Meditation

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Astral Projection

Flickering and fluttering

Out of the corner of your eye

I fly ethereal

White

And silver and

Full of half-formed ideas

A sudden noise and…

Awakened

A sudden startled gasp.

I wrench myself from

Half-remembered dreams

Of flight. Pain

On my chest as if

I slammed back to

My body. How I fear

Those

Half-forgotten

Dreams

 Of

Flight.

In which I contemplate year three

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There’s something truly exciting about starting the last year of my undergrad course. It’s not even the modules (although there will be geeking about THAT later). No, this post is about feelings and sensations.

I don’t know about you, but for me September has always smelled like freshly bought books. School-oriented much, I know, but it is the start  of the school year. However, since I moved to Norwich, this smell has combined itself with that of cardboard boxes, new houses and freshly brewed tea. It’s really amazing how moving to a new place makes all change seem easy all of a sudden. Granted you will drop half the stuff you sign up for by the time the first wave of essays is due, but hey! What the hell? Acting like Speedy Gonzales (with or without the input of caffeine) is fun every now and then.

And what are my plans for this year you ask? Well other than classes, societies, and my dissertation, I will be (finally) taking driving lessons, setting up a proper schedule for my updating regime and working my way through a legitimate mountain of books I’ve bought and half-read (and seeing that among them are the major works of Pope and Tennyson, we’ll have a long way ahead)…

So, anyway, I was talking of new beginnings. Now my standard response would be to whine but even when my buses are late and my legs sore from carrying boxes of stuff up and down the stairs I find myself content. Not that there haven’t been any frustrations (and a minor breakdown, but hey I’m a woman and occasionally hormone-driven). I don’t know if it’s because I’m officially within my 20s and some sort of switch has been flipped or because I’m finally starting to figure out what I want from my life. I’ve learned not to question my instincts too much.

These last few weeks of September seem to be transitory for everything in my little universe. Not just the new house and new modules. Half the university campus is covered in scaffolding and getting a make-over. With less than a week till the semester starts I’m curious to see how they will pull this off. (The cynic currently sitting on my shoulder claims that there’s no chance, but I only listen to her when there’s money -specifically my money- involved in the issue.)

And I keep coming back to it but hey, new house! And a much better house than the hole in the wall I lived in last year…. It’s going to take me a bit longer to get a feel of the energy in this one (seeing that there’s three of us living here and until classes start we’re pretty much holed in) and I am slightly wary of the smoke alarm in my room as I love burning candles and incense, but I don’t doubt that by the time Halloween creeps by I’ll have it figured out.

I didn’t do much other than read and walk aimlessly over the summer so I suppose part of my all-around giddiness has to do with having things to do; short-term projects until the time comes to start working on the more long-term ones. I’m not very good at playing the long game and keeping up with schedules for an extended period of time but as I said, this feels like a transitory period. Time for me to leave this bad habit behind and work my way from there.

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – Full Moon Bay

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Author’s note: In which there is shipping, bad past decisions come to light and Ba Sing Se looms ahead.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: coming soon…

***Full Moon Bay***

The sandbenders escorted them to an actual oasis, at the edge of the desert, a small lake and waterfall safely encased in rocks. They had been terrified by the Avatar’s display of power, because this had been one of the most silent trips Lia remembered. The moment they had stepped into the oasis, Aang had left the rest of the gang behind to meditate. After everyone had drunk their thirst away and Katara had filled her waterbending pouch, she and Zuko had left to spar, as they said. If it wasn’t for the occasional blast of fire in the distance, Lia would be seriously tempted to tease them to their deaths once they returned. As if on cue, Zuko’s laugh was heard from above them. Lia looked up to see him standing by the waterfall, looking behind him, in a mock-defensive stance. Katara appeared moments later and laughing pushed him off the waterfall. Zuko twisted in the air using his heat-bending (as Lia called it for simplicity’s sake) to land softly on the water, next to Aang, who had frozen himself and was now floating inside a block of ice by now.

“Waterbending bomb!” Katara called from where Zuko had stood moments ago, before she jumped.

 

The impact, doubled by the girl’s connection to her element, raised a huge wave that sent both Aang and Zuko to land next to Toph, and made anyone that wasn’t already, soaking.

“Sure!” Sokka said annoyed trying to dry the map he had been reading. “Five thousand year-old map from the Spirit library. Just splash some water on it.” Katara came out of the water wringing her hair dry. She looked beautiful to Zuko, who was trying resolutely not to stare too much or blush. So he was a teenager. Sue him!

“Sorry,” The waterbender said carelessly before bending the water out of the map. She caught sight of Zuko looking at her intently and blushed a little. He didn’t look at all bad in his swimsuit… Before these thought had a chance to develop – or Toph had time to notice her heartbeat – she hurried next to the others.

“So, did you figure out what route we’re going to take?” Aang asked Sokka. The self-proclaimed warrior spread out the map.

“Okay, we just got out of the desert so we must be somewhere around here. And we need to go to Ba Sing Se, which is here.” He showed the points on the map. “It looks like the only pass connecting the south to the north is this sliver of land called the Serpent’s Pass.”

“You’re sure that’s the best way to go?” Toph asked doubtfully.

“It’s the only way,” Sokka insisted. “I mean, it’s not like we have Appa to fly us there.” Lia smacked him on the back of his head. “What was that for?” he asked her annoyed.

“A little tact would be nice!” she told him, glancing meaningfully towards Aang.

“Lia, it’s okay,” Aang assured her calmly. “I know I was upset about losing Appa before, but I just want to focus on getting to Ba Sing Se and telling the Earth King about the solar eclipse.” Lia wasn’t convinced. She shot him a suspicious look, but let it go.

“Then to Ba Sing Se it is,” Sokka said decisively. “No more distractions.”

 

“Hello there, fellow refuges!” a cheerful voice was heard from behind them. They turned to see a man, his pregnant wife and their daughter. Zuko’s eyes widened. He was the man he had almost attacked when he had been traveling alone. Suddenly he felt glad for the self-control he had showed that day. Sokka on the other hand frowned at being characterized a refuge.

“So are you guys heading to Ba Sing Se too?” Aang asked.

“Sure are,” The man said. “We’re trying to get there before my wife Yeng has her baby.”

“That’s great!” Katara said friendly. “We can travel through the Serpent’s Pass together.” The family paled.

“The Serpent’s Pass?” Yeng said. “Only the truly desperate take that deadly route.”

“Deadly route?” Zuko said rolling his eyes. “Great pick Sokka!”

“Well, we are desperate,” Sokka said glaring at Zuko.

“You should come with us to Full Moon Bay,” Yeng’s husband said. “Ferries take refuges across the lake. It’s the fastest way to Ba Sing Se.”

“And it’s hidden, so the Fire Nation can’t find it,” she added. Zuko shifted uneasily at the mention of his Nation.

“Hm,” Katara said as if she was thinking it over. “Peaceful ferry ride or deadly pass?” she asked sending a look at Sokka. Lia giggled.

 

They walked together all the way to the bay. Zuko had introduced himself as Lee, saying that he and Lia were siblings. Much to Sokka’s surprise they believed his story. Once they were inside the port Katara looked around shocked.

“I can’t believe how many people’s lives have been uprooted by the war,” she said quietly.

“We’re all looking for a better life. Safe, behind the walls of Ba Sing Se.” Chin, Yeng’s husband said.

“Hey!” Lia suddenly exclaimed. “Look who’s here!” They turned to the direction she pointed. Zuko’s face brightened.

“Uncle!” he cried, hurrying towards the old man. Iroh turned surprised to see them approaching. As if to astonish him more, Zuko pulled him on an embrace.

“Oh! I love group hugs!” Lia said joining them smiling.

“What are you doing here?” Zuko asked smiling his uncle. “I thought you’d be in Ba Sing Se by now.”

“I had some errands to run first,” Iroh explained carefully. He had noticed the family that had obviously tagged along with the kids. “It seems we will be traveling together for now.” He took out a few papers. “I had passports made for you and Lia, just in case.”

“What?” Sokka asked. “We need passports? We don’t have any.”

“I have one.” Toph said. “I believe it will work for everyone.” Sokka looked at her uncertainly. Nevertheless they lined up to get tickets.

 

Zuko, Lia and Iroh took their tickets with no problem. They moved aside to wait for the rest of the gang. Aang made a movement towards the booth but Toph pushed him aside.

“I’ll take care of this,” she said placing her passport in front of the lady who distributed the tickets. “My name is Toph Bei Fong and I’ll need four tickets,” she all-but-ordered the woman.

“Oh!” the woman exclaimed astonished. “The golden seal of the flying boar. It is my pleasure to help anyone of the Bei Fong family.”

“It is your pleasure,” Toph said mater-of-factly. “As you can see I’m blind and these three are my valets.” Momo jumped on her shoulder.

“But the animal…” the lady began unsurely.

“Is my seeing-eye lemur,” Toph cut her.

“Well normally it’s only one ticket per passport but this document is so official, I guess it’s worth four tickets,” the lady decided. Toph took them and thanked her in the same cold voice.

 

They moved away, with Sokka sniggering at that lady’s expense:

“All right! We scammed that lady good!” Someone grabbed him roughly from behind. He turned to see a stern-looking girl on security’s uniform.

“Tickets and passports please,” She said.

“Is there a problem?” Sokka asked her nervously.

“Yeah, I got a problem with you,” she told him angrily. “I’ve seen your type before. Probably sarcastic, think you’re hilarious and let me guess, you’re traveling with the Avatar.” Sokka looked at her blankly.

“Do I know you?” he asked her.

“You mean you don’t remember?” she asked grabbing him by the shirt. “Maybe you’ll remember this.” She kissed him lightly on the check. Sokka’s face brightened.

“Suki!” he exclaimed hugging her.

“Sokka, It’s good to see you.” Everyone else approached.

“Guys, you remember Suki?” Sokka asked them glowing.

 

After a few introductions – Zuko and Lia used their real names, much to everyone’s surprise – they went over to a quiet terrace to catch up.

“You look so different without your make-up,” Katara remarked. “And the new outfit.”

“That crabby lady makes all the security guards wear them.” Suki explained. “And look at you sleeveless guy!” she said to Sokka, “Been working out?”

“I grab a tree branch, do a few exercises every now and then. Nothing major,” the boy said smugly. Katara shot him a disapproving look. Lia had been sitting on the side, looking down at the lines of people preparing for the journey. One particular fellow caught her attention. Something was wrong with him.

“I’ll be right back,” she whispered to Zuko, who had been sitting next to her. He was a little uneasy around the Kyoshi Warrior. His soldiers had caused quite a problem in her village.

“Are the other Kyoshi Warriors around?” Aang asked curiously Suki.

“Yes,” she nodded. “After you left Kyoshi we wanted to find a way to help people. We ended up escorting some refuges and we’ve been here ever since.” Momo jumped next to her, excited to see another familiar face. She laughed and patted his head. “Hi Momo! Good to see you too,” she said to the small lemur. “So, why are you guys getting tickets for the ferry?” she asked them. “Won’t you just fly across on Appa?” Everyone looked away unhappily.

“Appa is missing,” Katara explained. “We hope to find him in Ba Sing Se.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that,” Suki said sincerely. “Are you doing okay?” she asked Aang. The boy looked up to see not only Suki, but everyone in his group – even Zuko – looking at him worried.

“I’m doing fine,” he said angrily. “Would everyone stop worrying about me?”

 

Suddenly Yeng’s voice was heard.

“Avatar Aang, you have to help us. Someone took all our belongings. Our passports, our tickets, everything’s gone,” she sobbed.

“I’ll talk to the lady for you,” Aang offered, jumping to his feet, grateful for the distraction.

“Wait!” Lia called before he had a chance to make another move. She approached them hurriedly, a few bags on her hands, dragging a man by his shirt. “Are these your things?” she asked Chin. The man nodded surprised. “Suki, I think this is job for you,” Lia said satisfied, shoving the man on the other girl’s feet.

 

They embarked on the ship that would take them across the lake with no further excitements for what was going to be a two-day trip. Suki had disappeared after she had locked the robber away.

“I can’t believe we won’t say goodbye to Suki,” Sokka whined for the thousandth time.

“I can’t believe you’re still whining about it,” Toph snapped at him.

“Wait! I’m coming too.” Suki caught up with them, dressed in her Kyoshi Warrior uniform. Sokka turned surprised.

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” he asked her worried.

“Sokka, I thought you’d want me to come,” she told him surprised.

“I do. It’s just…”

“Just what?”

“Nothing. I’m glad you’re com…” Suki passed him before he had a chance to finish his word. Sokka looked at her worried.

 

The boat was packed with refuges, most of them families with small children. Everyone would take up a little space and set their things there.

“Now it’s only smooth sailing to Ba Sing Se,” Sokka sighed, as he plopped down on the deck. They had left Full Moon Bay half an hour ago. Yeng suddenly doubled in pain.

“Oh no!” she said fearfully.

“What?” Sokka asked.

“The baby’s coming,” she explained.

“What? Now? Can’t you hold it in or something?” Sokka asked.

“Sokka calm down,” Katara ordered her brother. “I’ve helped Gran-Gran deliver lots of babies back home.”

“This isn’t the same as delivering an arctic seal!” He was practically panicking now. “This is a real human thing!”

“It’s called a baby. And I helped to deliver plenty of those too,” his sister said unfazed. She was taking charge now. “Aang get some rags. Sokka water.” She turned to Zuko. “When they bring them, boil the water and clean the rags in it,” she explained. He nodded. The unexpected labour had shocked him too, but he found Sokka was over-reacting.

“Maybe uncle and Toph can go and ask for a proper meal,” he offered. “Yeng will probably need it.” Katara nodded appreciatively. She turned to see Suki and Lia already preparing a tent around the pregnant woman and her family.

“Come with me,” she told them calmly.

 

The labour was going normally, much to Katara’s relief.

“You’re doing great Yeng,” she said encouragingly to the woman. She turned her head towards the exit. “Sokka, where’s that water?” she yelled at her brother. “Now, get ready to push,” she ordered. “One, two, three, PUSH!” Sokka, who had just entered the tent, fainted. Suki and Lia shared an exasperated glance and dragged him out. He gained consciousness almost immediately. Toph and Iroh had just returned, looking very disappointed. After a while a baby was heard crying from inside the tent.

“It’s a girl!” they heard Katara exclaim.

“So, you wonna go see the baby, or are you going to faint like an old lady again?” Toph asked Sokka teasingly. He stood up, swaying a little.

“No, no! I’m good this time,” he said nervously. Iroh and Zuko followed them inside, passing Katara at the opening. Spotting Aang still sitting she called him.

“Aang, you have to come see this.” The boy entered the tent. Yeng was sitting in the middle of it, visibly exhausted, but glowing, holding her daughter. The baby was still crying, but more quietly now.

“She sound’s healthy,” Toph remarked.

“She’s beautiful,” Katara said in admiration.

“It’s so… squishy looking,” Sokka said scrutinizing the new-born. Zuko shot him a look.

“That’s the best you can do?” he asked him annoyed.

“What should we name her?” Chin wondered.

“I want our daughter’s name to be unique. I want it to mean something.” Yeng said. Aang felt his eyes watering. Katara was right. It was a magical scene.

“I’ve going through a really hard time lately,” he said quietly. “I thought it would be easier if I abandoned hope and bottled away my feelings. I was wrong. To see you so happy together, it made me hopeful again,” he said at the happy family.

“I know what I want to name our baby now,” Yeng said. “Hope.”

“That’s a perfect name,” her husband agreed softly.

 

They left the family to rest. Once outside, Katara turned expectantly to Iroh and Toph. They shook their heads disappointed.

“We talked with the cook,” Iroh explained. “According to captain’s orders everyone is served the same food.”

“No exceptions,” Toph added, mimicking the bossy voice of the man. Lia’s eyes narrowed.

“And where exactly is the kitchen?” she asked innocently. Zuko caught the undercurrent of her words and told her horrified:

“Oh no! There’s no point on going around stirring trouble.”

“Whatever you say. Blue,” she whispered the last part to him. Zuko looked at her for a long moment. He couldn’t risk to be revealed as the Blue Spirit, but maybe it would help. He still remembered how happy the villagers had been, to discover they had their money back.

“Anyway, I’m going to see if I can help anywhere,” Lia continued. “In a ship that big, I’m willing to bet that a healer can always help.”

“You’re a healer?” Suki asked her surprised. “But you’re a firebender.”

“I’m not as good as Katara, but I can help around.”

“Lia’s right,” Aang said. “We should probably see if anyone needs help.”

“What?” Sokka whined. “Can’t we ever get some rest?”

“Nope!” Lia said happily. They left, each one taking a different route, scattering around the ship.

 

Zuko and Iroh remained where they were, silently gazing at the horizon. Suddenly Iroh spoke.

“Who would have thought,” he started solemnly, “after all these years, I’d return to the scene of my greatest military disgrace, as a tourist,” he smiled hopefully at his nephew. Zuko had seemed to be more relaxed when he was near Katara, but when they had told them what the cook had said, he had returned to his old, frowning self.

“Look around. We’re not tourist, we’re refuges.” He took a sip from the “soup”, to only spit it out disgusted. “Is this considered food? There is a woman that just gave birth and many small children on this ship. Can’t they give us something better? I’m tired of living like this, not being able to help these people,” he said. No, Iroh amended. He has definitely changed.

“Aren’t we all?” a voice said behind them. He was a young man, he couldn’t be older than Zuko, but like the prince he looked like a seasoned fighter. “My name’s Jet and these are my Freedom Fighters Smelarbee and Longshot.” Two younger teens appeared.

“Hello,” Zuko mumbled, going back to staring at the horizon. He couldn’t guess why this Jet-guy had opened conversation. He couldn’t be the only one complaining!

“Here’s the deal.” Jet continued. “I hear the captain is eating like a king, while us refuges have to feed of the scraps. Doesn’t seem fair, does it?”

“What sort of king is he eating like?” Iroh asked curiously.

“The fat, happy kind.” Iroh’s mouth watered at the thought. “You want to help us… liberate some food?” Jet asked Zuko. The prince stared at the water. An image flashed through his mind’s eye.

-Flashback:-

“So” he had said slowly, trying to understand the Spirit’s strange moral guide, “if I helped us, but at the same time helped some people who also need it, you wouldn’t consider it wrong?”

Lia had shaken her head. “It would still be wrong, but the outcome would be worth it.”

-End Flashback.-

“I’m in,” Zuko said, wondering what Lia would say about it.

 

As if he had summoned her by thought, the Spirit appeared, with one small child on her arms and two slightly older following her running. She was laughing carelessly.

“Lee, tell them!” she told her brother pleadingly. “They don’t believe me when I say that the Knowledge Spirit is a giant owl!”

“Wang Shi Tong?” Iroh asked surprised. Where exactly had his nephew been?

“He can’t be!” the oldest of the kids, an eight-year-old boy said.

“And what do you think he looks like?” Zuko asked, kneeling next to him.

“He just can’t!” the kid insisted, obviously not having a better answer.

“Well he is,” Zuko said. “You should believe my sister when it comes to Spirits. She knows more than anyone about them.”

“Was the other thing she said true too?” the other kid, a girl of six, asked.

“What was it?” Zuko asked, stealing a glance at Lia.

“She said that the Blue Spirit broke into a tax-collectors carriage and robbed him, to return the money to the people they were taken by,” the little girl looked amazed.

“It’s true,” Zuko assured her. He turned to Iroh. “Uncle, you know many stories about the Spirits, why don’t you tell them a few?”

“I would be glad,” Iroh said with a giddy expression. Lia left the three children and followed Zuko a bit further, with Jet following.

“I thought you didn’t approve of the Blue Spirit’s actions,” Zuko half-said, half-asked, raising an eyebrow.

“I don’t approve of some of his actions,” The Fire Spirit answered lazily. “Now, what were you two plotting?” she asked carelessly. Jet opened his mouth to deny it but Zuko spoke first.

“We’re going to get some real food for dinner,” he said carefully. One can never be too cautious. “Why don’t you come with us?”

“I’d love to, but I can’t,” Lia sighed. “It’s either me or your Lady girlfriend taking care of these little demons,” she smiled affectionately at the kids, “and she is far better as a healer than I am. So I took up the babysitting.” Zuko had blushed crimson when she had said “your Lady girlfriend”. “Besides,” Lia said standing, “I promised to tell them how prince Zuko kicked admiral Zhao’s butt, more than once.” She stretched the last words, before standing to leave. Zuko and Jet stared at her as she left. Both of them refused to believe, why someone would want to hear this particular story, but for quite different reasons. Jet found unbelievable that a story, even one for small kids, would have the Fire Nation prince as the good guy. Zuko didn’t understand how the kids had learned of it.

 

When night fell four shadows were quietly slipping on deck, effortlessly melding with the darkness. They found the kitchen easily; it was near the captain’s quarters. Zuko took one look inside and felt his stomach tighten with anger. There was plenty of food in there for everyone. Smelarbee stayed behind, keeping open eyes for any guards, as Zuko used his swords to open the door. He and Jet entered the room and set to work quietly. They had managed to pack enough for almost everyone when Smelarbee called: “Guards coming.” Longshot sent them a rope tied on an arrow. They sent back the food, before climbing down themselves. Just as the rope came down, a guard passed. Unnoticed the four teens left silently.

 

They handed out the food to the people with Lia’s help, before settling to eat themselves. Zuko briefly wondered where Katara and the rest of them were. He hadn’t seen them around.

“So Smelarbee, that’s an unusual name for a young man,” He absently heard his uncle saying.

“Maybe it’s because I’m not a man,” she spat. “I’m a girl!” She stood and left angrily with Longshot at her heels.

“Oh, now I see,” Iroh called behind her. “It’s a beautiful name for a lovely girl.” Lia laughed.

“This is better than what you said about Aang’s evasing maneuvering!” she told Zuko quietly. He looked at her blankly for a moment. Then the memory came back to him and he laughed too. As they stifled their laugh Jet sat beside them.

“From what I heard, people eat like this every night in Ba Sing Se. I can’t wait to set my eyes on that giant wall.”

“It is a magnificent sight,” Iroh agreed.

“So you’ve been there before?” Jet asked curiously.

“Once,” Iroh said solemnly. “When I was a different man.”

“I’ve done some things in my past that I’m not proud of,” Jet admitted. “But that’s why I’m going to Ba Sing Se. For a new beginning, a second chance.”

“That’s very noble of you. I believe people can change their lives if they want to. I believe in second chances,” Iroh shared a meaningful look with his nephew.

“Only second chances?” Lia asked suddenly.

“What do you mean?” Jet asked her curiously.

“This.” She said spreading her arms, as if to embrace the whole boat. “This is the third beginning I’ve had in my life. And even though it’s not the best, it’s the only one I’m proud of,” she added cryptically. Zuko looked at her worried. Before he could ask her anything, her face brightened. “Well look who’s here,” she said mischievously. The three men looked up to see a Water Tribe girl approaching them. Jet’s eyes widened.

“Katara?” he said disbelievingly.

 

The waterbender felt her smile freeze on her lips. What was he doing here? She immediately slid into fighting stance. Zuko and Iroh looked at them surprised. Lia on the other hand had a strange smile, as if she had seen this coming.

“What are you doing here?” Katara asked her voice more cold than the ice she could bend.

“Trying to start over?” Jet told her. He smiled hopefully at the girl. “I swear I’ve changed.”

“Tell that to another girl Jet,” Katara snapped at him, forming a few ice daggers and sending them at the boy. They didn’t have time to hit him. Mid-air they melted and fell like rain on the deck. The waterbender glared at the Fire Spirit. She hadn’t moved, yet her expression was far too innocent. “This is none of your business,” she snapped, before turning on her heel and storming away. Zuko ran after her immediately.

“You shouldn’t have seemed so hopeful,” Lia advised Jet indifferently. He was looking at her suspiciously.

“Are you a waterbender too?” he asked her carefully.

“To the contrary, you could say I’m the complete opposite of water. It’s usually far too cold for my taste.”

“So you’re a firebender?” Jet said his hand immediately on his swords.

“Of course not!” Lia said annoyed. “Why does everyone keep thinking of it? Just because I’m the complete opposite of water, doesn’t mean I’m a bender.”

“You’d better drop the subject Jet,” Iroh advised. “She’s just like her brother. When they get worked up, you can’t talk with them reasonably.” The young man nodded reluctantly. His gaze turned to where Zuko and Katara had disappeared.

“So they’re together?” he said a little disappointed. Iroh nodded.

“The magic of love,” He said dreamingly. Jet stood up.

“It’s getting late,” he said. “I’m going to sleep. Good night.” Once he was outside of earshot Iroh turned to Lia.

“That was a risky move you pulled,” he said sternly.

“It was more risky to let Katara kill him,” she answered yawning. “I think I’m going to sleep too.” She unpacked a blanket and curled up on her side. “Goodnight Iroh.”

“Goodnight my dear,” The old man told her and settled to wait for his nephew to return.

 

Zuko found Katara at the back of the ship, still trembling with fury. He hesitantly approached her, and put his hands on her shoulders. She twirled to face him, her expression softening only slightly, seeing who it was. She buried herself wordlessly in his embrace.

“Are you okay?” he asked her quietly.

“Does he know who you are?” Katara asked back worried.

“No, but why? How do you know him?” Zuko insisted.

“We came across Jet and his Freedom Fighters a little after the incident with the pirates.” Katara explained approaching the railing and looking down at the water. Zuko silently followed and stood behind her. “At first I was awed by his skills and the good he was doing,” she continued. “But things turned out to be different. There was a city nearby, controlled by the Fire Nation. Jet planned to flood it, so that he could drive the soldiers away. He wouldn’t even stop to consider the consequences this would have for the innocents living in the city. He almost succeeded.”

“Almost?” Zuko asked her, feeling his dislike for the boy rising. Katara nodded.

“Sokka didn’t trust Jet from the beginning. So he left and warned the people in town, to leave. Everyone’s live was saved.”

“You’re not telling me everything are you?” Zuko felt a little bad for pressing her, but he knew from experience that this kind of feelings should be talked out. Katara avoided his gaze guiltily. After what Lia had told her, how could she tell him she had liked Jet?

“It’s not nice, nor something I am proud of,” she said, trying to get out of the situation.

“It can’t be worse than anything I have done,” Zuko said calmly. “Please Katara, tell me?” The waterbender took a deep breath.

“It wasn’t just admiration I felt about Jet,” she began slowly. “He was the first boy I liked. And that’s why I hate him. Because he used this to convince me to help him with his plan.”

“But you didn’t know what he was going to do, did you?” Zuko asked her calmly. He was feeling the jealously burning in his stomach again but he refused to take it out on Katara. It wasn’t her fault.

“No!” she assured him vehemently. “I would never agree to something like that.” She cast him a worried look. Was he mad at her? She searched his eyes and although she saw a little hurt, he was looking her with trust and love. “What did you do?” she asked him hesitantly. Zuko smiled.

“Stole enough food to give everyone a proper meal,” he said. “I hope you don’t have any objections.” To his surprise Katara laughed.

“You’re talking to the girl who stole a waterbending scroll from pirates,” she reminded him.

“Right!” Zuko laughed. A cold breeze sent Katara snuggling next to him. He smiled at the girl. “Remember our fight at the North Pole?” he asked her.

“Uh-huh,” she murmured, resting her head on his shoulder. Zuko gazed at the moon.

“It was the hardest fight of my life,” he said quietly. Katara looked up surprised.

“Why?” she asked. She wasn’t that good at waterbending back then.

“I was worried I was going to hurt you accidentally,” the prince explained. “And to make matters worse, you were so beautiful, bending under the full moon, I wanted to kiss you.” The waterbender blushed. Then she shot him a mischievous glance.

“Like how?” she asked teasingly. Zuko leaned down to her.

“Like this,” he whispered before kissing her passionately. Katara kissed him back with equal passion, feeling like the whole world was spinning around her and Zuko was the only stable thing. When they broke away she smiled at him.

“I could get used to that,” she breathed before kissing him again.

 

Two decks lower, Sokka was staring at the moon. He felt confused. He knew Suki was more than capable of taking care of herself, and that his antics only annoyed her, but he couldn’t afford to lose her like he had lost Yue. He wouldn’t be able to take it. He heard footsteps approaching.

“It’s a beautiful moon,” Suki said quietly.

“Yeah, it really is,” Sokka sighed, remembering the princess that had become a Spirit. Suki took a seat next to him.

“Look,” she said. “I know you’re just trying to help, but I can take care of myself,” she told him softly.

“I know you can,” Sokka answered.

“Then why are you acting so over-protective?” the Kyoshi Warrior asked.

“It’s so hard to lose someone you care about. Something happened at the North Pole and I couldn’t protect someone,” he admitted. “I don’t want something like that to ever happen again.”

“I lost someone I cared about,” Suki said softly. “He didn’t die, he just ran away and I only had a few days to know him, but he was smart and brave and funny…” Sokka stood up.

“Who is this guy?” he asked annoyed. “Is he taller than me?” some part of his mind (the one that had Toph’s voice) told him that he was reacting like an overprotective boyfriend, but he couldn’t help it.

“No,” Suki said carelessly, “he’s about your height.”

“Is he better looking?” Sokka insisted.

“It is you stupid,” Suki said, standing up too exasperated.

“Oh!” Sokka said, feeling his self-confidence climbing a few steps. They stared at each other’s eyes and Suki leaned forward slowly. Before their lips had a chance to meet, Sokka turned his head.

“I can’t,” he said painfully. He couldn’t do this again.

“I’m sorry,” Suki whispered.

“No, you shouldn’t be,” Sokka turned and left. It was Suki’s time to gaze at the moon.

 

When Katara woke up the next morning, she saw Aang sitting at the railing, looking at the horizon. The city wall was beginning to appear beyond the early morning fog. She stood up and went over him, pausing only to cover Zuko and Toph, who had somehow managed to crawl out of their sleeping bags during their sleep.

“You’re up early,” She said to the boy, approaching him. “Are you okay?”

“You were holding hands with Zuko in your sleep,” Aang said colourlessly. He refused to look at her, instead glaring at the horizon. “What’s going on between you two?”

“I didn’t mean for you to learn it like this,” Katara said sadly. “But Zuko and I…” she trailed off hesitating. She didn’t want to hurt Aang.

“You’re in love,” Aang finished the sentence. “Do the others know?”

“Lia definitely and Toph probably does,” Katara said, feeling her cheeks bloom at the mention of the l-word. “I wanted to tell you once we reached Ba Sing Se, and found Appa.”

“About this…” Aang took a deep breath. “Maybe I should go ahead and look for him. You are safe on the ship and then once you get out of it, you will be inside Ba Sing Se, even safer.”

“That’s a good idea,” Katara agreed relieved. He had taken it much better than she had imagined. Aang opened his glider.

“Will you say goodbye to the others for me?” She nodded. “And tell Zuko that if he dares hurt you, not even the Spirit of Fire will be able to save him.” Katara laughed.

“I’ll tell him. See you soon Aang.” The airbender nodded once and then took off.

 

“What do you mean he left?” Sokka asked disbelievingly.

“Sokka, I told you! We’ll meet up with Aang inside the city. He just went ahead to look for Appa!” Katara explained for he thousandth time.

“Well, I hope he gives that big fuzz-ball a hug from me when he finds him,” Toph said cheerfully. Lia laughed, before returning to her packing.

“Are you going to help or what?” she asked playfully. Once almost everything was ready, Suki approached Sokka. They had been avoiding each other the whole morning.

“Sokka, it’s been really nice to see you,” she said. The warrior looked up.

“Whoa, hold on,” he exclaimed. “Why does it sound like you’re saying goodbye?”

“I came along because I wanted to make sure you made it through the lake safely,” she explained. “But now I need to get back to the other Kyoshi Warriors.”

“So you came along to protect me?” Sokka looked at her incredulously.

“Listen, I’m really sorry about last night,” Suki said blushing. “We were talking and saying things… I got carried away and before I knew it I…” Sokka didn’t let her finish, instead he leaned down and kissed her.

“You talk too much,” he told her, before kissing her again.

 

A little further, Zuko and Katara were saying their own farewells.

“What are you going to do now?” she asked him sadly.

“We’ll try to keep a low profile. We’re wanted men in both the Earth Kingdom and the Fire Nation.” He tried to sound careless. It didn’t really work, because now Katara was looking at him worried. “I promise we’ll be okay,” he told her.

“Can I come and see you once you settle?” Katara asked hopefully.

“Of course!” Zuko assured her. “Just look around for good tea. Uncle Iroh will probably be near it and…”

“And you’ll be near your uncle,” Katara smiled. She cast a careful look around her. No one was paying attention to them. She gave him a quick kiss on the lips. “Until we see each other again,” she whispered. Zuko was staring at her as she left.

“You are soooo in love,” Lia approached him smiling slightly, with Iroh right behind her. The old man waited for his nephew to deny it angrily, but he merely stood there smiling.

“I don’t see why this is bad,” Zuko finally said.

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The Desert

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Author’s note: In which Aang showcases why I don’t particularly like him, there is shipping (established and teased), hallucinations and giant incects.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***The Desert***

Aang’s eyes widened. Something terrible had happened while they had been underground.

 

The air had been getting stronger by the minute. Sand was dancing teasingly around the group as they tried to make out the horizon, looking for Appa’s familiar figure. Aang turned furiously to Toph.

“How could you let them take Appa?” he yelled at her. “Why didn’t you stop them?”

“I couldn’t!” Toph yelled back. “The library was sinking. You guys were still inside and…”

“You could have come to get us,” Aang kept accusing her. “I could have saved him!”

“I can hardly feel any vibrations out here. The sandbenders snuck up on me and there wasn’t time for…”

“You just didn’t care! You never liked Appa, you wanted him gone!”

“Aang stop it,” Katara tried to calm him down. “You know Toph did all she could. She saved our lives.”

“Who’s going to save our lives now?” Sokka asked pessimistically, pointing at the sandstorm coming. “We’ll never make it out of here.”

“We’ll make it,” Zuko said firmly. “We made it alive out of the library; we can make it through the desert.” Aang turned to face them, his face contorted with anger.

“That’s all you guys care about; yourselves. You don’t care whether Appa is okay or not.” He sat a little further away, refusing to look at them.

“That’s enough!” Lia said sternly. She was still exhausted from the battle with Wang Shi Tong and her near-trip to the Spirit World. She couldn’t stand Aang’s shouting right now. “We’re all concerned. But we cannot fight now. We have to make out of here.”

“I’m going after Appa,” Aang said evenly, before taking off.

“Aang wait!” Katara called after him, but he didn’t turn back. She sighed. “We’d better start walking. We’re the only people who know about the solar eclipse. We have to get that information to Ba Sing Se.” They started walking under the sun. Zuko stayed last, behind Toph. He had noticed how tired the little girl was. He had taken a liking to her in the short time they had been travelling together, even though her sarcasm could get a little annoying from time to time. Sokka asked Lia:

“Do you think if we dig out the giant owl he’ll give us a ride?”

“Just keep dreaming,” Lia told him with a humourless laugh.

 

By midday the heat was getting almost unbearable. Zuko and Lia didn’t have much of a problem, being connected to the element of fire, but the rest of them were suffering. Katara didn’t talk, she just continued walking forward. Sokka paused for a moment, took hold of Momo and used him as a shade. Toph didn’t notice that he had stopped and fell on him.

“Can’t you watch where you’re…” Sokka trailed off noticing who had bumped on him.

“No,” Toph snapped.

“Right, sorry,” he said awkwardly.

“Come on guys, we’ve got to stick together,” Katara said calmly.

“If I sweat anymore, I don’t think sticking together will be a problem,” Sokka grumbled. Zuko pushed him forward, managing to throw him to the ground.

“Katara, can I have some water?” Toph asked, sounding very much like a twelve-year-old girl all of a sudden.

“Okay, but we’ve got to try to conserve it,” the older girl said. She bended some water out of her pouch. Sokka tasted it.

“We’re drinking your bending water?” he asked. “You used this on the swamp guy!” he said disgusted.

“It does taste…swampy,” Toph added.

“I’m sorry, but it’s all we have,” Katara said miserable.

“They should be grateful,” Zuko said flatly.

“Won’t you two drink your portions?” Katara asked him and Lia. The Spirit shrugged.

“I don’t have a problem with the temperature,” she explained.

“I’m not thirsty,” Zuko added. Katara bended the water back on her pouch.

“Look!” Sokka cried suddenly.

 

It was a lone cactus. Sokka and Momo dashed to its direction. The warrior took off his machete and started cutting the plant into “bowls” and drinking their juice.

“Sokka, you shouldn’t be eating strange plants!” Katara took Toph’s hand and rushed to her brother’s side.

“There’s water trapped inside,” he explained.

“I don’t know,” Katara said hesitantly.

“Suit yourself. It’s very refreshing though.”

“Uncle sometimes drank some kind of cactus juice once,” Zuko said suddenly.

“And what happened?” Katara asked him.
”He talked nonsense until he slept it off,” he told her.

“Drink cactus juice! It will quench you! Nothing’s as quenchy! It’s the quenchiest!” Sokka suddenly shouted.

“And here I thought only Iroh would drink such a thing,” Lia muttered.

“Okay,” Katara told her brother sternly. “I think you had enough.” She took the bowl off his hands and emptied it.

“Who set Toph on fire?” Sokka asked her. Momo was in much the same condition.

 

Toph tugged Zuko’s hand. “Could I get some of that cactus?” she asked eagerly.

“You’d better not,” he told her, kneeling in front of her. “Come on. You’re very tired. I’ll carry you for a while.” Katara turned surprised to look at them. She felt her mouth drop when Toph did climb on the boy’s back without protest

“Just for a while,” the little earthbender warned Zuko.

“I’ll let you down as soon as you tell me,” he assured her, tightening his grip on her.

“Let’s keep moving,” Katara said. “We need to find Aang.” Zuko followed her, with Toph on his back, and Lia came last, tugging the drunken Sokka along.

“How did we get out here, in the middle of the ocean?” he asked her surprised.

 

Suddenly an explosion was heard. They turned to see a giant sand-cloud.

“What is that?” Katara asked a little scared.

“What is what?” Toph asked everyone. Lia opened her mouth to answer but Sokka talked first.

“It’s a giant mushroom! Maybe it’s friendly!” he exclaimed.

“I feel like I’m with uncle Iroh again,” Zuko muttered to Lia.

“Let’s just keep moving,” Katara began again. “I hope Aang’s okay.”

“I have the worst job here,” Lia cursed under her breath as she dragged Sokka, who kept fare-welling the sand-cloud. “Would you just shut up!” she finally shouted at him. That silenced Sokka for a few minutes, but he kept glaring at her, muttering under his breath things about crazy Ocean Spirits. Lia was tempted to remind him her actual element, but decided against it and ignore him.

 

It was at dusk that they caught up with Aang. He didn’t speak at them; he wouldn’t even look at them.

“I’m sorry Aang,” Katara said quietly. “I know it’s hard for you right now, but we need to focus on getting out of here.”

“What’s the difference?” he muttered. “We won’t survive without Appa. We all know it.”

“Come on Aang! We can do this if we work together. Right Toph?” she turned hopeful at the other girl.

“As far as I can feel, we’re trapped on a giant bowl of sand-pudding.” She kicked a little sand aside. “I got nothing.”

“Sokka?” his sister turned towards him. “Any ideas how to find Ba Sing Se?”

“Why don’t we ask the circle birds?” he said pointing at the sky.  Katara looked at them, already having surrendered the game. She turned to see Zuko right behind her. He was worn out, just like she was, but in his eyes shone the old determination. It was just like when he had been searching for the Avatar, Katara realised. He was given an impossible task, yet he had made it.

“I’ll be right behind you,” he assured her, pulling her into a quick embrace.

“We’d better keep moving,” Lia said. “Now that the sun is down it will be easier. We’re getting out of this desert.”

“Okay, everybody up,” Zuko ordered, feeling like he was back on his ship. “Hold hands with one another and start walking.” He walked over to where Aang was and forced him to his feet. The airbender was so shocked, he didn’t protest at all. They started walking again.

 

When the sun had completely disappeared Katara halted. “I think we should stop for the night,” she said. Sokka, Toph and Aang collapsed. The rest of them sat down exhausted.

“Is there any more water?” Toph asked.

“This is the last of it,” Katara said going over the girl. “Everyone can have a little drink.” Before she could bend the water bubble to portions, Momo jumped, still high from the cactus juice, through it, spluttering it on the sand below.

“Momo no!” Sokka screamed. “You’ve killed us all!”

“No he hasn’t.” Katara knelt tiredly and bended the water out of the sand.

“Oh right,” her brother said, “bending.” The water return intact to Katara’s pouch. She gave it to Toph.

“Sokka let me see the things you took from the library.” She tried to take his bag. He bolted away from her, hugging it.

“What?” he asked guiltily. “I didn’t steal anything! Who told you that? It was you!” he yelled accusingly at Momo. “You ratted me out!” Zuko pried the bag out of his hands impatiently and gave it to Katara. “We were all there drunken-head. Remember?” he said.

“It doesn’t matter. None of those will tell us where Appa is,” Aang said mournfully.

“No, but we can use them to get out of the dessert,” Lia said studying a map. Zuko opened another parchment. It was night sky map.

“We could use this one,” He said passing it to Katara. “If we travel by night it will be easier.”

“That’s a good idea.” Katara turned to the others. They were already asleep. “Just try to get some rest. We will continue in a few hours.” She told Zuko and Lia.

 

Lia didn’t need to be told twice. She curled on the sand and was asleep in seconds. Zuko too lay down, but sleep wouldn’t come to him. He sat up, to see Katara’s figure sitting a little further away. Silently he went to sit next to her, awkwardly putting an arm around her shoulders. Katara leaned on him, comforted by the simple touch.

“You should sleep too,” Zuko told her. “You mustn’t exhaust yourself.”

“I have to stay awake,” Katara insisted. “If I fall asleep too, then we will lose the whole night.” Zuko tightened his embrace. He had to convince her somehow to sleep. He was tired himself, but having an alter ego like the Blue Spirit had made him used to going for over twenty-four hours without sleep.

“I’ll make sure that everyone’s awake in time,” he promised, kissing her cheek. “You sleep,” he ordered. Katara smiled faintly and made herself comfortable, resting her head in his lap. She was soon asleep too.

 

She was having a wonderful dream, when she felt someone shaking her gently.

“Katara, it’s time to wake up,” Zuko told her quietly. She opened her eyes reluctantly to meet Zuko’s golden gaze. The rest were still asleep. Seizing the opportunity, the two teens shared a kiss before standing. Zuko whispered to Katara, “Watch this.” He went over to Lia and touched her lightly on the shoulder. The Spirit was immediately on her feet wide awake. Seeing where she was she scowled at her “brother”.

“I hate you,” she muttered. The vibrations had awakened Toph too. She pushed herself to a sitting position grumbling. Katara went over Sokka.

“Come on Sokka,” she told him, “Get up. We need to go.” Toph tasted her mouth.

“Yesterday my mouth tasted like mud,” she said. “Now it just tastes like sand. I never thought I would miss the taste of mud so much.” Katara went over to where Aang was.

“I’m awake,” he told her, before she had a chance to touch him. “I couldn’t sleep.”

“Well, we need to get moving if we want to get out of this sand.”

 

Aang stood up. Raising absentmindedly his eyes on the sky, he spotted a shadow in front of the moon. “Appa!” he cried full of hope.

“Appa?” Sokka asked, spotting the shadow too. “What would princess Yue need him for? She’s the moon! She flies by herself.” Zuko scrutinized the shadow.

“It’s just a cloud,” he said. Aang lowered his head disappointed.

“Wait!” Katara exclaimed. She took out her pouch. “A cloud!” she gave it to Aang. “Here, fly up there and bend the water from that cloud into my pouch.” Aang snatched it annoyed and took off.

 

He returned a few minutes later and returned the pouch silently to Katara.

“Wow, there’s hardly any water in here,” she remarked.

“Well I’m sorry, okay!” Aang yelled. “It’s a desert cloud. I did all I could. What’s anyone else doing? What are you doing?” he asked her accusingly.

“Trying to keep everyone together,” she said turning on the other side. “Let’s just keep moving. We need to head in that direction.” She said in a low voice. Lia held Zuko back.

“I’ll keep an eye on them,” she whispered. “You go ahead.” He nodded and rushed to Katara’s side. Aang’s frown deepened when he saw them holding hands. Before he could protest Lia fitted Toph’s hand into his. He looked up to see her holding Sokka’s.

“Everyone must help a little,” she said. She saw him glaring at Zuko’s direction. “If you have any objections about the pairs, then by all means carry Sokka,” she snapped at him and despite his bad mood Aang gulped nervously and did as told.

 

They walked in silence, when suddenly Toph stumbled on something and fell, taking Aang down with her. The boy landed on top of her and sprung immediately to his feet blushing.

“Crud! I’m so sick of not feeling where I’m going!” Toph whined. “And what idiot buried a boat in the middle of the desert?”

“A boat?” Lia asked surprised.

“Believe me, I kicked it hard enough to feel plenty of vibrations.” Katara knelt and started digging away at the sand. Aang motioned for her to move aside. She did and then he bended the sand out of the way.

“It’s one of the gliders the sandbenders use,” Katara observed surprised. Zuko climbed on the front of it.

“There’s some kind of compass here,” he said to the others.

“It could navigate us out of here!” Katara said excited. She turned to Aang. “Aang you can bend a breeze to make it move. We’re going to make it!” Sokka’s laugh was heard from the back of the group. They turned to see him playing with Momo in the sand. Lia snuck up on him, took him by the ear and forced him and Momo on the glider.

 

Now that they were on the glider they moved much faster. Aang was obviously taking his frustration out through his bending, something for which no one had any objections. Katara was standing at the front, studying her maps and the built-in compass. Something was not right here.

“Zuko, Lia come over here,” she called them. When they were close enough she pointed at the needle and said: “The needle of this compass doesn’t seem to be pointing north according to my charts.”

“Take it easy little lady,” Sokka said absentmindedly. “I’m sure the sandfolks that built this baby know how to get around here.”

“Maybe there’s another magnetic centre here,” Lia offered.

“How about a giant rock?” Zuko asked scrutinizing the horizon.

“A rock?” Toph exclaimed delighted. “Yes! Let’s go.”

“Maybe we can find some water there,” Katara said equally excited.

“Maybe we can find some sandbenders,” Aang added grimly.

 

By daybreak they had reached the rock. They climbed on top of it, hoping to see the end of the desert. Toph fell to the ground.

“Finally!” she sighted. “Land sweet land.” She created a small angel on the ground.

“Look at these caves,” Lia said surprised. “Is it just me, or do they look strange?”

“We’d better check them,” Zuko said. They entered one of them. Lia felt a little uneasy. There was a strange scent in the air. It reminded her of honey mixed with burning candlewax.

“I think my head is finally getting clear from the cactus juice,” Sokka said to no one in particular.

“About time,” Lia muttered under her breath. Luckily, he didn’t hear her.

“And look!” he continued, picking up some sticky…something from the wall and tasting it. He made a disgusted noise. “Tastes like rotten penguin meat!” his shoulders fell. “I feel woozy,” he whined.

“You’ve been hallucinating on cactus juice all day and then you just lick something you found stuck on the wall of a cave?” his sister scolded him.

“I have a natural curiosity,” he argued.

 

Toph and Lia had walked further than the others. The earthbender touched the walls.

“I don’t think this is a normal cave,” she said feeling a little nervous. “This was carved by something.”

“Yeah, look at the shape,” Aang agreed.

“There’s something buzzing in here. Something that’s coming for us,” Toph said alarmed. Suddenly it dawned to Lia.

“Everybody out!” she yelled. They ran out of the cave, followed by a huge swarm of bee-vultures. Aang started airbending the bees that came too close away. Toph tried to follow his example but wasn’t doing so well.

“What are you doing?” Sokka yelled when a rock landed right next to him. “That rock almost crashed me!”

“Sorry, I can’t tell where they are in the air,” Toph shot back.

“I got this one.” Sokka charged and started hitting the air.

“There’s nothing there!” Katara shouted at him.

“I guess my head’s not as clear as I thought,” he answered sheepishly. Zuko and Lia were standing back to back near Katara, sending fireblasts to the bees.

“We need to get out of here,” Katara told them nervously. “I’m completely out of water to bend.” A bee managed to come near enough to get a hold of Momo.

“Momo!” Aang cried. “I’m not losing anyone else out here,” he said taking off after the bee-vulture.

 

“We’re getting out of here,” Katara decided. They started climbing down, with Lia backing them by keeping the bees distracted. Zuko and Katara were on Toph’s each side.

“Wait,” Zuko halted suddenly. He turned Toph to face a bee. “Toph shoot a rock right in front of you.” The girl did so, knocking out a bee.

“Yeah!” Sokka cheered. “You got it!” He turned unsure. “She got it, right?” he asked.

“Yes, she did,” Katara answered him.

“Move it now, will you?” Lia shouted approaching them. She casted a smoke screen to distract the bees. “I hate insects,” she muttered running after the rest of the group. They made it to the ground safely. There Katara kept giving directions to Toph were to strike, never missing a hit. However the bees were too many. As they started closing in, the sand seemed to erupt suddenly, knocking them down. When it settled they saw that they were surrounded by the sandbenders.

 

Aang landed in front of them. He was visibly furious.

“What are you doing on our land, with a sandbender’s sailer?” the leader of them asked suspiciously. “From the looks of it you stole it from the Hammi tribe.”

“We found the sailer abandoned in the desert,” Katara explained calmly. Maybe they could ask for their help. She gestured towards Aang. “We’re traveling with the Avatar. Our bison was stolen and we have to get to Ba Sing Se.”

“You dare accuse our people of theft while you’re riding on a stolen sandsailer?” a young man asked insulted. Zuko narrowed his eyes. He didn’t like this man’s attitude.

“Quiet Gaswin!” the leader ordered. “No one accused our people of anything. If what they say is true, we must give them hospitality.”

“Sorry father,” Gaswin said ashamed. Toph’s eye widened.

“I recognized the son’s voice,” she whispered. “He’s the one who stole Appa.”

“Are you sure?” Katara asked.

“I never forget a voice,” Toph said firmly. Her confidence was proof enough for Aang. He stepped forward, pointing at the young man accusingly.

“You stole Appa,” he said angrily. “Where is he? What did you to him?”

“They’re lying,” The leader’s son said nervously. “They’re the thieves.” Aang crashed a sandsailer with a single blast.

“Where is my bison?” he demanded. “You’ll tell me where he is now!” When the sandbenders didn’t answer immediately he destroyed another one of their sailers.

“What did you do?” the leader turned furious to his son.

“It wasn’t me!” his son insisted.

“You said to put a muzzle on him,” Toph accused him.

“You muzzled Appa?” Aang was so angry; he went into the Avatar state.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know it belonged to the Avatar,” Gaswin tried to excuse himself.

“Tell me where Appa is!” Aang ordered, the voice of the Avatar Spirit mixing with his own.

“I traded him. To some merchants. He’s probably in Ba Sing Se by now. They were going to sell him there.” Aang’s eyes narrowed. “Please, we’ll escort you out of the dessert. We’ll help however we can,” The sandbender promised terrified.

 

It didn’t seem to have an effect. Sand and air started to whirl around Aang creating a sphere. Sokka recognized the signs and grabbed Toph’s hand.

“Just get out of here,” he said alarmed. “Run!” Lia took hold of Zuko and dragged him away. The Avatar Spirit was not mess around with. The firebender turned the last moment to see Katara still standing behind, looking at Aang sadly.

“Katara come on!” he cried trying to break free from Lia’s iron grip. The girl didn’t seem to hear him, because, as Aang started hovering, she approached him and forced him back down to the ground. Ignoring the glare she was receiving she pulled the boy on a tight hug. The air finally died down and Aang snapped out of the Avatar State. Katara continued to hold him tight as the rest cautiously approached them. Zuko exchanged a look with her and took charge. He turned to the sandbenders and said curtly, “We’ll take up the offer.” Silently everyone climbed on the remaining sailers. Katara was still embracing Aang, half supporting him. He had worn himself out with that outburst. Unknown to them, two people studied them. Zuko felt jealously rise inside him, seeing Katara and the Avatar so close. As he tied to repress it, Lia looked at the young airbender with worry. She could understand how he felt and had a bad feeling about it.

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The Library

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Author’s Note: In which there are revelations and plot development and another Spirit makes a cameo.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***The Library***

Appa landed a few days later on an arid plain filled with small holes. Aang immediately jumped off the bison, clutching a wooden pipe in his hand. He sat cross-legged on the ground, unaware on everyone looking at him questioningly.

“What is he doing?” Zuko asked surprised. Katara next to him shrugged.  They slipped off Appa, still staring at Aang.

“What’s out here?” Sokka half-asked, half-grumbled. He was still annoyed that Zuko and Lia had tagged along. Toph placed a hand on the ground, trying to make sense of all the movements under her feet.

“Not what,” she said. “Actually there’s hundreds of little…” Aang shushed her.

“I know you can see underground, but don’t ruin the surprise,” he said. “Just watch.” He turned his back to the group once again and played a few notes. A couple of martens appeared singing the notes he had just played. Lia laughed. She sat next to him and started whistling. The martens repeated the tune.

“We’re putting an orchestra together!” Aang exclaimed laughing.

“Orchestra, huh?” Sokka said dismissively. “Well, la-di-da,” he sang in a deadpan voice. The marmots repeated it perfectly. Aang and Lia continued their whistling and piping for a few more minutes, while Momo chased the little animals.

 

Finally Sokka decided to be the killjoy. He rushed to the musicians’ side and shut Lia’s mouth and Aang’s pipe.

“This is great nonsense, but don’t we have more important things to worry about? We should be making plans,” He complained, trying to put everyone on serious mode.

“We did make plans,” Toph reminded him. “We’re all taking a mini-vacation.”

“Sounds like a good plan to me,” Lia said mischievously.

“There’s no time for vacations!” Sokka insisted. He turned to Zuko and Katara for back-up.

“I’m learning the elements as fast as I can. I practise hard every day with Toph and Katara. I’ve been training my arrow off!” Aang argued.

“Besides, what’s wrong with having a little fun in our down-time?” Katara backed him. Sokka turned to Zuko, expecting to see the prince rolling his eyes at their childishness. Instead he found him eyeing Lia speculatively.

“If we take a vacation,” he asked his Guardian, “does it mean I get away from practising with you for a few days?” Lia had been pushing him hard lately. But now she smiled.

“For as long the vacation holds,” she said generously.

“Then I agree with the Avatar,” Zuko said satisfied. Sokka, realising that he had no back-up whatsoever, tried to reason with Aang.

“Even if you do master all four elements; then what?” he asked. “It’s not like we have a map of the Fire Nation! Should we head west until we reach the Fire Lord’s house?”

“Well,” Lia whispered to Katara and Toph, “should I remind him that we have the Fire prince with us?”

“No,” Toph said. “Let him rant a little more.”

“Knock, knock!” Sokka continued. “Hello? Fire Lord? Anybody home?” he turned back to Aang. “I don’t think so. We need some intelligence if we’re going to win this war.”

“Which you obviously lack,” Zuko mumbled under his breath, studying the warrior. They just had to ask him for information.

“Alright. We’ll finish our vacations and then look for Sokka’s intelligence,” Katara laughed.

 

Aang opened the map, stretching his arms as far as he could to fully unroll the parchment. “Your turn Katara. Where would you like to go on your mini-vacation?” The waterbender studied the map.

“How about the “Mystic Palms Oasis”?” she asked. “That sounds refreshing.”

“Oh, yeah. I’ve been there,” Aang said. “It’s a pristine natural iceberg.”

“Natural?” Lia sound doubtful. “It’s at the beginning of a dessert.”

“It’s one of nature’s wonders.” Aang insisted. Lia just shrugged.

 

“Well, turns out the Mighty Distrustful Spirit was right,” Sokka said when they arrived.

“It must have changed ownership since I was there.” Aang said nervously. The oasis looked much like the rest of dessert. From the iceberg, only a small block of ice remained. The city itself reminded Zuko of the small port where he had encountered the pirates for the first time. Lia on the other hand seemed delighted. Unlike the mortals of the group she loved high temperatures.

“Let’s have a look around,” she said eagerly. Without waiting for them she dashed off. The rest followed her uneasily. Zuko saw her entering a building out of the corner of his eye.

“We’d better stay together,” he said taking the lead and pulling the rest of the group with him.

 

The building they entered looked like a bar. Lia approached them with a mango juice in hand. Sokka felt his mouth water.

“I don’t see anything wrong with having one of those fruity beverages while we plan our strategy.” He pushed everyone aside and rushed to the bar. “Excuse me!” he half-shouted. The man that had just been served moved to the side. As he turned he stumbled and his juice splashed Aang.

“No worries,” the airbender reassured him cheerfully, “it’ll clean up easy.” He bended a strong air current to dry himself.

“You’re an airbender!” the man said ecstatic. “You’re a living relic!”

“Thanks! I think,” Aang answered sheepishly.

Lia leaned next to Zuko. “He’s a living relic, I’m a living artefact, why don’t we just open a museum and get it over with?”

“Jealous?” Zuko whispered back teasingly.

“Nope. I’m still original: the only Spirit around here.” She turned her attention back to the stranger.

“An Air Nomad!” he was saying. “Right in front of me. Professor Zei. Head of Anthropology at Ba Sing Se University,” he introduced himself. “Tell me, which of the Air Temples do you come from?”

“The Southern Temple.” Aang answered nervously.

“Oh, splendid! Now, tell me, what was the primary agricultural product of your people?” Sokka passed Zuko his juice.

“This man is nuts,” he said quietly. “Wait until he understands we travel with the Avatar AND a Spirit.”

“No point in talking too much about the Spirit. If he asks, Zuko and I are siblings.” Lia repeated the now much-used story quickly.

“You don’t look much like each other,” Sokka argued.

“It has worked before,” Zuko told him.

“Are fruit pies an agricultural product?” Aang was heard asking awkwardly.

“Truly fascinating! That is one for my journal.”

“So Professor,” Sokka started, “you’re obviously a well-travelled guy. Do you have a more current map? Ours seems to be a little dated.”

“Certainly!” Professor Zei said, still enthusiastic from his “discovery”.

 

They sat around a nearby table and Sokka opened the map the Professor lent them. Immediately everyone’s face fell.

“What, no Fire Nation?” Sokka sounded like a little kid, not taking presents on his birthday. “Doesn’t anyone have a good map of that place?” he gave a meaningful glare at Zuko. Before he had a chance to begin a fight Katara marvelled:

“You’ve made a lot of trips into the dessert.”

“All in vain, I’m afraid,” Zei sighed. “I found lost civilizations all over the Earth Kingdom, but I haven’t managed to find the crown jewel. Wong Shi Tong’s Library.”

Everyone’s eyes shot to Lia. “The Spirit of Knowledge,” she explained. Now she was intrigued. She didn’t know that he was still around.

“You spent years walking into the dessert to find some guy’s library?” Toph sounded incredulous.

“Hey!” Lia said offended. “It’s a souvenir straight from the Spirit World!”

“This library is more valuable than gold, little lady,” the Professor added. “It is said to contain a vast collection of knowledge. And knowledge is priceless.”

“Sounds like good times,” the little earthbender said solemnly.

“Oh, it is!” he continued, missing the sarcasm completely. “According to legend it was built by the great Knowledge Spirit Wong Shi Tong, with the help of his foxy knowledge seekers.”

“Oh, so the Spirit has attractive assistants, huh?” the last remark had caught Sokka’s attention.

“I think he means they look like actual foxes, Sokka,” Katara said disapprovingly. Once again everyone glued their eyes to Lia.

“You both have a point,” she said. “They are foxes, but they were blessed by the Spirit with human intelligence. Too bad they can’t speak,” Lia explained sounding a little exasperated.

“You seem really knowledgeable on the subject,” Professor Zei said interested. Lia shrugged.

“I’ve done my research,” she said lazily. “Wong Shi Tong built a palace and put all the books his helpers brought him, for mankind to read,” she continued.

 

Zei unfolded a paper. “This is how it is supposed to look like,” he explained, pointing at the drawing.

“That’s quite accurate!” Lia said in a hushed voice, leaning to study it closely. “The point was for humanity to better itself.”

“If this place has books from all over the world, do you think they’d have info on the Fire Nation?” Sokka asked carefully. “A map maybe?”

“I wouldn’t know. But if such a thing exists, it’s on Wong Shi Tong’s library.”

“Then it’s settled,” Sokka announced. “Aang, I do believe it’s my turn. I’d like to spend my vacation, at the library!”

“Hey! What about me?” Toph asked annoyed.

“Or me?” Zuko added.

“When do we get to pick?” Toph finished.

“You both have to work here a little longer before you qualify for vacation time.” Sokka seemed delighted to say so.

“Of course, there’s the matter of finding it,” Zei said. “I’ve made several trips into the Si Wong dessert and almost died each time. I’m afraid that dessert is impossible to cross.” Sokka and Aang shared a look.

“Professor, would you like to see our sky bison?” Sokka asked smugly.

“A sky bison? You actually have one?”

 

They hurried outside, this time following the Professor. A few sandbenders had approached Appa but Zei shooed them away. Once in flight the heat became a bother even for Lia. She gathered her hair in a ponytail, thankful for her loose dress. Moving carefully on Appa’s back she sat next to Zuko. He was at the back of the saddle as usual.

“I need to show you something,” she said in a low voice. She took out a paper from her pocket and showed it to him silently. It was a wanted poster of him and his uncle.

“Azula,” Zuko hissed.

“I checked the city. That was the only one, but we need to be careful.”

“What’s going on?” Katara asked, coming near them. Zuko silently handed her the poster. She frowned. Then she took a look at Zuko and smiled.

“That’s not the most accurate picture of you they could have had. Your sister isn’t that good after all,” she tried to reassure him.

“We can only hope,” He said taking back the poster. He took a look to check if Zei was looking and burnt it.

 

A few hours later and everyone was getting impatient. Zei had moved to the back and Zuko was sitting next to Katara scanning the horizon.

“Oh! Does this place even exist?” finally Toph asked.

“Some say it doesn’t!” Zei informed her cheerfully.

“Shouldn’t you have mentioned that before?” she asked him, the first traces of anger audible in her voice.

“He needn’t have,” Lia cut in. “It exists.”

“How can you be so sure?” Toph half-yelled at her before realisation hit her.

“I just know,” Lia insisted.

“That’s the spirit young lady!” Zei praised her. Lia merely laughed.

“There it is!” Toph suddenly cried. Everyone rushed on her side, to see empty space. “That’s what it will sound like when one of you spots it,” she added.

“It shouldn’t be this hard to spot a giant ornate building from the air,” Katara said thoughtfully, her eyes still scanning the horizon.

“Wait a minute!” Zuko snatched the spyglass out of Sokka’s hands ignoring his protest. He scanned again the horizon. “I think we found it,” he said spotting a lone tower in the distance.

 

They landed near the base of the building. The tower loomed over them with no visible entrances.

“Forget it,” Katara sighted. “It’s obviously not what we’ve been looking for. The building in this drawing is enormous.”

“Then what’s this?” Lia asked, pointing at a fox approaching.

“What kind of animal is that?” Sokka asked.

“I think it’s one of the knowledge seekers,” Zei was on his element now. “We must be close to the library.”

“No, this is the library,” Sokka said studying the drawing. “Look, it’s completely buried.”

“Almost completely. The tower is still out,” Lia said.

“My life’s ambition, full of sand!” Zei exclaimed. He knelt on the sand. “Time to start excavating.”

“Actually, that won’t be necessary.” Toph said, feeling the wall. “The inside seems to be completely intact. And it’s huge!”

“That fox thingy went through a window.” Sokka studied the tower. “I say, we climb up the tower and give it a look.”

“I say, you guys go ahead without me,” Toph said evenly.

“You’ve got something against libraries?” Katara asked her.

“I’ve held books before, and trust me they didn’t exactly work out for me.”

“Oh right.” The waterbender looked away guiltily. “Sorry.”

“Do you want one of us to stay with you?” Zuko offered. He felt bad for the little girl being left out.

“Nah, I’ll be okay,” she assured him. “Just let me know if they have something you can listen to.”

 

They slowly climbed inside. The building was indeed huge. Lia smiled, noting the owl pattern on the wall carvings. Wise he might be, but the Knowledge Spirit had quite an opinion of himself.

“It’s breathtaking!” Zei exclaimed. “This Spirit spent no expense in designing this place. Look those beautiful decorations!” The teens, with Lia first laughed. Zei acted as if he had entered the Spirit World with a personal invitation. “What’s so funny?” he asked them.

“Nothing,” Aang hastily replied. “We just like architecture.”

“As do I,” the man was completely oblivious to sarcasm. They finally landed on a bridge linking two different sections of the library. “My word! The amazing handiwork of this mosaic!” Before he had a chance to ramble more Lia interrupted.

“We have company,” she said, sensing a Spirit approaching. Indeed footsteps were heard from a distance. They hastily hid behind some columns, Zuko pulling Katara close to him. A giant owl appeared at the bridge they had landed. He immediately noticed the rope they had used to climb in.

“I know you’re back there,” he calmly called.

“It was worth a try,” Lia sighed stepping into the light. Before Wong Shi Tong had a chance of answering, Professor Zei appeared from behind another column.

“Hello!” he said nearly bouncing on his feet from excitement. “I’m Professor Zei, head of Anthropology at Ba Sing Se University.” He bowed.

“You should leave the way you came,” the Spirit said hostilely. “Unless you want to become stuffed head of anthropology.”

“Are you the Spirit that brought this library to the physical world?” Sokka asked, approaching with the rest of the group.

“Indeed, I am Wong Shi Tong, he who knows ten thousand things. And you are obviously humans, which are no longer permitted in my study.”

“What, the library is closed to the public now?” Lia asked daringly.

“Same goes for you, Agni,” Wong Shi Tong warned.

“For someone who knows ten thousand things you seem to forget the basics,” Lia told him annoyed.

“What do you have against humans?” Aang asked.

“Humans only bother to learn things to get on the edge of other humans,” the Great Owl scoffed. “Like that firebender who came to this place a few years ago, looking to destroy his enemy.”

“The Ocean Spirit took care of him,” Lia informed Wong Shi Tong. “You can’t judge everyone using Zhao as your standard.”

“Your ideas on the matter are widely known Fire Spirit. But who are your friends trying to destroy?”

“What?” Sokka exclaimed. “No, no, no, no destroying! We’re not into that.”

“Then why have you come here?” the Knowledge Spirit insisted.

“Um…Knowledge for knowledge’s sake?”

“If you’re going to lie to an all-knowing Spirit you should at least put some effort into it.” Wong Shi Tong said dryly.

“I’m not lying!” Sokka insisted. “I’m here with the Avatar, he’s the bridge between our worlds. He’ll vouch for me.” He dragged Aang forward.

“Yeah, I’ll vouch,” he said nervously. “We will not abuse the knowledge in your library good Spirit. You have my word.”

“Very well,” the Spirit said reluctantly. “I’ll let you peruse my vast collection on one condition. To prove you’re worthy scholars you’ll have to contribute some worthwhile knowledge.”

 

Professor Zei stepped forward. Kneeling he offered a book. “Please accept this tome as a donation to your library.”

“First edition. Very nice.” He passed his wing over the book, making it disappear. Next was Katara.

“I have an authentic waterbending scroll,” she said.

“Oh, these illustrations are quite stylish,” Wong Shi Tong said accepting it.

“Was that the scroll you stole from the pirates?” Zuko asked her.

“Yes,” she whispered back, “but don’t tell him.” Next was Aang. He unfolded his wanted poster.

“I see,” The Spirit said slightly disappointed. “I suppose that counts.”

“Oh great Spirit, check this out.” Sokka took a piece of string and tied it into a flower. “It’s a special knot!” he insisted. “That counts as knowledge.”

“You’re not very bright, are you?” Wong Shi Tong asked before accepting it. Finally he turned to Lia and Zuko.

“My apprentice and I do not have some kind of donation to make,” Lia began formally. “But we can restore a part of the library that has been destroyed by our element. Would that please you?” The Knowledge Spirit studied her for a few moments.

“Very well,” he finally contested. “Enjoy the library.”

 

The group walked through the corridors, pulling down scrolls from time to time and scanning through them. Sokka sneaked a few that seemed useful on his bag, sending suspicious looks over his shoulder. He approached a showcase that was the centrepiece of that particular room.

“The darkest day on Fire Nation history. It’s got a date on it but nothing else. Hey Zuko…” he turned to see neither the firebender nor the Fire Spirit.

“Where’s Zuko and Lia?” he asked.

“They went to restore the part of the library that had been destroyed,” his sister told him. “Why?”

“I want to know what happened on the Fire Nation on their darkest day,” he said snatching the parchment and taking off. “This could be promising.”

 

Zuko and Lia had gone straight to wing dedicated to the Fire Nation. Everything there had been reduced to ashes.

“Zhao,” Zuko sneered. He turned to Lia. “How are we going to restore the books? There is nothing salvageable here.” Lia walked inside the room.

“Can you feel the fire calling you, even from the ashes?” she asked her student. Zuko closed his eyes and concentrated. Indeed he felt his element calling out to him faintly.

“What should I do?” he asked.

“Call it back to you. I’ll do the rest.” His mentor’s soft voice came to him. Standing, facing each other they began. The work was progressing fast and they only stopped when they heard footsteps.

 

“There you are!” Sokka called. He, Katara, Zei and Aang entered the room. They took a look at the ashes still to be restored.

“What happened here?” Katara asked shocked.

“Zhao paid a visit,” Lia explained frowning. “We have been correcting his stupidity.” Sokka gave Zuko the parchment.

“Do you know what happened then?” he asked eagerly. Zuko took a look at the date.

“That was five hundred years ago! How am I supposed to know what happened then?”

“You are Fire Nation. You ought to know your country’s history!” Sokka yelled. “That’s so unfair! Just when I think I’m one step out of the Fire Nation it turns out that they beat us a long time ago. I need to know what happened on the darkest day.” A sound was heard from the door. It was one of the foxes, trying to get their attention. “Hello,” Sokka called. “Little weird fox-guy.” The fox turned indicating a way.

“It seems she’s trying to assist you,” Zei said.

“Um sure, I guess I’ll follow you,” They turned to leave.

“Are you coming?” Katara asked Zuko and Lia. Zuko nodded negatively.

“We’ll finish here first and then we’ll catch up with you,” he said. Lia had moved further inside the room to place a few books on the shelves. Zuko leaned in and kissed Katara quickly, before she rushed to follow her brother. Her cheeks blushed pink, but she smiled at him before she ran.

 

The gang arrived at a huge golden door. The fox disappeared through a hole and opened it from the inside. They entered cautiously, to see it pushing a lever. The dome overhead turned from day to night.

“This room is a true marvel!” Zei breathed. “It’s a planetarium that shows the heavens moving.”

“This is beautiful. But how is it helpful?” Sokka wondered.

“Maybe these dials represent dates and times.” Katara guessed, pointing at a circular table in the middle of the room. “Sokka try the date from the parchment you took.”

“Katara! Not in front of the fox! He’s with the owl,” her brother reprimanded her. Casting suspicious looks on the crestfallen animal he checked the date. He then programmed the planetarium. The sky turned into night again.

“Wow! I got to hand it to you Sokka,” Aang said. “You picked the best mini vacation.” Over their heads it became day again but the sun didn’t appear.

“Hey wait! What happened to the sun?” Katara asked.

“Great!” Aang frowned. “You must have broken it.”

“It’s not broken,” Sokka narrowed his eyes. “The sun is behind the moon. It’s a solar eclipse! It’s literally the darkest day in Fire Nation history! Now I get it.” He grabbed in his excitement and started shaking him. “Something awful happened that day! I don’t know what, but I do know why. Firebenders lose their powers during a solar eclipse.” He let go of the airbender who stumbled. “Sorry,” he apologised.

“That makes sense,” Katara said. “I mean look at what the lunar eclipse did to the waterbenders on the North Pole. This is huge!” The fox didn’t seem so happy all of a sudden. He stood on his back feet.

“Fine. You earned it.” Sokka smiled, giving it a small piece of meat as a reward. “We’ve got to get this information to the Earth King at Ba Sing Se,” he continued. “We’ll wait for the next eclipse and then we’ll invade the Fire Nation when they’ll be totally helpless. The Fire Lord is going down.”

 

A shadow suddenly fell upon them. “Mortals are so predictable,” Wong Shi Tong said coldly. “And such terrible liars. You betrayed my trust,” he accused them. “From the beginning you intended to misuse this knowledge for evil purposes.”

“You don’t understand,” Sokka said franticly. “If anyone’s evil is the Fire Nation. You saw what they did to your library. They’re destructive and dangerous. We need this information.”

“You think you’re the first person to believe their war justified? Countless others have come before you here, seeking weapons, or weaknesses or battle strategies.”

“We had no choice,” Aang tried to explain. “Please, we’re just desperate to protect the people we love.”

“Then now I’m going to protect what I love,” Wong Shi Tong said gravely. He began flapping his wings creating a huge air current.

“What are you doing?” Aang asked alarmed.

“I’m taking my knowledge back. No one will ever abuse it again.” Sand started to come through the walls.

“He’s sinking the building,” Katara cried. “We need to find Zuko and Lia and get out of here.”

“I’m afraid I can’t allow that,” The Owl said. “You already know too much.” He striked with his beak, but missed them. They all rushed out of the planetarium with him hot on their heels.

 

Wang Shi Tong followed them, destroying everything in his path. Zei turned and begged him to stop the destruction and was saved only thanks to Aang’s airbending pulling him out of harm’s way. They entered another corridor.

“We have to get back to the surface,” he exclaimed.

“I’m not leaving without Zuko,” Katara argued back.

“We’re here,” Lia called, appearing from another corridor. “You go ahead. I’ll hold him off.”

“Sokka, let’s go!” Katara grasped his arm and tried to pull him along.

“But we still don’t know when the next solar eclipse is going to happen!”

“Don’t be stupid.” His sister told him urgently. “We’ll find out later.”

“No, we won’t! If we leave this place we’ll never get the information.”

“You go ahead,” Zuko suddenly said. “I’ll go with him.”

“What?” the two siblings asked simultaneously.

“You’ll need cover,” The Fire prince simply said.

“But…” Katara began. The Knowledge Spirit’s head suddenly appeared. Lia quickly attacked him with her fire. “Go!” she yelled at everyone. The two groups dashed to different directions.

 

She slowly backed away, drawing the Spirit away from Katara, Aang and Zei. Suddenly the Owl turned away from her and followed a different path. Lia turned in time to see Katara and Aang running away. She rushed after them cursing in a very ancient language. Why couldn’t the stupid thing stay and fight her? She saw them backing towards a bridge.

“Your waterbending won’t do you much good,” Wang Shi Tong was saying to Katara. “I’ve studied Northern style, Southern style, even Foggy Swamps style.” Sokka jumped on his head out of nowhere, knocking him out.

“That’s called Sokka style,” he said smugly. “Learn it!” As an answer the rope they had used landed on his head. “Oh, no! What are we going to do now?” he groaned.

“Aang get a hold of Sokka,” Lia said suddenly. “Zuko, do the same for Katara. We’re flying out of here.”

“Zuko can’t fly!” Sokka yelled. “What are you talking about?”

“Actually, I can,” he said. Taking Katara in his arms he began floating in the air, a look of intense concentration on his face.

“Come on professor,” Lia shouted. “Library’s closed.”

“I’m not leaving,” he said. “I can’t. I spent too long trying to find this place. There’s not another collection of knowledge like this one on Earth. I could spend an eternity in here.” He smiled. “I’ll be fine. Go.” They took off with Aang leading the way. Wang Shi Tong made one last attempt to stop them. Lia turned trying to fight him in the air.

 

Outside, Toph heard them landing behind her. Exhausted she let go of the tower she had been struggling to keep above ground. The impact sent her rocketing away. The tower sank to the ground. Once to the sand settled, Zuko looked around. Katara saw him turn deathly pale.

“Where’s Lia?” he asked scared. They looked around them. The Spirit was nowhere to be found. Under their feet, the earth started to rumble. The sand, where the tower once was, heated and turned into glass. Lia sprung out of the small glassy cave, struggling for breath.

“Are you okay?” Zuko helped her to her feet.

“Just let me catch my breath,” she panted.

“We got it!” Sokka was celebrating. He hugged Katara. “There’s a solar eclipse coming! The Fire Nation’s in trouble now.” Aang was also looking around worried. He went over to where Toph was sitting, her back turned to everyone else.

“Where’s Appa?” he asked her. Toph didn’t answer at first. She merely shook her head. Aang’s eyes widened. Something terrible had happened while they had been underground.

Thread’s End

Standard

Thundering could be heard since the morning, causing people to glance at the sky nervously before shuffling back to their work. Cloudy skies were common at this time of the year, although rain had been scarce ever since the testing grounds had been established. At the very edge of the village there was a hastily pulled-together wooden hut, the newest building in the village by far. Inside, golden hued shadows danced on the quilt-covered walls, the hiss of threads being weaved on the loom the only sound breaking the oppressive silence. Hevasti was staring blankly ahead, her hands dancing through the motions mechanically, as her entire being focused on the sounds outside her door. She had been hiding away on this obscure village, as near to the testing grounds as she dared, for nearly a year now, posing as a blind weaver.

 

She had been on the run for nearly two years, her hunter finding her only months after the band had gone their separate ways, deciding that fighting would be easier in smaller groups. Her lot had been the Southern Plains, what used to be her birthplace before the Empire had spread, engulfing the small mountainous province. Hevasti had been shocked when she had first arrived. The wild fields at the foot of the mountains, pieces of land that should have been shining golden under the pale, late summer sun were stripped bare. Where caravans of the Mountain People had been now stood a series of concrete buildings, the smoke from their chimneys turning the sky a sickly grey.

 

The years on the run with her brother and the rest of the band had changed her, so much that a cloak and slightly unfocused eyes were all that it took to convince the village people of her cover story. They had made her the hut and she had repaid them in kind, weaving and sewing anything they asked of her, never accepting money, too fearful of tying herself down to a single place. She had tried to find the others, of course she had; but all communication had been lost, and they were all too talented in disguising themselves for her to be certain that any rumor reaching her had anything to do with her precious ones.

 

Hevasti tugged at the fabric she was weaving sharply, trying to focus herself on the present. Arta, one of the local girls was getting married after the autumn equinox and the thick white cloth –it would be the girl’s formal dress once the ceremony was over – needed to be finished by then. The weaver shuddered at the thought of a winter wedding. She almost had had one. She almost had a life once, almost settle down, left the running and hiding and killing behind. And then he had been taken from her, just at the end of the summer, conscripted to an army he hated, to fight for a cause he did not understand. They had dreamt of a daughter, a little girl called Seela. She had taken that name afterwards, a tribute to a life she was never going to have. Marti had scoffed and called her sentimental. She almost stabbed him with his own dagger, nearly mad with grief at the time, screaming that how he, her own brother could not understand, not feel anything.

 

Another harsh tug of the fabric and she resolutely ignored the tear that fell like a stray raindrop on her hand. She missed them, oh how she missed them! Fighting had become the center of her life, their victory – hopeless as it seemed – the only light left to her. Now she could only hide away like a scared child, locking herself inside whenever the officials from the testing facilities scouted the area for ‘volunteers.’ Her eyes fell idly to her rows of paints, precious colors once used to hide her comrades’ appearance, now reduced to instruments of manual work. How the mighty had fallen indeed…

 

But isn’t this life so much more comfortable? A fire blazing at your hearth, a bed, three meals a day, not having to keep a weapon on you at all times? Why would you want to go back to the fear and the uncertainty and the heartbreak? Isn’t it time? You aren’t young anymore. Surely it’s time to be selfish, think of your own needs for once.

 

No, these aren’t Hevasti’s musings. So close to the Empire it’s easy for them to slip into her head, plant foreign thoughts, make her lose the scraps of identity she holds on to. She isn’t that old, she never will be as long as she can yield a weapon. And why begin being selfish now, when that’s all she has been? She had been selfish when she took her brother and ran from their house, selfish when she nearly left the cause they were fighting for just for a man and a chance at a fairytale ending, selfish when she returned more broken than ever, selfish when she encouraged the breaking of the band, selfish when she hid at her old hometown, putting all the people there in danger. Selfish is her name and nature, the one thing the voices in the shadows cannot tempt her with.

 

The wind picked up outside, thunder echoing closer now and the door rattled under the force of the oncoming storm. Hevasti frowned. The wail of the wind sounded ominous, almost like a lament she had heard on the coastal province, sang by the family of a drowned child. He had gone swimming in the middle of a storm and never came back. They hadn’t even found the body. She had made sure of that herself. The door rattled again and Hevasti felt a shiver race down her spine. This was less like the wind and more like a person trying to get in. Her eyes snapped back at the loom in front of her, fingers mechanically continuing the motions as the door finally gave in to the violence and slammed open, the wind rushing in, blowing away the few candles, and plunging the room in nearly complete shadow.

 

Hevasti, Seela, turned slowly to face her visitor. The figure on the door was feminine, draped in the black folds usually worn by the assassins, her face hidden in the shadows. Silence stretched between them and then, mechanically almost, the woman at the door, her executioner, took a step forward just as her fireplace roared back to life and Hevasti jumped to her feet, because she knew that face, had fought side by side with that women and oh the betrayal hurt all the worse.

“You,” she whispered in horror, her eyes wide and scanning at the impassive woman, looking for any sign of recognition. “How can it be you?” Why you? No matter how good a cover, this is too much. You wouldn’t kill a comrade to get to a target, right Destra?” Destra took another mechanical step closer, seemingly not hearing a word, a long, needle-sharp dagger now dangling from her hand.

 

Step for step they danced around the room, the distance between them staying the same, Hevasti’s harsh breaths and the now raging storm outside the only sounds in the room. Her back bumped against the white fabric hanging from the loom and she choked down a sob.

“Destra, you know me,” she tried franticly again, hoping against all hope for a sign, any sign of recognition. “Marti brought you to us, I dyed your hair black, showed you how to do it on your own, how to change appearances like they’re only dresses. Remember that Duke we had to seduce, the one who thought we were siblings the three of us and walked in on you and Marti kissing? Or, or that washer woman who thought we were artists because of all the paint stains in our clothes?” Another sob, this one tumbling from her lips as her former friend she would have been a sister if you hadn’t taken her from your brother because you were jealous of his happiness closed the distance between them and raised the dagger. The wind rushed in and finally smothered the fire, darkness descending on them just like the needle-like weapon came down on her.

 

“I want to die in autumn,” Hevasti, Seela, Rajiya had told her brother when she was seven. It was autumn then and they were sitting at the porch of their house watching the gold and red leaves dance at the breeze.

“You are weird,” was his mumbled reply.

“But why not?” her fingers brushed the fallen leaves around them. “Everything else dies in the autumn, why not us? Wouldn’t it be nice to know when you’ll die? To know how much time you have? Everything would be much more fun if you knew it was the last time you were doing it! Even boring stuff like, like,” she looked around, searching for something appropriately boring. “Watering the plants!” she concluded triumphantly. “Wouldn’t it be fun if you knew, you’d never ever ever do it again?”

“No,” her brother said, poking an ant with a twig. “It’d be sad. What if it was something you really liked? Or someone important? Goodbyes are not fun.” Rajuya frowned thoughtfully.

“No,” she sighed. “I suppose not.”

 

The precious white cloth was stained red with her blood and it was probably ruined. Rajiya thought absently what a disappointment that’d be for Arta when she found out. Her legs gave out and she slumped against the skeleton of her loom, slowly bleeding out. Her assassin long gone, she looked at the hut that was to be her tomb before dipping a finger in the small pool of blood at her feet and slowly, painstakingly, she wrote her name, the true one, on the floor. The eternal night was drawing near and with a wet chuckle Hevasti Seela Rajiya laid herself on the floor next to her name.

“Guess I got my wish,” she whispered to the storm still moaning outside and then she was no more.