"Fallaces sunt rerum species." ("The appearances of things are deceptive.")
- Seneca

A war does not end when the weapons are cast aside and the armies go home; a war continues in the peace, in the wounds of the people, in sorrow and hatred excited by suffering. A war does not end when the flags no longer fly above the battlefield; a war continues in the hearts of the people until grievances are redressed and "justice" is satisfied. A war does not end simply in the words "It is over;" a war continues because it is human nature...

Prologue .01: Under Lake Laogai (21st Year of Kuei,* Late Spring)

[No one is dead until he is dead and buried.]

"Can you save him?"

"Give me a second… damn, that little girl was right. I think I can keep his heart beatin' and hold his insides together, but we need to get him to my master, now."

"You two, bend a stretcher."

"Careful! You tryin' to rip him apar'? Slow, now. Someone grab my canteen for me."

"Take the fourth and eighth passages to my office. Your master's waiting for you."

"… Fuuu, you had this all planned out, didn' you. Figures."

"Tell them we're clearing out the operation, once you've finished with him. I'll join you after I've made sure no one else is prying around."

"You do that, love. Just don' get killed off now."

"I don't intend to."

"Considering how that rock just about caved in his ribs, it's a miracle we pulled him through."

"He's a fighter, a damned stubborn one. If I hadn't taken him to fourth-level, the Secretariat would have liquidated him."

"Hoo, that much brainwashing, and he still shook free? Here I was thinking you wanted to save him out of guilt or somethin'."

"You're not very generous, are you?"

"Tch, I'm very generous, I just call cat gator-shit when it's cat gator-shit. What about the other two?"

"They were escorted to the Third Ring, and given money and passes to take them wherever they please."

"Ooohh, so now that you've gotten what you want, you think it's all right to kick the dead weight to the sewer pit, is that it?"

"I don't like…"

"Dey's kids, dammit! You coulda done the decent thing and taken 'em clear of the city all together!"

"We don't have the resources or the time to…"

"Pffft, don' give me the old "priorities" speech. I've heard it enough. I jus… oh, to hell with it! I wish I was back home! Occupation's better'n all dis cloak-and-dagger shit, wid our own damned people!"

"Then stay around. The Fire Nation will be knocking on the Palace's gates in a few days."

"… What? But, the Avatar's…"

"The Avatar is a child, his companions are children, and the King might as well be a child. The drill was hardly the Fire Nation's most deadly weapon."

"So that's why you're closing up shop. You're cuttin' and runnin' 'fore de big fight, aren' you?"

"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the…"

"BULLSHIT! Do you know what de Fire Nation's gonna do to dis city once de get deir filthy claws in'o it? I do, an' if you tink I'm goin' to…!"

"We've been ordered to shut down and pull out. The Secretariat will throw in with the invader, and we'd be discovered and purged, without making a difference. Simple as that. Were it up to me, I'd be manning the walls, alone if I had to, but at least this way, the Society will have full documentation of the Dai Li's methods and crimes. The War must end, and if my city has to be sacrificed to end it, then…"

"… I'm sorry."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Don' be getting all prissy-manners on me, love, you know what I'm saying. I… I know you think you're doing what's right, that you think your hands are tied. My master probably agrees with you. But I still think we're running like cowards, like we always have. When do we get to fight? I don'… I don' think we can wait for the Avatar."

"Neither do I. I'm leaving the city with the boy, joining the camp. We'll be moving the base of operations south… you're more than welcome to come along, if you want. Everyone else is going their separate ways."

"I'll see what my master says; we might come part of the way with you. But I think she wants to be gettin' on home, after all this time."

"I understand. I'll gladly take what time you can spare."

"Ooo, you do know how to sweet-talk a girl, being all noble like that."

"Does that sort of thing impress you?"

"Would I be sticking around, with the walls falling around us, if it didn'?"

"Point taken."

"About the boy… you'll make him a Guard, won' you."

"Yes. As far as the world's concerned, he died down here. Now he can carry on his fight alongside other dead men, free of former loyalties and concerns. A better fate than what Long Feng handed him."

"… I guess we all gotta tell ourselves little lies to get by. Just do me a favor: don' empty him out like you did some of the others. That… that never set well with me."

"I might not have a choice. But as I said, he's a stubborn little bastard; I doubt even level-six programming can erase all his grief and hatred."

"You know, before I met you, something like that would have horrified me. Now, all I can think is, 'Thank goodness, he'll have something to keep him alive.' How twisted am I?"

"Only twisted as you let the world make you. One day, we'll be able to set it all right again…"

A/N: * The numbering of years in this series is based on the Japanese era calendar scheme, in which the era is designated by the name of the Emperor, followed by the year of his reign (ex: 2010 in the Western calendar is Heisei 22, the 22nd year of the reign of Emperor Akihito ["Hesei" being the teigo - the posthumous Buddhist name of the Emperor - though I'm not quite sure why the death name is the tradition, or how it's chosen]).

In the case of the Avatarverse, for the sake of simplicity, I am naming the era according to the canonical name of the character, instead of making up a teigo for them. Also, the era name will be tied to where the chapter/book takes place - Earth King-era name in case of chapters taking place in the Earth Kingdom, Fire Lord-era name in the case of chapters taking place in the Fire Nation.