Team Avatar faces their most dangerous foe yet as the bender vs. non-bender conflict turns into an all-out war in this action-packed conclusion to the Imbalance arc!
While Aang grapples with a life-changing decision that only he can make as the Avatar, Toph and Katara implore him–from opposite sides–to choose a path. Meanwhile, Ru and Yaling concoct a fiery ploy to get their mother back. The bender vs. non-bender conflict finally reaches a powerful boiling point, and for better or for worse, Cranefish Town will never be the same!
Picking up directly after the events of the previous book, the group is shocked at Toph’s suggestion of Aang taking away Liling’s bending. When she questions why they all got so quiet, Katara explains that everyone is shocked, but Toph does not understand, saying that Liling has blown up several factories and wants to drive out non-benders, and that she can’t lead a bender supremacist movement if she isn’t a bender. Katara is against the idea, believing that it’s a big decision that can’t be made lightly, and that Liling isn’t threatening to destroy the world like Ozai did. While they argue, Suki asks Aang if he’d be okay with taking away her bending, since he’d only done it once before. Sokka chimes in that while Liling and Ozai are both very bad people, Liling is still a civilian and Aang might be risking his relationship with the bender community.
Aang remains silent, and Toph asks what his take on this is. Aang says he needs to think about it, and walks over to Liling’s cage, explaining to her that he cares about benders and non-benders in the Earth Kingdom, and asks her what he can do to resolve the conflict peacefully, but warns that he will defend the non-benders no matter what. Liling mocks him for thinking he can change the world by talking, and that he couldn’t even take the life of Ozai when he wanted to burn the Earth Kingdom to the ground. Aang explains that he did manage to save the Earth Kingdom while also sparing Ozai’s life, which enrages Liling, believing that he should’ve killed Ozai because a life without bending isn’t worth living. Aang says once more that he won’t allow her or her followers to harm any more non-benders in the city, to which she asks how far he’s willing to go to protect them.
The next morning, Ru and Yaling are alone at their home, and Yaling has finally recovered from being chi-blocked, and wants to go rescue Liling. Ru tells her that she’s being kept at Earthen Fire Industries, which is guarded by Team Avatar and Lao’s security guards, proposing that they sneak in during the night. Yaling says she refused to sneak anywhere, and that they need to draw Team Avatar away from the factory and then break in to rescue their mother.
Meanwhile, Katara sits alone outside the factory. Aang approaches her, saying that since she was always asking if he was okay, it was his turn to ask her the same thing. Katara explains that she doesn’t agree with Toph’s suggestion, but Aang thinks she has a point that Liling can’t lead a bender supremacist movement is she isn’t a bender. When Katara asks if he’s really thinking of taking her bending away, Aang is unsure, but that it might be a nonviolent way to stop her. Katara tells him that waterbending is a huge part of her culture and who she is, and that losing her bending would be akin to losing part of her identity. She believes that taking away someone’s bending would be like destroying a part of them, and that it felt violent to her. She asks Aang if Liling really deserves to lose a piece of her identity, and before he can answer, a frantic Satoru approaches them with the news that the Business Council building is on fire.
Aang, Katara, and Toph jump into action, and Satoru explains that Lao and the rest of the council are still inside. Aang and Katara use waterbending to douse the fire while Toph breaks down the door of the building, guiding her dad and the others out. Outside, Aang questions why benders would set fire to the building and then take off, and Katara is worried, thinking something else must be going on.
At the factory, Yaling and a group of her mom’s followers show up, ready for a fight. Yaling is confident that her group will win, seeing as though the guards protecting the factory are non-benders. The head guard asks Sokka and Suki to go get Aang, but Suki says that they aren’t going to leave them there alone. Suddenly, Yaling commands her group to take down Suki first because she’s a chi-blocker, and a fight ensues. While Suki attempts to chi-block one of the benders, Yaling encases her in a pillar of rocks. When Sokka comes to help her, he too is encased by rock walls. Yaling manages to take out a few more people with earthbending, and steals the keys to Liling’s cage from one of the guards. She hurries inside, freeing her mother, happily embracing her and saying she was afraid she wouldn’t see her again. Liling tells her that she knew she’d be able to free her, and that the two have a lot of work to do back home.
That night, an exhausted Aang, Katara, Toph, and Satoru return to the factory. Aang comments that they finally knew what the Business Council attack was about, and the head guard explains that they were overwhelmed by the mob and that Liling has escaped. Katara sits with her, telling her that Aang asked the council members to stay at the factory where they could be protected, but that since Liling was free, all the non-benders of the city were in danger. She expresses frustration that Liling always seems to be one step ahead, and feels as though they should be doing more, and offers to heal the guard’s arm. The guard then asks Katara if Suki would be willing to teach her officers to chi-block.
After discussing it with Suki, Katara presents the idea to Aang and Sokka, the latter of who excitedly tells Suki how smart and talented she is. Aang questions how fast they can learn, seeing as though Liling is likely to attack again soon. Suki is confident that the guards are already well-trained, and she can at least teach them the basics.
Meanwhile, Liling and Yaling return home to an overjoyed Ru. Ru explains that she’s packed as much of their clothing as she could, and that they’d be able to escape on a ship leaving the city that night. Liling refuses to leave, as she is unwilling to give up the city to Aang, who conspires with non-benders. Ru is worried, believing that they can start over in another city. Her mother shushes her, explaining that she doesn’t want to lose everything again like they did when they lived in Ba Sing Se when the Fire Nation took over. She reminds Ru that they had to leave the city with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and asks her to explain why Ba Sing Se fell so easily to the Fire Nation. Ru nervously answers that it was because Kuei was a non-bender. Liling tells her that if he had been a bender, he would’ve been able to control his agents and protect his city, and that she won’t let more non-benders ruin their lives the way Kuei did. Ru angrily retorts that it wasn’t Kuei’s fault that they had to leave Ba Sing Se, and that it was the fault of the Fire Nation’s. Liling believes that the Fire Lord was only doing what any strong bender leader would do, exploiting a weakness. Enraged, Ru asks if her mother sees her that way too for not being a bender. Liling assures her that she loves her as much as Yaling, but that this is the way the world works, and that non-benders need to recognize that they aren’t as powerful as benders. She then reveals that tomorrow she plans to take a group of benders to the factory and drive Aang out.
Back at the factory, Suki oversees the security guards as they practice chi-blocking. Aang is impressed to see an entire army of non-benders, and Sokka tells him that they at least have the basics down. He goes on to talk about Liling, and can’t believe he used to think she was a good person. Aang agrees that he was fooled by her as well, originally believing her to be respectable. He also thinks that if he’d just taken her bending like Toph had suggested, the conflict might be over with by now. Sokka points out that the bender supremacist movement is more than one person, however, and asks if Aang is willing to take away the bending of Liling’s followers as well. Aang says that of course he’s not, but believes that the tensions between benders and non-benders, along with the pollution, is similar to when the Fire Nation attacked, and that they wouldn’t have done it had they not had the technology. He believes that it was better when people tried to live in harmony with nature, and that the machines have caused nothing but problems. Sokka reminds him that the pre-machine days weren’t as good for non-benders, however, and that machines have made things a bit more equal between benders and non-benders. He says that although the pollution is a problem that needs to be dealt with, he can’t blame the bender supremacists on the machines, only on the benders causing problems. Aang apologizes for suggesting that, and goes to turn in for the night.
While Sokka waits for Suki to finish up, he spots Ru hiding behind a wall, and beckons her to come out and talk to him. Ru explains that she has been thinking about what he said during the fight in the cave: if she is okay with what her mom is doing. She says that although she loves Liling and Yaling and doesn’t want to turn against them, she isn’t okay with what they’re doing. Sokka tells her he knows a guy who was in a similar situation with his father, who wanted to conquer the world, and that although it took a while, Zuko eventually stood up to his dad and helped end the war. He tells Ru that she now has a chance to do good, and not to waste it. Ru contemplates for a moment, and finally reveals that Liling is planning to attack the factory the next morning, and urges them all to get out of town while they can. Sokka and Suki tell her that they won’t leave, but now thanks to her they can be prepared. Ru asks that they not hurt Liling, and also asks Suki to teach her how to chi-block.
The next morning, Aang waits on top of a building for Liling and her followers to show up. He spots a group of people walking down below and approaches them. They explain that they wanted to help out the non-benders who lost their homes by bringing them some supplies. Aang asks if they’re benders, and they confirm that they are, but they aren’t a part of what Liling is doing. Just then, Liling and her followers show up, and Aang asks the benders if they’ll stand and fight to protect the non-benders, and they sadly apologize and tell him that he’s asking too much of them.
When Liling approaches Aang, she tells him that he’s still on the wrong side. Aang tells her that she’s the one on the wrong side for hurting innocent people and driving them out of their homes. Liling offers him a solution: to take the non-benders and leave the city to the benders only. When Aang refused, she says she has no choice but to force him out, and earthbends the ground up beneath his feet. Aang jumps out of the way, and flies off, leading the group through a maze trap he and the rest of Team Avatar had set up. One of the benders warns the others that there are probably some traps waiting for them in the maze. As they struggle to find their way through the maze, the walls suddenly begin to move, being controlled by Toph. She bends one of the walls away, revealing Suki and the rest of the chi-blockers, who manage to block the chi of several of the benders. Another group of benders get trapped by Katara encasing them in ice, and even more get trapped by Toph enclosing them in between metal walls. Liling commands Yaling to go after Toph, and Yaling manages to knock Toph down by attacking her in the air. The two girls earthbend at each other, and Toph runs up the side of a wall, luring Yaling to the roof. Yaling sarcastically asks why Toph isn’t trying to say they can peacefully resolve things as she attempts to hit her with a long earth pillar. Toph says that that’s more of Aang’s thing as she makes a metal glove for herself, deflecting Yaling’s pillar.
Inside the factory, a group of benders break in, and are met by Sokka and Satoru. Sokka warns that they don’t want to do this, and one of them asks if he’s a chi-blocker. He says that he is the best chi-blocker ever, and rapidly swings his arm around to demonstrate. As they try to attack him, he hits one on the head with his boomerang, asking the rest of the group who’s next. The group charges at him, much to his surprise, as he was hoping that they’d run away. Back on the roof, Toph and Yaling continue to fight, eventually busting a whole in the roof and fall through. Yaling falls into the rubble, while Toph slides down on a metal cable. The group of benders charge at her, and she nonchalantly traps them in some metal walls.
Back outside, Liling questions how Team Avatar knew about the attack, and a nearby Ru reveals that she told them about her mother’s plans. Liling is shocked, wondering why Ru would betray her own family. Ru finally admits that she only went along with her mother’s plans because she believed she was protecting her and her sister, but that the non-benders aren’t a threat and don’t want to take anything away from them. She tells her mother that everything she’s done has been horrible, but Liling says she did it all for her daughters. Ru doesn’t believe her, saying that she only did it for herself and orders her to call off the attack on the factory. When Liling refuses, Ru attempts to chi-block her, but her mother knocks her down, threatening to bury her for being ungrateful. She creates a rift in the ground that Ru falls into. From the air, Aang sees what’s going on and quickly flies into action.
Toph and Yaling continue to fight, the latter of who knocks Toph off her feet. As Toph hits the ground, Yaling looms over her with a large rock and calls her a disappointment, for being stupid enough to side with the non-benders. Toph says she’d never be stupid enough to think she’s better than him just because he’s a non-bender. Yaling is confused, and is suddenly hit on the back of the head by Sokka’s boomerang. Sokka proudly announces that while benders have incredible abilities, boomerangs were the greatest equalizer. He goes to check on Toph, who thanks him for saving her, and gives him a friendly punch on the shoulder.
Outside, Aang flies past Katara, who watches the scene of Ru and Liling in concern. As Ru falls deeper into the crack, she begs her mother not to do this, and is rescued by Aang, who airbends Liling away. He asks Ru if she’s alright, and she tells him she is. Liling comes up to them with a large piece of rock, telling Aang that no matter what he does, her message will spread to the benders of every part of the world, and they’d eventually drive out non-benders from the city. She tells him that he might win this battle, but cannot stop the coming war. Aang enters the Avatar State, encasing Liling in ice and prepares to take her bending away. Katara rushes to him, telling him not to do it, while Ru encourages him to. Katara reminds him to think about why he’s doing this, and that he can’t do it because he’s angry or because it’s an easy solution. Aang exits the Avatar State, telling Liling that he’s going keep fighting the poison she’s spread throughout the city, comparing her to the pollution on the beach and that he won’t leave until it’s cleaned up. He and Katara fly off, leaving Liling and Ru alone. Liling tells her that she’s a wretched, ungrateful child, and Ru tells her that she’s a terrible mother.
Later that afternoon, Lao thanks Suki for detaining most of the bender supremacists, and that he doesn’t want to see her go. Aang assures Lao that he’s not only asked Suki to stay, but also asked the rest of the Kyoshi Warriors to come help the non-bender police force. Suki promises that they will stay in Cranefish Town as long as they’re needed. She believes that the city has the beginnings of an excellent police force, and Aang wants to find some trustworthy benders to be a part of the police force as well. Satoru questions whether or not non-benders and benders can really work together, but Aang and Suki are confident that with time, they surely can.
Suki approaches Ru, who is sitting by herself on a bench and asks how she’s feeling. Ru believes that she should be locked up along with her mother and sister. Suki promises that she shouldn’t be, and that she stood up to them when she had to. Ru regrets not doing it sooner, but Suki assures her that it’s all over now and that she needs to decide what to do next.
As Aang wanders off into the factory, Sokka follows him. Aang tells him about how they were in the area last time, and there was a divide between spirits and humans, and he chose to protect the humans. He isn’t sure how to fix the divide between benders and non-benders, but Sokka reminds him that he managed to bridge that divide between the two of them, and that it has to give him a little bit of hope. Aang says that it does give him a little hope.
Three days later, Aang is walking with the rest of the group through the city. Katara asks him why he changed his mind about taking Liling’s bending, and Aang answers that it was what she had said about it being an easy solution, and that she couldn’t lead a bender supremacist movement if she wasn’t a bender. He believes that her bending wasn’t the problem, it was her bigotry. Katara says it bothered her that the benders who claimed they weren’t with Liling didn’t stand and fight for the non-benders.
Aang goes on to tell her that he feels a connection to Cranefish Town, and thinks that if it can overcome its problems, it could become something special. He asks Katara if she’s okay with staying there for a while, and Katara agrees, telling him the city needs him. Aang holds her hand as he tells her that the city needs both of them, along with a better name.