Previously: Over the Sea and Under the Sea
Themesong: Sway by Dean Martin
Few things are more irritating than a looping soundbite. Especially one you would normally like. Songs are usually long enough to break that up, but even they can wear after a while. “”Water. Earth. Fire. Air. Long ago, the four nations lived together in harmony. Then, everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked. Only the Avatar, master of all four elements, could stop them, but when the world needed him most, he vanished. A hundred years passed and my brother and I discovered the new Avatar, an airbender named Aang. And although his airbending skills are great, he has a lot to learn before he’s ready to save anyone. But I believe Aang can save the world.” echoed through the warehouse as we stepped through the Pillars of Time.
I laughed, not waiting for it to repeat a second time. “Okay Machine. You know what I want. Just give it to me.” Note to self, never say that to a Vending Machine of Destiny. I had meant just give me the Waterbending options. I’d been waiting for this jump since I’d become the Winter Witch. I hadn’t meant for the machine to just initiate the jump. Words flashed across the screen, words that were burned into my consciousness as fast as everything else was, but I had only a sliver of time to process what they said.
Location: Deep Trouble
Background: Warrior 
Nation: Southern Water Tribe
Trained Soldier – Commando [Free]
Art of War 
The Bending Arts 
Combat Bender 
Bending Genius 
Into the Inferno [+300]
As I dropped through the floor, I saw the Machine flash “Joy, please select your importation options.” but the world went dark before I could see more. And it stayed dark for the next decade.
I cannot describe the sensation of air so dry and hot that it contains no humidity to a Waterbender. The heat was excruciating, evaporating the beads of sweat that formed before I could think of moving them. The chains were hot too, almost burning, but not quite. I moaned.
“Ah, you’re awake, Avatar.”
“Mn… mnot the Avatar,” I muttered. At least I didn’t think I was. I was pretty sure that if that was an option it would have cost a freaking arm and a leg… plus, this was still The Last Airbender. Hadn’t Katara’s voice said Ang? “A… ang’s the… the A… avatar.” My voice sounded pained, raspy, young.
“Fire Lord Azulon and Prince Ozai have seen visions of you wielding both fire and water. Only the Avatar can do that,” came the voice. It was a cruel voice, devoid of compassion. “The Air Nomad Avatar vanished years ago. He must have died in hiding. You are the new Avatar. Confess, and your pain will be brief.”
They tortured me for hours, for days, trying to force me into the Avatar state as confirmation, as I screamed and writhed, the marks of their fire sinking into my flesh, the throbbing a living nightmare even as it healed. I was blind, chained, helpless… the pain was great, the panic greater, so I took refuge in the only place I could… the Palace of my Mind. I knew I’d emerge into suffering again, but I had to think, had to plan… had to do… something. First… Who was I?
In my Palace I was not blind. All my memories were there with me, strange to my new self and a little fascinating, but they would do me little good. With no small trepidation, I entered the Wing of the Waterbender, the most recent wing of my Palace. There was the Room of the Warrior, and the Room of the Bender, and the Hall of Memory. I walked down the hall, reliving every moment of my 11 years. Oh yes, I’ve remembered every moment of every quasi-fictional life I’ve lived since the Great Detective Jump, and most of the moments from the lives before that. I do not know if there were limits on my Palace, but I had not reached them yet.
The walls of this section of the Palace were without light, but I knew the way for I had made it. I was Sukinuk, daughter of Yaari, the greatest living waterbender of the southern tribe… no… not any more. I had sound-visions of my mother screaming, of the bright tone that was her life fading into silence, of the hated Firebenders grabbing me, dragging me aboard their ships of Iron and Fire and Oil. The scent of them made me sick and I had to center myself before I entered the hall of the Warrior.
I had been born into war, born and breed and burning for battle. The endless darkness of night was nothing to me and I’d mastered the ways of the Ice Hunter younger, quicker, more ruthlessly than any man or woman a decade my elder. I was born for stealth and lived in the moment before the kill. I was creative, versatile, and as long as there was moisture in the air or ground for me to read, I could take in the world within moments. Finding the weaknesses of others, exploiting them, that was child’s play, which is good, because that is what I was and not only were people mine to play with, but so were weapons. I could hold a spear, sword, or boomerang and it became part of me, my mind open to the endless possibilities of its use.
I grunted with humor. Well, then… I was an eleven year old general… suboptimal, but by the time I left this world, everyone would know of General Sukinuk and what she had done to the Fire Nation. They had better hope Ang arrived soon, because if it were up to me, I would not be as… merciful. The atrocities they had perpetrated against the other nations would not be forgotten by me. I crossed the hall into the Hall of Bending, opening myself to the sense-memories within.
I was a waterbender, that I knew, born with the ability to manipulate the waters of the world. Not only was I a waterbender, but I’d exhibited a command of its offensive properties, blending martial techniques into my waterbending even as I launched knives, needles, and swords of ice at my enemies… and then used the blood that flowed from within them as a source of more water. Not only was I a Waterbender, but I was a Lifebender, able to control the water within plants and, under a full moon, people. Still, I had never used that power to control even my enemies, but I had been tempted more than once, though I prefered to use my Lifebending to heal.
I marveled at all the things I had learned to do with water. I could shape snow, rain, ice, water, blood… and I sensed there was so much more. I longed for my Ice Axes, my chosen weapon, to strike at my captors, or my Waterskins. Did they have them? Had they destroyed them? I would find them… somehow. And find my friends. Why hadn’t Zane used PHS to bring me to him. Why hadn’t I apparated away? Something must be blocking that power, even though teleportation was unknown in this world.
I considered that. I was using too much technology, too much old stuff, relying on old techniques to save me and the world. I spoke into the silence of my mind, “If you’re listening, I want to make a deal.”
“A Deal?” came the voice of the Jump from on high.
“Yes. You’ll like this. The price is right, I think. I want you to seal the warehouse for the jump. Completely. Ahab and Joy are already here, I assume. They can do that on their own power. I want you to offer to import all the others as citizens of this world, for the jump, but they won’t know me and I won’t know them. If they get killed, they get sent back to the warehouse, even the non-Pokemon. That’s it. Seal the warehouse tight and let my friends experience this world. Even Victoria if she wants it. Ziggy too if he wants to be some animal.”
“Your price for crippling you is to cripple you even more?”
“It’s Zen. I’m casting away material possessions and worldly connections.”
“You could just not use the warehouse.”
“I don’t like for my friends to be bored, and this time around there’s no end of the world at stake. Just my own success or failure. Will you do it?”
“You’re very strange.”
“You’ve been watching me for centuries and just figured that out.”
“Indeed. Good Luck.”
I’d need it. I sighed. I’d miss Zane, miss Ziggy. Miss the whole gang. But we all needed to take a step outside our relationships and be… ourselves. I braced myself for pain, then relaxed instead. “I will not fear. Fear is the little death. I will face my fear, allow it to wash over me. When it is gone, only I will remain.” It was my own version of the litany, something I’d learned in my first childhood and tried to live by ever since.
I dropped back into the moment, into the flow of time. I sensed the water all around me, in the men, five of them, ready to firebend against me, in their breath, in the sweat within their clothing. I ignored their questions, ignored the searing of the branding iron as it bit into my flesh. The flesh would heal, the flesh was mortal. I realized I could sense the whole room, extremely hazily, a three dimensional haze of water molecules in the air, a matrix that contained these bags of moisture. I froze the water in their breath, blocking their windpipes and chilling their lungs. They collapsed, clawing at their throats, their eyes glassing over as ice crystals blossomed within.
They died trying to breath through lungs that no longer worked. I pulled the water from within their lungs, from the voiding of their bladders, used knives of ice to open their veins and pull the water from their blood. I poured this fluid all along the walls of the room, laying a film over everything, seeking the shapes of things, seeking the keys to my shackles.
Having found them, I tried to make icy copies, but they were too brittle and broke. So I shaped the mass into a man of ice, a golem, a lurching form that danced to the marionette motions of my fingers. It slowly, oh so slowly, brought the keys to me and twisted them in the locks.
My escape from the room after that was not hard, and I slipped out of the citadel of the Firelord, hiding within the clothes I had stripped away from my captors. I was alone in the world, far from the waves and the waters… but I could still fly… if I could find the outside. I killed all who crossed my path as I made my escape. I did not know if they were civilian or soldier, but in this place, they were all enemy.
The darkness of blindness is oppressive to one who has always known sight, but all my other senses were preternaturally sharp and I began to probe the minds and thoughts of others to guide me, asking simple questions that they had no reason not to think were their own. “How do I get outside again?” Who questions that thought in their own mind? I soon discovered that I’d been using my sight as a crutch.
I left the citadel and hid in a barrel of rainwater until the sun finally set. In the darkness of the night, I set out into the night sky. I guess I had the power of three of the elements to one degree or another. I could do as a makeshift Avatar, until one could be found.
I quickly learned just how relentless Azulon and Ozai were. If they could kill me, they reckoned they would only have to kill the Earth Bender who came after me to bring about another Avatar of the Fire Nation. And it wasn’t like I could kill everyone they sent after me? Right?
I learned early on in my flight that the price on my head was high enough that almost anyone would betray me and that I could not take refuge with the Water Tribes without bringing down the wrath of others upon them. My skin was marked by the scars of my torment, though I could not see them, which made covering them… problematic without custom clothing. I became a ghost, a rumor, floating across the wind, Avatar Sukinuk, a title I never claimed for myself.
When hunger drove me to it, I transformed into my bear form and hunted game. When loneliness drove me to it I transformed into my Infernape form and posed as a Fire Spirit, but even that form was apparently known, though the muddled visions of the Firelord and Heir had shown that as my animal companion, not a form of my own. As best I could tell I had arrived late in the fall of 94 AG, 95 years after Ang’s disappearance.
Nearly a year passed and I sunk back into the isolation of the wilds, moving steadily east from the Fire Nation into the Earth Kingdoms, then slowly down the massive continent until I reached Omashu, second largest of the cities of the Earth Kingdom and a holdout against the Fire Nations for a century. By this time I was lean, gaunt even, and had managed to craft an outfit of bandages and rags. I had to wait until a day when rain came to Omashu before sneaking into the city and finding my way into the Palace of King Bumi… childhood friend of Avatar Ang.
Finding the room of the King was… interesting. The man was a strange mix of genius and crazy, but I did find it. It was the middle of the night and I placed the carved White Lotus Pai Sho tile I’d convinced a child to steal from her uncle many months ago upon King Bumi’s tea table with a click. I heard the old man come awake almost at once.
“I humbly request your aid, Bumi, friend of Ang,” I whispered into the darkness.
“You do, do you?” he asked, bringing light to the room. I could hear the sound of its burning and shivered despite the relative warmth. “You’re a little thing, aren’t you?” he asked as his feet hit the ground.
“Yeah, well, you’re old.” I grumped, making him laugh. I could feel his gaze sliding over me, then over the Pai Sho tile.
“Who are you?”
“I am one who is hunted by the Firelord and his son.”
“Oh yes… the renegade Water Tribe Assassin. The new Avatar some say.”
“I am not the new Avatar.”
“Maybe you are and no one’s told you yet. They usually don’t tell the Avatar they’re the Avatar until they’re… the Avatar I mean, is sixteen… that was a very complicated sentence,” he remarked.
I chuckled. “It was a little tortured, yes. But I am not the Avatar. Ang is the Avatar.”
“Ang disappeared 96 years ago,” Bumi pointed out, a little glumly.
“And you used to ride the delivery chutes of Omashu with him.”
“Are you sure you’re not the Avatar?”
“No. I am… the Manifestation.”
“I cannot Earth or Airbend… but I can do this.” I formed Ice above one hand, and Fire about the other, two spheres, both floating, and I slowly formed them into a Yin-Yang with my arms as the circle and my body as the line dividing them. “I am something unseen before… and the Firelord fears me for it.”
“And is willing to pay a great deal of money for you.”
“Yes. He’d probably even agree to spare Omashu if you turned me over to him. At least for a time.”
Bumi laughed, “Azulon’s a snake, and Ozai’s a menace. Neither of them can be trusted.”
“Very true. But in exchange for your protection, I will offer you a prophecy.”
“Oh? I like those. But they’re so hard to prove.”
“Indeed. Well, I’ll offer it to you anyway, Bumi of the White Lotus. General Iroh will abandon the siege of Ba Sing Se on the 600th day, following the death of his son Lu Ten. Azulon will die soon after and Ozai will succeed him, with Zuko becoming heir. In two years, Zuko will fight an Agni Kai against his father and be scarred in the face. He will be banished and forced to seek the Avatar… or me… I do not know which. In four years, Ang will return. He will come to Omashu, but his coming will bring the full force of the Fire Nation’s elite upon your city, which you will cede to them to safeguard your people. You will reclaim it on the first day of the 8th month of the year 100AG however, as a Solar Eclipse will rob the Firebenders of their power.”
“That’s not how prophecy goes! Prophecies are all gobbledegook and nonsense! That makes too much sense to be a Prophecy.”
“Call it a prediction then.”
“Oh… that’s better.”
“Yes, I thought so. Feel free to refuse. I will understand. The safety of your city comes first.”
“They say you have scars, scars that any would know you by. Can I see?”
I considered, then, rather than showing him my face or arms, let my rags and bandages slide off my body, leaving my 12 year old frame naked in the lamplight. I did not know until that moment the extent of my scars. I had never allowed anyone to see me and had never used their eyes to see myself. Yet even had I not, the gasp of dismay from the old man would have told me all I needed to know. I flinched from the vision, tears welling at the corner of my eyes, but I fought them back.
The hug as the century old king wrapped me in a blanket broke me however, and I wept. It had been a very bad year and I’d regretted my deal almost every day. But I’d endured.
“You’re blind,” he commented, his eyes on my face, and I nodded.
“Blind as Toph Beifong,” I agreed.
“I don’t know her. Does she live in Omashu?”
“Where they hold Earth Rumble?”
“That’s the one.”
“Is she an Earthbender?”
“She is… and she will go down in history as the greatest of all time, most likely.”
“Nonsense! I’m the greatest Earthbender of all time.”
“Yeah, well… she’ll do something even you cannot do.”
“Nope. That you’ll have to wait for.”
“And you can’t Earthbend?”
“Just Water and Fire?”
“Fire a little… Water… there… I’m the greatest of all time.”
“I can tell how many guards there are in your Palace by the moisture in their breath.”
I laughed. “Maybe.” Then I breathed out and made the vapor of my breath dance through the forms of waterbending in front of him.
“Now you’re showing off.”
And that is how I came to live in the Palace of Omashu for three years. Bumi trusted no one with my identity, giving me long boy’s robes and introducing me as a guttersnipe he’d found wandering in the city. I was clumsy, stuttered, and ran errands for the King. At night I slept at the foot of his bed. The staff joked I was the king’s dog, and I was, for in that guise I was safe.
I spent the time meditating, practicing, and when possible, sparring against the king… and building an army. I would apparate hundreds of miles to find Fire Nation armed camps to attack, always drawing my pursuers further north even as I hid in the south. I would gather followers from the local villages, teaching them the way of the guerilla and training them to operate behind enemy lines. My lifebending and telepathy made me a gifted lie-detector and my charisma and skill with finding criminal minions extended to recruitment. My decades as a covert operative and my newfound tactical aptitude allowed me to move my minions like a Pai Sho Master, destroying Fire Nation machines and stealing their supplies. My ability to make the worst of the Fire Nation Officers… vanish… helped seal my reputation in the minds of my followers.
On occasion I would even Apparate all the way back to the Fire Nation and let myself be seen. I needed to keep in practice and keep them looking in the wrong place… at least until Ang arrived. There too I drummed up a resistance. The Fire Nation was a fascist state… and where there is fascism, there is usually dissent. Dissent was my tinder and I fanned it carefully into open fire, seeding the Fire Nation with cells both open and sleeper, all under the banner of the Blue Lotus.
I also ventured to Gaoling to meet with Toph Beifong, speaking with her, making friends, sharing tips and laughing at foolish things. I did not tell her I was blind, nor did I ever let on that I knew she was. We sparred, though she was just eight and I 4 years older when we met. She learned fast, as I’d known she would, but I could not spend as much time with her as I’d have liked. I could not risk bringing the Fire Nation to her.
Finally, I knew it was time to leave Omashu. I could wait no longer. I had to make my way to the South Pole. I bid Bumi farewell, promising him I’d return with the Avatar… then I jumped his bones to thank him for all he’d done for me. I was 15, he was… more than a hundred years older than me… and my endurance gave out first. I vanished into the night with a kiss to his cheek and a wince in my step. He was a sweet old man… and funny too.
I arrived in the Southern Tribal lands a month later, wasting no time, settling back into the ice and snow as if born to it… as I was. I found a small group I could trust, ones who hated and loathed the Fire Nation as much as I did, and convinced them to arm and equip me. They had a spare set of clothing, a pair of ice axes, and even a pair of magical water skins that had been, so they said, found in my mother’s house after I’d been abducted. Funny that.
I searched the villages for Hokoda’s village, knowing he was the father of Katara and Sokka. I then followed them on their… excursions, watching for them to get stranded on an iceflow. I landed besides them as Katara was smacking the icebubble. “What did that iceberg ever do to you?”
Sokka jumped, Katara yelped, the icebubble burst, and Aang made his entrance.
“The Paranoid one is my brother, Sokka… I don’t know who she is.”
“She,” I said, “Is Sukinuk.”
Sokka gasped “Sukinuk? The Avatar?”
At the same time Ang and I said “No, He’s/I’m the Avatar.”
Sokka looked confused “How can you both be the Avatar?”
“I’m not the Avatar. I’m what happens when the Avatar vanishes for 100 years. I’m the Manifestation. I was sent by the Spirits to find the Avatar.”
“What’s a Manifestation?” all three of them asked.
“Think of me as… half an Avatar.”
“What does that mean?” Sokka asked.
“It means I can do things… but we should probably get back to your village, before it gets too late.”
An equilibrium was soon established. Katara was the hopeful one, Aang the fearful one pretending to be carefree, Sokka the complaints and idea guy, and I was no fun at all. I steadfast refused to train Aang or Katara in waterbending, claiming I was a poor teacher since I couldn’t see them to correct them, but I would spar with any of them in purely physical martial arts, a logic that seemed to pass them by. Sokka was… utterly inept, Aang was almost purely defensive, and Katara had no training at all.
I couldn’t be certain that my presence had not thrown too much of the world out of whack, and I had no real desire to change things overly much. This wasn’t a world that needed my help to be fixed. There was no fast solution. I had to prepare for the worst, steering the timeline as best as I could. Still, I was hoping that the ship that responded to the flare would still be Zuko’s… things shouldn’t have diverged too far. And it was.
Zuko attacked the village, but this time it was I who surrendered, not Aang, but things played out much the same, though I did not have to evade Zuko on the deck of his ship. I beat him down without using any bending at all, then sat on him and bowed to Lord Iroh, waiting to see if the others came for me. I did not know if they would, but I was hoping for it. They seemed like nice kids.
“Greetings, General Iroh.”
“You know me?”
“I do. You know me?”
“They say you are the Avatar.”
“Not quite. I am something in between. I am the Manifestation.”
“Balance. The Fire Nation has destroyed the Balance, and thus I have come to restore it.”
“That sounds… unpleasant.”
“Ah, were it that simple. No. Genocide will not fix Genocide, for Fire does not balance Air. I am sorry for the loss of your son.”
“You’ve killed many of our officers.”
“I have. But only the worst ones. The Princeling is fine. He has a role yet to play in this. And my respect for you is boundless, old man.”
“Even though my people have done terrible things to you and yours?”
“A person is not their people. Once, I was full of hate. But hate is a fire that cannot be allowed to grow. Azulon is dead. Ozai will pay in time… and those who harmed me are dead… at my hand. But I shall not harm you. Ah… my friends are coming. Tell Zuko he needs to work on his form. He’s too tense.”
The Old Man laughed, then gaped as I lifted into the air, landing on Appa’s head as the Air Bison swooped down to rescue me. Aang stared “You’re an Airbender?”
“No. I’m a Waterbender.”
“But you flew! I can’t even fly!”
“I did. I am excellent like that. Anyway, where are we going?”
And that’s how we toured the world. When you’re being hunted, it’s always good to find others who are being hunted by the same forces. And pissing off Zuko was a great deal of fun. Largely I didn’t try to change much. Just a few things here and there.
At the North Pole, I communed with the moon spirits before the General came, asking Tui if I should intervene in what was coming, but the Moon Spirit asked me not too, and so I stayed my hand. The horror of feeling my waterbending disappear as the Fire Nation Admiral killed the Moon was terrifying, as the darkness crashed in on me as my primary sense vanished. I felt such rage then, such anger, such fury… but I released it. I had seen Zhao dragged to his doom… but I wanted to give his soul something to remember. So, instead of killing him, I gathered the pain, the fear, the sadness and despair echoing through the city… and I poured it all into Admiral Zhao, burning the knowledge of all those he’d hurt, all those he’d wronged, into his awareness. I didn’t want him feeling any pride of accomplishment for this terrible act… not even for the few minutes more he had to live.
At Omashu and again at Ba Sing Se, I fought Azula and Ty Lee, partly to study the latter’s chi blocking technique, which was extremely fast (though nothing compared to my Chestnut Fist)… but mostly to examine Azula’s mind in detail. The acrobatic Chi Blocker seemed almost floored when I turned her own techniques against her at Ba Sing Se. It was nice seeing Bumi again… he pinched my ass. It was also lovely hooking up with Toph again. I think dealing with two blind sarcastic girls might have driven Sokka a little more bonkers than normal.
While in Ba Sing Se, I also arranged for the suffocation of Long Feng, head of the Dai Li, the Earth Kingdom secret service. He was an odious worm, but killing him was pragmatic, not motivated by hatred. The man was a traitor and had earned his death many times over.I didn’t think it would stop the fall of Ba Sing Se… psychohistory is hard to shape from an outside position.
Not killing Combustion Man was… hard for me. Not taking out Azula or Ozai on the Day of No Sun was harder. Yet I respected Zuko’s change of heart and was hoping I could replicate it, although I’d cultivated his hatred of me as much as he’d despised Aang in the show. I came and went more and more as the days drew in, but I was manipulating things behind the scenes as much as possible. It was… frustrating. Just because I had control over my emotions does not mean I do not experience them.
I had one hope, one desire… one way to finally destroy Azulon and Ozai’s legacy. It was… almost certain to end in failure, but one has to try. I fix things, that’s my purpose, even if it’s one I have given myself. And so I followed Aang to the mysterious island (as I’d followed the Avatar and Zuko to the Sunwarriors to witness the dragon dance in my own way.)
As Aang had his little Aangst session about killing Ozai, I stood upon the waves, facing the Lion Turtle that was the mysterious Island and asked it for its aid. “Great One. I know I scarce deserve it, and I know I am flawed and full of anger, but I ask the gift of your power so that I might save another from darkness.”
“You already carry the gift of water. Only one human has ever carried more than one element and he had a spirit to aid him.”
“Yes. The Avatar. But I am something else. The Avatar is a bridge between Man and Spirit. But the Avatar is not Balance. He… or she… is alone, a thing apart… and without the Avatar the world has fallen into Chaos and Disharmony. I wish to become the restorer of Balance. And I am not certain that I am even human anymore.”
“If I give you my gift, and you use it for darkness, you will invite your own destruction. Your mind and spirit must be free of the poison of hatred.”
“I cannot say that this will always be so. But I will strive never to use the gift you give in anger. If I must strike with that force, against an abomination that must not be, I have other tools, other gifts. But I seek your gift only to grant absolution.”
“Very well. I will give you what you seek… but I do not know how you will endure it.” The great beast, as large as a city, touched me with the tip of its claws and I felt the gift blossom within me. It was a light beyond any but that of creation itself, a pure encompassing torment as my spirit and body tried to rip themselves apart. It was… agony. It was beyond agony. It was ecstasy of the most terrible and awesome kind.
When I awoke, I was floating in the middle of the ocean, alone. I did not have the Avatar Spirit to allow what I had just taken within me and the pain did not ebb, but rather it flowed endlessly within me. I struggled to stand, gasping at it, willing my muscles to work, willing the waves to propel me forward. The Comet was coming and with it the Phoenix Emperor.
It has always struck me as one of the most profoundly saddening things about the Avatar series that the Fire Nation’s airships destroyed so much of the Wulong Forest before they were brought down. I hoped to stop that… but my strength seemed so diminished by this new power, power that I could barely contain… and then I stopped containing it.
Ozai wanted a Phoenix… I let the fleet have one. I rose from the sea as Sozin’s Comet arched overhead, filling the Flamebenders with power… power they intended to use to level the Earth Kingdom. But my powers were not diminished just because theirs were strengthened.
The Ocean convulsed, raging spirals of water lancing towards the Fire Nation Airships, ripping their propellers and sails apart, knocking Firebenders screaming as they fell. I had no control, my power, all the power I had, all the endurance, the manna, the psychic reserves, everything I had to spend, to shatter the invasion force and blunt the damage that they had planned to wreak upon the land. I could not aim my blows, for I was aiming with telepathy and sound alone.
I beheld, drained, wobbling, barely able to keep my feet as I landed on the sands of the shore, as Aang and Ozai fought. I had moved the battle to the seashore. Much less of the land would be damaged… but Aang would still emerge victorious, right? I tracked the fight, waiting, waiting, but Aang wasn’t entering the Avatar state and Ozai was smashing him into the hard glass of the beach that had been, not into stone pillars… Aang’s damaged chakra wasn’t being triggered. I had to do something… but I had nothing left. Nothing at all. I could barely move. I had thrown the story off just enough to doom us all. Despair threatened to overwhelm me…
Then I remembered, through my haze, that I was not just a Waterbender. I was an ice elemental… standing on the shore of the sea. I fell back into the water, drawing the cold from within it, letting it soak into my very cells, revitalizing me just enough. I focused all my remaining strength into one last attack, one final blow to restore Balance… and smashed a chunk of ice into Aang’s back, right at the spot where his chi was blocked.
My awareness fading, I lay half in the surf, barely aware as the bolt hit the shavenheaded Air Nomad, wincing as he staggered forward, barely ducking under a killing blow from Ozai… and then, as my light faded, I beheld Aang’s light blossom.
I came to days later, Katara yelling, “She’s awake!” I hurt in places I did not know I could hurt. The war was over. Zuko was Fire Lord, the Earth Kingdoms were freed. All was right with the world… or would be in time.
I waited a month, hoping the pain would subside, but it didn’t. Not for a moment. I felt continuously like I was going to come apart at the seams. But I’d asked for this gift for a reason, and not for the raw power it would grant me, because honestly, the only thing I was certain it was good for was removing a bender’s bending. No. I had asked for it, because I suspected it would allow me to heal something beyond any Waterbender’s ability to heal. My pain was physical… It could be endured. I was, by any measure, ancient… this pain was transitory. There was someone who needed my help, someone young and in pain.
I let Zuko help me to Azula’s cell, the pain making even walking hardly bearable. I knelt before the girl, two years or two centuries my junior. “Are you certain this is wise?” Zuko asked.
I laughed. “I have never been less certain of anything in my life.” But still, I reached out with my hands, my heart, my very essence, and made the connection. It was like Asari mating, or the Vulcan Mindmeld, or what I imagine possession must feel like. I had brought people into my Mental Palace several times, the place where I was absolute sovereign… but this was not that state. This was infinitely more intimate.
Her madness crashed against me, a tide of blue-white fire… and I embraced it. She raged, thrashed, screamed words and thoughts and raw emotions at me. I embraced it. I had done this before, with Victoria… but she had been half Virtual Intelligence, half Feral Parasite… this was a wounded child. For all the horrors and wickedness and craziness Azula shows, it is often forgotten that this was a 14 year old. She was a child, abused, neglected, driven mad with power and horrors no one should have had to live with.
I let her rage against me for an age of the universe, and let her trauma burn across my soul. And then I opened myself to her in turn, letting out all the compassion and forgiveness I had within me to give. I didn’t know if it would be enough. I didn’t know if any amount would ever be enough.
She raged against the offer, throwing up walls of defiance and denial, rejecting my kindness as weakness, my absolution as insult. And, again again I offered my hand. “I don’t think you’re weak. I think you’re strong. Strong enough to take my hand. Strong enough to forgive yourself.” She thrashed again, screaming obscenities at me, battering at my psyche and my spirit body with everything she had to throw. And I did nothing to defend myself, letting the darkness, the rage, the sick twisting fear and hatred and despair press against me, seeking all those same emotions within me… and I let them in. I drank up her darkness, adding it to the wellsprings of my own… and then I gave her my light, as much of it as I could spare and more.
I broke the connection, cutting the darkness within me from flowing back into her, leaving her with perhaps enough peace to begin to heal. Then I fell back, convulsions wracking me, ripping me apart inside as the void sought to consume me. It was colder than the Heart of Winter, hotter than the Cracks of Doom, and the darkness I’d lived these last 6 years was as nothing to the darkness that now ravened within me. I went deep, curling into myself, gathering all the light I had left within me, and focused it to a single crystal of brightness, a tone pure and sharp, a beacon, a clarion… and there I slept.
I woke in a place beyond… Aang was there, eyes full of light. “You’ve done something foolish,” he commented in the voice of 10,000 years of Avatars.
“I had to.”
“Because no one else would have.”
“She who saves one life, saves the world entire. You risked your soul, the existence of the Avatar itself… to keep from taking Ozai’s life. Could I do any less to remove the last of his poisonous legacy? You restored the balance of the world… I had to restore the balance of that child. Plus… I’ve been where she was. Couple of times.”
“You’re not of this world. Are you a Spirit?”
“I am as much a Spirit as you are, Avatar.”
“That’s not an answer.”
“There are no answers. Only more questions. It was nice travelling with you…. I’ll miss this.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because I don’t know how much longer I can hold out against the darkness. There’s so much of it and so much pain.”
“You’ve lived with pain before.”
“There was light then.”
“Now there is only darkness.”
“Light shines all the brighter in the dark.”
“I…” I had no answer for that. “Is there then hope?”
“As long as there is life, there is hope, Manifestation.”
“Avatar is so much cooler. Should have called myself the Exemplar.”
“See, you joke, but that could get confusing.”
“Heh. Well, you’d know best. You’re way older than I am.”
“Actually… yes… what did you do?”
“Nothing. I just came to keep you company. Sometimes that’s all it takes.”
“Well, hard to mope with all that glowing you’re doing.”
When I emerged from my own darkness, I found that I’d been unresponsive for the better part of a month. For the rest of the jump, the pain never really faded, and my waterbending was never as strong as it had been, but my control had improved by leaps and bounds… which was good, because I was no longer leaping or bounding. The strain of two elements was a constant drain and I eventually retreated to the South Pole to draw upon the cold there merely to maintain myself.
I don’t know how long I would have lasted had the jump not ended. I have no idea how old I looked at the end of ten years, but I felt ancient, withered, a husk of who I had been. My disciples carried me to the shore as I’d asked of them. And there, alone as I hadn’t been for so very very long, I waited for the Pillars of Time to rise out of the sand… but instead… I drifted off… and found myself in another place.
“Trouble?” a voice asked.
“Not really… just… waiting to die… I guess.”
“That doesn’t seem to worry you.”
“I will no longer be who I am now, but I will continue to be me.”
“Strange thing for a mortal to say.”
“I can’t sense you. What are you?”
“I am a spirit.”
“Do you have a name, spirit?”
“I have had many names…. But in this place I am Sukinuk. It is a pleasure to meet you, Atura.”
“Likewise. I’ve never met a mortal like you before.”
“Have you met many?”
“Oh… a few.”
“Well… glad to amuse you, at least for as long as I have left.”
“Going so soon?”
“Well… apparently only the Avatar can handle having two elements.”
“I thought you had three.”
“Three… isn’t that what the Manifestation has? Fire, Water, Energy?”
“I… yes… I guess that’s true. Still, it seems to be killing me.”
“Well, yes. I’d imagine so. The Avatar is bonded to Raava which is what allows him to wield all four elements.”
“Well… yes and no. Other Avatars have gained Energy before… It doesn’t stick.”
“Huh… wonder why?”
“Wan, the first Avatar, didn’t learn that power before he bonded with Raava.”
“That’s the second time you said that name. Who’s Raava?”
“She is the Spirit of Light and Peace.”
“Nice… I’m guessing there’s a Spirit of Darkness and War?”
“Darkness and Chaos… Vaatu.”
“I don’t suppose Vaatu is available to help me?”
“I doubt you’d like that. He’s not much for Balance.”
“Is there a Spirit of Balance?”
I considered long and hard, then asked “Is that you?”
“You wouldn’t be willing to bond with me and help me control the massively excessive amounts of power I seem to have coursing through me?”
“Well… Normally I’d say no… but you do seem keen for restoring Balance. Plus… can’t let Raava have all the fun.”
“So what does this entail?”
“Normally? The energies of two worlds in perfect sync with each other.”
“Well, I can provide the two worlds… but I’m pretty sure we should hurry.”
“Well, if we’re not at least partly bonded in the next few minutes, we’ll miss our moment.”
“You seem to know a lot about these things, for a mortal.”
“Benefit of many lives.”
“Well, sounds interesting. Shall we?”
“We shall,” and as the Pillars of Time rose out of the sands, my vision returned, and there, at the edge of the world, with one foot in the sea and one on land, I felt my vitality flowing back into me, the imbalance fixing itself… but time did not freeze. Rather, it sped up, the sun rising and falling and rising again… again and again… and words scrolled across the Pillars “You’re not done here yet. This is only the Intermission.”
Next: Manifest Infestation