Prologue: 100 Years

Present day (Bumi age 113), late spring.

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A series of clangs echoed through the impromptu prison.

"Knock knock!" Bumi challenged again, eliciting no response from his nearby guards except for a discernable grinding of the teeth. The soldier closest to his cell was trying to look unconcerned, reclining against a bronze statue of a hyenavark with a few pieces of parchment in his hands, but Bumi knew he was about to break.

The ex-monarch of ex-Omashu drummed his forehead against the steel bars of his cage again.

"Knock knock!" he crowed. The reclining guard threw his reading material down in fury.

"WHO'S THERE?" Bumi let the silence ripen for a moment.

"Well… me, of course," he responded as if it were terribly obvious from the start. The guard did not find it particularly funny, or else he was very good at concealing his merriment. Bumi was undeterred.

"Hmm… I guess that one wasn't too good, but how about this one? What has two horns, two-"

"For Agni's sake, Bumi, shut the hell up" the guard interrupted. Bumi cackled.

"On a first name basis now, are we Khzai?" Though he couldn't see the younger man from his thoroughly-incarcerated position, Bumi knew Khzai had frozen in surprise at the old king's intuition. Bumi cackled again. As expected, somebody in this jail was growing desperate and hopeless. As for whom, however, that was an entirely different matter. If they thought they could outwait King Bumi, they were fools beyond fools.

Another awkward silence hung over the cavernous stone warehouse, deep beneath the busy streets of New Ozai, where Bumi was kept under watch. Only when he heard the almost imperceptible sigh of relief from Khzai did he let the silence end.

"What has two horns, two tusks, and gray skin?" Bumi began again. "Elephino!" He smiled and tried to crane his neck to grin at the guards, but was held back by his uncomfortable body casing and the heavy chains that bound it to the outer cell. He did, however, hear a chorus of groans (some of them concealing approval) from the Fire Nation troops.

"Get it?" he asked, good-naturedly. "It's like a rhinophant, but backwards!" He let out a long, crazy stream of chortling that thundered off of the stone walls with such might that it seemed the whole spirit world was joining him in laughter. The guards were unnerved and did nothing until Khzai stomped up to Bumi's cage and closed the single window, plunging the king into silent darkness.

Bumi heard the sound of two great bolts being latched over the only air hole in the steel box surrounding his coffin-like restraints. An ordinary person would probably suffocate in a situation like this, but Bumi was not worried. Every day since he had been captured Bumi had sufficiently angered his guards to cut off his air. It was something of a game to him, for when they opened it up again in an hour or so, expecting asphyxiation to have humbled the great monarch into behaving himself, he would be as healthy and annoying as ever. Each time he'd start right off with "So… you've come crawlin' back to hear more of my jokes, eh?" They had strict orders not to kill him, but Bumi wondered how many times he could say it before Khzai would snap.

For the time being, though, there was little point in telling jokes. The cell was quite soundproof; Bumi was sure of that. It was a war of the minds that Bumi had no plan to lose, but now was a time for both sides to think, rest, and prepare themselves for the next round. Bumi was a mighty, stubborn person, but even he had his limits.

Bumi's shaggy head slumped down to rest on the wickedly cold steel under his chin. The pain of the past few weeks came crashing down on him.

He had not shed a tear, not released the tiniest 'oof' of discomfort when the Fire Nation had cuffed him, ripped his expensive outer robes from his body, and beaten him savagely. It must have been quite a sight to onlookers. He could have torn the three men to pieces, earthbending or not, but he allowed them to bind his limbs and drag him through the triumphant Fire Nation army, amongst many a kick from booted feet and the wicked, jeering roar of thousands of men, drunk with victory and Omashu-brewed alcohol. He was silent and stony even as the governor that would be replacing him set a whip against his back in front of his people. Their responses were the most painful of his tortures, a mixture of great sorrow and great anger for the king who, in their mind, had failed them all. None yet knew what Bumi had done for them.

The Fire Nation thought he had given up. His own soldiers believed the same (really, he was a little irked that they hadn't learned, in all their years serving him, that he did things for a reason). The world of man had so quickly decided that he was no longer a factor in this war, and had directed their efforts elsewhere. Oh how wrong they were. He would sit in this jail for as long as it would take, and when that time came, they would grovel at his feet and bemoan their foolishness. As long as the world thought him powerless, Bumi had more power than they could possibly imagine.

Powerless or not, however, Bumi was not going to kowtow to his oppressors. Let them think him weak, broken, senile all they wanted, but Bumi would not give them the pleasure of seeing him brought low. If he was lucky, Khzai might survive this war, might one day sit amongst the company of his family, in peace. But when his grandchildren asked him how he had defeated the legendary Bumi, Khzai would have to lie. The world might never know, but Khzai would know, and Bumi would know.

But now, hidden in the silent darkness of his new home, Bumi could risk showing weakness. His body was sore and cramped within the confines of his coffin-like cage. Bumi smirked at the imagery. The Fire Nation had always been so very dramatic, but it was wishful thinking on their part if they thought they were putting Bumi into the grave any time soon. He had lived for 113 years and he fully planned on living for as long as he saw fit.

He owed his great longevity not only to his mind but also to his mastery of earthbending. With concentration, he could slow his metabolism to a mere fraction of that of a regular man. He did so now, feeling his body grow as still and immovable as the rock he commanded. His heart beat once. He felt the pain of his injuries, the discomfort of the heavy chains that bound his wrists together, the crick in his back from having not moved in days, his great hunger and thirst (having last eaten yesterday morning), his shortness of breath, and all other feelings grind to a halt.

His heart beat again.

This was truly the secret to his long life. In a state such as this, he could last for weeks without food or water. He didn't know anymore how long he had been cooped up in this position, but it didn't matter. He could meditate until his guards outside were dead and gone and it wouldn't make a bit of difference to his age or health.

No, in this state, time was nothing. The war was nothing. In this state, Bumi and the Earth were one and the same. In this state, Bumi could best feel the Earth's own heartbeat, and it matched his own. In this state, he could understand the Earth's wisdom and Her own immunity to time and the concerns of mankind. When fully awake, Bumi had to deal with the crushing possibility that his plans might not work, that all of this death and destruction had been for nothing, but when he slowed himself down and communed with the Earth, every fiber of his being told him that this was the right path, that he and the Earth were together as they should be. Bumi would be patient, would endure this indignity for now, for in the end he would be victorious.

The Earth's voice soothed Bumi's troubled mind. Strategizing was difficult in his state of suspense, and the great tapestry of plans and decisions that usually swarmed about his head slipped away into nothingness. There is a time and a place for thinking, the Earth reminded him, but there is a time and a place also for choosing not to think. Bumi mentally nodded at the wisdom of the Earth's words. He had thought it all through; there was nothing left to be gained by planning. All that remained now was the waiting. Eventually the moment would come, and when it did, he would be ready.

For now, he would be content with thoughts of less import. His mind slipped back to his youth, to the time he had spent with that most important of persons, the Avatar. The games they had played, the things they had learned, the world before the war. Few now remembered it. Few could take solace in its quietude.

Bumi's mind wandered to Omashu as it had been a full century earlier, back to the adventurous childhood he had spent amongst its every level. He had barely begun when the sound of bolts unlocking snapped him out of his reverie. His heartbeat returned to its normal pace and he plastered a goofy grin on his face.

The door slid open.

"So… you've come crawlin' back to hear more of my jokes, eh?"

The door slammed shut.

Bumi let out a satisfied chuckle and returned to his reminiscing.