Chapter 1: Blown Away
Azula was fighting against the straitjacket. She twisted and ripped at the dreadful thing with all her might and she screamed in rage and fury. It was a soul-splitting scream. A scream, which could make the spirits cry. And so it did. In the Spirit World, two souls observed her tortured struggle with sadness. Two lights in a world foreign to human, ready to take a shape. A new one or a shape, they had former known. It didn't matter for them.
"She don't deserve this."
The idea of a female voice was full of sadness and compassion.
"Maybe, but something inside her thinks she does."
It was a male voice. More clear of his presence.
"I can help her to find a way out. To find another point of view."
The female voice seemed to be teary. Azula's feelings seemed to torture the spirit.
"Are you sure, you want to do this?"
The question of the male voice was filled with curiosity.
"Yes. He has opened a path to her soul. And don't forget, I have already done this."
The female voice showed determination. The shapeless light got brighter and started to form the shape of a young woman, glowing in the brightest white. And then it disappeared, leaving the other light behind.
Azula stopped screaming. Her breath was hard and fast and her eyes were burning in mad fury. But suddenly a soft breeze touched her cheek. Her look returned to the room. No one was there, but she could feel it again. A hushing blow, cool and soothing on her face. A soft wind started to whisper in her ear, from a time long ago. It told her stories of high mountains and amazing temples, of spectacular clouds and flying leafs, of traveling birds, lemurs and dragons. And monks.
The wind grew stronger in her face. She heard of bowing grass and blown sails, of turning windmills and moving clouds. Azula's worries started to grow as well.
The wind became a storm. The force of the air howled in her ears. It tangled her hair and brought her tears to her eyes. It screamed of stormy seas and of breaking trees, of twisting tornado's and punched rain. And of war.
She wanted to scream, but the storm pushed the air back into her lungs with every sort of sound she wanted to create. She couldn't breathe, because her lungs were simply filled with air, but she wasn't able to breathe out against the brutal force of the storm. Her panic was beyond limits. How was this possible? She started to jerk, she tried desperately to move, to turn away, to breathe, but her strength faded. She was running out of breath. Blown away by a magical storm within her cell. And then her sight went black.
She jumped up in the bed with a scream. She held her hands with her arms stretched out before her face, the eyelids pinched together in order to protect her from the storm, but no storm was there. She felt the warm sun falling on her through a window.
"Arashi, you're alright."
Azula felt a strange knot building up in her stomach. She opened her eyes and stared at her hands in disbelieve. They were taller, than they should be. The nails weren't painted anymore and looked different as well. And there were arrow tattoos on them, which went up to her arm under her orange robe. The robe was wrong, too. Panic rose up in her. She felt the wind touching her bald head. She touched her skull with panic widened eyes searching for her beautiful thick hair, but it was gone, no matter how frantic she tried to find it.
"It's okay, Arashi. Gyatso has brought us back. It seems, it was a bad idea to ride the storm clouds."
Azula suddenly recognized the voice. She knew this voice. She turned her head to the source of it, still with her hands on her head and watched in the warm eyes of a twelve year old airbender. Aang beamed at her with a wide grin.
She punched forward to throw a fireball at him, but no fire lighted up before her fist. Instead a strong blow of air nearly ripped the Avatar off his feet. He barely managed to jump aside with the help of his own airbending. Azula's powerful blow ripped up the other bed in the room and crushed it into the wall, breaking it into pieces. Her eyes widened again in shock and surprise. She stared at her hands in disbelieve.
"Yeah I know, you had warned me. And it was my fault, that you got hurt too. The lightning has hit us both, while you tried to bring me back. I have already talked with Gyatso about that. I got grounded until you're fine again."
He looked sorry and embarrassed. Azula was sure, that he was worried about her well being. But the joyful smile returned to his lips.
"But to my luck you're alright, Arashi, so we can have a little race together with our new gliders. The old ones haven't survived the crash."
Azula's face went pale. She pinched herself, but beside the pain on her shoulder nothing happened. It seemed, that she wasn't dreaming. This all was far to real for her. Aang seemed to know her, but why did he called her Arashi. This wrong feeling, the wrong robes, the wrong hands, the wrong bending. A horrible idea crawled up her mind. She started to run.
"Arashi, hey where do you go?"
Azula left the room with panic and haste. She ran through a corridor and collided with a group of older monks, who shared surprised and worried looks with her. This was a nightmare. It had to be. She continued her flight out on a yard. She halted, watching the surrounding with shock. All around in the temple were air nomads training, talking, walking, flying, meditating. She saw young acolytes playing airball. She saw sky bison's flying in herds around the temple.
"Hey Arashi, wait. Gyatso wants to check you first, before you were allowed to leave the hospital."
Aang was catching up with her, but she started to run again to a little pond in a Zen-garden, she had spotted. As soon as she had reached it, she got down on her knees and checked her reflection. Her mind stopped working and her heart skipped a beat. The reflection, which stared back at her in shock and fear was a fourteen year old girl with a shaved head and arrow tattoos on her forehead. Her face was softer than Azula's but something in the gray eyes reminded her of her expected golden eyes, she would normally have. She was shaking and tears came to her eyes. She splashed some water in her face to wake up, but nothing happened.
"Arashi, what's wrong?"
Aang was at her side and placed a hand on her back to sooth her. She kept focused on the wobbling reflection in the pond.
The voice was foreign too. She hadn't recognized this fact before, but her voice was higher and warmer. She turned to Aang with a shocked face.
"I'm not myself. I'm Azula, Princess of the Fire Nation."
Aang started to laugh nervous.
"Good joke, Arashi. But there is no Princess in the Fire Nation. Sozin is the Fire Lord and Azulon is his heir and only son."
She shook her head in shock with an open mouth.
"This couldn't be! I shouldn't be here! I'm a firebender! A natural! I'm not an air nomad!"
Aang's words had hit her like a lightning. She had no clue, how this was possible. And she had no idea how to get all these information in line. So she broke down and started to cry. She didn't care, that it was the Avatar, her big enemy, who took her in the arms to sooth her. She was stuck. Stuck in another body and in another time. And she was afraid and alone.
Chapter 2: Gyatso
Azula didn't spoke a word, when Aang brought her back into the room, where she has woken up. Her look was empty. She recognized with every step she made, that this wasn't her body. Everything felt foreign to her. This place was foreign to her. This time was foreign, too. It was just so wrong. She had no idea, what has happened. She remembered, that this mysterious storm had prevented her from breathing. She remembered, that she had faded in a small and dark cell, bounded and caged like a wild animal.
And now, she was somewhere else. Not bound anymore. Not hidden away from the air, the sun and the light. But still caged, beside all this freedom. Caged in a wrong body and in a wrong time. Or maybe it was a nightmare. Or a hallucination. She looked up and recognized Aang's worried face. He was still holding her hand. She thought about to attack him again, but she hesitated. Everything was foreign here. She still couldn't believe completely, that this was real, but she couldn't exclude it. And in this frightening situation, he was at least a known face. Unlike the old monk, who entered the room. The man shared a warm smile with Aang and Azula. Aang returned a weak smile, but Azula's look remained empty. The monk got closer and took Azula's hand out of Aang's, but she winced back and shook her head, heavily. Surprise rushed over the monks face, but his gentle smile returned, instantly.
"Arashi, please. Let me check you, if you're okay."
He tried again, but Azula turned away.
"No! Don't touch me!"
The monk's eyes showed sadness, but his smile was still remaining.
"Alright Arashi. I won't touch you. But may I ask you some questions?"
Azula didn't move. She kept staring at the wall, but she could feel the worried looks from Aang and the monk.
"Or do you have questions?"
Azula lifted her head a bit and turned slowly back to the monk and Aang. She was uncertain, what to ask first. This whole situation was so confusing. But this man and the Avatar had shown nothing but care and kindness. And she could use some help. Help to get things in line again.
"Where am I?"
Her voice was trembling a bit. She recognized, that Aang's face became a mask of shock. The old monk's face got also worried, but was more controlled.
"You're at the Southern Air Temple, Arashi. Your home temple."
Azula winced at this answer. Her home was the Palace in Caldera City. She wasn't at home here, She didn't belong here. She looked around in the room, searching for a hint, that this wasn't real, but she couldn't find one. She stood up from the bed with wobbly knees and walked to a window. The sun was shining bright outside and the air was fresh and clear. She saw lemurs flying along with some air nomads on their gliders. She kept staring outside the window.
"Who are you?"
She heard the surprised gasp from Aang, but she didn't turned back to them. The old monk sighed and his voice was worried.
"You don't remember me?"
Azula kept watching outside the window, but she shook her head.
"I'm monk Gyatso." He waited a moment, but as he recognized, that Azula was showing no reaction, he added more information. "Your former teacher."
Azula's hands were formed to trembling fists. She didn't know him. Of cause not. She didn't belong here. She finally turned around. Tears were in her eyes again. Aang and Gyatso watched her with great sadness and worries.
"And who is Arashi?"
The shock returned in Aang's face. Tears started to float his eyes.
"You are Arashi! You're my friend! We used to play together. You helped me developing my air roller to earn my tattoos. We have searched dragon nests together to watch the babies hatch. You were the only one, who dared to fly faster and closer around the cliffs and the towers of the temple than me!"
He stepped closer and started to shake her.
"You seemed to remember me, how couldn't you remember who you are?"
Gyatso pulled him back, gently. Azula's face was still full of sadness and devastating resignation. Her voice was empty and dense.
"I know, who I am, but I'm not this Arashi. Like I said. I'm Azula."
She felt her chest tightened again.
"Or I was Azula."
She felt tears floating her eyes. The sobs started to climb up her throat.
"Or I will be Azula one day. Or all of it together. But I'm NOT Arashi!"
She broke down crying. Gyatso prevented her from falling down, using his airbending to hold her up until he got an aiding grip on her shoulders. He guided her back to the bet and let her sit down. Aang was pale and shocked.
"I'm so sorry, Arashi. I should have listened to you. I never should have tried to ride the winds of a thunderstorm. I..."
"Aang, would you please leave us alone for a moment. Wait outside, please."
Aang nodded at Gyatso's gentle order and left the room with hanging shoulders. The old monk waited patiently until Azula came down again. As she finally faced him with a desperate look, he gave her a comforting smile. He dared to stroke gentle over her cheek with the back of his fingers of his left hand.
"You remembered Aang?"
She nodded slightly a few times, still struggling with her tears.
"Yes, I remember him. I remember the Avatar."
Gyatso's eyes widened in surprise. Azula noticed, that he was stunned by her quote. The monk scanned her pensively from head to toe. His voice was shaking a bit as he started talking to her again.
"Only the monks of the elder council knows, that Aang is the Avatar. Not even the boy himself knows it. How do you have found it out?"
She bit her bottom lip. Telling him, that she had more than once tried to kill him, that she came out of a time, where the monks were extinguished by her nation didn't seemed to be a clever move. Maybe a half-truth would be wiser.
"I have met him, before I woke up here. Not only as an airbender. I have met the Avatar."
Gyatso's face got a serious look. He watched Azula deep in her eyes.
"I… believe you. May I check something?"
He took up his hands and brought them near Azula's face. She winced back first but the serious, gentle look of the monk let her finally hold still. The old man placed his thumbs at the base of her nose between her eyes and his fingertips an the left and right side of her face. Then he closed his eyes and started to control his breath.
His controlled breathing soothed her somehow. It reminded her of some breathing lessons, she used to do for her firebending. She felt suddenly the urge to do these lesson again. So she closed her eyes and started to control her breath, focusing on her Chi and let it flow, like she had learned from her uncle. The only useful lesson, he had ever give her, in her opinion. She felt her Chi tickling in her body in a strange way. At first she refereed it to her unknown body, but then she recognized, that her Chi seemed to be completely hers. Her known fire. But it couldn't fuel a flame. The strange feeling was Gyatso. He was checking her Chi floating. For a brief moment, she wanted to push him away, but then she didn't. It was somehow, like a person, who was wandering along a river, observing the beauty of it, the floating and winding, the murmuring and rushing, the resting and curling, only gently touching the surface of the water from time to time, not to stop it, to redirect or disturb it from floating free, but to feel the power, the direction and the depth of it.
She started to rest her head in the hands of the monk and kept focused on her breathing. She began to observe him as well. She felt his Chi floating through him. Free floating, warm and shining, gentle and patient but with a depth, deeper than everything she had seen before. So much power.
She didn't knew, how long they had sit like this together, when the monk carefully removed his hands from her face. Sadness and grief was in his look.
"Yes, you are Azula. You aren't Arashi."
A flicker of hope came to Azula's eyes.
"You really believe me."
The monk nodded with a sad face.
"Yes, I do. Your Chi, your aura, they have completely changed. They are totally different from Arashi's."
A smile of relief rushed over her face. She wasn't insane. She has been right about who she was. But her smile faded again. How was this possible? And what has happened to Arashi?
"Do you know, what has happened to me?"
Azula was nervously slipping around her seat. This old man seemed to have a slight clue. Maybe he also had a solution. He started to tug on his beard.
"I'm not sure. What is the last thing, you could remember, no matter how weird it may have been for you?"
Azula bit her bottom lip. Should she dare to tell him more about herself? How she was bound up in a cell. How her mind was breaking into pieces. But she had to know more.
"I was bound and thrown in a cell. I was alone. And then there was a breeze in my cell, which had grown to a storm. And then I faded."
She felt quiet. She hadn't told him about the circumstances, but his faces showed shock and grief. She could see, that some pieces of a puzzle were falling at their places for him. The shock, which was rushing over his face for a moment was so immense. But then only sadness remained.
"You have an idea, haven't you?"
Gyatso nodded at her.
"Yes I have."
A tear came to his eye and he wiped it away. He took a deep breath.
"I'll see, if and how I could help you, to bring you back to your own self. But it will take some time."
He recognized her burning questioning look and sighed.
"It seems, that your spirit was transferred. Maybe we can undo this transfer, when we can find your body. And also return Arashi's spirit."
Azula went pale again.
"But that's impossible! If this isn't a nightmare, I'm actually dreaming in this moment, then I'll only be born in nearly a hundred years!"
Panic was in her eyes an it only increased as she recognized the sad knowing look of the old monk.
She broke down again, crying on the bed. She felt the hand of the man soothingly rubbing her back. As she looked up she saw, that he was also crying silently.
"I will see, what I can do. Maybe the old scrolls can tell me more."
He gave her a smile, but it couldn't lifted her mood.
"What should I do? I don't belong here?"
He kept rubbing her back.
"I really don't know. I can only imagine how scared you must be."
He pulled her in hug.
"I don't know, if this would be a consolation for you, but I can promise, that you'll be save here. We'll all care for you, as long as you forced to stay here. And we'll all try everything we can, to help you."
He released the teary girl from the hug and looked serious at her.
"Aang will be your guidance here in the temple as long as your unplanned visit will goes on. He is responsible for what has happened to Arashi and so somehow also what happened with you."
Gyatso's voice got harder for the first time, they have met.
"Please, not a word to him or any other monk, that he's the Avatar."
Azula nodded at him. The old monk smiled warm at her and bowed before her. He was about leaving the room, when she made him stop.
"Could you also stay quite about... well, about what has happened to me?"
She wasn't sure, how the other monks might react. She was afraid of some questions, she would like to avoid, if possible. The old monk observed her, but then he nodded.
This was more, than she had hoped for, so she nodded thankful at him. Gyatso smiled at her and finally left the room.
She was stuck. She started to believe, that this actually was happening. Gyatso had convinced her, like she had convinced him. She thought back to her cell. What about this airbender? Was she also stuck? Bound and thrown in this cell? What has caused this switch? And how could she reach her body, when she wasn't already born? She curled herself together and wrapped her arms around her legs. This was much worse than a nightmare. This was real.
The sky was burning in a bright orange and red. Stripes of a warm golden yellow, thick and bright was sharpening the magnificent panorama of the surrounding mountains. The snow-covered peaks seemed to glow in gold, like they were covered with molten metal. The wind has grown stronger, pushing the clouds through the flaming sky. The ponds and springs in the area of the temple seemed to be filled with glowing lava, but with a glittering sparkle of brightest polished silver in it, murmuring peaceful.
But Azula barely recognized the magnificent view. She was staring outside of the window, her head resting on her arms, which were laying on the windowsill. Her eyes were red and swollen. Aang had brought her to her room. Arashi's room... It was a little chamber, so much unlike her big and warm room, she was used to live in the Palace. It was much like a cell for her. A bed, a closet, a table and a chair. Nothing more. No rich carpets, no thick luxurious quilts, clothes or fabrics, no gold, nothing, what only almost came close to the things, she used to have.
Aang had stayed quite all the time. Even in her own shock and sadness she had recognized, how ashamed and how worried the boy was. He has went pale as he had realized, that she really had no clue, where her, no where Arashi's room was to be found in the temple. His terror had grown, as he recognized during their walk, that everything seemed to be foreign to her. She had seen his deeply hurt and painful face as she had rejected his attempt to hug her, in order to ease her fears and shock. She didn't want his pity. She hated to be pitied and she already had enough of her own right now, which she hated even more. But all this was covered by her own shock and her own resignation. She allowed some of this pity to find its way out of her, as soon as Aang had left her with deep sadness and resignation. She was so far away from the Azula she used to be, it didn't matter in this moment. She was lost. So damn lost and without any ray of hope.
After she had cried for herself a while on the bed, she had decided to cry on, while looking out of the window. Aang had returned with some food, but she had ignored him. He had left her alone again, leaving a bowl of fried rice with vegetables and eggs behind on her desk. This was two hours ago. The former rich, spicy and warm smell of the rice had went colder and thinner until it has turned into a cold and somehow sticky idea of used frying fat.
Azula didn't care. She decided to went back to bed. It was much smaller and less comfortable, than the one, she was used to. But all this was only the minor part of her problems. The tears came back to her eyes, as she observed her foreign hands again. She throw herself on the bed and for a while her weeping was the only sound, which filled the room.
Suddenly Azula paused in crying. Something was wrong. A new sound was to be heard in the room. A smacking and chirping. She looked up carefully and spotted the source of this new sound. A lemur was sitting on the table, his head buried in the bowl with the cold rice, eating the food with an healthy appetite and obviously audible satisfaction.
"Get out, stupid creature!"
The animal stopped eating and popped up with its head out of the bowl, the face covered with rests of rice and vegetables. It watched Azula with big eyes, while tending its head to the right side. Her eyes got a warning glow, as the lemur started to observe the bowl out of the corner of its eyes.
"Don't even think about it!"
The creature kept focused on Azula. With great tension and incredibly slow, almost without visible movements, the furry little thing got closer to the bowl. Azula's eyes narrowed.
"I said no! Leave the bowl!"
She punched forward in instinct and the ruckus started. A sharp blow of air, created by Azula kept the bowl and the animal separated and pushed the lemur backwards. The creature shrieked, ruffling its hair. It jumped up and flew up in the room with fast spirals, turns and circles. Azula yelled curses at it and tried to shoot the lemur down with more blows of air. Her madness grew, cause the creature made chirping and muttering sounds, like it was mocking her and it flew some provocative maneuvers around Azula's head, before it grabbed the bowl with its legs ans successfully escaped through the window. Azula stood in the middle of her tiny room, alone again. She observed her hands. Another defeat. But the wrong bending was much worse. No heat, no warm and dancing flames anymore. No sparks, no shining light in the dark. Her precious blue fire. Gone. She let herself fall on the bed and cried again.
Azula woke up freezing and curled together to a shivering ball. She must have fallen asleep during crying. The window was still open and a chilly wind had cooled down the room way too much for sleeping on the quilt. But then she recognized a warm spot at her back. She turned carefully around and her eyes widened in surprise. The lemur, which had stolen the bowl was sleeping behind her. It was definitely the same, she recognized the brown, cream-colored striped fur. The animal had nuzzled itself close at her back and Azula was sure by the way, the creature was leaned against her, that it has tried to keep her warm. Her eyes widened even more, as she recognized a small pile out of six or seven cherries beside the pillow. Tears came to her eyes again and her trembling hands hesitated a moment, before she finally dared to pet the head of it, carefully. The creature opened its eyes and jerked, which caused Azula to stop stroking the head. Both observed each other for a moment, but suddenly the lemur snuggled its head in Azula's hand. The princess face softened for the first time, since she had woken up in her very personal nightmare and continued stroking and petting. The lemur started to purr and coo and rubbed itself against Azula's hand.
She took one of the cherries with her other hand under the pensive eyes of the animal. She observed the cherry and finally put it in her mouth. It was a sweet and rich flavored one, juicy and ripe. Azula closed her eyes for a moment. It tasted like home. Fire cherries. She opened her eyes again and locked hers with the pair of the lemur.
"How did you know, that I love these?"
The animal blinked and tended his head aside. A shy but thankful smile came to Azula's lips. She took up two cherries and offered one of them the lemur, which took it, instantly and started to eat it with a satisfied smacking. The creature observed her with an almost questioning look, but his eyes started to wander to the still opened window. Azula's face fell a bit. It was a ridiculous wish, which took form in her mind, but this whole situation was wrong, so why not doing things, she would have called wrong before. She could use some comfort.
"Would you… stay here with me?"
The lemur kept watching her with big questioning eyes. Azula was a bit embarrassed of herself and she blushed a bit.
"You may not believe it, but I'm new around here."
The creature blinked again and tended his head to the other side. Azula blushed even more and her voice became slightly annoyed.
"I won't start begging, creature."
The lemur made an warm squeaking sound and took place on the side of Azula's pillow, rolling itself together to a ball as an answer. Azula stood up with a warm smile and closed the window. Then she returned to her bed and crawled under the quilt, resting her head on the pillow as well, her face turned to the lemur. The animal closed his eyes in pleasure as Azula started to stroke him again, nuzzling deeper in the pillow.
"You're like my brother, you know?"
The animal opened its eyes again and observed Azula with curiosity.
"He also loved such stupid gestures, when we were young, no matter how bad I've treated him."
The animal purred again as an answer and closed its eyes. Azula kept stroking the lemur, until its breath became regular and deeper. Due to its jerking face and limbs it had start dreaming. Azula smiled thankfully at it and let her hand resting on the warm little animal only stroking its forehead with her thumb.
To her surprise, the lemur chirped in sleep, almost as an answer. It sounded like an approval. Her smile became mischievous and she nodded for herself.
She finally closed her eyes again, focusing on the warmth, the animal was sharing with her.
Yes, the lemur has a name now *g*
Chapter 4: First Steps
The sun hasn't rose, when Azula woke up. A little smile came to her lips, as she recognized Dum-Dum laying on his back, all limbs stretched out wide. The lemur was snoring, heavily. She was thankful, that the creature has stayed with her. She stood up carefully, to let the animal sleep on and walked to the closet. Only more robes were to be found in them. She looked at the one she was already wearing and decided to change them after her training. Firebenders rose with the sun and she wanted to keep this habit. And she wanted to get a feeling for this new bending. It wasn't her fire but she wanted to find out more about it. Maybe it would help her to understand, what has happened and how to turn things back. And it also seemed to be a better choice, than staying in this little room. She had barely her door open, as Dum-Dum flew up from her bed and landed on her shoulder. The animal released a muttering sound and watched a bit angry at her. Azula rolled her eyes.
"Really Dum-Dum? I wouldn't wanted to disturb your snoring."
Dum-Dum released an upset squeaker, but stayed at her shoulder.
Both wandered through the temple. Azula was thankful for the first signs of light, the dawn was already sharing with the mountains. She passed open arcades, trainings and meditation places and Zen-gardens. Only a few old monks were already up, meditating at some quite corners of the areal. They greeted Azula with surprise but also with a respectful kindness. The early appearance of a young monk seemed to be an unusual, but welcomed changing in their daily routine. Azula greeted back with shy and quick nods. She felt highly uncomfortable, that these monks seemed to know her, for obvious reasons, of cause. Her new appearance was still shocking for her. Everyone beside Aang was foreign for her, but all these people knew her, or at least the person, she seemed to be.
After a while, she found a nice place on a higher level of the temple. A nice overgrown plateau. It seemed to be a place, which wasn't gardened, like the others, she had passed before. Two large cherry trees were growing on it, full with cherries. The grass was high grown and filled with colorful flowers, which were closed, because the sun hasn't awoken them from the night. But their scent was laying promising in the air. Azula got carefully closer to one of the trees and picked up a few cherries for Dum-Dum and herself. It must be summer, otherwise the trees wouldn't have cherries on it, but here in the mountains the air was still chilly, when the sun wasn't up. But the fresh clean air, the scent of the wild flowers mixed with the flavor of the fire cherries and an hidden idea of snow from the peaks around the temple were a soothing for her somber mood, like the warm touch of Dum-Dum, yesterday. She handed the lemur one cherry and ate another for herself, while the animal flew to an branch and started to eat the cherry with audible satisfaction and delight.
And then finally the first ray of light climbed over the edge of the mountains. It started to float the plateau and the warm sun greeted Azula as ever. She felt the comforting warmth of it so familiar crawling along her skin. She sighed and got to a free space of the area and took a deep breath in, while the warm light was wrapping her with its comfort. Azula got into her basic stand for her morning kata. She leveled her breath, like she had learned it from Iroh and did her first punch. A good and strong blow of air pushed the grass and the flowers aside. The stalks bowed and swung under the pressure of the curling air. It wasn't the same without the heat of her blue fire but nevertheless a satisfied smirk came to Azula's lips. She wasn't sure, because she had never bent air before. Not with this level of focus on it. All she did yesterday was pure instinct, but this was her first real try. And it seems, that she was also a natural, when it comes to this new element. She focused even more on her breath and how this new element reacted to her tries to manipulate it.
Within time she was deep in her kata, finding herself surprised, how similar the air was reacting to her demands. It wasn't the same strength in it. Azula felt, that her lack of experience stopped her from an already perfect and forceful control of the air, but it was far more, than a promising start. During her kata she recognized, that she shouldn't try on to 'create' air with her hands and feet, like she was used to do it with fire. It was more like gathering the air and transferring the flow of her Chi to the air in front of her. But beside these problems the air already seemed to react much similar like her flame, she normally would bend. But she also felt, that the air denied her a full command. It seemed to her, that as more as she tried to get a full control on the element as more her accuracy and and power was lacking in her kicks and strikes.
"You put too much focus on your own Chi and less on the air around you."
Azula stopped in her kata and turned around in surprise. Gyatso as standing at one tree with a warm smile. Azula blushed and turned her head away. She was a bit angry, that he had disturbed her, but also curious. So she closed her eyes and focused. She felt a soft breeze blowing. She felt the wind curling the air, mostly with a constant strength, but sometimes little tugs were in this whispering wind and other times it felt down to a weak breath on her skin, only to move on stronger within the next moment.
"Try to match your breath with the breath of the wind, try to work with it, whenever you could, try to work against it only when you have no choice. Let it work for you, when it's possible. But most important..."
Azula opened her eyes and recognized, that the monk has come closer. He did a quick punch with his fist, much faster as Azula would have expected it. An impressive and massive blow of air found its way from his fist. Azula did a surprised gasp and Gyatso smiled mischievous at her for a second. But his patient smile was all, which remained, as he put his hands back in the sleeves of his robe.
"...accept that you couldn't control air completely. Find the perfect balance between control and let go."
Azula frowned at Gyatso's quote but the man placed his hand comforting on her shoulder.
"You said to Aang, you're a firebender?"
Azula nodded at the question. Tears started to come back to her, but she fought it successfully. Gyatso pulled her carefully in a hug. The genuine interest in her fate and his real worries about her well-being let her accept this gesture. She didn't know why, but he cared for her fate. She could feel it. And she had seen it in his eyes. He released her from his hug and nodded at her.
"Than I understand. Fire needs ultimate control, otherwise the bender might be consumed by the own fire. It must be hard and very unfamiliar to give up some of this control, but try it. You'll see, it helps."
He returned back to the tree and lifted himself easily up with a little jump and his bending and took seat on the branch beside Dum-Dum to smile at her. Azula sighed and took her basic stand again. Then she started her kata again, but she tried to take more care about the air around her.
And it worked. Her blows became stronger and more precise. A smile came to her lips while she continued her kata with much better results, than before.
"Good. Feel the air around you. Accept the nature of the element. Accept the changing of it. Let go some of your control and just let it flow."
Azula focused on Gyatso's guiding voice. Her movements became more relaxed, but still controlled. They became… balanced. The last punch of her kata created a mighty blow, nearly as powerful as Gyatso's before.
A happy and supporting laughter came out of the tree. The old monk did a jump, supported by his bending and landed beside Azula, who gave the old man a shy but thankful smile.
"You seems to be a natural. Like Arashi."
For a brief moment a flicker of sadness rushed over his face, but his warm smile was back nearly instantly. Azula also chewed her cheek. Of cause this changing was affecting the other monks. And especially Arashi's friends. But the monk simply squeezer her shoulders to comfort her and cheer her up.
"Air is an element, which is shared with everyone in the world. Not for one bender alone to control. Accept, that you cannot control it completely."
Azula raised an eyebrow and watched the man in disagree.
"Fire shares its warmth with everyone. It could also be found all around you." She pointed at the rising sun. "It brings you its light and life every day and so every other firebender."
Gyatso's eyes widened in total surprise. Also Azula took a surprised breath. She could almost her her uncle chuckling about her quote. She would never tell him, that she actually seemed to have listen to some of his stupid lessons. But in was the fitting argument against Gyatso. And due to the proud smile, which was growing on the monk's face, he seemed to agree this argument. The man bowed deep before Azula.
"Wise words, Ara… Azula."
His eyes got a vivid sparkle as he straighten up again.
"Aang could be happy to have found such a good teacher for firebending, like you."
Azula instantly bit her bottom lip. Her face felt visibly and Gyatso's got a sad look. The teenager blushed deep and turned nervous away from the monk.
"I see. You haven't crossed paths in peace and friendship."
Azula thought for a moment to start running. But the monk placed a hand on her right shoulder and took stand beside her. Tears were in the eyes of the man.
"Don't worry, this doesn't change my mind about helping you. You don't have to tell me anything about it."
Azula turned her face to him. Tears were also running down her cheek. She observed the sad face of the monk with surprise. Dum-Dum landed on her other shoulder and started to lick away some of her tears. Normally she had pushed the creature away, but in this moment she didn't care. She petted the lemur on her shoulder while she spoke to the monk.
"But don't you want to know more. What has happened…?"
The monk wiped away some tears and his smile returned.
"No Azula. All what's important for me is, what happens here and now. Whatever has happened between you and the Avatar, it belongs to another time and probably another place. As long as you're willing to accept this, I'm willing to accept it, too."
He hugged her again and this time she returned the hug thankfully.
"No one deserves to be separated from the own body, time and friends. No one. I'll do all I can to help you. To help you going back to yourself and to get along here as long as it takes to help you."
Azula nodded in his arms and stayed a while in the comforting hug of the old man. As he released her out of the embrace his warm and gently smile had returned to his lips. He bowed for a goodbye.
"Thank you, for the lesson about fire, Sifu Azula. I'll keep them in mind."
She returned the greeting and to her surprise she felt a flattering tickle going down her spine.
"Thanks for you help..." She hesitated a moment, but then she continued. "…, Sifu Gyatso."
The spark in the eyes of the monk warmed her again. The man nodded.
"You would be a good teacher for Aang. In this time and in yours."
Azula wasn't sure. How could this work. Beside being his enemy she was bound up like a package and thrown in a cell. She was about to disagree, when she spotted some smoke rising up in the distance. Dark clouds climbed up in the valley through the fog, which was still covering the world below. She frowned and looked back at Gyatso. The face of the monk had become serious. Azula stumbled a bit. Until now, she had never thought about it, but she suddenly realized. She looked worried at the old man.
Gyatso nodded at her with a worried face. She recognized three gliders starting from the temple. The monks instantly started to follow the smoke and were soon swallowed by the fog. Azula's face darkened in worries.
"It'll mean trouble?"
Gyatso released a sad sigh.
"Since Avatar Roku's death even more."
His face got clouded by his dark thoughts, as he finally left the plateau. And also Azula wasn't sure, if she should welcome the presence of the Firenation. She may be the Princess of the Fire Nation, but not now. And not as an airbender.
Chapter 5: Closing Some Distance
Aang was obviously bored, but every time, Azula lifted her head from the scrolls, he put up a gentle smile. But it also faded, when she got back to the drawings and writings about the techniques and philosophy of the airbending. It happened every time, when Aang was thinking, she wouldn't see it. And sometimes pain and sadness was mixed in, when his look rested on her.
Azula had washed herself and changed clothes for breakfast, after her training. Aang had come to her room to bring her some breakfast and it seemed, that the boy was really surprised, that she was already up and finished with a first training so early at the morning. He had tried to start some sort of conversation more than once, but Azula had ignored him. The fact, that she has talked more with Dum-Dum than with him, had done no good to his mood. But she didn't care. As less she would talk with him, as easier it would be for her to keep her promises, she had given Gyatso.
Now she was sitting in the great library of the temple. Her training tomorrow has been a promising start and she wanted to understand airbending better. She remembered her fights with the Avatar. The kind of person this teenager was, in her point of view. The culture of the airbenders was extinguished in her time with only old ruins left. Only few information were left to find out more about him, to predict his next moves, to understand his intentions. But here was a chance to close this gap. And like her training, it was far better, than sitting useless in her room. And she could need some distraction. Another thing to focus on, to keep herself save from her swinging moods.
She had ignored his bored groan, as she had asked for the library and somehow she had to admit, that it was an impressive sight, as Aang had led her in the high hall. The library of the temple was bigger, than every archive, she had seen in the Palace before. It was an magnificent tower, full of scrolls, paintings, sculptures and books. And so high. The shelves reached up to the ceiling, ridiculous high above their heads. Working places were not only to be found on the ground. Most of them were installed in great high, placed between the shelves on or in the walls. Places for reading hung down from the ceiling like giant chandeliers. Azula also had noticed, that the door on the ground wasn't the only entrance. Wide open windows were also used by the monks to fly with their gliders into the library. The bending was also necessary to reach the work places and shelves, because no stairway or ladder was there to get to higher places. So Azula had started with the scrolls she could reach from the ground and had taken place on a table in a corner of the library, also on the ground. It hasn't surprised her, that the works for the basics about the philosophy and bending were to be found down here. As better a monk was, as higher he or she could go to search for new knowledge.
A sudden blow of air messed up the scrolls on the table and made her look up annoyed.
Aang gave her a guilty smile of excuse and scratched embarrassed his head. Azula's eyes narrowed and Aang winced at her accusing look.
"I haven't asked you, to stay here with me. Leave or don't bother me, your choice."
His face felt at her harsh words and with a muttered sorry, he took one of the scrolls, Azula had already read and hid his head behind it. Some time passed quietly until a new bored groan made Azula finally lay down her own scroll.
Aang placed the script at the table and looked deadly bored at the texts.
"Everything. You don't need this, Arashi. You aren't an acolyte anymore."
Azula crossed her arms before her chest and tended her head aside. She was frowning angry at the Avatar and the boy slid a bit back from the table.
"Wrong, because thanks to you, I don't know anything, what Arashi had learned before."
Azula recognized with a little satisfaction, that her words had hit his guilt, where it would hurt him most. Deep grief was pushing his head down to his chest.
"I'm sorry, Arashi."
She couldn't see his eyes but she suddenly recognized tears rolling down his cheek. How pathetic. But her satisfied smirk, she had started to set up, faded, before it had a chance to come completely to her lips. An awkward feeling climbed up in her throat and she didn't knew why. It has been his fault, somehow. He has told her so, yesterday. But his deep sadness wasn't as satisfying in this time, as it would have been, when she would truly be herself. In her time. Dum-Dum, who had played with other lemurs in the library flew to the table and shared questioning looks between Azula and Aang. The boy didn't moved on his chair and kept weeping in silence. The furry ears of the lemur felt with a sad and long stretched chirping and he turned his head to Azula, to watch at her with big begging eyes.
A brief moment of pain and grief rushed over Azula's face. Her fate seemed to troubling him as much as it did herself. She looked at the scrolls on the table.
- Balance between control and let go. -
She hesitated, but finally she walked beside Aang. The young airbender didn't looked up, but she was sure, he had recognized her. She took three deep breaths and sighed.
"Then help me."
Aang looked up with questioning surprise, his red eyes still filled with some tears. Azula rolled annoyed with her eyes.
"With the bending, the knowledge..." she took a sad breath and her voice felt lower and darker as her head sunk to her chest. "...with myself. Help me to understand Arashi."
Aang's questioning look was slowly replaced by a beaming smile for Azula. She was almost reminded of TyLee, when she had invited her for their first sleepover in the Palace with Mai. She had never seen such a happy, warm and shining smile, like TyLee's until now. It stung to get reminded of better times, but it comforted her at the same time. Aang jumped up and pulled her into a squeezing hug, which only refreshed Azula's memories for her former friend. But she let him do so for some moments, until she pushed him away a bit. The young bender smiled at her and put up one of the scrolls.
"Okay Arashi, what do you want to know?"
But Azula shook her head, which brought a confused look back to Aang's face.
"I have already read all of these and I think I have also understood them. But theory is nothing without practice. And I'll need help to close the gap between. So train me."
She caught herself, that she had to bite her bottom lip to suppress a laughter. She had been absolutely sure, that a wider smile, than Aang has given here before wouldn't be possible, but the boy in front of her proved her wrong. He jumped up high in the sky, supported by his bending with a joyful scream on his lips. The blow of air cleaned the table from all scrolls and also blew Dum-Dum away with a desperate muttered sound. The teenager landed beside her with an embarrassed smile and faced Azula's slightly annoyed look.
"Sorry. Don't worry, I take the scrolls and bring them back. And then we'll train together. You'll see, this would be fun as ever. I'll be back soon, Arashi."
Azula sighed and crossed her arms again, as Aang began to pick up the scrolls, his jump had blown throughout the library. Dum-Dum came back to her and took place on her shoulder and she started to pet the lemur, who nuzzled his head against hers. He purred to her and Azula could swear it sounded like an approval.
"I only do this to find a way out of here and to find out more about him. When I'll be back, I must have a plan to defeat him."
Dum-Dum stopped purring and observed her pensively. But then he just started to lick her cheek, which made Azula giggle. She gently pushed away his head and the creature quoted her action with an almost teasing chirp.
"You'll see Dum-Dum. Father will be proud of me in the end."
But her face felt at her words, like her mood dropped at the same time.
"Who else should be proud of me..."
She took her hand down and Dum-Dum snuggled himself against her head and cooed in a sad but soothing way in her ear. She felt the tears coming back to her eyes and she pressed the little creature close to her. Suddenly the lemur tugged at her head and she turned to him to face his look. Dum-Dum waited a moment and then he carefully licked Azula over her nose one time, only to face her with a determined look. A teary smile came to Azula's lips and she rubbed gently over the head of the animal.
"It's not the same, Dum-Dum."
But she pressed his head against her forehead.
"But thank you."
Dum-Dum chirped satisfied at her and turned his head to Aang, who was still busy fetching the scrolls, he had blown through the hall. An annoyed mutter came from the lemur and this time Azula had to laugh out loud. Aang stopped in his work and looked to her. The whole teenager seem to glow in happiness as he recognized the warm laughter, Azula was laughing. She smiled mischievous back at him.
"Aang! The scrolls! Remember?"
He laughed warm and continued his work, quoted by another annoyed sound from Dum-Dum. Azula started to fondle his head again with a little sigh, but also a slight smirk.
"I know. I also don't know, if this will be a good idea."
Chapter 6: Feeling the Air
Azula quoted the compliment with a satisfied smirk. They were on the plateau again, where she had done her kata in the morning and Aang was sitting on the same branch, like Gyatso before and observed Azula's training. She was repeating the basic elements of airbending over and over again and it became clearer for her with every new element she added in her training, that breath was the key for airbending as well. The first step to control the air around you was to control your own breath. And, like Gyatso had told her, it was important to feel the air around you. Azula recognized the curling movement of the air, when she shifted positions. Even the slightest movement was able to disturb at least a tiny part of air around her. During her training she also recognized, that she could still sense the route of an object in the air for a while, when it has passed by. Like waves in a pond, caused by a turtle-duck, she could sense the winding and curling air spreading out from its source. Right now she was directing a stream of air around the plateau. She let it flow over the grass and the flowers, around the cherry trees and through the crowns of the trees, separating the stream sometimes and let it flow back together. But she wasn't satisfied at all. She turned to Aang, who has started to eat some of the cherries.
"Would my teacher just stop filling his stomach and helping me with this figure, please."
A little mocking sarcasm was in her voice and Aang gave her an innocent smile, as he jumped down and walked over to her.
"Of cause, but why do you need my help? You got this figure really well, in my opinion."
Azula rolled her eyes and stopped bending the air in order to cross her arms before her chest.
"Because well isn't perfect. And if I'm forced to learn this stuff, I want to learn it right."
Aang wasn't offended to her surprise. In fact a beaming smile came to his lips and he wrapped his arms around her, even before she had a chance to escape his try. Azula stared baffled at him, but the young monk didn't recognized it. He got in the basic stand and started to direct a stream of air around himself.
"See Arashi, I'm doing just the same, as you did. The same stand, the same breath. You did it perfect."
Azula blinked twice, before she shook her head a bit to get focused on the stream of air, Aang had started to guide around them. She closed her eyes in order to focus more on the air. She could feel, that his stream was more in a vital flow. The air felt less disturbed, but at the same time the stream was more powerful. She felt his movements in the air around him and she recognized the fluid motions, controlled and with proper focus, but with way less tension, like hers. She sighed a bit and opened her eyes again.
"No, you do it better, so I wasn't perfect."
Aang frowned a bit and tended his head aside, but his smile came back to his lips.
"Maybe, but only a little bit. Come on, let's try it together. I bet we can figure out, what you could change to do it perfect." His smile grew even wider "As ever."
Azula jerked a bit at this quote and she was sure, that Aang had noticed it, cause a brief flicker of sadness came to his eyes, but his offering smile stayed on his face. So Azula took stand beside him and the young monk directed the air to her and she took over the blowing stream and gave it a new direction. They quietly bent the air together for a while, focusing on the technique of the other. Azula tried to mimic Aang's movements. She tried with more focus, with less tension, but she simply couldn't match the level of power and air-control of the Avatar. Finally she left her stand with a frustrated groan.
"Hey, don't give up. You got better, haven't you recognized it?"
Aang placed a soothing hand on her shoulder, but she pushed it away and took some steps to the edge of the plateau.
"But not as much as I hoped. What have you done different?"
Aang came beside her and shrugged shoulders.
"I don't know. To be honest I have never really thought about my bending. I'm just doing it."
Azula snorted annoyed.
"I bet you have never studied the scrolls in the library."
The young monk blushed to her frustration and nodded.
"This was always your part."
He looked at her with a sad smile. Azula suddenly felt uncomfortable. It seemed, that Aang and Arashi have often trained together. Her face went dark and she slowly walked back to the cherry trees.
"Sorry. I didn't wanted to.."
Azula raised her hand to make him stop talking. Aang had followed her to the trees and was now standing a few steps behind her with a worried face.
"You have hugged me, as I insisted it wasn't perfect. Why?"
The boy started to scratch the back of his head.
"Because it was a small part of you coming back, Arashi."
Azula's eyes widened in surprise as she turned around. Aang gave her a shy smile.
"'Well isn't perfect.' I don't know, how many times you have said that to me, when we have trained together. You love to be perfect, when it comes to airbending. Nothing but perfection was good enough for you, as long as I know you. I was so happy to see you coming back."
Azula saw the wet glitter in the warm eyes of the young monk. His quote hit a nerve in her somewhere. Perfection. She stared down at her hands, Arashi's hands. She always wanted perfection. It was the only way to get affection or at least attention. But it seemed, that she had never reached perfection. Not in her fathers eyes. Not in her own. She felt the tears coming back to her and this time she failed fighting it. Like she had failed in so many things. She broke down, crying and barely recognized Aang taking her in his arms and stroking her head with clumsy moves. It took minutes of desperate weeping until her tears ran dry. An awkward feeling was all, that remained. She turned her head away from Aang and stared to the ground.
"Sometimes even perfection isn't good enough. It was all about perfection in my life and now look where I am. Who I am. I'm not myself anymore..."
Aang pulled her closer in his comforting hug. He hold her as tight as he could for a while, before he lifted her head up, by placing his hand on her chin to watch her in her eyes.
"You're my friend, Arashi. And you're perfect, just the way you are. Nothing else counts for me and no one could take this perfection from you."
His voice was trembling heavy, while he spoke these words and his own tears were rolling down his cheeks. He cared for Arashi, not for her, but right in this moment, she allowed herself to use this illusion. She gave him a thankful smile and pulled him back in this soothing embrace. Suddenly Aang jumped up, like he was stung from a bee.
"That's it! Perfection!"
Azula frowned deep and watched the young monk running up one tree, supported by his airbending. After some seconds he returned with a big pile of cherries, he had placed in his robe before his belly. Before Azula had a chance to ask anything, he grabbed her with one hand and pulled her with him along the way back to the temple, while he was holding up a part of his robe in front of his belly for the cherries.
Both ended upon a rooftop in the middle of the temple. They had a good view on almost every place and garden in the area. Aang took seat with a beaming smile and turned to a confused Azula.
"Pit-spitting! You're the unbeaten master in spitting cherry pits!"
Aang was already eating a cherry, before Azula had a chance to give some of her questions a second try. He let his eyes wander around the area and finally grinned.
"A simple one for the start. Pit in the pond down in the garden on the left."
Azula's look followed Aang's pointing finger to a pond in far distance. From up here it seemed to have the size of a watermelon. The airbender took a deep breath and spitted the pit towards the pond, supported by his breath. The small projectile flew with high speed towards the target and hit visibly the pond, like announced. The monk offered her a cherry with a victorious smile.
Azula took a careful look at the cherry, but then she ate it and focused on the target. She also took a deep breath and spitted the pit out, supported by her bending. The small thing flew perfect straight into the pond, causing an even higher splash of water.
"I see. All to easy. Now it's your turn to name a target."
Azula smirked at Aang, who had put up a mischievous smile on his lips. She let her eyes wander and nodded for herself.
"Alright, still easy steps. Same pond, but it should bounce off something before."
An excited glow came to Aang's eyes.
"Okay, but this isn't an easy step, you'll see."
Azula's smile grew and she started to ate the cherry. She decided to take a tower of the temple for the rebound and spitted the pit in the correct angle in the direction. She took care, that a thin layer of air was bent around the pit, otherwise the small projectile wouldn't survive the crash with the tower. Aang clapped his hands in joy, as the pit bounced off the tower and took its way into the pond. A smug smile from Azula was the reward.
"I know, that pits wouldn't survive such a speed."
Aang started to laugh his warm laughter and placed a hand on Azula's shoulder. It was a kind of sound, Azula couldn't resist to join in. Her look rested with a smile on her lips on the young bender as Aang repeated her shot.
Both stayed on the tower for over an hour, spitting the pits on several targets and some poor victims. They pushed themselves to even more complicated and smaller targets, using their bending for curves, stops, loops and many other difficult directions for the pits. It was fun. No tension, just fun. Fun time full of laughter and mischievous teasing. They observed the temple for a while, as the last cherry was eaten. Dum-Dum had joined them during the spitting and had sometimes tried to catch some of the spitted pits, but now he was resting in Azula's lap and enjoyed to get stroke form her. She felt Aang's look on her and as she turned to him, she saw his warm smile.
"See, your bending was much better."
She stopped stroking Dum-Dum and lifted an eyebrow.
"Less thinking, more feeling. You have payed more attention on what you want to do and not how you want it to be done."
Azula frowned in confusion about his quote, but Aang made three little balls of air in his had and let them dance on his palm.
"You won't find any scroll about pit-spitting in this whole library, Arashi. The only way to do it, is to feel it. You must feel the air and the surrounding and then you simply bend. The scrolls are more an inspiration and less a strict instruction for me."
He looked up to her and she recognized a wet glitter in the corner of his eye.
"Airbending is not only about pure techniques, its about feelings. You must feel the air and your feelings can influence your bending. They change every second in intensity and in direction. Like the wind, like the air."
Azula started to rub at her chin.
"And both air and feelings were affected by the slightest changing. But they also can cause changes."
Aang gave her a warm smile.
"That was the lesson you gave me, when I was training with you, years ago. It was the lesson, which helped me to understand, that both parts are needed, the technique and the feeling. And it seems, that this lesson works in both directions."
Azula felt quiet and thought about her firebending lessons. How her training had only put one feeling in focus to feed her fire. And how this feeling must have stayed under strict control and under strict order. Aribendening allowed all feelings to feed their energy. She turned her palm around and watched it. Of cause feelings had to be in some control, but they were allowed to shift, to raise and to fall. The trick was to work with the feelings, whenever it was possible, to shift between them in order to support the bending like a crane switched between upstreams to glide in the wind, to accept them and their changes. She took a breath and suddenly three little balls of air approached on her palm and started to dance at her will. Aang's eyes widened in pleasant surprise.
"I understand, why I have problems to reach perfection."
She hesitated and the balls started to shiver for a brief moment, but Aang laid a hand on her shoulder and smiled warm at her. She returned the smile for a second and the bending was back in control. But then she closed her hand to a fist and turned away from him.
"I don't know, if I'll ever reach this point of acceptance. If I'll ever be perfect. Or if I'll ever be myself again."
She felt Aang's hands on her shoulders and the boy turned her around to watch her in her gray eyes.
"But you're trying. And I like the person you are. You may think, you're not be yourself right now, but you're wonderful. The person, who sits here beside me right now is wonderful."
Azula knew, that this was a mistake. But right now she didn't care. She pulled Aang close to her and gave him a thankful hug. It was a kind of comfort, she wasn't used to have, but it was just wonderful to have. Even if it wasn't addressed to her. But the last one was addressed to her. Tears started to run down her cheeks again and it felt, like some of the weight was floating away with them.
Chapter 7: Lonely
The parts in italics are a dream sequence.
Azula couldn't slept well this night, because her thoughts had kept her busy. Dum-Dum's presence helped a bit, but it couldn't ease her loneliness in her room, completely. She didn't belong here. In her time, she had at least persons, she knew. These persons hated her, had laughed at her, had spitted at her pride, but at least in was some sort of known company. But here, everything was foreign.
Everything beside Aang.
This idea had followed her in her dreams.
She saw the accusing face of her father, showing his disappointment about her weak moment. She begged for mercy and understanding, tried to explain, that it was only a scheme to get informations, to help him throwing the Avatar into the dust, but her arguments had only found deaf ears. She promised, that she was strong, that she would ever be strong for him, but he simply called her a failure. He cursed himself, that he had chosen the weaker sibling for his plans.
Azula was suddenly in the pit with her father. An Agni Kai to prove him her strength, she had claimed for herself during her begging. But she wasn't strong. She was unable to move, as her father started to walk slowly towards her, with a face, cold as stone.
Her uncle and Lu Ten appeared from nowhere, blocking his way, but he blasted them aside, easily, without stopping. Mai and TyLee materialized beside from Ozai, trying to stop him, but he stroke them down with two simple blasts. He was only two steps away form her, when Zuko and Ursa popped up from nowhere, to protect her. Both charged Ozai, demanding from him to stop hurting her. It was a short fight, but finally both hit the dust like the others before. She fell on the ground, shivering in terror as her father reached her. She faced his stone cold look with panic as he raised his fist.
"Seems I have to teach you the same lessons, your brother had to learn, too. You deserve it!"
She saw the flames bursting out of his fist as he stared to punch towards her face. She screamed.
She jumped up with a loud scream in her bed and hit her head. She had bended the air in panic, while waking up from this nightmare and this had pushed her body so high, that she hit the ceiling. She barely recognized Dum-Dum's shocked shriek as she fell back on her bed. It took Azula a moment, to level her breath again. Her hands were shaking badly and she felt tears running down her cheeks. A silent knock at the door, riped her out of her agony.
"Arashi? Everything okay?"
It was Gyatso's worried voice from outside. Azula stayed quite and pulled her legs close to her chest, wrapping her arms around her knees. The silent was laying heavy between her and Gyatso outside. To heavy for the old monk.
"I'll come in, if you don't mind." He paused a moment. "And silence will count as an approval for me."
Azula felt Dum-Dum snuggling at her side. She placed a hand on his head and recognized a sad chirping from him.
It was the way how Gyatso found both as he opened the door. A sad sigh escaped his mouth and he entered the room, carefully. Her breath was still pressed and she was shaking a little, while she fondled Dum-Dum's head. He closed the distance between them and took place beside her on her bed. He hesitated a moment, but finally he placed his right hand on her left shoulder and squeezed it a bit. The monk recognized, that Azula had taken a short deep breath, as his hand touched her shoulder, but she hadn't pulled back, so he let it resting at place.
Azula had no clue, how long Gyatso had stayed with her, but Dum-Dum has already fallen asleep again as she finally turned to him. The warm smile of the man welcomed her look.
"Do you think, you'll find some sleep again, tonight?"
Azula closed her eyes and the terror from the nightmare rushed over her face again. She shook her head a bit and opened them again. Gyatso only nodded with understanding and stood up.
"Do you want to help me with another problem I have? Maybe it'll help you, too."
She turned back and pressed her mouth against her knees for a moment. Everything seemed to be better, than being alone in her room, with nothing to do, so she unwrapped her legs and stood up as well. Dum-Dum woke up again and yawned heavy, sharing a questioning look with Azula and the old monk.
"Don't worry, little friend. She'll have company."
Gyatso chuckled a bit as the lemur started to roll himself together on Azula's pillow, at his words. She hesitated a moment, but then she took her quilt and covered the little creature carefully. A thankful chirp was the reward for her action. She felt the comforting hand on her shoulder again and the smile of the monk managed to let her own lips curve up a moment. He offered her the lead with his hand.
Azula started to frown as she recognized the direction, Gyatso had chosen. They were on the way to the stables, if she was recalling her new gained knowledge, correctly. The monk seemed to notice her confusion, but stayed quite, until they had reached the stables. Azula could already smell the odor of hay, dung and animals, and it intensified as they passed the sleeping bison. She was relieved a bit, that no gate was preventing the air to take away some of these heavy scents. But her mood felt as she recognized, that the old monk was heading towards a separated part of the stables, which had a closed gate. Both halted in front of it.
"A friend of mine is behind these gates. She doesn't feel good since two days. She hasn't slept well and she has refused to eat. I'm deeply worried about her and if you could take a look at her, than I would have more time to find out, how I could bring you back."
Azula felt her color fading from her face. She had read the scrolls about the flying bison and the connection between airbender and bison. She got a clue, what she would find behind this gate. The idea of cleaning up big piles of bison dung and washing and brushing such a beast send a disgusting shiver down her spine. She took a step back from the gate, shaking her head.
"Sorry, but I fear I cannot do that. I was used to be a princess, not a stable boy."
Gyatso's face felt a bit, but he nodded.
"I understand. You don't have to do that, if you don't want to."
A big sigh of relief escaped Azula, but her face changed, as she saw the sad eyes of the monk.
"I hope I can convince Nari to eat something. She was always a little stubborn. And your… Arashi's absence has done no good to her."
Azula bit her bottom lip. She had read about the deep band between bender and bison. It was a connection, which was working in both directions. And she had no clue, how long she had to stay here.
"I guess it would help to keep my secret before Aang and the others, if I would try to help Arashi's bison?"
A sparkle came to Gyatso's eye.
"It would be a nice side effect. But first off all, I want to help Nari." He placed his hand on her shoulder again. "Like I want to help you."
He opened the gate with a controlled stream of air and both entered the dark stable, after Gyatso had fetched a lamp from outside to get some light.
"Hello Nari. I have brought someone with me."
Azula heard a deep rolling groan from a corner of the stable. Gyatso walked towards the sound and so the view of the giant bison appeared in the light of the lamp. Azula stayed away in distance.
"You still haven't eaten a bit, Nari. But you must eat. At least a little."
He placed his hand on her big head, but the bison watched him with tired eyes. Azula noticed, that the trough of the bison was still filled with hay, salad, fresh grass and apples.
"Look who has come with me."
He waved his hand to signal Azula to come closer. She had to focus on herself a bit to follow this gesture, but finally she did as he wished. Nari's nose started to jerk and Azula heard the bison sniffing. The creature was suddenly on its feet as it was stoke by a lightning and Gyatso managed barely to jump out of the way, as the beast run towards Azula. The teenager was about to bring her hands up to shield herself, when the bison stopped in motion. The look of the animal changed into a suspicious one and the sniffing intensified.
And suddenly Nari roared in anger and frustration, gritting teeth. Azula jumped back in shock and also Gyatso was stunned for a moment, but he placed himself quickly between Azula and the mad bison.
"Hey, Nari! Watch your temper!"
The bison growled threatening to Azula and started to walk back to her corner. The sad eyes of the old monk followed the creature to her former place.
"I had hoped your presence would convince her to eat. But she must somehow have felt, that you aren't Arashi."
He sighed heavy.
"She's alone again."
He was about to leave the room and had placed a hand on Azula's back to take her out, when she freed herself form his grip.
Gyatso's face was surprised, but he turned back to Azula.
"Nari was abandoned by her mother after birth, because she was a weak calf and hadn't managed to stand up on her own. You… I mean Arashi had seen this on the day she was brought to the young bison to get found by her own, but she decided different. Instead of being found by one she had chosen to interfere."
Azula's eyes widened in surprise and she looked at the giant bison in the corner, while Gyatso continued his story.
"She had left the group of acolytes and had taken the weak calf. Nari refused to drink, but Arashi was more stubborn than everyone. And in the end, she won. She raised her and became her new family. She introduced her to the herd and has accepted the punishment for her actions in order to help her."
Azula watched at the old monk with a lack of understanding.
"Punishment? For what?"
Gyatso smiled warm at her.
"We respect nature and the wild animals. Airbenders have a strong connection with nature and the bison are here by free will. We care for them, but when it comes to life and death we also accept and respect the limits, nature is showing us. Accepting life means also accepting death. It is forbidden for us to interfere in the circle of life. Arashi had broken this rule, but she was aware of the consequences. It hadn't stopped her. She has a heart for lost ones."
Azula's mouth stood wide open. She shared looks between the monk and the bison. She didn't knew why, but she also felt an anger rising up inside of her. Her eyes narrowed, as she took a step closer to Gyatso.
"You are interfering, by giving them food, shelter and becoming companions of them. And you interfering now, by trying to help her. Arashi has only done, what you are doing every day. Interfering. And so do I."
The old monk had taken a shocked gasp at Azula's words. He watched her walking fast towards the trough, where she picked up an apple. Azula turned to the bison and walked over to her with a determent look. Nari started to growl again, even more threatening, but the beast stopped instantly as Azula snapped harsh at her.
"Do you think, I want to be stuck in her body? Do you think, you're the only one, who is lonely right now? I am lonely. I have been lonely for my whole life."
Tears started to come to Azula's eyes.
"You had the luck to be found by her as your mother abandoned you! You had received affection! All I got was attention. All I got was attention..."
She didn't knew, where this idea had been hidden, but it hit her hard and she stumbled back a bit, before she focused again on the bison.
"But I haven't surrendered! I'll never surrender! I bet Arashi wouldn't also! So don't be a stubborn brat and eat you damn food and help Gyasto bringing her back by bringing me back! You owe her that!"
She was panting heavily, while her tears run down her cheeks. She threw the apple at the head of the bison, which jerked back in surprise.
"At least you can say you have someone, you do owe such a favor."
She stared in broken anger at the bison for a moment, before she turned around on spot to walk back to Gyatso, but she stopped halfway. She recognized the sound of Nari, lifting herself on her feet and the surprised look on Gyatso's face. A licking sound and a little smacking told her, that the bison must have taken the apple, Azula had thrown against the giant head. She turned back and found the head of the bison close to her. Nari lowered her head with a little grunt and nudged her head carefully against Azula. She stared in total disbelieve at the animal for a moment, before she finally dared to place her hand on the giant forehead. Her face softened and a little smirk came to her lips.
"Gotcha. No one handles such things, without being a fighter. Wise choice, Nari, Wise choice."
She started to stroke the fur on Nari's head.
"And I'll keep an eye on you, so you don't get a chance to worry him again."
She pointed on Gyatso, who had found his warm smile again.
"I want to get home, soon and you want her back, soon. Can we count on you?"
Nari groaned her approval, which made Azula nod at her.
"Alright deal. I'll look at you tomorrow, with Aang." She took a look around in the stable and noticed the scent of it very clearly with a sigh. "It seems, that I have to move some dung to get what I want. At least he could help me with that."
Gyatso started to chuckle at this quote and Azula was about to leave, when she had to release an disgusted scream. The chuckle of the old man died for a moment, only to be replaced by an loud laughter. Nari had also said goodnight to Azula, with a long and gentle lick of her tongue, leaving the disgusted teenager covered spittle. From head to toe.
Chapter 8: Flying
As the last time, the parts in italics are a dream sequence.
Two weeks passed by faster than Azula had expected it. The nights were still bad, filled with nightmares and a gnawing feeling of loneliness, but the days were better. The days kept her busy and distracted, keeping her mind from wandering too much. She had her daily routine and she had to admit, that this routine was helping her. She was up with the sun for her morning kata, since three days together with Aang. The young bender had spend the first two mornings with observing her with great astonishment, because Azula practiced her firebending moves, which had caught the boy’s interest. At the third day he has finally stepped in at her side and both had completed the kata together. After her training both took care for their bison, Appa and Nari. It wasn’t her favorite work, but she started to get used to by the end of the week and to her surprise it seemed, that Nari started to enjoy her visits, especially when Azula brushed her fur on her stomach with a big brush.
With the bison feed, brushed and the stables cleaned out, Azula took a clean up for herself and changed robes for breakfast with Aang and Gyatso. The old monk had kept word and had managed to keep her out of all duties to help her keeping her secret. The official version was, that Arashi has lost her memories and that she would need time and help to get everything back. It was a strange feeling for Azula to recognize all the worries about her fate. She saw the honest smiles for her, she heard the honest words of comfort and support from every monk, from every acolyte, she met and she felt the comforting touches from them, when some of the old monks placed a hand on her shoulder from time to time, when the younger ones pressed their foreheads against Azula’s, when they had given her some supportive words or when some of the little acolytes crushed into her to hug her and to ask her, when she would be fine again to play with them, again. All this left her with an awkward feeling in her chest, but at the same time, she caught herself, that she started to get used to this. She caught herself once, when she was in the library after breakfast with Aang, that she had given back a thankful squeeze to the hand on her shoulder for an old monk, one day. She recognized another day, that she has suddenly pulled the forehead of a nun against hers as an answer for some kind words of support during her training with Aang after lunch. She stared in disbelief at a smiling Gyatso, as she realized, that she had already promised an beaming acolyte, that she would think about playing airball with them next week.
As more time she spent in this foreign body and time as more she realized, that this place was completely different from the picture, she had learned to see. But she wasn’t sure, if she should welcome this changing or not. Something was slipping off from her, for sure and she started to fear, secretly, that she might slip off as well, completely. The others were worried about Arashi, not about Azula, beside Gyatso, maybe. It was a lie, she was living here, an illusion, nothing more. She was Azula, Princess of the Fire Nation. She shouldn’t start to get attached to them too much. None of them would be there anymore, when she would be back in her body. They would be all gone…
Aang’s worried voice ripped her out of her thoughts. The sun was about to rise and Aang came up to the plateau with two gliders. Azula turned to him and his face got clouded with more worries. He leaned the rods against one cherry tree and walked over to her.
“Are you okay, Arashi? You seem to be sad.”
She felt his hand on her shoulder and she recognized, that she was squeezing it thankfully. It made her jerk and she pushed it off her shoulder a little harsher, that she had planned. She had to bite her bottom lip as she faced his shocked look. Azula forced herself to a little smile.
“I’m fine, Aang. Just sad, that I’m still not myself, again.”
The young bender nodded at her with a sad face. His voice fell lower.
“You must feel so lonely, Arashi. Without your memory, we are all people, you don’t know.”
His words let her stomach cramp. He had hit a nerve, without knowing the true circumstances. She turned away from him, staring at the mountains, sharpened by the rising sun behind the peaks.
“But you’re not alone. We are all there for you. We’ll help to make it right again.”
She felt her tears coming to her eyes, but she fought it, successfully. She knew, he had no idea, but she cursed him for it, silently.
“You have no idea, Aang. Absolutely no idea. And you should pray to the spirits, that you’ll never have to feel so lost and alone, like I’m feeling right now.”
Her words left a bitter taste in her mouth as soon as they had slipped out of it. The irony slapped her hard. She bet the Avatar of her time would knew it now. Her Nation had showed him. Aang came to her side and focused his look on the mountains as well. He had picked up the gliders again and he closed his eyes and took a deep breath in, before he opened them again, observing the great panorama with a warm smile.
“I am alone, Arashi. I have almost killed you with my carelessness. I’m alone with my guilt. All I can do is to help you felling like home again.”
He handed her the glider and Azula shared surprised looks with Aang and the glider. Aang pulled her forehead against his.
“The fact, that I’m the only one, you can remember is the only thing, which helps me to carry this burden.”
She stared with open mouth at him, but the boy had closed his eyes and some tears started to glitter in the corner of his eyes.
“You have forgotten our past, but you haven’t forgotten me, so I’m not completely alone. I still have you in my loneliness and so you have me.”
Azula wanted to push him back again and she started to shake her head, but Aang remained his grip at her neck and kept on pressing his forehead against his.
“I have been and I always will be your friend. Nothing could change this fact, so better get used to it.”
He released her from his grip and Azula shambled back, staring in disbelief at Aang. The monk took a deep breath again and his warm smile returned to his face.
“As you see, I have brought our new gliders to the training, I though we could do something different this morning.”
Aang knocked the rod on the ground and the wings of the glider jumped out of both sides of it.
“What do think of a flying lesson instead of a kata?”
Azula’s face went pale a bit. Aang’s words were still ringing in her head and the idea of flying didn’t seem to be a good one in this situation. One mistake in bending the air and she wouldn’t need to worry about anything anymore. The young bender seemed to have guessed her worries.
“Don’t be afraid. You have made enough progress during the last week. You’ve found the balance between technique and feeling. You’re ready for this.”
An impish smirk came to his lips.
“And by the way, you need more focus on technique and airflow, when you’re flying with a glider, than at other bending. Just keep in mind, the air above the wings has to flow faster, than the air under the wing.”
He started to run with his glider to the edge of the plateau and jumped down with a joyful scream. Azula knew, that he could fly well, she had seen him doing it more than once, but every second, which passed without him showing up again, let her worries grew. She got nearer to the edge and was about to look down, when he came racing up the rocky walls with a giggle and a teasing smile.
“Come ooon!!! You’ll see, nothing could clear your mind better, than flying!”
Azula felt her ambitions getting tickled. The mocking curves, Aang were flying above the plateau reminded her of Dum-Dum, as he had stolen the bowl. She walked back to the middle of the plateau and opened her glider as well. She got a hold under each wing and started to run towards the edge, felling her heartbeat increasing with every step she got closer to the edge. She pushed her worries aside and focused on the air around her and started to control the flow of it… and suddenly her feet left the ground. She looked down and she recognized the ground under her feet getting smaller. She was flying. A beaming smile grew on her lips as she was hanging under her glider. Aang approached at her side.
“See, you can do it. Now place your feet at the end of your gilder, it’s more comfortable. But be careful, it isn’t easy at the first try. You have to keep the glider stable, when you doing it, otherwise you cannot lift up yourself. I can help, if...”
Aang’s eyes widened for a moment in surprise, but then a beaming smile approached on his lips, quoted by a smug one from Azula. She had perfectly placed her feet on the glider without any problems and has started to fly curves and experimenting with hight and speed. Aang followed her and before any of them had realized, how this had started, both had began tho chase each other around the temple.
Azula’s mind was free. She felt free. Free for the first time. Like the weight, which had hold her down was gone. The only question in her mind was the one, why she hasn’t tried to fly earlier. She was racing with Aang in wild circles, spirals and loops in the sky, slowing down, suddenly, by ripping back the glider, only to pick up speed again by nosediving to the ground. With every minute in the sky she got more comfortable and more confident. Soon both had started a contest again to dive close along the rocks of the mountains or around the towers of the temple. They did nosediving contests and chicken run game, where Aang and Azula were flying towards each other and the one, who dared to rip the glider up to avoid a crash would loose. She won a few more times than him, but often they had to call it a draw. Aang seemed to love those actions. The joyful screams and laughters of both filled the morning sky and more than once they earned an upset look of some of the older monks, who had the bad luck to get involved unquestioned in their chasing games. Azula had no clue, how long they had done this, when they finally were gliding around the temple high in the sky. Dum-Dum had joined them and was flying beside Azula. She closed her eyes for a moment. She could stay up here forever. She turned to Aang and smiled at him.
“Thank you, this has been a good idea.”
He smiled back and was about to answer, as Azula recognized a group of five monks on the path up to the temple. They weren’t using their gliders and this fact caught her interest. She pushed down her glider, followed by Aang. Her worries started to grow as closer they came to the monks and the worries changed into a shock as she recognized, that all of them were injured. She landed beside them.
“Satora, what happened?”
Aang’s voice was shocked and scared. He came closer to the leading nun, who was pressing her right arm against her chest in pain. Her legs were also burned, but compared to the others, she seemed to be in better shape than the rest of them. All the others had also burnings on arms, faces chest or legs. Two of them had to aid one monk walking.
“Can’t you see it? Don’t stare like a hippo cow, move and get some help, now!”
Azula didn’t knew, why, but the sight of the burned monks let her anger bubbling up inside of her. While Aang got up into the sky again, she got a grip around Satora’s waist and aided the nun walking. She recognized the thankful looks form her and the other monks as they shambled on the way to the temple.
She had no clue, why she had done this, but she was here in the hospital again. Not as a patient, but as a healer. It seemed, that the monks knew a lot about herbs and healing, but when it came to burnings, Azula knew better. She had taken the lead, right from the moment as Aang was back with more helping hands. She had send away monks with concrete instructions for preparations to clean the wounds from dirt and burned fabric, for the correct mixtures of ingredients for painkillers and ointments for the dressings and how to prepare the dressings, before they could be used for the burnings. She had watched and listen carefully, as Zuko got burned from Ozai and she hadn’t forget this knowledge. Gyatso had waited with the healers at the hospital, but they had left Azula the field, only following her instructions, while she has taken care of the most serious wound for herself. She had shared words of courage with them, as she had cleaned the wounds, she had given a soothing touch, from time to time, while she had treated and covered the wounds and she had checked every wound and every dressing, before it got treated or used. Now she was wrapping the last dressing around the burned arm of Satora, when she suddenly felt the hand of the nun resting on her right arm. She looked up and found the woman thankful smiling at her. This smile made finally tighten her throat. Satora took her head and pressed her forehead thankful at Azula’s.
“Thanks Arashi. The Spirits must have send you this knowledge, no doubt.”
Azula swallowed heavy and she felt her tears rolling down her cheeks, but she continued with her work. Satora turned to Gyatso and her look got worried and angry.
“The actions of the Fire Nation are getting more and more rude and cruel. The troops starts to require all the food and forage from the villages. They said, they need it to maintain there presence against the bandits here in the mountains, but they leave the people here nothing for themselves. We tried to mediate, but we got accused and attacked, that we would try to offend the Fire Nation. We barely left alive.”
Azula started to work faster and she recognized, that she was working her jaw. Gyatso had started to stroke his beard, as he recognized the fire in Satora’s eyes.
“We cannot go on like this, Gyatso. Sozin puts up the pressure on us. We have to do something. We cannot stand aside and let these actions happen every day. He won’t listen to our wisdom, anymore. Not without the Avatar, who keeps an eye on the balance.”
Azula was finished with the arm and checked the dressing a last time. She earned another warm and thankful smile from Satora, before the nun turned back to Gyatso. Azula walked over to a bowl with water and soap and started to clean her hands. She did her best to keep focused on them and to ignore the discussion, but with little luck.
“We have detached us from the world and politics to find peace and balance, Satora. We cannot interfere in this case, we can only try to mediate between.”
Gyatso’s voice was controlled, but Azula didn’t missed the sadness in it. She also didn’t miss the uprising rage in Satora’s voice.
“But they getting crueler. We cannot stand aside and let them disturb the balance. They force their ideas upon others, Gyatso! And it seems, that they’re willing to use brutal force, when they think it’s necessary.”
Gyatso released a sad sigh.
“And we have once decided to let these bindings to the world behind us, Satora. We mediate, we share wisdom, we offer guidance and knowledge, but we have chosen to left this part of the world behind us. It has granted us peace with the other Nations for centuries. We won’t...”
“But you’re still part of this world, right?”
Both turned to Azula. She had thrown the soap into the bowl with a loud splash and got a grip on both sides of it. She was trembling in cold anger.
“You said, you don’t interfere, but mediation is interfering. Sharing wisdom is interfering. Offering guidance is interfering. The problem is, you don’t want to pick up a real fight. But what happens, when you have to face an enemy, who doesn’t care about your noble ideals?”
She turned around and faced Gyatso’s look, She recognized the warning in it, but she didn’t care. She also recognized the supporting sparkle in Satora’s eye.
“I’ll tell you a possible future, Sifu Gyatso. Sozin will spread out his influence. He won’t listen to your words and he won’t wait until an Avatar will be able to stop him again. You may respect all lives and persons, no matter what they have done, but you’re a fool, when you’re thinking other people will do so as well. If this life brings you the balance, you have searched for, than you have to stand up for it, when needed, because and this is a promise, no one else will do it for you. Face the truth, you may want to spare an enemy, your choice, but don’t expect, that he would return the same favor to you.”
She dried her hands with a towel and passed the shocked monk and the surprised nun. She stopped and hesitated a moment, before she placed a hand on Satora’s shoulder.
“I’ll look tomorrow after you, Satora. Rest now.”
Azula turned to Gyatso and she felt a cold tickling running down her spine. She knew, she had overstepped a border. She had also given him some insights and she had no clue, why she had done so. But right now she didn’t care. This stupid and naive idea, so much the stupid and naive Avatar, she knew. She was so sick of this blindness.
“Dare to see the truth, old monk. The world around you is about to catch fire and it will spread out and it will burn hotter and longer, than you can imagine and no one, not even the Avatar may bring it to peace, again. You won’t find any compassion or understanding out there, only death!”
She heard the shocked gasp from Satora and she recognized with a little satisfaction, that the color was fading from Gyatso’s face. She was about to go, when his hand on her shoulder stopped her. The old man had tears in his eyes and his look was full of… compassion? Azula felt her knees getting soft but she maintained her dignity and faced the teary look of the monk, by crossing her arms before her chest. The man wiped away some tears with his robe.
“You may be right, Arashi. But sometimes it’s only necessary to open the eyes of one person to find another way for the whole world.”
Azula started with widened eyes at the old man. She tried twice to give an answer, but her mouth just opened and closed a few times, before she finally snorted annoyed. She turned around on spot and stormed out of the hospital, passing an confused Aang, who had waited outside the whole time. She ignored her tears, which were burning hot on her cheeks, as she stormed to her room. Azula slammed the door behind her and locked it, before she broke down crying on her bed. Her feelings were a mess. She was betraying all of them. Her Nation, by letting slip such vital informations to Gyatso and the nomads, who haven’t shared nothing else but kindness with her. She felt Dum-Dum snuggling at her with a sad chirp. The lemur had entered her room through the open window. She pressed the furry creature to her chest, sobbing heavily.
“What should I do, Dum-Dum? What should I do?”
Azula cried herself into a sleep, filled with the well known nightmare.
But this time the wrath of her father was even bigger. He cursed her, called her a traitorous brat and as she had to face him in the pit again, unable to move, she could see this wrath burning in his eyes. She could see it in his strikes against her friends and family as they tried to protect her as ever in this dream. She could see it as he announced the lesson. His fist came down to her face. But this time a hand blocked the strike. The man got thrown back and a woman placed herself between Azula and Ozai. The Fire Lord stared in fury and surprise at the woman and Azula released a gasp in disbelief. She knew the silhouette of this woman and she realized, that it was a teenager. A teenager she had seen every day during the last two weeks. Arashi stood between Azula and Ozai, her arms spread out wide, her glider in her left hand. Ozai howled in madness at her and created a lightning to strike her down. Azula screamed a warning but Arashi kept blocking the way, awaiting the strike. Ozai’s lightning hit her in the middle of her chest, but the teenager kept standing, like nothing had happened. In fact she was… laughing. Azula stared at them with a mixture of shock, panic and a lack of understanding. She heard the electricity buzzing, but it did no harm to Arashi. The teenager turned to Azula and threw her glider to the Princess with a warm smile. Azula caught the rod and the wings opened for her. She suddenly realized, that she was able to move for the first time, which made Ozai screaming out his rage and doubling his attempts to bring the airbender down, but without any success. Arashi’s smile got even warmer and she tended her head aside.
“Fly, Azula. He cannot hold you here. This isn’t his dream, it’s yours. So it’s your choice what you want to do with it.”
Azula heard the snickering chuckle of Arashi as the teenager turned back to Ozai. She stared to glow as she closed the distance between herself and the mad Fire Lord. And the man retreated. Slowly, but he had to fall back, blinded by the bright white light of the woman.
“Fly Azula. You can do it.”
Azula took a deep breath and started to run to the edge of the fighting pit. She heard the cursing screams of her father and the supporting voice of Arashi.
She jumped up high at the end of the pit… and she was flying. She felt the fear falling off from her as the pit grew smaller under her feet. All she could hear was a warm snickering chuckle in the wind.
Chapter 9: Another Point Of View
Have forgotten to leave a word or two about the used term 'forage' at the last chapter. I really don't know, how well known this term is today, so I'll leave a little explanation here. As the related German word 'Furage', this one is an outdated term for all kind of food for animals, especially horses. It was definitely used in military terms to sum up the food supply for the horses of an army, which were uses in battles and for transports. The military use and the fact, that it sums up different kind of supplies has convinced me to use this term here. Plus I really like the word for itself somehow, in both languages. *g*
Maybe this note was a little help for someone, I really have no clue, how well known this term might be, here in the community.
It was afternoon, as Azula finally woke up again. The sun was setting early in the mountains and she recognized through the window, that the shadows already grew longer. Dum-Dum was still snuggled against her and Azula woke him up, carefully by stroking his head. The creature yawned heavily and blinked a few times, rubbing his eyes, before he gave her a worried look, which made her chewing her cheek.
“I don’t know, Dum-Dum. I had a really weird dream.”
The impressions of the morning were crawling back into her mind. Aang’s promise, the flying, the injured monks and her outburst against Gyatso. A cold prickle started within her stomach, spreading out all over her body, until it reached her toes and ears. It made her feel sick and a bit dizzy. She shook her head and stood up, followed by Dum-Dum, who took place on her shoulder. She walked back to her door and opened it carefully. The hall before her room was empty, beside her glider, which was leaning on the wall beside her door. She slipped out of her room, taking the rod with her and walked through the temple towards the stables. At this time most monks and nuns were at meditation, so she only met a few people, who greeted her with warm smiles and nods, as ever. She found Nari with Appa at the stables and the bison greeted her with an friendly groan. She petted her head with a shy smile.
“I had a really bad day, Nari, that’s why I’m late.”
The bison nudged her carefully with her head and Azula kept on stroking her thick fur. She looked around and recognized, that someone had done the work with the animal for her, probably Aang. A worried grumbling sound from Nari made her turn back to her.
“I don’t know, what to do, Nari. I’m not her, but somehow I fear… I start to feel like her. Or to feel like I think she might feel. I don’t know. This is… It’s just wrong.”
The bison’s eyes focused on Azula and the animal seemed to think about something. Suddenly Nari released a determent grunt and laid herself down, lowing her head, to offer Azula to take a seat behind her head. Her jaw just dropped a bit and she shared a questioning look with Nari and then with Dum-Dum, but the lemur only started from her shoulder and took place on Nari’s head and turned back to Azula, waiting for her reaction. She stared a moment at both, but then she placed her thumb and index finger at her chin.
“An external view on things. Not a bad idea, Nari.”
She fetched a rope and knotted a bridle for the horns, like Aang had showed her some days before. She fixed it at Nari’s horns and she took seat behind her head, using her bending skills to jump over the bison’s head to to reach the neck of the animal. She rested there for a moment, watching her hands, which were holding the rope.
“Which words did the Avatar used to get his beast to fly? Oh right. Nari. Yip-Yip!”
The bison got on her feet and started with a whip of her tail in the air. Azula was astonished, how fast the bison could fly, the temple grew rapidly smaller as she headed Nari towards the valley, where she had spotted the smoke two week ago with Gyatso. She wanted to see things with her own eyes. She wanted to see, what really happened here. Maybe this would help her to understand her weird feelings and if these feelings would belong to her or Arashi.
She reached a small village about ten minutes later and landed with Nari at the central square, observed by some inhabitants. Azula’s mood had started to drop as nearer she had come to the village and it kept falling as she faced the worried and scared looks of the people, who had recognized her coming. She had spotted some burned houses long before she had landed and also the other buildings seemed to need some fixes. But the eyes of the men, women and children, who had come to the place were the worst. The had this special scared glimmer in it, a glimmer, which was able to tell more, than words or burned houses. It was gnawing on Azula’s mood. It had been a mistake to come here, she wasn’t even sure, why she has done so and what she was expecting to find here.
“May the Spirits be with you, young nun. I am Ging Dao, mayor of this village here.”
Azula turned to the source of the greeting. A man, about forty has come to Nari and her and bowed before the airbender.
“How are the nuns and monks, who got burned by the soldiers, yesterday?”
Azula stayed quiet, but her face must have told the man enough to elicited him a sad sigh. Suddenly he offered her a hand to come down from Nari.
“How about a tea, you look like you could use one.”
Azula looked at Nari and the man seemed to guess her question.
“Don’t worry, your bison will be in best hands.”
He turned back and three children between eight and thirteen approached out of the little group of people, who has come to the central place to welcome the guest.
“My kids will take care of it. This is Sozula, Raja and Azaahrn. They’ll watch after your animal.”
The three were now standing at their fathers side and bowed with shy smiles. Azula released also a sigh and jumped off from Nari. She bowed before the Ging Dao and his kids.
“Thanks. A tea would be very nice. I’m… I’m Arashi.”
She was sitting with her tea in Ging Dao’s house. He had made her a fresh jasmine tea and she had to admit, that it could match the one, her uncle was brewing.
“A tiny bit of ginger and a hint of peppermint, I guess.”
The man’s face lighted up in surprise.
“You have a fine taste, Arashi. You seem to know a lot about flavors.”
Azula’s face fell a bit.
“I have lived some years with someone, who could go nuts about tea and flavors.”
The face of the mayor darkened in sadness.
“I’m sorry for your loss. I didn’t wanted to cut in open wounds.”
Azula had to bit her bottom lip and she shook her head.
“No, he’s not dead.” She hesitated and a flicker of sadness rushed over it. “At least as far as I know, he only lives far away from me, now.”
It was somehow the truth and Azula caught herself for a moment, that she would gladly choose to stay with her uncle right now, because if she could do so, she would be Azula again. In her own time and body. But Ging Dao ripped her out of her thoughts.
“How are nun Satora and the others?”
The voice was deeply worried and his face got paler, as he recognized the empty look in Azula’s face.
“They’re alive. I… We have taken care of their wounds, but they’ll need time to heal and some of them will be marked forever.”
Tears came to the eyes of the man.
“We did our best with the first aid. The soldiers have burned them really bad. We wanted to bring them back to your temple, but Satora had insisted and has given us the advice to leave the village.”
Azula raised an eyebrow. She remembered the fire in the eye of the nun, as she had her quarrel with Gyatso. It sounded like her.
“The soldiers have demanded almost all of our stocked food and forage. They have threaten us and have started to burn some abandoned houses, when Satora arrived with the others. They tried to mediate, but Captain Thoi Ga got only mad and attacked them with his men. Your friends tried best to protect the houses and the people, also the soldiers, but so they got all injured. Thoi Ga left without taking anything, but he has promised to come back.”
Azula felt, that her hand was shaking, because she had made a tight grip around her cup. This was all so wrong.
“You’re Fire Nation, right? The buildings, the symbols, I have seen a shrine for Agni as I came closer to the village.”
Ging Dao watched at her in confusion, which made Azula cursing herself, silently.
“My apologize for this strange question, but I have had an accident two weeks ago, which has troubled my memories. I’m still catching up with my… former self.”
A wave of compassion rushed over the face of the man. He took Azula’s hand and squeezed it, supportive.
Azula chewed her cheek and took her hand out of the hold.
“You don’t need to be, you’re not responsible.”
Ging Dao’s eyes widened in surprise, but he nodded at her.
“Kind of. This land belongs to the Southern Air Temple, but it is under the protection of the Fire Lords as all other Air Temples, since the first Fire Lord has beaten the warlords. We are under Fire Nation administration and over centuries many people form the Fire Nation have moved here, but technically this land still belongs to the Air Nomads.”
Azula stared with open mouth at the man. She had never heard of this story in her whole life. This has to be impossible. Ging Dao recognized her confusion.
“I recommend to ask some of the monks of the Elder Council, they should know the whole story.”
Azula was still staring at him as a muffled moan from another room dragged away the man’s focus. He excused himself quickly and rushed out of the room with haste. Azula heard him talking soothingly to someone and another painful moan. She didn’t knew why, but she followed the man to the room and the bubbling anger, she had felt this morning, returned. She saw Ging Dao stroking the head of an woman. The arms and chest of her were bandage with dressings. It made her stomach cramp.
“The dressings must be renewed and you’ll need an ointment between wound and dressing.”
The man jolted up, facing Azula with tears in his eyes. She really had no clue, why she did that here, but she sighed heavy.
“I change the dressings, you get me the stuff. Keep an sharp eye on what I’ll do, than you can do it alone next time.
A teary smile came to the lips of the man and also the woman managed to smile at her, thankfully. It somehow made her anger rising even more.
“I get my hands washed.”
Chapter 10: Lighting An Old Fire
She had worked for two hours and hadn’t spoken other words, than advises with the inhabitants. They hadn’t got the perfect ingredients like the monks, but enough to manage a better treatment, than before. Other people of the village had started to ask her for help and by nightfall almost every remaining family in the village had visit the mayor’s house with one or two burned family members. Azula had tried best to avoid it, but in the end she had received countless hugs and teary ‘Thank You’s’. She had tried to refuse it, but the fact, that she hadn’t eaten a bite during the day had won over her pride and now she was sitting with Ging Dao and his children at the table. She had to admit, that the roasted turtle-duck smelled more than delicious, but she had to keep up her facade, so she sticked to the eggs and vegetables.
“We cannot thank you enough, Arashi. The Spirits must have send you to us.”
Azaahrn’s thankful voice made her stop eating. Azula placed the chopsticks back to her bowl and her face darkened a bit.
Her dark voice made the boy frowning, as well as the other members of the family. Azula felt the strange knot in her guts building up, again. She was about to stand up, as Nari’s loud and threatening growl made her turning around. Ging Dao was out of the house, instantly, followed by Azula.
She felt her rage rising as she reached the central place of the village. Nari had threating lowered her head and was observing six soldiers of the Fire Nation, who started to surround her. Another soldier, due to the uniform a captain, was standing aside, observing the situation. Nari’s growls got deeper as a last warning, but it was ignored by the men. A big mistake. The bison lashed with her tail, causing a massive blow of air, which ripped tree soldiers behind her off their feet. The men were crushed into several buildings. The animal also used this blow to support her attack towards the three other soldiers in front of her. The bison reached the soldiers much faster, than they had expected it, taking the men on her horns and pushing them into other buildings in front of her, with an almost howling growl. The surprise of the captain amused Azula and she recognized some supportive shouts from some people and children towards the bison, who had become witnesses of this scene.
“GING DAO! You and your filthy village will pay for that!”
The mayor walked to the fury captain, but Azula didn’t care about it. She walked over to Nari and fondled the head of the bison.
Nari grunted an approval, but kept focused on the captain, who was still screaming curses at Ging Dao. Azula slowly walked over to the men. The reaction of the mayor, who had spotted Azula first would have been a warning, if the captain wouldn’t have been busy with cursing the man, his family and the whole village. It took him a while until he recognized Azula standing behind him and he turned around. Azula had the sweetest but so also the most threatening smile on her face.
“Captain Thoi Ga, I assume. Such a pleasure to meet you in personal.”
The rage was still burning in him, but Azula’s approach let the man clam down a bit.
“A teenage brat of a nun! You and your stupid beast will pay for that, too. You...”
“Captain, leave Arashi and her bison out of this. Your men have started the aggression, there…”
Ging Dao fell quiet, instantly, because Azula shook her head with such a warm and mild smile, that it threatened him to the bone, but obviously the captain was still missing the warning signals.
“Captain, why don’t you tell me the story from your point of view. I’m so sure, that all of this is just a big misunderstanding.”
The sweetness of her voice was seeping into the mind of the captain like poison and it fueled his rage again.
“You can bet on that, little brat! These villagers have refused to give us the rightful demanded food and forage with nothing but weak excuses! They tried to make me believe, that they wouldn’t have enough, but now we came here, seeing you stupid beast eating the forage, which we have demanded for the use of the Fire Nation! Your stinking flying cow has attacked us, as we tried to take, what belongs to us!”
Azula’s smile grew even warmer.
“But Captain Thoi Ga, must I remind you at the ordinance from Fire Lord Sozin about reacquisition. It must be from this spring, I presume. ‘Troops, who are moving through home territories must use reacquisition only in cases, when they cannot be supported from the supply bases and only in amounts, which are bearable for the local population.’”
The baffled face of the captain was priceless and Azula noted for herself, that her hours of study in the old archives about military strategies in the long war had payed off in this moment. The corners of her mouth curved up higher in satisfaction.
“And by the way, Captain. This is only territory under the administration and protection of the Fire Nation, so technically friendly territory. Without permission, reacquisition aren’t allowed anyhow, but due to this special status of the existing treaties, I think I can skip this fact as long as you can promise me to respect the wise orders of the Fire Lord. So take your men, report a list of the amount of troops and the period of time, the surrounding villages have to maintain their ordnance to the temple and set up a list of requested things due to the existing orders of the Fire Lord. We’ll compare them with the stuff your men have already taken from the villages and so we can see, if those actions may go on or if they have to stop immediately!”
It was a dead silence around them. Ging Dao has taken two steps back from the man and Azula. He had seen the dangerous glow in Azula’s eyes, which were hidden by her warm smile and her gentle voice, but the captain stayed blind for it. He was pale in anger.
“How can you dare to, you little brat! I should throw you in chains and bring you to General Haro. He would teach you a lesson!”
For the first time some worries seemed to grow within the captain, because the only response was a warm chuckle of Azula. She got closer to Thoi Ga, facing his look. Her voice hardened and it sent a cold chill down his spine.
“All you have to do is asking me. I would love to discuss with General Haro about the fact, that a Captain of the vanguard is taking so much supplies from towns, which should probably support other troops, too, so that nothing is left for the main troops, who should take out the bandits here. I can offer you and your men a fast ride. What do you think, Captain Thoi Ga? We can go, immediately for discussing this fact with your commanding General.”
The man swallowed hard. He had started to sweat and Azula enjoyed him winding mentally in front of her. Here she was again, finally and oh, how had she missed it. She tended her head aside, giving him an smug smile.
“Fine, then it seems, that everything is cleared for now. As I said, we need the number of troops, the reasons for stationing them here and how long they should be stationed here.”
She turned to Ging Dao with a honest warm smile.
“Mayor Ging Dao, I also have to ask you for a list of provided things and services for the troops of the Fire Nation, since the reacquisition has begun. I also ask you to contact the other villages to prepare the same for us, so we can set up the final bill for the Fire Lords council.”
The rage was back in Thoi Ga’s voice, but he kept frozen on spot, as Azula turned back to him with a smile, which could have forced an whole army to surrender.
“Captain...” Her voice was filled with a mocking pity. “We have come to terms to call this friendly territory, remember? Due to the ordinances all reacquisition have to be compensated in the end. You really should take an eye on the official orders from time to time.”
The man was shaking in cold anger. Azula bowed with a smile before him.
“It was a pleasure to talk with you, Captain. I’m so glad, that we have come to a solid compromise. May Agni guide your further way.”
She turned around and started to walk back to Nari, when she finally heard the long expected reaction from Thoi Ga.
“You have forgotten one aspect, little brat. This world belongs to those, who’re able to hold a grip on it.”
Her lips curved up again. She was standing with her back to Thoi Ga, but she recognized his movements in the air. She had expected, that the man would loose his temper. She had hoped so. But she hadn’t expected an little furry ball of rage, who tried to protect her from a strike, she already had anticipated. Dum-Dum had thrown himself from a rooftop on the face of the man with an loud shriek and had started to bite and scratch the head and face of the surprised man. Thoi Ga stumbled backwards, screaming in rage and pain, while he tried to get Dum-Dum off his head. The little creature, was shrieking, biting and scratching with an unknown fury at every bare part of the face and hands of the man, but suddenly a painful cry of Dum-Dum filled the night, as Thoi Ga managed to get a grip on the tail of the lemur. He slammed the poor creature against a wall and was about to burn it, when Azula hit him with her rod in the face. He had no time to prepare for the next strikes, when she hit him over and over again with her rod. Wit h a final hard blow of her airbending, she punched the man on the ground in the middle of the place. Nari’s big head approached over his with a deadly growl and the bison placed a foot on his chest. He wanted to scream, but a sphere of air surrounded his head. He began to panic, but he couldn’t breath proper. Azula was busy with bending the air around his head, while she got down on her knees to pick up the limp lemur beside her. Tears were in her eyes and her mouth stood open in shock as she laid an ear over the mouth of Dum-Dum. He was breathing, but he was unconscious. Her focus returned back to the gasping man on the ground. The other soldiers were more or less up as well and some of them started to take attack position, but Azula only started to make a fist with her right hand and the desperate gasping of the captain increased and so they stopped. Also the villager stared in shock at her. Cold hate and anger were burning in her eyes as she approached the man. She looked down on him and she saw him trying to form some words, but Azula’s control of the air around his head, didn’t allowed a single sound to escape his lips. But she could read his question.
“You have made a big mistake, fool! You’ll pay for that!”
He tried to stammer more words, but his moving lips only elicited Azula a deadly laughter.
“I cannot do that? Well, I like to insist you at this point, Captain. I’m not like the other monks and nuns!”
She bowed down with hot tears running down her cheeks and her look made the man’s eyes shot wide in pure terror. But a weak chirping made Azula stop. Dum-Dum, who was still resting on her right arm, had opened his eyes. Her face softened and she pressed the little creature agains t her head, kissing Dum-Dum with great relief. The bent sphere disappeared and Thoi Ga hungrily inhaled the air with fast and deep breaths. He was about to move, when Nari’s threatening growl made him freeze again. Azula ignored him some more moments, still cuddling the weak lemur. Dum-Dum had started licking away her tears, but finally she turned back to the frightened man on the ground.
“You’ll say sorry to Dum-Dum, Nari and to the villagers, now!”
Thoi Ga was about to stammer a question, but Azula used her bending to bring her rod back to her hand, which she had let fallen, as she had picked up the lemur. She caught it up blind and hit the man straight in the face.
The man stared in total shock at her, but finally murmured a sorry. Azula nodded at him.
“Nari will let you go now. You’ll take your dimwits here and you’ll leave without losing another worthless offense or lie. All reacquisition will stop from now, until we have received the demanded lists, then we’ll see, how things will go on.”
She bowed back down to him until her nose was almost in contact with Thoi Ga’s.
“The other monks might have tolerated you shameful behavior, but I won’t. Neither I accept violence against my friends nor the fact, that you put shame on the glorious Fire Nation. And now get lost!”
Nari took careful
her foot from the chest of the man and the captain robbed hasty away from the bison, sharing frightening looks with his shocked m
n and Azula. She has given Sozula the little animal and had narrowed here eyes, still focusing on Thoi Ga. The man took a last look around and nodded with his head down the road.
The group left the village with more haste than dignity, followed by the cheerful yelling from the people.
Azula barely recognized the thanks and congratulations. She had taken Dum-Dum again, who was still groggy. His left eye was swollen and the little creature seemed to have pains. She was about to get back on Nari to return to the temple, when she felt a thankful grip on her shoulder.
“Thank you, Arashi. You have given us hope.”
He smiled warm at her, b u t his face fell, as he recognized Azula’s serious look.
“I strongly recommend you to follow Sifu Satora’s advice. I know those kind of men. I have only bought all of you some time. They will return, sooner or later. Take this chance and prepare for leave.”
She recognized the shock in his eyes and it made her stomach cramp, but she kept her straight face.
“I recommend the Earthkingdom, they’re more open for refugees than the Northern Water Tribe.”
She felt his grip tighten on her shoulder, while his color faded from his face.
“But this is our home, we cannot...”
“Storm is coming to this land, Ging Dao. Haven’t you seen it? Look how much they have already taken from you. They’re stocking supplies at all cost and due to the amount for a lot of troops.”
Her voice was absolutely controlled, nearly emotionless, but she felt a tickling under her skin. She bowed before the shocked mayor.
“I have learned a lot today, Ging Dao, thanks to you. You have given me the chance to be a bit more myself again. I appreciate that, so don’t waste too much time. May Agni guide your way.”
She jumped up with Dum-Dum on Nari’s neck and took the rope. The man seemed to roll some thoughts around in his mind, but suddenly a sparkle came to his eye. He nodded weak at her, but suddenly he got down on his knees and pressed his forehead on the ground.
“Thank you, Arashi. We’ll sadly follow your advise, but your approaching here has given us hope for better days somewhere in the future. May the spirits guide your way.”
Azula’s eyes widened as one inhabitant after another got down on their knees to press the foreheads on the ground. She was used to see such gestures, but they weren’t given to her out of gratitude, before . It gave her a strange but warm feeling inside her belly. A shy smile came to her lips, before she got the chance to suppress it.
“Good luck to all of you. Nari, Yip-Yip!”
She was deep in her thoughts on her way back to the temple. She ignored Aang’s questions, as he flew the last part of the way beside her with his glider. She ignored the questions of the monks and acolytes as she treated Dum-Dum’s eye. She brought him to her quarter and let him rest on her pillow. She also stayed quiet as she brushed Nari together with Aang. She left him worried behind, as she was finished with the bison and took a long bath. Only once she lost a thought about talking to someone, as she decided to take a second look on the burned monks again in the hospital. It was the questioning look of Satora, which nearly convinced her to talk with her about the day. She didn’t, but the fire in the eyes of the nun helped her to make a decision. She was walking thought the temple, heading towards a certain room. She had left an impression, today and maybe a wrong one. She had to talk some things out, but not with Aang and also not with Satora. Azula stopped before the door and knocked at it after a deep breath. She hadn’t heard an answer, but the door got bended open. She faced the silhouette of the meditating monk inside the room.
“We need to talk, Gyatso. Now.”
The old monk nodded, but kept on place. Azula entered and took seat in front of the old man, after she had closed the door.
“I’ll tell you something about myself tonight, Gyatso. I’m Azula, Princess of the Fire Nation. I’m the enemy of the Avatar and of all Air Nomads in my time and due to some weird circumstances I’m stuck now within Arashi’s body and the reason, why I’m here to tell you all this from me is, that I have decided to interfere.”
Chapter 11: Hard Truths
Azula observed the old monk in front of her pensively. He had jerked slightly, but she had to admit, that Gyatso proved her to have a good Pai-Sho-face.
“You have said, all what I have done doesn’t matter here, but that’s wrong, because I am here and my past is a part of me. I am not Arashi!”
Her voice trembled slightly, but Azula kept her anger hidden, for now. Gyatso had his eyes closed, but at least he answered her.
“But your past will be part of our future, some day. We cannot use such knowledge. The wheel of fate...”
“Hippo cow dung!”
Azula had jumped up from the floor and her eyes kept burning holes in the skull of the monk.
“You don’t see it old man! There will be no future for the Air Nomads! Sozin will extinguish your existence! Bleached bones and ruins is all what time has left from the Air Nomads and their temples!”
Her voice got louder.
“How can you and all the other monks just sit here and watch, when his troops have started to terrorize the villages? How can you sit here and let your enemy grow stronger in your home land? I’ll tell you something, old man. You’re hiding yourself behind your philosophy, instead of defending it!”
Finally she recognized a glitter in the corner of the monks eyes. It cooled off her rage a bit. Gyatso’s breath had become heavier. And finally he opened his teary eyes.
“And why do you care about it, Azula, Princess of the Fire Nation, enemy of the Avatar and all Air Nomads?”
It was like a bucket of icy water over her head. She kept frozen on spot for a moment staring in shock and surprise on the man in front of her. Gyatso gave her a warm smile, which elicited her a surprised gasp.
“Because you have started to care a lot, especially today. You want to talk about your past, about the person, who you used to be in your time and body, than lets talk about the person, who you are right here and now, Azula. You cannot have one part without the other.”
Azula felt her knees getting soft. She got clumsy back to the ground and faced the teary look of the old man. It took her a moment, before she got her guards back up.
“Isn’t it obvious? I’m stuck and I want to be back to myself! So I need your help and until now you haven’t found a way to manage this task, but we’re running out of time! I know, what fate is waiting for you out there and I’m not planning to share it with you!”
It sounded like an accusation, but her voice showed also some fear. Gyatso had listen to her with closed eyes again.
“A logical approach and a fair reason.”
His eyes shot open, again and Azula recognized a sudden hardness in it.
“But not the only one!”
Azula’s eyes shot wide open as well. For the first time, she had heard a dangerous tone in his voice. A strength, which demanded absolute attention and absolute no excuses. She hesitated, but the dangerous fire in his eyes grew with every second, which passed by. She felt like she tried to speak against an rising storm, which was about to start to blow directly at her face.
“I also want to protect my Nation.”
Gyatso seemed to grow dangerously in front of her, like storm clouds. She started to worry.
“The Fire Nation...”
“Protect before what?”
Azula released a fearful whimper. Her eyes widened in shock. It was a certain tone in Gyatso’s voice. A hard and sharp edge, cutting in her soul. His eyes got this certain glow. A glow she had seen many times before. A glow, which always was able to scare her to death. A glow, she had seen many nights, since her forced stay here. She pressed her forehead down on the floor in shock.
“Please, Father! Believe me, all I want is to protect the glory and dignity of our great Nation. I’m not betraying you, I’m not...”
“Protect! Before! What, Azula!”
“Before a shameful and unjust war, father!”
Azula broke out in tears, sobbing heavy and uncontrollable, curled together to a shivering ball. She nearly shrieked first, when she felt hands on her shoulders. She looked up, finally and her father was gone. Only a crying Gyatso, smiling warm at her, offering comfort with open arms. She let herself falling at his chest and she cried long and desperate and the old man let her do so. He held her tight, rubbing her back and waited. He waited with the patience, she had seen from him all the time. She clawed herself in his robe, as she felt his hand on her head, stroking with his thumb over her arrow tattoo.
“That’s a noble reason, Azula. For your Nation and for the whole world.”
She barely recognized his face through her tears, as she looked up, but she felt the soothing kiss on her bald head, which made her eyes nearly pop out of her skull in surprise. Her mouth stood agape in disbelief as Gyatso wiped away her tears from her cheek.
“The night isn’t young anymore, but as you said, time is running low. Now I know a lot about your present self, Azula, but what about the past? I think we are both ready to talk about it.”
And so she started to talk about her life. How she had been raised in Palace, about the ideals, her father had taught her, about her training and education, about all, what she had learned about the war and extinction of the Air Nomads and the discovery of the Avatar, about how she had shot him with an lightning. About all the betrayal, she had felt before her Agni Kai against her brother and about how she has ended in this cell, where this storm had blown her spirit and soul away.
She talked about her loneliness here and how different everything here was for her. How all this kindness and support has confused her. How her former enemy was the only link to her real life. How the things, she had learned about the war and the Air Nomads were so completely different from the things, she has seen here and how the burned monks and nuns have woken up her anger and how she has helped the people in the village. They had started to wander though the peaceful gardens of the temple and had finally took place at the pond, where she had seen her reflection for the first time.
“I have given them the same advice, Sifu Satora has given them and I’m sure, they’ll follow this advice. I’ll try to keep an eye on the evacuation of the surrounding villages. I’m not sure, how the soldiers will react, when they notice, that the people starts to abandon the villages.”
She felt Gyatso’s hand on her shoulder. The monk had struggled more than once with his emotions, but he had carefully listen to her story. A question came to Azula’s mind.
“Due to Captain Thoi Ga’s reaction, it is the truth, that this land is only under the protection of the Fire Lords. What’s the story behind it? How can all of you stay so passive, when all this happens around you?”
Gyatso smiled proud at her and nodded.
“A vital question, Azula. I’ll show you.”
She followed the monk to the library. Both got with their bending to the very top level of the tower. Azula noticed, that the monk was observing her. He seemed to wait for some kind of question, but Azula stayed quiet. Instead she stared to scan her surrounding until her eyes rested on the giant central pillar of the tower. The bricked structure had massive iron rods every five levels, which were reaching out like spikes from a star into the outside walls, to help holding the giant weight of the roof and to give the working places a hold. But the magnificent stucco at the top caught her interest. Leafs and flowers, seemed to grow and wind around the pillar and between the shelves. Calyxes seemed to open directly towards them. She turned back to Gyatso and the monk’s smile had grown.
“You have an sharp eye, Azula.”
He released a steady stream of air into one of the calyxes. It took some time, but suddenly one of the shelves sunk back into the pillar and opened a dark whole.
“You need your bending to get down to the ground. Focus on what you have learned. I’ll meet you there.”
He gave her a supportive smile and jumped into the darkness. Azula hesitated a moment. She stared at the darkness before her, which had been hidden all the time, but finally she took a deep breath… and jumped.
It was a slight hush of air streaming up, which allowed her to find landing points. She wasn’t sure, but it seemed, that this way was going much deeper down, than ground level of the library. She had lost any feeling for time and space, as she finally recognized a green glimmer. She reached the bottom of it, where she found herself in a cave with Gyatso. Green glooming crystals were hanging from the ceiling, floating the cave with a spooky light. But she also recognized paintings and carvings on the walls of the cave. She released a shocked gasp. The paintings showed Air Nomads and these nomads were fighting in a war. Tears came to her eyes as she stared to wander around, watching the cruel fighting scenes. Airbender were fighting against all kind of men and benders.
“Thousands of years ago, our kind of people was feared in the whole world. We have plundered and killed. We have fought in a never ending raid and have demanded nothing less than absolute power for us. Remember, what I have taught you? ‘Air is an element, which is shared with everyone in the world.’ It was out mantra in this time, as it is now. But we have used it to claim domination over all others because of this fact.”
She turned in shock at Gyatso. The voice of the monk was sad and dark, filled with shame.
“Our kind of people have been deadly soldiers, able to kill whole armies in sleep, denying everyone the air to breath on, who dared to raise against us. And then one day the world denied us their other elements. They were united against us in a long and cruel war and we lost.”
Tears were in the eyes of the man.
“The world was in ruins, the land dried, burned and shaken and the rest of us suddenly realized, that it was a lie, that only one element could rule the world. But it was too late. Our extinction was at hand and balance seemed to be lost. It was at this moment, when the Avatar saved the world.”
Azula looked at a picture of an female Avatar, surrounded by all elements. People from all nation were bowing in front of her, their heads pressed on the ground.
“The war ended and the surviving Nomads turned away from their former path. Instead of destroying life and balance, they devoted their existence to these aspects. They split themselves up and founded the temples, we know today, to search for the perfect balance and harmony in peace, detached form the bindings of the world.”
Gyatso has walked beside Azula. She was still staring in shock at the cruel paintings all around her.
“The warlords, the first Fire Lord has beaten were threatening this balance and they have hunted the now peaceful Nomads, but although centuries had passed, they still remembered this dreadful times and so they hesitated to defend themselves. This had impressed this noble man and so he dared to fight for them. He offered them the friendship and protection, they needed to live this life and the Nomads shared their knowledge and wisdom with the Fire Lords.”
He pulled the shocked teenager against his shoulder.
“That’s the reason, why you haven’t found an army of Airbenders. There is no army and it’s the reason, why we act so passive. These are our bloody roots, Azula, hidden for everyone to see, but we know them and we cannot ignore them.”
Azula shared looks with the paintings and the sad monk in front of her and suddenly her face hardened.
“But there is also no balance in your way. Not anymore. It’s only another extreme. Sozin will attack to get the Avatar. He’ll bring you the ultimate detachment from this world. Balance is not a fix state in a living world. Keeping balance is a progress not a status. It’s more like balancing on a rope. If you try to ignore the swinging of it, you’ll fall off from it, sooner or later.”
Azula’s eyes were glowing in a wild fire again. She faced the patient look of the old monk.
“I’m not Arashi. I’m not the peaceful detached nun I seemed to be on the outside. I have now seen the lie, this war I know is based on. I will not stand aside, peacefully to allow my beloved Nation to put so much shame on its shoulders. As long as I’m forced to stay here, I will interfere and I recommend you to think over your point of view, Gyatso. I may not reach Sozin or his Generals, but I can fight against them, if necessary, to confine the damage.”
Hot tears came back to her eyes and she started to tremble, but her eyes kept on burning light bright stars.
“It’s a betrayal on my Nation. As the Princess I am I cannot stand aside and let this happen uncommented.” She sobbed a little, but continued. “And as the one, who has received nothing but help and kindness here I cannot stand aside and let this happened uncommented and because of the person I am I can interfere and I will, with or without your help.”
She recognized a proud smile growing on Gyatso’s lips. The monk bowed before Azula.
“I do agree, with you Azula.”
She was sure, that her face must have been priceless, because Gyatso couldn’t suppress a loud laughter.
“I’ll talk with the other elders, immediately. We cannot stand aside any longer. At least we have to be prepared for the storm, which is coming, whether we gonna survive it or not. We have to stand for what we believe and we have to protect the Avatar. Aang will be our last chance, if we should fail. For the world and for the Air Nomads.”
She felt suddenly his arms wrapped around her. The old monk rested his head against her shoulder and he was crying.
“I’m so proud of you, Azula. Don’t worry, I won’t tell them your secret and I’ll double my efforts to bring you out of danger. You have shown great trust and strength today. I won’t let you down, you have my word. Never!”
Azula was completely and absolutely caught off guard. She felt herself starting to shake as she recognized her own tight grip around the old man.
“You don’t blame me for what has happened? For what will happened from your point of view?”
The grip of the man only tightened a little more.
“It wasn’t your fault. Or it will not be. I care for what you’re doing here, remember and I couldn’t be more proud of you, than I am right now. You have a light in you Azula, a strong and beautiful light. I have seen it in the hospital first, as I have checked your aura and Chi. Hidden away deep inside of you, but you have dared to share it with us, every day a bit more and now it starts to shine so bright and beautiful. Promise me, that you will never allow anyone to hide this light away again, not even yourself.”
Azula sobbed heavy. She only managed some fast nods, still holding the old monk tight. They stayed long moments in this embrace, until Gyatso finally released Azula out of his arms. He wiped away some of his tears. Azula did the same and took a deep breath.
“Fine. I think the sun may rise soon. I have busy days ahead. Beside my training with Aang, I have to check Satora and the others in hospital and I have to observe the evacuations.”
Gyatso smiled proud at her.
“I’ll send other monks, too, to assist the villagers as good an as discrete as possible. They should report you any trouble. And about Aang, please stay quite about his upcoming fate. Prepare him for hard battles, if needed, but no word, that he’s the Avatar. This riddle means a burden, but it also offers protection for him.”
Azula took another deep breath.
“I think, I have doubled this protection, Gyatso. I fear, my actions in the village might have created the impression, that the Avatar has finally dared to take action within these events. At least when I take a closer look on the reactions from the last evening.”
Azula took another look on the painting of the Avatar and the bowing people around her. Gyatso’s jaw dropped, but after a moment his face darkened. He started to tug his beard and then he nodded in approval.
“A fitting interpretation. But this means it’ll put you in more pressure and danger.”
His voice got worried and it brought a warm tickling to Azula. She gave him an grim nod.
“Yes, but it also gives us an advantage. We know, where they’ll strike first. We can prepare ourselves.”
Azula walked back to the hole in the ceiling to return up to the library. She gave Gyatso an uplifting smile.
“Aang has said to me, that he’s my friend, no matter who I am. I’m starting to consider this offer. Not as Arashi, but as myself. I won’t let my friends going down. I have received too much betrayal in life to let this happen to the one, who has proved to be there for me, when I was at my worst. His secret is safe by me.”
She took a thoughtful break for a moment.
Gyatso’s eyes widened for a short moment, but then he nodded an approval, combined with his proud smile.
“I haven’t expected anything else. Sometimes true friends have to share some hard facts.”
A tear came back to Azula’s eyes. She nodded at Gyatso and jumped up into the hole. She had understood this reference and she had to admit, that she couldn’t be more in agree with that.
Chapter 12: Vital Lessons
The morning went by, fast, but it was different from the last two weeks. Aang was missing. Azula had done her morning kata alone on the plateau and the boy was also missing, as she did the morning routine with Nari. She returned him the favor from yesterday and took also care of Appa. The boy was also absent at breakfast, as well as Gyatso, so Azula dared to take seat with some younger monks and nuns at another table, for the first time. It seemed, that her actions in the village had become the news of the day and soon a large group of monks and nuns were all around her, while she told them the story of her visit at the village and the conclusions, which could be found in the actions of the Fire Nation. As she left the great dining hall, finally, she had received a lot of support, approvals and only a few minor words of criticism, but even those were given with sympathy and respect for her brave actions. But the fact, that she hadn't seen Aang, puzzled Azula. She was deep in her thoughts again, as she was busy changing the dressings of the wounded monks and nuns. The healing hadn't started, of cause, but the burned parts weren't infected and her method had also prevented, that the dressings and the burned skin had sticked together.
"I'm so proud of you, Arashi."
Azula looked up from her work and faced the supportive smile from Satora. Beside her own wounds, the nun had helped her treating the others and was now shambling towards Azula. She pressed her forehead against the one of the teenager with some tears in her eyes.
"It's like a fresh wind blowing through the temple with you. Thank you for that, Arashi."
Azula felt her eyes getting wet, but she grabbed the neck of the nun and pressed her forehead back to the nun, thankfully.
"It isn't in me, to stand aside and watch. I always had to fight for what I believe and I believe that a storm is coming, Satora, which will damage all I have learned to love."
She let go her grip and faced the proud eyes of the nun in front of her.
"Even when it means, that I have to stand against the lessons I have learned once before. The Fire Nation prepares for a shameful and unjust war against us, I have no doubt. As the person I am I cannot stand aside and let this happen without fighting against it."
Azula hesitated a moment, but then she nodded for herself in determination.
"It isn't in my blood to let something so shameful happen to my beloved Nation."
Azula recognized a little confusion rushing over Satora's face at her last quote, but the proud glow in the eyes of the nun in front of her never faded. She bowed deep before Azula and closed the distance again to hug her.
"Well spoken, Arashi. Whatever you plan to do to fight this storm, count on my support for you. I'll be at your side. I'll also defend what I believe in. With my life, if I must."
Satora gave the surprised teenager a last uplifting smile, before she got back to her bed. It let Azula's tears finally falling free, as she left the hospital to search for Aang. Out of joy and grief at the same time.
She finally found the young monk alone on the rooftop of the highest tower of the temple. The boy was spitting cherry pits down in a pond, but obviously without any real drive or fun.
"There you are! How could you dare to skip our training!"
Aang jolted up, giving Azula a questioning look, but she didn't gave him the time to answer. A hard blow of air nearly blasted the Avatar down from the roof and clearing it from his pile of cherries. He had no time to vocalize his shock and surprise, when Azula attacked him without any mercy. The space on the rooftop was much more limited, than on the plateau and the angle of the fighting ground, Azula had chosen, made the stand even more difficult, but the teenage woman didn't care. She charged the Avatar with deadly strikes, mixing her bending, with firebending moves and hand-to-hand combat. The boy was forced to quit his shocked questions about what was going on with her, to protect himself from her attacks. But no matter how hard he tried, Azula outmatched him. She felt it during her strikes against the scared and confused Aang in front of her. The lessons, she had learned from Gyatso and him. She was balanced. She knew what she wanted. It gave her the control and freedom, she had searched before and she used this control with deadly precision. She landed two final strikes against the chest of Avatar and blasted the boy with a strong blow from the roof. She heard him falling with a loud scream and got closer to the edge of the roof to observe him using his bending to protect himself from a fatal meeting with the ground below.
Aang was still busy with tugging on his robe in shock, when Azula landed beside him with her glider. She had also brought his own with her from the rooftop.
"ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND ARASHI, YOU NEARLY KILLED ME!"
Aang screamed his rage directly at Azula's face, but she simply shrugged shoulder.
"Perfect. Still feeling guilty about me and the thunderstorm?"
Aang's jaw dropped, while his eyes nearly popped out of his skull. He stared in total confusion and disbelief at Azula, but she simply handed him his glider.
"You're welcome, no big deal. Two in one, in fact. Never forget this vital lesson, I'm teaching you right now."
She attacked him again with her rod, without any warning, but Aang got his own one up instantly, facing her again with shocked surprise but also with a rising anger. It was a short fight again under the scared and confused looks of several monks and nuns, who became witness of the scenery, until Azula landed hard hits in the stomach of the boy, brining the gasping Avatar down on his knees.
"A fight has nothing to do with training or a duel."
She kicked him hard at the ribcage as he tried to get up.
"If you're forced to fight, don't hold anything back."
She sidestepped an angry blow of air from him, blocking his furious attacks, as the boy got back on his feet, striking against her, only get a good grip at both wrists of him, giving him a hard headbutt. He stumbled back falling on his back
"Don't show off and don't stretch a fight, unless it helps you to reach your goal."
Her face was emotionless as Aang tried his best to get on his feet again, but as he started to get up, she used her bending to blow dust and dirt in his eyes, taking him his sight, painfully.
"Don't expect honor or mercy, you won't find them in battle, it's all about winning or loosing. You win, you live, you loose, you're dead, that's it."
She gave the blinded boy a final blow, blasting him into a pond. Tears of pain and anger were floating his eyes as Azula knelt down at the edge of the pond to face his look with a dangerous glow in her eyes.
"You may choose to spare an enemies life, that's fair. I have finally started to value this decision to some degree, but never expect this mercy from an enemy. You may not want to kill your opponent, but always expect, that this is the goal of the one, who's fighting against you."
Aang was trembling in anger and sadness. His tears were running down his cheeks, but the fire in his eyes was burning. Suddenly Azula's face softened and she pushed the boy up with her bending into her arms, hugging him.
"Arashi…? What…? Why…?"
Azula had started to cry, still tightening her grip around the totally confused boy.
"Why have you skipped the morning kata, Aang? You have said you're my friend, remember?"
Aang pushed her back a bit, staring in confusion in the watered eyes of Azula.
"You have locked yourself away, you have left without a word, Arashi. You haven't answered my questions and then I heard, how you have helped the villagers. It seemed you have finally found yourself again, so I thought my guidance wasn't needed anymore."
Azula shook her head with a teary laughter.
"Aang, what a stupid kind of an argument. Of cause I still need your help. More than you might imagine. More than I like to admit, probably. As a friend you should know better."
She pulled him back in her arms.
"As your friend, I know better."
Aang opened and closed his moth twice, but no sound came out of his throat. Instead he finally tightened his grip around Azula.
"A storm is coming, Aang, I've seen it. You have to be prepared. Never forget this lesson, I've taught you here. Promise me, you'll never forget it, for all what I have learned to love."
Aang nodded, still a little confused, but also thankful, as Azula released the boy out of her grip.
"Good, then get yourself dried and get at the plateau. We have work to do."
Aang finally beamed at her, giving her a squeezing little hug, before he blew off all the water from his robe with his bending. Azula had anticipated this action and shielded herself with her own bending, but several monks and nuns received an unplanned shower, quoted with an embarrassed sorry from Aang. Both started to walk through the temple towards the plateau.
Azula turned to the questioning face of the young monk. She recognized his nervousness.
"As you leaved, yesterday… I mean, as you started with Nari… Well I have spotted you on your way to the stables and I followed you..."
Azula recognized his beating around the bush and it brought an uncomfortable tickle to her spine. He suddenly stopped and got a grip on her shoulder.
"Arashi, before you started with Nari, you have searched for the start signal for her. You said, you have heard the Avatar saying these words, so you know who the new Avatar is?"
Azula felt the color fading from her face. She saw in the eyes of the boy in front of her, that she had just proved his suggestion right, with this reaction.
"Please, tell me, who's the Avatar. I won't tell anyone, I promise."
She heard the great excitement bubbling up in the young Airbender in front of her, but it made her feel more uncomfortable.
"Well Aang, I have promised Gyatso..."
"Gyatso knows it, too? Of cause, he's one of the Elders, they probably all know, who it is. Come on, Arashi, who is it? How did you find it out?"
Aang had taken her hand and had cupped both with his own. He looked like a young child, awaiting a long promised surprise, but before Azula got a chance to say a word, a monk appeared, calling for Aang.
"Aang, the Elders have requested your presence."
"Just a second."
Aang was about to repeat his question, when he got interrupted by the monk.
"They said immediately and without any delay."
Aang sighed and hugged Azula for a goodbye.
"Seems we have to skip another training, but don't put the blame on me, this time. We'll talk on, later."
He waved a goodbye with his beaming smile and walked away with the other monk. Azula released a worried sigh.
"I think, you'll find out the identity of the Avatar without my help, Aang and I have a feeling, even before lunch."
She turned around and walked back to the library, instead. Her routine would keep her busy until training at afternoon. The Avatar would better not skip this trainings session as well.
Chapter 13: A New Burden
Azula didn’t stay long in the library. Before lunch she took a look after Dum-Dum. The lemur was still resting in her bed, but he was up, instantly, crushing into Azula with a joyful squeaker. She had to giggle, heavily, while the little creature was licking her cheek.
“Oh Dum-Dum, why do you always do such stupid things for me?”
The lemur snuggled himself against Azula’s cheek, purring in pleasure, as she started to fondle his head. Nevertheless Azula felt her chest tighten a bit. The left eye of the furry little thing wasn’t as swollen as yesterday, but she had recognized a slight milky shade in it and this fact was able to bring the tears back to her eyes. Dum-Dum recognized her sadness and started to lick her face again, too sooth her. The pressed him thankfully against her head.
“My poor little Dum-Dum. You haven’t to do such things for me.”
An slightly upset chirp and a determent look was his only answer, before he continued to lick her tears out of her face. It brought a teary smile on Azula’s lips.
“Fine, but please be more careful, next time, okay?”
Dum-Dum nuzzled himself against Azula’s head, purring in pleasure, again. Both left her room for lunch.
It was early afternoon, when Azula came to the plateau with Dum-Dum on her shoulder. The Lemur flew off, to search for the last cherries. She smirked, as she spotted Aang sitting on a branch of one of the cherry trees, but her face got serious again, as she came closer. The boy was in a very somber mood, he didn’t recognized her until she lifted herself up with her bending to take place beside him. She was sure, what was troubling his mind, but she decided to let him make the first move and so both kept sitting in silence for quite a while. Finally, Aang dared to make the first move.
“How long did you knew it, Arashi?”
The boy was staring down on the ground at his first question. Azula heard the sadness in his voice. Her silence about this fact seemed to have hurt him more, than Azula had expected. It was also a question, Azula had feared for a while. She had told Gyatso about her past, but this here was another case. She opened her palm and created three dancing airballs in it.
“Since our accident.”
She took a little break. This answer seemed somehow insufficient for her, so she added another aspect, carefully.
“But somehow it feels, like I have known it much longer.”
Aang released a sigh and nodded.
“Why haven’t you told me, Arashi?”
Azula started to slip around her seat, a bit. Aang seemed to be hurt and she understood him.
“I had to promise Gyatso, not to do so.”
“But we’re friends, Arashi! This wouldn’t have stopped me, if roles would have been switched.”
Aang had suddenly turned to Azula. The young monk’s eyes had a wet glitter and she could see his anger and disappointment in it. She bit her bottom lip and turned away from him, closing her hand to a fist, to let the dancing airball disappear. The silence hung heavy between the teenagers until Azula started to talk, again.
“I have a question for you, Aang. How do you feel, now that you know, that you’re the Avatar?”
She faced his eyes and she could see the weight of this burden pushing him down. She knew this feeling, this choking and gnawing feeling, created by the high expectations from other people. The perfection, demanded by the role, you had to play, suddenly. She took his hands and smiled at him, as he stayed quite.
“Do you see it, now, Aang? Being the Avatar is a burden, especially with such storm clouds rising on horizon. It has been their burden, my burden, as long as we have hidden this fact before you. By telling you the truth, it has become yours. You shouldn’t be angry with Gyatso, you should be thankful.”
Her last words sounded much harsher and sadder, than she had planned and she cursed herself a bit, because Aang had obviously recognized her outburst. She saw the wet glitter in his eyes and suddenly Aang nodded.
“Everything was so much easier, before. I haven’t seen much of the things, which were going on outside of the temple. Yes, during the last months, I have recognized, that some of the older monks and nuns seemed to be more stressed, but I haven’t lost a thought about it.”
Aang had started to drum with his fingers against the branch.
“And now they’ve told me, that I’m the Avatar, that they fear, that a war is coming and that they need my help. Everything is changing...”
He turned back to Azula, facing her with a worried look.
“Was this knowledge the reason for this hard lesson this morning? Does our friendship will change as well?”
Azula looked him deep in his eyes.
“Sometimes a changing isn’t so bad, Aang. I have learned this the hard way. And for your question yes and no.”
She had to chuckle a bit at the surprised face of the young monk.
“The Avatar needs to learn such lessons, fast, so yes. But another aspect was more important.”
She hesitated a moment, but then she pressed her forehead against Aang’s.
“Avatar or not, you’ve said you’re my friend. And when this storm rises, you’ll have to fight against enemies, who wants to kill you.”
Azula felt her throat tighten and she failed to hold back her tears.
“And I fear I won’t be able to stop them, form doing so, so I need...”
She started to sob.
“I need to assure...”
She felt his arms wrapped around her shoulders.
“I need to assure, that you’re able to win.”
She finally cried, together with Aang, who had tighten his grip at her again. He finally gave her his warm smile, as their tears had run out. The monk jumped down from the tree and took fighting position.
“Well, in that case, I still have to learn a lot and I won’t risk to skip another training with you.”
Azula smirked, finally and followed the Avatar.
“Alright, Avatar. Before we start, I want to set the rules, in the end, it's still a training.”
Aang nodded with a serious face at her.
“I won’t hold anything back, I expect the same from you. This training will hurt and it may leave bruises. Everything will be allowed to beat the opponent, there are no unfair methods, only methods to stop the other. Understood?”
Aang had listened carefully, but it seemed, that he started to feel uncomfortable about it.
“I’m not made of porcelain, Aang, neither you. Trust me, I won’t hurt you serious.”
He frowned at Azula.
“In the end it will be a training?”
“Then we need a start and a stop signal to set clear limits.”
Azula’s lips curved up.
“Wise words, Avatar. Any suggestions?”
Aang frowned deeper for a moment.
“It must be something unique, something, which wouldn’t be said on accident, something, which couldn’t be misinterpreted….”
Suddenly a beaming smile came to his lips.
“I’ve got on. What about ‘Blue Fire’?”
Azula’s heart skipped a beat. She nearly stumbled, staring with open mouth at the beaming Avatar. She was sure, that some color must have faded from her face, because Aang’s smile was gone and he observed her with growing worries.
“Have I said something wrong, Arashi? Was it a bad choice?”
Azula shook her head.
“How did you get this idea?”
Aang scratched himself at the back of his head.
“I don’t know, Arashi. The idea was suddenly there and it felt… right.”
Azula’s moth stood still agape, but slowly a victorious smile came to her lips, while her eyes got a vivid sparkle.
“It is perfect.”
Aang mimicked her grin and took fighting position, again.
“Alright Arashi, then show me your ‘Blue Fire’.”
Azula nodded. She would and she would assure, that he could stand against it. She charged the Avatar with her blue fire burning in her soul.
Chapter 14: Connections
The next days made the changing within the temple more and more obvious for Azula and it wasn’t a changing, she liked, because it was gnawing on Aang’s mood and it affected their training and the time, they spent together. Or better, they didn’t spend together, anymore. The monks had also set up a tough trainings plan for Aang. Azula noticed, that the boy was already practicing with older monks long before sunrise, when she was on her way to the plateau. She also noticed, that the younger monks and especially the acolytes, who most of them were around his age, were getting more distant from him. It was a loneliness in his eyes and a sadness, which was affecting his concentration at their hard lessons. Beside the tough and often painful program, both Airbenders performed on the plateau, it seemed, that he was enjoying the fact, that Azula was acting with him as ever, but she was sure, that he would perform better, if all these worries wouldn’t cloud his mind and soul. So she went to Gyatso one evening, after training with Aang. She found the monk in a Zen-garden, meditating.
“We need to talk about Aang, this can’t go on this way. He shows more and more lack of concentration in my training and I can almost grab the dark clouds around his head.”
Gyatso sighed an approval and nodded at the place in front of him. Azula took seat and faced the worried look of the monk.
“I know, I have been against the decision to tell him the truth, but the others have voted against me.”
His face got sadder and he started to tug his beard.
“This secret has meant protection for him. Protection before the rising storm and protection for his soul. Aang is a young teenager and now he’s ripped out of his childhood.”
Azula snorted annoyed.
“At least he had a childhood, Gyatso. I was raised within high expectations from the first day on. I had to match these expectations or to face the consequences.”
She bit her lip, as she meet his sad face, filled with compassion.
“Sorry, Gyatso. But Aang has no clue, how much luck he has had to grow up this way.”
The old monk nodded.
“We’re both right, Azula. It’s a luck and a shame. Aang is still a child and I think you as well, but everything, the others want to see now, is the role, he has to fill in, like all only have seen your role, you had to fill out.”
Azula felt her sadness and anger rising, but she nodded at Gyatso. His warm eyes were able to cool off her anger. He understood her, he listened.
“But what should we do? I cannot train him harder, when he’s loosing his focus. Loosing his focus is dangerous, Gyatso.”
The old monk leaned forward and took one of Azula’s hands.
“You’re an Airbender, what do you think we could do, when more pressure denies us perfect harmony?”
Azula frowned a moment, but then her eyes shot wide open. She saw the proud smile of the monk in front of her. She shook her head, a bit annoyed.
“All the time you monks are talking about balance and harmony, but for persons, who claim to know so much about it, you’re really bad in keeping it, Gyatso. But fine, I’ll give him some time to relax, but I expect you to have this talk with his other trainers as well. They teach him bending, but I teach him to survive and I fear last thing counts more in the end.”
Gyatso took her neck and pressed his forehead against Azula’s.
“I will, Azula. As sad as it is, I have to agree with you in this case. A dangerous path lies before him, if we cannot stop things from happening.”
Azula gave the old man a thankful smile.
“Aang doesn’t need to fight this way, this is his choice and his alone. But he must be prepared for those kind of enemies and I know best, what I’m talking about.”
Gyatso nodded with a serious face at her. Azula recognized some worries in it, which made her focus on the old man.
“Have you talked with Aang about your true self?”
Azula shook her head. Se couldn’t find a reason to do so. It would only scare the boy even more. It would push a person away, in her opinion, who she had started to value as a friend, finally. Especially in this new situation. It wasn’t an option. Gyatso seemed to guess her worries and probably he was sharing the same.
“As sad as it is, but I also think, that this isn’t the right time to confront him with these facts. Not even with a part of it, but...”
Azula noticed his growing nervousness. The old monk took a deep breath, before he continued.
“… but I fear, we have to talk with the Avatar about this fact, sooner or later. I think we need his help and advise to bring you back, Azula.”
Gyatso had to aid her sit with his bending. A hot and cold shiver went up and down Azula’s spine. The question in her glittering eyes was more than obvious for the man in front of her.
“I have checked the old scrolls long and carefully and I have a suggestion, of what might has happened to you and to Arashi.”
Azula’s look was almost a begging one, now.
“The fact, that Arashi and Aang have survived the lightning strike is a miracle. I thing the Avatar Spirit has protected both at this moment and your story has given me a vital hint. You said you have stroke down Aang with a lightning, as he has been in his Avatar state. My suggestion is, that Arashi’s soul and your soul got somehow attached to Aang’s and that your spirit and Arashi’s got also connected with the Avatar Spirit and so it seems your two souls got somehow entangled with each other”
Azula stared with open mouth at him.
“But this is impossible. It was a storm, which has literally blown me out of my body, Gyatso, no lightning.”
Azula was pale and shaking and so the monk stood up and took her in his arms to sooth her.
“The lightning has created the connection and I think the Avatar Spirit has opened a path and at some point one of your spirits has decided to take this path.”
Azula remembered the snickering chuckle from her dream and the whispering voice in her cell. It has been Arashi’s voice.
“She has brought me here. It’s her fault. But how and why, I mean the time, it is impossible…”
She felt the soothing grip of the old monk tighten around her, while he had started to rub her back.
“For a spirit, time might not count as for us, only moments. I do agree with you Azula. It sounds like her to wait for the right moment to interfere. But if we’re right she couldn’t have done it without your ‘help’ and without another vital aspect.”
Azula’s questioning look rested on the now tired face of the old man. She saw tears coming to his eyes.
“Have you ever heard of soulmates, Azula?”
Beside her shock, Azula managed an annoyed snort.
“This is a stupid peachy idea of true love for naive people, like my uncle.”
To her surprise, Gyatso chuckled warm.
“Correct. At least in most cases, but there’s a truth in it, because in rare occasions real soulmates exist and they don’t have to be necessarily lovers. They could also be friends or… enemies.”
Azula’s mind went blanc. She couldn’t believe, what the old man was telling her.
“Soulmates share a depth of understanding like no other persons. They often share some aspects of their characters, like dedication or value the same character traits. Due to the scrolls I have read, soulmates are able to switch between bodies much more easier, than other persons and when I look at you and at Arashi I cannot deny, that both of you are sharing a lot of aspects, Azula.”
Gyasto released her out of his embrace and Azula looked exhausted at the man. She was still a little pale, but the fact, that the monk seemed to have found an explanation for her situation had won over her doubts about how right or wrong this story seemed to be. She was here, no doubt.
“And how can I get back? How can Arashi come back?”
Gyatso’s face darkened.
“I… don’t know, Azula. The time gap and the linked absence from your body makes things really complicated. But I’m sure, without the help of the Avatar this transfer might become impossible.”
Azula felt her mind went blanc a second time. She recognized through the mist in her mind, that she murmured a ‘Thank you’ to Gyasto, as she stood up to leave with wobbly knees, but suddenly the monk pulled her back into his arms. She felt his hands soothingly rubbing her back, as he placed a kiss on her head, like a father would have done.
“Don’t worry, Azula. Aang will understand it, when the time is right. When you’re ready to tell him. Until then you can come to me, whenever you want. I’ll be there for you, to aid you stand. This is our fate, not your’s alone. I won’t let you down.”
She felt her tears climbing up in her eyes and nodded heavily.
“Thank you, Gyasto.”
The man smiled with tears in his eyes and he lifted her chin up a bit.
“We’ll find a way, I’m sure. Just don’t loose your faith,… my strong Princess.”
She didn’t know why, but these tree little words let her heart nearly jump out of her chest, as she felt her arms tighten around the teary man.
Chapter 15: Airball
Azula waited the next afternoon for Aang on the plateau, as ever. Dum-Dum was sitting on her shoulder and was busy cleaning his fur. As Azula has feared, the milky shade in his left eye has grown worse, no matter how hard she had tried to stop this gray mist from growing. It was gnawing on her mood every time and Dum-Dum noticed this fact, because the creature barely left her side and took every chance to snuggle with her or bring her things as little gifts to cheer her up. As hard this progress was hitting her, as less it seemed to bother the lemur. He was active and happy as ever and seemed to adjust to the new circumstances pretty fast.
Azula was more nervous, than the last days. The fact, that she would probably need the Avatar to get back, added a new weight in this fresh grown friendship. She had feared before, that she would need his help, but also had hoped, that Gyatso would have found another way. She had to talk with Aang, sooner or later about her true identity and what has happened to her and Arashi, due to Gyatso’s suggestion, but not today. She had still a little time, because she knew, that the day of the comet was still two months ahead. Until then the monks have finally started to prepare themselves. They had send messenger to the other temple and have started to observe the actions around the temple, but since Azula’s actions against the soldiers, no further incident has happened. The villagers have taken her advice and the evacuations were running smooth, but this passive behavior of the Fire Nation army worried her even more.
Dum-Dum’s happy squeaker ripped her out of her thoughts. Aang came up to the plateau, waving his hand to greet Azula. He smiled as ever to her, but she recognized his tired eyes. It seemed, that he had another hard morning.
“Hey Arashi. Time for another round. Don’t worry, I’ll do better, this time.”
Azula closed the distance between them and pressed her forehead against Aang's.
She hesitated a moment, but the sadness, which was hidden in his eyes was too much in the end.
“What’s the matter, Aang?”
Aang’s face fell, but he shook his head a bit waving his hands in the air.
“Nothing, just a little tired, but I bet you’ll wake me up, again any second.”
Azula crossed her arms before her chest, tending her head aside a bit. Her voice got an slightly annoyed touch.
“You’re a bad liar, Aang. You may be tired as well, but something else is bothering you. Just tell me.”
Aang blushed a bit for a moment, but the sadness finally swapped over him. He took place on the ground and Azula did the same at his side.
“Everything is changing, Arashi. The others don’t want to play with me, anymore. They say, that because I’m the Avatar it wouldn’t be fair, because a team with me in it would have an unfair advantage.”
Azula felt her guts knotting, as she recognized the tears coming to Aang’s eyes.
“But I’m still the same, Arashi. I’m still Aang.” He stared at his feet, while his tears were falling. “But all they see now is the Avatar, not me anymore. Everyone, beside Gyatso and you.”
He let himself fall at her shoulder to weep out his sadness. Azula felt her anger bubbling up inside of her. She felt it pulsing in her breath and this pulsation was in the air around her as well. Aang recognized it and stopped crying. His questioning look was resting on her as Azula jumped back on her feed.
“Come on, Aang, let’s go.”
A dangerous glow was in her eyes and her voice had an hidden sharp edge in it. It brought Aang on his feet, instantly.
“But our training...”
Azula had grabbed Aang’s hand and had started to walk off the plateau. Dum-Dum was still sitting on her shoulder, sharing questioning looks with her and the young monk.
“But Arashi, what are you gonna do?”
Azula stopped a moment, giving the boy a grin, which elicited him a gasp.
“Teaching some acolytes a lesson.”
As hoped, she found a group of acolytes at the airball field. Azula had let go Aang’s hand, before she approached the young benders with a hurting sweet smile. Dum-Dum took place on Aang’s shoulder. The young monk wasn’t sure, but it seemed to him, that the lemur started to make himself comfortable for a show.
“Hey Arashi! You haven’t forgot it.”
A warm chuckle escaped Azula. It was the same young acolyte, who had asked her for an airball match last week.
“How could I, when you have asked me so kindly. But I need a short backup about how to play it.”
“No problem, this game is easy.”
The five acolytes gathered around Azula, while the boy started to explain.
“Look, this is the ball we use for playing. It can be hold up in the sky with our bending.”
The boy handed Azula the ball and she checked it a second.
“Like this, I think?”
Azula created a swirling sphere within the ball and let it dance on her hands, arms, head and feet. It brought a beaming smile to the acolytes.
“Perfect, Arashi. You see the big plates at both ends of the field? These are the goals. You have to blast the ball through the goal of the other team to score.”
Azula smiled warm at the acolyte and gave the swirling ball a hard blow with her bending. Even in this ankle and distance, she managed a perfect hit. An even warmer smile was on her lips at the cheerful shouts of the acolytes.
“AWESOME! Now you see the stakes? You’re only allowed to stand on top of them. If you fall off and touch the ground, you have to wait until next goal, before you’re allowed to join in, again and that’s it. Now let us make teams.”
Azula nodded with a bright smile and waved her hand to order Aang to come to her. He was on his way to the field, where Azula and the acolytes already have takes positions on the stakes, when the acolytes stopped chatting.
“Sorry, Arashi, but Aang isn’t allowed to play with us.”
Azula raised an eyebrow and did her best to fake real surprise.
“He’s the Avatar. It wouldn’t be fair.”
The young boys in front of her gave her a determent look, but their confidence faded as a dangerous smirk came to her lips.
“Oh… I see. What about a deal. I play against all of you. When you score first, we’ll have it your way, but when I score first, Aang is allowed to play as well. Deal?”
Aang had trained enough with her to recognize the trap, Azula had set up with her kind behavior before. She was standing on a stake, letting the ball swirling on her index finger with a threatening smile.
“But… But this wouldn’t be fair. You would be alone, Arashi and we’re five.”
Her smile grew even wider and the sparkle in her eyes was mocking the acolytes.
“I know, but unfortunately there are only five of you here. Bad luck for you. So what should it be? Do we have a deal?”
A grim anger came to the faces of the acolytes and all of them nodded. Azula’s lips curved up and she threw the ball to Aang. One acolyte was about to protest, but Azula faced him with a soul-piercing look.
“As you said he’s the Avatar, a symbol for balance. Don’t tell me you would dare to call the Avatar biased. He’ll throw the ball in game as the start signal.”
Azula took starting stand on a stake and focused on the acolytes. The boys did as well with grim enthusiasm. Aang recognized the bright fire in Azula’s eyes and he had to suppress a pitied laughter. Her eyes narrowed and she was licking her lips in excitement. This would be fun. For her.
She was up in the sky, instantly, as Aang had thrown the ball. Azula wasn’t sure, if he had a clue, that he had made things easier for her, by throwing the ball towards the acolytes and not in the middle of the field, but due to his smirk, she couldn’t exclude it. Before the boy on the stake got the chance to control the ball, Azula kicked it with an hard blow of air. The ball hit the acolyte directly in his face and knocked him off the pole.
The others made the mistake to watch in shock at their falling teammate, because Azula didn’t hesitate. She had caught the ball, letting it glide over her arms and shoulder from her right hand to the left and threw it directly at two other benders. Before they got a chance to recognize their mistake, the ball was bouncing between the poor boys like a flipper ball, hitting them over and over again against face and stomach. Both slid off the stakes with painful whimpers as Azula sprinted towards their former position, still controlling the ball.
The two remaining acolytes finally showed some resistance. Both tried to blow her off the stakes with their bending, but Azula easily dodged or blocked the strikes. With a wide jump, she flipped over and landed on another pole on her stretched out hand, between the boys, spinning on her palm with her legs in splits, creating a whirlwind, which blew off another acolyte in an desperate scream. The last one had manage to keep a stand before the goal, but due to his face he was scared. He got no chance to loose a further thought about his misery, because Azula was on her feet again, throwing the ball straight at the goal. For a little moment she could see his ray of hope to get the ball and it made her lips curving up. She added a forceful blow of air to the ball, a blink before the boy could control it, punching the ball with the boy through the goal.
A smug smile was on her lips as she brought the ball back to her hands to let the globe swirl on her index finger again. Only some painful moans and whimpers were to be heard around the field. She turned to Aang, who was staring at the scenery with shocked amusement.
“Get up here, Aang. Time to play.”
He was about to come up to a stake, when and teary voice of an acolyte stopped him.
“That wasn’t fair, Arashi.”
The boy regretted his comment, instantly. Azula’s face became a mask of burning anger.
“Life is never fair, deal with it. I have done nothing, what I haven’t seen you doing during your games before, I have only been better, than all of you, that’s life.”
She jumped down and came threatening close to the scared boy.
“There will always be someone, who is better than you. Most times you cannot pick your opponents, so you have to learn to deal with it and to search for ways to match them.”
She turned back to Aang and smiled victorious at him.
“Come on, Aang. Let us play a bit. You have earned yourself a little break.”
Aang beamed at her and hugged her, before he got up on a pole. The other acolytes were about to do the same, but Azula stopped them. Her voice was threatening again.
“I said Aang, not all of you.”
She turned to the shocked and confused acolytes. Her voice was hard as she taught them a lesson.
“You’re not good enough, if wouldn’t be fair.”
Azula raised her hand, to signal Aang to stay quite, while she shared looks with any confused acolyte. Her harsh words had hurt them more, than her hits before and she nodded in satisfaction.
“Never forget this pain, all of you are feeling right now, young acolytes. It’s called rejection. It’s the same pain, everyone of you had caused for Aang, by rejecting him as he had asked you, if he could play with you. So think twice about your choices, maybe everyone of you has hurt more people in his young life, than you might have noticed before.”
Azula turned back from them and got up on another pole. She smiled warm at Aang, who had a wet glitter in his eyes. She threw the ball over to him.
“You have the ball, Aang. Let’s play.”
He beamed at her and was about to start, when he stopped the swirling ball again.
“And what about our training?”
“You’ve trained enough for today and I could also use some fun. These boys down there weren’t even a warm up for me.”
She recognized a smirk in his face as he got himself ready.
The swirling within the ball started again.
“What do you think about an extra challenge?”
Azula raised an eyebrow. She could see the glow in the monks eyes and the swirling got faster. He threw the ball at her with an enormous speed. Nevertheless, she caught it easily, but she had recognized him charging at her out of the corner of her eyes. She heard his voice and the words let her excitement grow.
“Arashi? Blue Fire.”
Gyatso found Aang and Azula at the airball field. A lot of monks and acolytes were gathered around the field, observing the training with amazement, shock and interest. Both Airbender were panting heavily and Azula was busy fighting a free way to Aang’s goal, using the stakes as cover for sneaky strikes of air. Due to the layers of dust and dirt and the fine scratches and bruises, it had been a hard game for a while. The old monk could see, that none of them was holding anything back, as they got into another close hand-to-hand combat. He was worried for a second, but as he came closer, he could see the vivid sparkles in the eyes of the teenager, which brought a smile to his lips.
“Arashi. Aang. I think this is enough for today.”
Azula used the short lack of concentration to kick the Avatar down from the stake. With a triumphant shouted ‘Blue Fire’, she kicked the ball through his goal and jumped down to the muttering boy.
“Never loose focus, Aang. Victory was at hand for you, but now it’s a draw. A vital lesson.”
Aang kept focused on her for a second with a sulky face, but then he grinned wide and bowed before Azula. Then he hugged her tight.
“Thanks Arashi. This was the best training I ever had.”
She also wrapped her arms around him.
“This was also your best round, so far, Aang. Have you noticed? I could go much harder on you, than before, all because you have been more focused. Great job.”
She had to laugh at his beaming smile as he released her out of his hug. Azula turned to Gyatso and bowed before the old man.
“Thanks for the advice, Gyatso. I have decided to choose less tension and it has worked.“
The old monk shared a warm smile with her.
“You have found out for yourself, Arashi. Never forget that.”
Azula nodded at the monk, while she threw the ball back to the astonished acolytes, who had observed their whole game with greatest astonishment and amazement. She wouldn’t forget it. She had come too far to do so.
Chapter 16: A Falling Mask
The game had lifted Aang's mood, but it hasn't changed the fact, that his trainings plans got more intense. The training at the plateau remained the only occasion, when Azula and Aang spent time together. Also Gyatso was less present, the council and the worries about Aang were drawing all his focus and so Azula started to explore the temple and the surrounding landscape with Nari and Dum-Dum. She used the morning for training and she dared to join the monks or acolytes at their lessons, to learn new forms and techniques. But Azula wasn't alone. Satora was allowed to leave hospital and the nun filled in for Aang and Gyatso, supporting Azula at her training and joining her at their journeys to the villages to check the evacuation. Azula enjoyed her company. The nun had a surprisingly black taste of humor, which was able to bring smiles to Azula's face, when she seemed to get lost in her thoughts, like this evening, when Azula was busy with the maps in the library.
"Planning to conquer the world or just searching for the best beach?"
Azula jerked at this quote, but she ignored the bitter taste in her mouth and rolled her eyes.
"Not today and never joke about beaches, this isn't a simple question. Water quality, temperature, time of the year, the sand… For example, Embers Island has an almost perfect beach, but don't try it, when the firecrabs are wandering for mating. The beach, the streets, the houses, they are everywhere and so birds and beasts, which are eating them. The former wonderful beach changes then into a stinking, red crab shell mess within days."
Satora laughed warm at her and gave Azula a little shove, but there was also a strange flicker in her eyes. She took seat beside Azula and checked the maps closer.
"You're checking the shorelines for landing places."
Azula nodded at her, without looking up from the maps.
"I have found three possible landing places for troops, due to the maps and our visits at the coast and we have to add the bridgehead, the Fire Nation has established over centuries."
Satora's eyes narrowed, while she studied the map closer.
"Hmm… They'll definitely use their camp and the little harbor to land the heavy equipment, which means, the other points could be used to land soldiers as fast as possible to secure the ground and their camp."
Azula lifted an eyebrow in surprise and gave Satora a respectful nod. The nun smirked at her and got back to the maps.
"The best would be, we could prevent a landfall. Hitting the fleet and boats, before they manage to land their troops and equipment."
The nun had definitely received Azula's attention. Satora had an encouraging smile on her lips, but it faded, as she recognized the total surprise in Azula's face. A sad glitter was in her eyes, as she placed a hand on Azula's shoulder.
"You still cannot remember, Arashi?"
Azula got pulled into a comforting hug, as she shook her head. She heard a little sob from Satora and the nun wiped away some tears as she unwrapped her arms around Azula's shoulders.
"Strategy of war, Arashi. I have spend years with my studies about tactics, strategies and about the logical and philosophical aspects of war. I have visited the archives and universities of Ba Sing Se, Caldera City and of the North Pole to gain my knowledge and you have been the first nun, who has shared this rare interest of mine within the Air Nomads."
Azula's jaw dropped at Satora's explanation. The idea of an peaceful Airbender studying war tactics, refused to set roots in her mind.
"You are an expert in war tactics?"
Her look elicited Satora a laughter.
"Yes. As far as I know still the only one in all air temples."
She recognized Azula's growing confusion and sighed.
"I do not love the war. I have seen, what men can do to other men. I hate it. I couldn't understand it, so I started to try and suddenly I found myself deep in books and scrolls about strategy, tactics and philosophy and so I started to understand the fascination of it."
Her face was shiny and sad at the same time and Azula recognized her frustration.
"There's a mismatch between the scrolls and the reality, Arashi, but you have to see both sides to mediate between these extremes. The mind game behind war, the strategy could be fascinating and interesting, but in the scrolls no one bleeds."
She placed her hand carefully at her bandaged arm, but her look started to burn.
"It was my way to approach the peaceful idea of balance, learning to understand the concept and tactics of war and to understand the reasons, people use to justify those actions. The reasons, why some people seem to believe that they must bring this horror to other men."
Her warm smile returned and she pressed her forehead against Azula's.
"You have been the only one, who has shared this interest of mine. You have started to study the same with me. We had planned to visit Ba Sing Se, again, before you got hit by the lightning, Arashi."
Azula felt herself trembling. She stared at Satora and at the maps on the table and she could see the hope in the face of the nun in front of her, and this hope was hurting her. Suddenly, Azula jumped up and took her glider to leave the library through a window. She landed on the plateau with the cherry trees and took place at the big branch. Dum-Dum joined her after a while. His left eye had turned gray, completely, but it wasn't infected. The lemur took place on her legs and snuggled himself against her abdomen, while Azula started to fondle his neck.
"How do you manage to handle these tasks, Arashi?"
Satora placed her glider at the cherry tree and jumped up to the branch to take place beside Azula.
"You have lost your memories, but here you are, fighting your way back to yourself, nursing burned monks and nuns, helping the villagers and teaching the Avatar and all of us lessons about balance, when your own life seems to be far away from balance."
Azula chewed her cheek. She knew the answer, but she hesitated, before she turned to Satora.
"What else should I do? What else would Arashi do?"
Satora smiled at her and nodded.
"Exactly the same, I think."
Her answer was sending a strange shiver through Azula. She focused on Dum-Dum, who has fallen asleep in her lap. Her mind wandered back to the conversation with Gyatso about her fate and his hint about soulmates.
"Who was Arashi, before she was hit by this lightning?"
Satora smiled even warmer at her and a sparkle came to her eyes.
"A wonderful person."
Azula rolled her eyes, which changed Satora's smile into an impish one.
"Okay, more details I see. You are stubborn, opinionated and a bit short tempered. I think the whole temple remembers your shouting quarrel with monk Hondo about the rule, why we refuse to eat meat and fish, because they are living creatures. The old man got nearly a heart attack, as you pointed out, that a salad is also alive, until we cut it from its roots and chop it to little slices."
Azula had to suppress a little laughter.
"I'll never forget his red face, as he argued, that a plant doesn't bleed and you just have showed him a little branch of a pine with resin. You explained to him, that the resin is also a prove, that plants could bleed, only in a different color and texture. You have shoved him over the edge with the fact, that an animal at least has the chance to run away and a plant not. I think these halls haven't heard such shocking curses for centuries."
It was enough for Azula to burst out in laughter, which made Dum-Dum jolting up out of his sleep with a shriek. Also Satora was laughing, wiping away some tears of joy.
"Best of all was, that you only had planned to show, that this rule, like many others, still leaves space for interpretations. It was never about starting to eat animals. You had to help gardening and in the kitchen for half a year for this action, but you have never complained about it. You have stand your ground."
Azula nodded for herself, while she started to stroke Dum-Dum again. This sounded like her.
"What else can you tell me about Arashi."
Satora placed also a hand on Dum-Dum, observing the little creature purring in Azula's lap.
"You're clever and quick-witted, always helpful and you love animals, just like animals love you."
The story about Nari came to her mind, again.
"So that's why I raised Nari."
A touched laughter escaped Satora.
"Oh, the story about Nari. Do you remember this day again?"
Azula shook her head. She couldn't remember, because it wasn't her memories. She recognized the sad face of Satora.
"Gyatso has told me, that Nari was raised by… by me."
"You have lived and slept in the stables for two years as a punishment, as long as it was necessary to raise the bison and to teach her everything to be part of the herd. It has been Gyatso's idea. You had to take the responsibility for your action. You have stepped in for her mother, so you had to fulfill her duties."
Azula bit her bottom lip.
"And I have stand my ground, again."
Satora took her hand and squeezed it.
"As ever, Arashi."
She recognized the questions and sadness in Azula's face and sighed.
"You're a strong bender and almost obsessed to be perfect, when it comes to your bending, but you haven't made real progress until you've met Aang. He has outmatched you quickly, as many others, but this fact has finally tickled you ambitions and it has made you swallow your pride. First you have been really mad about his lackluster during the library lessons. I remember your outburst, as I was teaching both of you and other acolytes, as Aang had started to snore, because he was fallen asleep. 'How could you be so good, when you don't know how to bend and why to bend a certain way?' It has been an eye-opener for Aang."
A knowing smile came to Azula's lips. She remembered the day, when she was stuck with her tries to control this former unfamiliar element and Aang had helped her to manage this task.
"Aang joined you at your extra visits at the library, from this day on and suddenly he got better even faster. This was the eye-opener for you. Less control more feeling, less planning, more doing. You mimicked his idea and you joined him at his funny games and you started to adopt a part of his carefree attitude and suddenly your progress also increased, rapidly. You two became the closest friends, you have even earned your own tattoos in the same week as Aang. Two days earlier, in fact. For two days you have been the youngest monk or nun, who had ever earned the tattoos. I would bet my own, that this has been his way to thank you for your help."
Azula raised an eyebrow in surprise, which forced Satora to another mischievous smile. She took out a scroll from her robe and handed it to Azula. The paper showed a detailed painting with instructions, how to create and use the air roller.
"Aang may have become better with the theory and the technical descriptions, but this perfect drawing and this excellent and detailed description of his new invented technique?"
She shook her head and a snickered laughter escaped her mouth.
"Definitely you have helped him with this part."
She took the scroll out of Azula's hands and placed it back into her robe. The face of the nun darkened, as she focused on the teenager.
"I'm worried about you, Arashi. You seem to make progress and at the same time you seem to make none."
Azula frowned at Satora. The nun took her hands under the observant look of Dum-Dum.
"You seem to be more yourself, again, but none of your old memories are coming back. I have seen it in your eyes, Arashi. You act like someone , who's listening to stories about a stranger, but at the same time I have the feeling, that you really know, who you are and I can't make these pictures match."
Azula felt the color fading from her face. She turned her head away, but Satora placed her hand at her chin and turned it back. Her worries had grown, visibly.
"Something bad must has happened to you, but beside this fact you have started to care for others. Please, tell me why, Arashi."
Azula closed her eyes and concentrated on her breathing. She tried to ignore the presence of the nun beside her, but Satora kept on questioning.
"Your knowledge about the Fire Nation and your morning katas, for example."
Azula felt, like she had been hit by an cold and hot lightning bolt. She had jerked, before she got a chance to control her muscles.
"I have observed these katas, Arashi and I have seen you sparring with Aang. Only a master in firebending uses such moves. They need a maximum of body and breath control. I have watched those katas at my stay at Caldera City. And your story about Embers Island? I have seen your slightly disgust face, you must have seen and probably smelled the crabs."
Azula was about to flee, when she felt Satora's arms wrapping around her. The nun ignored the denying tension.
"I also think, that Sozin is preparing an attack on us, I know too much about tactics to ignore the facts, but you seem to know it, for sure, so please, tell me what happen to you? Do the Spirits have warned you? Have they played with your mind to give you knowledge we need to survive? What burden is resting on your shoulders?"
Azula twisted herself out of the nun's arms and faced Satora with a warning look. She felt her own anger rising and she failed to fight against it.
"You want to know, why I know such things? You want to know, what has happened to me? You want to know why I try to fight this uprising storm? Because I have no choice!"
Satora's eyes watered in sadness, but this reaction took down the last guard of Azula. Dum-Dum has hidden himself within the cherry tree before Azula's rage.
"All my life I was raised to be the perfect soldier, raised to deliver the final blow against an enemy within a war, that should spread out the glory and wisdom of my beloved Nation, but what have I earned? Rejection. Fear. Loneliness. Isolation. But I have carried this burden, for the glory of my Nation and for the glory of my family. In the end I failed myself! Instead of crushing my enemy, my enemy crushed me, denying me a honorable death."
She didn't hear the shocked gasp and the horror in Satora's face.
"Yes, the Spirits have messed up my mind. Arashi has messed up my mind. I was ripped away from myself and for what? To face another defeat! To see the lie, I have believed in my whole life, my former life. The lie of a justified war. My beloved Nation hasn't spread out their glory, only their shame! I have lived in a lie and it has cost me all I used to have."
Some tears were in Azula's eyes, but also a cold rage, which kept Satora frozen on spot.
"All what is left from my old existence is the love for my Nation. It is my ultimate duty to protect this Nation."
A dangerous grin came to her lips.
"This uprising war is my past, Satora. A shame, build on the bones of all airbenders. A shame, I have failed to see and failed to fight in my time and in my body. A shame too big to fight for a lifetime, but here I am now."
Azula was shaken by her hard breaths. She stared in the totally shocked face of the nun in front of her. The fact started to settle in, that she had ripped away her protecting mask in front of Satora, but somehow it had also taken a weight off her shoulders. She stretched herself and leveled her breath a bit.
"I'm Azula and in my time I'm the grand-granddaughter of Fire Lord Sozin and due to a cosmic joke I was thrown into Arashi's body at the day of my greatest defeat to face the truth, that I have lost everything for a bloody lie. This is my chance to change this fact or die trying, that's why I can handle this task. It is my duty to protect my Nation. I know who I am and I will fight anyone, who tries to stop me at this struggle."
Satora was pale. She had pressed her hands before her mouth to muffle her cries, but her eyes were still locked with Azula's. She was searching for words, but obviously she wasn't able to find the right ones. But a change in her look showed Azula, that the nun in front of her had made a decision. A decision, which shocked Azula more than any word, the nun might have said to her as an answer. The next thing, Azula recognized was Satora's forehead pressed against her own, while both hands of the nun were squeezing her shoulders. It took Satora some more moments to find her voice again, but her words fueled Azula's fire even more.
"Thank you, Azula. Don't worry, you can count on me."
Chapter 17: Honorable Decisions
Azula stared in disbelief at the nun in front of her. Satora's look was thankful and full compassion, as she released her out of her grip. The nun was still weeping a little, but her eyes got this supporting fire again, Azula had seen at the hospital before.
It was a hushed whisper, which brought a warm smile on Satora's lips.
The nun wiped away her tears and continued her explanation.
"I have seen nothing but honesty in your words, Ara… Azula. It's an pure and honorable idea, your way to protect balance, to find your balance again. Such brave actions can only earn my deepest respect and my offer to help you succeeding instead of die trying."
She hesitated a moment, but she took Azula's hands again.
"I don't care, what you might have done before, Azula. From my point of view I can say none of these things have already happened, yet. I only can and will judge you by the things you have done, since you was forced to stay with us and these things just make me so proud of you."
Azula felt this warm tickling, again and she did best to fight the tears, which tried to escape her eyes. An impish smile grew at Satora's face.
"You have brought a fresh wind to these ancient halls, Azula. You have blown off some layers of dust from many old heads here. It was about time, in my opinion, some of these old bones were about to snap under this weight. No joke, every time, Sifu Honda walks by, his joints are cracking, like someone is about to break through the roof."
The quote triggered Azula's lips to curve up a little until she couldn't suppress a snickering chuckle anymore. She felt herself pulled to the nun, who had placed an arm around her shoulder. Both finally laughed along for a while, until they where out of breath.
"Does anyone else knows the truth about you?"
Satora's voice was serious again and also Azula returned to a serious face.
"Sifu Gyatso knows it. I have told him the whole story about my mistakes and how I ended up here."
A little sigh of relief escaped Satora's mouth and she nodded an approval.
"I think Aang doesn't know the truth?"
Azula shook her head.
"No, he doesn't. You and Gyatso are the only ones, who knows my secret so far." She took a little breath in. "And for now I would prefer not to change this fact."
Satora's nod came instantly, almost before Azula had finished her sentence.
"Don't worry, Azula, my lips are sealed. But I'm so relieved, that you don't have to carry this burden on your own. You're risking your life for us and for what you believe in and Gyatso is the right one to help you to find a way back."
Azula nodded at the nun, but something in her eyes must have caught Satora's attention, because her expression got suspicious.
"You want to go back to yourself, don't you?"
Azula nodded, but a little too slow and with a little hesitation. She saw Satora's eyes narrowing, which finally elicited her a sigh.
"I still think yes, but since the last events, things have changed a bit, Satora. Maybe there is no way back for me, anymore."
The nun release a shocked gasp and hugged Azula, instantly.
"Of cause there is. I see it in your eyes, that you hope so, too."
A weak laughter was Azula's first answer.
"I miss my fire, Satora. It is unique. Blue Fire. I have to admit, that I love the airbending, too, especially flying, but I really want to feel the heat of my flame again."
She sighed a little.
"But I have decided to interfere. I have literally decided to fight my own past. Maybe I have started creating a future, where I do not exist."
Satora's tears and the shock in her face brought a comforting smile to Azula's lips.
"No need to be sad, Satora. It was my decision, I was aware of the possible consequences. As I said, I'm the Princess of the Fire Nation, my first duty is to protect my Nation, with my life, if I must. Probably the only worthy truth of my education. This is my chance to find the honor, which I couldn't find in my time. My existence for the glory of my Nation, a fair trade, in my opinion and if I should die trying, then I can take my last breaths in honor, not in a cold, dark cell in shame and misery, abandoned by my Nation, my friends and family."
Satora's mouth stood agape and she had placed her hand before it in shock. It convinced Azula to press her forehead against the one of the nun, to comfort her. She was about to pull back, when Satora placed her hands on the back of her head to increase the pressure.
"Don't take this cruel fate for granted, Azula. Maybe you're only doing things, you already have done in your time. Maybe things you know only have happened, because you have interfered."
Azula's eyes widened in frustration, but Satora shook her head heavily, still pressing her forehead against the one of the teenager.
"Wrong intention, Azula. It is a simple strategy lesson. It would mean, you might have lost a battle, but you would have played a part to win the war. You would have opposed your family to protect your Nation, you would have brought honor to yourself, your family and your Nation and you would have a chance to protect the little rest of whatever this war might have left from the Air Nomads, so don't loose your faith in that chance, Azula. You have failed to see the lie and the shame in your past, but maybe also the little victories, you might have achieved here with us. It would be worthy to have a chance to find them."
She released her out of her grip and her determination brought the tears to Azula's eyes, finally. Satora nodded at her with a teary smile.
"I promise, my spirit will haunt anyone, who would dare to argue different. And this would include you too, little Princess."
Azula's jaw dropped for a moment, before she had to start laughing, together with Satora. Dum-Dum also dared to return out of the tree and snuggled himself at Azula again, who petted the head of the chirping lemur. She gave Satora a thankful smile.
"Thank you, Satora."
The nun jumped off from the branch and bowed before Azula.
"You're welcome, Azula."
She looked up to the stars and tugged at her robe.
"Back to the maps? We have to plan a defense against an invasion. If we can manage to keep them away from the temple until the comet has passed, then we might have a chance to survive the whole storm."
Azula raised her eyebrow in surprise, as she came down from the branch as well and joined Satora walking back to the library.
"I have lost no word about the comet to you."
She received a little shove as a first answer, while the nun rolled her eyes.
"War tactics, Azula. I'm an expert, remember. An army of firebenders fueled by the power of the comet would be my first choice to bring us down. They know, we have the Avatar at our side and this remains a major threat to them, even untrained to the other elements. The comet offers them the best chance to beat us and the Avatar."
Azula nodded with a dark face.
"Yes, but they have to be near or within the temple to succeed, otherwise the time frame would be too short."
A vivid sparkle came to Satora's eyes.
"Correct, so I expect the start of an invasion, before the comet arrives, in order to prepare one devastating attack at the day of the comet. Our best chance to save us and probably a lot of Fire Nation soldiers as well, is to keep them away from our coast. If we're able to stand our ground long enough, to let the comet pass, we might get a chance to talk with Sozin, again."
Azula nodded, but she recognized the sadness returning to Satora's face. The nun had started to stroke over the dressing on her arm in her thoughts.
"Soldiers will die by our hands in this conflict. We may try best to spare lives, but it will be war. People kill in war or get killed."
The silence between them was heavy, but Azula had nothing to answer. She felt the struggle within Satora.
"You fear, that some monks will refuse to fight, beside the fact, that the enemy won't spare their lives."
She nodded with a dark face.
"Our past is a curse and a blessing, I bet Gyatso have shown you the caves beyond the library. I respect ever nun or monk, who would stick to this old oath, so I'm willing to fight for them. They have the right to live such a life, so I'll stand up for them and I think many more, too. I'll defend this way of life, even when it means to give it up for others."
The nun beside Azula had hit the nail on the head and as much as this fact seemed to send a disgust shiver down Satora's spine, she had already made a decision for herself. She had decide to give up her ideals to assure, that others could stick to them. It made Azula stop and she bowed deep before Satora. As she straightened up again, she found the nun with a proud smile on her lips.
"I can see the fire in you, Azula. You're right, it's unique. Promise me, you'll keep it burning."
She smiled back at the nun as an answer. She felt it too and she was sure for a moment, that she could feel the well known heat floating through her body. She closed here eyes with this warm smile on her lips and focused on the soothing warmth in her belly. The wind was whispering in her ear and for a second it sounded like an uplifting chuckle. Something in this place was able to fuel her fire, every day a bit more and she started to believe, that this trust and support was a part of this mystery.
Chapter 18: Crossroads
Another week passed and there was still no sign of an invasion. The Nomads had started to fly patrols along the coast lines, due to Satora's and Azula's suggestions. The idea was to spot incoming ships as soon as possible and to keep an arriving fleet away from the shores with airbending to prevent a landfall, if possible without sinking the ships. The fact, that the Fire Nation remained so quiet and passive worried Azula more than any open threat. It damned her to stay passive as well and to wait for the next steps. It was also another source of trouble, because it worked like a lullaby for the elder monks, who started to be in doubt about the real threat. Hope was starting to spread out, that Azula's harsh actions in the village might have been the warning signal to bring Fire Lord Sozin back to reason. Nevertheless Gyatso had convinced the council to set up patrols and observing points to keep an eye on the situation, but on other terms he didn't seem to have such a luck. Aang's trainings plan was still getting tougher and she found the old monk more than once in quarrels about this fact. It convinced Azula to take some of their trainings lessons for flying, to cheer the young Avatar up, but she didn't miss the sad and tired face of the boy, when she observed some of his bending lessons with the other masters. It seemed to her, that the young monk was always happy to train with her, because it offered him a chance to left behind some of his dark thoughts.
But he was late this afternoon. Really late and this fact brought an uneasy feeling to Azula. He had never skipped her training, no matter how tired he was, so this gnawing feeling in her stomach was growing with every minute. She shook her head annoyed in the end and started to search for him, but without any success. He wasn't in the stables with Appa, who gave her a questioning look together with Nari, he wasn't at one of the training grounds or in the library and also at no rooftop or in his room. She was now searching for him for two hours and a strong wind from the sea was starting to push rainclouds over the sky. She barely recognized, that she was running through the areal, when she finally found him at the airball field on his own, sitting hidden behind a stake. She was about to yell at him, but something was wrong, so she closed her mouth, before some accusing words could escape her throat. She walked over to him and had to take a shocked gasp, as she recognized his red cried eyes. He looked so lost and broken, like she had never seen him before. His look was absolute desperation.
"They send me away, Arashi."
Azula's mind went blanc. Her face must have been a mask of shock and disbelief, because Aang continued his explanation.
"I have eavesdropped it. They think Gyatso is too easy with me and that he is too close with me, to understand the importance of my bending training, so they want to send me to another temple to finish my training."
Tears came back to his eyes and the first raindrops started to fall as well. Azula was still standing in shock before the young Avatar.
"I don't want to leave this place, Arashi! Everyone I know lives here, everyone I love! These are my friends and family, Gyatso is my friend and somehow like a father at the same time and you are my closest friend, you're like my sister, I don't want to leave, Arashi! I don't want to!"
He jumped up and let himself fall against Azula in desperation. Aang cried heavily, clawing himself in Arashi's robe, stammering barely understandable words of shock and grief, which were muffled by Azula's robe. It took her some moments to pass her own shock, but she finally recognized, that she was rubbing the back of the crying monk. Eventually her own tears where rolling down her cheeks, but they were wash away by the rain, which was starting to fall in thick strains, punched by a still raising wind. She pulled him closer and her voice was an angry whisper in his ear.
"The council has decided this?"
He only managed a nod.
"What about Gyatso?"
He finally managed to speak between his sobs.
"He's still arguing against it, I think. I ran away before the elders were finished with the meeting."
A dangerous glow came to her eyes.
"Good, I have a few arguments to add as well."
She pushed him away and started to walk to the council room.
"Arashi, where do you go?"
Azula stopped and turned back to Aang with a face, which made the Avatar wince in shock. The dangerous glow in her eyes was now a bright fire.
"Dust off some old minds."
She looked up and spotted the bison from the patrols returning to the temple. The wind started to grow to a storm and she assumed, that it wouldn't last long, before it would be too dangerous to be in the sky.
"Better get inside to get out of the wet robe. Sleep a little and you'll see, sun will shine tomorrow."
A threatening smirk came to her lips.
"Just let me handle these things."
Azula slammed open the doors of the council room with a hard blow of her airbending. The monks and the nun turned to her in shock and surprise, but also in anger about this insult, but somehow no one dared to stop her from walking beside Gyatso. She had a burning rage in her eyes, which kept the mouths of the council shut.
"Which one of you lime-heads is responsible for this immense pile of hippo cow dung?"
"Nun Arashi! This kind of behavior is absolutely intolerable!"
Monk Tashi was the only one, who haven't taken a shocked and disgusted gasp. He had used his bending to raise his voice to an impressive level, but all he earned was a deadly glance from Azula.
"Correct, so I expect from all of you to clean it up, instantly!"
Azula gave him credit for being the first one, who had dared to oppose her. Her voice was on a controlled level, but filled with sharp razor blades. She recognized the surprised flicker in the old man's eyes in front of her. It hasn't been the reaction, he had anticipated, so Azula used his confusion to continue talking.
"It seems to me, that none of you have a clue about who we're talking about."
It was like waving with a steak before hungry dragons and monk Tashi tried to get it.
"We are talking about the Avatar, nun Arashi! Watch your tongue."
A sarcastic laughter was Azula's answer.
"Wrong, we're talking about a boy. Your praised Avatar is a boy. A human, made of flesh and bones. Cut him and he'll bleed, I know this best of all of us! He breaths, eats, sleeps, bleeds and feels like any other human. Hurt him and he is hurt."
Her eyes were burning holes in monk Tashi's skull. The monk seemed to get smaller in front of her and also the others, beside Gyatso, were shocked. Azula let her eyes wander to every member of the council.
"You want to prepare him for his duty, than he needs to be strong and Aang is strongest, when he's with his friends. It has taken me a while to understand why, but you're all fools, when you think it would be a smart idea to send him away. Gyatso is his strength, not his weakness, we are his strength. This is his home."
Eventually monk Pasang wanted to interrupt her, but a deadly glance sealed his lips. Azula pointed to the open door.
"A tree needs strong and deep roots to survive a storm and instead of helping him to grow strong roots you have decided to dig them out and place him on foreign ground with a big storm at horizon. It's the best way to break the tree, so congratulations for this wise council."
A dead silence hung in the halls and Azula gave them a last threatening look.
"I can see no balance in this decision, not for you, not for Aang and not for the world, so get the lime and dust out of your heads and clean this mess up, before I make you do so."
"How could you dare to speak in such a manner before the council, nun Arashi? How could you dare to vocalize threats in these sacred halls?"
A nearly uncontrolled rage was in monk Tashi' voice. It brought a smirk to Azula's lips, while she bowed a little.
"It's not a threat, it's a promise."
She turned around and started to walk to the doors, while she recognized the shocked gasps behind her.
"And I always keep my promises."
She slammed the doors close behind her with her bending, leaving the elders with these last words alone.
Azula was on the outside again. The storm was howling around her and the heavy raindrops were stinging at her head. She hurried up to pass the areal in order to speak with Aang. She wanted to reach his room as fast as possible. Azula knew how he must feel right now, pushed away by his friends and family and left alone with a heavy burden. She would explain him her own situation. She felt ready for it. It was a way to support each other.
She had nearly reached the other tower, when she spotted a bison starting. Her heart skipped a beat and a painful knot was building up in her guts. She was sprinting to the stables, hoping, that she was on the wrong track but the pure shock clawed her with sharp fangs as she found the empty place beside Nari. Appa was gone.
She jumped behind Nari's head and leaned towards the bison's ear.
"You must reach Appa. Please Nari, you're my only chance. You can do it. Yip-Yip."
Azula recognized the proud determination in Nari's eye as the bison started. She couldn't see Appa within the punching rain, but Nari seemed to know the correct direction. Soon both were over open water and the cost line started to fade behind the heavy gray and the rain. And then she spotted Appa. He was a small silhouette in the sky, barely to see. She would have missed it, if not a lightning had lightened up the sky behind him and to her luck they were getting closer, but also the storm was still getting stronger. Azula struggled hard to keep a tight grip in Nari's thick fur and also her bison was at her limits. It seemed to be in slow motion, but finally Appa's silhouette has grown really big, when she recognized something on her left side in the waves. She wasn't sure, until another lightning sharpened the line of ships rolling through the stormy sea. Cold shock and terror crushed down on her and suddenly some pieces of a puzzle were falling at their places. Appa and Aang were still getting closer, but still it would take a lot of time to reach him and more time to convince him to come back. The storm was blowing in her face, howling and screaming in rage and Azula sobbed hard, as she shared looks between the Avatar's bison in front of her and the enemy fleet at her side. This was her chance. She leaned herself to Nari's ear as good as possible.
Gyatso stared in shock out of Aang's window, the note of the Avatar still in his hands. He turned around and started to run in order to reach the stables. The old man doubled his speed as he was outside and crushed into a soaked young nun. Arashi was pale and shivering and both stared in shock at each other. Gyatso's voice was a teary whisper.
His voice broke and he got pulled in Azula's arms. She was struggling hard to keep herself on her legs.
She pushed him back a bit and the terror was written in her face.
"Gyatso. They're coming."
Chapter 19: A Storm Is Coming
The temple was like a busy buzzard wasp nest. The storm have reached its full strength and there was no way for the monks to get in the air to fight off the incoming fleet, or to get off the the temple mountain safely, so they prepared to be ready for the moment, when the storm would fade to start their defense. They would try to disturb the landing operation as soon as possible. Satora was with a pale face beside Azula and studying the maps. The shock, that the Avatar had left the temple was still spreading out and it had been no satisfaction for Azula, that the council members had apologized to her for their miscalculation. She felt Satora's hand on her shoulder.
"Why have you stopped following him? He may be your only chance for you to get back?"
Azula had to swallow a lump. She felt her tears coming back to her eyes, but she kept an almost straight face.
"War tactics, Satora. In my time, Aang got lost around the invasion of the Fire Nation. He disappeared and was found at the South Pole a hundred years later. He's the second chance, my backup if I should fail defending the honor of my Nation."
Satora's look was shocked and full of questions. It let Azula's stomach cramp, but she continued.
"Look, if our plan works and we can fight them off until the comet has passed, we'll be able to force Sozin to negotiations. This would be soon enough for me to search for Aang and I still would have a chance to get back. If I should fail, then things might still happen as I know. Aang will be found in my time and he'll end this shame. My Nation is my duty, Satora and I have decided to put my Nation before my needs. I would have betrayed myself, when I wouldn't have turned around."
She wiped away a little tear, before it could roll down her cheek.
"I couldn't let you down, too. None of you."
Azula tried to focus on the maps again, but she found herself in Satora's arms, who was sobbing heavily. She tighten her own grip around an arm of the nun, pressing her head against Satora's. She needed some deep breaths, before she was able to push the weeping nun softly away.
"So you have chosen to protect us, too."
Azula felt her bottom lip quivering.
"You have given a lost child hope and a home, all of you. It was addressed to Arashi, but I have received it. I have started to feel it, Satora. This here has become a second home."
Her eyes had a wet glitter, but also her known fire.
"And no one should dare to threaten my home."
Satora pressed one hand before her mouth to muffle another sob, but there was so much pride in her look. She pressed her forehead against Azula's.
Azula nodded and took another deep breath.
"Yes, and that's the reason, why I'll need your help. You should organize and lead the evacuation of the acolytes and the monks and nuns, who won't join us fighting?"
"What? But I want to fight at your side, Azula!"
The nun was shocked and Azula had to focus to keep her straight face, but due to Satora's reaction with little success.
"You're an expert in war tactics, Satora. You know the dirty moves of an enemy to hunt down remaining resistance. If we should fail, then they'll start to hunt down the remaining Nomads. Take as much bison as possible and some monks and nuns, who are also willing to fight and plan a strategy to hide until the storm is over."
She faced the still shocked look of the nun.
"They won't make it without your help and knowledge."
Satora's face was pale and empty, but she finally nodded. She got pulled into an tight embrace by Azula.
"Thanks Satora. For everything. Take Nari with you. She's a fighter and you could use some. Be ready for departure as soon as the storms allows to start."
The nun kissed Azula on her head, before she released her out of her arms. Her heart was aching, as the silhouette of the nun disappeared through the door of the library.
Two hours later, she found herself on the way to the stables. The storm was still bad, but got weaker and so Azula was on her way to Nari to say goodbye. Halfway she found Gyatso waiting for her. The monk just pulled her into his arms as she had reached him.
"You should go with them, Azula."
She felt his hand gently stroking her head. The old man was crying.
"I have made my decision, Gyatso as I decided to let Aang go. I'll stay here at your side."
"But the danger, Azula! I cannot put you in such a danger. I cannot..."
He clawed himself into her robe. Azula felt her chest tighten, painfully.
"But I can help you, Gyatso. I know their tactics and styles better than any other monk. Let me help you defending your home, our home."
The monk stayed quite for a while, still holding his grip around Azula. He was crying heavily but finally his tears run dry. Azula had to aid him stand, but her legs were also wobbly. He nearly stumbled, as he bowed before her.
"It'll be an honor to know you at my side, Azula."
His words forced Azula to press her hand before her mouth. She took a fast step forward to hug him tight, again.
"You haven't pushed me away."
She felt a soothing kiss on her head.
"I would never push you away, Azula. I would never let you down. Promise me to be careful."
She finally cried as well.
"You can count on me, Gyatso. You'll be proud of me."
She felt his thumb wiping away some tears as he lifted up her face to watch her in her eyes.
"I'm always proud of you, Azula, no matter what time might hold up for us."
It took some more moments, until she released him out of her arms. The warm smile, she has mostly seen on his face was back.
"Say goodbye to Nari and Satora, they're waiting for you… my strong Princess."
Azula squeezed his hand, thankfully, before she rushed to the stables.
She found Nari with Dum-Dum and some acolytes on her saddle in the stable. The bison stormed forward, as she spotted Azula and licked her from head to toe with a sad growl.
"I know, Nari, but Satora will need your help. I count on you."
The bison snuggled her head against Azula with a deep and sad hum. She fondled the giant head of the animal and sighed heavy.
"Keep an eye on them and listen to Satora and the others, okay? Make me proud. Make Arashi proud."
She ignored the questioning looks from the monks and acolytes around her and buried her head a last time within the thick fur, before she took a step back to smirk at the bison.
"And don't refuse to eat your damn food."
Nari grunted an approval and Dum-Dum took the chance to leave the saddle. He landed on Azula's shoulder and started to lick her cheek.
"Have an eye on these acolytes as well, Dum-Dum. You've got more brain, than all of them together and Nari needs also some free time from babysitting."
She ignored the loud protest from the acolytes and pressed the little creature against her cheek.
"I'll never forget, what you have done for me, Dum-Dum. Please be careful, okay."
She let the lemur go, but Dum-Dum stayed on her shoulder. Finally Azula took him in her hands and placed him behind Nari's head, but the little creature returned to her, instantly. She felt her tears coming back to her.
"Come on, Dum-Dum. It wouldn't be save here and it wouldn't be fair for Nari. You have to go, too."
The lemur turned his head with a questioning chirp and waited a second. Then he flew off from Azula's shoulder and landed before Nari. The bison lowered her head and the lemur just licked over her nose, twice with a sad chirp. The bison nudged him, carefully and he returned to Azula, who had finally some tears in her eyes. She pressed the furry creature at her head and leaned herself against the bison for a last goodbye. She felt weak and empty, as she watched Nari starting in the storm with many other bison.
She recognized a hand resting on her shoulder. Satora had a teary smile on her lips.
"Until now, it's like in the scrolls I know. 'The glorious army landed during the heavy storm without fear, without hesitation.'"
She snorted sarcastic.
"Historians, story teller. In the scrolls is was a storm, caused by the army of the Air Nomads, but it's just a heavy storm."
"War tactics. The storm is covering their landing operation."
A deep sadness was in her voice.
"Such a cruel decision. It is madness to land troops in such a storm. Many of them will drown before they will ever reach the land."
Azula nodded with a dark face.
"But the storm has kept us down on the ground." She sighed. "Like you said, a mismatch between scrolls and reality and changing some facts turn a shameful action into a glorious one."
Azula made fists in anger and she felt Dum-Dum licking her cheek, again. She turned around to Satora and pressed her forehead against the one of the nun.
"May Agni guide and protect you, Satora. Stay away from any places, which are linked with your culture and never try to rescue scrolls or relics, they'll use such stuff as traps."
Satora's tears were falling free, while she whispered to Azula.
"Thank you, Azula. Don't worry I have a plan."
Azula smiled, because the nun stayed quite about her strategy. It would be safer this way. She released her out of her grip and Satora jumped on her bison.
"One last lesson, you should teach all survivors."
Azula recognized, that her voice was trembling in bitterness.
"If we should fail, every further generation of airbender needs to know this fact. 'Azula always lies.'"
The shock and sadness in the face of the nun was hurting her more, than Azula had expected.
"They should stay away from me, in my time, they should never ever trust me or any promise I might make in your future, no matter if this war has ended or not. I might use them, hurt them, hunt them, so it'll be safer to count me as an enemy."
Azula's mouth felt dry and swollen at her words, but she needed to assure their safety.
"I can't guarantee, that I can remember anything, if I ever should come back at all. I cannot take that risk, so promise me to teach them this lesson."
Satora was still staring with open mouth at Azula. The sadness in her look was almost choking, but suddenly a proud smile came to Arashi's lips.
"You have my word, but I also promise to let them look out for a sign of hope."
She bowed a last time on her bison.
"May Agni guide and protect you as well, Azula, Princess of the Fire Nation. Today you have brought honor to yourself and your Nation. Let your fire shine bright in the darkness to light your way."
Azula bowed deep before Satora, ignoring the confused looks of the monks and nuns around her. Dum-Dum has found a tight grip in her robe to stay on her shoulder. She felt her tears running and she only dared to straighten up, again, as Satora's bison had left the stables. She left the empty areal with a big hole in her chest. Dum-Dum has leaned himself against her head and was making a sad rolling sound in his throat.
She walked up to the cherry trees and took a look around. The flowers were faded and only high grass was left, but it had also lost a part of its color. No cherry was left on the trees, which were ruffled and shaken by the storm. She turned around and could spot some monks and nuns forming fighting groups within some lower Zen-gardens to prepare for their first strike against the invading firebenders. She felt her rage and sadness rising in her blood. She would fight against this shame, until her last breath, if she must. She recognized Gyatso coming to the plateau. He smiled at her but she could feel his grief and sadness in his look. She had trained her whole life for this day. She had trained to fight for her Nation in battle, but she had never imagined, that this fight would look like this way. She started to walk to Gyatso and thought about Mai and TyLee, about Lu Ten, her uncle, her mother and Zuko. Azula thought about her father and the Avatar. A tear rolled down her cheek as she reached the old man. She felt his hand resting on her shoulder.
"We're ready, Azula."
She squeezed his hand but her throat tightened. He placed another soothing kiss on her bald head.
"Don't worry, Azula. I'm right at your side. Until the end, if I must."
She only nodded. His words gave her strength and they ripped at her feet at the same time, but she was thankful, that he had accepted her help.
Ozai would have send her away.
To betray her.
Not to protect her.
Like Gyatso had planned.
She wouldn't let him down.
Chapter 20: Fates
This chapter is a dream/Spirit World sequence and so completely written in italics.
Azula was in the arena, again and this time Ozai’s rage was beyond any limits. A flaming aura was around the man and the heat was so overwhelming. Again, her former friends and family tried to stop him and again, they fell down under his strikes. She was on her knees, shaking, waiting for the end. She could feel the heat starting to leak her skin. Then, she recognized the glider in her hand. She tightened her grip around it and jumped up, running to the end of the arena. She could hear her father screaming in madness behind her. He cursed her and called her a failure and a shame. Azula was about to fly off, when she halted. She turned her head back to him and she felt her own anger rising.
Ozai tended his head to one side, at Azula’s voice. The Princess turned around, completely.
“This war was a shame and a failure. I have seen it.”
She stared to walk back to him and a dark grin came to Ozai’s lips. He started to run towards her and raised his fist to strike her down. His arm came down at her face, but his strike was blocked by Azula with the glider. Her father screamed in rage at her.
“Traitor! You’re betraying me and so our Nation. You’ll pay the price for such shameful actions. You...”
He was hit by her in the face with her glider and stumbled back. Azula’s eyes were filled with cold anger.
“Wrong! You have betrayed our Nation. Azulon and Sozin have betrayed our Nation. I have betrayed our Nation, too, but not anymore.”
She bowed a little before her surprised father.
“You have taught me, that my ultimate duty it to protect my Nation, father. I am thankful for this vital lesson.”
The confused man got hit with the glider directly in his face, again.
“Because, that’s what I’m doing right now, so aid me at this task or don’t keep standing in my way.”
Ozai looked to the ground. His aura died in front of her. Seconds passed and Azula observed him watching at his hands. His fire-punch came faster and harder, than she had anticipated, but the fireball was blown away by a blast of air. The Fire Lord stared in shock at Azula’s direction, but his look passed her. She felt a hand resting on her shoulder.
“Don’t worry, my strong Princess. We’ll never let you down.”
Gyatso smiled warm and proud at her. She turned around and a tear came to her eyes. They were all behind her. Her friends, her family and the Air Nomads of the temple. Dum-Dum few out of the crowd and landed on her shoulder, licking her cheek, before he faced her father with gritted teeth. His aura returned and he was about to strike against them, when a massive blow of air, caused by all airbenders started to push him backwards. No matter how hard he tried to fight against the storm, he was pushed back to the end of the arena and fell out of the ring with a cursing scream.
Azula walked to the edge of the fighting pit and look at her father, who was laying on his back. The man faced her with a furious look.
“Last chance, father. You’ve lost, but you still can win, your choice.”
A diabolic grin was his answer, as electricity started to buzz at his hands and then he was swallowed by blue fire. Azula was breathing hard and she had tears in her eyes, as she watched at her outstretched arm. The flames on the ground disappeared and Ozai was gone. She turned back and saw Gyatso’s teary smile. The Nomads were standing in the background, together with her friends and her family.
“I’m so proud of you, Azula.”
She ran to him and let herself fall in his arms. His warmth was soothing her, but she felt the lump in her throat.
“But we lost, Gyatso. That’s why we’re here.”
Her voice was trembling in sadness, but at the same time, she was happy, that he was here with her.
“I don’t think so, Azula. We may have lost the battle, but we have won the war.”
She looked at him with a questioning face and she felt her tears trying to water her eyes.
“You have opened your eyes, Azula. You have won your own war within yourself, the hardest one, a human has to fight. We’re all so proud of you.”
She felt proud, but also grief and sadness.
“But all of you died. You died, Gyatso. In the end, they made it to the temple at the day of the comet. I failed to stop them. They surrounded me and then...”
She felt the pain for a second, but a soothing kiss on her forehead from the old monk let this pain fading.
“We would have lost without your help at least two weeks before the day of the comet, Azula. You have assured, that they focused on us, not on Aang. The Avatar escaped and with him the hope for us and for the world. We’re here to thank you for this, Azula.”
The Nomads in the background started to bow, together with her friends and her family. Dum-Dum snuggled at her cheek for the last time and flew back to Gyatso, after a moment. The old man had tears in his eyes, as he bowed before her.
“We have to say goodbye for a while, but don’t forget, my child. We’re always at your side. We love you, Azula and we’ll never let you down.”
Azula was totally confused, but she couldn’t suppress her own tears anymore. She clawed herself into Gyatso’s robe and pressed the old man against her.
“But where do you go and why can’t I come with you.”
She felt a soft and warm breeze starting to tug at her hair. Gyatso gave her a last kiss on her forehead.
“Arashi will explain it to you, Azula. Don’t be afraid, your journey isn’t over, yet. Never forget, we’re always with you… my strong Princess.”
The monks and nuns started to glow and the light blinded Azula for a moment. She felt, like she was flying and then her sight came back. She was at the temple on the airball field. The sun was shining bright and warm and she could smell the flowers and the fresh green from the gardens of the temple.
“Time for a little walk, Azula?”
She turned around and her eyes found the warm smile of Arashi. The nun came down to her and hugged her thankful.
“I’m sorry for all the worries and all the sadness I have caused for you, but I haven’t seen another way to help you, Aang, my friends and the world at the same time.”
It was somehow strange to hear and see her for Azula. Within the last weeks, she became used to have Arashi’s body, but now, the nun was holding her close.
“So I was right, you have done this to me.”
Arashi released her out of her arms and nodded shy.
“It was a chance for all of us, Azula. We were both linked with Aang, the path was open and I got the chance to use it, for all of us.”
She offered Azula to follow her for a walk through the temple. She hesitated a moment, but then she followed the nun, through the gardens and places of the areal.
“I have felt your pain, Azula, your pain and your wishes”
Her face darkened in sadness.
“It wasn’t fair for you. All these good intentions twisted by all these lies. These lies have led you to so much pain and misery, I couldn’t stand aside, I had to interfere, for all of us.”
Azula felt a strange knot in her guts, as she recognized the tears in Arashi’s eyes. It was like observing herself crying.
“Gyatso has said, a spirit may only knew moments, not time, that’s why you have waited, until I was in the cell. And you have known, that I wouldn’t change my past by changing your future.”
A smile came to Arashi’s lips and she wiped away her tears.
“I have hoped so.”
She smiled mischievous at Azula.
“I haven’t waited or I’m still waiting at the same time. The best way to explain it is, that I have chosen the right moment from my point of view. A moment, where I was able to switch places with you and a moment, where you needed a new chance, a new perspective.”
Azula nodded weak.
“So you have chosen the day of my defeat. A day, where I have lost everything for a lie I couldn’t see in this moment, when I screamed my rage against cold walls.”
Arashi wrapped her arm around Azula’s shoulder and pulled her close.
“War tactics, Azula. You have to choose the right moment, or you have to accept the consequences, when you let it pass.”
A little smile rushed over Azula’s face. Both had reached the overgrown plateau with the cherry trees. The flowers were wonderful and their scent were mixing itself with the rich flavor of the cherries.
“You said, you have saved Aang, too, but you couldn’t know, that I would let him go.”
Arashi nodded with grief in her eyes. Azula wasn’t sure, but it seemed to her, that the nun became lucent for a brief moment.
“Yes, but I was nearly sure. Your Nation comes at first place for you, my Nation comes first for me. But this moment wasn’t the point.”
Azula raised an eyebrow, because Azashi had to take place on the ground. She was pale and deep signs of grief were darkening her face.
“I died in the thunderstorm, Azula.”
The firebender fell down on her knees in shock. She stared with open mouth at the nun beside her.
“The lightning killed me, but Aang survived. This guilt would have crushed him, it would have broken him beyond repair at a moment, when he needed all of his strength, when the world needed him and his strength.”
She faced Azula’s shocked golden orbs.
“You saved him. Arashi lived on for him, thanks to you. You have purged his guilt in a moment, when he couldn’t carry such a burden.”
Both went silent for a while. The truth was gnawing at Azula, but it seemed even more at Arashi.
“I have told him my name and position as I woke up in your body, but he hasn’t remembered it, when we have met us in my time.”
The nun smiled sad at Azula.
“Things can be complicated, when someones plays with fates, like I did. Your name got sealed, as his Avatar Spirit saved him. Maybe he’ll remember one day.”
Azula nodded weak at her.
“But what now, Arashi? You… I… Your body died in battle. And what about my body? Am I dead too?”
The nun took Azula’s hand and squeezed it.
“Your body is fine, Azula. I have taken care of it. And I also think, that it’ time.”
A bison approached at the sky and came closer. Nari landed on the plateau and stormed to Azula. The animal gave her a wet lick from head to toe, which elicited Arashi a warm chuckle. The nun got up and hugged the head of the bison.
“Time to bring you back, Azula and time to say goodbye for me to you and Nari. My journey will end here, forever.”
Azula felt her stomach turning upside down. Arashi’s words alarmed her. The nun picked a cherry from each tree and handed them to Azula.
“This is a gift for you. My way to say thank you and sorry at the same time. I have asked a friend for a favor and he has agreed to bless these ones for me.”
She turned to Nari, who released a sad growl.
“Nari will guide you back to your body, Azula. She had asked me for this honor.”
Arashi pressed her forehead against Azula’s and tears where in her eyes.
“May Agni always guide and protect you, Azula. Thank you for everything.”
She was about to pull back, but Azula grabbed her at her cheeks and kept up the pressure.
“Why forever, Arashi?”
The tears of the nun were falling free.
“A price has to be payed for this, Azula. I have played with time and fate and I have somehow messed up with my own life. The price is the existence of my spirit. I have given it up at the moment, when I died and decided to bring your spirit to my body. I have detached myself from me.”
Azula tried to tighten her grip, but it felt, like Arashi was about to loose consistence. The nun was weeping, but she smiled at Azula.
“Don’t be sad, Azula. This decision has saved you, Aang, the world and my Nation. A fair trade, in my opinion.”
She started to get lucent and faded more and more between Azula’s hands. The tears of the firebender were running down her cheeks and she pressed her eyelids together, but suddenly Azula’s eyes shot wide open and a blue fire were in it.
“This trade is not acceptable!”
Azula stared to glow in a blue light and this light stared to float over Arashi. The eyes of the nun widened in shock and surprise.
“Azula, stop it! I cannot accept this! This is…!”
“This is my choice, Arashi and I think it would be fair!
Arashi wasn’t fading anymore, she was shining in a bright blue, like Azula.
“It would save your soul, Arashi. My fate might be, that I have to spend my life in a dark cell for my crimes. I could use some company. We’re soulmates, Arashi. I can feel it.”
She gave her an impish smirk.
“’You’ll always have a place in my heart’. I only take this quote, literally.”
Arashi stared at her with open mouth for a moment, but then she wrapped her arms around Azula and pulled her close. She had tears of joy in her eyes.
“Thank you, Azula.”
The glowing got more intense and Azula felt a warmth starting to float through her. It was a fresh warm breeze, tickling her and making her heart jump in joy. The blue light got brighter and brighter. Both turned to Nari, who was getting close to them to nudge her head against Arashi and Azula. The firebender shared smiles with the nun and the bison.
“Nari, bring us home.”
Chapter 21: Back Home
Azula woke up with a deep gasp. Her breath was hard and quick and it took her a while to level it down and focus on the surrounding. She wasn’t in her cell anymore, but she noticed, that she was still in the Palace. She must be in the hospital, due to the bed and the equipment of the room. She found some flowers on the nightstand beside her bed, red and blue fire lilies. It brought a touched smile to Azula’s lips, cause she knew, that these were Zuko’s favorite flowers. She was alone and the room was almost dark, only a little moonlight was falling through a window. She tried to sit up, but she found her hands and legs bound to the bed.
She thought for a moment about to try to fight against the bindings, but then she relaxed and focused on her breathing. She felt her presence within her heart. A soothing whisper, a hint and a promise and so she focused on Arashi. She heard her warm chuckle in her ears and… a confused chirp?
The face of a lemur approached in her sight, which brought a smile to Azula’s lips.
The lemur turned his head to one side and gave her a questioning look. It brought a wave of grief to her, because she recognized two big and clear eyes observing her.
“Sorry, my mistake. For a moment I thought you were a good friend of mine, but this is impossible.”
She felt a tear rolling out of the corner of her eyes, but then her heart skipped a beat. The lemur bowed down and started to lick her cheek to sooth her. She tried to fondle the creature, but her bindings ended this attempt. The little animal noticed her tries and disappeared out of her sight. Suddenly she felt it working at her bindings.
“You’ll get in big trouble, my friend. Better leave me bound to bed.”
An protesting chirp was the only answer and the lemur continued its work. It took him twenty minutes, but finally her arm was free and Azula took the lemur and pressed it thankful at her cheek. The creature had started to lick her face again.
“Thank you, my friend.”
She used her hand to remove the other bindings and took seat at the side of her bed. She watched the palms of her hands and took a deep breath. A blue flame lighted up and a joyful teary sob escaped Azula’s lips, as she observed her precious blue fire, she had missed so much. And then she had to take an almost shocked gasp, as she watched the back of her hands. Blue arrows were tattooed on it and as she pulled up the sleeves of the clinic dress, she could see the tattoos climbing up her arms. She jumped up and ran to a mirror. Her hair was back, of cause. Still with a bad cut, but it was back, but she could see the peak of an big arrow on her forehead, the rest was hidden under the hairline.
“First doubts about your choice, Azula?”
Arashi’s voice was a mocking chuckle.
“To be honest, I had no idea, that this would happen.”
Azula stared at her reflection in the mirror. She saw Arashi standing beside her as a lucent mirage at the mirror. The nun laid a hand on her shoulder and she could feel the touch. It brought a warm smile to Azula’s lips.
“I like it, I think they suit me. I bet, I’m the first firebender, who has earned tattoos.”
Arashi’s laughter was warm and uplifting.
“Wrong, Azula. The first Fire Lord earned tattoos as well for protecting the Nomads from the warlords, so I think it’s a strong sign, that my tattoos are now on your skin.”
Azula observed the tattoos and nodded proud.
“But it’ll need more than that to repair the damage, this war has done.”
Arashi nodded with a serious face.
“It seems, you have a plan.”
Azula shook her head.
“No, but I have instinct and a wish, what to do first.”
She sighed and took a look around.
“But I’ll need help and a lot of luck to get another chance in my time here.”
Arashi got an impish smile on her face and pointed back at Azula’s bed. The lemur was observing Azula and the mirror and it seemed, that he was also seeing Arashi, because he flew over to Azula, as she waved at him with her hand.
“Momo will help you, Azula. He’s Aang’s friend and he knows what to do. You can trust him.”
Momo gave her a determent squeaker and snuggled himself against Azula’s cheek. She fondled his head with a thankful smile. She had an idea, where to start.
She found her old dress in a wardrobe within the room. It was cleaned up and Azula had to admit, that she felt much better with her armor. She left the crown piece on her bed and let her hand slide into her pockets. She took a little gasp, again, as she found two cherries within them.
“My gift for you, remember. I think, you’ll find a good use for it.”
Azula smiled and placed them back into her pockets, before she faced Momo.
“Alright Momo. I want to leave the Palace for a while and I want to reach a certain place. Any suggestions?”
The lemur flew to the window and looked back at Azula. She wasn’t sure, if this would be a good idea, but she trusted Arashi’s advise and Momo’s suggestion and so she opened the window and cut off the bars with her bending. Then she left the room with the little creature.
Momo did a good job. He lead her around the guards or distracted them, so that Azula was able to pass them, unseen, until they reached the stables. She was about to search for a mongoose dragon, when the lemur flew off to lead her around a corner. She nearly bumped into Appa, who seemed to be surprised as well. The beast stared to growl, but a protesting sound from Momo made him stop.
“Hey Appa, Aang must have been in great haste, you have still your saddle on your back.”
The bison’s eyes widened in surprise and he started to sniff at Azula. She hesitated a moment, but then she dared to place a hand on the giant head of the bison. A deep and warm growl was the answer and finally he licked her with his giant tongue. A slightly disgusted sigh escaped her mouth, but Azula pressed her forehead against the giant one of Appa.
“I could use your help, Appa. Aang wouldn’t like it, but you’re my best chance.”
She took a deep breath and faced an eye of the bison.
“I want to go home, Appa. Would you help me to reach the Southern Air Temple?”
The bison lowered his head, instantly and Azula hugged his head for a moment, before she climbed up on his neck.
“Thank you Appa. You can fly back to Aang, when we have reached the temple, but now we must make haste. I bet Zuko has asked him for help and…”
She heard the alarm horns and the sleepy Palace was on its feet, instantly.
“I count on you, Appa. Yip-Yip.”
“She’s gone! Her bindings have been opened! Guard, how is this possible!”
Zuko was full of rage and madness.
“I don’t know, Prince Zuko… I have guarded the door all the night. No one has entered this room.”
“Momo is also gone.”
Aang’s voice was sad and worried. He handed Zuko Azula’s crown piece.
“AANG! Appa is gone!”
Katara came running up the corridor, pale in shock. Tears were in the Avatar’s eyes, as he stared at her in total disbelief.
“I have seen him, flying off. Some guards said...”
Her voice failed her and she shared shocked and baffled looks with Zuko and Aang.
“They said, that Azula was riding on him. Aang, this is impossible.”
Aang fell back to a wall. His mind was blanc and a cold and hot shiver went up and down his spine. And then his expression changed into shocked confusion and he shook his head in surprise and disbelief.
“Why should Appa accept her? Why should he accept Azula? Of all people in the world Azula… Azula...”
His eyes widened in total shock.
It took some days, until they reached the Southern Air Temple. Aang’s hasty arrival at the Palace had helped her, because all of his supplies were still on the saddle. She flew a round over the plateau and her heart was aching. The cherry trees were dead skeletons and the ground was gray and dead, like the whole place. It was gnawing heavy on her mood. Azula landed with Appa at the ruins of the stables. The destruction and the bones reminded her at the last fights within the temple. She took the stuff from the saddle and freed Appa from the big object and from the rope at his horns. It wasn’t an easy task without airbending, but in the end, she had freed him from this ballast. She had to search for a while but, finally she found a brush and some clean rainwater and so she brushed and cleaned the bison after his long flight.
“Thank you, Appa. It was a long flight. I fear there wont be any hay up here, so you must search for some grass down in the valleys. Rest a little, then you can return to Aang.”
The bison nudged her carefully and got up in the sky again. Azula turned her head to Momo, who was sitting on her shoulder.
“And again, I’m left with a lemur on my shoulder.”
She stroke him behind his ears and he began to purr in pleasure. It was a sad walk thought the temple and she couldn’t fight some tears, when she came to places, where she had lost friends or when she found old bones on the ground. She took quarter in her old room, Arashi’s room and prepared herself for the hardest walk.
It took all her strength to reach the place, where she had fought her last fight. It was before an entrance to an minor part of the temple. The sadness and the pain came back to her and she felt the anger and the exhaustion, again. It brought her down on her knees.
“These days are gone, Azula, no need to blame you for it. You have helped yourself and the world, that’s all what counts.”
She felt the forehead of the nun pressed against hers.
“But I have hoped to give you a future, too. To save some of you, to save Gyatso.”
She looked through the broken entrance and it knotted her guts to see the the bones of the old man. It made her so angry, that they had nearly managed to fight them off long enough. A soothing touch at her cheek helped her to get back on her feet.
“You gave me a future, Azula, a place in your heart. He’s so proud of you. We all are.”
She nodded with tears in her eyes and walked to the bones of the old man. She bowed deep before it.
“Thank you for giving me the chance, my father denied me. I’ll never forget you, Gyatso.”
The next days where hard ones for Azula, but Arashi and Momo aided her stand. Her day started with a morning kata at the dead plateau. She mixed her firebending with airbending moves and breathing techniques, beside the fact, that she couldn’t control the air anymore. Then she went throughout the ruins and gathered everything, she addressed as useful and she fulfilled her first duty to redeem her Nation from this guilt, in her opinion. She buried the bones. She prayed to the spirits for a proper guidance, for redemption for the fallen firebenders and for peace for their souls. She also spent much time within the ruins of the library. The halls were plundered and empty, but she had found brush, ink and a lot of blanc scrolls within Aang’s stuff and so she started to write. Azula and Arashi helped each other to remember the scrolls, they have read, as good as possible and so she stayed awake until late at night to bring back some of this lost knowledge. It was the fourth evening, when Arashi gave her a new hint.
“You haven’t used my gift, yet.”
Azula stopped on her way to the library and let her hand slide into her pocket. She picked out the two cherries, which were both still in perfect shape, ripe and rich flavored. She frowned and observed these miraculous perfect fruits for a moment, before her lips suddenly curved up. She walked up to the dead skeletons of the cherry trees and checked the ground.
“Sometimes an old tree must die, to let a new one grow. This ground needs some fertilizer.”
She took a deep breath in and lighted up the old trees. Both burned like two blue torches until late after nightfall. Azula waited, until the ashes of the trees had cooled down, before she dug two holes at the plateau. She ate the cherries and spitted the pits into the holes and filled them with the ash and soil. Then she watered the pits and observed her work with a smile.
“What do you think, Arashi? With a bit of luck, they may rise out of the ashes of the past.”
She heard a soft chuckle in her ear and another idea came to her mind. This night, she would write down something new for the library.
Chapter 22: A Sign of Hope
Aang came closer to the temple and he felt more than nervous. He had left Zuko and the others with the airship behind before dawn, to meet Azula for some vital questions. Two weeks had passed, since her escape from the palace and obviously with Appa's help. His friend had reacted angry with Sokka, as he had cursed Azula. The bison had released some threatening growls at him, which had caused big eyes at his friends.
Aang's jaw dropped, as he recognized two giant blooming cherry trees at an old plateau of the temple. The soft pink was mixing itself in a fresh green and the plateau looked so different, since his last visit a year ago. It has been dead, but now the dead skeletons were gone and a new life has returned to this place. He knew these trees and it wasn't the time of the year for them to bloom, but here they were and the wind carried the lovely pedals through the air. His eyes widened, as he recognized a figure on the ground. Azula was busy with her morning kata. His heart nearly skipped a beat, but he stayed focused and landed on the plateau. Azula ignored him and continued her kata with closed eyes, totally focused on her breathing. Aang wanted to say something, but the wind whispered in his ear and so he stayed quite, until she had reached her final stand. She ended her kata with a deep breath out.
"Hello Avatar, I'm glad you're okay."
She turned her face to the young monk and Aang took a surprised gasp, as he recognized the tattoos on her hands and on her head. It made Azula smirk.
"I had the same look on my face, as I recognized them, first."
Momo came out of one tree and took place on Azula's shoulder. The Princess leaned her head against the lemur and closed her eyes in pleasure, as the creature started to snuggle himself against her cheek. It made Aang's jaw just drop.
"My family has brought shame on my Nation by starting this war and they have brought pain and misery to this world."
Her voice was darker now and Aang recognized in disbelief, that her face was full of grief.
"I have failed once to stand against this shame, I have helped to increase this shame, but not anymore, Avatar. We should take a little walk."
She passed the staring teenager and fondled Appa's fur, as she reached the bison. The animal growled in pleasure and nudged her, carefully, which brought a smile to Azula's lips. A snickering chuckle escaped her throat, as she recognized the helpless confusion of the Avatar.
"I have been busy the last two weeks, Avatar and I bet you want to see, what I have done."
She walked off the plateau and Aang followed her, after he had shaken his head a few times. He was just speechless. He had expected almost everything, but this left his mind blanc.
Azula stayed quite on their way through the ruins. They reached the place, where Gyatso had died. Aang's eyes watered as he recognized the graves around this place. He saw the grief returning to Azula's face. She had placed one little rock on each grave and Aang's confusion was growing, because there were names burned on the rocks. Names of monks and nuns, names of some soldiers and at least hints, whether it was a Nomad or an firebender, who was buried here. Azula stopped before one grave and her tears were rolling down her cheek. Aang felt his stomach cramping, as he read Gyatso's name.
"Azula, I don't understand. What happened to you? Why did you do this? And Appa and Momo? This is… This is..."
Aang nodded with open mouth, but his tears were also falling free, as he looked down on Gyatso's grave.
"It's still confusing for me, but I have accepted the truth, Avatar. I left the old Azula behind in this cell."
Aang's confusing was absolute and perfect. A teary laughter escaped Azula's lips, as she watched at the helpless face of the young monk.
"I got a second chance. I got taught some lessons about my past and about myself and that's a fist step to fix the damage my Nation has done to the world. It's a closure for me and for my Nation, I hope."
A soft breeze tugged at both and Aang's eyes widened in surprise as he recognized a sparkle in Azula's eyes.
"Take some time to say goodbye, Avatar. I'll wait for you at the library, then you may get some answers."
One hour had passed, before Aang came to the library. He had cried and was still confused and pale, when he took seat at a working place. The Princess was busy with a scroll.
"I'll need more scrolls and more ink and brushes. It's hard to reconstruct the lost texts, but I'll do my best."
She pointed at one scroll on the desk.
"Oh and this time, there will be a scroll about pit spitting in the library."
Aang was frozen on spot. He hesitated a moment, before he grabbed the scroll with shaking hands. Tears came back to his eyes, when he checked the fine paintings and detailed explanations of the 'High Art of Cherry Pit Spitting'. He stared at her with open mouth and tears came to his eyes.
"Azula…? Arashi has called herself Azula, as she..."
Azula felt her bottom lip quivering.
"Arashi has never called herself Azula. Azula has called herself Azula and sometimes Arashi."
Aang had to take a grip on the desk to prevent himself from sliding off the chair. Azula was breathing hard, while she observed the monk in front of her. His look had left the ruins and was in another time. She had to lay down the brush, because her hands were shaking. Aang closed his eyes. He was pale and sweating.
"How, Azula? How is this possible? Zuko found you unconscious in your cell. No one, not even Katara was able to wake you up. You have been out for five days, when I came to the palace in greatest haste. What happened?"
Azula took a deep breath. She felt Arashi within her mind and the encouraging presence around her.
"It was Arashi's decision. Her last chance to help us all. To save me and the world. She has brought me to her body and I have lived her life for a while. I got the chance to fight the shame, my family has brought to this world."
A painful shock rushed over Aang's face.
"You got killed, Azula? You have fought as Arashi against your Nation? You have trained me to survive?"
Azula nodded weak.
"It was my decision, in the end. Do you remember the day, when you left the temple. I wanted to tell you the truth, this evening. I was at your heels, as you flew away with Appa and then I have seen the ships, so I returned. It has been the right decision. The best chance to redeem myself and my Nation. It has saved you, Aang. It has saved your life. I wanted to stop this, but at least I could save you."
She failed to hold back her tears.
"At least I could save one friend of this time."
Aang stared at her with his own tears running down his cheeks.
And then he jumped forward.
Azula felt his arms wrapped around her, while the monk was crying heavily. She tightened her grip around his shoulders and pulled him into a close embrace.
"I am your friend, Azula! I have been your friend in this time and I am your friend here and now! And I'm so sorry, that I couldn't help you more. I'm sorry for running away, I'm..."
Azula shook her head almost frantic.
"You don't need to be sorry. I am sorry, for what I have done, for what my Nation has done. I have nearly killed you. I..."
Aang pressed his forehead against Azula's.
"You also don't have to be sorry, Azula. These things have happened, before you dared to open your eyes. I have told you, you're my friend, so better get used to it."
A thankful smile came to her.
"You're not mad with me for hiding the truth?"
Aang shook his head, instantly.
"You have protected me from another burden, Azula. I'm so proud and happy, that you dared to share this secret with me right now."
He smiled warm at her and Azula recognized this warming fire, she had felt in these halls before.
"You hasn't left you behind in this cell, Azula, you woke up. This wonderful person you are, finally woke up."
He hugged her another time.
"Don't worry about the others or your future, Azula. They'll understand it and I won't let you down."
They stayed hugged for a long time, until Azula released him out of her arms. The young monk watched her from head to toe with a proud smile.
"You seem to have a plan, Azula, what you want to do with your second chance."
She smiled back at him and nodded.
"Healing old wounds and rebuilding a place, I can also call home. I think things will be easier, when I stay away from Palace for a while, until my brother has established his reign. But I'll need some helping hands and supplies. I'll do something worthy for having received these tattoos."
Aang's look became serious.
"How did you get these ones, Azula?"
She smirked at him and pulled his forehead against hers and closed her eyes. She focused on his breathing and matched her breath with Aang's. Suddenly his tattoos started to glow and Azula felt his Chi floating. She took a step back from him and both were glowing in a blue light within a dark space. They seemed to have left the library. Azula smiled at his little confusion and nodded in his direction.
"Don't ask me, Aang. Ask Arashi."
His jaw dropped and he turned around. Arashi closed the distance and hugged the shocked, but happy monk.
"Hello Aang, it has been a while, so where should I start?"
Aang pressed his forehead against Arashi's and he had tears in his eyes, again. The three took seat in the dark and empty space in the lotus seat. His smile was still teary, but Azula saw the joy and happiness in his eyes as he answered.
"From the beginning."
It was a strange image for Zuko, Katara and the others, when they found Aang and Azula siting on the ground in the lotus seat within a blue glow in the library.
Aang's tattoos stopped glowing and the Avatar blinked with his eyes a few times, as he returned to the presence. Azula was still in deep meditation before him, but he recognized the looks of his friends around him. The had all taken seat around them, but in a safe distance. Worries, pensive attention and confusion surrounded him, as he shared an uplifting smile with his friends.
"Aang, what happened to her? Is Azula okay?"
Zuko's voice was stressed out. The coronation and his worries about his sister had him kept busy throughout the last two weeks. Aang stood up and shared a smile with all of them.
"It's strange and complicated, but she's fine, Zuko. She just needs some more moments with her new friend."
The confusion came back to the group and Aang chuckled a bit.
"We'll tell you the whole story, when she's finish with her meditation."
"Her aura is just wonderful, so shiny and peaceful."
TyLee took seat beside the meditating princess and released a little gasp, as she recognized the tattoos on Azula's hands and on her forehead. It brought a little smile to Aang's lips.
"Yes, they're real. A gift from her new friend."
TyLee smiled warm at Azula and it was obvious, that she had to control herself, not to take one of the hands of the firebender. Sokka shook his head in disbelief.
"You're talking, like everything is fine. This is Azula. She's a pyromaniac fr… OUTCH"
He received a hard hit on his shoulder from Toph to shut his mouth.
"Be careful with your choice of words, Sokka. Appa has nearly taken you on his horns, the last time."
She turned to Aang with a serious face.
"She has changed, hasn't she?"
Aang nodded with a serious face.
"Yes, Toph. More than any of you can imagine. She's not the old Azula anymore, we all know. She has opened her eyes."
"I don't trust her Aang. Maybe this is only another scheme to trick us all."
Katara had crossed her arms before her chest and observed the meditating princess with a suspicious look, when the Avatar shook his head. He was about to answer, when Mai interrupted him.
"It's not a scheme, Katara."
She had entered the library with Suki, who looked surprised and astonished. Mai's face was slightly annoyed, because Momo was sitting on her shoulder, but the lemur flew off and landed on Azula's lap to snuggle himself against her middle.
"She has buried the dead, Katara and she has started to prepare one of the old Zen-gardens. Azula and gardening! The Azula I knew, would never ever have considered such things, but she has done it."
Suki nodded at her.
"We have seen her room, Katara. She has made plans to rebuild this temple and she's elaborating ways to search for old scrolls and artifacts of the Air Nomad culture."
Zuko's eyes were widened in surprise, as he turned to the Avatar.
"Aang, what happened to her?"
"I have seen the shame, our Nation has brought to this world and I died, while I tried to stop it."
All turned to Azula, who had opened her eyes. Her lip was quivering, as she faced her brother with her golden orbs. She squeezed TyLee's hand for a moment, which brought a teary smile to the lips of the acrobat.
"I've been so blind, all the time."
She stood up and Momo took place on Aang's shoulder, while Azula closed the distance between herself and her brother.
"And I'm so sorry, for all the pain and all the misery I have caused, as long as I have believed in this lie."
She stopped before Zuko and tears came to her eyes, as she faced his shocked look.
"And I'll accept every punishment, the Fire Lord will choose for these shameful crimes of mine."
Azula was about to prostate before Zuko, when she felt his grip at her arm. She looked up to his face and saw the teary smile of her brother. The next thing, she realized, was his arms around her and her head pressed against his chest.
"I'm so glad, that you're okay, Azula. You've scared me to death."
She clawed herself in the robe of her brother and finally her tears were falling free, which elicited surprised gasps form his friends.
"I've missed you, Zuzu."
He placed a soothing kiss on her hair.
"I've missed you, too, Azula."
There was still a little confusion and astonishment in the faces of the friends, as they observed Aang, Katara, Azula and TyLee washing and brushing Appa. She had told them her story, but her changing was still like a miracle. Mai was leaning against Zuko and the corners of her mouth were slightly curved up.
"Azula brushing bison and cleaning stables. This fact alone has to be noticed, when it comes to consider a rightful judgment of her actions, Zuko."
Zuko chuckled and placed a soft kiss on Mai's lips. Both turned aside to face an impish smiling Suki. The Kyoshi Warrior was pointing at Sokka beside her, who stared with open mouth at the scenery in front of him, completely ignoring the surrounding.
"She'll need a lot of help with these old ruins."
Toph approached them, wiping off some dust from her clothes.
"I have checked some of the buildings. The structure is still good, but it'll need a lot of hard work, to bring this place back to life."
A little smile came to Zuko's lips, because an idea was crawling up his mind.
Three months later
Azula was sitting under one of the cherry trees with Momo sleeping on her lap. It was evening and she was deep within her meditation. Her temporary banishment to the Southern Air Temple had satisfied the demands for an adequate punishment, because it was also linked with the obligation, to help recovering lost culture and artifacts of the Air Nomads. It had been Azula's plan to outline the genuine efforts of the Fire Nation to heal old wounds, by starting at the roots of this shame. Aang and the others visited her regularly and Toph was a permanent guest at the temple, to help her forming a way down from the temple mountain and to repair and rebuild the old structures. Both had become good friends within a short time and she also joined her at meditation, sometimes, to talk directly with Arashi.
"This is less crazy, than your way of telling me, 'Arashi said this' or 'Arashi thinks, that'."
But Azula was alone this evening. Toph was down in the valley to help settlers from the Earthkingdom to rebuild some old ruins. It warmed Azula's heart to see life coming back to this place. It gave her hope for the future.
Suddenly, she felt a changing in the wind. It was a strange thing, she had noticed during the last weeks, that she sometimes had the feeling, that she could sense the air around her. Azula opened her eyes and took a surprised gasp. A woman, about forty was standing in front of her. She had long hair and a proud and warm smile on her face and she bowed before Azula.
"It seems your tactics have payed off, Azula."
Her voice sounded familiar, but Azula couldn't put a finger on it. She placed the sleeping lemur carefully at her side to stand up and bowed as well. She felt the air floating around the woman in a strange way and both facts made her frown a little. It gave her a strange feeling. She lighted up a flame in her palm ad her mind went blanc.
A warm chuckle escaped the mouth of the woman in front of her.
"No, my name is Nazari, but nun Satora was my grandmother."
Azula's jaw just dropped. The woman in front of her looked like an older twin of Satora. She recognized the glider in Nazari's hand and the woman pushed it over to Azula with her airbending. Her heart skipped two beats, but her face fell serious.
"You shouldn't be here. I have given your grandmother the strict order to stay away from me."
She was bursting for excitement and joy, that Satora's plan obviously had worked to hide some of the Nomads, but she was also angry about the carelessness. This was too dangerous, in her opinion, but the woman in front of her laughed warm and closed the distance between them.
"Oh she has, but she has also taught my father, uncles and aunts to watch out for a sign of hope. And they have given this lesson to the next generation and so did I and guess what, three full moons ago a fisherman has spotted a blue shining fire on the top of the temple mountain. Just a few days after the great victory of the Avatar."
She pressed her forehead against Azula's
"It has taken a while, until this information reached me, but here I am to bring you this message from my grandmother. 'When a Blue Fire shines as a sign of hope, old ruins may become a new home'."
She hugged a trembling Azula and Nazari's voice got teary.
"She was always so proud of you and she has cried many times, when she told us about your brave decisions. It was her dream, that we could return home, some day and her greatest wish to say thank you, again, Azula."
Nazari released her out of her arms and took out a whistle. She blew it, but Azula heard no sound, beside of Momo, who jumped up with a shocked shriek. It took some moments, before a giant old bison came down from the sky. Nazari used her bending to jump behind the neck of the flying creature.
"We'll come home, Azula. Maybe some stick to your warning, but Satora's family will come. We'll help you healing old wounds."
Azula had tears of joy in her eyes as the bison passed her near the ground. She was about to throw the glider to her, but the woman shook her head.
"This has been Satora's glider, I have one for my own, so keep it, I thing she would love this idea. And be careful, it's a bit instable in the air, but you won't find an more agile glider anywhere."
Azula shared a baffled look with the glider and the raising bison.
"But I'm no airbender, Nazari!"
Her voice was much louder, than she had expected and she could her the chuckle of the woman and also a mischievous snicker from Arashi in her head.
"There is an airbender in you, Azula. Remember, less thinking, more acting."
The bison was swallowed by the night and Azula was standing alone on the plateau. Momo flew to her and took place on her shoulder. She shared a questioning look with the lemur and closed her eyes to focus on the air around her and suddenly she felt the little tugging and curling of the wind. She could sense the track of the bison and she heard Arashi's chuckle in her head.
"You knew, that this union would include your bending, Arashi."
Azula sounded angry and a bit sulky, which let Arashi's chuckles grow.
"I have hoped so, Azula, but I wasn't sure until last week, when I really noticed your sense to read the air. I had left my bending behind for you in my body, but it seems, that it has returned to me. Or to you, I'm not sure about it."
Azula focused on her breath and did a punch. It was a weak blow and some blue flames were also leaking out of her fist, but she felt the air obeying her will. A beaming smile came to Azula's lips and she recognized joyful scream within her ears.
"One day we'll fly, again, Azula."
She felt a warm shiver running down her spine. It would need some time, but she could feel it and Arashi felt it too. Azula nodded.
"Yes, we will fly. Together."