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|The Charade Part 3 - The Fool|
April 3rd, 2011
A month following the Avatar's unexpected arrival at the South Pole, everything had returned to normal. Aang had spent his days in recluse, still playing with his daughter, but with a noticeable hint of bitterness. The mere thought of losing his family was enough to push him to the brink, and rebuilding after such a close encounter with death was another challenge entirely.
Sora had handled the experience well, as both Mommy and Daddy had told her that everything was fine. However, even the strongest words of security did nothing to comfort her dreams. She slept with her parents, as only her mother's arms could fix her occasional nighttime sobs. Katara had begun recovering as well; even holding her daughter as she slept seemed to sooth away her stress.
Aang was the one who seemed to have suffered the most lasting impact. His subconscious was plagued with memories of the cat tearing through Tengu's flesh. The image frequently changed forms, with either Sora or Katara taking Tengu's place. Many nights Aang simply stared at the ceiling of the ice hut, waiting for the morning sun to trickle in to the humble abode. Aang's sorrow ran deep; it was only the laughter of his family and the simple comfort of holding both his wife and daughter that managed to ease his pain, but his blissful time was not to remain...
A group of Water Tribe warriors walk along a raised strip of ice as the sunlight hits the barrier. As Hakoda paced along the Southern Tribe's walls, he noticed a ship approaching. It was flying the flag of the Earth Kingdom, so the former chief knew enough about politics not to offend such an important ally. He orders the benders to open the gate, allowing the vessel to enter.
Having continued his normal meditation schedule, Tengu watched from the top of his house as the ship pulled into the city's main dock. After a small moment, he witnessed a group of men dressed as soldiers exit the boat. Tengu noticed awkward bulges in their robes, clearly signifying ill-intent. "This will be an ordeal," the monk quietly thought to himself as he rose from his sitting position. Leaping from roof to roof, Tengu followed the men who were walking further into the center of the city.
The leader of the group, Shide, had disregarded Hakoda's invitation for an audience, giving him a cold welcome and stating his blatant mission to find the Avatar. He persisted on leading his unit into the tribe, despite the chief's offer to retrieve Aang himself. Shide arrived at the humble home in the center of the Southern Water Tribe, giving a small knock at the door. The sound was intentionally soft, and after no one came to the door, Shide had received the warrant he was looking for. Reaching into his robes, the soldier drew a sword and plunged it into the door. He moved the blade perpendicular to the ground, leaving a noticeable weakening of the ice barrier. He then tackled the door down, forcibly entering the Avatar's home. "Avatar Aang! You are under arrest for crimes against the Earth Kingdom, resisting your escort, and disregarding orders!" he calls, rousing the Avatar and his family.
Aang's eyes snapped open, sitting up in bed to see Katara jolt similarly with Sora in her arms. "Stay here," he said, leaping out of the bed towards the source of the sound. Upon entering the living room, Aang catches sight of the soldiers entering his home, rebuilding their collapsible weapons. "What are you doing here?" Aang says, glaring intently at Shide.
"Didn't you hear? We came to arrest you for your criminal activities!" That was more than the last straw. Considering what he had to deal with, Aang had surpassed his breaking point. Aang plunged his arms into the icy ground, sending the soldiers out of his house with a wave of freezing water. By the time the soldiers had regained their bearings and stood up, the Avatar had emerged from his house, his robes flowing in the breeze.
"What right do you have to barge into my home like that? This is an outrage!" he calls to the soldiers, who brush the snow off their clothes.
"By order of Earth King Kuei, you are to return to Ba Sing Se to stand trial for your crimes! Deserters are not tolerated!"
"By what means would even believe you could take the Avatar?" the chilling voice came from on top of a building, and the former assassin calmly leapt onto the snowy ground. "He would be able to defeat the best of your military, even if they had access to earth at the South Pole. You don't know the kind of force you're up against."
"We are here to bring him back to the Earth Kingdom to allow him to face justice."
"I will not go with you!" Aang declared.
Tengu quietly paced up to the Avatar, giving him a slight bow before beginning his advice. "Master, I believe it would be best if you actually go with them."
"Why would I even consider that?" Aang argued back in a hushed whisper.
"This is a matter involving three nations; the Air Nomads, the Southern Water Tribe, and the Earth Kingdom. The alliances tying the world together are strained at best, and causing this sort of struggle could plunge us back into a war. If you do go back, we can not only clear your name, but discover the true source of the problem."
"What if they won't let me? I've been in an Earth Kingdom court before, and it's far from fair."
"If for any reason they don't cooperate, we can always resort to your tactics," the monk said with a sly grin.
Able to come up with no reasons to counter his friend, Aang bowed his head, giving in. "We'll go. I won't make this an issue, but no promises about once we get there," he said darkly. "We'll get to the bottom of this, one way or the other."
Tengu nodded his head, turning back to the soldiers to signal their peaceful intentions. "We will go with you, but we will provide out own transport. We give you our word that we will fly directly to Ba Sing Se. These are our terms."
After looking from the Avatar's infuriated expression to the terrified glances of his comrades, Shide had his decision practically made for him. "If that is all, prepare for departure."
"I'll decide when we leave," Aang sharply replied, turning and walking back into his house. Entering his hallway, he saw Katara coming down the hall.
"Aang, what's wrong?" Aang's anger immediately vanished, hoping now to divert his wife's fury.
"The Earth King thinks I deserted. They sent soldiers to arrest me, so I had to get them out. I'm going with them to Ba Sing Se to set things right." Aang's head dropped, already beginning miss his family and grow angry at the soldiers for taking him away. "I'm sorry, Katara."
"Aang, it's not your choice. Go quickly, so you can come back soon." She walks closer to him, giving him a final hug and kiss. "Fly safely." Aang turns to leave, but Katara stops him. "Don't forget a coat," her maternal side flaring up. Aang walked to the wall, seeing the pelt of his newly minted foe.
"I'll take this," he said, ripping the pelt off the wall. He wrapped the hide around his shoulders, exiting the house into view of the soldiers. "Let's go," he said coldly, passing the soldiers at a brisk pace. He goes to Appa's makeshift stable. "We've got another trip now, boy." Appa moaned before rising to his feet. Tengu entered, leaping onto Appa's back as the bison took off.
After a long time in silence, Aang leapt back into the saddle, to find Tengu meditating. After deciding to disturb him, he posed a question. "Why did you have us go separately?"
"If you are to provide a clear case before the Earth King, you must have time to focus on the events of those few days." As Tengu finishes, Aang straightens his back against Appa's saddle. "Remember what happened, so we can prove your innocence."
"Trust me, Tengu. I will," Aang replied darkly, his eyes opening as he leapt into Appa's saddle. "Yip-Yip." The Avatar snapped the Bison's reins, prompting a sudden acceleration.
It was a cold, bleak afternoon and the chilly winter air cut into their skins like razor blades. Nevertheless they pressed on, full speed ahead, unwavering in their resolve to see this matter through – determined to clear their names. Even the mighty bison seemed to share their sense of purpose and determination, roaring loudly as he sped towards the Outer Wall like an arrow...
Aang did not feel like making a small entrance. He had nothing to hide, so he refused to scurry into the place as if he was the criminal they were accusing him of being. The Gaoling affront itself had been enough. However, being arrested by Earth Kingdom guards in his home at the South Pole had been the last straw. He refused to travel as a prisoner, but he agreed to be escorted to Ba Sing Se while flying Appa. Truth be told, he had gotten tired of waiting for them to catch up days ago. He was going to get this over with once and for all.
The Outer Wall sentinel was still putting the horn to his lips when Appa shot over his head like a runaway train, headed for the palace. His peers along the way each sounded their alarm, trying to catch up with the giant flying beast's furious galloping. Concern began to spread among the soldiers, since the escorting platoon was visibly absent, so by the time they had made it to the palace outer grounds, the guards there already had instructions to arrest the Avatar.
They chose to land directly in front of the main corridor, in the covered hallway that preceded the main corridor that led into the palace. As soon as Appa touched upon the ground, Aang and Tengu leapt down from the saddle. However, just as fast, two of the guards seized Appa's reins, while the rest – some 15 soldiers - surrounded the Avatar and his Chief Advisor. Colonel Kin Chan sentenced them in a dry, authoritative tone:
"Avatar Aang and Chief Advisor Tengu, you are under arrest for abandoning a post of war without due leave, attacking an Earth Kingdom platoon and breaching your escort. You must surrender yourselves immediately!"
Aang was angry enough to lash back out at the Colonel, but Tengu chose a more rational approach:
"If we surrender, will you take us before the King?"
"The King will hear your arguments in Court Martial, when you depose in your trial before the Council of Five."
Aang snapped "We want to see Kuei NOW!"
Some of the guards stared at each other in confusion, since they did not know the King on a first-name basis. The Colonel was better informed:
"You will stand before His Royal Majesty in due time. Now you will stand down and come with us or we will use force."
Aang was at the edge of his temper. His knuckles turned white as he clenched his staff:
"You will take us to the King now, or I will use force..."
Some of the guards were now hesitant, since all of them knew of the power of the Mighty Avatar. After all, who would want to try and subdue a man who, as a mere 12 year old kid had demolished the Wulong Stone Forest while defeating the fearsome Fire Lord Ozai at his most powerful? Who could forget the veterans' stories about General Fong's ill-fated attempt to trigger his Avatar State to win the War? Some of them had even been serving in this very post when he and his friends invaded into the palace seven years ago - they were definitely the most scared. Colonel Kin Chan, however, was resolute:
"You will stand down..." his tone changed as he uttered the phrase – he would not manage to complete it. It happened in a split second, but the memory would be forever engraved in the Colonel's memory as if time had frozen still...
The Avatar jumped up and coiled his legs under him. At the same time, Tengu sprung up into the air, propelled by a strong gale. When the Avatar's feet hit the ground, it shook and trembled as if an earthquake had hit. The pathway's stone surface undulated as if it had turned liquid and the expansive wave knocked the entire regiment to the ground. When the surface returned to normal, the Avatar used its force to propel himself towards the main palace corridor. As Tengu returned to the ground, he created a powerful air sphere which dispersed all of the soldiers far away from them, smashing some of them into the hallway's columns.
It took the outside guards a minute to recover from the stun, after which they engaged in a hot pursuit, chasing the rogue airbenders down the palace's main corridor. Well ahead, Aang and Tengu ripped their way up to the throne room with unabashed ferocity. Air blades, bombs and jets knocked guards around in every direction; all boulders were crushed mid-air by Aang using quick, deft movements.
Two of the guards from the entrance had caught up to them and tackled Tengu from behind, sending him to the ground. Aang turned around and sent an air blade with his staff, knocking the guards into the wall. Again the guards took the opportunity to try and seize the Chief Advisor. However, Tengu went into a swift, spinning kick and knocked them out cold.
These brief seconds gave the guards a small edge in which they attempted to close in on their targets attempting to subdue the nomads hand to hand, using brute strength. It took five soldiers, but they finally had Tengu pinned to the ground. Around ten men or so had piled on top of Aang, hanging on to his extremities, restricting all of his motions. The airbenders struggled, withered and screamed, but they could not move.
The Colonel had caught up to the commotion just outside of the Royal Hall. He intended to resume control of the situation before the Avatar lost his temper. Clearly, this was not Kin Chan's day...
From beneath the mass of soldiers above his master, Tengu heard a dark scream followed by a mighty thud on the ground and a chilling gust of air. Aang emerged, flinging the opposing soldiers around the room with the swirling air currents. His tattoos and eyes were now ablaze with the eerie glow that stroke fear in the heart of his enemies.
As he ascended surrounded by a sphere of air, he increased the whirlwind so that it picked up all of the soldiers standing in the corridor. The soldiers screamed in pain and fear as they were flung mercilessly around the dimly lit hallway. Even Tengu was scared and amazed by this vulgar display of power, while he uses what little control he had of the air around him to save various soldiers from the Avatar's fury. Eventually, Aang closed the funnel into a tight hose, amassing the soldiers together midair. He then bent a raging gale and slammed them into the door of the Throne Room, using them as a human battering ram.
Wood, ornaments, soldiers and blood explode into the throne room, startling General How, King Kuei and his personal guard. The guards immediately stand at the ready, even General How, who was still injured from an ambush he had encountered while carrying out a recon mission at the Southern Earth Kingdom. Kuei stood up from the throne, unable to contain his anger:
"Avatar Aang this is an outrage!"
How reacted instinctively to protect the King:
"Wait! This is wrong!" Tengu tried to reason.
"You'll tell your people to stay away from us!" Aang charged at How, then at the Earth King "Kuei, I'm warning you!"
"You have abused our friendship and you have desecrated the sanctity of this House of Law!" The King was irate.
As everyone tried to make himself heard, the leaders went into a heated, all-out shouting match. How, seeing that the Avatar would not stand down signaled to his men to move in on the airbenders.
As Aang watched a guard bring his hand around Tengu's neck, he snapped. His scowl darkened, only to be brightened by the unnatural glow of his eyes. He twirled his staff, pushing back the soldier while leaving the former assassin unscathed. Aang then aimed the staff at How's soldiers, jerking the end up and sending each soldier towards the palace ceiling. Aang turns and sends his staff arcing towards How, slamming the two men into the ground at How's feet. Years of war, battle and carnage had not yet stricken fear into the Raging Badgermole's heart like the sight of this furious Avatar. He stood stunned as the Avatar's pelt blew in the furious currents he had created.
Then, overwhelmed by exertion and emotion Aang collapsed to his knees. The glow faded, and was quickly replaced by the natural sky-blue. After catching his breath, the Avatar rose to his feet, stared the General in the eye, and uttered his ultimatum:
"Now - does any of you have an interest in what I have to say?"
King Kuei was still totally beside himself "I demand to know, Avatar Aang, is this how you intend to repay years of friendship, kindness and patronage?"
Aang was deeply hurt by both the King's words and the situation. Kuei had always been more than a friend to him and his people so this turn of events was indeed tragic and made the Avatar not only angry, but also sad beyond words. He despised being at odds with those he loved, but he was on a mission, and would not be derailed. With a languid, sunk expression, he took off his pelt and threw at the foot of the throne.
"A gift for His Royal Highness..." he uttered in a despondent tone.
"What is this?"
"It's the skin of a snow leopard. He tried to eat my family."
"I am most distressed to hear that your family has undergone such hardship, but we are straying from the topic."
"Quite the contrary, your Majesty: it is most relevant. You see - this animal wanted to separate me from my family, just like your soldiers at Gaoling."
"So you killed it..." Kuei finished the thought.
"I ate it." Aang allowed a hint of rage to show in his voice.
A tense, thick silence ensued. Kuei felt a chill pour down his spine and bathe his innards as he looked at the dead animal's fur. He knew his friend wasn't lying and that this pelt was a testament of his determination to keep his loved ones around him. How gave the King a fearful, pleading look. Finally the monarch spoke:
"We will see into this matter at once. Summon Beipan!"
As they waited for Beipan, Tengu called to Aang and pointed to the hurt soldiers. Aang's heart immediately became heavy, laden with guilt and remorse. After a brief bout of silence, Aang moved to heal the guards. He took water from the nearby fountains and began to heal as much of them as he could before Beipan arrived. Tengu, meanwhile, moved closer to the throne, hoping to find answers to his questions...
"General How," How lifted his head up from the ground, glancing at the former assassin.
"What is your wound? Perhaps the Avatar can help to heal you."
"No thanks, monk," the General replied respectfully. "I've always appreciated the healing properties of water, but I feel that my own recovery is a testament to my superiority over these injuries. I'll get better, in time."
"May I ask what happened to you?"
"If I knew everything, I wouldn't be wounded, and they'd all be dead," the General jested. "They came at me from all angles, attacking me with everything from weapons to the elements. I expected that they'd try to capture me for information, but they seemed to go for the kill zones. My armor got shattered on the back from a few blades, and my chest got burnt from a few fire blasts. I was thrown around by a few Waterbenders, but I somehow managed to survive. After everything was done, they had me pinned to the ground, and were going to kill me from there. Unfortunately for them, my second-in-command gave them a distraction, and I managed to sink into the earth and gain the upper hand. From there, we managed to kill off a large portion of them, but some got away. By the time I had killed the last one in sight, the battle was over."
"Did they use particular tactics?"
"They all aimed for fatal areas; the easy kills. Some aimed for my neck, others my heart. My head dodged many attacks as well. I'm blessed to have made it out of that situation. Next time, I'll be ready. I will be stronger, and I will win."
"I expect you would," Tengu replied. "If there is anything else I can do, please alert me to it."
How nodded, and Tengu feigned needing to go see Aang. Instead, he diverted his path towards Colonel Kin Chan. The young officer gave the monk a nasty glare, still aching from the brutal beating the airbenders had given him.
"Colonel, I am quite sorry for the way events have unfolded. Allow me to extend my deepest apologies."
The Colonel was about as old as Tengu, and like him, wise beyond his years:
"I wish I could say it is only my body that is hurt, Chief Advisor. This rift among our people saddens me deeply, especially since the Avatar is involved. Being that you are an honorable man, I gladly accept your apologies, and hope to see this matter resolved quickly."
Tengu bowed, finding comfort in his former adversary's words. It made it a lot easier to ask for what he wanted now:
"Colonel if I may be so bold in asking, who signed the orders for our arrest?"
"Why, the King, of course."
"I see. May I ask to see the orders?" The Colonel gave Tengu a quizzical look, but seeing no harm, complied.
After a few moments examining the parchment, Tengu returned it to the young officer.
"I am most obliged, sir. Would you please keep it handy as the proceedings take place? I should like to have it available to show to his Majesty."
The Colonel could not help a small confused look, but agreed "Certainly, Advisor Tengu."
"One more question Colonel, if I may?"
"General Beipan seems to be quite delayed. I must assume he has many responsibilities to tend to."
The young Colonel gave off a chuckle while he rolled his eyes. He then looked around before leaning closer to Tengu.
"You didn't hear this from me, but Beipan is a figurehead." He then cast a quick glance in How's direction. "A certain comrade made sure he made it to the Council just so he could have an extra vote. He pushes Beipan around something fierce – it's almost indecent. At the very least it's uncomfortable to watch..."
Tengu bowed to the soldier wearing his typical "poker face" and returned by Aang's side.
Almost two hours went by, with the room's occupants barely noticing. Aang and Tengu were both surprised to find that they had been able to service all of the guards before Beipan was actually located. When the General finally entered the hall, his surprise could not be hidden. His expression was one of confusion, his gaze alternating between Aang, the throne room door and General How. His companions, Dun and Weng from the Gaoling patrol, were also shocked to see that much destruction in the Throne Room.
As the General walked slowly across the hall, he surveyed the door, the working medics, the mangled soldiers, and finally, the Avatar, wearing the sternest expression he had ever seen on a man's face; the look of a man seeking vengeance.
How was the first to speak, greeting his colleague with the utmost sarcasm. "General Beipan! We are indeed fortunate that you finally graced us with your presence..." The Raging Badgermole was an impatient man, and hated having people waste his time. He only refrained from further comments when he saw the King gesturing for silence.
"I do beg your pardon, General How. I did hear of your injuries. I hope you're not in too much pain...," Beipan replied in an almost shy demeanor.
"Real soldiers know how to cope with pain," How replied, wasting no opportunity to lash out at his comrade. Giggles and snickers were heard amongst How's men.
"Gentlemen!" the King commanded in a dry tone "You can seek merriment on your own time."
Beipan addressed the King, hoping to divert his fury. "My apologies for the delay Your Highness, I was tending to urgent matters which required my undivided attention." He then cast a glance around the room. "However, had I known these two criminals would be here today instead of traveling with their appointed escort, I would have more than gladly assisted in subduing them, as it is obviously a requisite in dealing with them."
Tengu was quite upset, his fury was barely withheld. He had been wrongly accused of being a criminal before, and would not tolerate it again. "It would be wise to take those words back."
"Why should I? You abandoned your post, you attacked my soldiers, you escaped your escort, you attacked the Royal Palace...have I missed anything?" the General replies, putting the pressure back on the Nomads.
"You told me a regiment of the Black Lotus was headed for Gaoling to attack the Bei Fongs. Only one assassin showed up and he was looking for me. Your people show up two days later in the middle of the night and then take over the estate, close down the house and treat me and Tengu like prisoners, basically putting us all under house arrest! And, for what? Nothing else happened!"
Upon hearing Aang's explanation, How and Kuei exchange a confused look.
"Our understanding of the matter is that you had offered to secure the Gaoling post while our forces made way," the Earth King's anger had finally subsided and had been replaced by calm reason, looking for reconciliation between the differing stories.
"What? No way! We had just spent a week at the Security Council in Omashu. As soon as we step outside of that dreadful meeting, a runner comes up to us saying that we need to come to Ba Sing Se for some urgent news. When we get here, you're not here; none of the other generals are here, just him!" Aang pointed to Beipan. "And he tells us we need to stay there a week to secure the premises and his people actually got there after the Black Lotus had already tried to get me!"
How was intrigued, and he began noticing some administrative blunders. "So you did not volunteer for the Gaoling mission. Instead, you were summoned to Ba Sing Se from Omashu, correct?"
"Exactly!" Aang was finally glad someone was listening. However, How was about to prove to be more than just a good listener.
Beipan tries to keep his calm as he falls into How's stare. "How can we then explain to the Avatar that, knowing about a potential threat in Gaoling while he was at Omashu, that our forces failed to secure the post until after he had traveled from Omashu, to here to Gaoling? Should our forces have not been there plenty ahead of time?"
"They fly places, not walk like we do. They are bound to reach places much faster than land troops, General." Beipan explained in a diligent tone.
"It's true How – the bison is faster than any other means of transportation we know." The monarch seemed to be willing to acknowledge Beipan's reasoning.
"We were gliding – I had left Appa home at the South Pole." Aang clarified.
How had reason to question Beipan's execution once again:
"Even if flying the entire trip would take more time than a direct deployment from here to Gaoling. If we were sure that we had a dangerous situation, we should have moved immediately to minimize risks. The regiment should have left Ba Sing Se right after our runner left for Omashu. There is no logical explanation for a two day delay, other than the instructions were delayed in the first place."
"You see, General, I feel this was all a series of bureaucratic problems. I assure you that I gave the order for the troops to move out as soon as I sent the runner; possibly before."
At this moment, Dun speaks up, moving from behind Beipan into the center of the argument. "Yes, sure - I ensure you that I got the order."
"We're straying from the real issue here, your Majesty" Aang protested "My Chief Advisor and I are being accused of leaving a post where nothing happened, except for a single attack where we were the only victims. Your people arrived late, treated us as prisoners and, when we choose to leave, days after our time was up, we are charged for breaching Earth Kingdom military rules which, in all honesty, do not apply to us. We come here, with every intention of settling the matter personally with you, and we are assaulted like fugitives!"
The King stood silent for a moment. "Let's reconvene: Beipan, you summoned the Avatar and the Chief Advisor all the way from Omashu on account of intelligence that warned us of a potential attack from the Black Lotus on the Bei Fong family."
"However, none of the reports make mention of any attack – be it by one or by many – after the coalbender's attack. This piece of intelligence, how reliable was the source?"
"Your Majesty, this has been a very trustworthy source in the past so we had no reason to doubt. However, even the best hunter may miss the hare. All in all, I'd say nothing has been harmed by the wasting of a day."
"Yes, it was harmed! Everything was almost ruined!" Said an exasperated How, pointing at the wrecked Royal Hall entrance.
Finally, Tengu spoke up "I find it intriguing that we can now dismiss this lead as false, even after surviving a direct assassination attempt."
"Maybe they had help from a former colleague?" Beipan retorted with a dark sneer.
Aang was infuriated, but Tengu just smiled. He finally had everything he needed...
"It would take a lot a creative thinking and maneuvering to plan an assassination from Omashu within a week-long meeting with no other than the Security Council. Besides, if I was to have been tasked with the assassination of the Avatar, I would have used every instance possible instead of just waiting up until now. Being that I have his trust, he would not see it coming." The words sent a chill down Aang's spine, but he stood by his friend, as he knew he was only making a point.
"However, if I wanted to place the blame on someone else, I would have to know my target's location in advance, since track & trace missions more often than not have an evenly split chance of success and failure. Therefore, I would need to make it seem like the Earth King is summoning us to Ba Sing Se and then sending us to Gaoling. In fact, let us suppose that the orders did not come from His Majesty himself. One could interpret from the way everything came together that it was a job contracted by someone with long reaching connections."
Beipan started to cast nervous glances around the room, focusing especially on the King and the Avatar. Tengu continued his exposition, well aware that all eyes in the Royal Hall were fixed on him.
"In fact, I would say that this person is a fierce enemy of the Earth Kingdom, and is aiming to tip the scale to his favor. Let us examine the ambush the enemy employed on General How. That is a tactic used only when there is a specific target in battle. In any other battle, we would simply focus on sheer casualties. However, it would appear you're a wanted man, How."
"Who would want me dead?"
"Well, you are a leader of the Four Nations, one of the highest ranking Generals in our armies. That would suffice to select you as a target, but the specific nature of their movements indicates that your death has already been bought. In fact - this is quite reminiscent of an intrigue I was once involved in. Curiously enough, a top general was also involved..."
Tengu had begun strolling casually towards General Beipan.
"And, curiously enough, it was someone of a lower rank who paid for the kill. This case is no different. Someone who had aspirations to become the top military ruler buys his superior's death. However, having no means to pay off such a high profile job, he offers what he can provide in exchange: an open shot at The Avatar."
"Preposterous!" Beipan interjected, already visibly upset by the course the proceedings had taken. "Your Majesty, will you allow this thug to continue expounding on this conspiracy theory?" Tengu pressed on, unfazed:
"He sends a runner with false orders to summon the Avatar's help. He then sends the Avatar off on a fool's errand, under the pretense of a so called "intelligence report"; a lie so poorly constructed even a child could have guessed something evil was afoot! He then leaves his victim out in the open, delaying his guards two days, with nothing but bureaucratic issues as an excuse. When the assassin was defeated, he retained his victims in Gaoling in the hope of renegotiating a new strike. However, if he had only informed himself of the outcome of the contract – which he carelessly did not – he would have found no reason to detain us at Gaoling, therefore forcing no suspicions upon anyone! Interesting how these things connect, isn't it?
Beipan was about to start screaming his dissent, but Kuei motioned for silence. "Advisor, these are strong words. Where is your evidence?"
"Quite elementary, Your Majesty. The runner who intercepted us at Omashu told us that the Earth King himself had sent messengers all over the Kingdom looking for us. Did you, Your Highness?"
"No, I did not. As I mentioned before, General Beipan had assured us you had volunteered to lead the defense..."
Tengu then produced the scroll with the summons and handed it to General How. "If Your Royal Highness cares to examine this summons – please, General."
How opened the summons, eyed over it quickly wearing a confused expression on his face, then immediately handed it to King Kuei. The monarch's expression was one of complete aggravation.
Tengu continued his exposition "Colonel Kim Chan can produce the summons for our arrest, which bears your signature and the Royal Seal." The Colonel handed the summons to the King with a bow.
"Yes – I wrote these three weeks ago." He then stared coldly at Beipan lifting the summons handed to Aang and Tengu at Omashu "These also have a signature and a seal, but neither are mine. This is forgery."
Beipan attempted an explanation "No! Your Majesty..."
"General Beipan!" Kuei's usual terse and rational tone had vanished. His voice now thundered in rage, filling the hall with his fearsome sentence. "This is high treason to the Earth Kingdom and the Four Nations! You and your accomplices are to be detained immediately and stand trial for war crimes against the Earth Kingdom and the Air Nomads!"
Kin Chan was a sharp man, and had caught on early. His men had already surrounded Beipan and his two henchmen. They were about to make a move when Beipan suddenly raised a pillar and shot himself up in the air in Hos's direction. Aang caught him mid-flight with a powerful gust and slammed him into the rear wall. Meanwhile, Dun and Weng had begun an all-out earth brawl with Kin Chan's men. Dun and Weng were fresh and healthy, so they had the upper hand, but it would not last...
Tengu broke out his sansetsukon and, using his airbending, jumped between the two roguish soldiers. He then began landing a series of highly effective blows on the two earthbenders, rendering both of them unconscious in a matter of seconds. Beipan and Aang were duking it out by the rear wall, while How and the King's guard had surrounded the monarch to protect him from further attacks. Beipan bent a series of boulders and decorations out of the throne room's walls, Aang deflected each one of them with his staff. He then sank Beipan into the ground, propelled him up, rapidly twirled his staff to send him up even higher, and then airbent a strong downward gale that slammed the treacherous officer into the ground.
For a few moments, Beipan would not move. Then a deep, gasping breath was heard, followed by coughing and wheezing as air returned into the General's lungs. Once he had resumed breathing, he let out a dry, sinister cackle, followed by a long sigh:
"What a fool I've become, trying to make justice by my own hand... Stupid... So stupid...!"
The officer slowly stood up, only to discover the Avatar standing at the ready still. "It's over Beipan! We've discovered your plan – give yourself up!"
"You have not discovered my plan, Avatar. They knew my plan all along; they just would not go with it!"
Aang was confused, but soon enough the voice of the King was heard.
"General Beipan never believed in declaring all-out war to the Black Lotus. Instead he proposed cracking down on them systematically, I'm sure he wanted to seize power to make it so."
"The plan of a coward..." How would not refrain from belittling Beipan anymore.
"A plan for peace! People keep dying every day in this nonsensical war. Young people, old people, soldiers, civilians – no one is exempt of suffering a brush with death. This land has seen over a century of war and suffering. I propose an end to unnecessary bloodshed!"
"Your plan sanctions cold-blooded murderers! It does nothing but grant them impunity!" How barked.
"A violent response from a violent man..."
"If only I could beat some sense into you..." threatened How.
"Like when I first proposed my peaceful solution, when you reassigned half my men to the Western posts, just to weaken my position?" Beipan's anger erupted, untamed and uncontrolled "Or like when you forced me to the Si Wong post just for disagreeing with you publicly in the Council over the matter of the trading routes?"
"I was teaching you discipline!"
"Enough!" Demanded Kuei "Beipan, you have been defeated and you will stand down!"
But he would not stand down. Some things, once set in motion, become unstoppable... Aang's spine went cold at Beipan's ferocity. This was not the shy, spineless, paper-pusher he had come to know. This was a rabid wolf-bat, his snarl just as fierce and his eyes such as dark.
"Discipline you say? Like when you had Cheng lashed for going into the pantry just to feed his platoon during the siege at The Wall?"
"He stole from his comrades!"
"You starved them! You starved your men just to win the war!" Beipan's rage was now at fever pitch, spit spewing from his mouth and tears flowing down his face "You harvested the agrarian zone just to burn the crops so the enemy would have no food! You could have invoked government's issue on the bounty and kept your troops nourished! But you chose to starve your men and then sent them to die at the enemy's hands!"
"They died an honorable death, fighting for their homeland! We won the battle!"
"They died from exhaustion! Doctor Wu Hen said Cheng died from loss of blood from the lash wounds. And the loss of weight and muscle mass indicated severe malnutrition! Only Heaven should know to what depths would you plunge your own people to come out on top this time around!"
"Cheng got what he deserved! He was a thief and..."
How would not finish the sentence. Beipan roared, consumed by rage and launched himself at the General. Instinctively, How launched a column from beneath him. Beipan landed, blood spewing from his mouth, while he shot a supplicating glance at the Avatar. Not really knowing why, Aang pulled close to the dying officer:
"Forgive me, Avatar – I was blind..."
"I forgive you..." Aang could not help asking the question "Please, who was Cheng?"
"He was..." a lone tear rolled out from the General's eye "he was my son."
The hall fell silent as Beipan exhaled his last breath.
Aang walked up to General How "Congratulations General. You have finished the job."
"What do you mean?"
"You had already crushed his spirit – his body was just what was left."
How cast a guilty glance at Beipan, then lowered his gaze to the floor, unable to sustain the stare of the Avatar.
"You know? When I attacked you I felt guilty. What happened at Gaoling and then at home made me mad, angry, confused... I gave in to my emotions and did so in a selfish, cruel way. I then had to ask myself What is wrong with me? This is not me! This is not who I am! Now I see that, although I really cannot justify myself, I was only reflecting you, the way you guys do things... It was no different with Fong all those years ago. He wanted something and he felt justified in making it so, so he threatened to hurt me and my friends to get it. He wanted the power of the Avatar State to bring the War to an early end. And he was right in wanting to end the War, but he was wrong in trying to manipulate me and my feelings about the War. But he would let nothing stand in his way – he would trample over my friends to get to me and have me perform according to his will. But just like now, it seems to me the plan backfired."
Aang turned around the hall to make sure his words would be heard. "You can't just push and trample over people and their feelings just because you feel justified in what you're doing. The end does not justify the means! Abusing people under your power to uphold what you think is right doesn't make you a hero – it makes you a bully! And you Kuei," he said, pointing to the monarch "you need to start reigning in your bullies, because you never know when the weak might strike back – they even might come back from the dead. Ask Ozai. I bid you good evening gentlemen. We're going home..."
"Avatar Aang, we still need to discuss what has happened here today."
Aang just kept walking, not even turning around to acknowledge the King "I'll be home – send an envoy!"
"I insist that you return to the City to work on a diplomatic conclave, Avatar Aang. We cannot afford to have loose ends in the midst of these hostilities."
He then turned around and faced the King.
Aang and Tengu exited the palace and mounted Appa, who had been waiting for them outside.
"May I suggest some tea to soothe the nerves, Your Excellency?"
"Think Iroh is still open?"
"He may very well be..."
"Tea and Pai Sho – hard to beat... Yip Yip!"
- This chapter was written almost half and half by Bos and YT.
- Almost the entire plotline was brainstormed in a few minutes over a chat session.
- Refinement of said mind map took over a month, as drafts traveled back and forth. Stuff was put in and taken out until a flowing, coherent narrative emerged.
- The ending is lighter than my usual, being that the chapter itself is heavier than most.
- The Dragon is very pleased with the Bos's input to this chapter. It's truly some of his best writing ever.
- Yes it's long - but wasn't it worth it?
|Honor Thy Father Chapters|
| Hope Against Hope - A Change of Pace - Tainted Sanctuary - A New Home - Recovered - Empowered - When In Doubt - The Hunt - Full Moon - Reckonings - Sora
The Love of the Daughter - The Wasted Warrior, Part 1: Cycles- The Wasted Warrior, Part 2: Regrets- Daddy - The Charade, Part 1: The Shadow - The Charade Part 2: The Beast - The Charade, Part 3: The Fool - The Breakthrough - Redemption, Part 1: Dejection - Redemption, Part 2: Dominion