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|The Last Airbender Part Three|
Avatar: The Last Airbender
The Last Airbender Book Four: Air
Chapter Twenty – The Last Airbender Part Three: Revelations
Northern Air Temple, One Hundred and Ten Years Ago
Monk Wento looked up from his garden at the sky apprehensively, for a thick layer of dark clouds had just blotted out the sun. Summer was nearly over and the chill now felt in the light's absence was an all too present reminder of the approaching autumn. All around him the other monks stiffened and turned their eyes upward, breathing in deeply before returning to their work. Wento thought about joining them but decided against it. For some reason he had a bad feeling in his gut. Something told him that taking his glider to Whispering Hills, the small Air Nomad village at the base of the mountain, was the right thing to do instead. Had he been a farmer, Monk Wento would have gone right back to work and dismissed the thought. However he was a baker and thirty years of delicious fruit pies had taught him the importance of trusting the wisdom in his rather large belly.
Despite his size the trip was still effortless. Strong winds could always be counted on blowing in from the north this time of year. Wento had even managed to get so high as to cause sweat to form across the slick surface of his bald head, giving it an unusually bright natural shine. He landed softly, bare feet upon bare grass in the fields of Whispering Hills. Ahead he could see the Air Nomad people going about their usual day-to-day lives. There were several, in fact, near him lying stretched out on their backs with their eyes closed, simply enjoying the day. They didn't even seem to know he was there. It was so peaceful here; aside from the calls of the local livestock there was barely any noise at all.
The only human voices to be heard were those of the children. Running up and down, screaming with joy they frolicked through the streets, dragging a tired but pleasant looking woman behind them. The sun caught off her dark brown hair and glistened from her good-natured smile. Wento watched her laugh for some time before she noticed him and grinned. Wento returned the gesture as strolled briskly over to her, jumping to the side midway as a group of screaming toddlers rolled by. The woman was laughing as he quickly brushed himself off and got back to his feet.
"Why, Spirits above, what favors have I done to bring Monk Wento down from the mountain this glorious day?" She asked in a coy voice. The middle-aged monk smirked back at her.
"Oh, and who says I'm here to see you?" He responded, raising an eyebrow. The woman put a hand to her chest in mock shock.
"You mean there's someone other than me?" She gasped before laughing and hugging him. Wento broke out in broad chuckles as well and returned the gesture.
"It's good to see you, Juhani." He whispered. "Your beauty makes the temple seem almost barren. I must come down more often."
"Shh!" She said softly. "Perhaps this talk is best left for indoors, away from certain ears?" Wento suddenly stiffened as he realized that they were in the middle of the village street. This was hardly the place for the two to be exchanging such familiarities, especially given his status. "Follow me." Juhani breathed closely in his ear before turning and heading off toward a simple looking thatched hut.
"Will the children be alright on their own?" Monk Wento inquired hastily.
"Oh yes don't worry, there are plenty of other mothers out to keep an eye on them." Juhani called over her shoulder. "Now hurry up before I decide not to offer you any chilled tea!" The monk grinned again and hurried after her, stopping for a second only as that feeling returned. He shook his head to himself thoughtfully as he ducked into Juhani's home and breathed in the sudden aroma of the plentiful flowers she picked. There were numerous clay vases lining the main room that contained the fragrant plants and only two doorways that lead out. One led into the kitchen while the other opened into the Air Nomad woman's bedroom. It was dark in that room but Wento could still make out the outline of a crib.
"Don't worry, he's a sound sleeper." Juhani said sweetly from behind him. The monk turned and accepted the glass being held out to him. "I dropped the watering can last night and it didn't even cause so much as a stir."
"Like his father then." Monk Wento stated, full of pride. He turned and smiled at Juhani. "How did we ever create such a beautiful son?"
"We did no such thing, you're still a monk remember?" She corrected him. "At least to the villagers, his father will always be that poor traveler who passed away last winter."
Wento sighed. "Probably for the best. If he's a bender, it's not like he'll ever know me anyway."
"He won't." Came a deep, powerful voice from seemingly the house itself. Wento spun around and heard Juhani emit a small scream. Suddenly the monk understood the meaning of the ill feeling he had been having.
"Greetings my lord Oguanga." He bowed to his knees, motioning for Juhani to do the same. The Air Nomad gave him a wild look but complied. "It's alright," he whispered to her. "This is a friend."
"He speaks so strangely... and you did too!" She shot back.
"It's a long story, I'll explain when I can." He replied back under his breath before lifting his eyes to the Demon King. "Is it as we have feared?" He asked, already knowing the answer.
"Yes," Oguanga responded gravely after a moment. "Firelord Sozin was indeed present at the death of Avatar Roku... and insured that it happened." Monk Wento lowered his head in mourning.
"Then they mean to attack?" He asked. Oguanga nodded.
"With the great comet returning, now is the perfect time." The Demon King hissed. "Sozin is paranoid and fearful, he knows the next Avatar will be an airbender. That comet will mean the end of your people... I am sorry. I fear it may have already begun."
"Can you do nothing?" Monk Wento found himself angry. "Your people could crush the Fire Nation Army, even with the comet's influence! When you came to me you said it was to preserve balance, you cannot let the Air Nomads be wiped out!"
Oguanga raised a clawed hand and silenced him. The demon's great nostrils had flared a little at the accusation. "You know my oath!" He snarled thick fumes. "The last time the demons interfered directly in the mortal realm there was great bloodshed of innocent life. I cannot and will not risk that happening again; the world belongs to you, humans now. It is left to you to manage it properly! However, there is another way. Not through aggression but within protection." The Demon King shivered slightly and specks of ice shook from him.
"The Avatar is the key, it must be he and he alone who maintains the balance of this world. He was created for that reason. However, protecting him alone may not be enough to insure the survival of the Air Nomad culture so my people and I will protect others. Hundreds, maybe thousands will be hidden away from the Fire Nation and kept safe from this war."
"How?" The monk asked, ignoring the looks Juhani was shooting him. "How can you hide the Avatar, let alone our people, without interfering? The safest place is Ba Sing Se and there is no way you could take us there without attracting attention." He watched as the Demon King nodded.
"That is true, there is no location known to man where the Air Nomads may live in peace and safety, so I will take them to a place unknown by man. As for the Avatar, I have already dealt with him. I caught him out at sea and created a storm, one minute the he existed in the eyes of the world, the next he didn't. Do not worry... he will be well protected. As for the rest of your people, I'm taking as many as possible to An Liao. It is an ancient city deep underground; my own people once lived there in the time when man and demon lived together."
"I have never heard of such a place, not even of records." Wento stated in awe.
"I convinced Wan Shi Tong to purge his library of all information regarding An Liao when our two worlds parted." Oguanga answered. "It was just for this kind of emergency. The Fire Nation will never find it, not in a hundred years." The Demon King suddenly hesitated. Monk Wento leaned forward, feeling a heightened sense of anticipation. "I will only... be taking the children." The other finished at length.
"What?" The Air Nomad could not stop himself from asking. "Are all the adults destined to die? Who will teach culture? Who will teach our bending arts? If you leave the past to die how can there be a future?"
"Because I will teach and I will instruct." The great demon declared. "Your son, I sense great power in him... great potential. He will become my apprentice and he will pass on the secrets and ways of airbending to the others. The Air Nomads will survive and prosper again. You have my word on that." The Demon King finished. "Now perhaps you should tell the child's mother. I will wait outside when you are ready. I am truly, deeply sorry."
And with that Oguanga left their home, retreating silently into the sunlight of the outside world. Sunlight, Monk Wento thought; a luxury his son would not have. With great effort he turned to Juhani.
"Wento..." she began. "What just happened in my house?" The airbender looked away. He could not think of anything to say. What words were appropriate for situations such as this? Sighing, he ran a hand back over his head as he tried to think. Finally he summoned the strength to meet her gaze again.
"It's about our son..." he started.
"What does that thing want with him?" Juhani cut him off in a demanding tone. "What does that creature want with Quanfar?"
The South Pole, Present Day
Monk Quanfar was not in a good mood. This day had been going completely perfectly in regards to his plan: the two massive armies were locked in what seemed a struggling stalemate and the Avatar and the Demon King were well on their way to beating each other to death. He would have claimed justice on the Water Tribe and the Fire Nation had Emiko not betrayed him. She was weak, had always been weak. He had been a fool to take on an apprentice, the only reason he'd done it was to fool Oguanga into thinking that he was training airbenders. She had seemed different from the others. He had been hoping that she would share his resolve. Obviously he had been wrong.
Now they were wasting time engaged in useless combat when they should be getting into position to deliver the final blow to the survivor of the duel. The old airbender didn't know who he'd prefer more: the Avatar so that he personally could kill the one who had abandoned their people to butchery and death, or Oguanga so that he could look into that proud face and see the dawning of shame and humiliation before he ended it. The Demon King considered himself omniscient, and Quanfar had fooled him.
Emiko knew they were on a schedule and was trying purposely to delay him. So far, apart from her initial sneak attack, the Air Nomad woman had been playing nothing but defense as she retreated farther and farther into the camp and away from the battle. Quanfar had noticed her movements immediately but try as he might he could not land a blow; she was faster than he had given her credit for. In fact in many ways she surpassed his expectations. There was a grace to her movements, a finesse to her attacks, she was quite skilled. The aged monk furrowed his brow as he sent another razor gust of wind in her direction. Maybe it was for the best that this happened, he did not like the idea of being second in stature to such a young woman like her. Now being the last airbender, he smirked, that was something he could live with.
"Come now my apprentice," he hissed through menacing lips. "We all must die sometime!" Slicing his robed arm in a sharp downward motion he tore a current through a tent that separated the two. With a grin he watched as Emiko's eyes widened a bit. Clearly she hadn't been expecting him to make a shortcut. Gripping the hilt of his wind-sword tightly, Quanfar spun around in a full circle and sent another invisible slash toward the Air Nomad. However, this time Emiko was ready. Instead of rolling out of the way like he thought she would do, the airbender dropped and, suspended herself a few inches off the ground on her arms, kicked her feet around, which formed a ball that she promptly sent spinning at the aged monk.
Quanfar cursed and leapt aside. He did not have time for these games, who knew how much longer the fight between the Avatar and Oguanga would last? Last he saw the two had gone shooting off in a direction south of the village, he needed to get there. Emiko was becoming a real nuisance. Spiraling the hilt in the air, Monk Quanfar began to create mini-cyclones. Three whirling vortexes were summoned up in front of him and one-by-one launched at the opposing airbender, who scampered back and forth in a vain effort to dodge all of the closely-knit attacks. She actually managed to weave under the first and dive away from the second before the third hit her square in the chest. Emiko was rocketed up into the air a good ten feet before crashing back down onto a makeshift earthbender dwelling. Quanfar's teeth gleamed as his lip curled upward. He sliced several more deadly slivers of air at the wreckage where Emiko had landed, each one cutting through the debris like a blade through jam.
There was no movement, no response. If the Air Nomad wasn't dead, she had at least been incapacitated. Good, smirked Quanfar, that will do for now. As much as he would have liked to be more thorough, time was not allowing it. The airbender started off at a brisk jog in the direction he had seen Aang and Oguanga fall. He still had time; this was good. His mood was improving. The aged monk had practically allowed a skip of smugness before a bolt of light shot up into the sky, knocking him flat on his back in shock.
"Hodder, stay where I can see you!" Toph shouted as she kicked up a slab of frozen earth from under the snow to deflect a fireball.
"Uh – where is that exactly?" Came the strained reply. The blind earthbender could tell that her friend was trying to make a joke. Judging from how weak his voice sounded, however, she could also tell that he was still feeling his injury, not to mention the fury of the battle.
"I mean stay by the cave entrance, don't go wading out into the onslaught like some macho muscle-headed numbskull! We have this perimeter for a reason!" As she said the last bit, Toph felt Duella rocket over her on a summoned slide that broke away almost as quickly as it had formed. All of her acolytes were here and they were all fighting hard to keep the demons from entering the cave where the wounded lay trying to recover. Some of those, like Hodder and Piandao, had been sufficiently rested as to assist in the defense. Even Matora was shooting fists of fire at any demon that got by their line.
Toph herself had dug a small trench into the ground, past the interfering layer of snow and ice, to where she could get direct access to usable earth. Apart from that she still had the metal masks she and all of her followers wore but, as the demons did not seem to be making a final push yet, the blind earthbender felt the time was ready to use them. The explosions and cries from the front had been echoing through her feet for what seemed an eternity. Every time she seemed to get a good read on her surroundings they would be changed. Pushing forward was impossible; she could not fight what she could not see. Her friends would have to manage without her; at least the caves weren't in any immediate danger.
So far her only real concern was Hodder. The earthbender had leapt past their lines of defenses and taken the demons head on. Toph could feel the ground tremble as he ripped a perfect sphere of hardened soil from the ground and lashed it around at his foes as if it were attached to a length of long chain. So far he was keeping them at a distance but the blind earthbender could feel the demons moving, almost purposefully, encircling her friend. Hodder either didn't realize what was going on or didn't care about it. With every blow that was struck against him he fought all the harder. His attacks surged in response as if they were fueled with an unseen power. In truth it actually frightened the blind earthbender a little. This was not the proper way to use the bending arts. She needed to keep her friend as reigned in as possible while still allowing him to be effective.
"Hey did you hear me?" She called again, this time making sure her voice carried.
"I am currently engaged!" Hodder roared back as he swung his massive boulder above his head before bringing down between three demons. They scattered and crawled away as he swung the ball menacingly above them.
"I don't care if you're married! Get over and get down, you can't be running around playing angry komodo-rhino right now!" Toph screamed. She kicked several slabs of rocks against demons that were coming in on Hodder's right, seemingly unnoticed by the tattooed earthbender. She could feel the muscles in his body ripple as he continued to twirl his weapon about. He struck twice at the demons Toph had already countered. The blind earthbender felt herself getting angry, he was deliberately tuning her out. He was acting like he was the best earthbender here. Time to prove him wrong.
Leaping out of her trench, Toph slammed her fists into the ground. Tunnels of frozen soil shot up in two straight lines, both of which headed straight for Hodder. They branched off a mere few feet from where the tattooed earthbender was doing battle; one to his left the other to his right. At each demon they encountered, Toph gave a little twist of her knuckles and a jagged spike of rock would rocket forth, dispatching the demon that was above. She could feel Hodder straightened up in shock at this attack. However, seconds later he was pushing forward again, moving even farther from the cave.
"Hodder get back here!" She commanded. "You can't fight them all on your own!"
"Don't tell me what I can't do!" He declared in defiance. He let his ball fly off into the crowd of thrashing soldiers and scooped low through the snow. Toph felt the vibrations as earth formed around his hand and when he had drawn back up, he was holding a fully formed earthen flanged mace. Wasting no time, Hodder practically threw himself on top of the nearest demon and was instantly lost in close combat. This was not good. Now the demons were really starting to overpower him. Toph could sense that he was exerting all of his energy and barely managing to hold them off. They were just toying with him, and she felt like he knew it. Well there was only one thing to do then. If he wouldn't return willingly she would drag him back, or a better word would be punt.
Shoving her right foot forward hard, the blind earthbender launched her friend high into the air and back in the direction of the cave. Hodder landed with a heavy thud behind her before rolling over and falling into the trench. She turned around and jumped in next to him.
"What were you thinking you big idiot? You could have died! Don't ever do that to me again!" Toph hollered in his face, feeling concern leak through her voice a little more than she had intended it to.
"Toph?" Hodder replied questioningly, as if just waking up.
"Duh! Who do you think saved you, a purple-spotted kangaroo-salamander?" She asked sarcastically.
"Saved me?" He repeated, sounding very confused. The blind earthbender suddenly became aware of how much his pulse had slowed since being out of battle. There no longer was a fire in his veins. It was like a complete and dramatic transformation had occurred within seconds to change a blood thirsty warrior back into her newfound friend. Toph felt her usually vacant eyes widening:
"You don't remember, do you?" She asked softly. The tattooed earthbender shook his head before leaning up quickly to embrace her.
"Thank you, Toph." Came the whisper in her ear. The blind earthbender felt herself blush.
"I didn't really do anything." She responded, trying to make her tone sound gruff.
"Oh yes you did." Hodder cut her off. He embraced her again before looking up over the edge of the trench. "Probably better if I stay back here." He thought aloud.
"Yeah." Toph agreed, snapping back into focus. "No offense but I don't need you fighting if you're going to lash out like that again."
"I think I have it under control now."
"That's great, you're still staying back here." The blind earthbender stated in a sly tone. She could feel a slight ripple of agitation; Hodder didn't like the idea of not fighting at all. "Fine," she added, "you can get any that get by me."
"Sounds fair." The tattooed earthbender commented.
"Oh it's not." Toph corrected him. "There won't be any who get by me!" She was just about to unleash another furious attack towards the demons but a familiar shape stopped her. "Zuko!" She shouted suddenly.
The Firelord had been in a bad state since the collapse of the second wall. Upon landing in the water his left arm had immediately been struck by an enormous slab of ice, which snapped the bone instantly. Now it hung limply at his side as the right worked overtime to fend off attackers. He had scorched and burned his way back through the lines, occasionally being covered by surrounding Fire Nation soldiers. He had issued his generals orders to regroup at the third wall and assist the Earth King. Judging from the explosions that lit the sky, however, Zuko doubted just how much of the last wall still stood.
But none of that mattered now; he had to get to Aang. Defeating the Demon King was the only way to win this battle; he could see that. The two-head rat-viper had to be decapitated before it would die. He should have been with his friend from the beginning, what a fool he was! Uncle never would have made such a mistake! But none of that mattered now. There would be time to beat himself up about this later, right now he needed his left arm back if he was going to be of any use in defeating Oguanga.
The large infirmary cave was still several hundred feet away but he could already confirm that the defenses were holding remarkably well. Leave it to Toph to turn a hole in the ground into an impenetrable fortress. As if summoned by his thought the blind earthbender suddenly popped up from a trench and motioned toward him. The Firelord put on an extra sprint as he rolled aside two demons looking to put themselves between him and the infirmary. As he drew closer to the line of trenches dug out by the earthbenders, Toph suddenly began to scream and leapt up from her trench followed by a tattooed earthbender Zuko had only seen briefly before. The pair seemed to be running right at him.
The Firelord was about to spring, fearing an immanent attack. Lowering his body he tensed his uninjured right arm. "Turn around you idiot!" Toph screamed. Zuko blinked before looking over his shoulder. He could feel his mouth fall open in horror. Suki, flanked by a defensive group of Kyoshi Warriors, was dragging a blood-covered Sokka toward them. The Firelord's eyes were instantly drawn to the crimson stump where the young Water Tribe Chieftain's hand used to be. Then Toph and the earthbender were passed him. There was another rush of air as Piandao too came to offer assistance.
Then, all at once, the Firelord was in motion. Ignoring the pain that tore through his mind he raised both arms and summoned a massive wave of fire that separated the retreating group off from the pressing demons.
"Come on," he called to them. "I can't keep this up all day!"
"I'm being dragged as fast as I can here." Sokka replied weakly, still trying to preserve his humor.
"Lay him on the ground, then I can just slide him over there no problem." Toph ordered. Zuko watched as Suki gave the blind earthbender a troubled expression before complying.
"I expect you on your feet and back out here before I get my second wind." Piandao called as his former student slid away on slightly elevated soil.
"I don't have my sword." Sokka croaked back in a feeble tone.
"Always trying to dodge serious work." The experienced Fire Nation swordsman commented. "I have an extra in the cave, Matora can show you where it is... that is if he hasn't burned the whole place down yet!" Sokka didn't reply. Zuko wouldn't be surprised if the Water Tribe leader had lost conscious. He turned to see Suki, tears running down her face, speaking very quickly to Toph. The Firelord drifted over, still maintaining his wall of fire, he reached them just as the Kyoshi Warrior was concluding her tale.
"And it turned out to be Quanfar all along! He's been playing us, he was raving like a lunatic, I couldn't even understand him! But he – he and Emiko are airbenders! There may be more too but they want to kill Aang I think, and Oguanga too! Quanfar doesn't want anyone to come out from this only Emiko turned against him, she and Azula..." Suki stopped and looked dead into Zuko's eyes, causing the Firelord to take a step back. "they saved us." The Kyoshi Warrior stated. "Azula saved us. She's the one who convinced Emiko to turn against Quanfar, the one who stopped him from killing Sokka. She hit him with fire dead on the chest."
"Azula hasn't firebended since the war." Zuko muttered aloud. "The doctors said she couldn't anymore... they said she'd lost her ability."
"Tell her that." Toph cut him off. The blind earthbender then turned back to Suki. "Where is she now? And Quanfar and Emiko for that matter?"
"I don't know." The Kyoshi Warrior replied simply, her eyes darting between them and the cave where Sokka was. "Azula disappeared as soon as she helped me get Sokka away from Quanfar. Emiko just attacked him. She was moving pretty fast, like she was trying to lure him somewhere."
"Keeping him away from Aang." Zuko answered, his mind racing. Quanfar was an added factor, something he hadn't foreseen... and now his sister. This made things so much worse. "We need to get to him, he'll need our help."
"We? You can barely move, what do you think those demons are going to do when that wall comes down?" Toph asked, pointing with her body to the roaring barrier of inferno that the Firelord was struggling to maintain. "You need help here, Suki needs to be in that cave," the blind earthbender pushed the Kyoshi Warrior, who blushed but hurried off in the direction of the infirmary. "Hodder, load the Toph!" She bellowed.
"No," Zuko ordered. The blind earthbender and her friend stopped where they were. "Aang needs help! Go! Take any of my men you can find and go help him."
"What? No! Your place is leading your men!" Toph growled.
"My place is here, dying for them." The Firelord replied grimly. "Here I can make a defensive stand and allow all the wounded to reach the caves, it's my duty to protect my people the best way I can and if I can't help Aang directly then I can sure as fire send you!"
"Spoken like a true Firelord!" Piandao declared a little distance away as he helped a wounded soldier to his feet. "Your uncle would be proud!"
"Go now!" Zuko bellowed as he stretched himself to his limits. Fire billowed forth from his hands in giant, sweeping arches, the wall now towered over everyone as a beacon. The Firelord gritted his teeth in pain and screamed. He was cut off, however, as a bolt of dazzling light rocketed into the sky, stilling a vicious battlefield.
"?uoy era ohW" Katara held her ground as the Demon King snarled at her. He was struggling to his feet after the initial blow. The waterbender lowered herself and lashed out again, turning her protective shield into four long tentacles of water. Oguanga knocked the first two away before the third managed to wrap itself around his legs. With a heave of her arms, Katara lifted her flailing adversary into the air and smacked him with the fourth, sending Oguanga careening back a second time.
"Aang, get up!" She yelled at her husband. The Avatar struggled but appeared unable to move. Katara felt herself becoming fearful, what if she was too late? She never should have agreed to his stupid plan in the first place, it had taken her a good five minutes to overpower her father on Appa, and then she had had to spend another ten convincing Mai to watch the children instead of coming with her.
Suddenly the snow turned about her feet and the waterbender felt herself sink. The Demon King lurched forward and clapped his hands together, sending an avalanche of snow tearing right at her. No, Katara thought, this she would not fall this easily. Whipping her water back toward her, the waterbender sliced at the snow encasing her feet. She was free within seconds and instantaneously dropped. As soon she was in a crouch, Katara kicked her leg out at the surrounding snow, shooting it up into a sloping barrier that reached the same level as the oncoming avalanche. Moving with incredible speed Katara shot up, racing up the sloping end of the wall. She kicked off the top with her feet and soared into the air. Remembering her intense training sessions with her husband, Katara remembered a move he had shown her using snowbending. Twirling herself around in midair, Katara drew in surrounding snowflakes. Then she suddenly bunched her entire body in on itself and the snow drew in around her, forming itself into a kind a giant spinning top with multiple jagged edges. She landed on the ground and took off within her whirling weapon, heading right for Oguanga.
The Demon King roared and flames issued from his mouth. The waterbender stuck out her arms and gave another twirl, increasing the speed of the top. The fire simply deflected off to the side as it hit, the top was spinning so fast. Katara braced herself for impact. Unfortunately she did not know the depths of the Demon King's power. Oguanga, seeing his initial attack was ineffective has leaned back on the soles of his talons, turning the previously flat ground in front of him into a maze of serrated rocks. The top struck, shattering immediately and Katara was thrown into the air.
However, even though dislodged, the waterbender's resolve was unshaken. She landed on her feet and whipped the water forth from her pouch once again, knocking Oguanga forward several paces.
"You can't knock me down!" She cried and reached up toward the heavens. The tornadoes created by Aang still spun about haphazardly. Although she couldn't directly control the air current, Katara felt the water essence that had been absorbed into the torrent of wind and used it to her advantage. With all her remaining strength she scooped a tornado down and picked up the Demon King before he could recover. Oguanga, surprised and outraged, shot up and was hurled hundreds of feet into the air before crashing into the side of a glacier. The resulting impact caused the enormous chunk of ice to splinter in two, burying the Demon King in rubble. Katara watched all this before collapsing down to her knees, her power completely gone.
She breathed heavily and shivered from all the sweat formed on her brow. That had to have worked. There was no way Oguanga could take all that punishment and still stand. Looking over to Aang she could see him struggling to reach her. She smiled, her expression showing her exhaustion. Her husband returned the expression with his own goofy grin. Katara desperately tried to convince her legs to move. She was almost on her feet when the remains of the glacier exploded and Oguanga rocketed out, landing only a few short yards away from her.
Aang's voice echoed in her ears but she couldn't make out any of the words. Fear gripped Katara and the Demon King limped toward her, with one clawed hand clutching at his side. His expression was one of pure fury. Trying to move, the waterbender lost balance and fell back against the cold snow, her eyes staring imploringly up at the savage creature that towered over her.
"?elttab ruo tpursid uoy did yhW ?latrom, yhW .divel evah dluoc uoY .erefretni ot evah t'ndid uoY" Oguanga growled. Katara shook her head slowly.
"Spare my husband..." she whispered at length. "Spare our children."
"?nerdlihC" The Demon King snorted and she watched as his eyes widened. Suddenly his muscles seemed to relax. Then, Aang was behind him, his eyes glowing the full power of the Avatar State. Oguanga didn't even have time to react before the Avatar wrapped his arms about the demon's chest, encasing the grip shut in ice. Katara blinked in speechless awe as her husband rocketed off into the sky, dragging the struggling King away from her.
Aang and Oguanga surged up in the same glorious glow that had frozen both Zuko and Quanfar, and indeed the whole of the battlefield still in time. The Avatar tunneled the wind under them, propelling the pair higher and higher into the heavens. In front of him, Oguanga struggled to get free of the icy death-grip that locked the two together.
"Avatar!" He cried. "If you do this, if you continue to take us higher, neither one of us will survive the fall!"
"That's the idea." Aang replied, his voice as cold as the ice joining his arms. "You and your kind have devastated the people of this world, you threaten innocent lives! You tried to kill my wife! You are just as evil as Koh and I will, I will end you!" The air was getting thin around them now as they ripped a hole through the cloud layer. Looking up, the airbender could see the stars twinkling overhead, dots on an otherwise black canvas of sky. To their east the rising sun shone its light brightly, though now they appeared to be level with it. Aang could feel the air disappearing around them; his already ragged breath became even more labored.
Then they reached it, the top of the world. The Avatar had never been this high in all of his life. With one last valiant push, he propelled them upward then the icy bound linking the two shattered. Reforming the ice around his hands, Aang struck down at the Demon King and launched the pair on their collision course with the earth. As they fell, fire enveloped the two and they vanished from the sight of the onlookers below. The ground rushed to meet them and the Avatar felt the wind whizzing past his face, almost fast enough to cut it. This fall would be the end, Oguanga had not been lying, but he could accept that.
Closing his eyes, Aang delivered one final blow before slipping from the Avatar State, surrendering his body to whatever came next. To his immense surprise he felt the cutting air soften slightly right before he and the Demon King struck the earth, as though an unseen hand had slowed the descent. Nevertheless when the impact came, it was followed by blackness.
"Aang!" Katara screamed. Her legs came to life as she leapt to her feet, running toward the scattered cloud of snow and dirt that had been kicked up from the force of impact. As she ran the tears began to flow down her cheeks. The waterbender thought about brushing them away but dismissed it. Her muscles ached and she could feel herself cramping up. Diving forward, Katara pulled herself to the edge of the crater her husband and Oguanga had created and, bracing herself, peering down.
The blast had driven the crater one hundred feet deep and at the very bottom two crumbled figures lay, neither one moving. "Aang..." Katara repeated again. She could make out his body but from this distance it was impossible to tell whether or not he was breathing. Throwing away any thought of self-preservation, the waterbender threw herself down into the crater, her body sending her shocks of pain as it bunched along the rocks. After several seconds she came to a wincing stop right beside her husband. Dragging herself over, she managed to prop his head up onto her chest.
"Aang, come on, Aang..." She shook him. There was no response. "Aang!" She screamed it again into his unmoving face. "Please no – Aang! Come on you wouldn't! Not after what you did – not after everything. You can't leave! Wake up... Aang!" Tears splashed lightly off the airbender's still face. Katara shook and shook but to no avail. "Come on, come on!" She sobbed. Hearing a sudden sound made the waterbender's head shoot up, first to her husband, then around behind her. Emiko was standing at the edge of the crater; a mixture of blood and tears obscured the Air Nomad's facial features.
"Not enough," she mumbled to herself. "I tried slowing them down... not enough."
"Emiko?" Katara questioned. The other woman gave no sign that she had heard and simply continued mumbling. For her own part the waterbender turned back to her husband. It was over, he wasn't waking up... he would never wake up. "Aang..." She sniffed loudly and hugged his face to hers.
"... Katara?" The voice was so soft, so faint, it could easily have been imagined. But it wasn't! She drew back and there he was, his eyes opened barely above slits but still, he was alive! A gentle breeze of wind blew across her face as she smiled down at him. He was alive! Aang was still alive!
"How wonderful a reunion you two are having, a shame it must be ended." Katara felt confused, she looked up and there was Monk Quanfar, grinning down at them.
"No!" Emiko shouted.
"Oh yes." The aged monk replied and before Katara could blink he shot off a gust of air, knocking Emiko back. "Good job saving their lives my apprentice, I had wanted to finish them myself anyway."
"Quanfar what are you doing?" The waterbender cried.
"It's not obvious? Filthy Water Tribe girl, I am getting justice for the lives your people allowed to be ruined over a century ago. I am making sure that every nation will feel the pain of the Air Nomads!"
"?yrehcaert dna seil htiw ,em yaper uoy woh si siht dna nwo ym erew uoy ekil uoy devol I !siht naht retteb thguat erew uoY !ecnaegnev s'ti ;ecitsuj t'nsi siht ,rafnauQ, elbon os gnihtoN" Katara spun back to see Oguanga growling up at the Air Nomad, the Demon King's eyes once again alive with anger. Monk Quanfar laughed.
"!reven ,gnorw ,agnaugO taerg ehT .ton teb I ?ekatsim a gnikam eb dluoc uoy taht uoy ot rucco ecno reve ti diD ?drows taht gnidnif retfa spoort ruoy yllar uoy did ylkciuq woh tsuj ,em lleT .nalp ym ni nwap a naht erom gnihton erew uoy ,loof dlo uoy ti ecaF . gniK nomeD ,'nerdlihc' ruoy taert uoy woh nees ev'I" The ancient monk ran a hand over his head.
".em ot gniklat emit etsaw uoy sa neve ,uoy pots ot won thgir gnimoc era sdneirf s'ratavA ehT .niw t'now uoY" Oguanga croaked out. Katara couldn't be sure but she felt the tone was defiant. \
"Enough!" Quanfar shouted, switching back to the human tongue. "I will kill the Avatar and his wife first... .retsam dlo ym ,uoy neht" The waterbender felt her eyes widened as the old Air Nomad flailed his arms about his head in a wide circling motion that encompassed his body. A twister, exactly the same length and width as the monk's body, materialized in front of him. Katara watched in horror as Quanfar put his hands out in front of him, always continuing the motion. The mini-tornado flowed with his movements, descending upon the three trapped at the bottom of the crater.
"Aang, can you move? Get up, we gotta go!" Katara pleaded with her husband. His body shuddered in effort but there was no movement. If she took out her water she could heal him but there wasn't time, that cyclone would be one them in moments.
".thgirla eb lliw ti ,dlihc, gnorts eB" The Demon King cooed at her. The waterbender really wished she could understand him. Suddenly the twister dissipated in midair, blue flame had hit the ground right in front of Quanfar, causing the airbender to lose his concentration. Following the direction from where the blast came from, Katara let her eyes lead her to Azula, the disheveled princess was standing across the crater from the aged monk, grinning at him wildly.
"You know, if you play with dolls too much, you'll tear them." The Fire Nation Princess chuckled to herself as she locked eyes with the furious airbender.
"You again!" Quanfar bellowed.
"Of course, I'll always be me – can't really be anyone else...unless I could?" Azula put a finger to her lips thoughtfully and began skipping toward her opponent. She cartwheeled and fell over, laughing to herself as she clamored to her feet. "Have you heard of the dancing dragon, a funny long tail he had?"
"Mad witch, I'll enjoy putting you out of your misery!" Monk Quanfar hissed. Azula smiled and kept babbling to herself:
"On every solstice and full moon twice the dragon came to town. With a hop and a bump and a scattering stump, he drove them from that ground!" She laughed at the last words; she didn't know why they were so funny to her. "Put me out of my misery you say? What an exquisite game!" Azula declared. Glancing over the monk's should she could see her brother and his friends running toward them. "Oh Zuzu!" She called. "Just in time for the game!"
"What?" Quanfar spun around. "No! They weren't supposed to get here so fast! You – you delayed my victory – you took it away from me!" He brandished the hilt of his wind-sword at her and Azula merely chuckled.
"Isn't that missing something?" She chided in an infantile manner.
"Fire Nation harlot, this is your end!" He lowered the invisible blade and charged headlong for her. Azula didn't hesitate in her counterattack. She struck out: palm to the chest, fingertips to the neck, she surged her palm into a fist while her fingertips raked across the neck like a claw before putting a sharp tap on the top of the ribcage. As she finished she leapt back, feeling a sharp pain explode in her chest.
Monk Quanfar dropped back three steps from the attack, casting confused eyes over his body, he seemed to be searching for some injury. Azula watched as the look of confusion was replaced with one of immense satisfaction. The ancient monk startled to chuckle before bursting out into laughter.
"Nice try." He mused. "But sorry, no luck. Feel free to try again when you're up to it although... I don't think that will be anytime soon." Azula felt another pain in her gut as Quanfar continued laughing.
"You really think beating the Fire Nation Princess is that easy?" She choked out. Quanfar stopped laughing and looked at her.
"You are just a broken shell." He replied in a smug tone, "and I don't have time for you. Now excuse me." He turned to resume his attack on the Avatar and the Demon King. Azula watched as he took two steps before his expression completely changed. A bolt of lightning seemed to shoot through the old monk's body as every muscle, every joint stiffened.
"What is – no this can't be..." He started to say before trailing off. All of his limbs began twitching and convulsing as though tremendous energy was tearing through them. With great effort the monk started clawing at his chest. Azula watched expressionlessly as Quanfar thrashed around. It seemed now that he was struggling to scream but no words were escaping his mouth. Instead a bright, hot light emanated from within his being. First it broke through his mouth, then his eyes. Finally the Monk staggered forward and raised his arms to the sky. Then his skin turned an ashy gray and with the first strong breeze, fell away to nothingness. Monk Quanfar was dead. Azula smirked.
"That would have impressed even father..." she muttered to herself in satisfaction. Her next words, however were drowned out by the blood that overflowed her mouth. She barely had time to glance down at the deep wound that now gushed openly in her chest before collapsing to the ground.
"Azula!" Zuko cried. He raced over and threw himself on the ground next to his fallen sister. Behind him he could hear Toph and Hodder hurrying down into the crater to fetch out Aang and Katara. Peering down, the Firelord examined his sister's wound. She had been impaled, cut clean through by Monk Quanfar's wind-sword. He couldn't burn it shut; he didn't see any way to stop the bleeding at all.
"Hello big brother." She smiled up at him, almost sweetly. "Come to check up on me lying in bed? Did mom have you bring soup? I really like her soups... don't tell her I told you."
"Azula..." Zuko repeated. The sound of approaching footsteps made him look up. Mai and Lu Ten were rushing over, behind them Hakoda could be seen riding upon Appa's saddle with Momo chattering about his head.
"Daddy!" Lu Ten called. The young boy rushed into his father's arms. Zuko hugged him before looking up at Mai. She smiled down at him before looking at Azula. He could see the tears start to well up in her eyes.
"Uncle is so proud of you, Zuko." Azula said calmly, as though completely oblivious. "He told me that so often... I guess you could tell who his favorite was." Then she blinked, turning her head slightly to look at Lu Ten. "Daddy?" She repeated in a questioning tone. "You and Mai have a son?"
"Yes, Azula." Zuko answered, wiping his face with his sleeve. "His name is Lu Ten... he's your nephew."
"My nephew?" Azula repeated. Then her eyes glazed over a bit and she smiled. "I have a nephew." And those were the last words that Azula, Princess of the Fire Nation, ever spoke. Her head drooped back and her breathing fell still. Zuko let go of his son and picked up the lifeless body of his sister, checking her neck for a pulse. He could feel the tears intensifying on his face.
"Azula..." He breathed at last. Then he hugged her to him, openly sobbing. At one point he looked up and, just for a moment, he swore he could see a small girl running up and leaping into the arms of his mother. But the image was there one minute... and gone the next.
"Mom, why is dad crying?" Lu Ten asked, turning his youthful features up toward his mother.
"Because sweetie... your father just lost his little sister." Mai replied, and her lip trembled as she spoke.
When Aang came to he could tell that some time had clearly passed. For starters, Katara must have had time to feel him for his joints no longer felt broken and, although still weak, he could stand and walk around. The Avatar found himself inside a crater. Around him stood his wife, Toph, and another person who appeared to be an earthbender.
"Hodder." The man said, as if guessing what was going through Aang's head. The airbender grinned and nodded.
"Aang, pleased to meet you. Now uh – what happened?"
"You scared me half to death, that's what happened!" Katara scolded. "I thought your little stunt killed you!"
"Yeah like you could lose me that easily. We're together, for better or worse." Aang grinned sheepishly at his wife, who returned the expression with her own loving smile.
"Aang?" Looking up, the Avatar saw Emiko climbing down the crater to them. "It was all my fault!! I should have – " The Avatar put up a hand to silence her.
"From what I remember hearing while I was drifting in and out of consciousness, you saved my life. You don't need to apologize for anything."
"No, she doesn't." Aang watched as the other's eyes widened in shock and horror and spun around to see Oguanga rising to his feet. The Demon King was doubled over and clearly in an immense amount of pain but still intimidating. He looked at the Avatar with steady eyes and a relaxed posture. "The blame is mine, and mine alone, Avatar."
"What do you mean?" He asked, still keeping his own guard up. Oguanga sighed and sat down on the tattered earth.
"Long ago I made an enormous mistake, one that ended up costing many – many lives. I have never forgiven myself for it. I also swore it would never be repeated. It seems destiny has a sense of irony. I loved Quanfar like a... like a son. I could never have fathomed his true intentions; I guess I just didn't want to see it. I thought he was the future. I thought through him and the other Air Nomads, I would somehow atone for my past transgressions. Instead I have committed another atrocity beyond compare." Suddenly the Demon King issued a long, piercing howl. Aang clutched his hands over his ears and waited for the ringing to die down before removing them.
"What was that for?" He asked.
"A surrender order." Oguanga replied. "My men will have laid down their arms upon hearing that. The battle is over. We are your prisoners now, Avatar. I only ask that you spare my people. It is I and I alone who should be punished."
"What's this thing saying?" Toph asked from behind Aang. The airbender turned and looked at his friends. With the exception of Emiko, each one was still regarding the Demon King with fear and hostility.
"He just surrendered." Aang repeated slowly.
"What?" Katara questioned, clearly taken aback.
"And he wishes that we spare his people and only punish him, he is taking full responsibility for all of this."
"Well la dee da." Toph mocked. "It's all his fault anyway. I say we line the lot of them up for execution!"
"No!" Zuko declared. The Firelord had appeared at the top of the crater alongside his wife and son. Sliding down he came to a stop in front of the Demon King and turned to look at Aang. "Ask him if he knows who I am." The Firelord folded his arms as the Avatar complied. Oguanga answered almost instantly.
"He says he has heard a great deal of you, Zuko. He says you are not like your father but rather a man of honor." Aang replied simply.
"Ask him if he knows the things I did before I joined your side in the war." Zuko continued. The airbender gave his friend a quizzical look but did as he was told.
"He says he is fully aware of all your actions, both the good and the evil."
"Now ask him, were our positions reversed and it were me kneeling before him, would he show mercy." This time the Demon King did not answer right after Aang had finished translating. Several moments passed where Oguanga genuinely appeared to be deep in thought. Then he spoke. Aang nodded and gave the translation:
"It all depends, Firelord Zuko. He would have pardoned you but only if your soul made the plea. That reflects the deepest commitment, souls can change and he believes in second chances."
"I believe in the power of second chances too." Zuko responded. "Let him and all his people live. They have suffered just as we have over this treachery." And with that he turned to go.
"Where are you going?" Katara asked.
"I'm taking my sister's body back to camp, it's time to move forward." Aang felt his heart sink as he turned back to Oguanga, relaying the Firelord's message of mercy.
"I thank him." Oguanga nodded. "Avatar, if it is alright with you, I would like to make an address once all the survivors have been gathered. Something must be done by my people to aid you in rebuilding your world. You would honor me by translating for your people."
The Avatar nodded. "Katara," he began, brushing a hand against his wife's cheek. "Go head and heal him. We need to get out of this crater and back to camp." His wife opened her mouth like she was about to object but instead simply closed it again. Simply nodding, she brought out her water from her pouch and formed it about her hands, running them gingerly over the Demon King. Even with Katara's healing abilities, Oguanga still required the aid of Toph and Hodder to escape the crater. Once they were all back on even ground, the Demon King's eyes fell on Appa.
"Is that your sky-bison, Avatar?" He asked, his voice regaining some of its booming presence.
"Yeah that's Appa, hey boy! Did you miss me?" Aang cried. His friend bellowed a greeting in response. Up in the saddle Hakoda peered over.
"I've missed you, these two are hard work!" The former Water Tribe Chief called before holding up two infants buddle tightly in his arms. Aang felt himself start to glow with pride. However, before he could join his new family, a clawed hand gripped him firmly on the shoulder.
"Avatar, one quick word... about your sky-bison, I believe there is something I can do."
At the camp the four nations of the world stood side-by-side with the demons, waiting to see what their respective leaders would say. At length, Toph raised a mound large enough for both Aang and Oguanga to stand upon before joining Hodder with the rest of the Earth Kingdom. The Avatar felt himself being motioned forward by the giant form beside him and complied. And, as Oguanga gave his speech to his own followers, the Avatar translated, adjusting the Demon King's speech as he saw needed.
"A great tragedy has befallen us, man and demon alike. War should never be fought rashly but I am afraid that this time I was taken as the fool. My brothers, both of demon-kind and of the nations above, please hear me when I say that I was deceived and in that deception I acted both foolish and rash. It is my fault so many lives were lost and mine alone. I should have come to the Avatar personally rather than relying on the sight of others. I was blind. I will pay for my crimes make no mistake. Once my people and I have helped repair the damage we have done to this world, I will go to Saligia and trust in his wise words for judgment."
"The road before us is a long and difficult one. I am sad to say...there is no power left anymore that can return the lives that were uselessly lost in this short but brutal war. Your world has lost something, so mine will try and replace it. It has become clear to me that the demons can no longer act as an effective means of balancing a world we are not part of. Therefore, we shall reopen our remaining underground settlements to human travel, rest assured this will in no way weaken any nation. Now is a time of strengthening. I beg you to please join me in it. Now that, for however little it is worth, I am sorry."
"Let us all be thankful for the Avatar, it is in him and other brave souls that the true heroes of this world may be found. Long life to the Avatar!" And at this the demons burst forth in roars and applause. Soon the four nations joined in and the very ground seemed to shake with celebration. Aang had already witnessed such a scene once before in his life and, as before, his gaze was drawn to only one other pair of eyes, only this time there were two, much smaller pairs underneath it.
Southern Air Temple, Several Months Later
Aang let the soft breeze whistle through his cloak on the hilltop. Beside him Appa lay relaxing in the shade of some bending willow trees. A few feet in front, Katara laid spread out on a blanket with Aara and Nuene nestled next to her. The family was here on a semi-holiday, and to help Emiko settle into her new airbending academy. Sighing contently to himself, Aang walked over to his wife and settled down next to her, scooping Nuene into his arms. The baby cooed joyfully against his chest.
"Do you think she'll be alright here without any help?" Katara asked, observing as Emiko lead a line of Air Nomads up the steps to the temple.
"It's not like I can't come by to visit." Aang replied. "And besides, she's a master airbender, I'm sure she has it worked out."
"I suppose," Katara whistled. The Avatar watched as his wife played with Aara, letting the young infant suckle on her fingers.
"Have Sokka and Suki set a date yet?" He asked. She gave him a look.
"I think I've already told you this. Sokka wants to wait for Pakku to be fully back on his feet again first. Besides, right now he's still riding that 'hook-handed pirate thing' of his." She finished with a short laugh. Aang chuckled and lay back against the grass.
"It will be nice to see everyone again, when it finally does happen. I'm even looking forward to seeing Oguanga a little bit."
"Yeah," Katara agreed. "It's remarkable how much he's warmed up to you since the fighting ended. I'm glad Saligia found most of the blame to lie with Quanfar." Aang shuddered.
"It's not a pleasant thought to think that an Air Nomad could be capable of the things he did. I just feel so sorry for him, all the pain and confusion he must have felt those years underground."
"He chose his path." Katara commented. Then she grinned. "Hey we'll get to see Toph at the wedding probably, I haven't seen her since she and that Hodder guy decided to go off adventuring together in the northern mountains. Maybe they'll have a little announcement of their own." Aang laughed.
"Toph? Really, nah not that soon." He chuckled.
"You never know." Katara mused. For a few moments the two simply sat in silence, completely absorbed in the two children between them.
"At least it will be a happy occasion, good for Zuko and his family. He seemed very upset at the funeral." Aang commented at length.
"It's hard losing a family member. He's lost practically everybody he knew growing up. That must be impossible." Katara observed. The Avatar nodded somberly in agreement.
"The monks always told me that every path, no matter how great or how small, was a grand adventure." Aang said at last. "Even death."
"Even parenting?" His wife teased. The Avatar looked into her loving sapphire eyes.
"As long as I'm with you... I'm ready for any adventure." He mused gently. She smiled as she leaned in to kiss him.
"To live, to live will be quite the adventure." She whispered before deepening the kiss. Beside them Appa roared and stood up. Stretching his legs and shaking Momo off his saddle, the sky-bison took off into the sky, joining a flock of others that were playing in the clouds. The new world was beginning and, thanks to the Avatar and the Demon King, it was looking to be the greatest of them all.
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