Can you really expect to get something for nothing?

Tales of the Spirit World: Motive

"Wait for him. He will come."

The Avatar bowed as the lion turtle sank beneath the water, mists swallowing the trees amassed on its ancient shell. The knowledge he had received gave him new hope, and with no further hesitation, Aang flew to meet the coming battle...

"'Darkness thrives in the void, but always yields to purifying light,' was it?" The lion turtle threw back its head and laughed, loud and long, its massive limbs churning the sea to white froth. "Ah, humans..." It paused as the air grew cold, the mists crystallizing to frost on its exposed body. "So, you came after all. Did you delay out of courtesy, or...?"

The mist took form, swirling funerary shrouds about a solitary figure, hair like filaments of shadow flowing over slender white shoulders slashed with crimson. "It was not my place to speak with him," she said, the fading light of sunset glancing over her blood-painted face. "The others, they were his guides, but he asked for knowledge they would not give - he asked for you."

"That he did," the lion turtle agreed. "Which begs the question as to why you bothered to show up at all."

Her eyes narrowed. "Get rid of that form if you're going to talk to me, Koh."

"Your manners haven't improved after all. But what can I expect from someone who keeps the company you do?" The lion turtle's mass shivered and warped, trees and shell cracking and plunging into the sea until the true body within emerged like a carrion centipede from a rotted carcass. "It's been an age, hasn't it, little one," the blue-skinned demon's face hissed through protruding fangs.

She sneered at the corpse-mask. "Did you think wearing that face would frighten me? Stop playing the same trick if you want it to be of any use to you in the future."

The Face-stealer waggled a couple of his limbs. "Far from it, little one," he protested, all innocence, though his visage flickered and changed, assuming a pallid, scarlet-lipped mask. "I thought only to give you a glimpse of him , after so many hundreds of years. Since before you sent that fool Kuruk after me, wasn't it?"

"He sought me out," she replied.

"Ah, yes, and you no doubt warned him that his vendetta was in vain," said Koh with a dismissive flicker of his foreclaws.

"He was a selfish man, blinded by grief and his own wounded pride. You spurred him to it, but I could at least prevent you from stealing his face."

"At the cost of his mortal life, but that's the Law for you. Do you know how boring it was to be locked on the other side, after so many centuries of freedom?" Koh demanded, gentle as the breeze drifting over the becalmed waves. He crouched down, face inches from hers. "My one comfort was that you were as trapped as I. Humiliating, wasn't it, your precious, stupid humans' violation, you so helpless to raise your hand against their pollution?"

She did not flinch, did not answer.

"I wouldn't blame you if you've tired of them after all this time," Koh continued, satisfied. "If it's all the same to you, I'd like to go back to enjoying my freedom while the child's off playing hero..."

"Did he ask?"

Koh rolled his eyes back in his head. "Why does it matter to you if he did?"

"It does. Answer, Koh. I command it."

"Oh-ho, I see this has stirred you up a bit more than your cold demeanor lets on, little one. But since you asked so courteously... no, he didn't." He grinned, enjoying the shock that shuddered through her. "I should have thought the reckless actions he took on your island would have led you to expect as much."

"He didn't ask?" she demanded, the sea roiling at her feet. "You taught him to rip a soul in half, and he didn't ask where such knowledge came from, or why you would hand it to him without price?"

"He didn't have to," replied Koh with a smile. "He would have done anything to cling to his beliefs, to justify them. It all comes back to ego, little one, and the choices made to service that ego. The Avatar is merely human, after all."

The sea surged and then lay still. She bowed her head, shadows veiling her painted face. "So be it. The die is cast..."

"... the wheels turns, and the thread is tied," he concluded. "But don't lose heart, little one. After all, the weaving of existence can't be so frail that the severing of a single chord will send it all back to Chaos, can it?"

"You...!" she gasped, but Koh had vanished, his laughter echoing across the vast, empty sea. Alone, she turned from that place, fading back into the mists whence she came.

"As the Face-stealer prowls the shadows, so too does the Painted Lady follow, to strike the final blow..."

- Wan Shi Tong

A/N: After the series finale of A:tLA, I never really got over the deus ex machina pulled by spiritbending/the lion turtle. It came from nowhere and was never explored, other than to give Aang a child-programming-friendly "out" to defeating Ozai (don't even get me started on that "easy button" rock bit). Seriously, Aang used spiritbending to RIP THE FIREBENDING OUT OF OZAI. And since one's bending is an intrinsic aspect of one's spirit/soul (by the show's logic), doesn't it follow that he literally ripped out a bit of Ozai's soul in the process? What manner of "benevolent, wise being" teaches a child that trick?

And then I got the series artbook (which is awesome, BTW), and to my shock, Koh is never once mentioned in the book, despite the fact that he vowed, in canon, that he would meet Aang again. And the lion turtle got its own page! Granted, maybe the whole Eldritch Abomination bit wasn't good for marketing, but I expected at least a little blurb explaining which demented genius came up with the Face-stealer.

So, here's my reply to that bit of nonsense - my own personal Epileptic Tree, wherein Koh gets his own back, and the Painted Lady resumes her role of active observer.

Thanks for reading (this far).