Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – Return of the Blue Spirit

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Author’s note: In which there is a day-early update because… internet and the lack thereof, Zuko pulls a Robin Hood…kinda, Lia is sassy and the author is impatient to get to the next few chapters.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: coming soon…

***Return of the Blue Spirit***

When Iroh had first met Lia, the Fire Spirit, he had expected her to be much more…well… serious. It turned out that she had not exaggerated when she said she was her element exactly. One only had to sit through her lessons with Zuko to understand. She would be extremely calm and patient, explaining things over and over again, even having Zuko use her as a target from time to time. But when they concluded with a spar her power and fierceness would come out. She was cunning and would use the most peculiar combinations of moves to fight. When Iroh had pointed out to his nephew, Zuko had agreed.

“I know,” he had said, “it’s as if she’s dancing her way to victory,” and judging by the way she won almost every time, he couldn’t object. But the thing that amazed him the most on her was the fact that she merely led her student. She didn’t expect Zuko to copy her style, preferring to let him develop his own, unlike most firebending masters.

 

Iroh was thinking over these things upon their entrance on a small town. Despite the provisions she had provided them with, the red-haired Spirit – for she wouldn’t go around on her mortal form anymore – had no money. She had left to look for a job that wouldn’t slow them down. Next to him Zuko looked like he was asleep. Iroh scrutinized him for a moment before taking out his hat and pointing to the people passing by. He knew he wouldn’t gather much but they couldn’t expect everything from Lia.

“Spare some coins for weary travellers?” he asked for the thousandth time. The man gave him a few copper ones. Once he was out of earshot Zuko turned to his uncle.

“This is humiliating. We’re royalty.” He turned his face to the other side, his expression hidden under his hat. “These people should be giving us whatever we wanted.”

“They will, if you ask them nicely,” Iroh said in a teacher’s voice. A beautiful girl passed by. “Spare some change for a hungry old man?” he asked in a weak voice.

The girl took pity on him. “Oh, here you go.” Iroh smiled at her.

“The coin is appreciated, but not as much as your smile,” he said winking. The girl laughed blushing. Zuko face-palmed.

 

The next person to pass by was a soldier. There was something in his smile that made the prince tense.

“How about some entertainment in exchange for… a gold piece?” he asked.

“We’re not performers,” Zuko told him icily.

“Not professionals anyway,” His uncle cut in cheerfully. He set his hat aside and stood singing “The girls of Ba Sing Se.”

“Come on, we’re talking a gold piece here!” The soldier said taking out his sword. “Let’s see some action. Dance!” He swung the sword low, forcing Iroh to jump around to avoid being cut.

 

Zuko’s eyes narrowed. He knew that he couldn’t afford to begin a fight, but this man was certainly asking for it, treating his uncle like that. Just when his was ready to take his own swords out, the soldier stopped. Laughing he said,

“Nothing like a fat man dancing for his dinner. Here you go!” he tossed the coin to the ground. As he turned to leave he bumped on Lia. Before he had a chance to complain he was met by her infamous glare. The man gulped audibly and hurried to leave.

“Such a kind man,” Iroh commented.

“He really was,” Lia said taking a seat next to them.

“What are you two talking about?” Zuko said angrily. “He really needs to be taught some respect!”

“Maybe it was the wrong word,” Lia sighed taking out an expensive-looking purse. “But how else can you describe someone going around with a full purse?”

Iroh’s eyes widened going from the purse to the mischievous glint in her eyes. Zuko laughed. “In this case, I’d call him an idiot for getting in your way.”

“He paid for his mistake handsomely, so I hold him no grudge,” Lia said lazily.

“You know stealing is wrong I hope,” Iroh reprimanded the two laughing teenagers. The Spirit shrugged. “As long as you do something good with the things you’ve stolen, I don’t see the immorality. Besides, some people just deserve to be robbed.” She took out the money and put it in her backpack. Then she burned the purse.

 

They rose and started walking through the city. Before they had time to go much further the soldier appeared again, this time accompanied by some officials. Lia took a look on them and hissed to her companions: “I’ll take care of this.” The soldier pointed at her accusingly.

“There she is! She stole my purse!” Lia looked at the officials confused, her face the picture of innocence.

“I’m sorry,” she said innocently. “But what is going on?” The old men took a look on her and shook their heads.

“Don’t worry my dear,” their leader told her kindly, “I’m sure it’s a misunderstanding.” He gestured at the raving man. “Have you seen this man before?”

“Why, yes! I bumped on him, please accept my apologies for it sir, while I was returning to my family.” She gestured at Zuko and Iroh. “These are my brother and uncle. We are refuges from the northern Earth Kingdom. I’m a healer and was looking around for a small job, in order to gather some money.”

The men seemed interested now. “You say you are a healer. Did you find a job?” one of them asked her.

“Unfortunately no,” Lia sighed in disappointment. Then she looked at them hopefully. “Maybe you know someone in need of my services?”

“It’s true that we are in desperate need of a capable healer in the soldiers’ infirmary. If you could have a look on them. They seem to be sick, but we cannot understand the reason of it.”

“I’d be honoured to help.” Lia bowed gracefully.

“You are willing to let that little minx near the soldiers?” the troublemaker asked. “I just told you she robbed me!”

“Now, now!” the official said again. “How could this innocent girl rob you? She was out looking for a job.”

“She fell on me on purpose!”

“That might have been true.” Zuko suddenly cut in. “Both my sister and I hold our uncle in high esteem. Right before Lia came, this man was abusing that sword of his.” He looked calmly at the men. “If my sister hadn’t acted so, I might have done something… irrational, to teach this man some respect.”

“I see.” The leader nodded approvingly at the “siblings”. Zuko supressed a smirk. It was just too easy. “Then if you would follow us, I believe you would be a great help to your sister.”

“I’m coming with you,” Iroh said. “I always thought tea being a good medicine in itself.”

 

The infirmary was on the edge of the town. Inside the ward the men were lying on their beds, their faces a sickly green colour. Lia took a look at them and turned to the general in charge with a suspicious look.

“Have they been eating fish lately?” she asked approaching one victim.

“Yes, we have been near the shores and it was easier to find fish than meat.”

Lia shook her head. She turned to her “brother” and “uncle”. She gave Iroh a mixture of herbs. “Uncle, could you brew this? If there is not enough for everyone I have more. Lee, I want you to go and buy some rice.” She gave Zuko some money. “Get enough for everyone.” The men went away to carry out her orders.

 

By sundown the soldiers were feeling much better. Lia left them with strict orders not eat any fish for a few months and continue with just rice for the next three days. The General had paid them handsomely for their help. As they left the town, Zuko felt a plan formulating in his mind. Once again Lia’s comments were ringing in his mind. “As long as you do something good with the things you’ve stolen, I don’t see the immorality.”

 

Nearly a week later, Lia found herself sitting in the tree. She had defended the virtues of stealing half-jokingly, but Zuko seemed to have taken her words to heart. She had seen him sneak out last night, carrying a small packet in his hands. A packet she knew very well, being the one who had given it to him in the first place: the Blue Spirit’s mask. She wasn’t surprised with his decision. If there was one thing Zuko hated, it was being dependent on someone else. Taking up his alter ego again was a way of fending for himself. She respected this, but her protégé would not get away with this without at least one lecture.  

 

Right on time! Lia thought, seeing the Blue Spirit approaching, holding a basket full of goods.

“Out for a stroll, Blue?” she asked climbing down the tree. Zuko, who had kneeled to hide the mask, jumped and hit his head on a branch. Rubbing his head he turned towards her.

“Do you really have to scare me? I was gathering some provisions. We’re low on food.”

Lia pointed at the mask. “How stupid do you think I am?” she asked him disappointed. Zuko shot her a questioning look. “Forget it! I just hope that you also did some good while shopping.” She turned to leave.

“You know,” he called after her, “the man who had them won’t really need them. And even if he did, we need food more.”

Lia didn’t answer.

 

Frustrated, Zuko returned to the cave they have been staying in. He threw the food he had gathered at his uncle’s feet.

“Where did you get these?” the old man asked surprised.

“What does it matter where they came from?” Zuko asked back, already moving away. Iroh shot him a suspicious look before taking a bite from a pastry and leaving a content sigh. Zuko heard him as he went to look for his mentor and smiled slightly. At least someone appreciated his efforts.

 

He had been shocked at Lia’s reaction. He expected her to laugh and congratulate him, after all she was the one who had stolen first. She did. But she stole from a worthless jerk who needed to be taught a lesson, a small voice on the back of his head reminded him. He frowned. Now his conscience was against him too. He looked up when he heard the unmistakably noise of fire. In a clearing, Lia was practicing some moves. To Zuko they seemed easy, but the concentrated look on the Spirit’s face told him otherwise. He stood hesitantly to the side, not wanting to disturb her. Nothing in her movements or her face gave away that she had noticed him, she had her back turned anyway. So it surprised him when she talked.

“What I want you to understand Zuko, is that you can’t just go around robbing people. Until now the Blue Spirit was wanted for helping the Avatar. People thought of him with admiration and awe. Do you want these feelings to be reduced to fear for a bandit?” She still wouldn’t look at him, as she continued her moves.

“We can’t afford to stay in every town, looking for jobs,” Zuko tried to reason with her. “Sooner or later someone would recognize uncle Iroh or me.”

“Stealing is not an option either,” Lia glared at him having turned sharply.

“What do you suggest then?” Zuko raised his voice. “You gave me the example by stealing that jerk’s money. What good came from this?”

“I knew he would run to the officials as soon as he noticed. I also knew that their soldiers were sick. But what General in his right mind would let an unknown girl, who claims to be a healer, help him? Don’t you consider what happened at the infirmary a deed good enough?” the Spirit was now raising her voice too. Zuko seemed thoughtful.

“So,” he said slowly, “if I helped us, but at the same time helped some people who also need it, you wouldn’t consider it wrong?”

Lia shook her head. “It would still be a wrong action, but the outcome would be worth it.”

 

A few days passed and no one spoke of the miraculously found goods. Iroh sensed a tension between the two teens, but neither of them talked about it. Zuko seemed to be doing some serious thinking, meditating for long hours, sometimes all night long. The same time Lia would disappear for hours to reappear visibly tired but never talking about her excursions. Zuko accepted silently the fact that when she would have news she would tell him and Iroh didn’t pry.

 

Now she had left again and Zuko, dressed as the Blue Spirit, was watching over a carriage. It reminded him more of a wooden box but he didn’t really care for whimsical thoughts at that point. Inside sat the tax collector, probably counting the money he had gathered. Zuko felt his stomach tighten. He had seen the village this money was taken from. The people were already poor enough. He silently moved and knocked out the driver. Then he broke the roof of the “box” to see inside the man hugging the chest with the taxes as if it were his first-born son. Seeing the terrifying mask of the Blue Spirit glaring at him he hastily raised it, for his robber to take it. Zuko did so and disappeared silently.

 

The village was a short walk from where he had ambushed the carriage. Stealthy he moved from house to house, returning the money. To his surprise a good amount of gold and silver pieces was left on the chest. Zuko hid his mask and went over to the market to buy food. He had almost left when his eyes caught a wonderful decorated tea set. He smiled slightly, already imagining how happy his uncle would be seeing it.

 

To his surprise Iroh wasn’t at the cave when he returned. Shrugging Zuko lit the fire and spread the different packets and sacks on the walls. He then sat to wait for his uncle’s return. The old man appeared a while after. Taking a look at the nearly full cave he said evenly:

“Looks like you did some serious shopping.” He knelt to examine the teapot better. Seeing how expensive it looked he asked suspiciously. “But where did you get the money?”

“Do you like your new teapot?” Zuko asked instead of answering.

Iroh sighed, realization hitting him. “To be honest with you, the best tea tastes delicious whether it comes on a porcelain pot or a tin cup. I know we has some difficult times lately,” he said coming to sit next to his nephew, “we’ve had to struggle just to get by, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of. There is a simple honor in poverty.”

“There’s no honor for me without the Avatar,” Zuko said stubbornly.

“Zuko, even if you did capture the Avatar I’m not so sure it would solve our problems. Not now,” Iroh tried to make him understand.

“Then there is no hope at all,” the boy said bitterly, turning to leave.

“No Zuko!” the old General had awoken inside Iroh. “You must never give in to despair. Allow yourself to slip down that road, and you surrender to your lowest instincts. In the darkest times, hope is something you give yourself. That is the meaning of inner strength.”

 

Lia’s story passed through Zuko’s mind. He turned to look at his uncle hesitantly. He talked from experience and the prince knew it. The cave felt packed all of a sudden. He needed air and space to think over his uncle’s advice. As he walked inside the forest he silently wished he and Lia were on speaking terms. He had admittedly chosen the worst possible timing to argue with her. Now he was presented with such a dilemma and he had to make the choice alone. Zuko knew he couldn’t consider himself wise enough to do so. That was why – even though he hid it – he valued his uncle’s opinion so much. But, he thought, maybe he should begin making some right decisions alone. Maybe that was what Lia thought too and that was why she had disappeared.

 

He walked through the forest for hours, trying to think over every possible aspect of his decision. He was still not sure about the rightness of it, but he felt he had no other choice. He approached his uncle who was packing something.

“Uncle, I thought a lot about what you said.”

“You did?” Iroh said hopeful. “Good, good.”

“It’s helped me realize something,” Zuko continued. “We no longer have anything to gain by traveling together. I need to find my own way.” He walked away, already rethinking his decision. He hadn’t wanted his uncle to feel bad. But he just couldn’t go on not knowing his own strengths and weaknesses.

“Wait!” he heard Iroh calling. The older man silently passed him the reins of the ostrich horse. Zuko mounted and left with a last look.

 

Iroh sat back by the fire. He knew this day would eventually come. Zuko had to find his own destiny, something on which he would only slow him down. This knowledge didn’t make the separation any easier though. Of course Iroh would never let his nephew go out there alone. He decided to wait for Lia to come and inform her about what had happened and then he would set off. As if he had summoned her, the Spirit appeared before him. She looked around worried.

“Where’s Zuko?”

“He left.” Iroh said grimly. “He needs to find his own destiny.”

Lia nodded saddened. “You’re going to track him down, won’t you?” she asked.

“Of course! Won’t you do the same?” he looked at her alarmed.

“I’ll keep an eye on him, but will not interfere. He would hate me if I did. It’s time he grew up anyway.” Iroh sighed. The Spirit was right, but Zuko was his nephew. He decided not to appear either, but when his nephew would need him, he would be there.

 

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – Trick or Tea?

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Author’s Note: In which the bad puns for titles continue, there is a shift in dynamics and tea is not as life-and-situation-saving as usual…

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***Trick or Tea?***

Back when Zuko had first been banished, and before he and Lia truly started to spend time together, he had wondered many times if there was any worse life. Now he could safely answer yes, yes there was. He hated every moment of being a fugitive. He hated the uncertainty and the struggle to get even the most basic of necessities, but most of all, he hated the fact that people stared and pitied him. They stared at him before his banishment too, but then he was a prince –a banished one, but a prince nonetheless. Now he couldn’t even use his bending in public for fear of being recognized.

He stumbled over some bushes, only to find his uncle staring, mesmerized, at some flower.

“I didn’t find anything to eat,” Zuko announced. “I can’t live like this. I wasn’t meant to be a fugitive. This is impossible!” he waited for a proverb, but none came. “Uncle, what are you doing?” he asked, turning.

“You’re looking at the rare White Dragon bush. Its leaves make a tea so delicious it’s heart-breaking.” Iroh’s dreamy expression turned to a scowl. “That or it’s the White Jade bush which is poisonous.”

“We need food not tea.” Zuko reminded him exasperated. “I’m going fishing.” Before he left he heard his Uncle muttering to himself. “Hm… delectable tea or deadly poison?”

 

Zuko found a small steam nearby. He stood unsure for a moment, not really knowing how to fish. I could always bend the river dry, he thought sitting down. His musings turned back to Lia. She and Katara seemed to dominate his mind whenever he rested for a moment. Lia especially, her rage and power barely leashed on their last encounter. Zuko had thought he understood his adoptive sister well enough, and this new side made him uncomfortable. It was different to hear about Lia’s penchant for destruction in a story that had happened thousands of years ago and to actually see it before him. What is more, he had known from what Zhao had done at the North Pole that a Spirit can be killed while in mortal form. If this was true Lia had been risking her life constantly just by protecting him. Zuko didn’t know what scared him most about her; her thinly veiled power or the carelessness she showed for her own life.

 

It was almost past midday when he returned to his uncle. He had been so absorbed with his thoughts and musings that he had only managed to catch one tiny fish. Iroh was still staring at the flower.

“Zuko, remember that plant I thought might be tea?” Iroh asked with a guilty voice.

“You didn’t?” Zuko refused to believe that his uncle could have done something so stupid.

“I’m afraid I did. And it wasn’t.” Iroh turned to face his nephew, his face covered in reddish swellings. “When the rush spreads to my throat I’ll stop breathing,” he continued calmly, ignorant of Zuko’s worried expression. “But look what I had found! These are Bacui Berries, known to cure the poison of the White Jade bush. That or Macahoni Berries that cause blindness.”

Zuko threw the berries away. “We’re not taking any more chances with these plants. We need to get help.”

“But where are we going to go?” his uncle asked him, nearly kneeling on one knee to scratch himself. “We’re enemies on the Earth Kingdom and fugitives from the Fire Nation.”

“If the Earth Kingdom discovers us, they’ll have us killed,” Zuko said thoughtfully.

“But if the Fire Nation discovers us we’ll be turned over to Azula,” Iroh completed. Both shuddered at the thought.

“Earth Kingdom it is,” Zuko decided.

 

Luckily for them, there was a small village nearby. Zuko saw a young girl carrying a basket full of herbs. He approached her, with Iroh on his tail, thinking of what Lia had told him once. “When you speak with a girl and you want her to help, don’t bribe her, just be polite.” Let’s see if politeness works.

“Excuse me miss,” he said hesitantly. She turned and smiled him friendlily.

“How can I help you?” she asked pleasantly.

Zuko pointed towards Iroh. “My uncle drank some plant called White Jade bush. Is there a healer in the village?”

“Actually I’m a healer myself. If you two would come with me, I’d be glad to help.”

“Thank you my dear.” Iroh answered gratefully, still scratching his arm.

They followed the girl through the streets to a well-lit building.

 

Inside there were many more healers, helping someone or preparing medicines. The girl guided them to a corner of the infirmary, where she prepared a greenly cataplasm that she applied to Iroh’s rash.

“You two must not be from around here,” she said trying to make conversation. “We know better than to touch the White Jade, much less make into tea and drink it!” she giggled. “So where are you traveling from?” she asked.

Zuko rose from his seat nervously. “Yes we are travellers,” he hastily said.

“Do you have names?” the girl seemed really interested.

“Names? Of course we have names! I’m Lee, and this is my Uncle Mushi,” he stammered. Iroh glared at him from behind the girl’s back.

“Yes, my nephew was named after his father, so we just call him Junior.” It was Zuko’s time to glare.

“Mushi and Junior. It’s a good thing they call you so,” she said turning to Zuko, “because my name is Lia. They sound close to one another. You two look like you could use a good meal,” she said turning and slapped Iroh’s hand away from the itching rash. “Why don’t you stay for dinner?”

“Sorry, but we need to be moving on.” Zuko said decisively.

“That’s too bad. I had made roasted duck earlier and I have no one to share it with.”

“Where do you live exactly?” Iroh hurried to ask her.

 

They agreed to wait for her shift to end and then go home all together. As Lia walked around, helping and chatting with her patients, Zuko watched her intently. When she had called herself Lia he had been shocked. The girl only vaguely resembled the Spirit of Fire as he knew her. She was definitely Earth Kingdom. The way she acted friendly to everyone did remind Zuko of his friend but he shrugged it off as a co-incidence. When the sun set they finally followed her to a small house at the end of the village. She quickly set the table and they sat. They ate in silence but when they had nearly finished, Lia didn’t seem able to hold her questions any more.

“So you’re refuges… I was until very recently a refuge as well. When I was younger a gang of firebenders raided my village,” she lowered her eyes. “That was the last time I saw my family.”

Zuko lowered his gaze. “I haven’t seen my father in many years.”

“Oh, is he fighting in the war?” she asked with understanding. Iroh nearly chocked alarmed, while Zuko lowered his bowl.

“Yes,” he said bitterly.

“So is my little brother. He left three years ago not even knowing what he believed was right and wrong.”

“That’s a bad thing,” Iroh remarked. “A soldier must be sure about his loyalties before leaving to fight.”

“I know,” Lia sighed. “But I get his news regularly, thank the Spirits, and I believe that he is finally beginning to find his destiny.” She rose and began to gather the dishes. “Please, would you stay the night? I can prepare a few things to take with you tomorrow morning.

“We would greatly appreciate it. Now if I could make use of your kitchen to make some tea…” Iroh asked, his eyes sparkling.

“I’ll be outside,” Zuko announced, suddenly rising.

Lia shot Iroh a questioning look.

“Don’t mind my nephew,” he reassured her. “He is extremely shy when it comes to girls.” Winking the old man navigated himself into the kitchen.

 

Zuko sat outside trying to calm his mind. The more he was near this girl the more he was reminded of his mentor. It couldn’t be the Spirit though; she would have given him a sign it was her. He heard the door open and Lia approached him.

“Can I join you?” she asked quietly. “I know what you’ve been through. I’ve been through some very similar situations. Fire has hurt you.” She raised her hand to touch his scar. He stopped her silently. “It’s okay,” she told him softly. “You shouldn’t be ashamed of it.”

“I’m not ashamed of what happened that day. I just hate it when people pity me,” Zuko snapped. Lia looked away, hurt. “You used to let me touch it,” she said quietly. Zuko’s head snapped to her direction.

“Lia?” he asked uncertainly. The Spirit gave him a weak smile.

“I once told you that you see me as I was when I left this world. It was half-true. My position as a Fire Spirit had changed my appearance to resemble more my element. What you see now is Hisao’s sister.” She smiled bitterly. “The non-bender who created a volcano.”

“You called yourself a non-bender?” Zuko looked at her disbelievingly. Lia shook her head.

“That was what the leader of those… men called me right before I killed him.” Suddenly her eyes brightened. “And I thought you would understand who I was the moment I told you my name.”

“I thought it was you, but wouldn’t believe it!” Zuko protested.

“Excuses…” Lia said teasingly. She dropped her voice. “Iroh is listening to our conversation. Do you want to tell him?”

“Do you?” Zuko asked her uncertainly.

“Actually, my intent was to travel with you,” Lia continued louder.

“Didn’t you before?”

“I meant visibly,” Lia explained.

“Good point,” Zuko said smiling.

 

They went inside. Iroh had re-set the table, this time for tea. He was obviously waiting for them.

“Is there something I should know?” he asked calmly the two teenagers.

Zuko shifted his weight from one foot to another nervously. “Uncle, do you remember the Western Air Temple? Well, Lia and I met here and she said she would teach me, but I didn’t see her for three years and…” he trailed seeing his uncle’s confused gaze.

“Maybe it would be best if I explained,” Lia cut in. She sat in front of Iroh and Zuko mimicked her. “I am the Spirit of Fire,” she began, ignoring Iroh’s shocked expression. “I have been watching over Zuko for quite some time now, but it was only three years ago that we met officially. I offered him a deal: in exchange of a favour I have yet to ask him, I would find his mother and teach him some secret aspects of firebending. Unfortunately our travels kept as apart for the greater part of these years. We’ve met again when the Avatar was freed. Ever since I have resumed his training, while continuing my search. I’ve been traveling with you secretly for quite some time, but I thought it would be better if I didn’t hide anymore.”

Iroh took a few silent sips from his tea. He then started to talk in a solemn voice.

“When Zhao tried to kill my nephew you it was you who led me to him.” Lia nodded. “The next day I paid the Admiral a visit. He served me a plainly warm tea, yet at some point it seemed to burn him.”

“I didn’t like his expression, so I might have altered slightly the temperature,” Lia admitted sheepishly. Zuko shot her an incredulous look. And here he thought about her fearsome powers. Iroh burst out laughing.

“Well this explains a few things. I thought I was getting crazy, feeling I was being watched all the time.” He smiled at the Spirit. “I would consider it an honour to travel at your presence mighty Agni.” Lia visibly winced at the name.

“Just promise not to call me that stupid name and we’re all set,” she asked him.

 

The next morning they left as soon the sun rose. Lia had even found an ostrich horse for Iroh to ride. She and Zuko preferred to walk, arguing half the time. Iroh couldn’t help but smile, understanding who the little brother Lia had talked about last night really was.

Ο Ιβίσκος

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Σαν μια βεντάλια από πράσινα φύλλα,

Στέμμα του ροζιασμένου κορμού

Λυγισμένου πια από τα μελτέμια,

Με κάθε νέα ανατολή

Που ροδίζει πάνω από τα βουνά της Νάξου,

Ένα φλεγόμενο φιλί,

Ένας ιβίσκος, ανοίγει τα πέταλα του.

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Final Farewell

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The old schoolyard is empty. So late in the afternoon the students have long gone home. But you’re not one of them and you haven’t been for quite a few years. The truth is that you’re not even sure why you came back. When you left, you forced yourself to turn a leaf and bury who you had been deep inside. Perhaps being here proves how miserably you failed.

 

You ignore the “yard of the old kids” and walk at the back. Nearly ten years later you can still recall every nook and cranny here as if it was only yesterday that you left, never to come back. You ignore the various games; it’s amazing how they still look the same, and approach one of the most important reasons for your return. It has hardly changed. Perhaps a bit taller, but still thin and the soil around it the same ochre-brown color. Now you know that it’s not a fir, though its name was never of any importance. In your mind it was and still is “grandpa”, one of your first real friends.

 

When the other children played with one another, you sat on its feet and listened to the stories it whispered. That was when you first the discovered the power of the Word, when all the other children were speaking their own tongue, a tongue you couldn’t understand but  – much to the disturbance of the occasional teacher – you cared not to learn either. You were alone and you were happy.

 

Before you knew it you were one of the “old kids” but inside still the same. For your peers you are the strange one, the outcast, existing only to amuse with your difference. No one outrights says it but you hear their laugh and see their scorn in their eyes whenever you bother to look at them. You don’t care. You have new friends. Where they see plants, your eyes see houses and caves. A broken fountain is your cauldron and the leaves and seeds you gather like the birds do are the ingredients of your broth. You make plates out of leaves, keep your “home” orderly and sometimes you even find hidden treasures.

 

As you grow so does your thirst for stories. You read frenziedly, every minute you can spare is filled with the books you read or the stories you make. Everyone thinks that you are alone and cut-off from those that could be your friends, but in reality you have more true friends and guardians at your side than they would ever suspect.

 

The years flow and you remain happy, away from everyone. You see no reason to change and make the mistake to believe that the world around you is the same with your world. Arrogance it may be, but you were proud. While they grew up worrying over pointless things, you gathered stories and kept in your heart their teachings, like the gems you would later love.

 

But you forgot to pick up one of the most important; that of time. All of a sudden you are forced to change environment a year earlier than what you expected. Believing it to be the right thing you agree and found yourself in a new schoolyard. For the first time you could turn a new leaf, to write a new chapter in your book. Curiosity has always been your flaw and it would be a lie to claim that you never wonder about the other riverbank. So you tried to cross, disregarding everything that your friends had taught you.

 

It was naïve of you to think that years without any contact with those around you could simply be erased. You were trying to find a balance between two worlds, believing that the things you wanted and dreamed were around you, when you had never lost them. Reality hit you violently. You did not belong to the same world with the other kids – what did age matter?- They were mere kids to your eyes, they still are. You tried to go back. It was terrifying to realize that you did not belong there anymore. The balance was lost. For the first time you were truly alone and for the first time you were accepted.

 

A bird flies by and you come back to reality. You laugh at yourself. You always thought yourself more mature from those around you, more independent, but in reality you never changed. So afraid to grow up that you imprisoned yourself inside your own mind and now is the time to deal with the consequences. Now it’s the time to finally mature.

 

Even if you didn’t want to, you grew. Perhaps that mistake of yours was not so fatal after all. It may have taken time but balance has been restored. You belong to neither one world. You tied them together to something greater and that is the reason you came back today. To offer your gratitude to your fist true friend, the one that showed you the path you walk today, a path between true and untrue, reality and dream, amongst words and amongst worlds.

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – Family Matters

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Author’s Note: In which the author is tearing her hair because internet banking is too damn complicated (but still finds the time to come up with a silly pun for the title), Book 2’s resident headache makes her first appearance and there is a TWIST!

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***Family Matters***

For years, even long after the war was over and certain things had been explained, Iroh would marvel at those three weeks they had survived on the raft. The miracles never seemed to cease, from the good weather they had, to the steady current that led them straight to the Earth Kingdom’s northern shores. But the greatest mystery, Iroh mused, was their lack of need for food or water. Every day they would wake feeling a wave of burning energy surging through them, to find that they had never left their course.

 

For Zuko all these miracles were no mysteries at all. He might never say it to his uncle, but he had known all along that a certain Spirit was behind them. During the nights, when he lay awake in order to avoid the dreams that plagued him, he would steady the current himself, fearing that eventually even Lia would exhaust herself. Every time he thought of her he saw her in his mind’s eye thinned and paler than normal. These thoughts and the guilt accompanying them made him solemn and during these weeks he barely spoke with his uncle.

 

Later he would thank the old man for his understanding. He knew that whenever he was dreaming he talked in his sleep, but whether or not Iroh had heard him he never gave any indication or questioned him. He was constantly dreaming of Katara. He saw her grown-up and always in the Fire Lady’s attire. He would see them both sitting by his mother’s pond, or playing with their children or –his favorite– being all together, his uncle and mother present on the old beach house at Ember Island.

 

Now they had finally reached the Earth Kingdom. Iroh had right away found a resort and seemed willing to stay there for more than what was essential for them to recover. Zuko wouldn’t have much of a problem if Iroh hadn’t insisted that his nephew accompany him everywhere. Today it was a massage that the old man just had to attend. Today of all days! Zuko thought gravelly. He distantly listened to his uncle’s commentary.

“This is what I’ve been missing!” Iroh sighed. “Who knew that floating on a piece of wood for three weeks with no food or water and sea vultures waiting to pluck out your liver would make one so tense?” He cast a glance to Zuko, still sitting by the entrance and realization hit him. “I see.” He said approaching the teenager. “It’s the anniversary, isn’t it?”

“Three years ago today I was banished,” Zuko said in a colorless voice. “I lost it all. I want it back. I want the Avatar, I want my honor, my throne,” Katara he added in his head, “I want my father not to think I’m worthless.”

“I’m sure he doesn’t!” Iroh assured him cheerfully. “Why would he banish you if he didn’t care?” Zuko shot him a glare and left. Iroh mentally face-palmed himself. “That came out wrong didn’t it?” The two masseurs didn’t answer but Iroh swore he had heard a feminine voice whispering nearby, You have no idea.

 

Zuko walked inside the forest fast, almost running. He heard footsteps behind him and quickened his pace. The person following him wasn’t discouraged. Not bothering to check who the follower was he spun and attacked as soon as he reached a clearing. To his surprise the person, who was wearing a dark brown cape with a hood, blocked his attack and pushed him off his feet. The figure towered over him seemingly ready to strike. Zuko didn’t give them any time. He sent a wave of pure heat to knock his opponent and jumped to his feet, a ball of fire ready on his hand just in case. The figure didn’t move from the ground, whoever they were just stayed there laughing quietly. Bewildered Zuko approached. The hood had fallen of the person’s head to reveal a youthful, female face that was looking up at him smiling brightly. Just like he had imagined she was paler than usual but other than that she seemed fine.

“Well, aren’t you going to help me to my feet?” Lia asked him. Despite his foul mood, Zuko found himself smiling slightly and relaxing.

“You shouldn’t be sneaking up on me,” he told her, but, nonetheless helped her.

“Hey!” Lia said in mock insult. “I was trying to catch up with you but you took off! Then you attack me and as I came to help you stand you send a perfect heat wave at me. And you say I sneaked up on you?”

 

Her presence had an instant effect on him. He was suddenly less tense. Zuko embraced Lia briefly, still surprised to see her. The redhead looked at him worriedly. She was aware of what had happened this day and didn’t want to make her “brother” more worried but he had to know.

“I was really worried for you,” Zuko told her still smiling. “I was afraid that you’d exhaust yourself to death.”

“It was a little tiring but it was worth it,” Lia answered returning his enthusiastic smile with a half-hearted one. Zuko saw that and grew serious.

“What’s the matter?” he asked her worried. “Are you okay? You’re not…” he paused terrified, “you’re not leaving?” To his surprise Lia plopped to the ground, her back against the nearest tree. All her previous levity drained away and she was shaking from the stress.

“Your sister is coming,” she explained breathing heavily. “I’ve been spying on her for quite some time now and I don’t know what she wants, I couldn’t read her. I just sensed so much maliciousness around her and I know I should have read her, but I’m so tired and worried, and what if she convinces you to do something you’d regret later? I’ll never forgive myself and…”

“Lia calm down!” Zuko cried frightened. “If Azula is coming I know I can’t trust anything she says. And even if I make a mistake it will scarcely be your fault. Please calm down. You’re exhausted that’s all.”

 

Lia took a few more shaky breaths and wiped away some stray tears.

“I act like an idiot, don’t I?” she asked quietly.

“Of course not!” Zuko said surprised at the reverse of the roles. Usually it was the Spirit comforting him, not the other way around. “Listen, I promise to be careful with Azula, if you promise to rest. Okay, sister?”

“Okay,” Lia muttered before disappearing. Zuko sighed and returned to the small hut where he and his uncle had been staying.

 

“Look at these magnificent shells!” Iroh was admiring his new collection. “I’ll enjoy these keepsakes for years to come.”

“We don’t need any more useless things,” Zuko told him tiredly. “You forget we have to carry everything ourselves now.”

“Hello brother. Uncle.” The arrogant voice of princess Azula came from the door. Instantly both Zuko and Iroh frowned suspiciously.

“What are you doing here?” Zuko asked her. He had thought that she was just approaching the land, not that she was already there.

“In my country we exchange a pleasant hello before asking questions,” she reprimanded. “Have you become uncivilized so soon Zuzu?”

“Don’t call me that!” her brother yelled, cringing at his old nickname.

“To what do we owe this honor?” Iroh asked with strained politeness.

“Hm, must be a family trait,” Azula observed. “Both of you so quick to get to the point. I’ve come with a message from home,” she explained. “Father has changed his mind. Family is suddenly very important to him. He’s heard rumors of plans to overthrow him, treacherous plots. Family are the only ones you can really trust. Father regrets your banishment. He wants you home.” She turned to look at her brother who looked like he had been struck by lightning. “Did you hear me?” she asked impatiently as Zuko turned to the window. “You should be happy, excited, grateful! I just gave you great news.”

“I’m sure your brother needs a moment…” Iroh tried to cut in.

“Don’t interrupt uncle.” Azula yelled at him. “I still haven’t heard my thank you. I’m not a messenger. I didn’t have to come all this way,” she said in a slightly calmer voice.

“Father regrets?” Zuko was having a hard time to believe it. Lia’s word from earlier were ringing at his ears. “He… wants me back?”

“I can see you need time to take this in. I’ll come to call on you tomorrow. Good evening.” She left.

 

Zuko’s thoughts were spinning inside his head. On the one hand he remembered how worried Lia had been. He knew her enough to understand that things were worse than awful for her to react this way. He also knew Azula and how little she could be trusted. But then again it might be his only chance to return home. Should he risk it because of his suspicions?

“We’re going home. After three long years; it’s unbelievable!” he said to his uncle. Iroh didn’t seem so enthusiastic.

“It is unbelievable. I have never known my brother to regret anything,” he said gravely. Zuko turned to him incredulous.

“Did you listen to Azula? Father realized how important family is to him. He cares about me.”

“I care about you!” Iroh said raising his voice. “And if Ozai wants you back well, I think it might not be for the reasons you imagine.”

“You don’t know how my father feels about me.” Zuko could feel his temper rising. Never mind that his uncle’s words echoed his own suspicions. “You don’t know anything!”

“Zuko, I only meant that in our family things are not always what they seem.”

“I think you are exactly what you seem. A lazy, mistrustful, shallow, old man who has always been jealous of his brother.” Zuko took his things and stormed out of the hut. When morning came he would return home. He wished, deep down, that his uncle would come with him.

 

When the sun rose, Zuko began to walk towards the port. He paused for a moment looking at his sister’s ship. It was larger than the one his uncle had secured for them after he had been banished. Zuko wondered, what was the point of taking such a big piece of junk unless you wanted to show off? As he started climbing down the endless stairway that led to the shore, he heard Iroh calling behind him.

“Wait!” the old man was panting. “Don’t leave without me!”

“Uncle, you’ve changed your mind!” Zuko smiled.

“Family sticks together, right?” Iroh answered.

“We’re finally going home.” Zuko turned to continue down the stairs, missing the suspicious look Iroh shot at the ship. The old General’s instinct was ringing bells of alarm.

 

In the wharf the Red Imperial Guards were lined on parade rest. Zuko and Iroh crossed them. When they were almost at the ship Azula appeared on deck, smiling.

“Brother, uncle, welcome!” They bowed to her in greeting and she bowed in return. “I’m so glad you decided to come.” The guards fell in line behind them.

“Are we ready to depart Your Highness?” the captain asked.

“Set our course for home captain,” Azula ordered in the same pleasant voice.

“Home!” Zuko whispered longingly.

“Your heard the princess. Raise the anchors!” the captain ordered. “We’re taking the prisoners home.” Azula and Zuko paled hearing this. Iroh, on the other hand, started immediately knocking the guards out of his way.

“You lied to me!” Zuko yelled at his sister.

“Like I’ve never done that before…” she answered carelessly. The two guards on her sides shot fireblasts at Zuko. He merely waved them out of his way and ran after his sister.

 

Zuko climbed on deck, creating a fiery dagger in each hand. Iroh called to him from outside.

“Zuko! Let’s go!” He knocked two more guards down on the way. His nephew ignored him and attacked his sister. She easily blocked his attacks.

“You know father blames uncle for the loss of the North Pole and considers you a miserable failure for not finding the Avatar,” she spat venomously. “Why would he want you home, except to lock you up where you can no longer embarrass him?” Her brother didn’t answer her, he merely continued his attacks. They fought their way to the back of the ship, where Azula managed to get a hold of Zuko’s right arm and sent him flying to his back. Zuko’s breath was knocked out of him from the impact. He tried to focus on his sister’s movements, barely making out them. She seemed to be creating lightning. Before she had a chance to strike a dome made of flames imprisoned her. The flames somehow redirected the lightning enough to hit mere inches from his head. Zuko stood up and saw Lia making the flames disappear. She had a furious look on her face as she charged towards the princess. Azula sent a powerful blast to her, but instead of hitting the Spirit it merely twisted and came back to the princess. Azula didn’t have time to block and she was thrown overboard.

“What are you still doing here?” Lia yelled to Zuko who was still gaping at her in disbelief.

 

Either reality hit him, or he was terrified by her, Lia didn’t really care at the moment. Zuko turned and ran away with his uncle, while she finished off the guards. She still felt her rage burning, so she went inside the ship. Letting the heat guide her she found the engines and melted them. Let’s see how fast you can go now Your Highness, she thought with a grim smile. Zuko and Iroh would have managed to put a safe distance between them and the ship by the time it was repaired. She stalked away from the port, becoming invisible once again. No doubt, she would find them soon. Now that she had openly opposed someone, she knew she would need allies in this world. Besides, she had a feeling that Iroh would soon need her as much as his nephew. As she walked away her appearance began to change. The red of fire disappeared from her hair and her clothes became Earth Kingdom plain ones. Zuko had known her as a Spirit. It was time he knew her as the mortal she used to be too.

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The Siege of the North

Standard

Author’s Note: In which the author is shipping, Zuko starts to question things, Katara is a badass and Zhao gets his due.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***The Siege of the North***

The weeks until they reached the North Pole were some of the hardest of their lives for Iroh and Zuko. They were in constant fear that someone would discover the stow-away prince. This fear, especially with Zhao constantly prowling the flagship’s corridors, was what convinced Lia to allow Zuko to enter the in-between zone with her. She had formed a little shelter there, where he could at least sleep safely. Zuko didn’t hate the place as much as she did, but he wasn’t comfortable there either. In an attempt to make him feel a little better she began to teach him how to manipulate the energies there to form a window out in the physical world. Zuko spent a lot of his time keeping tabs on the Avatar and his friends, paying extra attention to Katara as she managed to be admitted to the fighting waterbending classes and moved to rapidly master her element.

 

Weeks later, when the fleet had docked at a safe distance from the Northern Water Tribe citadel, Zuko, still dressed as a soldier, met with his uncle one last time.

“We’ll be landing soon. Do you have a plan?” the old man asked worriedly.

“I’m working on it uncle,” Zuko assured him. Iroh left without a comment and the prince moved unseen on the stern. Lia was there immediately.

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

“Seriously, I don’t know,” he answered. “I haven’t found much about the city. The Avatar could be anywhere inside.”

“He will be in the most spiritual place on the North Pole…” Lia whispered absentmindedly. Zuko had learned to recognize her vision-mode, as she called it, and waited for her to snap out of it. Once she did he asked her.

“Are you still against me capturing the Avatar?”

“Yes,” she said plainly. “And I know that neither of us will change his or her mind. So listen to what I’ll do: If you find a way to enter the city, I will lead you to the Avatar.”

“Will I ever understand your way of thinking?” Zuko asked her, rolling his eyes. “If you don’t agree, don’t help me at all.”

“Oh, but I won’t help you!” Lia smiled mischievously. “I will merely show you the way. Trust me; I know what I’m doing.”

“All right” Zuko sighed. “I trust you.” And he turned to leave.

 

Night fell. The moon was nearly full, Zuko noted. The waterbenders would be at their most powerful for a few nights. No wonder Zhao had stopped. Zuko turned his attention on the small canoe he was preparing. He was almost ready to leave. It was a surprise his uncle hadn’t appeared, he noted a little disappointed. I’m being selfish. Zuko decided. Iroh had already risked too much by even coming with him. He heard the door behind opening.

“You’re fishing for an octopus my nephew,” Iroh said. “You need a tightly knitted net, or he will squeeze through the tiniest hole and escape.”

“I don’t need your wisdom right now uncle.” Zuko said straightening. Mentally he slapped himself. Wasn’t his uncle’s presence –and inevitable proverbs- what he had just been wishing for?

“I’m sorry. I just nag you because…well…ever since I lost my son…” Iroh tried to explain.

“Uncle, you don’t have to say it.” Zuko tried awkwardly to help him.

“…I think of you as my own.” Iroh finished.

Zuko turned, touched. Of all the things his uncle could say, that was the last the thought he would. “I know uncle.” He bowed. “We’ll meet again.” Before he had a chance to turn, Iroh hugged him tightly. Zuko hugged him back briefly. “After I have the Avatar,” he concluded.

 

Zuko got in the boat and before he lowered himself on the sea he turned to Iroh for a last piece of advice. The old man didn’t disappoint him.

“Remember your breath of fire. It could save your life out there.”

“I will.” He promised.

“And put your hood up. Keep your ears warm.” Iroh called after him.

“I’ll be fine.” Zuko answered rolling his eyes.

 

Zuko monitored the boat through the icebergs. The cold was almost unbearable, worse than on the South Pole. He took a look at the guard tower and quickly hid behind a block of ice. The walls had a lot of damage, but still he couldn’t pass through them unnoticed. Zuko suddenly understood what Lia had meant. It was next to impossible to enter the city at all. He anchored his canoe the nearest he could get to the wall itself. There was no way in. He almost turned to leave when he heard some seals. They were diving inside a small hole in the ice and didn’t reappear anywhere near.

“Where are they going?” Zuko wondered aloud. “They have to come out somewhere for air.” Not seeing any better chance to make any process he took a deep breath and dived in.

 

Just when he thought he’d run out of air he saw an opening. Zuko used his remaining strength to half-swim half-drag himself out of water. Once he had somewhat regained his breath he realized just how cold he was. He curled into foetal position trying in vain to get any warmer. Seeing no other solution, Zuko breathed deeply and exhaled fire a few times. He slowly returned to a more normal temperature.

“Be quiet!” he shouted at the seals, succeeding in silencing them for a few moments. He staggered to his feet and started looking for an exit to the city.

 

There was a powerful steam running through the other end of the icy cave. Zuko hesitated only for a moment before he started climbing up, going against the current. He almost lost his footing a few times, but managed to climb out of the tunnel. Then he could swim easier to the top of what seemed like a huge lake of salt water covered by a low dome of ice. He took a few deep breaths before diving again in search of an exit. One of the other tunnels that ended there seemed to emit light. Zuko headed through it looking for an opening. He found one, blocked with a thin layer of ice. He didn’t have much breath left and the ice wouldn’t budge. Desperate he tried the only trick in regard to water that Lia had taught him and he had manage to master.

 

He heated the ice, careful not to let the warm water escape. In no time the ice gave way. Zuko would have celebrated if he had any strength at all left. He couldn’t even come out of water. Just when he was ready to give up, a pair of hands dove in and dragged him out. He felt the familiar wave of burning energy surge through him, combined with warm air. Lia helped him lie on the floor of the small tunnel they were in, near the opening.

“Rest a little.” She told him breathing heavily. “The Avatar is near.”

“I don’t need rest,” Zuko told her sitting up. “You said you’d show me the way.”

Lia sighed. “And I will. But stay quiet.”

“Lia,” Zuko called her as she turned, “thanks for saving my life, again.”

“Just don’t make it a habit. You promised me, remember?” the Spirit smiled warmly. “Now come on.”

 

As they walked the air was getting warmer and warmer. When Lia disappeared silently, Zuko knew he was close. Hidden behind some blocks of ice he saw the Avatar meditating, while Katara and another Water Tribe girl were standing close to him.

“Maybe we should get some help,” the girl was saying worried.

“No, he’s my friend. I’m perfectly capable of protecting him,” Katara assured her.

“Well,” Zuko said sarcastically, through chattering teeth, “aren’t you a big girl now?”

 

Katara turned surprised. There he was, Zuko, standing in something else than his usual Fire Nation armour, looking like he’d been through hell.

“No,” she whispered terrified. Who did this to you? Zuko seemed to take it the wrong way.

“Yes,” he said crossing the small bridge that had separated them. “Hand him over and I won’t have to hurt you.” Please Katara don’t fight back. I don’t want to hurt you. The other girl ran away, probably to bring help, while Katara slid into a fighting stance. Zuko attacked sending fire towards her, but purposely avoiding her as a target. Turns out he didn’t have to. Katara bended water out of the small river surrounding them, blocking every attack and sending him flying against the wall.

“I see you’ve learned a new trick, but I didn’t come this far to lose to you.” He told her, trying to make her back down. It wasn’t working. During night and so near her element she was powerful.

 

Slowly she made him back to the wall. Zuko was beginning to get afraid. He had underestimated her, having judged her abilities from the glimpses of lessons he had seen. He knew she was competent but didn’t expect her iron control over her water’s movement. He saw her smile at her own work as she imprisoned him in a ball of ice.

“You little peasant! You found a master, didn’t you?” he asked, a hint of pride in his voice, before he raised the temperature inside the sphere abruptly. The ice exploded.

 

They continued to fight. To an outsider it might seem like they were dancing, close enough to observe each other’s face. Katara could feel her heart beating faster and faster. It was more the closeness with Zuko than the fight itself. She saw his gaze slipping to her lips a few times. The girl paused for a second, something Zuko used to grab Aang by his shirt. Her haze broken, she attacked him again and managed to trap him in a mountain of ice, rendering him unconscious. Katara watched over the two boys the whole night.

 

Dawn broke only too soon for her. Zuko felt the sun giving him power, he felt able to melt the whole Pole. He silently freed himself from the iceberg. The prince was angry, really angry with himself for having underestimated Katara and for giving way to his feelings. He couldn’t hurt her, he had almost kissed her when they were fighting. Katara was now approaching the Avatar to check on him. Zuko sent a powerful blast of fire at their direction. She saw it too late and didn’t have time to properly block it. It knocked her on a tree and she fell to the ground. Zuko was on her side a second later, checking if she was okay. When he saw that she was just dazed he turned and took hold of the Avatar.

“You rise with the moon.” Katara heard him say through a fog. “I rise with the sun.”

 

Outside the oasis the cold was deadly. Zuko didn’t have much of a choice so he kept walking, hoping to find shelter soon. He didn’t bother to cover his tracks. The snow that kept falling did it for him.

 

The snow soon turned into a blizzard. Zuko kept walking, using sheer will-power only. He felt really tired, despite the energy Lia had given him. And it wasn’t just that. Part of him wanted to abandon the Avatar and return to make sure Katara would be okay. Zhao would have definitely entered the city by now, and it would be only a matter of time until he found the oasis. The little voice inside his head kept telling him that he should be on her side, instead of out there risking both his and the Avatar’s lives.

 

Suddenly he heard the ice crack, making a sound like the crack of a whip. Horrified he saw it giving way. He run and, using the last of his strength, jumped away from danger. Rising unsteadily to his feet he saw shelter. Dragging the Avatar behind him – he was far too tired for niceties – he entered the small cave. He leaned the kid – who remained unconscious – against a wall and proceeded to tie him.

 

Even though the wind wasn’t biting them inside the cave, the cold was the same. Zuko breathed fire into his hands, trying to make life return to them. He looked at the twelve-year-old opposite to him.

“I finally have you, but I can’t get you home because of this blizzard. There’s always something. Not that you would understand, you’re like my sister. Everything always came easy to her. She’s a firebending prodigy and everyone adores her. My father says she was born lucky; he says I was lucky to be born. I don’t need luck though, I don’t want it. I’ve always had to struggle and fight and that’s made me strong, it’s made me who I am.”

“It’s made you someone you should be proud to be,” he heard a girl’s voice say. Lia had appeared again.

“You said you wouldn’t help,” Zuko said gesturing at the cheerful fire that the Spirit had lit.

“I’m not helping you capture Aang, I’m keeping you two alive. You’d freeze to death.”

“So what?”

Lia sighed. She had seen a few of the things that were to happen and she didn’t exactly like them. Right now, the only thing she could do though was to prevent the boy sitting next to her from convincing himself of his uselessness. She tried again.

“Zuko, if Azula became Fire Lord, she would be feared. She wouldn’t care for the people, not even for her own and eventually, she would exhaust the world with her endless wars. Would you do any of this?”

“No,” Zuko told her horrified at even the thought. “Being Fire Lord is like being a father for your people and as for the war…” he paused uncertainly. “I… I’m not so sure it’s right anymore.”

“Exactly!” Lia exclaimed. “Azula commands fear, but you genially care. Your people would love you. Isn’t love something worth fighting for?”

“You’re not just referring to my father’s heir are you?” Zuko asked her suspiciously.

“You tell me?” Lia shot back. “Now, will you please, get some rest? We’ll be here for a while.”

Beside them Aang took a deep breath. Zuko looked at him curiously.

“What is he doing?” he asked Lia. She concentrated for a few moments, following the Avatar’s unique aura, before opening her eyes and casting the kid a fearful look.

“I can feel him in the Spirit World.” She said. “He is talking with the Face Stealer.”

“Face Stealer?” Zuko looked at her surprised.

“He’s an ancient demon with a personal score with the Avatar. He was slayed almost nine hundred years ago by a previous incarnation.”

“Why is he called like this?”

“If you show the slightest emotion before him, he steals your face. No one goes near him unless it was a matter of life and death. What was Roku thinking? I know these Spirits and could have helped him! Honestly this man sometimes doesn’t think!” She tried to stand up, but Zuko held her down.

“Care to explain, oh mighty Spirit?” he asked her annoyed. Lia took a few deep breaths.

“I’ve been waiting for you at the Spirit Oasis, where you found Katara and Aang. Aang crossed to the Spirit World to find the Ocean and Moon Spirits. Roku found him there and guided him to the Face Stealer, because he couldn’t think of any other Spirit old enough to know of their location. But I was there when Tui and La crossed the bridge and took mortal forms. I know too were they are.”

“So the Avatar just had to ask you?”

“Exactly!” Lia scoffed. “Men!” she muttered under her breath.

 

Suddenly Aang opened his eyes. Zuko turned, hearing him trying to stand.

“Welcome back,” he told the boy. Lia had become invisible the moment the Avatar had woken.

“Good to be back,” the kid answered. He took a huge breath and literally flew out of the cave. He started crawling away. In retrospect, it was rather pointless. Zuko caught up with him immediately.

“That won’t be enough to escape,” he said, grabbing the airbender by the collar.

“Appa!” Aang called, seeing his bison landing.

Zuko smiled, seeing Katara approaching.

“Came for a rematch?” he asked her eagerly.

“Trust me Zuko, it’s not going to be much of a match.” Feeling the power given to her by the full moon, she knocked him out cold. Sokka approached Aang and cut his bonds.

“Hey, this is some quality rope!” the warrior exclaimed.

“We need to get to the oasis. The Spirits are in trouble!”

 

They all hurried to Appa, except for Katara. She was looking at the cave where Zuko had taken shelter. On the entrance stood a young woman with flowing red hair looking at her pleadingly. Somehow Katara knew that this was a Spirit, a Spirit that protected the prince. Suddenly a memory came to her.

- Flashback –

“I’ll bring you a blanket.” He told her softly. “Just promise not to run off, okay? And you’ll have to be standing like before when they return.”

“Why are you doing this?” Katara asked him sharply.

He looked at her surprised. “You’re tired and you’d hurt yourself if you fell asleep like this. I don’t want this to happen.” 

-          End of Flashback –

She had been on his mercy and he had been so caring. How could she not return the gesture?

“Katara come on!” Sokka called. “You heard Aang, we need to get back.” She turned to them and then back to Zuko.

“We can’t leave him here. He’ll die.”

“Sure we can. Let’s go.” Sokka said.

“No,” Katara yelled at him. “I owe him and I won’t let him out here to freeze.”

 

It was Aang’s turn to turn towards the Prince and the cave. He had felt a Spirit’s presence there. He too saw Lia, only he recognized her. A memory came to him too.

- Flashback –

He had taken of the Blue Spirit’s mask. Seeing Zuko under it, he had sprung to his feet and started running away to fall right into her. The Avatar had recognized her immediately as a Spirit and despite the situation bowed. She roughly led him towards Zuko.

“I’ll help you if you help him.” She whispered. Aang nodded. He didn’t understand why a Spirit would protect Zuko, but he had no time for questions. Once he held the Prince, Lia had used her powers to send them away.

- End of Flashback –

Aang sighed. “Katara’s right. We cannot just leave him here.” He jumped off Appa and helped Katara bring the unconscious boy on the saddle. Sokka rushed to tie him.

“This makes a lot of sense. Let’s save the guy who’s constantly trying to kill us,” he grumbled.

 

They had almost returned to the city when the moon turned red. Yue, the white-haired princess of the Northern Water Tribe grabbed her temples.

“Are you okay?” Sokka asked her softly.

“I feel faint,” she managed to whisper.

“I feel it too,” Katara said.

“It’s the Moon Spirit,” Aang realised. “It’s in trouble.”

“I owe the Moon Spirit my life,” Yue confessed.

“What do you mean?” Sokka asked.

“When I was born I was very sick and very weak. Most babies cry when they’re born, but I was born as if I were asleep, my eyes closed. Our healers did everything they could. They told my mother and father I was going to die. My father pleaded with the Spirits to save me. That night, beneath the full moon, he brought me to the oasis and placed me in the pond. My dark hair turned white, I opened my eyes and began to cry and they knew I would live. That’s why my mother named me Yue, for the moon.”

 

They landed silently at the pond. Zhao was there bragging about how he would become a legend. Lia was disgusted with the man. He was so self-absorbed that he would mock his own death. Suddenly Momo, Aang’s flying lemur jumped on his head, trying to make him let go of the Moon Spirit. Lia smiled seeing the great Admiral failing to get a small lemur off his head, before returning to the task at hand. She was trying to wake Zuko, with no success. Finally she leaned and whispered to his ear “Zhao’s here.” His eyes opened immediately. He sat up observing the scene.

“You need to get out of here.” Lia told him.

“I need to stop Zhao. He’s going to kill the Spirit.” He shot back, pointing at the bag still dangling from the older man’s grasp, where the Moon Spirit was trapped in its koi fish form.

“Stopping this from happening is the Avatar’s job. Zhao will soon be running for his life. Don’t you want to be waiting for him?”

“Fine!” he sighed. “But I want to see what happens first.”

That was the best she could get out of him, so she agreed.

 

Everyone had fallen into fighting stances.

“Don’t bother,” Zhao said threatening the Spirit with a knife.

“Zhao, don’t!” the Avatar warned him.

“It’s my destiny. To destroy the Moon and the Water Tribe.”

Zuko cringed upon hearing that.

“Destroying the Moon won’t hurt just the Water Tribe. It will hurt everyone; including you. Without the Moon everything will fall out of balance. You have no idea what king of chaos this would unleash to the world.”

“He is right Zhao,” Another voice suddenly said from the shadows.

“General Iroh,” the Admiral remarked, “why am I not surprised to discover your treachery?”

“I am no traitor Zhao,” Iroh said. “The Fire Nation needs the Moon Spirit too. We all depend on the balance.” Zhao was obviously not convinced. “Whatever you do to that Spirit I will unleash on you tenfold! Now let it go!” the Dragon of the West thundered.

 

Zhao seemed to surrender momentarily. He freed the Spirit and the night sky returned to its normal colour. As he stood though, something seemed to snap inside him. He bended a huge fire to the pond. The sky turned grey, the Moon now dead. Iroh attacked the soldiers Zhao had brought with him furiously, while the Admiral…

“He’s not going to escape this one.” Zuko hissed furious. He had seen the looks of pain on both Katara’s and Yue’s faces and he slipped away to find Zhao.

“This way!” Lia appeared next to him, guiding him through the city streets. She seemed to be equally furious, because the soldiers they encountered were knocked out without so much of a glance from her.

 

They found Zhao running away. Lia sent a flame to erupt right in front of him, halting him for a moment. The man turned to see Zuko towering on a balcony overhead.

“You’re alive?” he asked terrified. Who could survive an explosion big enough to destroy a ship?

“You tried to have me killed!” Zuko accused, sending more fire against him.

“Yes I did,” Zhao admitted. “You were the Blue Spirit, an enemy to the Fire Nation. You freed the Avatar.”

“I had no choice,” Zuko shot back. He continued to send fire against him, but Zhao blocked the attacks.

“You should have chosen to accept your failure. Then at least you could have lived!” He attacked Zuko, only to find out – the hard way – how much better the boy had become since their Agni Kai. Soon he was knocked out of the level they were fighting.

 

Their fight continued, as the sky was lit by the moon again. They didn’t notice it at first, but then Zhao went flying and as he looked up he saw the full moon glaring down at him.

“It can’t be!” he cried. Zuko turned for a moment, to see the Spirit restored to its position. He smiled menacingly at the older man.

“You failed,” he whispered. As if to prove it, the hand of the Ocean Spirit appeared, almost trapping them. Lia pulled Zuko away, but Zhao wasn’t that lucky. He was imprisoned by the pure power of the Ocean. Zuko tried to save him, not really understanding why, but Zhao preferred death than help from his enemy.

“You did what you could, Lia said to Zuko, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Now come on. It’s not safe here and you need to find Iroh.” Zuko didn’t protest. The fatigue was getting the better of him so he followed his Guardian Spirit silently.

 

By dawn Zuko had found Iroh. The old man had put together a small make-shift raft. Once he was sure that his nephew was alive and in one piece they got in.

“I’m surprised prince Zuko,” Iroh said while managing the sails. “Surprised that you are not at this moment trying to capture the Avatar.” He stole a look at Zuko, when fire didn’t immediately come towards him.

“I’m tired,” Zuko admitted quietly.

“Then you should rest. A man needs his rest.” Smiling Iroh watched as his nephew laid down and slept. It was the first time since he was a child that Zuko admitted weakness in front of others. Maybe it was a sign that things were going to be better for them.

***End of Book 1 – Water***

In which I contemplate Wi-Fi

Standard

Here I am, waiting for a sign

I never seem to know, if you want me, if you lie…

So said Gabrielle (I think…) in one of her songs when her potential amore was giving her the Scottish shower treatment. And thus I am serenading a no-longer-constant aspect of my life: readily available Wi-Fi. Having relocated to the lovely island of Paros for the summer (and I mean it folks, the place is gorgeous!) I have also found myself deprived of internet. Woe is me and all that jazz. How am I posting you might ask? Well… Just because MY house doesn’t have internet doesn’t mean that internet cafes are extinct.

And no, I don’t intend to whine about my (severely) restricted access to all things web. Honestly, it’s been almost a good thing. I’ve been catching up with my reading and my writing and walking an insane amount of time. Hey, can’t blame a girl for being a little bored. Much as I ADORE Middle English there’s a limit to my powers of concentration.

-huge eruption of sound outside-

The heck?  Oh, football match strikes again… Honestly, I can’t wait until that’s over… And jeez, it wasn’t even a goal! What’s with all the yelling? Methinks I’ll never understand football. Still… Keeps the boys busy. Anyway… I’ll try to keep the posts going, maybe do another travel segment. We’ll see. Until then, see you all come Monday and don’t forget to not take life seriously!

Lia out! :-D