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Avatar: The Last Airbender’s latest story arc closes with a fresh look at a powerful villain

Read a full free chapter of The Legacy of Yangchen here

The book cover for F.C. Yee’s Avatar: The Last Airbender novel The Legacy of Yangchen, showing a young airbender in orange with the traditional half-shaved head and blue arrow forehead tattoo, with a white-turreted castle on a snowy mountaintop in the distance behind her, and a male waterbender in a martial-arts stance inset below her Image: Amulet Books

The world of the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender continues to develop in a variety of media, with the gacha RPG game Avatar Generations, the tabletop RPG game Avatar Legends, and a series of three animated movies about the adult versions of Aang, Katara, and the rest of the TV show’s cast on the way. As the show’s story moves forward in time, the novels continue to look back at the conflicts and triumphs of people who served as Avatar long before Aang, trying to bring peace and balance to the Four Nations.

F.C. Yee’s latest book in the Chronicles of the Avatar series concludes the story of Avatar Yangchen, an inexperienced young woman trying to deal with a scheme that would send the Nations to war with each other. But it opens with a new perspective on a seeming villain, which you can read in the excerpt below.

Here’s Amulet Books’ description of the novel:

Avatar Yangchen has succeeded in bringing a measure of stability to Bin-Er, but her successes have been limited to a single city, and rumors concerning Unanimity—a weapon capable of total obliteration—have led to increasing tensions among the Four Nations. Desperate to restore diplomacy, Yangchen attempts to de-escalate hostilities between heads of state. But in the wake of a brutal assassination and the freeing of Unanimity, Yangchen is forced to bring Kavik—the trusted former companion whose betrayal crushed her—back into her fold. As the Four Nations teeter on the brink of conflict and she begins to unravel the power-hungry Zongdu Chaisee’s true agenda, Yangchen is forced to measure the worth of humanity, and how much can be sacrificed in the name of balance. This taut and provocative fourth installment in the Chronicles of the Avatar series follows Avatar Yangchen as she charts the course of her legacy, finally making peace with her choices and facing Avatarhood with the courage it demands.

The series is written in consultation with Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, co-creators of Nickelodeon’s award-winning series, Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, which live on in a fandom of millions.

Read a full free chapter of The Legacy of Yangchen below, showing that power-hungry villain in a different light.

Chapter 1: Depths

The book cover for F.C. Yee’s Avatar: The Last Airbender novel The Legacy of Yangchen, showing a young airbender in orange with the traditional half-shaved head and blue arrow forehead tattoo, with a white-turreted castle on a snowy mountaintop in the distance behind her, and a male waterbender in a martial-arts stance inset below her Image: Amulet Books

Chaisee understood from an early age that to be successful, you needed to be willing to go further than others thought possible.

To wit—the villagers of her little unnamed island dove for prized cucumber-sponges far below the glistening surface of the waters, where sunlight faded and ears threatened to burst. No one in the Mo Ce considered such a feat viable or worth the risk.

But Chaisee’s people ignored the prevailing wisdom. Without the aid of waterbending, they trained their bodies to accept the pressure, their minds to embrace the signals that they were dying. Dive after dive, they forced their way farther into the depths and scraped their hands raw against the slimy spikes of the reef to come up with little puffballs of a creature that, once carefully killed and dried, would fetch a generous string of coins on the open market.

She and her fellow villagers willingly took on the often-fatal endeavor again and again so they might eat for another season. And faraway nobles washed their faces with the cured exteriors of cucumber-sponges, the softest touch known in the Four Nations. A mutually beneficial agreement based on one party’s willingness to torture themselves and the other side’s complete distaste for the slightest physical discomfort.

As Chaisee grew older, she began to manage the village’s books. She took over from her father the negotiations with haulers who came to collect the sponges, pearls, dried shellfish meat—the secret was to spy on other suppliers while using uncharted islands as stashes to control market prices. She had no reason to suspect her future would contain any disturbances to this arrangement other than the occasional monsoon.

The ship that broke the cycle arrived with battened sails and swooping foredecks. Strangely, it bore flags of both the Fire Nation and the Earth Kingdom. The party that came ashore in longboats was led by junior ambassadors from both countries. In front of Chaisee’s assembled village, they read a proclamation decreeing that the inhabitants of this island would no longer be allowed to produce certain goods of the sea. By a vanishingly rare agreement between Earth King and Fire Lord, the exclusive rights had been granted to some merchant they’d never heard of in a faraway city that was completely landlocked.

This can’t be, Chaisee’s father had said, hushing her with a raised hand. Suddenly the negotiator again. We protest this decision. You must at least give us the chance to formulate a response. To buy time, he resorted to their island’s customs of hospitality. Let us entertain you tonight as honored guests. We can talk of bargains in the morning.

The officials agreed. They needed to reprovision and take on fresh water anyway. While the ship’s quartermaster negotiated the purchase and loading of supplies, a feast was quickly put together for the important visitors and their crew.

The general nervousness among the villagers ebbed as they shared good food and drink with the sailors around the burning fire in the square. The meal would remind these strangers that the island was home to families like theirs and that a measure of humanity should prevail over dictums sent from afar.

Chaisee did not partake wholeheartedly. She stayed removed and observed, as was her habit, which meant she saw in full when one of the sailors picked up a torch and flung it into the largest hut. Like one might offer a bone to a guard animal. She wasn’t fast enough to stop him or speak out.

The building was the one used to store the drying cucumber-sponges, and in their raw state the dusty, porous bodies of the sea creatures were better than the best tinder. The roof blew out with a roar, spewing heat and flame and embers over the adjacent huts. The fire spread so fast that half the village was ablaze before the screaming started.

Chaisee remembered the reactions of the ambassadors who had obviously given the order, their faces lit by the blooming, dancing flames. They rolled their eyes, snorted in contempt, and departed as calmly as they came. Annoyed with the whole affair at best. Her father was too distraught, occupied with fighting the fire, to prevent the outsiders from reaching their longboats and leaving the shore unimpeded.

She watched the delegation go, understanding that a confrontation would have achieved nothing. The letters they bore granted them the power and voice of their rulers. There were no criminals here; her livelihood burning away was the law enacted. She might as well have tried to exact justice from the leaders of the Four Nations themselves. What fool could aspire to that?

We weren’t strong enough to keep this from happening, she thought as her neighbors desperately tried to carry water to the fire in buckets, gourds, cupped hands, wailing as their futures dissolved into smoke. We didn’t have the right friends.

Working yourself to the brink of oblivion was pointless if you couldn’t defend the life you made. Maneuvers, deals, negotiations were simply dance steps. Pageantry. The true arbiter waiting at the end of the performance was violence.

Chaisee’s ruined village was a kiln that baked the lesson into shape. She kept it in mind as she sought work on islands closer to the official Fire Nation archipelago. The form held hard and without cracks as she made her name in trade, mastering the codes of business spoken in every country while accumulating leverage over her partners and rivals alike. When the Platinum Affair clamped across the world, she was quick to see opportunity and predicted correctly how it would condense power even further into a few hands.

By the time she became eligible for the role of Zongdu in Jonduri, the war had already been fought and won. In the minds of the shangs, there were no rational choices other than Chaisee to lead the city. Her selection was unanimous.

In many ways, Zongdu Henshe, her counterpart in Bin-Er, was of a similar mindset as Chaisee. Though he was a fool who squandered information and resources with no regard for strategy or long-term consequences, he had successfully ground her plans to a halt by threatening to turn over everything he knew to the Earth King. He’d stolen the fruits of her labor, her means of becoming immune to harm in all the ways her little childhood village was not.

The book cover for Avatar, The Last Airbender: The Dawn of Yangchen, featuring a female Avatar in an abstracted robe, with a row of past Avatars behind her, stretching into the distance Image: Abrams Books

Henshe’s waywardness had posed a greater threat than any of the brilliant men and women whom Chaisee had tangled with in the past. The wise could be counted on to do what was wise; there was no predicting the actions of a buffoon. But now Henshe was gone, and with him her assets. Chaisee had been left without a move. She could only sit and wait.

“Mistress.” Chaisee’s newest attendant announced herself, pausing on the warped floorboard by the door of the nursery. Each shift of the girl’s socked feet produced a squeak like a pained bird. “Mistress, you have a—”

The baby woke. A scorching wail rose from the teak crib in the corner.

Chaisee rubbed her forehead, taking care not to cover her face completely. “I just got him to sleep!” She had to raise her voice, something she never used to do, in order to be heard.

“I’m sorry, Mistress, but you have a letter and—”

“Leave it and get out!” The attendant scurried over, laid the envelope on the desk in the nursery, and fled for her life.

She didn’t see Chaisee drop her snarl as soon as she was gone. The girl would report back to Fire Lord Gonryu that her mistress was cracking under the strain, uncharacteristically showing more emotion. Perhaps frustrated by her child. Distracted, and therefore less of a threat.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Chaisee’s son was a sharp reminder for her to stay focused. And his cries were a perfect deterrent to eavesdroppers. Taking her time, as calm as if she were listening to the serenade of a babbling brook, Chaisee opened the letter. She drew a chair over to the crib and rocked it gently while she read.

The message was nonsense. But it was written in a hand she recognized and contained hidden signals that let her know exactly where to find the person who’d sent it.

Her son quieted down, but she knew he would start howling again if she stopped rocking. Perhaps his skin was prone to rashes. A frustrating prospect, when she already bathed him with cucumber-sponges, which were much more expensive these days than back when she was a girl. She went through an amount that would have made her younger self gasp, but there was no softer touch she could resort to.

Chaisee folded the paper back up with one hand and looked around. The nursery she’d constructed in the mountaintop estate was dark and cool, a respite from the sweltering heat outside. But the entire house would pass to the next Zongdu of Jonduri once her term ended.

She’d have to leave this place behind soon and start over again. Those were the rules laid out by the heads of state, who never had to worry about moving on from what they’d built while they were still alive. The Avatar, young Yangchen, was like that too. She would be the bridge between humans and spirits for her own little eternity before she passed and a new Avatar was born.

There were a lot of powerful people in the way of Chaisee’s ambitions, laying exclusive claim to permanence. They’d be sovereigns of their domains until the very day they died, never having to fear their status being stripped away, never knowing what it was like to be naked and vulnerable.

Chaisee could be the last person standing among them, if she chose the right path, proved herself willing to go to depths beyond reckoning, and remained a step ahead of the other players in a game that could reshape the Four Nations themselves. An outrageous folly, but one she had the means for. And the will.

She looked at the letter again and smiled. With the right incentives, anything was possible.