Avatar: The Last Airbender/Recap/Book 2/20 The Crossroads of Destiny

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"It's time for you to choose. It's time for you to chose good!"

Aang and Sokka quickly travel back to Ba Sing Se on Appa, intercepting Toph, who is promptly terrified and loses her balance as she couldn't sense them coming. They know they must return to the city as quickly as possibly in order to ascertain whether Katara is truly in trouble. They ask whether Aang mastered the Avatar State, but he lies, not baring the fact that he gave up its power in order to continue to love and protect Katara.

Azula, meanwhile, is continuing to reign in the control of the Dai Li, giving the troops a terrifying speech of what will happen if she gets anything but the best. The Dai Li find her both incredibly intimidating, but yet, inspirational.

Iroh is incredibly pleased that he has been given an invitation to serve tea to the Earth King, and Zuko, still strangely cheerful from the last episode, happily accompanies him. They quickly realise something is amiss, and are startled when Azula appears, ready to apprehend them. Iroh proves why, exactly, he is called 'The Dragon of the West', by breathing fire and making his escape. Zuko, however, hesitates in following him, instead challenging Azula to an Agni Kai. His sister refuses, and the banished prince is quickly captured.

Aang and his friends arrive to question the Earth King, who assures them everything is fine. Katara attended a meeting with the Council of Five, then went to see the Kyoshi Warriors. When they arrive at their house to see it empty, they realise that she must indeed by in danger. There's a knocking at the door, and they open it. To Sokka and Aang surprise and horror, and Toph's delight, it's Uncle Iroh. Toph says she trusts him, and is a friend, and Iroh explains how they must work together to save their loved ones. He has even brought a captured Dai Li agent who under questioning reveals they're being kept in the crystal catacombs underneath the city.

Scene change to Katara, who is standing in an underground cave lit by green crystals. The ground opens up above her, and Zuko comes falling in. Initially shocked, Katara eventually changes to anger, her full wrath descending upon him. How dare he? This truly evil man, spreading evil and horror, trying to capture the world's one chance for peace. Does he know what the Fire Nation had done to her? They took her mother away!

Zuko looks sad, and explains that might be one thing they have in common.

The Gaang, meanwhile, manages to confirm that the there is indeed a city underground. While Toph and Sokka set off to warn the Earth King about the coup, and face Ty Lee and Mai in order to rescue Bosco, Aang uses Earthbending to guide Iroh down beneath the ground. To his surprise, Iroh proves to be very wise, as well as a good tea maker. He consoles Aang on his choice, saying that power is overrated compared to love, and that destiny is a strange thing. He explains that while "you can't always see the light at the end of the tunnel, but if you keep moving...you may come to a better place." Just as he speaks those words, they burst through the rock into a beautiful cave filled with shimmering green jewels.

Above ground, Sokka and Toph face off against Ty Lee and Mai, as Azula holds the Earth King hostage. They are eventually disabled and surrender. Long Feng, head of the Dai Li enters, and orders his troops to imprison Azula; but they do nothing. Azula steps forward smugly, explaining this is the point where they must see where their allegiance truly lies. Who has the divine right to rule? This peasant boy who has to fight his way to the top, or the manipulative princess raised in politics since she was little? Long Feng realises it is hopeless, and admits defeat.

Long Feng: You have beaten me at my own game.
Azula: Don't flatter yourself. You were never even a player.

Down the prison, Katara apologises, sensing genuine remorse in Zuko, and begins to wonder if he is truly as horrible a person as he had always appeared. She admits she always saw his scarred visage as the face of the enemy. He explains that in a way, he viewed it similarly, as though it marked his destiny, signaling that he had no destiny but to mark him as a banished prince, doomed to chase after the avatar. The waterbender offers to use some special healing water from the North Pole spirit oasis to heal the scar, and reaches out to him...

...when they are promptly interrupted by Aang and Iroh who burst into the prison cell. They embrace their respective friends, while Zuko and Aang exchange glares, before the members of the Gaang head off to rejoin the others. Iroh knows how much Zuko has changed in recent months, that he is wiser, and now it is finally time for him to choose his destiny; to side with good. At that very moments crystal spikes surround Iroh, and Azula appears. She quickly feeds him a tempting story; that with his help they can over throw the Earth King, becoming heroes, and restoring Zuko's honour. He will finally regain his father's love, be allowed to return to the palace, everything he ever wanted. Iroh pleads with him - Azula always lies, and what she offers is not true redemption. The princess wanders away, allowing him the chance to choose, while he looks conflicted.

Azula catches up with Aang and Katara, sparking a battle between them. They fight skillfully, and eventually Zuko joins the fight, clearly about to tip the balance for Team Avatar, allowing them to win. Except, after a moment of hesitation, he sides with Azula, lashing out at Aang with fire. Katara calls out in betrayal, saying she thought he changed; "I have changed!" he retorts. Above ground, Sokka and Toph orchestrate a break out, and manage to escape with the bear Bosco, partly due to Ty Lee and Mai really not caring anyway. The fight below continues fiercely, and although Katara and Aang are powerful, they are severely outnumbered.

Aang realises there is only one way; to activate the Avatar State. He summons a protective shield of crystal around him, and begins to meditate, knowing he must let go of his attachment to Katara. He comes ever closer to enlightenment, finally snapping into true mastery. His tattoos begin to glow, and he rises out of the crystal, a powerful force. Everyone looks up in fear and awe as he towers above him, prepared to smite them all...

And is shot by lightning.

The cave fills with light as sparks shoot around Aang's body. The shot is reflected in Azula's eyes as he falls to the ground. In a look of pure fury, Katara summons all her abilities, riding in a wave above the Dai Li to her fallen friend, catching him just before he reaches the ground. Holding him, she is defenseless, but Iroh comes to protect him. Using his fire bending they are given a chance to escape. Iroh, however, is captured and taken into custody. Zuko looks away in shame.

The entire group and the Earth King manage to escape on Appa, flying above the night cloaked city. Katara bends over Aang, taking out the spirit water and desperately trying to heal him. His tattoos briefly flash white; his eyes open, and he manages to give a brief smile before fading into unconsciousness again.

In the palace Zuko looks conflicted over his actions, but Azula coldly reassures him that he truly had no choice. Zuko wonders about returning home, but he is assured that he will be greeted as a hero, and has restored his own honor. Above, on Appa, the assembled heroes look out as they leave the city, grim and defeated looks on their face. The last line of the season is simply; "The Earth Kingdom....has fallen."

Tropes:

The Earth King: The Earth Kingdom...has fallen.