
"I stopped someone from dying once," Aang replied. "And I still regret it to this day. If you want to jump, then go ahead."
Bai Lung stared down the cliff once more. He inhaled deeply and closed his eyes. "This is not the way it was supposed to go," he said. "I've let myself be beaten by an Air Nomad swine who should have died over a hundred years ago in that block of ice."
"We're all here for a reason, Bai Lung," said Aang. "Mine is to save the world from evil. As long as there's a need for that, I'll always be here."
"You may think I'm just a villain," Bai Lung said. "But somewhere in your heart, you see that what I tried to do was right. I'm not like Ozai or Jun. The rest of the nations' greed and ignorance is what led to all of this. They have to burn for it! You know I'm right!"
"I know that when the Fire Nation destroyed my people, I was filled with unbelievable pain and rage," said Aang. "But I didn't spend all my years looking for ways to destroy them. I spent my time trying to adjust. I had to make the most of what I had. I couldn't change what happened and I didn't hold the entire Fire Nation responsible. You're wrong, Bai Lung."
"Well," Bai Lung said. "If this is it for me – if I'm going down, then you are coming with me!" The Light Leader grabbed Aang and jumped over the side of the ledge, sending them both into a free fall through the clouds.
Aang tried to break free from Bai Lung's grip, but the savage former lightbender held on tight.
"There's no escape from this, Avatar!" he shouted. "We're both going to die today!"
Then a mighty roar was heard from a short distance away. Both of them looked to see Appa bat Bai Lung away with his tail, sending him hurtling down to his death.
The fluffy sky bison then flew below Aang, allowing the Avatar to grab hold of his reigns and land safely atop his oldest friend. "Thanks, buddy," said Aang.
Appa responded with a friendly roar and flew back up to the ledge where they both saw Katara, Rong, and Yukio accompanied by a large group of people.
"Who are these people?" asked Aang.
"These are the people of the Light Clan," said Katara. "They're going to come back with us to Republic City."
"Well, that sounds great, but, uh, we don't have enough room," said Aang.
"I promise we'll come back for you," Katara assured the people. "Once we get back, we'll send the United Forces to come get you. It's gonna be alright."
One of the Light Clan citizens, a little girl, looked at Aang with wide eyes and spoke in a voice so soft. "Avatar Aang, did you really kill Bai Lung?" she asked.
"No," Aang said. "He killed himself."
Yukio approached her three friends and smiled. "Thank you all," she said. "I came to you as someone whose only job was to teach Aang lightbending and you made me a part of your family. Never in all my travels have I ever met people like you."
"It was our pleasure," said Katara.
"You said it," said Rong.
"Goodbye, Yukio," said Aang. "I'm confident we'll meet again someday."
"I'm sure we will, Aang," Yukio said as she began to fade away. "I'm sure we will."
The Woman in White waved to them before vanishing from the physical world for good.
"Now let's get a move on," said Aang. "We need to get back to Republic City as fast as we can."
The Battle for Republic City was over. All of the lightbenders were dead. The lion turtle let out one more monstrous roar before disappearing entirely.
Toph knelt down over Bo trying as hard as she could to keep him alive. "Bo! Bo!" she called out. "Don't do this to me, Bo! Don't do this to me!"
Bo coughed up a great deal of blood as he lay on the ground with a bright red wound on his chest. "It's no use, Toph" Bo croaked. "You can't stop me from dying."
"Dammit, don't you do this to me!" Toph screamed. She couldn't fight back the tears any longer. "You're gonna live dammit! You're gonna fucking live!"
"No, Bo!" Toph said. "You can't do this! You're gonna have a child! You're going to be a father! Ai isn't gonna raise your child all on her own!"
"Toph," Bo said. "Thank you for being my friend. Tell all of them. Suki, Ling, Rong, Aang, Katara, Sokka, Zuko, Momo, Appa, Feng. Tell them how grateful I am for their friendship. Tell them that they were my family from the day I first met those guys on Kyoshi Island. And tell Ai that no matter how ignored she feels in her lifetime, that she was and always will be the most important person in the world to me."
"I will," Toph said. "And I want you to know that we couldn't have won today without you."
Bo chuckled after hearing Toph's words. "See?" he whispered. "You're not so bad with words after all."
And with that, Bo's eyes shut and Toph could feel his breathing and heartbeat stop.
The blind earthbender cradled the deceased waterbender in her arms, her tears streaming down onto his face.
Suki awoke to a bright, white hospital room. It seemed somewhat jarring that everything in the room was colored bright white, especially since the fact that she was still alive meant that the Light Clan hadn't destroyed the world.
The door opened and she was greeted by her husband, who she was happy to see survived the battle. "Hey," she said.
"Hey," Sokka replied.
"How'd I get here?" Suki asked.
"After you passed out, Oyaji radioed Republic City and told them to bring someone to take you home," Sokka explained. "They brought you and Feng back here safe and sound."
Suki said nothing, leading Sokka to keep talking.
"I'm guessing you finally killed him," he said.
"Yeah," said Suki. "I did."
"That's great," said Sokka. "How do you feel?"
Suki thought for a moment about her answer. She really hadn't had the time to process her thoughts on Hong Wu's death. There was a certain feeling lingering in her. She wasn't sure what it was. Satisfaction? Remorse? What was it?
"I'm happy he's finally dead," she said. "Actually, I think that's the understatement of the year. I don't think I've ever been this happy in my entire life. But at the same time, I feel angry."
"Why?" asked Sokka.
"In his last moments, he didn't acknowledge that I beat him at all," said Suki. "He kept saying I freed him. I didn't think about it then, but now I know why he said it. He wasn't going to let me have the pleasure of watching him admit it. Even in his final moments, he was twisting those knives of his deeper and deeper into my heart and soul. He wanted me to think that by killing him, he won. But I know better than to think that. I'm sure he really did feel he was free and that all of those words he said were true, but I won't ever believe that he beat me. I know I won and now I can start to live again. We can start to live again."
"You have no idea how happy I am to hear you say those words, Suki," Sokka said. "Now I don't want you to freak out, okay, but I have someone to see you."
"Who?" asked Suki.
"You can come in now," Sokka said.
In through the door walked the ever-chipper, sunny face of the woman Suki saw die in the sands of the Si Wong Desert.
"Hi, Suki," said Ty Lee.
The moment Appa came soaring into the Republic City skyline, the air of death that filled the metropolis was lifted slightly. Only slightly, though. Nothing could take away that feeling of despair. At least not for the moment.
Aang had used his lightbending abilities to project the group of them back to Republic City at the speed of light, so that they could get back as soon as possible.
"Why didn't we just do that on the way down there?" Rong asked.
"We didn't need to," Aang replied.
Although the battle was won, the number of casualties was incalculable. A somber wave of grief washed over the heroic threesome as they flew over the city, witnessing all that had happened.
"Aang!" a voice called out from below.
The Avatar looked down to see Miki and Ning standing below them and steered Appa downward, landing him on the ground.
"What is it?" Aang asked. "What's wrong?"
"It's Bo," said Ning.
"Where is he?" asked Rong.
"Over there with Toph," Miki said, pointing to where the blind earthbender was kneeling.
The group of them rushed over to Toph to see Bo lying on the ground. Aang could feel his heartbeat had stopped, but the others didn't know.
"Is he...?" Katara asked.
"Yes," said Toph. "He's gone."
Rong knelt down and began to cry herself at the tragic loss of one of her oldest friends. "No," she sobbed. "No, this wasn't supposed to happen."
Aang and Katara bowed their heads for a moment of silence as they quietly grieved over their fallen comrade.
"You were the best of us," Rong continued. "You had the purest heart. Why did you have to die?" She was now inconsolable. "I never even," she said. "I never even got to say goodbye."
"I can tell you all," said Toph. "That he died a hero's death."
"I'm sure he did," said Aang. "I'm sure he did."
Suki was speechless. She could not speak nor could she think of the appropriate words to say. There standing in front of her was the woman whose death she had spent her entire adult life seeking to avenge.
"I'll give you guys a minute," said Sokka, who promptly exited the room.
The only word at this point that Suki could muster was "How?"
"Shuang brought me back," said Ty Lee.
This statement seriously caught Suki's attention. "How?" she repeated.
"In the Spirit World, you can give up your spirit to bring another's back to the physical world," Ty Lee explained. "He felt guilty about killing me so he decided he needed to make things right."
That must have been the last thing Shuang tried to tell her before she fought Hong Wu. He must have done it right after he left her.
Tears were lining Ty Lee's face as she continued. "He sacrificed himself to save me. He could have lived in the Spirit World in peace for all eternity, but instead he chose to do what he thought he needed to do to make things right."
Suki smiled as a thought crossed her mind. It was a thought she never imagined would make it's way inside her head in a million years. In the end, Shuang wasn't such a bad guy after all. He had redeemed himself at last. And now Ty Lee, the woman whom she considered to be a sister to her, was back in her life at last. "You have no idea how much I missed you," she said.
"I imagine it was pretty rough," Ty Lee chuckled.
Suki pulled the acrobatic Kyoshi Warrior in and embraced her in a tight hug that Ty Lee reciprocated.
Everything was going to be alright for her.
One week passed by. It had taken him a while, but he had managed to make it back to Republic City. What was most impressive about his return was that nobody had spotted him. He approached a warehouse full of his old boss' stuff. The fact that he hadn't heard from him in a week meant that he was dead. Suki must have defeated him. Lin Hui had also died in the explosion, so now he was top dog.
He examined the warehouse and witnessed the glory of all that Hong Wu had left behind. An entire criminal empire that was now his for the taking.
Yakone smiled as he took it all in. All of this was his now and he wasn't going to waste any time building it back up. He was going to strengthen his new empire and make it more formidable than ever before.
"All hail the king," he said to himself.
Eight days had passed by since the battle ended.
The citizens of the Light Clan had integrated into the city and were staring to live amongst the rest of the people. Since Bai Lung had forced all of the Light Clan's benders to join the military, only the non-benders remained. In short, the art of lightbending had been totally lost to history. Both it and darkbending had ceased to exist. Aang was the only one who carried the power of lightbending within him and he would see that it was never used again.
It was kind of sad in a way. Those two cultures – the Light Clan and the Dark Society – two cultures that had existed since the creation of bending itself, were finally, after thousands of years, extinct. After centuries of warring and many millennia of obscurity, they both finally died out.
Maybe it was time for the world to move on. Maybe the world was never truly ready for those two nations to exist. They grew too large and out of control before the world could sustain them and now they had completely fallen apart.
The Light Clan's only legacy lived on through the people. It was a legacy of warmongering and complete neglect of the innocent that these people would carry with them for the rest of their lives.
Everyone had been doing their best to clean up the city. The people of Republic City knew it would be a long and strenuous process, but the important thing that all of them kept in mind was that the city had survived.
While the rebuilding process was going on here, the Fire Nation relief effort had also begun. The United Forces had been deployed to eliminate the anarchy that engulfed the nation while the council sent as many lavabenders as they could find to plug up the volcano so that they could begin to rebuild the capital.
Normally everyone in Republic City would be continuing to help with the rebuilding process today, but this was a day that everyone set aside for something important. Everyone had gathered in the city's largest cemetery to honor all those who had fallen during the Battle for Republic City.
The cemetery was filled with cherry blossom trees that shed their delicate flowers down below and the greenest grass that rippled in the wind.
All of Team Avatar was gathered along with the friends and families of the thousands of citizens who had died in the battle.
Among those who lost their lives were Bo, Wu Li, The Dark One, and Zhu, three of whom Toph had a personal connection with. This was a difficult day for her especially.
"Chief Beifong," Toph heard from an officer behind her.
"What is it?" she asked.
"I heard you lost a lot of people," said the officer. "I just wanted to say I'm sorry."
"Thanks, officer," she said. "But I don't really need your sympathy."
"Yeah, I expected you'd say that," the officer chuckled. "I just thought I'd say something anyway." He walked away from the Chief to rejoin some of his fellow officers, but stopped once Toph called him back.
"Hey," she said. "I'm sorry. Thanks for saying something."
"No problem," said the officer.
"What's your name?" Toph asked.
"Kanto," the officer replied.
Toph nodded, letting Kanto know he was free to leave.
Zuko preferred to keep to himself for the moment. He stayed away from the crowd where nobody could see him and no one would bother to talk to him. He was, of course, slightly disappointed when Katara came over to talk to him.
"Hey," Katara said. "How are you doing?"
Zuko inhaled deeply before speaking then looked up at the sky as he responded. "I think I'm gonna be fine," he replied.
Katara didn't anticipate this answer. The Zuko she knew would let this bother him at least a little more, but she could tell that her friend really was okay. "You are?" she said.
"Yeah," Zuko said. "All these years I never had closure with Mai. Now that I do, I think I'm ready to move on. I'm ready to be the Fire Lord again."
"That's good to hear," Katara said. "Good to have you back."
"Thanks," said Zuko. "It's good to be back. I suppose I should help out with the relief effort."
"That's a good idea," said Katara. "I'm sure the United Forces could use your help."
Meanwhile, Ai stood over Bo's grave, looking down at the tombstone with his name on it. Beside her stood Suki, Ling, and Rong.
"Damn," Ling said. "I just can't believe he's gone."
"I know," said Rong. "He really was like a brother to us. He always had our backs no matter what."
"I just can't believe how this happened," said Suki. "One person I love comes back to life and another one dies."
"What about you, Ai?" asked Ling.
Tears trickled down Ai's face as the wind blew her hair back, revealing her face. "I'm just happy to have known him," she said.
Ai's reaction stunned her teammates. She was taking this better than they thought she would.
"You're not sad?" asked Rong.
"Don't be silly," said Ai. "Of course I'm sad. But I can't let my feelings of sorrow take me over. Bo was the love of my life and he was the father of my child and I'm going to miss him, but staying sad about it won't change a thing. Just like staying sad about how Yukio, the best friend I ever had, is gone won't change anything. We've just got to move forward."
The waterbender was trembling, trying to fight back her true feelings.
"Maybe one day," she continued. "I can take our child to the Southern Water Tribe and go penguin sledding just like he always wanted." "Ai," said Rong. "You don't have to act strong anymore. It's okay to let it out."
Seconds later, Ai threw herself into Rong's arms and began bawling like she never had before, finally letting her composed exterior melt down.
Rong stroked her hair as the waterbender wept into her arms and held her tightly.
"I miss him so much," Ai sobbed. "I miss both of them. I loved them both so much."
"So do we, Ai," Rong said, wiping away a tear herself. "So do we."
Ho Tun and Penga stood over the grave of The Dark One with their heads bowed. Both of them, much like everyone else in the cemetery, were crying.
Ho Tun decided to break the silence. "I guess he didn't hate everything after all," he said.
This only caused Penga to cry harder. "Yeah," she said. "Not everything."
As the day drew out longer and longer, everyone slowly made their way out of the cemetery, paying respect to all those who had fallen. Then, by the time night had fallen, everyone was gone.
The doors to the council chamber swooshed open as Sokka walked in. The other council members stood to greet him and applauded upon seeing him return.
"Councilman Sokka," said the man representing the Earth Kingdom. "It is truly our honor to welcome you back to this council as our Chairman."
"It's good to be back," Sokka said.
"What shall be your first order of business, Chairman?" asked a slightly resentful Tian.
"To build a memorial," Sokka said. "A memorial honoring all of the lives lost during the Battle for Republic City."
"I think we can all agree that's a good idea," said the representative from the Northern Water Tribe.
"And also a monument to Avatar Aang," Sokka added. "A statue in his honor."
"Now is that really necessary?" Tian asked.
"I think he's earned it," said Sokka.
"Where will we put it?" asked the Air Acolyte representative.
"We'll build in on Weilai Island," Sokka said. "It's a small island right near Air Temple Island. It's the perfect place. All in favor?" Everyone raised their hands immediately, except for Tian, who grudgingly raised it moments after everyone else.
"Great," said Sokka.
Two more weeks went by. People needed time to settle down after everything that had happened. Everyone needed to mourn. Then, after the mourning had stopped, it was time for a joyous occasion. Ling and Rong's wedding day.
Rong stood back in her dressing room with her bridesmaids, Katara, Toph, and Ai, along with her maid of honor, Suki, were all helping her prepare for her special day.
Each of them took a step away from her and gazed at her radiant beauty.
The woman was truly glowing. She wore an elegant, snowy white wedding dress that glistened underneath the light. Her wavy, jet black hair flowed down the back of her head in the most beautiful way. Atop her head sat a bright red Fire Nation headpiece that brought the whole look together.
"Oh, my spirits," said Katara. "You look so beautiful."
"Thank you," Rong said.
"Are you ready to do this?" asked Suki.
"Suki, I've been ready to do this since the day he took me out into that bamboo field," Rong replied.
"Then go get him," said Suki. "And please promise us that this time you two won't let go of each other."
"We won't," Rong said.
The sound of the organs playing signified that it was time for the wedding to start.
"Oh, and by the way, Katara," Rong said. "Thanks for having such a big heart."
"What do you mean?" Katara asked.
"It didn't feel right to kill all those lightbenders," Rong said. "I mean, I was still gonna, but I didn't think it was right. I'm glad you said something."
"As long as innocent people need me, I'll always be there to help them," said Katara.
Before they all walked out, Ai began to chuckle.
"What's so funny?" asked Suki.
"It's funny when you think about it," Ai said. "The first time we ever encountered the Light Clan was during a wedding. Now that we've defeated them, we're having another one."
"We certainly have changed since then, haven't we?" Katara noted.
"Yes," said Suki. "We sure have."
"Well, that's our cue," said Ai.
The bridesmaids proceeded to walk out of the room, followed by the maid of honor and then the bride. They strolled all the way out into the wedding hall, watching everyone stand as Rong entered the room.
She immediately spotted Ling standing at the altar. He wore a swanky, black tux with a red rose sticking out of the pocket. His brown hair was slicked back, making him look like some kind of smooth man of mystery.
She finally reached the altar and the two of them stared lovingly into each other's eyes.
"Dearly beloved," said Iroh, who was officiating the ceremony. "We are gathered today to celebrate the joyous union of Ling and Rong. May they have eternal happiness and may their love be everlasting. Now the bride will recite her vows and then the groom."
Suki handed Rong her vows and the bride cleared her throat before reciting them. "Ling, no matter what you and I have been through, no matter how bad it got when we hated each other for all those years, one thing was always true. The reason I hurt so bad was because I wasn't with you. I could have moved on, but there was always one thing stopping me. The idea that you and I would fall in love again. And even when we reconnected and it seemed that would never happen, a small part of me said that I should hold on and I did. And the result was spectacular. I could talk all day about our past, but what excites me the most is our future together."
Iroh motioned his hand towards Ling, signaling him commence with his vows.
Sokka handed Ling his vows and the earthbender proceeded to recite them. "I know this sounds cliché, but from the moment I first met you, Rong, I knew I was in love. And that night we spent in the bamboo fields of Lianhua only confirmed my feelings for you. Those first few years I spent with you was the happiest time of my life. And those years we spent apart were the worst. But through all those years of resentment towards one another, our love still endured. Getting to be with you again has changed me back into the man I once was. I don't know how I would even have a life without you. You're my soul mate and I'm so happy that we're going to be spending the rest of our lives together."
"Ling," Iroh said. "Do you take Rong to be your lawfully wedded wife?"
"And Rong," Iroh continued. "Do you take Ling to be your lawfully wedded husband?"
"Then by the power vested in me, I pronounce you husband and wife," the Dragon of the West concluded. "You may kiss the bride."
Ling and Rong embraced in a deep, passionate kiss as everyone around them cheered. The kiss lasted for what seemed like hours to the happy couple, but was probably only about a minute and a half.
"Now cue the band!" Ling said, motioning to the musicians.
The rest of the night was magical. There was dancing, singing, warm and fond embraces of all kinds. It was like a beauteous, melodic assortment of comfort and joy.
Everybody was happy and most importantly, they were ready to move on. This night brought the era of fear that had existed since the Light Clan began their reign of terror to an end. Tonight, an era of peace and prosperity began.
Once the ceremony came to a close, everyone went their separate ways and retired either to their hotel rooms or their homes. Very few people filled the wedding hall.
Aang sat by himself, thinking of all the amazing memories that had been made on his night and feeling happy for his friends. He felt Katara's gentle touch against his shoulder as she sat down behind him.
"Hey, what are you thinking about?" she asked.
"I'm thinking about how empty this place is," Aang joked.
This prompted a chuckle from Katara. "What are you really thinking about?" she inquired.
"How wonderful this night was," Aang answered. "And how the Avatar is finally back."
Katara smiled and kissed her husband on the cheek. "Come on," she said. "Let's go home."
Back in his hotel room, Zuko sprawled out on his bed, getting ready to go to sleep. The only thing that stopped him was a knock on his door. He quickly got up and made his way over to open it. He opened the door and was greeted by his uncle on the other side. "Uncle," he said. "What is it?"
"I just want you to know, Zuko, that I'm proud of you," Iroh said.
"Of course I know that, uncle," Zuko said.
"And I want you to know that Jin and your mother would be proud of you too," Iroh continued. "You are and always have been the one I am most proud of. And I know that you are my nephew, but you will always be like a son to me."
In a rare display of raw emotion, Zuko embraced his uncle tightly and sobbed against him as he spoke. "Thank you for always being the one person that was there for me," he said. "Thank you so much."
"No need to thank me, Zuko," Iroh replied warmly. "It's my job to believe in you."
The two of them separated and Zuko wiped the tears away from his eyes.
"Well, I'm off to brew a pot of tea before bed," said Iroh. "Get some rest, Zuko. A man needs his rest."
Zuko shut the door and turned back to his bed. Looking over at the bedroom window, he noticed something was different. The window was open and there was something sitting on the windowsill.
The Fire Lord smiled as he grabbed the object, shut the window, and lay down in bed. "Maybe there's still a chance for a happy ending," he said to himself, laying the dagger on the floor.
Sometime later, all of the members of Team Avatar were sitting along the edge of Air Temple Island, just staring at the hypnotically stunning orange sunset and listening to the blissful waves of the ocean.
Each of them sat in a line, one by one. Aang, Katara, Suki, Sokka, Toph, Zuko, Ai, Ling, Rong, Momo, Appa, Feng. All of them sat united as a family. They didn't have to worry about war or destruction or any kind of evil villain. They were finally at peace.
As they took in the beauty of the majestic picture nature had painted that was the world they were living in, Aang spoke.
"This is why we survived, guys. This is why we're still here. So that beauty like this can exist. So that everyone else can experience it like we are now."
Katara locked lips with her husband for several moments, then broke away. "Then it's a good thing we made it," she said. Then the sun finally set and the moon arose into the night sky to greet them.
Suki shed a tear as she continued to look at it. "I'm so happy we're together," she whispered. "And I'm so happy to be alive."
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