A/N: Hope you all enjoyed the last chapter (not that I would know), as well as this one. The stage is finally set and we can begin to get to the game.
Meditation. A state of tranquility and thought, one that he found himself in more and more often these days. There was growing unease, growing unrest, within the Fire Nation and he knew that how it turned out would cause major fluctuations through the world. The only thing he was uncertain of was how he should proceed. His heart was telling him to back his friend, but he had learned in the past that listening to his heart could cause harm to the world.
His past lives were divided on the issue. All were in agreement that as the Avatar, it was his duty to insure the world came out unscathed, but on the issue as to what was to be done they were noticeable undecided as a whole. Most noticeable though, was Roku. As the great grand sire of both, his personal feelings were conflicted, even as a spirit of a previous avatar.
Of the two, Aang was sure that he supported Zuko. Zuko's intentions was pure, and his heart was in the right place. He was one of them, someone that wanted to save the world. On the other hand was Azula. Slightly crazy and vindictive, the damage her mind suffered because of her father was great, and he felt a good deal of Ozai in her. But she was more dangerous than Ozai, in her own way. While he was a warrior, Azula's mind made her more dangerous. Aang could combat Ozai directly. She wasn't so easy.
Part of what made her dangerous is why he was having trouble deciding what to do. The Fire Nation couldn't take over the world with military force. As long as he was around, it simply wasn't an option. But there were other things she could do, things that he couldn't directly interfere with and correct if she became the sole leader of the Fire Nation.
As much as it pained him to admit it, at the moment that was the correct term. Due to the control on the nation being divided, both Azula and Zuko had roughly equal power with regards to the nation as a whole, which made the situation all the more dangerous. If there was a clear majority either way, an outright conflict could be avoided. But with the line so thin, a civil war was a strong possibility.
A knock at his door brought his attention, and he came down and out of his meditation to greet his visitor. "Come in."
Amber hair along with the blues of her eyes and outfit were the first thing Aang's eyes took note of. Even before the realization of who he was looking at sat in, the emotion of love and admiration was already floating through him, cheering him up from the otherwise gray that the deliberations were bringing on him.
"I've repaired most of the damages, and shes starting to wake up." Pleasantries were skipped as she moved forwards and embraced him. "Oh Aang. I haven't seen injuries that bad since the war. If Sokka and Toph hadn't seen it first hand, I wouldn't have believed it." She pulled away for a moment and looked in his eyes. Slowly over the past year, Aang had grown, steadily catching up to Katara's hight. At this point they were at eye level, and he suspected he would soon be taller than her.
"Don't worry Katara. I'm sure these soldiers were just over acting. Even if she's wanted for murder in the Fire Nation, Zuko wouldn't send people out to kill her." In his heart this was the truth that he believed, but his mind betrayed him. Somewhere inside something held the possibility of quick retribution, and Aang was reminded of Zuko's adventure with Katara. He had the distinct feeling that she was recalling the same memory as he looked in her eyes.
She shook her head. "I don't know... either way. We can deal with that later. For now, she wants to speak with you. Apparently the entire reason shes outside the Fire Nation is to see you, and I'm inclined to believe her. Trying to find you wouldn't be a very good idea for someone running because of murder."
Aang nodded and hugged her once more before pulling away and walking past, out the door. It was in the realm of possibilities based on what he knew that Zuko could order something like this, but that not withstanding he couldn't make his decision based on it. After all, he couldn't decide something that would affect the entire world based on the harm caused to a single person. Even so, the conclusion would be something he would have to take into consideration.
Sunlight spilled over him as he found himself standing outside, the sound of fresh waves crashing against the shore nearby. He had chosen for them to stop in a small earthen village near the sea at Toph's suggestion. Her family had a villa in the location that she had been more than happy to let them use. Knowing her, her parents had no idea they were staying there, but it was the best option available. Sokka had advised him that returning Ty to Kiyoshi in this state wouldn't have sparked a pleasant reaction.
The room Ty Lee was staying in was just across the courtyard. Outside of it, Sokka and Toph were standing outside of it. While Sokka looked tense and uneasy, Toph looked almost excited. Aang knew her better than that, though. Things did get to her, even if she wasn't one to show them. He could tell that she was unsettled by the current state of events. Though he had no doubt she'd derive some pleasure from a conflict, he knew that the face of war would cause her more trouble than excitement.
Sokka raised his hand to stop Aang before he entered, his look somewhat sour. "I just got news from my father." His voice carried a note that caught Aang's attention, and his minds were temporarily lifted from the injured girl beyond. "I've been informed that should a civil war begin within the fire nation, neither myself nor Katara are to interfere. The Water Nation officially recognizes both Zuko and Azula..." He shook his head. "so whatever happens there is, in our tribes eyes, an issue that is to be left to the Fire Nation to work out."
Aang felt his heart drop a bit. If he had decided to interfere, he had been counting on his coitorie to be there to support him. Loosing Katara and Sokka as possible allies in that was a shattering thought. But, he had to accept it gracefully, and gave a slight nod. "If something does happen then, Sokka, I ask that you obey your tribes wishes, and make sure that Katara does the same. I don't want rifts being formed in other nations because of this." As much as it pained him to admit it, it might be for the better. If he could isolate the problem to the fire nation alone, it would be easier to deal with and, if things fell apart, the damage it caused would be much more limited. Even so. "May I ask why?"
Sokka shrugged. "Azula gave us what we wanted. The tribes been Negotiating with Zuko for most of the land that was lost earlier on during the hundred years war, but they had been getting the run around. As soon as Azula had power, she started giving back what her forces controlled." He sighed. "As far as our leaders are concerned, shes the better choice for us. They didn't have to deal with her much during the war, and some still carry scars from Zuko."
Aang nodded. He had no doubt that it was eliminating the possible intervention by the Water Tribes that had prompted her actions, but things played out for the better in his eyes as well do the the isolation it would cause. He knew Sokka would do what was in the best interests of his Nation, but Katara was a little more headstrong. If Aang decided to intervene, he knew that he would be hard pressed to stop her. "Ah. Well, if nothing else, its good to know shes not immidiately opening with attacks. I meant what I said though Sokka. Make sure you keep Katara from throwing herself into it."
Sokka nodded. "Yeah. I know. She's my sister, and you'll be my brother eventually. I trust you to handle the situation, and I'll convince her to do the same. Your right, the Water Tribes are in enough damage without getting dragged into another conflict caused by the Fire Nation. I don't trust Azula though. If she gets control over the country, I wouldn't be surprised if we were looking at another war once they get back up to strength."
Aang looked away. "Maybe. I can't say without talking to her myself Sokka, and even then I don't know if I can predict her well enough that I feel comfortable making a call. But remember, we gave Zuko a chance and he turned out pretty well. She was raised in the same environment that he was, but while he found himself outcast and away from his father, she remained. Any damages he suffered because of him are clearly worse in her. You got to see her for a few moments after the war. It wasn't pretty Sokka. Even if I wasn't worried about her intentions, I have to still be worried about her sanity."
Sokka was about to respond when Toph spoke up. "Right twinkle toes. If what the little acrobat in there says is true, she wasn't getting treated. Worse than that, she was basically being tortured. Even if she has no intention of causing problems, she might not be in any state to rule." She shook her head, eyes settling to look off in the distance as she "looked" at him with her ear. After a moment of seeming to collect her thoughts, she thrust her hand out towards him. "But I'll tell you this. I'm going with you when you talk to fire breeches. And if I don't like what I hear, he won't be in any state to rule either." She then jerked the hand towards the door. "Now get in there. We need to get moving."
She was right. Things in the Fire Nation were heating up quickly. If he was to be of any use in dealing with the situation he was going to have to make his presence known sooner than later. So, as soon as he finished speaking with Ty Lee, they would be heading in to the Fire Nation to confront both Zuko and Azula.
As he entered, he noticed that Ty Lee was sitting up, looking at the door. Her usual clothing was discarded, and instead her entire torso from waist to just under her neck was wrapped in bandages. Even healing with water bending could do so much at once. Katara had told him it would probably take most of the trip to the fire nation to get her mostly healthy again.
She greeted him with a smile. "Hey Aang." She was cheerful, but he could see the scars that were starting to form on her personality. He hoped that if things started working out they would mend themselves, but even at this point there were no guarantees that she would be as carefree as she had been. And he knew that regardless, her innocence had been lost. "I mean...thank you for seeing me, avatar. Azula's always telling me I need to try and be more formal sometimes."
He shook his head. "We're friends Ty Lee. You don't need to be formal with me, even if I am the avatar." He sighed. "I'm sorry we have to skip the formalities, but we need to be heading to the Fire Nation soon." Judging by her reaction, she wasn't upset. She actually seemed rather relieved by the news.
"I'm glad we'll be heading back soon. I need to get back to Azula. I need to get you back to Azula. We have to get her out of there, they can't keep treating her like an animal. Its not right...Aang. Its not right to do that to anyone." She was very obviously disturbed, but he found himself hitting on something. She wasn't lying, that much was very obvious. Ty Lee had no idea Azula was out, and her concern was genuine. There was no doubt in Aang's mind that she was innocent of the accused crimes.
"Well, thats not the issue, not any more at least Ty Lee. Azula escaped from prison shortly after you left and with the help of some supporters took control of about half of your home country." Her reaction confirmed it. Shock, disbeleif, even a little fear. And then sadness and disappointment.
"She wouldn't, I mean." She looked away. "I can understand, I guess. I mean, I heard from a bunch of people that they didn't think Zuko was doing a good job...and the way he treated her, well, Zula holds grudges, you know? And she might even be right to this time. But its my fault things are like this. If I had been able to get to you faster, you could have gotten back before she felt she had to do that."
He shook his head. "No. It was only a little bit after you left. They haven't told us exactly what happened, but some how someone busted her out of where ever she was being held. They said you had something to do with it, and the attempted murders on Fire Lord Zuko and the former Fire Lord Ozai."
Fear came into her eyes quickly. "No. I didn't. I mean I couldn't. I wouldn't ever kill anyone, especially not like that." His eyes must have reflected his belief in her, as she calmed down as quick as she started up.
But there was a question he had to ask. "Not even for Azula?"
Her mouth opened for a quick response, but then closed. Her eyes drifted and she became clearly confused. She hadn't given any thought to the question before, that was certain, and given the time it seemed to be one of great weight to her. "I don't...I mean, there would always be a better option. I'd find a way to make things alright without that." She trailed of for a moment in thought again. "But...I think I could kill someone, if I had to, to save her life."
He nodded, but he couldn't blame her. While he had been able to completely void himself of the sin of taking another life, he didn't expect anyone else to do the same, especially with regards to people that they deeply cared for. "I believe you, Ty Lee. And I don't think Azula would involve you in anything like that if she had a hand in it. I'm sure she has others much more willing to do things like that."
Ty Lees response was just another nod and thoughtful eyes, maybe a slight hint of disappointment.
"You'll be under our protection until we get you back to the Fire Nation. While normally my impartiality would require me to turn you over to Zuko for a proper trial, given the state of events that happened to you on your way here, I feel its within my right to declare you my charge for humanitarian reasons. Once we get there...well, you can either remain safely with us, or go back to Azula. But I already know your decision."
Again, another nod, but this time there were tears forming in her eyes. "Thank you Aang. Thank you so much for helping me, for taking me back to her. And for trying to help the country. Zula's not a bad person, shes really not. If you just talk to her, you'll see that. And if anyone can get her and Zuko to stop peacefully, its you."
He offered her a slight smile, but it was uncertain at best. "I wish I could tell you I can do it, but theres so much damage and mistrust there. I'm not sure if its even possible to fix them. But I'll do my best." Zuko hated his sister for many reasons. Aang was pretty good at understanding people, empathizing, but actually analyzing them was a different story. So while he understood how Zuko felt, he only had a vague idea of why.
He spent a few more minutes in her room talking to her, but left quickly. Things had to be taken care of before they headed to the fire nation. His footsteps had carried him about half way back to his room before he felt an odd feeling creeping through his body. It was as though his senses were very slowly fading away, until after a few moments the entire world was nothing more than a black void around him.
He suppressed his shock and what little fear he was still capable of feeling for himself and faced the darkness with resolve. Resolve faded to shock as Avatar Roku materialized out of the darkness before him.
"I apologize for dragging you here this abruptly." He said, his wise eyes boring through Aang. The young monk knew better than to question his elder or even speak. For him to be so drastic something must be of vital importance. "A great disturbance has swept through both the spirit world and your own. I'm sure you've felt the tingling of it in the back of your mind, but its recently accelerated. I fear that a time of great strife and turmoil may be coming."
Aang looked at the older man with concern. "Do you know anything more, Avatar Roku?"
The wise man shook his head. "I know little, but I have my suspicions, as well as the collective reasoning of all your previous lives. More so than ever before, the balance of the world has suffered some dramatic shifts over the past hundred years. I think the imbalance that its caused has slowly started to cause strain in both, and maybe even between, the worlds. I bring you you this advice Avatar Aang: Be weary of the world around you, the line between our worlds is rapidly fluctuating, and as a few of your incarnations will warn you, some of the things on this side are dangerous even to you. If they escape into the world, I fear all will be lost."
Aang nodded and slightly gulped. This was entirely the wrong time for this. He didn't even have his full attention to turn to it, and the issue in Fire could heighten the imbalance further. "How do I fix it, Avatar Roku?"
Another shake of the head. "I do not know. We do not know. Something drastic must be done to restore order, but as you learned with your encounter with the lion turtle, the Avatar has not always been. Some of the secrets of the world lay outside even our knowledge. I will do what I can to gather information from friendly spirits as I can, Young Avatar."
Another nod from Aang. "I appreciate the warning and your vigilance Avatar Roku. I will do my best to do what I can in the material world."
Roku offered to him a slightly bow before the world slowly came back into view, finding him standing where he was before with only a few moments seeming to have passed. Knowledge in his mind to be weary, he began making preparations for how to deal with both situations.