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Chapter 13-The Trial of WhispersEdit

Four Days LaterEdit

Aang rolled out of bed and pulled on his clothes. He trudged down to the dining hall rubbing sleep from his eyes. He trudged into line and lifted a bowl, moving along with the line, acutely aware of the unfriendly glances being cast his way. The chef gave him half a scoop of the porridge that everybody was eating. Aang was too tired and depressed to even complain. After realizing that he really and truly had completely alienated his own people, he had finally taken Gelio's advice and stopped talking.

He walked over to the table where the Churaians were noisily eating appropriately gigantic portions and sat down silently. Mundo paused eating and looked down at him, "Morning." "Hi," Aang said quietly before eating another spoonful of porridge. The Churaians exchanged a glance and nodded in unison. Chuckles reached across the table and tapped Aang gently on the head, "You know, we don't mind you talking."

Aang looked up at the three immense figures around him and saw that for the first time in several days, there was no scorn in the eyes examining him. Tonis pointed at him as he picked up a bottle, "We mind when you insult our friends, but we don't mind talking." He took a drink and Mundo said around a spoonful of porridge, "I can tell you're thinking we hate you. We don't." Tonis put the bottle down, "But our way of life is on the line and we've risked our lives on an almost daily basis since we were old enough to walk in order to try to put the world back to rights." Chuckles nodded, "So when you say you don't care about saving the Empire, you're saying you don't care about us. That's a hard thing to hear from the guy you thought would care the most."

Aang flinched slightly and Mundo took a quick drink, "And Miss Katara and Mister Sokka, and the Cap and Chit-Sang are much the same. Everyone is. We want our world back. We all thought you would understand." Tonis made a face at the spoon of porridge halfway to his mouth, "We thought you would want to help." He ate the porridge and Chuckles frowned at his, "After all, you've got more to gain than anybody. If you fix the Empire, you'll be the Emperor again. Of course, you've also got the most to lose."

Aang looked up at him, "What?" Chuckles looked at him, "Seriously? You haven't thought about this yet?" Aang's eyes widened nervously, "Thought about what?" Chuckles snorted, "You'll be reincarnated after you die. If the Republic wins though, you'll be hunted down and killed every time. We each only have one life to lose. You have infinite lives. If we lose, you'll be hunted and killed across a thousand lifetimes."

He took a drink and Mundo looked down at Aang, "You'll never know the peace of death, because you never truly die." Tonis looked across the table at him, "If we lose Aang, you'll suffer more than anybody, because you've got unlimited lifetimes waiting for them to hunt you and hate you in." Chuckles put down a bottle after a long drink and grinned, "So you see Aang, the fate of the Empire is more your problem than anyone else's. The fate of the world is on your shoulders, and if it falls, it's falling on you the hardest. Happy thoughts for your big day eh?"

Aang gulped, "Yeah. Happy, happy thoughts."

An Hour And A Half LaterEdit

Aang walked down the tunnel. The Council had instructed him to walk to the inner chamber, and he would be tested there. Katrina and Gelio had cheerfully waved goodbye as he entered. They weren't expecting him back, or maybe they didn't want him to come back. On the upside Katara and the others had at least looked concerned. A voice in the back of his head told him it was only because they needed the Emperor, not because they cared about him.

He frowned and pushed on ahead, heading on down the tunnel. As he walked through the darkness, he occasionally tripped. He hadn't been given a torch and so he couldn't see the uneven path. He pulled himself up though and kept going. Before long he began to hear something. A rustling noise, almost like stone grating against stone, and something else, almost like distant murmuring. Aang gulped, and headed on down the pathway.

Suddenly he was aware of footsteps beside him. He stopped and looked, startled to see that a beautiful woman with dark hair and a crown of bone spikes was walking alongside him. She stopped when he did and smiled down at him, igniting a small spirit light in her hand, "Hello Aang. Come walk with me." Aang blinked and walked alongside her, "Who are you?"

The woman smiled, "I am Yang Chen, one of your past lives." Aang blinked and then smiled, "The Spirit Caller Imperial before me?" Yang Chen nodded, "I'm sorry I have not appeared to help you sooner. You have needed the help." Aang nodded, "Yeah, I know. Everyone hates me! Well, the Churaians said they didn't, but everyone else does. Things used to be so easy! I could just snap my fingers and things happened."

Yang Chen smiled thinly, "You were never taught how to lead, and there was a reason for that. One I wish the others and I had manifested sooner to intercept. The Black Lotus did not dare to challenge us," She said with a smile. "Who're the Black-OW!" he exclaimed as Yang Chen smacked him in the head, "Don't interrupt. I've got a lot to tell you and not a lot of time." Aang nodded, rubbing his head. Yang Chen had a very solid smack for a ghost.

"The Black Lotus are an order of formidable and wily Death Bringers who have existed since before my time. They were formed to assist the Imperial Throne and the Four Horsemen with the everyday duties of ruling. Unfortunately, as they began to become more effective, my predecessors began to become less effective as like you, they were able to snap their fingers and get what they wanted."

"My parents and the then Eastern Council hid me from the Black Lotus, fearing that the Lotus would take me away and raise me to be little more than a puppet. They feared that if the Lotus continued to pander to the every whim of the Imperial Throne, the Imperial Throne would become a joke, a mere mask for the Black Lotus to hide behind," she continued.

"When I came of age, I was headstrong, reckless and charismatic. However, I had the full backing of the Eastern Spirit Callers, as well as that of those who did not support the Black Lotus who had shown themselves to be tyrants in the absence of an Imperial to sit the throne. I traveled the world and assembled my Horsemen, then we went to Ba Seng Se and struck down the heads of the Order for tyranny which had nearly incited open revolt."

Aang stared in silence, he had been raised under the impression that nobody would ever dare betray the Emperor. "The rest of the Order went underground," Yang Chen continued, "And with my guidance, Kuruk, Kyoshi and Roku all managed to keep them there. Unfortunately, during Roku's reign, they began to work their way back into the Imperial Court, and after Roku was assassinated, they found you and raised you to be weak."

Aang flinched; it was one thing to be called weak by a master Spirit Caller who didn't like him to begin with, being called weak by his former self was something else altogether. "You could not help this," Yang Chen continued, "You were too young and never taught how to resist. So, before we leave this cave, we will teach you."

Aang blinked, "We?" Yang Chen nodded and spun, kicking a large boulder out of the way, allowing the murmuring which had been growing stronger as they advanced down the tunnel to flow forth, revealed now to be the sounds of a party of ghosts.

Aang stared at the immense cavern before him, "Where are we?" Yang Chen smiled and Aang noticed that she had suddenly gone from grayscale and slightly un-solid to apparently completely alive as she snuffed out the spirit light in her hand, "The Spirit World." Aang stared, "What about the Trial of Whispers?" Yang Chen laughed, "This is the Trial! Being confronted with all your past lives at once!" Aang's heart did a little skip as she laughed and he realized that in life she had been prettier than Katara or Katrina. Then he suddenly noticed something else, "Hey, you look just like Chara!"

Yang Chen smiled, "Chara was my great-great-great-granddaughter." Aang's jaw dropped and she laughed even harder, "Did she never tell you that?" Aang shook his head, "No." Yang Chen managed to stop laughing and smiled, "Yes Aang, most, actually probably all of the nobility are descendants of at least one Imperial. How do you think they became nobility?" Aang blinked, "Wait, Dread-Eye's a prince among the Death Touch, is he a descendant of one of my past lives?" A man with long white hair and a long white beard and purple robes walked by, mug in hand and hiccupped, "Zuko? He's my great-grandson."

The old man walked off laughing at Aang's expression and Aang turned to Yang Chen who was smiling with a slight shake of her head, "Who was that?" Yang Chen smiled, "That was Roku, the Emperor right before you. Come on, let's get you introduced to everybody. Most all of them have advice, and it's going to take a while to talk to them all. Trust me, the first time I did this, I was down here for a week."

Two Nights LaterEdit

Sokka, Katrina and Katara walked up to the mouth of the cave in the light of the thin crescent moon. The Churaians hadn't left since Aang went down. They were draped over rocks and tree trunks which they had shoved and beaten and carved into more comfortable shapes with their bone clad hands. They had been taking watch in turns, waiting for Aang to return. Katara crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow, "Seriously? You guys still haven't left?" Chuckles shook his head, "Nope. We said we'd stay here until Aang came back, and now we're going to."

"What if he doesn't come back?" Katara asked. Chuckles frowned, "Then we'll be here when the next Imperial comes along." Sokka frowned, "That could be years, decades from now." Chuckles nodded gravely, "I did not say it would be pleasant, but we swore we would be ready when the Emperor called us. We are honor bound to wait, even if it takes a hundred years, we will not go back on our word."

Katrina smiled sadly, "If only he deserved warriors like you three." A voice suddenly said from the mouth of the cave, "Perhaps in the future I'll earn enough of your respect for you to think that I do." All present spun and Mundo and Tonis snapped awake, "AANG!" Aang smiled as he held onto the wall of the cave, looking extremely tired, "Hi guys."

Katara leapt to hug him, "Aang!" Aang blinked, he had not been expecting that. She pulled back smiling and then quickly wiped the smile from her face and stepped back, "Um, it's good that you're okay." Aang smiled, took her hand and kissed it with a smile before saying in a deeper smoother voice than the voice of the whiny child that had gone in, "I am happy to see you too Katara."

Everyone stared in shock and realized he was not only acting different, he looked different. He was wearing a black cape and bone gauntlets. He had grown two horns that sprouted from beneath the point of his arrow shaped scar and coiled back over his head, hugging tightly to his scalp before curling off at the back. His shoulders had broadened slightly and he had become taller.

He also looked different in the face. His previously soft and childish features had sharpened and hardened, he looked as though he had aged ten years in the tunnel. The happy go lucky light in his eyes had hardened into a mischievous glint and his smile had gone from carefree to cunning, possibly even sinister. Even the color of his eyes had changed, they had been gray before, now they were silvery with little red veins in them.

He had gone into the tunnel a spoiled brat. He had come out an Imperial. Everyone stared in shock and Aang grinned at them, "It's amazing what those whispers can tell you." Katrina's jaw went slack as she realized what must have happened, "You..."

Suddenly green light flooded the valley. Katrina whirled, stunned, and instantly picked out the dark form suspended between the two immense spectral wings flying past overhead, "Lefko's back!" She suddenly picked out a second set of wings and frowned, "But who's that with him?"

Next Time: The EmpressEdit