The Book of Heart


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    (Epilogue)

    Red paper lanterns on low-hanging wires draped across the streets swayed back and forth in the light tropical wind. Aromas from an assortment of cooked meats assailed the festival-goers from underneath the red-tiled stalls lining the central avenue. Packed in-between the buildings were merchants on rugs, hawking everything from leather belts and pillow-cushions to exotic starfish perfumes.

    “Ooh, this one looks good,” Retsy tugged on Selax’s sleeve, pulling him over to inspect a black bolster embroidered with flames racing up the sides. “Don’t you think this will match our carpet?”

    “We don’t have any carpet,” Selax said, trying to move on.

    “Good point. We’ll need three of your finest silk carpets too! Crimson please,” Retsy addressed the vendor, slipping Selax’s small bag of coins out of his belt.

    “I don’t see the point of this exchange,” Selax said flatly. “Material possessions distract us from our spiritual connection to the world.”

    “I don’t know about you, but my feet are always cold,” Retsy said. “In the summer. It would be nice to have something other than frozen stone to walk on.”

    The old lady behind the counter glanced back and forth between the two of them and quickly began gathering the silk rugs.

    “Cold feet builds character,” Selax said.

    “Then I have enough character saved up to afford some indulgence. Besides, it’s not like we go shopping all the time. This is my first time away from the temple in three years.” She tapped Selax on the head with the bolster. “Come on Sely. Just this once?”

    The merchant smiled at Selax, holding up the requested wares. Selax sighed and nodded.

    Retsy placed a pair of gold coins on the table and collected the rugs and pillows, promptly handing them over to Selax.

    “Wait a minute. I didn’t agree to this–“ he protested.

    “Oh come now. Everyone knows it’s the man’s job to carry all the shopping goods.” Retsy exited the stall without waiting for a reply. “Are you hungry? I could go for one of those salmon-chicken kabobs.”

    “Retsy, slow down,” Selax said, struggling to balance the two pillows with the three rugs. “We do not have that much coin.”

    “Something I still don’t understand. You’re the Avatar. Why aren’t people throwing money at you to have you help them out?”

    “I am not some cheap tool to be used!” Selax protested.

    “Ooh, hold this!” Retsy placed a low-cut red dress on top of the pile in his arms and fumbled around with the coin purse.

    “I simply prefer to spend my time with my family.”

    Retsy stopped and looked at Selax for a moment. “Aww, that’s sweet of you,” she said, giving him a quick peck on the cheek. “Now, wait here while I go find you something.”

    “Just because it’s the Petrarchos Festival doesn’t mean we need to buy the whole market,” he protested, but she was already a dozen paces away and he quickly lost her in the crowd.

    He sighed and waited next to a stall selling paper lanterns to float in the bay later that evening. A pair of young boys ran by playing with some kind of wooden doll. The smaller kid tripped and bumped into the counter, sending the lanterns wobbling. The one hanging next to Selax fell over, spilling glitter all over his hair and down his robe.

    “Great,” he muttered. He conjured up a small blast of air to clean his hair, but that blew over a few more lanterns, sending glitter flying everywhere. People nearby covered their eyes, coughing and sneezing in the sudden glitter storm.

    The stall-keeper glared at Selax. “You gonna pay for that?”

    “Uh…” he fumbled around his belt. Retsy still had his coin purse. “I’ll be back later,” Selax said as he ducked between the stands and hurried away. He spent the next several minutes winding his way through the back alleys of the market before emerging back onto the main promenade. He strolled along, pausing next to a giant stone statue in the center of town. Retsy’s likeness towered over him; a large ball of flame in each hand in tribute to the former princess.

    He looked up at the fierce expression carved into the stone. It wasn’t that long ago that Retsy’s pride and selfishness had nearly led to the extinction of the world. As her ward, he had been tasked with reforming her behavior, but in the intervening time, she had become much more than he imagined. Instead of the spiteful girl dragging him around on a leash, the new Retsy would come up with fictional stories about impossible romances and faraway lands. Much as he might nag her, he had become accustomed to her presence. Even now, he caught himself wondering when he’d be able to see her coy smile again.

    “There you are!” Retsy said, making him jump.

    “I see you followed our contingency for separation,” Selax said. He tried to keep his expression neutral in the hope she would hug him.

    “I told you I was paying attention,” she replied, taking hold of his hand. He felt a cold metal object pressed into his palm. “I got you something special.” Her face lit up with a grin and she took a step back, watching his expression.

    Selax leaned the bolsters against the statue and lifted his palm up for inspection. He held a small silver ring set with onyx. He looked over at Retsy in confusion.

    “The gemstone there will ward you from negative energies,” she explained. “You’ve always seemed so sad when you wander the grounds. Perhaps this will help.”

    Selax stared at her for a moment. She cocked her head, watching him, waiting. He tried to speak, failed, and tried again. “How – How did you afford this? I didn’t have enough gold.”

    “Oh, a princess has her ways.” She waved her hand dismissively.

    “You didn’t steal it, did you?”

    “Of course not! I simply made a down payment and had them send a collector by later for the rest.”

    “You told them to send a debt collector to the Southern Air Temple?” He frowned in confusion. “How would they get up the mountain?”

    “No no no no no! I sent them to One Firelord Way! Over on the main island?”

    Selax raised an eyebrow. “Your brother will be surprised to learn that.”

    “I’m sure he’ll handle it just fine.” She clasped her hands together and smiled. “So, what do you think?”

    “I–“ It was hard to form the words. He cleared his throat. She was still beaming at him, a toothy smile he could see even when he closed his eyes. He took a deep breath, swallowed, and uttered a phrase he never thought he’d use.

    “Thank you.”

    Retsy’s face lit up and she rushed forward to hug him. He stiffly slipped an arm around her back and held her, feeling her warmth press against him. His shoulders sagged with relief as the tension flowed out of his body. Maybe this gift-giving thing wasn’t so bad after all.

    As if on cue, the ground shook violently and a deep roar filled the air. Turning around, he could see the volcano above belching out a large plume of black smoke. People around the plaza stopped and stared in shock as flakes of ash drifted down from the sky.

    “It is not safe here,” Selax said. “We must leave immediately!”

    A loud crack filled the air and a sudden rush of glowing red lava spilled over the rim, flowing down towards the town.

    “Everyone!” Selax called out. “You must evacuate the city!”

    “There’s no time!” Retsy said.

    “Wait here,” Selax said. He began folding up her crimson dress.

    “No, you wait here!” Retsy’s mirth was gone, replaced with a fierce determination.

    “What?”

    “You heard me! That flow of lava is too strong for your wind to stop it, and you have yet to try firebending. You stay here and guard these people while I redirect the flow from the city.”

    “But–“

    “Trust me,” Resty said, touching his shoulder gently. “I can handle this. I’m the strongest firebender there is.”

    He opened his mouth to speak, but she silenced him with a kiss. Taking his hand in hers, she picked up the onyx ring and slipped it on the ring finger of his left hand. He tried again to speak, but she cut him off.

    “We’ll talk when I get back.” She winked at him, then turned and ran. Uphill, towards the approaching lava.

    From the plaza, Selax watched as blue flame carved two paths across the mountainside. Steam rose up in a massive plume as she drained the heat from the front of the flow, redirecting it into the sky. An obsidian barrier rose up in front of her as the lava flow slowed to a crawl, then stopped. Lava from behind diverted into the side channels, sending the river of fire away from the market, towards the side of the mountain.

    At last, when it became apparent that the danger had passed, Retsy returned. A crowd of people had gathered around the statue, watching solemnly.

    “See?” Retsy said, coming to a cheerful halt in front of Selax. “I told you I could save the market.”

    “Indeed, but you also dumped eight tons of molten rock onto the residential district.” Selax pointed off to the right where a wave of lava was crashing over burning houses.

    “Oh,” Retsy’s face fell. “I uh…didn’t see that over the ridge up there.”

    “Come,” Selax said, picking up her things and putting them in her hands. “I think it is best if we leave.”

    “I agree.” Retsy looked around nervously as she settled the rugs over her shoulder. “At least nobody knows who we are.”

    “Hey!” A man shouted, bursting forth out of the crowd. Selax grimly noted it was the lantern merchant from earlier. He pointed up at the statue and back to Retsy. “It’s the princess! And her friend still owes me some money!”

    A burst of air from Selax quieted the suddenly angry crowd before they could rush forward. Shielding himself and Retsy with a bubble of air, he dropped to his hands and knees, beginning his transformation. Bright light shone forth as his limbs twisted and expanded, turning into the feathery wings of a kinaru. When he was done, he lowered himself so Retsy could climb up and waited while she secured herself in the harness.

    Retsy checked to ensure her merchandise was strapped down before picking up the reins. “Yip yip!” she shouted, and Selax lurched forward, ascending into the sky.

    The faces of the stunned villagers shrank from his sight as they left the smoldering volcano behind. But neither of them relaxed until the island had faded from vision, lost behind the horizon.

    Retsy slumped forward, her hands sinking into the feathers on Selax’s back. “I was only trying to help,” she said.

    “This will not help you make amends with your brother,” Selax said.

    “I know.” Her voice was so quiet he had to strain to hear.

    Water fell on his back. He looked up and saw they weren’t flying underneath any clouds. The self-assured girl from this morning was gone, as was happening more frequently of late.

    “It was an accident,” Selax said. “I’m sure he will understand.”


    “Are you sure he wants to see me?” Retsy asked. It had been a long time since she had worn the black, red, and gold uniform that marked her as the princess of the Fire Nation. Though technically, she had lost that title when her brother defeated her on the summer of Sage’s Comet. Still, she was the Firelord’s sister and he had not disowned her yet, so the garb was appropriate. Especially for this occasion.

    “It has been four years,” her uncle said, standing next to her in a red-and-gold robe that barely fit him. “That is more than enough time to forgive.”

    “Still, he’s family and last time we met I – I tried to burn him.” She smoothed the wrinkles from her pants to keep her hands from trembling. She looked down at her black heels. “I don’t really have anyone else left.”

    “Come now,” Wizard said, sweeping her into a hug. “I have forgiven you, and I still remember that time you tried to poison me by putting white jade into my tea!”

    “Yeah.” Retsy turned away. “Sorry about that. Maybe if you had actually read my stories…”

    “How much time do you think this old man has?” he scoffed. “Between drinking tea and soaking in the hot springs, there isn’t really room for much else.”

    Before Retsy could reply, she was cut off by a man’s voice.

    “Retsy?” Avatara asked, appearing at the top of the steps to the palace. He was dressed in the traditional red-and-black robes of the Firelord complete with slippers shaped to look like little red dragons. His black hair was longer than she remembered, hanging down almost to his shoulders, and dark circles were visible under his eyes.

    “Av,” Retsy said, staring up at him. She thought about how he had tied her up in chains and hauled her into the underground prison. Of course, that was shortly after she had tried to melt his face off for challenging her right to the throne. She wiped her hand across her mouth, still remembering the cooties.

    The two of them stood in silence for a moment, a dozen steps between them. As the seconds ticked by, Retsy became more and more convinced she shouldn’t have come. Why would her brother want her to celebrate his first child? She was just about to excuse herself when Wizard shoved her forward.

    Retsy tripped on the stairs, threw her hands out to brace herself as she fell, but Avatara reached her first.

    He caught her and wrapped her up in a deep hug. “It’s good to see you again,” he said. She closed her eyes, the tension draining from her body. When they separated, he held her at arm’s length, studying her. “How have you been? You didn’t have to wait so long to come.”

    “Oh, well, you know. Ruling a nation takes a lot out of you. Peasants to order around, armies to command–“

    “Oh, so you’ve rebuilt the Air Nation?”

    Retsy blushed. “Er, no, not really. Not yet anyway. But a princess has to stay in practice.” She glanced at Selax who was standing impassively off to the side in his gray robe.

    Avatara followed her gaze and moved to greet Selax. “Avatar, your presence honors me,” he said, inclining his head. A gesture of respect, if a small one. This was her brother’s domain. Here, the Firelord bowed to no one.

    “Where are the others?” Selax asked.

    Retsy knew he was trying to deflect attention. In a way, she found it rather cute that the most powerful man in the world was so shy. Though he was loathe to admit it, she also knew that deep down, he really did care about his former companions.

    “Ah, Scry’s inside already entertaining her parents,” Avatara said, turning to gesture up the stairs. But he didn’t turn quick enough to hide his grimace when he mentioned Scry’s parents. “The others won’t be here today, so if you’ll follow me…” He started towards the entrance.

    “See?” Wizard said, clapping Retsy on the shoulder. “What did I tell you?”

    “I suppose you were right,” Retsy admitted.

    “Time is the best healer,” her uncle said, leading her forward. “Now, let us go find our seats before all of the food is gone.”

    Selax moved up to flank her other side. He said nothing, but he looked relieved. Even he must have considered the possibility this reunion wouldn’t be amicable.

    Retsy tried to shrug off her doubts. The moment had passed. She was among family once more.

    The corridors of the palace were just as she remembered. Red and black carpets lined the floors. Long crimson drapes covered the walls, the soft fabric freshly cleaned. Tall red stone pillars with a golden base lined the path, shaped to give the impression they were underground. Some people found the style oppressive, but Retsy found it comforting. She grew up here. These walls radiated warmth, offered security. A stark contrast to the open-air stone hut she lived in now.

    The dining room was occupied by a large U-shaped table. On the left as they entered sat Scry’s parents, whom Avatara introduced as Krys and Jacob. Next to her aging father sat Scry, cradling a baby girl wrapped in a silk blanket. Avatara took his seat next to her, leaving the remaining three seats for Retsy, Selax, and Wizard.

    “Aww, aren’t you a little cutie?” Wizard said, leaning over the table to rub the baby’s face.

    “She’s going to grow up to be a strong earthbender, just like her mom!” Scry said, hugging the girl against her chest.

    “Firebender,” Avatara coughed. Scry hit him on the shoulder.

    “So, uh, Scry is it?” Retsy asked, taking the seat next to her brother. She hadn’t had much interaction with his wife before, so this was as good a time as any to get to know her better. “How is it being a parent? I imagine it must be difficult, not being able to see at all.”

    Scry’s parents glared at Retsy, making her cringe and slump in her chair.

    “Actually, it’s not that complicated,” Scry said, her face showing no expression. “I might not be able to see, but I can still feel.” She leaned down to kiss her daughter on the forehead. “I can feel her little heartbeat, and that’s enough to tell me what a beautiful girl she is.”

    “How’s your tea shop doing, Uncle?” Avatara cut in before Retsy could reply. “I haven’t been able to make it to Ba Sing Se in a while.”

    “It’s doing great!” Wizard plunked a steaming strip of meat off a platter and added it to the pile on his plate. “I have even been asked to move to the upper ring.”

    “Congratulations! That must be quite the honor.”

    “It is a very generous opportunity the Earth King has granted me.” Wizard picked a long stringy vegetable off his plate and bit it in half with a loud crunch. “I see you have done well for yourself here.”

    “The Fire Nation has become a more…amicable business partner of late,” Krys said, dabbing her mouth with a napkin. Retsy noticed she had avoided all of the meat dishes, preferring instead to stuff her plate with dumplings and pastries.

    “And what about you, Retsy?” Jacob asked. “I hear you helped start some major renovations at the Cedar Street Market.”

    Retsy sank lower in her chair, trying to turn herself invisible.

    “That was an accident.” She was startled to hear Selax speak. “Thanks to her actions, no one was injured in the lava flow that day.”

    “Well, it has certainly opened up more investment opportunities,” Jacob admitted.

    A moment of awkward silence settled on the table. People continued to scoop food onto their plates or sip at their stew. Her confidence slowly returning while the others ignored her, Retsy reached out with her chopsticks to pick out some portions for herself, though she made sure Avatara blocked her view of Jacob.

    When Krys leaned over to make a comment to her husband, Retsy tugged on her brother’s sleeve. “Hey Av?” she asked in a low voice. “Are you sure I should be here?”

    He turned to regard her, confusion on his face. “Of course. We are still family.”

    “Then why is it you’ve never come to visit?”

    His expression softened. “I sort of can’t.” Before she could reply, he gestured towards Selax. “I lost my kinaru, so I have no way to reach you now.”

    “Oh.” Retsy poked at the steamed okra on her plate. She felt his hand pat her on the back. Warm, comforting. Just like when they were younger.

    “But I’m working on it!” Avatara continued. “We have a researcher from the Northern Water Tribe working here, trying to reconstruct his flying airship invention. He made a few prototypes before, but they were all destroyed in the war.”

    “Wolmark?” Selax asked.

    Avatara nodded. “I offered him and his wife some land, seeing as how the North Pole isn’t a great place to live right now.”

    “They still harbor a grudge.” It wasn’t a question.

    “Yeah.” Avatara sighed. “Katerei’s working on that. I think in time they will come around. Although–” He paused and glanced at his wife, who was busy chatting with her parents. “Two of the Ronin are unaccounted for. I suspect they intend to stir up trouble.”

    “I thought the Ronin were defeated years ago,” Retsy said. She didn’t know much about them. Flynn from the Northern Water Tribe had been their leader, an impulsive boy who sold out the Earth King in exchange for that one kid from the South. Selax had filled her in later with the fates of the rest of them.

    “Most of them have either moved on or are dead,” Avatara said. “But we lost track of two shortly after the war ended.” He turned to face Selax. “Sasha Romanova and Kwon Chen are missing. Worse, I fear they may attempt to exploit the discord within the water tribes. Already, we are hearing rumors of a band of anarchists calling themselves the Blue Lotus.”

    “I have no knowledge of this,” Selax said.

    “So far, there was been nothing major. But since you’re the Avatar, I thought you should know.” Avatara took a long drink from his mug. “Speaking of which, have you started learning the other elements yet?”

    “Unnecessary.” Selax clasped his hands in front of him. “Air is the purest form of expression.”

    A loud farting noise came from the other side of the table.

    “Dad!” Scry cried out, punching Jacob on the shoulder. “You’re embarrassing me!”

    Jacob looked up with a startled expression, the salad he was chewing still sticking out of his mouth.

    Avatara turned back to Selax. “I think the three nations can handle it for now. We shouldn’t have to pull you off your island.”

    “Well, if you ever need to blow something up, just let me know,” Retsy offered. “I could zap a penguin-goose out of the sky at five hundred paces, and you know it.”

    “Thanks, sis,” Avatara said, a small smile breaking out on his face.

    “Why is his family so much cooler than mine?” Scry protested.


    A loud crash made Selax snap his eyes open. Despite the rain pouring down on the roof, he didn’t think it was thunder. He rose to his feet and headed down the stone footsteps. Even with the gray skies visible out the window, he didn’t need a light to navigate. He had lived here so long he knew the layout by heart.

    Retsy was easy to find. She was sitting on the floor in the kitchen, knees pulled up against her chest, head in her hands. Her long black hair spilled over her shoulders, covering her face. The lantern was on the far side of the table, casting a long shadow over her slumped form.

    “What is wrong?” Selax asked. His bare feet made a soft plodding sound as he crossed the sand-colored stone floor.

    “I can’t take this anymore!” Retsy cried.

    “I don’t understand.” He knelt beside her and touched her on the shoulder, but she jerked away.

    “What am I doing here?” she asked. She moved her hands away far enough so she could look at Selax with red-rimmed eyes. “Day in and day out, I wander around this forsaken place. Nobody can talk to me. I can’t leave on my own. I just sit around all by myself.”

    “I am here.” Selax said. When he saw her face tighten, he realized his voice had been too flat.

    “You’re always off somewhere meditating or whatever it is you do! Certainly not spending your time with me!”

    “I just want to spend time with my family.”

    “Your family is all dead! Their spirits don’t need you always watching over them! What about the living?” Her forehead beaded with sweat, plastering her uncut bangs to her face. She lowered her hands into her lap, balling them into fists. Her chest rose and fell rapidly.

    “Am I still being punished? Have I not been on my best behavior? Why do you keep me here if you are just going to ignore me?”

    “I’m not ignoring you–“

    “Then why do I only see you for fifteen minutes each day?” she demanded, her face turning red. She met his gaze, locking her brown eyes on his. “What am I to you?”

    He didn’t answer. He wasn’t sure how to answer.

    He certainly didn’t want her to leave. He had grown accustomed to seeing her face, watching her explore the temple grounds, telling her stories about the forgotten history of his tribe. He liked how she would try to surprise him. Even with his careful planning, sometimes she would find ways to achieve the unexpected, to upset his logic and reason. It had become something of a challenge between them, one that was not unpleasant.

    “Why am I here?” she asked again. Her anger faded and more tears formed in her eyes. “It hit me when we were visiting my brother. Seeing him together with his wife, the smile on his face as he held his daughter…why can’t I have a life like that? Why couldn’t that be me?”

    He tried to imagine Retsy holding a child. Her child. Their child. Was that something he wanted too? Wouldn’t he enjoy bringing a new airbender into the world?

    In all of his past lives, he had always remained alone. He preferred solitude, the opportunity to reflect and relive old memories. But deep inside, he found he didn’t want to lose Retsy.

    “Wait here,” he said. “I will be just a moment.”

    She stared at him, confused, while he got up and entered the other room. On a shelf against the far wall, tucked away in a corner, he found the item he sought. A necklace inlaid with a gem attached by a chain to a golden ring. He unfastened the ring from the chain, ignored the now-powerless necklace, and returned to the kitchen.

    “I may not be the best at this,” he began, clearing his throat. “But it is important enough to try.”

    Retsy stared back at him in confusion, arms around her legs. Her hair was still covering half of her face.

    “Retsy,” he said, kneeling in front of her like he had seen others do. “When we first met, you were a spoiled brat. Demanding, selfish, and greedy.” He held up his left hand to forestall her protest. “But over the past four years, I have seen you change.”

    He lowered his hand and took hold of hers, bringing it up towards him. “You selflessly leapt into danger to protect people you did not know. And you have shown you are able to forgive old wounds. So I ask you know, will you please forgive me?” He curled his fingers around hers.

    “It was not my intent to ignore you. I merely thought you wanted space for yourself. That you would not appreciate me always watching over you like a prison warden. But I see now, that I was mistaken.”

    “Oh, Sely.” She twined her fingers with his. Her index finger brushed against the onyx ring he wore every day.

    Selax swallowed. Now came the tough part. “I enjoy your company and would miss you greatly if you were to leave. Will you please stay with me?” He brought forward his right hand, opening it up, revealing the small gold ring in his palm. “Will you become part of my family?”

    “Oh my turtle, Sely! Are you–“

    He held the ring out, offering it up. “How about we create our own family?”

    A dozen emotions flashed across her face. “I…I don’t know what to say!” She stammered. Tentatively, she reached out and picked up the ring. Her fingers traced the surface, fingernail running along the inscription.

    “Say yes?”

    “Yes!” she breathed.

    Selax didn’t realize he had been holding his breath until she accepted. He felt lightheaded and dizzy, the tension fleeing his body. And Retsy – her face lit up in delight as she held up her left hand, golden ring gleaming. She looked beautiful, even if she did badly need a haircut. He held up his own hand, the silver ring sparkling in the lamplight.

    “I suppose we’re not quite a matching pair,” Retsy said, grinning.

    “I would not have it any other way,” he said.


    Retsy hummed to herself while she swept the terrace. The cedar trees had shed their old needles in the last windstorm and she wanted the place tidy in case she felt like firebending. A shifting inside her made her pause and she placed her free hand on her growing stomach. The momentary pause turned into a lengthy break as she suddenly found herself out of breath and needing to lean on her broom.

    Thus, she was watching when the red-and-black airship burst above the clouds, Fire Nation emblem gleaming in the winter sun. The airship landed in the lower garden and a ramp extended out of the back. Two figures appeared at the top, slowly making their way down.

    “Nili?” Retsy asked, squinting her eyes at the tall brunette. The skinny girl had grown quite a bit since Retsy had last seen her.

    “Hiya Rets.” Nili waved.

    “What are you doing here?”

    “We thought we could come pay you a visit,” Adriana said, leaning against the bulkhead. She wore the same crimson robe with long sleeves that she had been given years ago. She studied Retsy, glanced around.

    “You’re not mad, are you?” Nili asked. She also kept her distance, lingering at the bottom of the ramp.

    “Oh, I suppose a ruler can make time for her subjects,” Retsy said, throwing out a dainty wave.

    “We can leave if you’re going to be like that.” Adriana frowned.

    “No! Please don’t! I didn’t mean it!” Retsy pleaded. She glanced back and forth between the two scowling faces. “I’m sorry. I just…what do normal people say when they see old friends again?”

    “You could start with ‘hello’?”

    “Hello,” Retsy said in a more subdued voice. “Please, come on down. You have to tell me all about what you’ve been up to. Where’s your friend?” The latter was directed at Nili. “You know, the red-head?”

    “Oh.” Nili stared at her feet while she walked across the grass. “She went back to her water tribe boy.”

    “I’m sorry.” Retsy put a hand on Nili’s shoulder, only to have the other girl startle her with a big hug.

    “It’s okay, I’m over it now. Your brother put me in charge of the royal guard, so now I can look at all the girls I want!” Nili grinned. “You there! Are you carrying a weapon? We need you to step aside for a closer inspection!”

    “And you?” Retsy asked Adriana, who was rolling her eyes at Nili.

    “I decided to take up medical school,” Adriana said. “Figured I should do something productive with my giant knife collection, so I’m training to become a surgeon.”

    “That’s great!” Retsy said. Her mood had already lightened considerably.

    “What about you?” Nili asked, settling down on the grass next to Retsy. “What have you been doing, up here alone with the Avatar?”

    It was Retsy’s turn to grin. “You guys are never going to guess this!”

    “You got exiled for trashing that mall?” Adriana asked.

    “What? No!”

    “Ooh! You saw a runaway boy band at the market?” Nili chimed in.

    “No!”

    “You finally got Selax to sing you nighttime lullabies?” Adriana rested her chin on her hands.

    “Er, yes, but that’s not what I meant.”

    “Come on Retsy,” Nili said. “Just tell us!”

    Retsy took hold of their hands and brought them slowly to her stomach. “Do you feel that?” she asked.

    Nili’s eyes widened and she gasped. “Are you…?”

    “Yep!”

    “Retsy!” Nili chided her. “If I knew you were going to slack off and gain weight just because nobody is around, I would’ve made Adriana fly here sooner! You need to maintain a proper diet!”

    “What? No, silly! I’m pregnant!”

    “Do you know who the father is?” Adriana asked.

    “Seriously? You guys are no fun!” Retsy pouted.

    “Oh, we’re just messing with you,” Nili said, giving her a hug. “Of course we noticed! Congratulations!”

    “So you’re really going to be a mother?” Adriana asked, running her fingertips lightly over the protruding skin. “I bet having a little terror running around will lighten things up around here.”

    “Don’t say it like that!” Nili gave her a light thwack on the arm.

    Retsy allowed herself a small smile. It was nice to sit here on the grass, listening to her friends. She missed those days back at the palace, sitting under the cedar tree, watching duck-turtles swim in the pond.

    “Hey guys,” Retsy spoke softly. “Would you mind coming by again sometime?”

    Nili didn’t hesitate. “Sure thing, Rets!”

    “After all, that’s what friends are for,” Adriana added.


    It had been raining all morning, so pools of water were still visible and the grass squished when walked on. The deluge had finally stopped shortly before the ceremony was to begin, but the clouds lingered, only allowing tiny beams of sunlight to break through. That was good enough for Selax; the weather matched his mood.

    Everyone was gathering around the freshly dug mound on the ground. Avatara stood at the center with Scry holding little Elysia so her black dress didn’t get muddy. Beside him were Jorumgard and Saria, having interrupted their travels to come pay respects. On the far side of them stood a grown-up Katerei next to a water tribe man that appeared to be a few years younger than her.

    Selax stood on the other side of Avatara with Retsy, who was busy trying to keep their two children quiet. Little Haruko, almost two-and-a-half now, stood holding her mother’s hand while she sucked her thumb. She kept looking around at all various guests, asking why everyone looked sad. In Retsy’s other arm was their son Peregrine, who was fortunately sleeping at the moment. His teeth had come in late, and while the crying wouldn’t be out of place here, the silence felt more appropriate.

    Selax looked down at the ornate teacup in his hands, the steam starting to dwindle. It had been Wizard’s favorite cup, the tiny bats imprinted nearly worn smooth from overuse. Selax had given it to him many years before.

    One by one, the gathered people gave their eulogies. Jorumgard talked about growing up with his brother, before they had gotten involved in the war. Scry spoke about how Wizard had helped her with parenting advice, how he helped remind her to keep some time for herself.

    Selax stepped forward to speak. He normally preferred standing back, but something about honoring Wizard’s memory urged him on. He told a brief tale about meeting Wizard long ago, how in some ways he considered the eccentric man to be like a brother. When he finished, he saw Avatara nod his thanks and stepped back.

    Katerei spoke at length about how Wizard helped bring hope to those who were in need. She made it about halfway before the tears started rolling down her cheek. The man with her – Yironem, from the North – took hold of her arm, steadying her so she could finish. When she was done, she knelt and placed a white lotus flower on top of the grave. Then she stepped back and made room for Avatara.

    “Thank you all for coming today,” he began. “It means much to me and my family.

    “Wizard touched all of our lives, always seeking to help us better ourselves. He showed great kindness, not just to me, but all manner of people, even those he hardly knew. And we will sorely miss him.”

    He gestured at Selax to come forward. Selax knelt and gently placed the teacup next to the flower. The tea had long since gone cold, just like the life of his friend.

    “I want to close out with something Wizard left me,” Avatara said. “Whenever I was in trouble or feeling down, he would sing me a song. And so now, it is my turn to sing to him:”

    Leaves from the vine,
    Falling so slow
    Like fragile, tiny shells
    Drifting in the poem

    Avatara’s voice started out steady, but began to waver. He wiped at the tears forming in his eyes, but pressed on:

    Little soldier boy,
    Come marching home
    Brave soldier boy
    Comes marching home

    A heavy silence fell upon the crowd as the last node faded. They stood there as the last rays of the sun faded behind the gathering storm clouds. Only when the rain began to fall did the crowd disperse.

    Selax, Katerei, and Avatara stayed behind long after the others had gone inside. They stood apart, Katerei and Avatara unwilling to stand too close together, and Selax attempting to leave both of them space. After several unsuccessful attempts to speak, Katerei gave up, bowed formally, and left to join the others.

    Avatara lingered in the rain, eyes fixated on the ground. When he finally did speak, his quiet voice was enough to startle Selax.

    “You can speak to him, right?” he asked. “In the Spirit World?”

    “Perhaps,” Selax said. He hadn’t visited that place in years.

    “I wonder what he would say now, if he could see this.”

    “He would say he is proud of you and of what you have done to restore the honor of the Fire Nation.”

    “Thanks,” Avatara said, a small smile appearing on his face. The first smile in days. “Today was the first time I had heard your story. You taught me something new about someone I cared for deeply. Perhaps you can drop by sometime and share some more stories?”

    “I have kids now.”

    “So do I. They’ll keep each other occupied.”

    Selax thought about it. It didn’t sound too unpleasant. “Perhaps,” he said.

    “Thank you.” Avatara bowed deeply in front of the grave. “And thank you, Uncle. For everything.” Then he too, turned and left, leaving Selax alone.

    Moments passed while the airbender reflected some more on his memories with Wizard. Now that the cycle was broken, that he would no longer be reborn, would those memories be lost to the world like so many others? Maybe he would go and tell his stories, so that they might live on, passed along from generation to generation.

    Then it was time for him too to leave. Just as he began to walk away, he paused, thinking about what the Firelord had said. Selax closed his eyes, concentrating, reaching out towards his spiritual center.

    He heard an old man’s voice, coming from far away, but still recognizable. Wizard’s voice, calling out to him:

    “What? Cold tea?”


    “Thank you for agreeing to see me,” Katerei said, offering a deep curtsey before she entered the room. Her deep blue robes stood out against the neutral colors of the Southern Air Temple. She had visibly aged in the five years since Selax had last seen her.

    “Of course,” Selax said, pulling out a chair so she could sit.

    Retsy set a pair of steaming mugs on the table, humming a familiar tune. Her hair was done up today, pinned into an elegant bun and he found it rather appealing. He’d have to ask her to wear that more often.

    Katerei eyed Retsy suspiciously, waiting until the firebender turned her back before sticking a finger into her cup.

    “Checking for poison?” Selax asked. “That is no longer necessary.”

    Katerei blushed and dried off her finger. “Sorry, old habits die hard.”

    A loud crash came from outside followed by a girl’s voice. “Mom! Pippin is throwing rocks again!”

    “Just a moment, sweetie,” Retsy said, putting a pot on the stove and wiping her hands on her apron. “I guess I’ll be outside,” she told Selax before nodding at Katerei and ducking outside.

    The waterbender watched her leave, then returned to staring at the cup in her hands. When she didn’t speak, Selax cleared his throat.

    “So, what can I do for the Water Tribe?” he asked.

    “We’re having a bit of an…internal problem. I had hoped we could handle it ourselves, but tensions are boiling over and I fear we will soon face an all out civil war.”

    “Airedain.”

    “How did you–?” Katerei blinked. “Never mind. Yes, it’s that punk stirring up trouble again.” She took in a deep breath and let out a long sigh.

    “When I married Yironem, I had hoped it would mend the ties between the North and the South, and for a while it did. The Northerners weren’t happy with us, but they weren’t openly hostile either. Especially not after we helped them rebuild their city.

    “But then, the Blue Lotus came.”

    “Airedain is of the Blue Lotus?” Selax raised an eyebrow. Information about the Blue Lotus had been infuriatingly scarce; something that annoyed him to no end.

    “We think so, now.” Katerei nodded. “He uses their promises of freedom and equality to stir up trouble. And now he’s got most of the populace convinced the South is holding them back, that we are just waiting for an excuse to invade and unite the tribes under our banner. What’s worse is that we might have to just to put a stop to the attacks.”

    She took a moment to catch her breath before continuing, “A group of Blue Lotus fanatics have begun an insurgency at the North Pole. It began with targeted assaults on Southern Water Tribe sympathizers, but now nearly the whole city is unsafe. If we don’t do something soon, a lot of people are going to get hurt.”

    “Have you talked to Avatara? I’m sure he’d be willing to help.”

    “No, I haven’t spoken to him.” Katerei looked away. “But I think having Fire Nation ships show up at the North Pole again will make matters worse.”

    Neither of them mentioned the Earth Kingdom. With their bureaucratic procedures, any civil war would be long over before the Earth Kingdom even agreed to send a delegate to see if there was a war.

    “So, you think I can help?” Selax asked.

    “I know you can help,” Katerei fixed her gaze on him. Her voice took on a steely edge. “I saw what you did to that comet, how you smashed it into a million pieces. I want you to do the same to Airedain. I don’t ever want to have to hear his name again!”

    “I do not take action lightly,” he said. “I will need some time to consider. And to discuss.” He nodded in Retsy’s direction.

    “I understand. Thank you, Avatar.” Katerei rose to her feet.

    Selax remained seated, staring at his mug long after the waterbender had left. It had been a long time since he had been called into action. Things were different now. He had a family to look out for.

    “What did she want?” Retsy asked, putting her arm around his shoulder. He hadn’t noticed her return, but he appreciated her warmth.

    “She wants me to retake a city up north.”

    “It’s been a long time since I’ve had to fight a real foe!” Retsy said, stretching her other limbs. “But, I suppose I still have it in me.” She grinned. “It’ll be nice to go outside for a change!”

    “You’re not coming,” Selax said, knowing he was about to hurt her. “Not this time.”

    “What?” Shock and dismay played out across her face. “Why not?”

    He took a deep breath. “Think about it. A firebender starts attacking people at the North Pole? It is still too soon after the war.”

    “I…suppose that makes sense.” She was frowning, but at least she didn’t sound offended anymore.

    “Your brother has to sit this one out too.”

    Retsy paused for a moment. Selax recognized the look – she was arguing with herself whether or not to say more. He wouldn’t blame her if she did, though it would not change his decision.

    Finally, she said, “Make sure you come back safe,” and wandered off to soothe her disappointment.

    I’m sorry Retsy, but this is how it has to be.


    The Northern Water Tribe city had been rebuilt exactly the way Selax remembered it prior to the Fire Nation invasion. Even down to the major structural flaws that led to its untimely demise. Perhaps all waterbenders were just as stubborn as the rumors claimed.

    Despite the lower elevation, it was much colder here than back at the air temple. He had grown accustomed to wind, clouds, and rain, but freezing temperatures were a rarity.

    Selax had no trouble spotting Katerei from the air. She was standing with a small group of her tribesman on the lower ring, their distinctive blue clothing standing out under the noonday sun. He glided down to a landing nearby, shifting back into his drab airbender robes as he touched the ground.

    “Thank goodness you came so quickly!” Katerei said, running over to meet him. She glanced around, peeked behind him, and asked, “Wait, where’s Retsy?”

    “I thought you did not want to see her, given the way you tried to avoid her back at my home,” Selax said, eyebrows furrowed in confusion. He thought Katerei hated everyone from the Fire Nation.

    “I don’t want to talk to her, but I was kind of hoping you would bring her.” Katerei stepped back and eyed Selax. “No offense, but we’ve tried negotiating already, and although your air powers might be able to dry our laundry, this situation calls for some fire and brimstone. As much as I hate to admit it, Retsy is kind of the master at that.”

    “Oh, well in that case, I need to return to the fleet.”

    “What for? I thought you flew here.”

    Selax shot her a flat look. “I planned for the possibility Retsy would be needed and left her and the kids on the Chieftain’s ship.”

    “Oh,” Katerei said, stepping back to give him room.

    “I’ll be back later,” Selax said, launching himself into the air once more.


    The city outside was broken. Buildings were smashed, the streets flooded. It had taken the better part of the day to subdue Airedain and his followers, and the toll was high.

    Refugees from the city had taken shelter in one of the nearby ice caves, mostly to escape the rising water. Old men, women with children, they all watched silently with ragged expressions as the Avatar followed Katerei down the hall.

    Up ahead Retsy was standing with their two kids, the children buzzing with excitement over the cool moves mom had shown them during the battle. She shushed them when she saw Katerei approaching.

    Katerei stopped a dozen paces away. “We’ve hit a bit of a problem…”

    “Airedain isn’t talking?” Retsy guessed.

    The waterbender nodded. “He refuses to give up the location of the Blue Lotus. All we know is they have splinter cells here and in the Earth Kingdom.” She looked down at her feet. “Yironem thinks you will have better luck.”

    “I suppose I can try talking to him.”

    “Normally, I don’t condone torture…” Katerei sighed. “But this is Airedain we’re talking about. Do your worst.”

    “Torture?” Retsy looked shocked. “I’m not going to torture him!”

    “You’re not?” Katerei sounded disappointed. “Not even a little lightning?”

    “No! That was the old days. I’m a parent now!” Retsy’s eyes lit up with a grim determination. “I’m going to mother him.”

    Katerei shuddered.


    “I think it has great potential,” Avatara said. “Imagine a city where members of all four nations can live together in peace and harmony! Cultural barriers will be broken down when you can simply go next door and see for yourself that your Earth Kingdom neighbor isn’t some uptight rules lawyer.” He nodded at Shanadar. “No offense.”

    “None taken,” Shanadar said from his makeshift throne. It was really just a wooden chair covered in gold paint so as not to breach Earth Kingdom protocol, as it was too expensive to build a real throne for the rare occasion the Earth King ventured outside of Ba Sing Se.

    “I like the idea,” Fendul said. “It would be great to find out if the Air Nation is really full of isolationist sticklers like our friend here.” He pointed at Selax.

    “I will have to have Iannah do something horrible to you,” Selax said from his carpeted pillow on the floor. Fendul might be twice the age he was when Selax had seen him last, but his humor abilities had not grown.

    The four of them, official representatives from each country, were meeting in the largest room the inn could offer in this small seafaring town. Avatara had chosen the place both because the western coast of the mainland was still Earth Kingdom territory – necessary to secure Shanadar’s attendance – and because he wanted an excuse to watch the cherry blossom trees bloom from the local hot springs.

    “I admit, the idea does have merit,” Shanadar said. “But what would we name it? It would have to be something that transcends all cultures. A beacon of hope, beckoning all with an open mind. Something like…The Center for the People’s Republic of the Four Nations!”

    “I was thinking that it should be something easier to say,” Avatara said. “Like Merindor, for example.”

    “If we are to build the city here, as you suggest,” Selax said. “Then Origin would be a more suitable alternative.”

    “Do you intend to relocate?” Shanadar asked him. “As both the Avatar and the only surviving member of the Air Nation, your presence would have great symbolic power.”

    “I will consider it.” Selax thought for a moment. “There is an island in the bay that would provide an ideal location for my spiritual meditation.”

    “It would be great having you and the kids around,” Avatara said.

    “Retsy has been asking to move to a more temperate location for some time. One that is not quite so…remote.”

    “And the city will be the perfect place for your soon-to-be-teenagers!”

    “Hm,” Selax frowned. “I did not take that into account. Perhaps I need to reconsider.”

    Shanadar leaned forward and placed his hand on Selax’s arm. Out of respect, Selax forced himself to remain still and not flinch away, but the unfamiliar touch made him uncomfortable.

    “If this is to work, we will need your presence, Avatar,” the Earth King said.

    Selax sighed. “Very well.”

    “But…Origin? Can’t you come up with something that doesn’t sound quite so soulless and dreary?” Fendul asked. He had taken the opportunity during their side discussion to lean back and put his feet on the table. “How about something that evokes emotion from the soul? A name that brings to mind a sprawling metropolis. The motherland. A place to call home.”

    Fendul jumped to his feet. “How about we call it…Cademia!”

    “That name doesn’t evoke any response from me,” Selax said.

    “Maybe not, but do you have any better ideas?”

    And thus, by silent consent, nearly fifteen years after the end of the war, the city of Cademia was founded.


    Retsy held on tightly as Selax soared over the bay, keeping low to avoid detection. She wasn’t sure it was entirely necessary. The moon was mostly covered by clouds and the city lights weren’t bright enough to illuminate them this far out over the water. But, there was no sense in arguing, not in front of the kids.

    She glanced over at Haruko. She couldn’t believe her little girl was all grown up now, soon to be celebrating her twentieth birthday. Haruko hadn’t heeded her mother’s warning about the wind, and now her long black hair was flying around wildly, constantly getting in her eyes. But the girl paid it no heed, concentrating on the upcoming battle.

    To Retsy’s right rode Peregrine, his short brown hair not long enough to cause him any problems. She had tried to get him to remain home, out of danger, but he had argued he was just as capable as his sister. It was difficult to order someone around when they were both taller and physically stronger than you.

    Retsy eventually conceded he had a point. Her children had both grown up to be skilled benders, at her insistence. She was more worried for her husband. Selax hadn’t been in a real fight in almost a decade. And he still hadn’t bothered to learn anything other than airbending.

    But tonight was the night. Iannah had sent word that they had located the headquarters of the Blue Lotus, down in the depths of Cademia. The assault should have already started, but a last-minute message from Fendul had requested their assistance.

    Selax drew up, landing quietly in the coastal park outside the Wharf District. Her kids disembarked and started jogging towards the rendezvous point. Retsy opted to linger a moment and sneak in a kiss and a hug.

    “Today, we will end this plague,” Selax whispered.

    “Are you going to go all Grapper on us?” Retsy asked him, running a finger across his chin. “I wasn’t around to see it last time.”

    “I will do what I must.” He looked at the disappearing figures of their kids. “I am not comfortable with this.”

    “Me either, but they are adults now. It was their choice.”

    Selax sighed. Retsy slipped her arm around his and tugged. “Come on, we’ll be late.”

    The Wharf District was the most irregularly-constructed sector of the city, having faced multiple expansions over the years to accommodate the ever-increasing shipping trade. Ten years ago, nobody could envision just how vital Cademia would become to the lifeblood of the international economy. As a result, dozens of haphazardly constructed warehouses and shops lined the docks. The lack of foreplanning (or rather, the glacial pace the council moved on issues) led to a warren of narrow alleyways between the buildings of the district. It was one such alleyway that Retsy and Selax caught up with the others.

    Iannah was waiting with two dozen of her warriors. When Fendul had been elected the official Water Tribe representative, she had offered to help out by organizing the former Tokoda Warriors into a police force for the city. They were no longer a close-knit band of women; that had quickly changed once everyone realized just how badly they had underestimated the number of people moving in. Perhaps a third of her team was male, but they all wore the same gray-and-black armor, and they all answered to their captain.

    There was no time to exchange pleasantries. Iannah had barely taken three steps when suddenly the storefront at the end of the alley exploded, throwing glass shards and wooden debris across the road. Fire broke out on the adjacent warehouse, spreading quickly across wood that was dry from an unusual lack of snowfall for this time of year.

    “Waterbenders, get that fire under control!” Iannah snapped, pointing to a man and a woman in her group. They broke rank and ran out to the piers to draw in water from the bay. She turned to the others, crouched down to avoid the smoldering debris. “Split formation! Keep your eyes open and watch the rooftops! We’ve been compromised!”

    As if summoned, shadowy figures appeared above them and arrows started raining down. Haruko was one of the first to react, sending up a plume of flame that sent a pair of archers fleeing. Selax followed up with a blast of air that knocked most of the arrows away.

    “I knew Sasha wouldn’t go out without a fight,” Iannah muttered, joining Selax and Retsy. “Delta Team was inside when that went off. I’m not sure I want to know how bad they were hit.”

    “A trap?” Selax asked.

    Iannah nodded. “I think they learned after we took down Kwon Chen a couple years ago. The Blue Lotus has always been one step ahead of us.”

    “Then it’s time to give them the chaos and destruction they’ve been asking for,” Retsy said, clenching her fist. Blue sparks crackled over her glove.

    “I’m glad to have you with me,” Iannah said. She gestured at their kids. “Them too, even though they seem – wait, is Pippin earth bending?”

    Peregrine stood with his hands against a wall of rock that hadn’t been there before. Haruko was using it for cover as she launched bolts of fire up at their attackers.

    “Yeah, he does that.” Retsy shrugged. “Comes from sleeping with the Avatar. Apparently you can inherit any one of the elements.”

    “Are you sure Selax is the father?” Iannah raised an eyebrow.

    “I know perfectly well who the father is,” Retsy said flatly. “And we don’t have time for this.”

    Iannah opened her mouth to speak, thought better of it, and beckoned them to follow. “This way. We’re going in the back.”

    They crept out of the alleyway. The rest of the force were trading blows with the archers. Some of the police had managed to get onto the rooftops, striving to flank the attackers, who were now scattering into groups, dragging the fight further into the city.

    Iannah led them past a storefront selling fishing equipment and an empty stand covered in salmon-chicken advertisements. She curved around towards what looked like a tavern, only to have a shadowy figure leap from the rooftop and attack her. Iannah managed to deflect the man’s thrust with her spear, but she was still knocked to the ground. The attacker whirled, lifting a spear of his own and stepped forward to strike again.

    Retsy zapped him with lightning. He dropped the spear, his limbs going rigid as he shook in place for a moment before collapsing to the ground. She blew the smoke trailing off her fingertips. “Who brings a spear to a firefight anyway?”

    Iannah rose to her feet, dusting off her leggings, and glared at Retsy while she picked up her spear.

    “Oh, right. Sorry.”

    Light spilled from the tavern door, but the windows were too covered in smoke and fog to see inside. From the looks of it, the place had seen better days. Many of the boards appeared singed, and the sign hung down at a precarious angle.

    “The Blackened Oaf?” Retsy tried to read the paint peeling off.

    “Stand back, the door is probably guarded,” Iannah said. She backed up a dozen paces, then took a running jump and crashed through the window. Spinning as she landed, Retsy saw her whirl her spear and heard grunts and two loud thumps.

    Careful of the sharp glass, Retsy climbed in after her. She glimpsed movement in the corner, and a ball of fire caught a man in the chest. The man’s crossbow bolt flew wide, burying itself deep in the wooden beam above. A blast of air from behind her and another man fell out of the rafters, landing with a disturbing crunch.

    “In there,” Iannah said, pointing towards a dark room in the back. Leading the way, the police captain slipped into the room. Satisfied there was no immediate danger, she waved the others in and pointed down a staircase in the corner.

    Retsy was expecting the cellar to smell like mold, wine, or smoked meat. She was not expecting the fragrance of dozens of lotus flowers. She paused to inspect one of the blue flowers and Selax passed by her, following Iannah as the two of them searched down the racks of supplies. A yelp and a crash as a box fell onto the ground was followed by a shout.

    “Don’t move or I’ll cut his throat!” a woman called out.

    Retsy froze. She couldn’t see around the brick corner into the cellar proper, the stairs ended in a recessed enclosure.

    “Drop your weapon,” the woman hissed. Metal clanked as it struck the ground. Most likely Iannah’s spear.

    “Sasha Romanova, you are under arrest for crimes against humanity,” Iannah said. The woman laughed in response.

    Retsy risked a peek. She saw Iannah standing four rows down, back against the brick wall, her hands in the air. A few paces in front of her was a dark-haired armored woman with a sword glowing the same blue as her eyes. Selax stood stiffly in her grip, the blade pressed against his neck.

    Sasha didn’t notice her. But Selax did.

    He gestured with his eyes. Retsy hesitated, understanding what he intended. She wanted to argue, to refuse, but that might draw attention. Instead, she took in a deep breath, trusting that the airbender knew what he was doing.

    “Did you think capturing me would end this rebellion?” Sasha asked, still fixated on the redheaded woman. “A foolish notion. The Blue Lotus is more than one woman. It is an idea. A belief!”

    “In terrorizing people?” Iannah asked, not bothering to hide her scorn.

    “In freedom!” The Ronin hissed. “Freedom from the oppression of so-called leaders who exploit others for their own personal gain!” The blade pressed closer to Selax, drawing a trickle of red blood.

    “People need order and guidance–“

    “No! It is time for the people to find their own path! No longer shall we be oppressed by tyrants who don’t care if we live or die! This is the dawn of a new era! An era that no longer needs an Avatar.”

    With a cry, Retsy hurled herself around the corner. A blue bolt of lightning launched out of her fingertips striking the surprised warrior dead center on her forehead. The lightning crackled, spreading across Sasha’s body in a spray of sparks. Part of it arced to the blade and into Selax. The two of them dropped as the lightning faded, leaving a small trail of smoke from their singed clothes.

    Retsy rushed forward, sliding to a halt in front of Selax. She frantically felt around, searching for a pulse, and found a faint one.

    “Find a healer!” she screamed at Iannah. The redhead nodded and vanished up the stairs.

    She knelt on the cold floor, Selax’s head resting in her lap as she brushed the soot off of his face. There were scorch marks down his left side, signs of blood. The smell of burnt flesh filled her nostrils.

    “Come on Sely,” she cried, tears streaming down her face. “Not like this! You promised!” She had to stop and wipe her nose. “We were supposed to grow old together.”

    “Mom!” Haruko’s voice came from behind as her daughter raced down the staircase. “What happened?” she asked, skidding to a halt next to them.

    Retsy didn’t reply. All of her attention was focused on the faint warmth coming from her husband.

    “Healer’s coming! Make way!” Iannah’s voice came from somewhere above.

    Retsy could only pray she wasn’t too late.


    Selax took the cup that a trembling Retsy handed to him and set it on the nightstand. He covered her wrinkled hand with his, sharing his warmth. She smiled at him, wrapped in the red-and-black blanket he had stitched for their fiftieth anniversary. Even with white hair, she looked beautiful.

    “Not much longer now, I’m afraid,” she said.

    “I know,” he spoke quietly. He moved his right hand up to feel her forehead. His left was busy leaning on his cane so he wouldn’t fall. That side had never healed fully.

    The onyx ring had helped redirect most of the lightning, keeping it from passing through his heart, but at great cost. He had carried a severe limp ever since, and his kinaru form could no longer fly.

    “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to give you the airbender you wanted,” she said, tears forming in her eyes.

    “I am satisfied with the children we have.” He patted her forehead, brushed his hand through her fine, soft hair. “Our children’s children, and soon their children still carry our blood. Perhaps one day, another airbender will walk the world again.”

    “I am glad I met you.” Her voice came weaker now.

    “I am glad I married you,” he said. He had to strain to maintain his balance, but he managed to lower himself enough to kiss her, one last time. “I sent word to your brother. He agreed to bury you under the cedar tree, like you wanted.”

    “Oh, Sely. I love you so much.” She lifted a weathered hand to brush his cheek.

    “Do not be afraid. In the Spirit World, we will be as one.”

    Retsy lowered her hand, resting it on her chest. She closed her eyes, taking in slow, deep breaths. He could tell she was straining with the effort.

    He lowered himself so he could kneel next to the bed, leaning his cane on the nightstand. He placed his hand back on hers; he had promised he would remain by her side.

    “I love you, Retsy,” he said.

    Her chest rose and fell, slower now. Then, with one last sigh from her lips, he felt the life leave her body.

    He remained there for a long time, unwilling to leave her. He thought back to the first time they had met, when she was still a young child playing with the duck-turtles in the pond back at the palace. He remembered teenage Retsy, a spoiled girl used to getting what she wanted, the girl who had taken an interest in him for the first time. He remembered the young lady after the war, struggling to find her place in the world. The resentment on her face when he told her the air temple would be her new home, her delight as she held their newborn girl for the first time, her concern for his safety as they flew into battle, her sorrow as she watched him through his long recovery.

    He had lived a dozen lifetimes under the curse of the Seal, but this one was the one he cherished the most. His moments with Retsy, the time spent among his friends – was this the lesson he was meant to learn?

    The Seal was broken now, the master ring still glimmered on Retsy’s finger. There would be no rebirth, but that was fine with him. He was content with this life, with the family he had raised and left behind in Cademia.

    Slowly, he lifted himself to his feet. At his request, they had come back to where it all began for him, the Southern Air Temple. It had been many years since anyone had lived here, and after his passing, he suspected it would be many more again. But of all the places he had been to, this is where he felt most at home. His mother – his first mother – had raised him here, and he still felt a connection to the abandoned ruins.

    Staring out over the mountain vistas, watching the clouds wrap around the peaks below, he found himself truly at peace. It had been a good life.

    The Avatar spirit would pass on, to the Water Tribe this time. He wondered what challenges the next Avatar might face. If one day they would seek him out in the Spirit World and ask for wisdom.

    His wandering brought him back to the bedroom. He set his cane against the nightstand, lowered himself onto the sheets. The cane slid and fell onto the floor, clattering as it bounced on the stone, but he didn’t need it anymore.

    He wondered what life in the Spirit World would be like. Did they serve food there? The aftertaste of pumpkin bread still lingered in his mouth, from the last meal he had shared with Retsy.

    With each breath, he felt the energy slowly drain from his body. His head felt light, his chest felt sore, and his body felt exhausted.

    It was time.

    “Rest in peace, my love,” he whispered, closing his eyes.

    Once more he breathed out.

    And the Last Airbender passed from this world.



  • You said BoH would cover a lot of time, but I still wasn't expecting it to cover nearly this much! I also wasn't expecting it to follow LoK plots, but that was awesome and well-done ^_ __^

    This is probably a new record for how much I've cried reading one of your chronicles. I cried when Retsy was crying at the end of the first scene, I cried during Wizard's funeral, and pretty-much cried through the entire ending scene :x Other touching moments were when Retsy saw her brother for the first time since the agni kai, Scry holding her baby, Selax proposing, Adriana wearing the robe Avatara had given her, Retsy being stuck at the air temple, and Katerei having to marry Yironem since Wizard died. Okay, pretty much the whole entire chronicle.

    For all that, it wasn't nearly the depressing story you made it out to be - I think it had a happy ending because Retsy had become a light in Selax's life. I reeeeally didn't think you could convert me to shipping Relax, so this is very impressive. Sely will probably feel the need to take some kind of revenge on you though : _D I think my favourite jokes in this chronicle were Selax's "I'll be back later"s ^ __^

    Thank you for this Christmas gift to the Cythera forum ^_ __^

    Lingering questions: Did Elysia grow up to an earthbender or a firebender? : __o Will there ever be airbenders again? (maybe the next avatar will leave some dangerous spirit portal open and accidentally give random unsuspecting people airbending abilities?) Did Adriana ever find love?


  • Global Moderator

    There were a number of things in the original idea that got cut due to time or pacing restraints (or in a few cases because I forgot to check my notes more closely). At BMW's request, here they are:

    Spoiler

    - A scene with Selax struggling to parent a newborn while Retsy recovers from an illness
    - The lantern merchant was going to have a reoccurring role
    - The eulogies were left unspoken
    - Selax and Yironem had more of a role at the North Pole, and more of the battle was present
    - Retsy would have shocked herself with lightning before interrogating Airedain (wow, that’s dangerous!)
    - Rythan was the fourth member of the Blue Lotus leadership (though his fate was to be left open)
    - The Blue Lotus originally were going to raid Cademia instead of the police raiding them
    - Kwon Chen was cut from the Cademia scene, and so was the Team Rocket quote (“Prepare for trouble, and make it double!”)
    - A sequence revealing Selax's mother is CrazyChick

    It also was suggested in the channel that I try to write the scenes out of order instead of going from the beginning to the ending. I don't like to do that as the story kind of shapes itself along the way. If I had done that method, you probably wouldn't have seen any of these:
    - Most of the shopping scene pre-volcano
    - The onyx ring
    - Wizard at the reunion
    - The proposal
    - Iannah actually being present on the Cademia scene
    - Selax's injury



  • Wow, no wonder this wound up being so long. I didn't know you were planning to take the story that far.

    I'm still not a convert to the Relax ship, but it is a lot more plausible in this story. Retsy herself is more consistent and seems to mature at an appropriate rate (even with the abrupt time skips.)

    @avatara_bot, on 25 December 2015 - 03:13 AM, said in The Book of Heart:

    “Great,” he muttered. He conjured up a small blast of air to clean his hair, but that blew over a few more lanterns, sending glitter flying everywhere. People nearby covered their eyes, coughing and sneezing in the sudden glitter storm.

    MY LANTERNS!

    Quote

    “That was an accident.” She was startled to hear Selax speak. “Thanks to her actions, no one was injured in the lava flow that day.”

    Wait, so the entire residential district was completely empty? But they didn't have time to evacuate. I figured Retsy killed a bunch of people.

    Quote

    “Oh.” Nili stared at her feet while she walked across the grass. “She went back to her water tribe boy.”

    Yay, Fennah! I'd be sad for Nili, but she's not going to have any trouble finding someone else.

    Quote

    On the far side of them stood a grown-up Katerei next to a water tribe man that appeared to be a few years younger than her.

    Knew who that was right away. :D Might not be my ideal ship, but I can certainly support it. Yironem always secretly had a crush on Kat in Sail.

    Quote

    “Airedain.”

    “How did you–?” Katerei blinked. “Never mind. Yes, it’s that punk stirring up trouble again.”

    Oh, come on!

    Quote

    “I saw what you did to that comet, how you smashed it into a million pieces. I want you to do the same to Airedain. I don’t ever want to have to hear his name again!”

    Come on!

    Quote

    “Normally, I don’t condone torture…” Katerei sighed. “But this is Airedain we’re talking about. Do your worst.”

    COME ON!

    Quote

    “No! That was the old days. I’m a parent now!” Retsy’s eyes lit up with a grim determination. “I’m going to mother him.”

    Retsy's mothering interrogation was the one scene I wanted to see most. All that and you didn't even give Airedain any screen time? :(

    Quote

    And he still hadn’t bothered to learn anything other than airbending.

    Wow, he's not a very good Avatar, is he?

    Quote

    “Are you sure Selax is the father?” Iannah raised an eyebrow.

    Wait, who else could it be? The only male earthbender I can think of is Shanadar.

    Random comments:

    -The funeral scene was unexpected, but sweet, the cold tea in particular.
    -It's kinda neat having Selax, Av, Shanadar, and Fendul as the representatives. Mix of the old stories and the Sail world.
    -I like the dig at the ineffective Cademia council. :)
    -Didn't expect the last scene either.



  • @ikaterei_bot, on 26 December 2015 - 07:52 PM, said in The Book of Heart:

    Wait, who else could it be? The only male earthbender I can think of is Shanadar.

    Yomu? Ral? Was Kain an earthbender?



  • @breadworldmercy453_bot, on 26 December 2015 - 08:00 PM, said in The Book of Heart:

    Yomu? Ral? Was Kain an earthbender?

    Oh yeah, forgot about them. Now that I think about it, I'm not sure there's any evidence that Shanadar is actually a bender, other than him taking Bumi's role.


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