CHAPTER 5: BREAKING THE ILLUSION
Aang and Katara arrived in Yu Dao in the morning. He was still feeling troubled over the dream he had where he had actually ended Zuko. Was it a premonition of what he would have to do? Avatar Roku certainly wanted him to do it. He shook his head. Now wasn't the time for that. He had to focus on evacuating the Fire Nation residents in Yu Dao. If he failed, there would be another war. "Fire Nation residents of Yu Dao! You must evacuate the city immediately! Your lives are in danger!". Katara could not get the irritated look off of her face. She had her hands on her hips. Even now there had to be something she could do to keep the Fire Nation residents in their homes and with their families in Yu Dao! Suddenly a projectile of some sort came flying towards them, although it missed-narrowly. "Whoa! Watch out sweetie! We're being attacked by firebenders!", Aang cautioned. Katara glanced overhead. It was a huge rock. (K) Yes! This could do it. The earth benders in Yu Dao won't let go of the Fire Nation family members and friends so easily! "You mean earthbenders!", she pointed out. A big rock with a chain and spike came hurtling towards them. "No, I mean uh...earth benders who attach little chain thingies to their rocks...?", Aang said questioningly. Katara hid her annoyance, as usual. "That's a meteor hammer Aang! And it looks like someone's earth bending it right back at us!". "Nothing an air funnel can't handle!", said Aang preparing to bend. He funneled the meteor hammers away. "Here come throwing axes!", warned Katara, thwarting the attack by freezing them in ice. "Why can't they make up their minds about how they wanna attack us?!", cried Aang. "That's our ax thrower over there!", said Katara pointing to a figure on the ground. "Looks like he's run out of axes!". Aang hopped on his glider to pursue. "I'm on it!".
The figure burst through a screened wall and Aang followed. Workers looked up from their stations. They looked like they were creating...axes! "Aw! An ax factory!", wailed Aang. 'Why'd it have to be an ax factory!". He ducked and dodged and evaded as several axes were thrown his way. Aang used a wave of airbending to trip the original ax thrower as Katara climbed in through the broken screen. "Aang?", she called. "Don't worry I'm fine!", called Aang. "I just caught him". He was near the back entrance of the factory. They got close enough to see his face and stared in shock. "Sneers?!", exclaimed Aang and Katara in unison. Sneers had been one of the Freedom Fighters. "Hi Avatar Aang. Hi Katara". Aang's shock was now replaces with rage. "I don't get it. Why would you-!" "Because you're trying to force us out of our homes, Avatar Aang!", replied Sneers. "We're not leaving!". The back doors opened to a group of people, some in Fire Nation styled tunics, some in Earth Kingdom styled tunics, all around Katara's age. One girl stepped forward. "Wait, I've seen you before!", said Katara softly. Aang and Sneers turned their attention to her. "My name is Kori Morishita! And we are the Yu Dao Resistance!". "You have to leave right now!", said Aang seriously. 'You have no idea what's coming!".
Katara studied the girl. (K) I remember! I saw her and her family when Zuko showed us around Yu Dao! ...What does she have to do with Sneers? He's a Freedom Fighter! They want the colonials gone...! Then she remembered. She rounded on Sneers. "And Sneers, weren't you helping LEAD the protests outside the city a few days ago?!". She jabbed her pointer finger at him. He shrank away from her. "I was confused okay? And Smellerbee wanted me to help her so I just kinda...", he stood up now. "Look, I grew up hating the Fire Nation! What those Ash Makers did to my parents...that's why I became a Freedom Fighter!". Katara's face softened. "But when Jet and the other guys went to Ba Sing Se, I came to Yu Dao to live with my uncle". Kori walked over to him smiling. "Then without meaning to, I fell in love with an Ash Maker". He grabbed her hand. Aang sputtered in disbelief. "Wait, YOU are going out with YOU?", he asked incredulously. Katara rolled her eyes at the statement. "Yeah", said Sneers obstinately. "I hid it from our friends for a long time but I'm done with that. My girlfriend is Fire Nation!". "So are all my cousins on my mom's side", volunteered one of the guys in the group. "And my favorite teacher", said one of the girls. "My stepfather", said another guy. "The guy who sells me mochi every morning", said another. Katara frowned. "You joined the Yu Dao Resistance to defend a guy who sells you mochi?". The man shrugged. "It's really good mochi". She sighed. (K) It may not be as valid as the others, but it adds to the case I guess.
Aang apparently was still stuck on the fact that Sneers was dating a Fire Nation girl. (K) I wish he could focus on the task at hand! "I know this makes me look like a traitor", began Sneers, "but I'm only fighting alongside the Yu Dao Resistance so long as they agree to keep both Earth Kingdom AND Fire Nation intruders out because Yu Dao is neither!". "You mean Yu Dao is both!", corrected Kori. "Let Smellerbee and her protestors come!". "But the protesters aren't the only ones you have to worry about. Earth King Kuei is coming with his army! They could arrive at any moment!", cried Aang. "No way! An entire army?", asked Sneers. "That's what I've been trying to tell you!", yelled Aang. "You have to go! A handful of resistance fighters can't possibly stand up to a whole army!". "We can if the Avatar joins us", he reasoned. Aang shook his head. "Sneers, No! I told the Earth King I'd see the Harmony Restoration Movement through to the end". (K) Aang will never see that keeping a promise for the sake of keeping a promise is silly!"Aang, maybe we should hear them out...', she said gently. "Well if you won't help us, Avatar Aang, maybe one of THOSE Avatars will", said Kori nodding towards the open doors.
Everyone shifted their gaze and Katara was almost unsurprised to see a group of women, dressed in traditional Air Nomad clothing down to the shaved foreheads and arrow tattoos walking in. The first woman introduced herself as the President of the Yu Dao chapter of the Avatar Aang Fan Club. "Look Katara! Another fan club!", exclaimed Aang. "Yay", said Katara flatly. "You know them?", Kori asked her. "I know their type", said Katara with a wry smile. Aang took a moment...or several rather, to admire the authenticity of their garments and hair and ornaments. Everything was fine until he discovered that their tattoos were indeed real, and not painted on. "Wait, what?! But Air Nomad tattoos have to be earned through years and years of air bending practice! They're not-!". "Oh we know Avatar Aang!", the President cut in. "For a member to receive her tattoos, she must master hundreds of airbender-like forms!". "Airbender-like?! Those tattoos are SACRED to my people. They describe who we are and how we see the world! You have no right to tattoo yourselves like that!". The girl was taken aback by Aang's fury. "I assure that our members go through the most rigorous of study programs", she told him in earnest. "By the end they-" Aang cut her off. "But how could you study Air Nomad philosophy at all and still do something like this?! For you to treat our tattoos like part of some...some costume...! My culture isn't a game!". (K) He's way too worked up about this! I can tell that one day his love for his lost culture is going to be a huge issue!"Aang, I'm sure it was an honest mistake". Aang stormed out of the building. Katara cursed in her head. (K) He's running away AGAIN!She hurried after him.
"Where are you going?". Katara strained to keep her tone even and smooth. "To the city gates. General How's army could show up at any moment. When they do, I'm gonna try to buy you guys a little more time". Katara checked at his tone of voice. He sounded resolved. That probably wasn't a good thing. "Maybe they'll listen. Maybe they won't", he continued. "Either way the Fire Nation colonials have got to go. It's time we separate the nations and restore harmony". He took off and she watched him wanting to go after him. She even started to, then she remembered the last time he ran away, before Sozin's Comet. Zuko had stopped her then, and told her Aang needed to come to the correct conclusion on his own. In the end, Aang found a way to both defeat the Fire Lord and satisfy his own beliefs that all life was sacred. In her head she could hear Aang's last words to her. "It's time we separate the nations and restore harmony". (K) Why do the nations have to be separate in order for there to be harmony? I seem to remember hearing that separation was an illusion!She frowned as she thought deeper. (K) Zuko is Fire Nation and I'm from the Water Tribe. If we had gotten married, the Fire Nation and Water Tribes would have been tied together. Would Aang have opposed that?Well that didn't matter now, did it? She and Zuko had already given up their destinies. Zuko. (K) I wonder what he's up to right now. She sighed. If she knew him, he would have already heard about General How's army and was on his way to Yu Dao to protect the interests of his people, as he should. He was the Fire Lord. Even now, when she thought about it, having to give Zuko up hurt like a knife wound. They had a duty to the world and Zuko's share involved governing the once tyrannical Fire Nation. Katara's was to manage the Avatar and keep him on track. She sighed again. The only issue was that Zuko did still have a temper. Hopefully he would not act in haste out of anger or frustration. (K) Think of what your uncle would do, Zuko! , she thought to him, wishing he could hear her thoughts. She would go after Aang, but she would give him some time.
Zuko sat in his chamber on his ship. They were off the coast of the Earth Kingdom now. He was in virtual darkness, save a few candles. A few minutes before, he had been contemplating whether or not he was making a correct decision. He wasn't exactly sure where Aang stood in the dilemma currently, but he was almost certain that he still wanted to get the Fire Nation citizens out of Yu Dao. Katara seemed to understand, though. No. He was sure she understood. He smiled. Even now, she was probably working her hardest to steer Aang towards leaving the colonials be. (Z) I wish you were here Katara. I need you.He sighed heavily. He really needed to stop thinking like that. They had given each other up so they could perform their duties. But she would listen to him and give him reasonable advice. She could calm him from his rages. There was surely no issue wanting someone like that around seeing as that would help him carry out his responsibilities to the world! He had the sudden idea to ask his uncle for advice. Strange. He hadn't thought like that in some time. Uncle Iroh wanted nothing to do with politics. All he cared for was his tea shop and playing pi-sho. And that was fine. Zuko moved to his desk. A painting of his uncle lay there. Zuko kept it near him in times of duress. It was a comfort. Sometimes he talked to it like he did his uncle in real life, and it helped him sort through his problems.
Maybe talking to his uncle's portrait could help now. "I'm telling you my actions make sense!", he began. "The Fire Nation citizens of Yu Dao are my people! As the Fire Lord, I have a duty to protect them!". He sighed. "But it goes beyond that. When the mayor's wife invited me to stay with them, I didn't just get to see what Yu Dao was like, I got to see what their family was like. They ate together at the same table. They talked and laughed and when they argued, they didn't challenge each other to Agni Kais! They're so...normal. You of all people know my own family is not". His uncle's wise gaze stared back at him silently, as if considering what he said. "In my heart, I know what I'm doing is right. I'm not defending a colony, I'm defending people. And I'm defending their bonds with one another. But there is one fact that makes me doubt myself". He took a breath. It pained him to admit it. He closed his fist tightly. "Leading an army to Yu Dao is EXACTLY what my father would do if he returned to the throne. From the outside it looks like I'm acting just like him. Does it matter that my reasons are different?". He sighed. Just like in the past, when he tried to speak for his uncle in his head, what he came up with was indecipherable! (Z) I wish Uncle really was here to advise me. Maybe I could...!He shook his head. "You wanted a quiet life after the war. And that's the one thing I can give you to begin repaying you for all you've done for me. I can't disturb you. I won't...even so, I wish you were here Uncle. I miss you".
Katara waited about an hour and headed off to find Aang. She found him sitting on top of one of the big mansions near the city gates. She created a stairway made of ice and climbed it to sit with him. (K) Easy does it Katara. Don't push him too hard. "Any sign of General How yet? Or Smellerbee?", she asked. "No", said Aang, dejected. Katara put a hand on his arm. "You okay?". Aang sighed. "My head hurts". Katara took a breath. She had to be absolutely calm, soothing, reassuring...motherly. "I think I figured out why the nations have to be separate for harmony". Katara listened intently to see what he came up with. "Whenever two nations come together, the stronger one can't help but hurt the weaker one. They'll conquer or burn or at the very least make a joke of the weaker nation". (K) Think Katara. Calmly. "You once told me that separation is an illusion. Guru Pathik taught you that the four nations are really one and the same". (K) Good, that's a reasonable argument.Katara had long since learned that she would have to bring up things Aang already knew rather than tell him something he didn't, in order to manage him. "But I don't want to be the same Katara!". She hid her vexation. (K) He sounds like a whiny child!
"I love being an Air Nomad! I love our philosophy, our temples, our holidays, our food- everything that makes us different from the rest of the world! And now that I'm the last one, it's up to me to preserve our way of life". Katara felt a strange feeling that was a mix of annoyance and sympathy. "How Aang? Are you gonna live by yourself, like some kind of hermit? Devote your whole life to collecting and preserving a bunch of relics?". Aang paused and dropped his head. "...I don't know". (K) How can he still be so childish?! His duty is to the world! He can't spend his life worrying ONLY about Air Nomad culture!"But I do know this", said Aang lifting his head, "Air Nomad culture can't survive in a world where the nations invade each other, corrupt each other. I have to see the Harmony Restoration Movement through to the end. Katara paused now. This was going to be even trickier than she thought, and she hadn't thought it would be easy to begin with! (K) I need to know where he stands as far as Zuko is concerned."Even if it means fulfilling your promise to Zuko?", she asked carefully. "Yes", he replied, without hesitation. Katara held her breath for a moment. No matter what it cost her, she would never allow that. (K) Think Katara...think...oh!"But you'd be against Air Nomad philosophy! Isn't that what you're trying to preserve?". "Argh! It's a contradiction, I know!", cried Aang putting his hands over his ears and closing his eyes. "That's why my head hurts!".