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|Repercussions and Retribution|
Avatar: The Last Airbender
The Last Airbender Book Four: Air
Chapter Eleven – Repercussions and Retribution
Peace and serenity had settled over the Gorgon Inn on Salamander Island. Several hours had passed since Aang and Toph's victorious return. The day had transcended into night. The storm, once tranquil, had resumed though its intensity had greater lessened. Whatever rain fell to earth dropped no harder than a hazy drizzle. Yet that gloom was overshadowed and quickly defeated within the inn's dry walls. Flickering lanterns, hanging from the ceiling, were surprisingly efficient. Everyone's room was bathed in light. This effect was slightly wasted, however, due to the fact that everyone had gathered in Aang and Katara's room, merely sitting at various points; watching the young couple relax in bed and chatting light-heartedly with them. The only one absent was Lu Ten, who Mai had tucked in to sleep about an hour ago.
"Remember eight years ago, when we were in this area chasing that rebel navy commander...I can't remember what his name was... anyway we were chasing him but some people on our ship wanted to stop and get some mangos. They were growing on the beach or something like that. We ended up taking six hours out of our day just to gather fruit!" Zuko shrugged as he recanted the story. "Ugh, what was that commander's name?"
"Zuko, where are you going with this?" Sokka asked. The Firelord stopped thinking and scratched his head.
"You know...I really can't remember anymore. Maybe something to do with the mangos? No. No, whatever it was it's gone now." Everyone laughed, causing Zuko to blush slightly.
"Brilliantly told dear, like all of your stories. I was really captivated." Mai sniggered. She was huddled beside her husband on the left side of the bed. Sokka and Suki sat side by side on the right. Toph leaned against the opposite wall. She smiled slightly while everyone enjoyed another laugh at Zuko's expense.
"I think I may remember that." Suki put in. "I remember because Ty Lee was one of the climbers and she fell and we thought she was going to break her neck."
"You might have thought that." Mai replied. "If this is Ty Lee we're talking about, obviously she landed on her feet."
"Oh of course. She enjoyed falling so much she did it three more times on purpose. Each time landing with a summersault on the ground." Suki chuckled to herself. "Never anyone who enjoyed her job more than Ty Lee."
"Yeah...how is she these days?" Sokka asked interestedly. Suki raised an eyebrow. The Water Tribe warrior felt his cheeks go crimson.
"Why so interested big brother?" Katara chided.
"Yeah?" Suki asked, jabbing him in the ribs with her finger jokingly. "The company here isn't charming enough for you?"
"What?" Sokka responded defensively, drops of sweat appearing across his forehead. "No, no nothing like that! I was just curious as to how she was doing. That's all! Honest!" He seemed to be shrinking in height as his defense wore on. Katara and Suki exchanged a grin.
"Well as long as that's all it is." Suki said on a mock stiff note. "Ty Lee's doing great. She retired two years ago from the Kyoshi Warriors, started a family. I think she had triplets last year."
"Ouch." Mai commented.
Suki shrugged. "She seemed pretty content last time I talked with her. I'm surprised actually, I thought she'd never settle down."
"People often do unpredictable things." Toph commented. "There's always more than one side to a rock." The Firelord lifted his head at the blind earthbender's comment.
"Hey," He began. "That sounded like one of Uncle's sayings."
Toph grinned. "Probably because I got it from him. Well, modified would be a better word. He always used to say 'There's more than one side to a teapot'." Everyone chuckled again at this, Zuko the most.
"Always with the tea..." He murmured aloud.
"Zuko I think we can all agree that your Uncle had a little obsession going." Sokka joked. "He cared as much about brewing a good pot as you used to care about capturing Aang. Tea was like his Avatar." There was a small burst of laughter. The Firelord chuckled briefly before looking away, his eyes flickering a faint sadness. "Speaking of Aang," Sokka went on. "How come you're so quiet tonight buddy?" The airbender looked up from where he was lying, body snug firmly and protectively against Katara's.
"Oh...I guess I'm just tired that's all, long day," he said quickly. Toph smirked.
"You would be tired, I did most of the work." She joked. The Avatar flashed her a weak smile.
"I just...feel exhausted." He answered truthfully. Sokka leaned back and stretched.
"Hey we can get out of here if we're keeping you up." The Water Tribe warrior suggested. "Let us know if we're being annoying."
"What if it's only one person?" Toph asked dryly. Sokka shot her a look.
"No, it's fine." Aang assured them. "I have to play the baby a lullaby anyway." And as he said this he produced his flute from a bag that lay on the floor beside the bed. "Katara sings and I do the music." He explained to everyone. "We want our baby to be born already knowing our voices."
"Now that's a clever idea...how come you didn't think of that?" Mai asked Zuko. The Firelord looked at his wife and put his hands up defensively. She smiled back in response. "Thank the spirits Lu Ten doesn't gets his smarts from his father." She smugly toasted. Aang raised his flute to his lips.
"We'll leave you two alone." Suki got out before he could begin.
"Aw but I wanted to hear the song!" Sokka protested.
"I'm sure Suki will sing you one if you ask nicely." Toph suggested in a sly tone. Both the Kyoshi and Water Tribe warrior fell silent, exchanging embarrassed looks. Zuko laughed out loud as he stood up. Mai simply smiled. All of them exchanged good nights with Aang and Katara before leaving, Toph being the last.
"You did well out there today Twinkle-Toes." She commented. Then she turned to go. Before leaving, however, the blind earthbender called over her shoulder: "And stop second guessing yourself. You did the right thing and you know it." Aang looked up as she said those words.
"What did she mean by that?" Katara asked. Her husband sighed before looking at her. "Nothing," he said, sounding suddenly very tired. "It's just Koh. I know he had it coming and if I had to, I'd do everything all over again in a heartbeat to save you. But I killed him Katara. I took his life. Before now I've always had time to think of another way but this time...this time I had to do it; for you...for the baby." His voice was crestfallen and his words filled with shame. Katara kissed him on the top of the head.
"We're both alive because of you," she said lovingly. "I wish I could do something to ease your suffering and self-doubt."
He smiled appreciatively. "You are." He replied. Then, for the second time he raised his flute. "Shall we play?" She grinned and nodded. As Aang's lips and hands began to delicately perform Katara's melodious voice gently lifted through the air.
"The Day has ended
And the villagers have all gone home
To their mountain village
Below the howling peak.
I should not have waited
T'would have better to sleep
And dream visions of honey
Than to watch this long night pass
Alone while the slow moon sinks.
They say I wait out of love
Tis a rumor, a circulation
Yet when I began to love
Only two souls did knew.
Dreams! Dreams of honey
Do not bring me the joy
For now my love's hand is in my own
Now I am awakened.
And so begins the new day."
Katara finished singing as the flute died down in tune. Husband and wife fell asleep in each other's arms. Aang felt himself still crying as he lay by his wife. He had been so close to losing her. As he felt himself drifting off to sleep he made a vow: no force would ever come that close again. He would protect her; he would protect his family. In his mind there was no alternative.
Outside in the hallway Zuko and the others had stopped to listen. He held Mai's arm in his own while remaining completely motionless, not daring to risk causing a sound that would disrupt the song. He knew the others were of the same mind. They did not dare tiptoe on the Inn's old wooden floor. Even shifting weight was risky, so they stood as statues. As the Firelord listened he felt at peace. He had heard the tune before; it came from the Air Nomads. Aang used to often sing in while they were camped out squashing the Fire Nation uprisings. It had been Mai's favorite to listen in on. Looking down, the Firelord saw that his wife had closed her eyes and leaned back, almost into a perpetual exhale. She looked so peaceful.
"Wow...now that's something you can hum along to." Everyone jumped as an old gravely voice broke the stillness of the hallway.
"Flake?" Sokka choked out when everybody had recovered. The ancient innkeeper smiled a toothless grin at all of them.
"Evening folks. Didn't mean to startle you. Just came up here to tell you all something..." His voice trailed off. "Ah but that was a lovely tune." He hobbled a bit closer to Aang and Katara's door. "A fine pair they are. Such a run in with bad luck they had today...so fortunate that things turned out the way that they did. It's not everyone, you know, who can cross the spirits and get away with it." Flake sighed and smiled again. "Still, it all worked out for the best." He turned and started to make his way back toward the staircase. Zuko watched him go, half in a daze, before he suddenly remembered.
"Hey wait a minute," The Firelord called. "Tell us what?" Flake stopped and turned, eyes wide and blinking.
"Eh?" He responded; his eyebrow raised. Zuko blew a breath in exasperation.
"You said you had something to tell us." Suki cut in. "What was it?" Flake scratched his chin thoughtfully and then ran fingers through the lenses of his glasses.
"I did?" He mumbled. Then instantly his figure stiffened up as if struck. "Oh yes!" He exclaimed. "Now I remember...there's a large number of folks who want to see one of you. I've got them waiting outside the main door. Huge, angry crowd they are...a mob would be a better description actually."
"A mob?" Sokka repeated. Zuko felt his muscles immediately tense. Mai too, he could feel the fibers in her body coil, ready for combat.
"Who do they want?" Toph asked cautiously.
"Probably Aang." Zuko answered. "We'll just go down and see what we can do to change their – " Flake put up his hand.
"No," He replied, the layers of skin on his face shaking back and forth. "They're not after him at all. They want your earthbender friend I think. Kept going on about an insolent blind woman not knowing her place."
Toph smiled. "Oh really..." She smirked. "Fuss about little old me? They're sweet to bother. All right let's go see them."
"Right," Flake responded. Then he paused. "See who exactly?"
"The mob!" Toph stated firmly. Flake held up his hand.
"Oh yes," He said, nodding. "The mob, sorry. You'll have to forgive this old brain of mine, after certain hours it tends to get a bit rattled." With that the wrinkled man resumed his descent. The others lingered back momentarily.
"Toph what did you do?" Sokka demanded. The blind earthbender shrugged her shoulders.
"Honestly I have no idea." She admitted. "I'm just as curious as you are to get down there and see what's up. I kinda hope they want to fight though, I could use some more action today." She smacked her fists together in anticipation.
"Yeah, wouldn't that be great." Zuko agreed sarcastically. "Just remember that these are my people. Whatever the problem or dispute is, let me try talking them out of it first. I hold some sway here."
Toph blew her hair out of her eyes impatiently. "Yeah sure whatever." She conceded. "I wouldn't think of depriving you of your stature o' high and mighty Match-Stick." Mai chuckled at the nickname. Zuko, however, remained firm.
"I'm serious Toph." He reiterated. "Let's try not to bash anyone's head in."
"Now where's the fun in that?" Sokka commented lightly as the group moved to follow Flake down the stairs.
This wasn't a dream. Aang looked around at his surroundings. Tall, dry stalks of grass grew in abundance on the gradual hillside where he now stood. Its color was of faded gold, only slightly denser than the shade of the sky. Looking up he could see no clouds but yet still wisps of movement, as though only the ghost of wind was present here. There were few boulders on the ground and the ones that were there were almost completely rounded. As his eyes followed the incline of the knoll upward Aang could see that at the top was an enormous tree with branches that tangled as they curved up toward the sky. This was definitely part of the Spirit World.
He tried to send out a gust of air to confirm his theory. As he thought, no force was emitted from his hand. He had no power here; he was a vulnerable guest of the spirits. Looking back behind him Aang could see what looked like smooth plains as far as the eye could see. Indeed it appeared that this was the case everywhere around this single solitary hill, a bump on an otherwise even blanket of earth. After hesitating a few moments the Avatar began to trek towards the tree. He did not know what would happen or why he was here but he felt that more would only be revealed to him once was he was under its twigs and brambles.
Presently one of the faints of a breeze dodged past him, bringing with it a sparrow. Aang watched as the tiny bird alighted upon one of the smooth stones. It fixed his eyes with its own pitch-black marbles. Chirping loudly the bird began to hover. Then, before the airbender could barely blink, the sparrow flickered into a gecko, which landed upon the rock with a soft thud. It's new eyes swiveled briefly back to Aang before it crawled away into the grass. The Avatar let go a breath he just realized he'd been holding. No matter how many times he came here, he was always astounded by what he saw.
Far in the distance, a wolf howled. Aang composed himself as he reached the tree. Reaching out tentatively he laid one hand against the bark. It was surprisingly warm and almost pulsed under his touch. Every hallow, every cranny felt like a vein and the tree felt more like a living organism each second he touched. Suddenly, out of fear, he drew back. Another shimmer of wind brushed past him. It was some time before he touched the tree again. Nothing else was happening so this must be what he had to do. This time, when his fingertips made contact with the tree's skin feel felt an echoing beat, like a drum from far off. What was surprising was that this appeared to be coming from within the tree itself.
"That is its heart you are hearing." Came an authoritative voice from behind him. It was commanding in tone but not deep. The Avatar turned and felt his body freeze. A demon stood towering from him a few feet away, at least seven feet tall. Robes of deep envious green covered the dark skinned creature with a crimson sash binding them across the waist. Luxurious golden sandals covered the feet so that only the clawed toes were visible. Its large eyes were fixed upon his face. The mouth was an unreadable expression, showing neither malice nor compassion. Atop its head there sat a small rounded cap with an ornamental piece of cloth dangling from it. Aang braced for combat. Despite this demon's relaxed appearance; it could be here for a fight.
"What do you want?" The Avatar asked, keeping his own voice calm. The demon advanced a step.
"Right to business Avatar, I like that. I cannot stand people who banter about the issue all the time. It expounds and infuriates the work I am trying to accomplish. But you, you got right to the point and so shall I: my name is Shinto and as you have no doubt concluded, I have intercepted you from your normal dream state and brought you here." The demon bowed low as he introduced himself, extending one fearsome hand up in the air as a gesture of courtesy. Aang returned the move, all the while being careful not to avert his eyes.
"You summoned me? Why?" He asked. His voice remained steady. Shinto made an expression that could have been a grin or a sneer.
"Continuing on the straight track, yes that is good. If only every procedure I conducted operated this smoothly with so cooperative a defendant. Ah but you are the Avatar after all, we would not have chosen a lineage of gossips and mumbles." Shinto advanced further. "I, why I summoned you here for trial sir, obviously. You must have trial. It is a very serious crime you are charged with."
"Crime?" Was all Aang managed to get out. Shinto held up a talon to silence him.
"Yes, yes: crime. You murdered the spirit known as Koh did you not? An immediate trial and evaluation must be done to see if you are fit to remain as Avatar." Shinto had advanced so close that he now hung over the airbender. "You don't seem like the murdering type to me but then again it is not my place to decide. No, a judge much older and wiser will be needed to help me weigh the facts."
"You don't mean...Oguanga?" Aang asked, his voice breaking slightly. Shinto rasped out reptilian laughter.
"No human, not the great king! Do not misunderstand he is interested in the verdict of the trial but Oguanga is too familiar with the situation to be able to judge in a sound manner. He and the Face Stealer spirit were good friends many millennia ago."
Aang felt his spirit sink. "I see...uh so what happens if I go with you to this trial and am found guilty?" Shinto stopped laughing.
"There is no if Avatar. You have been summoned. Any failure to comply with summons would result in very harsh penalties indeed. And should the verdict be guilty, the penalty is severe. We cannot allow an Avatar to savagely murder spirits without cause." The demon placed a clawed hand on Aang's shoulder. "But do not fret. Only a guilty soul has anything to fear from the judge. If you believe in your innocence then you will awaken in your bed tomorrow with all of this having been nothing more than a passing dream. But come, the hour grows and we have far to travel. Simply hold onto my robe Avatar and let the journey take you..."
Zuko always felt tension when facing his people. At every speech, during every decree the Firelord never experienced peace. These were supposed to be his people, loyal subjects and servants of the Fire Nation. If anything in all the world he should feel the safest when surrounded and confided in their midst. Why then would he prefer to face a village of angry Earth Kingdom refugees or a tribe of waterbenders? Were these not his people? Was he not their Firelord?
"All right, remember everybody behind me." He called to the others. "Whatever the misunderstanding is I'll deal with it." They were gathered in the lobby of the Gorgon Inn; the main door was, at the moment, closed yet the waving lights of the outside torches illuminated through the very walls. Zuko felt Toph only a step behind. The blind earthbender had no fear of what lay on the other side of that door. He smirked slightly to himself, if only he had her courage. The Firelord stepped forward and gripped the door handle. With a tug of both physical effort and willpower he pulled away the barrier and stood upon the threshold.
In front of his eyes twenty men of less than a reputable stature stood, their torches held high. They were clothed in dark green rain tunics, the kind that Fire Nation soldiers used to be equipped with many years ago. Their leader, the man in front had a snarl of displeasure distorting his features but he was still recognizable. Toph had bent this man's knife when he had threatened her back in town. It looked like he had come for some revenge.
"Gentlemen..." Zuko began in his most civil and sophisticated tone. "You have taken us by surprise: we did not expect guests at so late an hour. Come, why not step inside out of the rain and wilds of the night and we'll settle whatever issue or issues you have inside."
The leader smirked. "You are a good talker my Lord." He answered back roughly. "But we did not come to chat with you, we came for her!" He pointed a finger at Toph.
"He means me right?" The blind earthbender asked, looking around. "Please say he means me."
"You're not getting her." Sokka responded before anyone could say or do anything. He left Suki's side and stepped up to Toph. "I think you'll find that if you try...well then we're going to have a situation." Suki and Mai advanced too. Some of the faces of the crowd exchanged skeptical looks.
"That woman is a criminal!" The leader stated bluntly. "To harbor her would be against Fire Nation law and we all know that Firelord Zuko: servant to his people, we all know he'd never go against his own law." Mai scoffed.
"What law has she broken?" Zuko asked, sharing his wife's cynicism. "Because I was there, I saw you draw your weapon on her. I watched her defend herself from you, a bully who was trying to take advantage of a young woman. By my judgment this mob has shown up to arrest the wrong person. It is you that should be placed behind bars!"
"Do you even know who I am?" The leader asked. Zuko shook his head truthfully. "I am Kang Da! I am the spiritual leader of this island and I was on my way to deliver important offerings to the shrine of Ji Tian when this woman – this girl went right into me, practically destroying the ritual. Then when I drew my ceremonial dagger she bent it, putting further insult to our customs! She committed a crime against our community and must be punished!"
"...That is not what I saw." Zuko countered after a few moments pause. "And you," He added harshly. "Look nothing like a priest."
"And you act nothing like our Firelord!" Kang Da shot back. "We are your people Sire and you side constantly with foreigners and outside nations on all affairs! Oh yes, we are very learned on your politics, even out on this little island. You do not escape our scrutiny!" He paused, fuming with wrath, his gaze not flinching once from Zuko. Then the Firelord watched as his eyes widened a bit. "But you already knew that. That is why you are afraid to face us. You cannot stand to look at your people as a weak leader! As a failure!" At that moment a deep crimson blur shot past Zuko.
Mai had surged forth and struck Kang Da in the side of the head with her hand. The mob leader staggered back and nearly collapsed from the sudden impact. His face contorted with pain as he dropped onto one knee. After several moments he managed to regain a firm foothold and fix them with a new stare, this one filled with just as much hatred.
"Fine!" He spat at last. "Pardon her! We all know we can't bully you, nor did we ever intend to try to. This was not the reason for keeping these fathers and husbands out of bed. I wanted to show you Firelord that many of your subjects are displeased with you! To us, you're nothing more than a traitor." He held up a hand. "Come on, let's get back to our homes...we're wasting our time here."
And with that the mob dispersed, faintly flickering off into the night. One by one the torchlights went out, leaving Zuko standing on the threshold alone and completely in the dark.
Aang was unsure of what was happening. No sooner had his hand clasped the demon's fabric then the world blurred around them. It was like traveling so fast he was not moving at all. Around him trees, rivers, fields, mountains, swamps, and forests all streaked by. It was like the scenery was being diced up into little slices and then stripped across his vision. He couldn't possibly guess how much time was passing. The sky sputtered erratically overhead. Night and day switched themselves out with no rhyme or reason, sometimes for only a flash then others for what seemed like lifetimes.
Finally the swooshing sensation stopped and the two found themselves standing upon the edge of a majestic lagoon. Seven jagged rocks stuck up from the water, which otherwise was one single mass of murky blue. Around the circumference vibrant tropical trees grew, whose low hanging branches hung out over the water. The Avatar peered into the water. It was colored as thick as paint. For all he could tell an entire world might be hidden just an inch below the surface and he would be unable to see it.
"Like our own sense of perception." Shinto remarked beside him. "We see so little of what's staring us in the face. This pool serves as a reminder of how blind we all are. There is only one who can see through its abyss. Only one; the judge who will present me with the evidence of your case. Here dwells the oldest spirit in existence in either this world or your own. The name given to him by your people was Saligia: the scale." The demon drew close and kneeled before the water. With reverence he dipped a single claw into the liquid, held it there for a second, before withdrawing it slowly. "Now he is summoned." He told the Avatar.
Aang watched as bubbles began to appear on the lagoon's surface. Out in middle of the pool, torrents of water began to shoot into the air. First only a few inches, but then higher and higher the spouts of water climbed. Something enormous was stirring. Both the airbender and the demon hurried back a few paces as waves splashed over the shore. A low hissing sound, like steam, was being emitted and small clouds of vapor were issuing out of the lagoon's depths. Raising a hand over his eyes, Aang scanned the surface of the water, looking for some sign of whatever was coming up from below. He did have to search long.
A gargantuan azure tentacle, as big around as a giant totoro tree trunk, had risen from the depths and was wrapping itself around one of the seven jagged rocks. As he stared more tentacles emerged, each one gripping and seizing a rock as almost a pillar of support while pulling the spirit's body from the water. Finally the eighth tentacle appeared and Aang noticed that, rather than seek support, it already was fastened tightly around a long metal object. With the final tentacle a great tremor of water erupted forth, showering both Avatar and demon in water. When he had finally blinked enough water from his eyes to see, Aang beheld the spirit completely for the first time.
An octopus whose size exceeded comprehension sat atop the waves of the lagoon. Pure cerulean in color, its skin seemed to waver and shift like the water in which it dwelled. Two bleached white eyes stared down at them while the spirit shifted its eighth tentacle downward. It indeed held a mammoth bronze weighing scale As stillness resettled over the area Shinto stepped forward and, removing his cap, bowed low before the creature.
"Most honored spirit..." He began in his low raspy voice. "I thank you for lending me your presence in resolving a matter of some grim importance. Do you recognize this mortal spirit standing before you?" He gestured to Aang. One of the octopus's eyes widened slightly.
"I do," It breathed. It was like the very planet was speaking, so old and unfathomable the sound. "This is the Avatar, created by your people to maintain balance between the worlds." The airbender blinked in surprise. Impossible...the Avatar could not have been created by the demons. Were these things that he feared, could they really be his makers? "The Avatar is your agent." The spirit was continuing. "You were placed in charge of his actions. You and you alone are the fit judges on his soul. Or has Oguanga abandoned his responsibility?"
"That is not the case at all." Shinto replied. "We know we are this one's keepers but Oguanga felt that his judgment would be impaired. You see, this incarnation of the Avatar has killed a spirit. Koh, the Face Stealer is slain." Immediately the scale dropped to the left side. The octopus' eyes narrowed.
"I see..." The voice boomed. "Do you deny this Avatar?" Aang looked up. He could not stop himself from trembling under the gaze of this powerful immortal. Slowly he shook his head. "Then it becomes a question of why, what reasonable cause did you have?" The spirit went on. "Was it lust or greed or wrath that compelled you to this action? Maybe envy, or maybe you did it just to satisfy your belief that you could? Well...speak!"
"I – I was angry." Aang stammered out.
"Why were you angry?" Shinto pushed.
"My wife...my unborn child..." Aang stammered. "They were lost to me unless I acted. I should have looked harder for another way; I know I should have. I was foolish to even think that – " The scale balanced itself. The airbender halted in mid-sentence.
"Are you saying you did this out of...compassion and love? To save lives?" Shinto asked in a very serious voice. "To protect the innocent?"
"I would kill Koh again." Aang admitted. "And again...and again if it meant saving the ones I loved. I don't care what you do to me. Just knowing they're safe is enough."
"This trial is over." Shinto proclaimed.
"You have reached a verdict?" The spirit boomed, its voice causing the water to ripple.
"Yes most honored one." The demon responded. "I am sorry for troubling you without looking into this matter thoroughly myself. I simply did not expect it to be so clear cut as this. Avatar," He addressed the airbender. "When we decreed that your soul incarnate as a human there was a reason for it. We wanted you to feel and experience the emotions of the people you were protecting. It would have been easy to make you immortal, but then you would have been flawed, unable to fully attach yourself to the human world. Instead you are flawed in a different way, you are human."
"We cannot persecute you for our decision." Shinto continued. "You did only what you could, nothing more. This compassion can lead to mistakes but it is also the Avatar's greatest source of power. It is how you win over immeasurable odds. How you ended a war when nobody else could. Oh yes Avatar, we have followed your steps carefully and based on your record and your reasoning: I hereby acquit you of all charges. I will tell Oguanga that he can be proud that his agent still behaves so admirably." The demon again made a face that resembled a smile. "Go..." he breathed. "Return to your wife."
"Justice is done." The echoing thunder of the octopus proclaimed. "Though I was not needed, I am glad to have met you Avatar. It is good to see the innocent on occasion." Aang bowed low, touching the ground with his head.
"Thank you both!" He exclaimed happily. "I will continue to serve." Shinto nodded.
"Now Avatar," He said. "Awaken!"
Aang sat up in his bed. Warm sunlight flooded in from the window outside. The air was crisp and fresh, signaling the start of a new day. At his side Katara still peacefully slumbered. Her dark hair fallen in locks over her beautiful face. Gently he reached down and ran a hand over her cheek. His wife smiled in her sleep and inched closer to him. The airbender lay back. It was all right, everything was right in the world...at last.
In the Spirit World Shinto traveled briskly across a peaceful landscape. He had left the lagoon and was leisurely taking his time in returning to his people. He liked spending time in this place, everything here was always tranquil yet at the same time changing. He could not wait to deliver the joyous news to his people. He remembered how crestfallen Oguanga had looked upon hearing the recanting of the events. But now that the Avatar was found innocent, there was no cause for further worry or action. Peace could continue raining. Looking up the demon stopped suddenly as two figures blocked his way. He recognized one but not the other.
"Monk Quanfar!" He called in joyous greeting. "How good to see you, I am unacquainted with your young lady friend there. Hello miss!"
"It is good to see you too Shinto my friend." Quanfar replied. He was very heavily robed, bundling both hands up out of view. "This is my disciple Emiko, we were just both so eager to hear the results of the Avatar's trial we had to come learn it for ourselves." Shinto raised an eyebrow.
"How do you know there was a trial?" He asked, suddenly on guard.
"Why Oguanga told me of course." Quanfar replied, his voice not skipping a beat. "You can imagine how distressing it was to hear. Our own Avatar in such a serious situation. Why can you imagine what could happen? This is the sort of thing wars are fought over."
Shinto laughed. "Well that won't happen this time. I'm happy to tell both you and your disciple that your friend the Avatar has been found innocent on all charges. The demons will be taking no further measures." Quanfar nodded, he took several steps closer.
"I see," He began. "This is your conclusion is it? Well that's good news. Just tell me though to satisfy some morbid curiosity, what would Oguanga do if the Avatar was guilty and a fugitive on the run?"
Shinto blinked. "Why he'd send his army to the human world to retrieve him, you know that."
"And anyone who joined forces and fought with the Avatar against the demons?" The old monk pushed.
"They would share the same harsh penalties as any who oppose us in battle..." Shinto stated reluctantly. "Where are you going with all these questions Quanfar?"
"Nowhere! Like I said, just curious. It is really good to see you again Shinto. Though it was a pity that you were the one picked for this case."
"Why?" The demon asked. "I had fun. Interacting with humans is always amusing." Monk Quanfar nodded. He drew aside his robes and produced a sword from under them. The blade was jet black with a gold handle.
"Do you know what metal this is?" He asked the demon. "I just had to show you, I found it on one of my trips to the surface some time ago..."
Shinto regarded the weapon. "Can't say I recognize the source." He admitted.
"That is because it comes from beyond this earth. Brought down from the farthest reaches of space. I always loved swords, such a sophisticated weapon. You always know that skill determines the victor of the battle." The old monk ran a hand along the blade. "It's such a shame you found the Avatar innocent. I really didn't want to do this." Shinto gave him a confused look. With a sudden lurch Quanfar shot forward, impaling the demon cleanly through the heart. Shinto staggered and dropped to his knees. He looked up at the monk with pleading eyes.
"I don't understand," He began. "If I don't return Oguanga will assume the worst. It'll mean open war upon the land!" The old monk exchanged a look with Emiko before kneeling down next to the demon.
"That's precisely why." He acknowledged. Then, with another stroke of the sword he severed Shinto's head. "Please forgive me friend," he said one final time. Then, turning: "Let's go, Oguanga will dispatch someone to find him soon and I'd rather not be here when they arrive." He threw the sword down on the ground, beside the body. "Everything is proceeding to my vision." He acknowledged suddenly, his body beginning to laugh uncontrollably.
Elsewhere, deep within the Fire Nation Royal Palace, Azula sat up on her white bed. With sharp eyes she turned and stared out the window. "Castles crumble and mountains weep," She whispered. "For the demon king heralds the end of days."
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