With an understanding of the true origins and meaning of Firebending, Aang was able to progress in his studies under Zuko. In addition, the lesson Zuko had learned had aided him as well. Despite his elevation to Fire Lord, it had not yet hit him that he was the ruler of an entire nation now. He had been so used to looking to Iroh or Cadence or others for advice and direction for so long, it hadn't really sunk in that nearly the entire world was now looking to him in much the same way, whether in hope or fear. Taking that lesson to heart, he became a bit more firm in negotiations at the Peace Conference, and discussion moved smoothly. A lasting peace and a bright future for the world were in the making.
However, a shadow hung over his mind, a silhouette of a familiar figure against a blazing light that would soon be upon the world. With how close it was coming, he knew he could not hide from it anymore, and the issue it represented had to be addressed. So he called those who had to be involved to discuss exactly what to do about it.
"Sozin's Comet will return within the week," Zuko told the gathered group bluntly. "When it skirts the world, its power will amplify the strength of all Firebenders to a phenomenal level. Texts describe it as akin to having a thousand suns inside of you. If my father is going to make a move with the forces he has under his command, it will be with the arrival of the comet, on the last day of summer." He looked around at those gathered. "The question is...how do we prepare? Will he strike? If so, where? What will he be trying to accomplish?" He sat back, steepling his fingers. "Anyone have any ideas?"
The group was silent for some time. Eventually, Sokka stood up. "What we need to figure out is what his motivations were when he ran away," he mused, beginning to pace. "Nobody expected that of him, so if we can figure out why, we might be able to determine his next move." Scratching his chin, he turned. "Cadence?"
Cadence let out a surprised meep, nearly leaping out of her chair. "Y-yes?"
"Iroh would have the best insight into why Ozai would act the way he did, but even he's stumped," Sokka explained. "But you seem to have insight a lot of us would miss. What's your take on it?"
Cadence frowned, struggling to get herself under control. "W-well, maybe he decided confronting Zuko was a bad idea?" she offered nervously.
"That doesn't exactly make sense," Zuko countered. "He's never backed down from a challenge before. And it's not like he hadn't faced me before. It's not like the outcome would worry him, since he had no way of knowing how skilled I'd become..."
"But before we began our hunt for Aang, I explained to him your reasoning for refusing to fight him," Iroh spoke up suddenly, his eyes awed. "What you meant about battles that could not be won. Perhaps he found a parallel in the upcoming confrontation with you? That no matter the outcome of the fight, somehow he lost?"
Toph nodded firmly. "Politics," she confirmed. "If he beat you, he's left with no heirs, since Azula's out of the picture. The Fire Nation - and whatever empire he managed to make - dies when he does, and falls into civil war."
"The world tears itself apart," Aang murmured, lowering his eyes.
"But then why wouldn't he stand and fight, and lose with honor?" Zuko asked, confused. "That seems more like him."
"For your strength," Iroh explained. "The only way your victory over him would be believed as being of your full strength is if the fight was to the death...and even if you could bring yourself to kill your own father, what would it do to your mind and heart to live with it? For all you've grown in strength, skill, and determination...you've never killed anyone. If your first blood was your father, my brother..." His voice trailed off as silence reigned.
"If that's the case," Sokka began again, "then why would he be coming back? What's he hope to gain? If he chose to leave the field of battle, there's no rational reason to return."
"Unless he isn't rational," Katara began, rubbing her chin. "Iroh, Ozai practices the rage fueled Firebending, right?"
"He does," Iroh confirmed. "That style consumes the wielder as surely as the flames generated consumes the world around them."
"And anger feeds on itself, spiraling out of control," Katara continued. "So Ozai's just given up his kingdom and the dreams he's fought to achieve since birth. Probably the strongest emotions he's feeling right then are confusion, regret, and self-loathing. Then the eclipse ends, and his Firebending comes back. The self-loathing feeds the fire, and it starts to spiral in him. He pushes the blame away, pinning it on anyone else. The more he gives into his anger to bring back his fire, the less rational he becomes. He had the world in his grasp, only to throw it away." She looked up, her eyes hard. "If he comes back for an attack while the Comet is passing, then his goal will be to claim the world or destroy it. He'll have reached the mindset that if he can't have the world, no one can."
"Then he won't target the Fire Nation," Zuko murmured, going to the map. "He'll want to make me submit to him."
"And it won't be the North or South Pole," Sokka confirmed. "If he were to get to either of those, he'd have to have set course there almost immediately after leaving the Fire Nation, and that fleet of War Balloons would have been spotted by now." His eyes narrowed, and he jabbed the map. "He's going to strike at the Earth Kingdoms. And he's not going to fight a war. This is about making the world realize we can't fight him."
"He'll burn everything..." Iroh murmured, awed terror in his voice. "He'll scorch the land, so nothing can live there anymore..."
Cadence's ears went flat against her skull as she hunkered down. She was the one who'd talked Ozai into running away. If he did this, then the abomination thus wrought would be her fault...
"Even if he's lost all rationality, he'll want to be methodical," Sokka managed to say, swallowing convulsively. "So he'll want to sweep from one end of the continent to the other, leaving a dead swath in his wake. He would have been spotted making his way around the continent if he was by now...so if he's going to strike, it will be here...from the ocean."
"And we'll be there to stop him," Aang murmured.
As the plans were made, none noticed that Cadence had fled the chamber, and the realization of the consequences of her well meaning actions.