"Our world cannot sustain itself if it remains divided."
— Bol

The Mad Genius is the fifth chapter of A:TLAR.

Omashu palace interior
The Mad Genius
Chapter information






Written by


Release date

June 10th, 2011

Last chapter

Revolution 1

Next chapter

The Runaway

Behind the Scenes

Theme song: People Are Strange, by The Doors. Relevance: The central theme of this chapter is uniqueness (the uniqueness and cleverness that Bol is so centered on) and ensuring that Ain's solutions to his tasks capture that sort of uniqueness. This song is also Bol's theme.

Halls of Stone

Their shore-bound voyage was not impeded in the slightest by wave or storm, as though their route to the mainland had been paved by the Avatar Spirit itself, in the process ensuring there would be no travail in their path through the surging sea. Upon their reunion on the coast, the four just-inducted rebels began their trek to the north on foot, having loaned their mount Appa to the newly freed prisoners. Their northward journey to the mountains, through brambles, storms and flames, had been arduous.

But now the four had arrived upon the summit of their efforts. Etched into the base of the mountain's southern face was a grand gateway. The mountain desperately reached above the clouds and grasped at the heavens like a condemned one seeking salvation. The interior of the mountain had been hollowed and converted to a metropolis that was concealed by rock and soil.

They marched across the eroded pathway that led to the broad doorway, which was protected by a trio of guards that were adorned in emerald-green armor. Sandwiched between the two youthful soldiers was a man with prevalent patches of gray strewn around in his beard. He was taken aback by the troupe's sudden appearance, before regaining his composure and stepping forward accusingly. The soldier cocked his head to the left and vacantly stared at the young monk that stood before him. In a distinctive drawl, he asked, " your name?"

Ain meekly replied with the moniker that Sakodi had crafted for this sort of situation: Rashi. Inquisitive and uncertain, the off-kilter armored vanguard of Omashu peered into the monk's sleep-robbed, sunken eyes, seeking verification that his claim was not faulty. Beneath the man's tempered armor plates lied ripe, bulging muscles that provided him with physical menace as an addition to his off-putting eccentricity. He proceeded to continue the strangest interrogation the troupe had yet seen, " you seek?"

His head drifted toward the opposite direction. The tribal siblings were concerned about how their reluctant leader would respond. In unpredicted defiance of the intimidation that was out forth by this man, the monk matched his gaze and denied from scouring the monk's soul. He stated, "We seek to venture through your city to the Ice Citadel in the far north.

Abandoning any sense of malevolence that he'd emanated previously, the man burst into a deranged cackle-snort hybrid. He murmured a phrase that the troupe had not overheard, "What is your...favorite color?" then abruptly barked an order to the guards, to have the gateway parted so that the troupe could enter their fair city of Omashu. The four trudged through the cavernous hallway, their escort having seemingly evaporated.

Sakodi remarked to his comrades, "Well, we have only been here for approximately a few minutes, but we haven't been ambushed by women hidden in trees, and none of us of us have been arrested or kidnapped in this span of time. Perhaps our fates are looking up?" Those last words were uttered as a pair of Fire Nation soldiers came into view. "It appears that I have spoken too soon. We really are stuck on an uphill battle, aren't we? Can't we just catch a break for one day? Doesn't the Fire Nation have more important duties for their soldiers than to chase down a few teenagers?"

However, it quickly became apparent that the soldiers were oblivious to their presence. One was attempting to bargain with a merchant on the value of an extravagant and yet clearly impractical scimitar. The merchant sought a promotion of his wealth, which he would gain by goading the soldiers into a prodigal purchase. The younger soldier was utterly deceived, but his superior remained unconvinced, wary of the tradesman's deceit, conservative in the face of this wily con artist. The subordinate trimmed the fat of his satchel and relinquished a plethora of gold coins unto the shopkeeper. His officer dismissed such wastefulness and sauntered off to a local tavern. These two were of no concern to the rebels.

Citing a severe phobia for having an immense amount of earth suspended above her, Miza dashed back to the gateway, leaving her companions to their own devices. The trio admired the majestic and intricate architecture of the city. There were grand towers that served as apartment complexes, but doubled as columns meant to support the mountain shell of Omashu. Woven between the olympian buildings were roads consisting of smooth, dark green brick. They aimlessly wandered across these streets before eventually reaching the conclusion that the city posed no threat to their conditions or their mission. And so the trio separated for a day of casual pleasures and relief of tensions.


Kyasin strode with clear purpose, studying each establishment with intense deliberation. She wandered between the more squat buildings, observing the trash diffused around the gutters, the famished young men that lied within the gutters with swollen bellies, and the disrepair that had overwhelmed certain buildings.

Her journey through the debauched, dilapidated slums concluded upon her discovering the humble tavern that she had sought. She shoved through the door and paced forcefully toward the counter, disregarding the hostile gazes of the other patrons. She felt their stares boring deep into her tender flesh, eventually giving a sharp remark to ward them off, without directly acknowledging the others. "My presence is not for any of you men to be concerned over. I am of age and therefore am fit to drink as I please."

She set herself upon a stout chair and calmly asked for a bottle of light sake. Upon serving this bottle to her, the woman serving as bartender quietly asked, "Do you need anything else?" Kyasin's eyes and ears instantly perked up and she leaned in, but the woman stopped her. "Sorry, nothing like that. I just cleaned this counter."

By the time she had downed two full bottles, she was mildly intoxicated, and chose to stop with that. She was aware that she did not have a tendency for being pleasant even when sober, let alone when she was stone cold inebriated. She was prepared to depart from the tavern on good terms with its bartender and completely without conflict, when a voluptuous, elegant young noblewoman strode into the bar. Back home, being part of the chieftain dynasty meant being the person for everyone to lean on. But here...she could use her status to influence. Here, she wasn't the blood-soaked guardian. A devilish smile subtly crawled across her face.

Every homely man and woman at the counter evaporated, bent away as though Ain himself was doing her a sweet favor. Only she and the woman clad in violet silk were present. Even the tender of the counter had shown himself out, leaving Kyasin to manage the drinks. She swiftly swept the elixir into a squat glass and offered it to the coyly smiling matron standing before her. "Is this the sort of establishment that you frequent? Women like us don't belong with such...rustic folk."

She was clearly intrigued by this blatant flirtation. The nymph sat beside Kyasin and directly asked, "And what sort of woman are you, necessarily?"

"I am an elite chieftess from the south. A proud and glorious warrior. And I have certain..tastes that I seek to satiate. Perhaps you could escort me to a more favorable..private location for us to discuss these tastes?"

Suddenly, a pair of brutish Earth Kingdom soldiers arrogantly strutted into the bar at that moment. She refused to simply allow them to do as they pleased. One may attempt to examine her intolerance for arrogance and determine some interior motivation, but she did not dwell on such things, especially in this sort of state. The senior soldier staggered to the counter, apparently already drunk from previous excursions, then shoved a young man off of a stool and claimed it for himself. He tilted his body toward Kyasin and leered at her for a moment that lasted far too long to be acceptable, until he noticed the woman that was practically in her lap.

"Shouldn't you be letting one of us have a go at her?" he declared as he gestured to the noble girl that shrunk out of crude, unrefined fear.

Kyasin retorted, "No, I am certain you are far too busy staring at busty prostitutes and competing for the champion title in machismo for her to be interested in the likes of you, Chauv."

He stood up, walked over to the women, stared at Kyasin's companion with his vacant eyes, and gestured toward her. "Get off of the other one. You should be paying attention to an admirable, musclebound, experienced man like me, not..her. She should be in the barracks, working off her confusion..."

Kyasin's head rapidly turned toward the expresser of this offense. Pure fury shot forth, launched from her pupils like jagged scraps of metal being released by a homemade grenade. "I am confused?"

"Clearly, since you're acting as only men are fit to -"

She smashed her clenched fist into his stomach, without any of her other muscles being moved in the slightest. This was a carefully orchestrated assault designed to finish a close-quarters conflict before it began. She was grateful for those ceaseless sparring matches of her youth. He staggered back, then reluctantly chose to abandon his endeavor, gesturing for his subordinate to follow suit. A cocktail of strong sake, unbridled ferocity and personal insults to her pride consumed any sense of proper judgment. She gripped the man's straggly hairs and vehemently said, "This is what happens...when you screw with a stranger in a bar!" On each intense and emphasized word, she slammed his head against the counter. He collapsed to the floor, his skull at the least fractured and his face marred.

She softly apologized to the subject of her flirtations and gestured for them to walk out together, when the second soldier drew a weapon designed just like the one that the warden back in the south had possessed, and she shuddered in terror. Recognizing the newfound fear in her eyes, he calmly stated, "There's already a round in the chamber." She slowly went to her knees, refusing to allow her life to be extinguished over what had truly been a petty incident. She regretted that only now her judgment was not faltering.

Sinews of Brotherhood

He perused the gallery of weapons that were mounted and displayed on the western wall's face, admiring the immense effort that went into the intricate designs of these instruments of warfare. A minority were gaudy or impractically augmented with jewels, but the majority were suitable for use if a combat situation erupted instantaneously. He abruptly began to inquisitively peer at the last weapons on the line, a pair of peculiar devices that he failed to recognize. He inquired about these unique weapons with a nearby patrolling guard.

The armored woman explained, that as a part of the city's neutrality agreement with the soldiers of the Fire Nation-occupied eastern Earth Kingdom, crates of a newly-designed weapon were imported to Omashu by the Fire Nation every month. Their city's elected leader had concurred with the parliament that these so-called 'firearms' were incredibly lethal and a threat to the honor and balance of warfare. As a result, the decision was made to ban the use of firearms by both citizens and soldiers. When warriors in the service of the Fire Nation visited Omashu for short periods, the most recently received would be displayed at their primary military facility. However, all firearms that the city had obtained were smelted down and reformed to create traditional clubs and swords.

He graciously thanked the soldier for her willingness to impart information on her city's politics to him. The two warriors parted ways on impartial terms, respecting the other's duty to their own comrades-in-arms. He reflected upon the sense of brotherhood that had sparked naturally between the two, wondered whether this sense of camaraderie could tear all barriers asunder. He ventured around the facility to the entrance situated on the northern face. He strode through the doorway emitting both confidence and curiosity, determined and yet aware that the chances of his intentions would magnificently backfire were considerably high. He would wholeheartedly take the risk of damnation if it provided the opportunity for this..incursion.

His dedication to this task was as fortified as the mountain city itself, bolstered by sturdy ramparts of stubbornness. Despite this, there were lingering fractures in the fortress' walls, born of natural skepticism. He observed a young fellow adorned with armor that was colored like a dark ruby with patches of black and amber scattered on its surface, the signature of the Fire Nation. The dazed soldier was instantly roused by Sakodi's presence. He questioned, "Why is a citizen present in this secure, exclusive military headquarters? Actually..." He pondered the situation for a brief moment. "This is the commander's concern, not mine, At least someone is present to uplift me from this thick, murky tedium. And your name is?"

Sakodi spent several moments devising a moniker before settling on, "Han." "I actually serve with a militia in the southeast, I am in Omashu to visit my sister." He observed that the youth's armor insignia designated him as 'Enri.'

"My father bestowed the name of Enri upon my body in honor of his father, Enrito. It is my pleasure to be introduced to a brother-in-arms such as yourself. Though our brothers' blades may meet on the fields where this war is waged, here in Omashu we may regard each other as equals, as I regard my own people. That is the marvelous achievement of our respective leaders, to have crafted such a nirvana of a city."

The King of Deceptions

"Sir, I put forth this plea in the name of my companion, Kyasin Jai of the south. My lord, we cannot afford to remain in this city for a particularly lengthy period of time, as our journey is imperative. We are traveling through the kingdom, seeking to amass an insurgency of rebels that would staunchly purge their homelands of the occupying Fire Nation. Our revolution will sweep through the Border Forest and liberate the eastern half of the kingdom."

The frail, hunched elderly man was taken aback by the monk's call for a citizen militia to take on the Fire Nation occupation. He did not seem to have absolute conviction in this cause, seemed reluctant to use the force necessary to achieve what he was proposing.

"Then you should be able to verify your dedication to this revolution. Demonstrate the immense cunning, unwavering resolve, and dedicated leadership that will be required through a series of trials, monk. After all, victory is not meant to be obtained through sheer size of one's army or greatness of one's weapon. That is why these firearms that the Fire Nation has been producing must be erased from existence. They upset the balance of the battlefield, establishing the idea that proper strategy and dedicated warriors are meaningless."

"Sire, I will accept your terms, if you would in turn provide support for our revolution upon my fulfillment of these trials."

"I would not hesitate to do so for an instant, my lad." An oddly familiar hybrid of a snort and a cackle echoed through the hallway they stood in.

Ain hesitated, aware that his conviction was indeed on a loose foundation. But Kyasin's strength and leadership were absolutely necessary for their revolution, and if he failed these trials, if an alternate manner by which he could earn her release was absent, he would rather take her place in the cell. What had he accomplished that served their ultimate goals? In contrast, she had earned them powerful earthbending allies and destroyed a corrupt Fire Nation establishment. Her value surpassed his own by a considerable amount. Perhaps he could wait out the war in the cell, not having to participate in the inevitable brutish conflicts of the near future. He impelled himself to dismiss this wishful thinking, and returned to the task at hand.

. . .

The rank and pungent odor smothered Kyasin, rousing her from the trance that had claimed her following the arrest. She was sealed within a cell by steadfastly unforgiving, relentless iron bars. She was incapable of being freed until her worth was truly proven, but she would find an ulterior method of release. There was no rhinophant in the room for her to far as she was aware. Doubts incessantly bit and scratched at the heels of her motivations, but to no avail. The stench that had disenchanted her originated from a rag that had been soaked in onion-banana juice and pressed to her face, presumably by the young monk standing above her, that condescendingly bore through her vulnerable, hung-over state to the complexities within. But she would not permit his passage, he had proven to her that he would not be as loyal or forgiving as Sakodi.

Ain coldly asked, "Was this particularly necessary? Could not this have been avoided? Are you quite simply too vulnerable to restrain from acting so savagely in the company of civilians?" She dejectedly averted his gaze, accusatory verbal assaults, and judgmental attitude with all the strength that she could muster. Irked by her response, he remarked, "You should be as grateful as a thousand royal heirs for the military's medical staff being able to stabilize his condition and treat his skull fracture, even if it was due to the innovational training of," he cringed before continuing, "the Fire Nation. I will have to ensure that the city's leader deems you worthy of forgiveness, so please, pardon my departure."

He had finally grown aware of her interpretation of inner strength and weakness upon further conversation during their travels, and so Ain naturally chose to camouflage his altruistic intentions behind a smokescreen of unsentimental, harsh judgment. He would rather have her believe that he looked down upon her actions than leave doubts of his ability to whip others into obedience on a whim, to spread within her mind. Ain regretted the necessity of such deceptions, but submitted himself to the idea that their relationship was somehow better off in this way.

Endearing Cunning

Ain strode through the myriad cavernous hallways that intersected within the palace, as he was escorted by the urbane leader of Omashu. He was unaware of their destination as of yet, but was certain that behind the leader's cataract-hazed eyes, there were countless gears and cogs serving their purpose, effectively producing the layout of the tasks that his visitor would confront ahead.

Eventually, they arrived at a splendorous chamber with tentatively carved fountains and a central grotto that connected with various aquatic tunnels in the palace's foundation. Bol explained that usually the fountains would've permeated this grotto with purified spring waters that were harvested from the mountain rivers, but the grotto had been drained so that Ain could explore it.

Ain softly asked, "Why would I need to navigate the water tunnels that lie beneath your home, sire? Is there something within that I must obtain?"

Bol nodded, stating "Of sorts. Your companion, the water tribal girl, has been put under heavy sedation and placed somewhere within the catacombs. Over the next two hours, the tunnel system will steadily be refilled until she is fully submerged and drowns. You must prevent this from happening."

Ain grimaced with sweat beginning to profusely pour down his face, absolutely shocked at what Bol was suggesting. "Surely you would not put her life at risk just so I may prove my cleverness?" "I have absolute faith in your capabilities, young man. Should you be truly gifted in the field of strategy and cunning, then she'll be free with plenty of time to spare."

Hysterically fearful, Ain swiftly dashed to the grotto's entrance and leapt inside, unwilling to forfeit even a second to the merciless waters. He overheard the seemingly deranged elderly man shouting, "Just wait and listen, my boy! Wait and listen!"

Ain aimlessly sprinted in one direction, then abruptly turned and went down another route, endlessly changing his mind like an indecisive suitor. He pondered on how he could possibly track her down in such a labyrinthine system. He was brought into a sudden tranquility once he felt the soft, soothing sensation brought on by the cool water that was beginning to rise above his ankles. After thirty minutes of trudging through the tunnels, the water had climbed up to his knees, an agile simian scaling the tree trunk that were his legs. Concerned for his success in preserving Kyasin's life, he desperately bellowed his companion's name into the infinite tunnels, and after a few moments of tense waiting, he detected a cacophony of increasingly faint echoes of his words. Then his concerns were swept away with the sound of Kyasin's voice. "Ain? Was that you? Where the hell am I? Where are you in relation to where I am?"

Though he was finally aware of her relative location, Ain was still indisposed from being able to accurately track where she exactly was. As Ain stood unflinchingly like a petrified tree, he overheard the simple and brief splashing sound formed by ripples that shimmered in the water, likely caused by Kyasin's movements. Curious, he pressed his left middle and pointer fingers to the surface of the water. Created in the water's surface by each abrupt motion that Kyasin made, the tremors in the water transitioned through Ain's forearm, giving him a brief glimpse of the origins of said tremors. He sensed the outline of Kyasin's body dashing in the wrong direction. "Go in the opposite direction, Kyasin! I think I can find you as long as you keep moving."

"Whatever you say, monk oversensitive. I'm not much for following orders, but if it'll get me out of these pitch-dark caverns, I'll go against what I know."

She wildly galloped through the tunnels, taking advantage of being partially submerged in her natural element by propelling herself forward with the water lunging forward. Eventually, the two could sense each other's voices clearly. He led her back to the entrance by constantly shouting directions and keeping track of her by feeling the ripples in the water. Though the spring water grasped at their waists by the time they climbed out, both the monk and the boisterous waterbender were secure. Ain strode over to Bol to confront him about the drastic nature of the challenge.

"Congratulations, monk. An astounding performance. I did not have a single doubt in your abilities."

"How could you have such a wide grin on your face when you put a young woman's life at risk?"

Bol sighed before replying, "At risk? Did you not realize that I lied about her being under heavy sedation? That was just to ensure that you were motivated, and that proved effective. She had at least ninety minutes to singlehandedly determine a route to the entrance. Your friend would have been perfectly fine." Ain dejectedly acknowledged that what Bol said was most likely accurate. "But tell me boy, how exactly did you detect her so effectively? Unless you somehow know echolocation, I cannot think of a manner to perform what you did."

Ain answered, "I knew where she was by feeling the ripples in the water and determining the ripples' point of origin."

Curious, the eccentric leader of the city inquired, "It was a waterbending technique of some sort?" Ain succinctly nodded. "Fascinating. . . I have heard of a similar skill in earthbending that is known as seismic sense. I have never been able to perform it myself, but it amounts to detecting the proximity of one's opponent by feeling the tremors in the ground that are made by their footsteps. It is rumored that there is a blind earthbender that uses seismic sense to 'see' the world around her. She is said to reside to the east of the Tridan mountain range. Now, you both have proven your inherent competence and have in fact shown a distinct streak of cleverness, so I will allow you two to rest for the remainder of the day. If either of you are interested in discussing any matters with me, I will be resting in the chambers at the top of the palace." He gave off another distinctive cackle-snort and began to walk away.

An incredibly surprised manner overtook Kyasin's face. "I would never forget that grating sound, but it's not possible. How could he. . ."

Bol turned around and interrupted her, "A razor and some hair dye can do wonders for your appearance. One might think you're an entirely different person."

"But what about your. ."

Bol shed his outer attire and straightened his back with a few sickening cracks. Flexing the beefy muscles that clung to his arms like remoras to a sharkgator's underside, Bol resumed his departure from the room.

Band of Brothers

The pair of soldiers roamed Omashu's streets at the midnight hour, but intentionally clung to the districts of a more reputable sort, to prevent any interaction with unsavory residents of the city, such as alley-men or junkies. Enri would constantly stop to explain different elements of the city to his companion, insistent that Sakodi would understand the fascinating culture of the city they temporarily inhabited by the night's end.

First and foremost, Enri guided Sakodi through the bustling, high-end, well-cleansed and spacious noble districts, explaining how the social hierarchy's levels tended to have blurred lines of separation, allowing for peaceful interaction between the wealthy and the middle class. As they passed several posters hanging from the wall, Sakodi inquired on whom these posters were of.

Enri dutifully studied the two posters for several moments before responding in a matter-of-fact manner. "These are wanted posters that depict an artist's rendition of the notorious face-paint bearing vigilante known as the Ghoul, who's suspected to be responsible for the disappearances of Fire Nation citizens along the Border Forest. He's grown from a rumor to a feared urban legend in this city."

Their journey through the metropolis quickly resumed, as Enri described each of the prominent noble clans that resided within the city, and each of their respective businesses. The most prominent of these families were the Li Bau Ski, an exotic, international (Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom mixed) clan headed by 'The Big One' and his younger wife, who was known as 'Faith' in some circles. More curious about his companion's history adverse to that of the city, Sakodi queried about where Enri had been raised.

His newfound companion responded, "I was born in the colonial city of Triil, on the northeastern coast of this continent. I presume that you're aware that the cultures of the Earth Kingdom and the Fire Nation used to be on much better terms than they used to be, compared to the southern colonies. There were no migrations forced upon the original inhabitants and there even used to be cooperation between the two cultures in construction operations."

Enri continued, "Like the majority of the surrounding villages, Triil was established at the height of FireLord Sazia's reign. He did everything in his power to ensure that animosity in the north remained at minimal levels. However, the cooperation and moderation has broken down in the wake of Aizo's seizure of the throne. He had sabotaged his elder brother's attempts at cultural integration, and from what I've heard from relatives, it seems to me that the city has taken on a caste system, with Fire Nationals being established as superior from birth. The state of my homeland greatly concerns me. However, in the wake of such unfortunate events, I have strove to remain optimistic. Just look at the relations between Omashu and the Fire Nation military. It is distinct evidence that our peoples can in fact regard each other respectfully."

Sakodi contemplated this for a few moments. He chose to speak respectfully, but still be clear about his own feelings. "I am unsure of whether the fragile alliance between Omashu and the invading military can really be considered proof of future cooperation. I do believe that our peoples can in fact correlate with the other, but I consider it a necessity to bring the curtain down on this war first before anyone can sincerely trust each other."

Enri considered what his comrade was suggesting. "You're probably right in regards to the Earth Kingdom, but where will our colonists live? You cannot just force a massive migration upon people that have been living on this continent for generations."

"What about the people with rightful claims to the land that those Fire Nationals live on? Not everyone in the occupied territory was allowed to share the land, you know. There was a massive exodus, and the colonies are expanding even further east. Another exodus would be expensive and difficult, but it's necessary. The people of the Fire Nation should reside in their own lands."

Enri broke into a rapid-fire, word-spitting rant. "That is just the sort of isolationist foolishness that has led to the war lasting this long in the first place! If all of the Water Tribes united with the masters in the north, then began fighting alongside the Earth Kingdom, not nearly as much land would have been seized. Against such a determined and united entity, Sazia could have very well been willing to negotiate the terms of a ceasefire. If the leaders of the other societies had not been so foolhardy and thickheaded, the Fire Nation would not be in the state it is now, nor would the Earth Kingdom."

There was a tense moment of silence that swept away his powerful words like the wind dissipates the clouds. "I. . .I apologize. I should not have been so irritable, or aggressive. But I am not exactly proud of what has become of the Fire Nation. I try to keep my mind off the state of our family, our home. I converse with the locals and enlighten myself on their customs. It's all just an escape route. I should not have tried to pull you into that. Can we meet again tomorrow afternoon? At that bar I mentioned? I like you, Han. We could improve this city, you know. Think about it, will you?"

Bewildered, Sakodi strode from the tidy streets of the noble district to the filthy roads of the slums. He passed intoxicated bystanders and unappealing courtesans on his way to a cheap motel. He gave a pair of coins to the manager and threw his exhausted body onto a dust-engulfed mattress.

Unwavering Resolve

Ain arrived in Bol's chambers, in order to be informed on the next challenge that he would be required to surmount in exchange for Kyasin's liberty. He leaned against the wall in an idle manner, barely concerned on his taskmaster's whereabouts, considering Bol's erratic lifestyle. Eventually, the leader of Omashu calmly greeted the young monk and beckoned for him to follow. A confident grin was plastered on Ain's face. Produced by his bright expression, satisfaction shined like the solar rays that broke through the translucent glass windows of Bol's palace. He stepped through the gateway into an expansive chamber that featured a small transportation system of some sort. There was a platform with rocks piled high, that was attached to the opposite wall of the chamber by a length of wire. There was a hand-operated crank to the left of the platform and a large fan on the right.

He had suspected that there had been construction in the palace from the shrill noise that he'd overheard whilst attempting to sleep nearby, but his mind drew a blank in regards to why Bol had built this out of nowhere. His escort examined the system with an almost-paternal sense of protectiveness, ensuring that everything had been designed properly and that any potential design defects were purged. He turned to the monk whose face had abruptly metamorphosed from blind confidence to bewilderment.

Bol said, "And now we have come to the intermediate task for you to overcome. Let's begin with a simple question. If one cannot remain motivated to fulfill a simple task like transporting some rubble, how does one even slightly expect to retain the morale of their followers, or ensure that their own resolve is impenetrable? The answer is that one cannot. Thus leading to the challenge before you. Prove that your resolve in the face of defeat is forged from the same mighty steel as your wit. Lift the platform to the proper height by only using the crank, then push it along the wire to the other side." Bol departed from the chamber, but not before muttering several words to one of his guards. The rest of the guards became stoic on his whispered command, carefully observing the adolescent.

Confounded, Ain strode to the manual crank that he was forced to use and laid his hands upon it. He persisted to press against the handle time after time, a solider hammering at the indestructible walls of a fortress, but to no avail. The crank could not be budged from the position that it was frozen in, and the platform could not rise by even a centimeter. Hours had passed, and yet he had accomplished nothing. This maddening situation buzzed through his thoughts like a fly searching for food. His gaze finally turned to the fan blades of the miniature windmill that lied next to the platform. He gripped one the fan blades and spun them, but to no avail once more. The platform could not be lifted father than three centimeters, no matter how many attempts to spin were made.

After turning his neck for a moment to see that the guards had temporarily left the room, Ain took a step back and created a massive gust that sent the fan blades rapidly rotating. The platform was finally lifted properly by the pulley; he shoved it forward and across the room. Relieved, Ain sat down and regressed into meditation, eager to forget about the painfully tiresome ordeal. Eventually, he was roused from this state by Bol, who had walked into the room with a perplexing fusion of concern and hope as his face.

"With what my guards have reported, I now know that my suspicions were correct, Ain. Guards, kneel in respect of the current Avatar Host."

Ain exclaimed, "How could you possibly know?"

A smile briefly appeared across Bol's face. "I still cling to the old ways, Ain. I know that your tunic is only worn by Avatar Monks, and you could not have simply found it while scrounging, as the Temples are inaccessible to non-airbenders. Your display of waterbending clinched it for me, but to be absolutely sure, I had to see if you would use airbending as a faster solution to your task. And here we are now."

"Will. . Will you help us?"

"Naturally, but first, you must understand your true duty to the world. For true order to be restored, the kingdom and tribes must be brought together under a single banner. Upon your arrival in the Ice Citadel, a new duty will be thrust upon you, aside from the refinement of your waterbending abilities. You must persuade the Master Tribe's chieftain to forge an alliance between all of the tribes and unite their militaries with that of the Earth Kingdom's. Our world cannot sustain itself if it remains divided. And now you must put these words into practice. While you were struggling to move a few pieces of rock, my soldiers were erecting a wall between the two halves of the city, that consists of several tons of the same rock that you moved. The Fire Nation soldiers have turned against us, and we need to secure our civilians."

Bol paused to take a few breaths, before continuing. "We're escorting as many western citizens as we can through to this side, but they're restless. My 'peace-mongering' has been blamed for this conflict, and my palace is surrounded by people that are on the verge of riot. Do what you can to calm them down. Then you must flee to the Border Forest in the east. Seek out the earthbender that I mentioned previously. She is the best candidate for an earthbending teacher that I can recommend to you. Your sky bison was left at the city's gateway by several earthbenders. With him, we can secure the escape of your friend and her brother. Come, Ain. It is time that you face the people of the world that you must save."


Sakodi rose from the crumpled sheets and unwashed mattress that he had lied on all night and paced out of the motel. According to the scantily-clad woman that stood outside, he had slept until noon. He reunited with his recently obtained ally Enri outside the military base where they had first conversed. The two began to stroll along the curb as they scoured the buildings for a fine restaurant to dine and speak in. Once the two had settled at their dining table, Enri swiftly went off into a tangent about what he had been suggesting the day before.

"You and I, we could change the feelings between the two cultures, at least here in Omashu. We could relieve the tension caused by the lingering Fire Nation soldiers, and improve our peoples' relations considerably. Both of our countries would benefit from this, Han. And just think of how grateful Omashu's leader would be if his city was on even better terms with the Fire Nation. He could give us our own palace, worth a million golden coins. No, you know what's better than a million coins? A billion coins."

Sakodi snatched a roll from the basket in front of him, and patiently absorbed his comrade's words. Once Enri had exhausted his supply of breath and paused, he immediately swallowed the last piece of bread and responded.

"You may be on to something with this, Enri. Though there is a natural risk factor, of course. But the opportunity that this would provide, to improve the relations between our societies and obtain a personal profit in the process, is simply too tantalizing to pass up."

Enri could simply claim whatever monetary reward they were provided. Sakodi dismissed the notion of needing any sort of financial enhancement. He knew very well that his companion could put the money to far better use than he, reforming the societal flaws of the city that he hailed from, for one. Provide reparations to those that have suffered, to the refugees and the hospitalized veterans throughout the Earth Kingdom. Sakodi would be contented with the bare necessities of life and a pleasant residence with whoever he would eventually fall for.

. . .

For the next several hours, the two roamed the districts surrounding the military base, encouraging civilians to gather at the front of the base for a rally, where they could freely interact with the soldiers of their city's political partners. Upon reaching what they considered to be the maximal number of people that wouldn't overcrowd the streets, they returned to the base to see what had been accomplished. A violent uproar had erupted from the rally; the bodyguards brandished clubs and made their willingness to use those weapons apparent, as clear as the crystal that decorated their ceremonial armor. The warriors of the Fire Nation were equally aggressive, wantonly throwing around sparks to keep the enraged citizens at bay. Before the duo could intervene, Enri's commanding officer bellowed, demanding the crowd's undivided attention. "Servicemen of the Fire National military, it is apparent that we must end the riot started by primitive Earth Kingdom pedestrians. There can be only one solution. By the power invested in me, by my high-standing position in the military of our great empire, I nullify the neutrality between Omashu and our grand Fire Nation. And now, let us show these savages that if they bite the hand that feeds them, it will reduce their pathetic city to ashes!"

The tensions in the city had finally reached their maximal boiling point. The Fire Nation soldiers shattered the glass displays along the walls of the base and drew the weapons that they had provided to the city. One of the noblemen's guards ordered the citizens to flee. A boulder levitated in front of him, then he smashed the back of his fist against it, launching it toward a Fire Nation grunt, whose skeleton was reduced to an innumerable amount of fragments by the impact.

Sakodi drew his club and glanced at his supposed foe. Enri had slid iron gauntlets onto his hands. Without even returning Sakodi's glance, he responded, "We must quell the violence of my brethren. My sincerest apologies for what has happened." With those words, Enri charged and disarmed a soldier that bore a scimitar. Sakodi swiftly followed suit; he broke the elbows of a grunt that had attempted to burn Enri and then slammed the young fighter against a wall. After disabling approximately two dozen Fire Nation grunts, a bulky warrior swept Enri's stance out from under him and threw him over his broad shoulders. Enri looked back to his comrade and shouted, "Find refuge in the palace on the eastern edge of the city! I'm sor-" before being stifled by a palm over his mouth.


Bol led the young monk to the exterior walls of the palace. A massive crowd, that consisted of several hundred disgruntled citizens, bashed their fists against the thick walls that surrounded the entrance. With his nerves on edge, pure fear boiling in his eyes and his pores perspiring at an accelerated rate, Ain turned to Bol for answers. Bol gave a resigning sigh. "Choose your words very carefully and deliberately. Anything could set off their fuses." Ain made a conclusive *gulp* sound, before scaling the wall like a young, nimble tiger monkey and balancing himself on the top of the wall. He felt the tempers of five hundred people that were utterly terrified drilling through his skull. Their desire for a scapegoat, someone to batter and bruise to stem their own fears, may just have been insatiable.

Ain's limbs began to quiver. He cried out, "Please hold your tongues and refrain from assaulting the wall. You'll simply bruise yourselves."

Someone exclaimed, "Get the hell out of our way, kid!" and hurled a small rock, which struck Ain's stomach. He nearly stumbled off of the wall, but redistributed his balance in time to prevent that. He refused to let a single person notice the tears that had formed when the rock struck.

"I am not your enemy! I know that you all are angry and frightened beyond belief, and that's justified. But you must know, that even though they threaten your city and your country, the Fire Nation will lose. Hope is alive. I am the new Avatar Host. I will free the east from the FireLord's tyranny!"

Another citizen interjected. "Liar! Or perhaps simply a coward! The Avatar is either dead, or it turned its back on us. You turned your back on us in the dire hours. You condemned one of the greatest cities in the Earth Kingdom to be conquered like any other insignificant town on the maps. You are no paragon, and any attempts you make to defeat the Fire Nation would unquestionably fail."

One standing by him declared, "Bol cannot hide behind you forever, child. A-"

Ain broke into sobbing. "To every single one of you. . . I'm sorry!" He leapt backward, fell behind the security of the palace walls. His spirit broken like a fragile egg that was concealing a mighty hawk, Ain rushed, then glided through the labyrinthine hallways, seeking the far edge of the palace and the balcony that would release him from this city. The searing light began to burst forth from his arrows. The tears suddenly evaporated. He screamed in terror. Ain drifted into the familiar subconsciousness that had claimed him on Zotu's ship.

It felt as though not a single moment had passed. The light of a setting sun incubated his body. He lifted his head and turned it toward the mountain. Bol had sealed the palace balcony for the sake of his own safety. The Spirit had evidently relinquished, not bothering to destroy the entire mountain range to punish the insolence that it had witnessed. Ain blinked several times, feeling as though he had not seen sunlight for weeks, rather than the mere few days that it had been. He felt sore, but oddly, only specific points on his body did. It was not a general, all-over pain.

Though guilt and rejection still stung his heart, Ain decided that he would redeem himself in their eyes, and his own, eventually. Ain was well aware that life was never kind to those that lacked patience. He lifted himself from the earth and limped toward the east, until his legs felt strong enough for him to soar.

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