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|Reversion: Part One|
Previously on Energy Saga
As the Battle of the Six Armies rages on, Avatar Aang and his friends and companions stand strong in their defense of Omashu. Together they combine their efforts to defeat the Anti-bender Militia, the Dai Li and finally the Air Nation as Aang faces off against the Air Lord near the Back Wall and traps him in a chunk of earth. Now, the only remaining enemy is Azula, flanked by the revitalized Phoenix Army, and some of those closest to the Avatar have been getting ideas. Ideas that lead him to a difficult decision.
Reversion: Part One
Front Wall of Omashu, 121 AG
The Avatar made his way back toward the Front Wall as soon as he had bested Icarus in battle and one more threat to his legion and his family was extinguished. With the Anti-benders, the Dai Li and now the Air Nation all beaten, the only foe that still faced them was the Phoenix Army. It was not long after he left the Back Wall that he came across Triney, Tenzin and Sokka standing together outside of a local shelter.
"I see that you're fully recovered now," Aang addressed Sokka, beaming. It appeared that Sakema had managed to fully heal her father.
"Never better," Sokka reciprocated. Even in his thirties, Sokka never let go of the spirit that he had held as a teenager fighting in the Hundred Year War. "So, what did I miss?"
"Well, the anti-benders and the Dai Li have already retreated," Aang informed him. "Now, the Air Nation has also surrendered and Icarus and Long Feng have both been taken prisoner."
Sokka curled his lip and patted his friend the Avatar on the shoulder. "It looks like things are finally going our way! In that case, we're only fighting the Fire Nation now, just like the old days."
Tenzin shared his uncle's enthusiasm, leaping ten feet in the air and doing a gleeful somersault in mid-air. "Well done, Dad!"
On the other hand, Trinley was not celebrating. "I hate to be a kill-joy here, but we've still got our work cut out for us with the Phoenix Army," the airbender said, crossing his arms with disapproval. "They have the upper hand and our defenses at the Front Wall are all-but shattered. We're in serious danger."
Tenzin was not convinced. "Relax, Master Trinley," he said, exhaling a faint gust of wind with each syllable. "It does not matter how strong the Phoenix Army is now because we've already won. My dad simply needs to use Icarus to conquer Azula and we'll win the day."
The Avatar's own smile faded at the sound of his eldest child's words. "What do you mean by, 'use Icarus to conquer Azula,' Tenzin?"
"Just what it sounds like I mean, Dad," said Tenzin. "Bring Icarus with you when you go to fight Azula, and then use Shuten Shogai with his energy."
"I can't," Aang told his son firmly. "I swore to myself on my duty as the Avatar that I would never energybend again. Just because there's a tough fight ahead of us doesn't mean that I can go back on that promise now."
"But Tenzin does have a point, Aang," Trinley chimed in, surprising the Avatar. Trinley had always been the most true of his students; the first, the best and now the survivor. "Energybending may be out of balance for the long run, but in the short run we need to win this battle, ensure our survival and save the countless lives of the people of Omashu. A small amount of energybending will not be out of order."
Aang shook his head. "I don't know. I feel that it's times like this when it's most difficult to resist the temptation to energybending that it's most vital to do so."
But if the Avatar was surprised to get the endorsement of Shuten Shogai from Trinley, he was utterly shocked at what Sokka had to say on the matter. "I'm with Tenzin and Trinley on this, Aang. What you did to my sister is something I can never forget, but if it's Air Lord Icarus that we're talking about and the situation is as grave as Trinley says it is, then I don't see any other way. Just use Shuten Shogai to win the battle and be done with it. After that, we'll have all the time in the world for bringing the world back into balance and finding a way to help Katara."
"And once the world is safe, you'll never have to energybend again," said Trinley. "Just this once."
Aang hesitated for a moment. "I'd be condemning Icarus to a fate worse than death if I drain his bodily energy for my own purposes, whatever noble truths there may be to support such purpose. Whatever Icarus has done, we cannot sink to his level. It's against all the Air Nomad teachings that we live our life by."
"I understand where you're coming from, Dad," said Tenzin. "Truly, I do. But Icarus killed Monk Feng Qu, and Sister Rensa...and even Appa. He would have killed me, and you, and Vameira if he had had things his way. He'll only make it harder to bring the world back into balance from the damage that's been done to it."
"Damage that I caused with my folly of going too deep into energybending," Aang shot back. "As grim as it may be, death is a natural thing. What this would do to Icarus, though, would be unnatural. There's always been a sinister catch with energybending every time that I have used it. It's an easy trap to fall into, but I don't see how two wrongs can ever make a right in this case. This could drive the world further out of balance if I do this, maybe even beyond repair."
"A catch we can afford," said Trinley. Although balance was of paramount importance to the world, its relatively invisible nature led even the best of people to neglect their role in maintaining it when confronted with something more ugly and visible. "Even after all the catches that we've seen, there is still hope because you're still the Avatar and you still stand to protect the balance of the world. All of the catches so far you have recovered from, and this time will be no different. We need this, Aang. After today, by all means, never energybend again, and one day before too long, we can all put this day behind us."
Aang did not say anything for a time. He broke eye contract from the trio of friends he found standing against him and allowed himself to be alone with his thoughts, pondering all the ups and downs of the scenario. "I'm going to confront Azula on my own," he said finally. "But first I'm going to the Back Wall."
King Bumi Central Square
The bulk of the remaining standing members of the Avatar Legion had gathered near the Front Wall, where their only threat left – the Phoenix Army under the command of Fire Lord-pretender Azula – was rapidly approaching. Working together, Migo and Brawki took charge of gathering their loyal fighters together, so that they could put up the best resistance possible to the Phoenix Army when they attempted to breach the gates of the city. Meanwhile, the Avatar himself stayed absent for the time being.
"If the Phoenix Army attacks this gate, we cannot let them through here," Brawki told all the troops and allies from different walks of life that stood around him. "We must stop them at all costs."
"In other words, stop them or die trying," commented Migo. "That's the gist of it."
"Well, if we don't stop them, die is what we will all certainly do," Brawki went on. "If the city is sacked, then it's all over for us. And when Azula takes back the Fire Nation, she will restart the conflict that we fought a generation ago. The former Hundred Year War will once again become the Neverending War. That may still happen even if we repel her forces today. That is, unless someone else rises up to take up that position in her stead."
Letting out a heavy sigh, Migo finally conceded to Brawki's demand for him. "If I must do it for the betterment of the world, I will go to the Fire Nation and take up the title of Fire Lord."
At these words, some of the crowd opposite them began to part with one another as a slightly shorter figure in a red cloak began shoving their way through the bodies to meet them. "No, Migo. You won't have to do anything. Marry Queen Toph is you may, and don't leave your native land behind. I am Princess Neinei, eldest child and firstborn daughter of current and rightful Fire Lord Zuko. I am of the royal lineage of the Fire Nation and if anybody is going to step in and bring our country back under control, then it is going to be me!"
"Silence, you foolish girl!" Brawki spat. "What proof do you have of your supposed royal blood other than your own word?"
"Mine!" When the brown-robed figure pulled down her hood and revealed her identity, every face in the crowd that Migo and Brawki had gathered together turned to face her.
"Fire Lady Mai," Migo blurted out, his jaw dropped. "You're alive!"
"Mom!" Neinei exclaimed in disbelief, running into her mother's arms. "I missed you so much."
"Yes," Mai wrapped her daughter in a hug. "I missed you too, Neinei. I would recognize my own daughter anywhere. But I wouldn't call us exactly safe and sound yet. We're in for a rough fight if Azula is anything remotely like how she used to be. Where in spirits is the Avatar?"
Not far off, the Chief of the Southern Water Tribe's daughter Sakema was attending to healing some of the wounded fallen from the battlefield. Those who could no longer fight had been brought toward the safe houses from both the Front Wall and the Back Wall alike, where the proficient waterbending healer attended to all their needs. A one-hundred and seventy-one-year-old man, shaken from trauma of events of his own, wandered into the area.
"What are you doing here?" asked Migo, who had come running when he saw Guru Pathik coming closer to the war zone. "I thought that you were staying inside the royal palace."
Sakema briefly turned away from the Omashu soldier whose scars she was drawing her water-covered hands over. "Unless you have some way of helping out, there's not much purpose to you being here. No offense, guru."
"I was not planning on coming down here," Pathik explained, limping as though something in his chest was bothering him. "As I was meditating, I found...a disturbance with the energies presently surrounding this city. Something is shifting in the balance around this place. I don't know if it has anything to do with the battle that's going on or not, but it shook me out of my meditation and led me out of hiding. I had to investigate."
"I don't think it's anything to concern yourself over," said Migo. "We have bigger things to worry about, as that army standing outside of the front gate will tell you."
"Do not take matters like this lightly," Pathik uttered with such unaccustomed ferocity that Migo leaned back in reflex. "We may not always see them, but these shifts in the balance affect us all! And if this is as I fear it might be...there may be no going back..."
"So, it looks like the Avatar is too scared to face us," Azula proclaimed with mock amusement. "Well, lets dig that coward and his pals out and burn their precious metropolis to the ground!" The Fire Nation exile had left her airship – attended to by Colonel Wan – and was now marching at the head of the army across the narrow earthen bridge which connected it to the main city. A smart defense for the Earth Kingdom city, she thought to herself. One or two skilled earthbenders could easiy ward of an invasion by crushing the bridge and sending their opponents down into the pit below. A formidable obstacle, before the days of airship and mechanical flight.
Almost in response to her command, a lone figure glided with the help of his staff from over the inner edge of the Front Wall of Omashu. It was Avatar Aang, and it seemed that he had turned up after all.
Azula's lips curled as her pray came unwittingly closer to her grasp. "You're late, Avatar," she called out. A faint murmur of laughter rang through her ranks, who would not allow the wit of their commanding officer and soon-to-be Fire Lord to go overlooked.
"Sorry to keep you waiting," Aang mused at her coolly. "You and I have some unfinished business."
"I'm guessing that you hoped to duel me one on one in order to avoid more bloodshed," said Azula. "Airbenders are so predictable, aren't they? If you wanted single combat, you should have came to me to begin with. Now that you've hidden behind your walls, everyone else who was waiting behind those walls with you will fall by your side."
Even though he was by himself against her vast host, Aang was unshaken. "No matter. Face me with your whole army. I'll beat you and throw you out."
"And how are you going to do that?"
Aang whirled his arms around and through the skyline a misshapen boulder soared through the air and came to a soft landing on the bridge behind him.
Raising an eyebrow, Azula took a peek at what Aang had earthbent over and saw that there was another airbender crouched over with rock surrounding his arms and legs. "What is this Avatar? You've got another one of your airbenders with you now?" Her smile faded when you noticed who exactly it was. "What's Icarus doing here with you?"
"I'm going to give you one last chance to turn your army around and stand down, Azula," said Aang. "Be reasonable."
"You can't be serious," said Azula, with a mocking tone that failed to hide a nervous streak. "Nah, you wouldn't." She was clearly trying to convince herself of this. "I know you too well, Avatar. Your cooky Old Air Nomad values won't allow you to do anything like this. There's no way you're actually going to use Shuten Shogai again, after you know what it does."
"I will if I have to."
"Remember Katara." Azula's eyes narrowed. "I remember when you first told me about what you did to your waterbender girl back when we met on Ember Island. I said that you had sunk to the same level I was. At the time I was only half serious, but now I can see you've sunk way below me."
"I'm not the one threatening a city full of innocent people, am I?"
"Everyone, attack the Avatar," Azula addressed her troops. "He must not be allowed to perform that move!"
Dozens of arrows and fire blasts shot toward Avatar Aang. In response, he twirled his glider stick around and the arrows were knocked out of place while the fire blasts simmered and their flames died out in mid-air. Bringing his glider staff down, Aang swiped down at where his feet were to knock some of the approaching Fire Nation troops out of the way. With that, several of the Phoenix Army soldiers wound up falling to their deaths in the gorge on either side of the great bridge of Omashu. Others retreated to the safe ground, shoving against each other. A couple more fell to their deaths in the retreat.
Azula, on the other hand, stood her ground. She jump-kicked and an arc of fire came up to redirect the fireball which Aang had sent her way. She evaded the next one with ease. "You're still using purple fire, I see."
"Of course," Aang told her as he held two more growing pieces of amethyst-colored flame – one in each hand. In truth, he had stopped bending purple fire for a while, but he had just started again. After all, if he was going to be using Shuten Shogai again it would not matter to slip just a little farther. He could always turn around and bring himself and everything else back into balance after he had finished here.
Or so he told himself.
Preparing to use Shuten Shogai now, Aang drew his arm back and sent forth an energy shove, knocking Azula off-balance. He barely noticed the thump in his body when the energy returned to him. Now he would have enough time to prepare himself to launch the attack on Azula and the Phoenix Army which stood behind her. Shattering some of the earth that held Icarus's left arm to the chunk of rock he had brought from the Back Wall, Aang punched Icarus in the jaw and seized his left hand. Then he began stretching the Air Lord's fingers apart and exposing his palm.
"No!" cried a bloody-faced Icarus, resisting the Avatar and closing his fingers over the center of his hand once again. "Avatar...Aang, don't. You can't!"
"Be silent, Icarus," snapped Aang. "This will save lives...it will help bring balance..." As he trailed off, part of Aang began doubting his own words. How could this act bring about balance if it was the antithesis of it? Every time he energybent it was inherently an attack on the natural state of the world, and the most powerful attack in energybending would be one of the greatest possible hindrances therefore. But he had come too far to turn around and take Icarus back into the city with him now. "It will all be over soon."
"Please Aang," Icarus begged. "I know that I wasn't always the best student. I should've listened to you during your teachings, not just about airbending but nonviolence too. Look where my errors got me. Now I see the way. If you'll just give me another chance, I'll do my very best to be a true Air Nomad and live by the lifestyle and philosophy you taught."
"I am afraid that it's too late for that now," Aang said solemnly and with genuine pity in his voice.
"Or don't give me another chance," Icarus said quickly and desperately. "Take away my airbending now. I probably deserve that much at this point. Then exile me or give me any punishment you see fit. But please...don't do Shuten Shogai with my energy!"
"I'm sorry, Icarus," said Aang, hesitating for a moment before finding the words to justify himself. "This isn't even about punishment. It just has to be this way, and you have to be the one to give the energy. It has to be you." Forcing the once-proud Air Lord's fingers apart into an open five-finger gesture, Aang aligned the center of chi in his own hand with that of Icarus and began walking himself through the motions of the energybending move.
If what was to come could not be called balance, then perhaps it was peace. But what kind of peace would it be? The kind that Aang wanted to believe in? Or the kind that Icarus would have made if left to his own devices?
By the time that Azula had sufficiently regained herself, Aang was almost done with performing the necessary steps. "Stand there all you want, but I know you won't do it. It was one thing when you accidentally ruined Katara because you didn't know what you were getting yourself into, but you can't ever do something intentionally so against your nature. You're the Avatar."
As his arteries pulsed so hard that he nearly let go of Icarus prematurely and the feeling spread throughout the whole of the rest of his body, Aang took note how unusually calm Azula looked, partially like she was doubting him to the last moment and partially like she disbelieved that she was looking at the same person whose daughter she had helped to rescue not all that long before. Unlike the first time that he had performed Shuten Shogai with Katara, when the throbbing of his heart began all his veins turned hot and for an instant Aang could fully feel every single piece of his own body energy. The fabric of his bodily spirit was torn as Icarus's energy passed by his own.
The locked door became clear to him. No longer did he have to pause or meditate to sense into his inner spirit and feel how in control he was of his own energy. Rather, the door was not just wide open, but unhinged and broken off, so that nothing was left but a wide open passageway for destructive energy to come and go through as it pleased. Uncloseable. Just before the energy of Icarus left his body through the chi center of his other hand, Aang cringed as the corruption spread from that passageway and throughout his body. But it did not stop there. It spread to his spirit, and through the cosmic connection which connected the spirit of the current Avatar with his past lives.
Shuten Shogai did just as it was supposed to do. The beam hit Azula dead-on and continued right through her, incinerating her body. Behind the former Fire Nation princess, the members of her army scattered and attempted to flee. Yet the rounded explosion was quicker, and the glowing orb consumed them all. The glowing orb would've consumed Aang as well, but he let go of Icarus's limp living corpse and somersaulted backwards, so he was back atop the Front Wall of Omashu. It was fortunate for Icarus that he could not feel it when his own body was consumed by Shuten Shogai at well, at such close range. Aang did not kill him, but he had not chosen to save him, either.
"Even if I had to sacrifice my values, it was worth it," Aang whispered to himself under his breath. "Even if I had to sacrifice some of my essence, it was worth it. My friends are safe. My children are safe. The balance is still safe...for now...even if I won't want to keep it that way much longer. Even if I broke one of my Avatar promises, I've kept most of them. Regardless of if I break more later, all is well...for now."
And for that moment, all was well.
Omashu Royal Palace
The Avatar's two sons met up in the main entrance to Queen Toph's extravagant home, sitting together wordlessly on the steps that led to the central corridor. Chief Sokka and the queen herself stood a distance off, by the door that led to the throne room, speaking in hushed voices while Guru Pathik stood beside them. For a long time, neither one of the boys said anything to the other. With such a long and imposing battle finally concluded there was nothing to say, really. Victory had come for them all at last, though at a great cost, and few of them had the will to do more than was necessary. It was not a time to reminisce about horrors that had just taken place, either.
At last Kaddo spoke to his older brother. "Well, it looks like we don't have any more major enemies to fight for now, except for the Sages Bane, but they come and go as they please. With so many of us together I doubt they'll mount an attack now. I guess that Dad can finally do whatever it is he needs to in order to fix Mom."
"Yeah," Tenzin said with a nod. "I do feel kind of bad, though. I got him to use Shuten Shogai. Even if it was necessary, Dad sure wasn't happy about it."
"Well, it won the day," said Kaddo. "If that was your idea, I wouldn't sweat yourself about it, Tenzin."
"It wasn't just me, Kaddo," said Tenzin. "It was me, and Sokka and Trinley. Dad was hesitant, though. After all, it was the same energybending technique which put Mom the way she was now. Of course, Dad didn't want to use it, and maybe it wasn't right of me to try to tell him otherwise."
"Maybe I would've agreed with you before," admitted Kaddo. "But our army was at the end of its rope by the time that Dad was facing off against Azula. I now see that it was for the best."
"Yeah," Tenzin said with a slow nod. "I suppose you're right. We may have lost even more lives otherwise."
"We still lost quite a few," said Kaddo. "Nala died out there today. I always thought that woman was really goofy and clumsy, but today she was a true heroine. I'll try never to underestimate someone because of their gender again because of her. Queen Toph was so emotional, too. Never seen her like that before."
"It's war," said Tenzin, harsh. "We all see things that we later wish that we hadn't."
"So have you talked to Neinei yet?" Kaddo asked awkwardly.
"Not yet," said Tenzin. "She's with her mother at this point. I decided that it would be only right to let them have their reunion together as a family. They have a lot on their plate with her father the way he is and the uncertain fate of their entire nation to deal with now. Once I've given them time to settle in, I'll go see Neinei. It's only right for me to reach out to her, but only when the time is right, after I have given them the right amount of space."
"I see," said Kaddo, scratching the back of his neck with even more awkwardness. "Well...good luck with that..."
"Ummm...thanks," said Tenzin. "Wait? Do you have something on your mind that you're not telling me?"
"What? No, not at all, Tenzin! Why would you think that?"
"You're acting strange, Kaddo. Have you been talking to Neinei around my back about me?"
Fortunately for the young waterbender, he was relieved of the responsibility to answer by the arrival of their little sister coming up the steps to approach where they sat. "Hi Tenzin. Hi Kaddo."
"Hi Vameira," said Kaddo. "Have you been off riding Pooka?" He knew quite well that she would not have been, but he was in an especially eager mood to change the subject to anything away from the current one.
"No," said Vameira. "I just saw Aunt Suki, though, and she's a mess right now. Guys...cousin Hinko was killed on the battlefield today."
"What?!" Kaddo blurted out in shock.
"It can't be," said Tenzin. "How-how could that have happened? Hinko was a great warrior. Nobody could beat him in a duel with a sword."
"We don't know who killed him," said Vameira. "It was in the heat of a large battle, so it could've been pretty much anyone I guess. It's sad, though. I tried to offer my condolences, but Aunt Suki didn't seem to hear me."
"Give her time," said Tenzin. "We'll just have to be strong and try to be there when she needs us." He turned his head and stole a look at his uncle Sokka. "Does he know?"
"Yes," Vameira said with an averting nod.
"I suppose we should say something to him soon," said Tenzin. "But he looks busy at the moment."
"I wonder where cousin Sakema is," Kaddo wondered out loud. "I think that I should at least say something to her soon. She was his sister after all, and they've always been close."
Just then, the children's father the Avatar came up the steps in his walk toward the throne room. Sokka and Toph – joined by Pathik – walked over to meet him right beside where the three children gathered. Although undoubtedly still troubled, none of the battle-hardened adult members of Team Avatar showed any signs of distress. Pathik was a little worried, and it showed for him.
"Avatar Aang," he spoke softly. "I know that you said that you were fine before, but could you please allow me to read your energies? I feel a grave tone in the air, and my mind would be put at rest if I could just have a look at your energies."
"Very well," Aang said, so standoffish that it caught Tenzin, Kaddo and Vameira all by surprise. "Do what you will, guru. But I'm perfectly all right. Never better, in fact. My energies are just fine."
"I'm afraid that I can't agree," said Guru Pathik, placing his hand on the Avatar's chest. "If you do not do something soon, your energy will remain out of balance, and as the bridge between the two worlds, this could have wide and far implications. It may even be irreparable already."
"Are my chakras blocked?"
"No," said Pathik. "All of the energy is free to move as it wills, but..."
"Then I don't understand what the problem is!" snapped Aang.
"Hello Aang," Sokka interrupted.
The Avatar turned to the Chief of the Southern Water Tribe. "Sokka, I am sorry for your loss. If there is anything I can do, just let me know."
"We all suffered losses today," said Queen Toph. "And our job is not yet through. It seems as though it never is."
"Dad, can I have a word?" asked Tenzin.
"You guys go ahead," said Aang. "I'll catch up." Toph nodded, and she, Pathik and Sokka continued to walk toward the throne room. "What's on your mind, son?"
"I wanted to apologize to you, Dad," said Tenzin. "It must have been rough for you to do what you had to do. Maybe I could've been more tactful in my approach. Perhaps not in what I said, but how I said it."
Aang gave Tenzin a short half-hug. "Tenzin, Tenzin, don't be so silly. You were completely right. I don't need to hear apologies from you. In fact, I should be thanking you."
"It's over now," said the young airbender. "The deed is done and you don't have to energybend ever again now."
"What are you talking about?" asked Aang.
"Dad, you said you hated energybending now," said Vameira. "It's what drained Mom."
"Vameira's right," said Kaddo. "It's what you've been saying for months now."
"Yes, but perhaps I was wrong," said Aang. "I thought that humans shouldn't be trusted with the power to energybend, but energybending wasn't the issue. It was my not being able to control and use it properly. Jeong Jeong, and Yangchen, and Yue and everyone else who said otherwise just didn't believe that I could ever gain the proper control over it. But I have."
"Ummm...is that what Yue said?" asked Kaddo. "I seem to remember you saying something different when we last visited the North Pole."
"Of course," said Aang bluntly. "Energybending is only something to be feared outside the hands of the proper wielder. Maybe there's no one else who can be trusted with this power, but I can control it as the Avatar. If it wasn't for you, Tenzin, I would've ran from the powers of energybending all my life."
"What about Mom?" asked the airbending boy.
"Because of what happened to her, I ran from energybending altogether," explained Aang. "But once I used its most powerful move again, the energy flowing through me reminded me of the possibilities. Now I can use it to find a way to help your mom, and to do so much more."
"S-so much more?" asked Tenzin, his mouth hanging open.
"Build a new world, just the way it should be, without all the terrible problems we face now," said Aang, beaming without being reciprocated. "Anyhow, I need to talk to the other grownups about what we do next. Take care, kiddos."
Horrified, Vameira turned back to her equally shocked brothers as their dad left them behind. "Tenzin what have you done!"
TO BE CONTINUED...
- I always wanted to do an alternate ending, even before I finished publishing Energy Saga. Every now and then since I've flirted with the idea once in a while, but only got around to it recently.
- Reversion will probably end up in either three or four parts. It is not considered part of the Energy Saga continuity, and the actual way I ended the series still takes precedent. In it Aang "reverts" back to the relationship he had with energybending prior to Chapter 25.
- There is yet another alternate ending, which I already mentioned to some of you a while ago. It was the original ending for Energy Saga when I first started writing, which I later changed. Unlike that one, Reversion was never meant to be the real ending. It shows what happens afterward if Aang takes Sokka and Tenzin's advice rather than doing things his own way and not using Shuten Shogai again.
For the collective works of the author, go here.