Author’s note: In which there are major revelations, (not so) subtle shipping, and a new minor villain. Also, in which the author would like to point out that this was originally written before Legend of Korra and she sooooo came up with the idea of Spirits possessing mortals first! So there! -ahem- Thank you, rant over.
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Flying around aimlessly can only be fun for so long. With Sokka’s schedule lost somewhere along the way, it was even less fun. Zuko went as far as threatening to send the other boy off Appa if he didn’t shut up, a sentiment shared by the others silently. At last Aang couldn’t take the constant grumbling anymore and landed on a random island.
“There is no way we will continue flying if you are going to be like this!” he declared, giving a stern look at the rest of the gaang.
There was surprisingly little complaining on this decision. Appa had landed next to a lake, surrounded by tall rocks. In no time everyone was either swimming or playing near the water. Sokka was once again trying to prove his fishing abilities, while Aang floated around with Momo resting on his stomach. Zuko and Katara had swum a little away to get a break from Sokka’s constant disapproving glances. Lia had only dived in for the fun and now was resting on a flat rock, while Toph had absolutely refused to put anything but her toes inside the water.
“Aang, I know swimming is fun and all,” she called to her earthbending student, “but do you really think you should be exposing yourself like that? Cover up!” Aang looked at her confused.
“What I’m wearing trunks?” he called back.
“I know…” Toph said with a slight blush. “It’s your tattoos I’m worried about.” She raised her hands in frustration. “What if someone sees you?”
“There are walls all around us Toph,” Lia said lazily. “Relax, it’s completely safe.”
Or rather, it was safe until Aang decided that just being in the lake was boring. Noticing a tunnel with a waterfall he jumped in, along with Momo, for a flash of adventure. What he didn’t see when he landed was two horrified Fire Nation soldiers. But they saw him, and a messenger hawk was on its way to the palace in no time…
Back on the lake a giggling Katara let Zuko chase her around in the water. They ended up on a small cave where they sat to catch their breath (and kiss undisturbed). When they broke away Zuko noticed a small seashell near them. On the one side it was shiny and as the light fell on it, various colours appeared. He picked it up and handed it to the waterbender.
“Here…” he said nervously. “This is for you.” Katara gave him a sweet smile.
“Oh, Zuko, it’s beautiful!” she sighed and kissed him again.
“It reminds me of you,” her boyfriend said shyly.
They returned to the rest of the group in time to see Aang climbing back to the lake. Zuko scowled, his previous good mood forgotten. He swam angrily to where the boy sat next to the fire Sokka had made.
“What were you thinking Aang?” he asked angrily. The airbender looked at him surprised. “We don’t know if there is anyone living here. Someone might see you! And then what?” he pinched the bridge of his nose trying to calm himself. “My father would know about you being alive before dinnertime rolled around.” Aang had the decency to look a little ashamed.
“What’s done is done now,” Katara said calmly, pulling the Fire prince to sit next to her, giving a disappointed look to Aang anyway.
“Come on everyone!” Sokka called excitedly. “Come and see the miracle I made out of my catch!” Surprisingly there was enough fish for everyone on the fire.
They all gathered around to eat with the exception of Lia. She didn’t seem to have heard him or any of them as a matter of fact. She just continued lying on the stone, glaring at the sun that was right over her head. Sokka took a look at her and smirked.
“You know,” he called, “if you keep glaring at the sun like that he’s gonna come down here to ask what is your problem.” Lia froze.
“The sun coming down here…” she repeated spellbound. Jumping to her feet she rushed to her stuff and drew out her parchments. Reading them hastily, her eyes widened. “Of course!” she exclaimed. “It all makes sense now!”
“Uh… What makes sense exactly?” Toph asked confused.
“Everything!” Lia sat next to her, realisation and anger switching places on her expression. “The war!” The rest of the gang looked at her lost. She sighed in frustration. “Hadn’t it ever occurred to you how awfully convenient everything about this war has been? I mean it’s like Sozin woke up a sunny day and decided to take over the world. And once everything’s ready, a comet arrives, making his firebenders even deadlier. The airbenders are all but wiped out and then Azulon takes over the throne. Like his father was renowned as a strategist he is known for his power at firebending. He has two sons. Iroh seems the perfect candidate to carry on the traditions until the siege of Ba Sing Se.”
“What happened there?” Sokka asked curious.
“My cousin, Lu Ten, died,” Zuko explained in a sad voice. “It broke uncle Iroh. After that he was almost openly opposed to the war.”
“But at the same time,” Lia continued, “your father grew more ambitious, right?” At Zuko’s surprised look she explained. “I had a talk with your mother when I found her. She told me that Ozai’s change in character coincided with the failure of the siege. And Azula followed right to her father’s footsteps.” The gang looked at her thoughtfully. “Now think of that. The last four generations of the Royal family are renowned for their strategic abilities and powerful firebending, two traits associated with one spirit.” She glared at the sun again. “Agni.”
“But aren’t you Agni?” Katara asked confused. Lia shook her head.
“A common misconception. The nature of fire is so dual; it needed two Spirits to be expressed. I am the benevolent side of the fire.” She gestured at the cooking fire in front of her. “Agni is the destructive force used at this war.”
Another thought crossed her mind and her expression darkened even more.
“There’s more to that, isn’t there?” Zuko asked in a grave voice. To everyone’s surprise, Lia looked away guiltily.
“Spit it out,” Toph commanded bluntly.
“If you want of course,” Aang added on a milder but still curious tone.
“Well…” Lia began uncertainly. “It’s not something I had ever talked about. Spirit World stuff.”
“If you can’t talk about it, we’ll understand,” Katara assured her comfortingly. Lia shook her head.
“No, you have a right to know.” She took a breath. “The genocide of the Air Nomads was too much of a disturbance to the balance to remain unpunished. So the High Council of the Spirits decided that as a punishment, no mortal shall receive aid from the Spirit World until the balance is restored. The Avatar is a special case.” She cut Aang off before he asked.
“But you helped me a lot of times,” Zuko said suspiciously. Lia avoided his eyes. “Did you get in trouble for that?”
“I wouldn’t call it trouble…” Lia started.
“But they did punish you,” Zuko frowned. “How?”
“Ten years exile,” the Spirit answered hastily.
“What?” the gang looked at her shocked. She shrugged.
“It’s nothing really. If I were a lesser Spirit they might have completely kicked me out.” It didn’t lighten anyone’s expression. Zuko especially looked ready to start beating himself up. “Don’t start blaming yourself Zuko,” Lia said sternly. “I was aware of the consequences when I made my choice. However, now that I know that Agni was behind all this, he is in so much trouble…” She sent another glare to the sun.
“Question!” Toph’s hand shot in the air. “How did you figure all this out?”
“I had my suspicions for quite some time now. And then there’s insanity.”
“And like that you lost me,” Sokka said, struggling to keep up.
“If a strong person is possessed by a Spirit, he tries to break free from the control. The result of an extended mental battle is insanity. All the Firelords so far, since Sozin, showed signs of insanity. Ozai especially.”
“That I’ll agree to,” Zuko scoffed. Another thing occurred to him. “Will I be affected too?” he asked, somewhat worried. The gaang turned their eyes collectively to the Spirit.
“No,” she said simply. “Not even Agni is reckless enough to try and take control of someone under my protection.”
“Is there a way to break his influence?” Aang asked. Lia looked thoughtful.
“Ozai is too far gone to be saved,” she said slowly. “But there might be a chance with Azula. She’s still young and much stronger than her father.”
Lia’s revelations put a damper on the mood of the gang for the rest of the day. After a quiet diner with the leftovers from Sokka’s catch they all went to bed. Toph in particular was having a rather nice dream of being able to show her parents exactly how good she was at earthbending when a wave of vibrations woke her up. She stood up noisily, waking everyone else in the process.
“Guys, you’re all gonna think I’m crazy, but it feels like a metal man is coming,” she said unsurely.
Suddenly a bright light fell on a still-sleepy Aang. Everyone’s eyes followed the beam to see a man whose arms and legs were covered in metal on a cliff overlooking their camp. His eyes were trained on Aang as he took a deep breath. A beam of energy was released from the eye tattoo on his forehead and blasted a rock over the camp. The kids were blown back from the impact. Toph was the first on her feet, and she bended a huge rock towards the man. He blasted them away, in time to dodge an attack from Katara, which resulted on him being hidden to a cloud of mist.
Without waiting for the mist to clear, he sent another blast. The kids barely had time to hide behind a rock.
“This is crazy! How can we beat a guy who blows things up with his mind?” Sokka exclaimed. Lia and Zuko shared a look.
“Jump on Appa,” the Spirit ordered. “We’ll distract him.” Before anyone had the chance to say anything the two firebenders charged. Lia ran straight towards the rock on which the man was standing, with Zuko blocking the beams that came after them. She sent a massive fireball to the rock, melting it and causing the man to lose his balance for a second.
That was all they needed to run towards a small field nearby that seemed planted with rocks. Blasts came after them soon and it wasn’t long before they actually heard the assassin closing in on them.
“Now what?” Zuko asked Lia. She was looking franticly around for an inspiration and suddenly flashed a grin.
“See that?” she pointed a few tall rock formations in front of them. Zuko nodded. “As soon as we pass them, blast the one nearer to you.” One more nod. They did so, causing the passage to be blocked completely. Seizing the opportunity, Aang landed Appa and they hurried up. Katara immediately tackled Zuko for a hug, checking for injuries.
“I’m okay,” He assured her softly, still a little winded from all the running.
“Well, that was random,” Toph raised an eyebrow. Katara looked doubtful.
“I don’t think so. I get the feeling he knows who we are.”