4 years have passed since Sozin’s Comet and the fall of Fire Lord Ozai…
It was a peaceful summer evening when a rather non-descript message was delivered to Aang.
He and Katara were sitting comfortably beside the fireplace at their new home – in the Fire Nation Palace. It was no surprise that they now lived with the Fire Lord as the two of them were constantly needed in mediating peace agreements - agreements that had a tendency of taking place at the palace.
After a long day of meeting after meeting in the former war room, both of them were now occupied with their own tasks. The tiny embers of the fire bore the image of stars across the night sky when viewed through dreary eyes, flickering and blinking as they jumped across the flames. Amidst the crackle of the fire, Katara sat comfortably in her chair, turning the pages to a novel.
“Aang, what is it? Is something wrong?” asked Katara, noticing that Aang hadn’t even moved an inch since opening the letter.
“Nothing’s wrong, I just… can’t believe it… It’s the Air Nomads! They want me to meet them at the Eastern Air Temple!”
Aang attempted to hold back tears of joy as they embraced, and, without needing to say anything, the two of them agreed to set out together to meet a people that, up until this point, they had thought extinct.
Meanwhile, in Zuko’s throne room, a peaceful aura permeated throughout as proud parents gazed upon their son’s quiet slumber. The room was awash in a sea of colorful light as the sun shined through the tinted window, highlighting the rich textures on the furniture.
“My son will grow up to become a powerful firebender someday,” whispered Zuko. “I can feel it.”
Mai couldn’t help but allow a smile to dance across her face. Everything in her life was slowly stabilizing. Though she still occasionally had longings for a more exciting life, they had all but disappeared as soon as Urso was born. She loved him with all her heart, even more than she loved her husband.
“Zuko, he’s only eight-months-old. I don’t think firebending is on his list of priorities, especially since the war is o___”
Mai sighed internally, seeing how her slip affected him.
Every time she mentioned the war in a past tense, Zuko would enter a quasi-trance. The war wasn’t over for him. He was still trying to help his father and sister rid themselves of the hate they had built up within themselves over the years. Alas, countless visits produced very little. His sister was talking again, but she spoke only of taking her rightful place on the throne, not of forgiveness. His father laughed every time he asked where his mother was, as if he were trying to taunt his own son into giving him a thrashing. Zuko sighed as he felt Mai’s hand rest on his shoulder.
“I’m going to the prison again. I won’t give up on my mother.”
Zuko could feel Mai’s face inching closer to his. Their lips met—briefly.
“Please make sure you come home soon. I know Urso will miss you, too.”
Zuko hurriedly turned away from his wife and son. If he stayed much longer, he might not be able to leave.
“Dada”, cried Urso, having awoken from his rest.
Pride swelled within Zuko at the sound. His son had not even seen a birthday, and already he could acknowledge his father.
Aang and Katara moved out of the house into the cool night air as they headed towards Appa, who was kept in a large barn just north of the Fire Nation Prison. The two of them held hands while walking along dark treeless road. Though this same snake like path often appeared frightening if either one of them traveled alone, together, they felt no fear at all as they navigated the winding twists and laughed at the dark shapes of harmless critters lurking about. Katara couldn’t count how many times Aang had read and reread the letter.
“I thought I lost them forever...”
“Are you sure the letter’s authentic?” asked Katara in a cautious tone.
“I just know it is. My instincts… they tell me it’s real.”
“It just doesn’t make sense to me,” said Katara as she pondered the situation. “I thought Sozin wiped them out, and even if some of them managed to escape, why would they wait until now to resurface? Couldn’t they have come out immediately after the war was over?”
“Look, I understand your concerns. But I just think we have so much to gain from this. Think about it. This could be the most important meeting we’ll ever have.”
Katara’s mind wandered as she heard only bits and pieces of Aang’s words. He was talking about how a small group of Air Nomads managed to cling onto life in cave after cave and about their hardship, but she only paid attention to the literal motion of Aang’s lips – the lips she had been privileged enough to meet with her own time and time again. Aang had grown into quite a powerful Avatar over the years. Though he retained his bald head and his trademark goofy grin, his body told a different tale. Firm and brimming with muscles, Aang’s body had given Katara a powerful physical attraction on top of what had previously been a primarily emotional attraction. She allowed herself to be whisked away by her fantasies as she and Aang walked past the Fire Nation prison.
As the ominous shape of the Fire Nation Prison loomed over them, the two quickly became uneasy as bad memories from the past resurfaced. Aang and Katara didn’t utter a sound as they tried to quickly move past the grim forbidding obelisk that served as a painful of the Fire Nation’s past.
Suddenly, they noticed something moving about in the dark – a group of things, actually. And these things were too big to be furry critters.
They watched as a group of hooded figures moved quickly and silently towards the prison, brandishing deadly knives that glinted in the silver moonlight. Not far behind, they spotted Zuko, who stealthily motioned for the two of them to follow him.
“So you have no idea who these people are?” whispered Aang.
“No, not the slightest bit.” Zuko paused as a worried expression overtook his face. “I’ve been following them around for a while and I can only fear the worst.”
He paused again as he struggled to find the right way to tell his friends about his frightening suspicion.
“I’m afraid this might have something to do with Azula.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“I’m afraid it’s true.” Zuko closed his eyes and drew a deep breath before continuing. “For years, my sister has had talked about overthrowing me. It’s just that… I always disregarded her threats. I thought the security at her asylum was too high for her to… accomplish anything.”
Katara moved forward.
“I can hardly believe this. What are you trying to say?”
I’m saying that she might have sent these men to rescue Ozai.”
“Well, Aang, you wouldn’t mind if we postponed our meeting with the Air Nomads, would you?”
Katara knew the answer to her question before she even asked. Aang would do anything to help his friend Zuko.
A horrific chain of events began to unfold before the stunned Fire Lord’s eyes. About eight ominous figures dressed in gray hoods and robes attacked the jail where Ozai was being held. The three of them could do nothing as they watched the poor guards get swiftly overpowered by bending they had never seen before. There was a deafening boom as streaks of silver and black sent the prison guards hurdling across the hall and into the opposite wall. Zuko couldn’t contain himself anymore and burst out, sending blinding flashes of fire across the room. The robed men uttered shouts of surprise and fought back with a viscous display of their bending powers. A particular burst landed straight on Zuko’s arm and cut into his flesh, leaving one of Zuko’s firebending hands incapacitated. Katara and Aang leapt out to help their friend, sending pockets of air and water at the gray robes.
The might of the Avatar, the Fire Lord, and a waterbending master proved too much for the hooded men to handle so the eight of them began a swift retreat. Aang and Katara raced outside but failed to apprehend the robed figures. They only managed to catch a glimpse of a few large flying machines flying away towards the mountains. The two of them headed back inside and found that Zuko had vanished.
“Zuko! Where are you? Are you alright?”
When they finally found him, their mouths were wide open in horror.
Ozai had been stabbed during the confusion. A gleaming blade protruded from the former Fire Lord’s back as his son held him in his arms.
“There isn’t much time left Ozai. You can still redeem yourself to your family. Tell me where my mother is.”
Even in death’s grip, the former Fire Lord was as defiant as ever.
“First of all, I’m not going to say anything until you address me by my proper name: Father.”
“Look, Ozai. You’re in no position to order me around right now. Come on, you don’t have anything to lose. Just tell me what happened to mom after she left!”
“Really? You really think you’ve got the best of me now, boy? It seems to me that you want your mother a lot more than I want anything from you.”
The Fire Lord leaned his head back and clenched his teeth as he spoke, his body in agony.
“You really are beyond help... But I still can’t understand why your own daughter would do something like this. ”
“Ha! Azula did this?”
“I’m certain of it.”
“Then my daughter has learned well. Unlike you, she doesn’t freeze up when the situation calls upon her to do the unthinkable. I still remember____”
Ozai gasped for air, his body growing weaker and weaker as his blood drained out through the wound in his back.
“You’re insane. You need help.”
“Help? Why….. just a moment ago……. you wanted my help in finding….. your mother” said Ozai between heavy breaths.
Bright flashes of light illuminated the room as Zuko prepared to summon the power of lightning.
“Oh, I see you can create lightning now…… Took you……. long enough! You were lucky to be born, boy. Lucky…… to be alive. Lucky to be_____”
Zuko placed his hands over his father’s chest, threatening to unleash the raw energy of lightning onto his father’s already dying body.
Aang rushed forward to try to stop Zuko.
“No Zuko! Stop!”
“I won’t let you have the satisfaction of killing me,” said Ozai with his last breath as he grabbed the blade in his back and pushed it upwards towards his heart. His eyes seemed to mock his son as he coughed up blood, splattering it all over his face. The former Fire Lord, scourge of the entire world, lay dead.
Katara grabbed Zuko by his arm, twisting it uncomfortably as she examined it’s wound.
“You arm! It’s badly hurt. Please, just let me_____”
Aang interrupted Katara in mid sentence. “The Air Nomads are in trouble. I can feel it. Whoever murdered Ozai today is going to attack the Air Nomads next. I’m going to take Appa to go find them.”
“Okay, I’ll stay behind with Zuko.”
“No! Get out of here! I’ll be fine. I just need some time alone.”
Katara placed her hand across Zuko’s arm again.
“That cut looks pretty bad. Are you sure you’ll be alright?”
“I’ll be okay. Trust me, that best thing for you to do now is to go with Aang. He might need your help. This is Azula we’re dealing with, remember?”
Katara climbed on Appa’s back and disappeared from view.
I just can’t believe my sister is really that deranged, thought Zuko. She’s probably coming for me next.
Looking down at the bloody corpse beside his feet, Zuko experienced a slight pang of a feeling he never thought he would ever have for his father – pity.
The voices of an Agni Kai fought long ago echoed in the Fire Lord’s head, drowning out this newfound feeling.
“I won’t fight you.”
“You will learn respect and suffering will be your teacher.”
To think that he actually pitied the man that showed no mercy throughout his entire life – not even to his own son.
He died today without a single person in the world who still loves him, thought Zuko.
But his thoughts quickly became clouded by fear of what his sister had in store next. He instinctively knew that either Mai or his son would be the next logical target. He hurried back to the palace, clutching his wounded arm to prevent further blood loss. It worked. Not a single drop of blood fell to the ground as Zuko walked along the road, leaving no evidence of his injury.
Aang and Katara had been flying for hours upon hours at top speed on Appa's back, a nervous apprehension weighing them down. Every precious second counted if they wanted to save Aang's people from Azula. The two of them were nearly as exhausted as Appa by the time they could see the distant figure of the air temple looming above the clouds.
"Aang, I'm worried about you."
"Well, it's just that ever since you read that letter, you seem to have turned away from all your other responsibilities."
“It's not like you to leave a friend behind like that. Zuko needs your guidance more than ever now. You know how brash and unpredictable he can act, and now that he's Fire Lord, all of his actions will have consequences on his entire nation."
"I’m sorry Katara. It’s just that I’m always under so much pressure...”
“Well, you are the Avatar… People look up to you.”
“Yeah, but the problem is that everyone thinks I’m some kind of all powerful being, like I can do anything.”
Katara felt a sudden twinge as she recalled all the times she herself had thought of Aang in that way.
“I see your point. So the trouble is that people are expecting too much from you, right?”
Aang nodded his head in agreement.
“For the longest time, everyone expected me to somehow 'bring back' the Air Nomads, as if it was my duty to the world. I didn't want to disappoint them.” \
"Keep you guard up, Aang. We're almost there. There's no telling what Azula has planned for us."
Aang didn't need to be reminded of Azula's cunning resourcefulness. He raised his staff and prepared for battle as Appa landed on the cold stone floor of the Eastern Air Temple.
When they arrived at the rendezvous point, a group of yellow robed airbenders greeted them politely. Aang and Katara breathed a sigh of relief after they briefly scanned the area and saw that nobody seemed to have attacked - yet. Katara smiled as she saw Aang embrace his people, tears welling up in his eyes. She imagined that Aang’s emotions would be akin to her own if she were somehow reunited with her long lost mother. She imagined it would be the same for anyone for whom the pain of death had been suddenly replaced by the joy of life.
Aang and Katara were invited to a large banquet room right in the middle of the temple.
"This looks like it's been set up overnight," whispered Aang to Katara, noticing the lack of furnishing in the plain looking room.
The food, however, was a different story. All of Aang's favorite childhood dishes - dishes like dried fruits and scrumptious apricot cakes - were served. The two of them dined like royalty, eager to satiate their starving bodies after such a long trip. After everyone at the table had satiated their appetites, one of the monks rose up to speak. Aang instinctively knew from his grizzled hair and confidant demeanor that this was the leader of the Air Nomads. His face was that of an impossibly old monk whose age seemed to rival their friend Bumi’s. The light seemed to dance off of the monk’s colorful robes as he moved around.
“Greetings,” he began. “My name is Mathias and I would like to entreat the two of you to a hero’s welcome for vanquishing the Fire Lord.”
With that, he ordered everyone at the table to raise a toast to the two guests of honor, leaving Katara blushing from all the attention. Aang was blushing, too, not because of the toast, but because of the attention he was receiving from the young women at the table. He tried his best to avoid their flirtatious glances and motioned towards Katara for help. A menacing glare from the waterbender was all it took to silence the girls who had been eyeing Aang. Meanwhile, Mathias continued to speak.
“I’m sure you’re all aware that we didn’t all come here to celebrate. We came here to ask the Avatar for his help.”
A hushed silence fell over the crowd of Air Nomads as they listened to their leader speak.
“Aang, we all know that you spared the Fire Lord’s life but managed to end the war anyways. We all know that you are blessed with amazing abilities. Now, can you find it within your heart to do what’s best for our people?”
“Actually, that’s exactly what I came here for. I bear grave news.”
A commotion stirred among the people of the table as Mathias waved his hand to silence them.
Aang looked up to Mathias for confirmation that he could continue. The old monk nodded his head.
“The Fire Nation was recently attacked. When I raced here, I was sure that I felt the presence of assassins here at the temple as well.”
Suddenly, a menacing look cast a shadow across Mathias’s peaceful eyes as he began to quiver with rage. He ripped open his yellow robes and revealed a set of gray robes buried underneath.
“I never would have guessed that the Avatar would associate himself with those Fire Nation swine...”
A look of horror descended upon Aang and Katara’s faces as the bitter truth finally revealed itself. The Air Nomads were responsible for the murder of Ozai.
Aang could hardly believe what he was seeing.
“But why Mathias? Why?”
“After a hundred years of chaos and turmoil, we simple nomads have finally opened our eyes.”
“That doesn’t give you the right to____”
“Do you have any idea what it’s like to live like a cave hopper?” Let me tell you, it’s a miserable, miserable life.”
“Please, you don’t know what you’re doing.”
“Oh, believe me, I do. For far too long, our people have tried to peacefully coexist with the rest of the world, but all we receive in return is pain and death. Even you can’t be this blind, Avatar.”
Katara had enough and snapped back. “The only way to bring this world back into balance is to forgive the Fire Nation! Everything that Aang has worked for is going to be erased if we continue to lay down hate on each other?”
“You dare speak of balance? Balance left this world on the day Sozin attacked the air nomads and it hasn’t returned since.”
The people at the table were completely transfixed on Mathias and Aang, unsure of who they would come out on top, unsure of whose side they would be on once this exchange ended. They watched as Aang opened his mouth to speak.
“Although it’s true that the Fire Nation has made its mistakes in the past, we can’t continue to____”
“… to turn a blind eye to them!” finished Mathias.
A huge cheer erupted from the crowd, filling Aang with dread. He was losing this confrontation.
By now, Mathias’s eyes were wide with rage. Brimming with emotion, he bellowed, “Now tell me why you chose to spare Fire Lord Ozai’s life!!”
“I spared his life because of what our people believe in – compassion. You had no right to kill him. You had no right to_____”
“Ozai’s death was his own doing! The world is a better place without him,” Mathias’s eyes focused in on Aang’s. “And deep down, I think you know that too...”
“No. I don’t, and I can’t allow you to continue to spread your message of hate to our people.”
Aang paused for a second, searching for the right words.
“I personally know that the current Fire Lord is a good man. I never would have defeated Ozai if I hadn’t forgiven him. I may only be sixteen, but I’ve lived long enough to realize that everyone is capable of great evil as well as great good.”
“Great evil is exactly what the Fire Nation will unleash upon this world again if we are not quick enough to act while we still can.”
Another cheer spewed out from the crowd. Katara desperately turned towards everyone at the table.
“Do you people honestly believe what this man has to say? You would really take his word over the Avatar’s?”
Mathias quickly countered: “Do you people want to live like a cave hopper again?”
“No!!!” shouted everyone in the room.
“Do you people want to see your friends and family die at the hands of the Fire Nation again?”
Undaunted by Mathias’s overwhelming support, Katara continued to speak.
“That happened over a hundred years ago Mathias! Why can’t you just let it go?”
“Foolish girl! You know nothing about our people. We have been dying at the hands of Fire Nation soldiers throughout the entire course of the war – from the comet that started it to the same comet that ended it!”
The people in the room, now firmly loyal to their leader, stood up and clapped.
Mathias glared at Aang and Katara, his eyes becoming huge and menacing.
“I had hoped to meet the Avatar, but all I see now is an excuse of a savior – a boy willing to turn his back on his own people by consorting with their murderers. Take them to the holding chambers below the temple.”
A group of airbenders bent ropes around Katara’s wrists and attempted to carry her away.
No light danced off of their dust colored robes as they quickly and efficiently incapacitated her.
The Avatar leapt into action. He sent a blast of air straight into the group, using the ensuing confusion to grab Katara. One of the airbenders attempted to attack Aang from behind, sending a volley of razor sharp winds straight at him. Aang deflected the attack with a powerful gust of his own, slamming the airbender into a wall with devastating force. He cringed as he heard the sickening impact of bone against stone.
Aang abruptly released Katara and fell to his knees.
“Aang, you have to stop them! What are you doing?”
“I’m sorry Katara, but I can’t hurt my own people.”
With that, Aang allowed himself to be captured and closed his eyes as he and Katara were whisked away to an underground cavern.
Mathias reflected back on the events of the day. Everything had gone according to plan, he thought to himself. He was filled with self-pride as he thought of the brilliant “performance” he had just given. He had conveyed all the proper emotions perfectly. In fact, he couldn’t have asked for a better presentation than the one he gave just now. He smiled as he thought of what his people would think of him because of this “act.” He smiled as he thought of how they would all look up to him as a strong leader of Air Nomads, seeking justice from the Fire Nation for their crimes against humanity. He smiled again as he thought about how wrong they all were. Getting revenge on the Fire Nation had never been his true motivation…
Last Edit: Jan 13, 2009 12:52:19 GMT -5 by willzling