Author’s note: In which the main plot is back from holidays, there are lots of cameos and the best laid plans go the proverbial way.
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***The Invasion (Part 1)***
They say a good night’s sleep can do miracles. In the case of the Avatar that couldn’t be truer. He cheerfully jumped to where the rest of the gang was eating breakfast as soon as he woke up. Toph, Sokka and Katara had changed to their nations’ colors, in anticipation of the battle. Momo saw his master and immediately flew to his shoulder.
“Top of the morning, Momo!” Aang said happily, petting the lemur. Katara looked up from where she was serving everyone.
“Sounds like you slept well,” she commented.
“Like a baby mooselion. I’m ready to face the Fire Lord!” Aang answered confidently, sitting next to Zuko and taking a plate.
“So what’s your strategy for taking him down?” Toph asked curiously. “Going to get your glow on and hit him with a little Avatar State action?” Aang shook his head with a sad look.
“I can’t. When Azula shot me with lightning, my seventh chakra was locked, cutting off my connection to all the cosmic energy in the Universe.” Lia sent him a suspicious look but didn’t say anything. Toph on the other hand had something to say.
“You know what I just heard? Blah blah spiritual mumbo jumbo blah blah something about space.” Zuko looked at the horizon worried. There was a cloud of thick fog coming towards the island.
“Do you think the fog will delay the invasion?” Sokka squinted his eyes and gave the other boy a bright smile.
“No, that is the invasion,” he explained.
Through the fog, five Water Tribe ships appeared. Toph and Aang bended docks on the protected natural port underneath their campsite. Sokka and Katara rushed to their father, excited to see him again.
“You made it dad!” Katara said, hugging the man.
“Were you able to locate everyone I told you to find?” Sokka asked anxiously.
“I did. But I’m a little worried, Sokka. Some of these men aren’t exactly the warrior type.” Hakoda pointed at a couple of swampbenders. Unlike his wary father, Sokka looked enthusiastic.
“Hi, Katara,” a young man’s voice was heard. Katara turned with a delighted smile.
“Haru, it’s so good to see you.” Aang and Toph approached them.
“Toph, this is Haru. When we met him, his town was controlled by the Fire Nation. So he had to hide his earthbending.” The airbender explained.
“Katara inspired me and my father to take back our village.” Said man approached them and gave Katara a proud smile.
“You helped us find our courage, Katara. Now we’re here to help you.”
Suddenly Toph’s head snapped up in surprise. She was feeling some vibrations she hadn’t felt in a long time.
“No way!” she exclaimed. “Is that…” She was lifted up in the air by an enormous man.
“Hippo happy to see Blind Bandit!” the man said. Zuko, who had come up with Lia during the introductions turned to Aang confused.
“Who’s this guy now?” he asked.
“Toph used to be a champion in earthbending tournaments,” Aang explained. “That’s how we found her. These guys were her opponents.”
“You guys here for a re-match?” Toph asked angrily. The other man shook his head.
“Negatory. The Boulder and the Hippo no longer fight for others’ entertainment. Now, we fight for our Kingdom!” Toph smiled satisfied.
“Sweet!” she said.
Sokka had originally planned to present the invasion plan on his own. However, after seeing the nasty glares Zuko was receiving from some of the soldiers – mainly because of the Fire Nation armour he was wearing again – he decided to include the other boy too in the presentation.
“Don’t worry, you’ll do great,” Hakoda encouraged the two nervous looking boys. With deep breaths they climbed the impromptu stage that had been set up.
“Good morning, everyone!” Sokka called, trying to get the soldiers’ attention while Zuko set a few maps up. “Today is the Day of the Black Sun, during which a solar eclipse will happen, making it the perfect time to invade the Fire Nation.” Everyone’s attention was fixed on him, making Sokka blush a little. Seeing him a step from stuttering, Zuko took over.
“There will be two steps to the invasion. A naval stage and then a land stage. To gain sea access to the Fire Nation capital,” he pointed at map of the Fire Nation, “we have to get pass our first major obstacle here. The Great Gates of Azulon.”
“Next we hit land,” Sokka continued, punching his palm with his fist for effect. “And we hit hard. We must fight past their battlements and secure the plaza tower.” He changed the map to one of the capital. “Once we do that, it’s up to the royal palace. At that point, the eclipse will begin.” The Boulder raised a hand to ask a question.
“Excuse me, The Boulder is confused. Isn’t the point to invade during the eclipse? When the firebenders are powerless?”
“The eclipse will only last 8 minutes. Not enough time for the whole invasion and the royal palace is heavily guarded by firebenders. So that’s where we’ll need the advantage of the eclipse the most. When this is finished, Aang will have defeated the Fire Lord. We will have control of the Fire Nation capital and this war will be over!” Zuko explained, his face turning to stone when he talked of his father. Everyone cheered at the plan, as Zuko and Sokka walked off the stage and shared a high five.
Immediately everyone set to preparing. Katara had a strong moment of déjà vu when she looked up from where she was filling her pouches. Zuko and Lia had donned Fire Nation uniforms, and both of them were also carrying swords. Zuko had gathered his hair in a topknot, reminding the waterbender vividly of what he had looked like when they had first met. Sokka was standing a little ways, showing off his “Space Sword” to some men of their tribe excitedly, while Toph chatted animatedly with her fellow earthbenders. Aang landed next to her, startling her.
“Soooo…” he trailed with an excited smile. “You ready?” Katara turned to look at him, to see that he was once again shaved and wearing Air Nomad clothes.
“I believe so,” she said smiling back. She turned to look again at their little family. Aang followed her eyes and smiled too.
“We are one strange group, aren’t we?” he said more to himself that to the girl next to him. “We kind of look like how the world should be. All nations working together in balance.” Katara placed a hand on the airbender’s shoulder.
“It will be like that again Aang,” she told him softly. “We all have faith in you.” The two friends shared a smile before rushing to the others who were already boarding the ships.
“There they are,” Bato called after about an hour of sailing. He had been scanning the horizon with the telescope on the front of the ship. “The Great Gates of Azulon.”
“I don’t see any gates,” Katara said from his side. Zuko handed her another telescope and gently guided her to the right direction.
“It’s a dragon and a statue of Fire Lord Azulon,” he explained.
“Wasn’t Azulon your grandfather or something?” Sokka asked. Zuko just nodded.
“Katara, you and the swamp benders whip up a fog cover,” Hakoda told his daughter and she rushed to take position between the swampbenders.
“We’ll sneak by those statues just like we sneaked by that fire navy blockade,” one of them said as thick mist rose from the sea.
“Keep it up, we’re almost through,” The Water Tribe Chief said when a shrill alarm sounded and a flaming net rose between the statues, blocking their passage.
Hakoda calmly turned to the rest of the crew.
“Everyone below deck.” He turned to Sokka as they left the deck. “Let’s hope your invention works.” They all entered the contraption attached under the ship. It looked like a room with glass windows and a panel of controls at the front, where the Mechanist was sitting. With a few hurried explanations Katara and the swampbenders took positions and made the submarine move forward, thus avoiding the Fire Nation soldiers that were by that time swarming the ships. Hakoda turned proudly to his son.
“You really outdid yourself this time, son.”
“Yeah. Congratulations, Sokka,” Toph groaned from the back. “You managed to invent a worse way of travel than flying.” The Duke took off his helmet and offered it to her sympathetically. She took it and promptly threw up.
“Well, I just came up with the idea but The Mechanist did all the work,” Sokka said modestly.
“But don’t sell yourself short, my boy. It was your idea to use waterbending to make the subs sink and float. Brilliant, though your original designs were a bit difficult to decipher.” He unrolled a scroll to reveal a childish sketch. Lia let out a short laugh. “Unfortunately, there is one problem I couldn’t fix,” The Mechanist continued. “The subs have a limited air supply. Before we land on the beaches, we’ll need to resurface.”
Indeed an hour later they resurfaced much to the happiness of Toph and Zuko who had been the most seasick. Aang had been with Appa but now he flew over to the sub where the rest of the gang was.
“So, this is it huh?” he asked nervously.
“Are you ready for the Fire Nation to know the Avatar’s alive?” Sokka asked back. With a deep breath Aang met everyone’s gaze confidently.
“I’m ready.” He broke into a grin and everyone gathered for a group hug.
“I hope you kick some serious Fire Lord butt, Twinkle Toes,” Toph smiled at him.
“Everyone listen up!” Hakoda called from the entrance of the sub. “The next time we resurface, it’ll be on the beaches. So stay alert and fight smart. Now break time’s over, back in the subs.” Sokka followed his father immediately with Lia right behind him. Zuko followed them and Katara waterbended herself to Appa and bended an air bubble around his head. Soon it was only Toph and Aang left outside.
“Toph I…” They both stopped and blushed.
“You go first,” Aang finally said.
“I just wanted to say I’m proud of you Twinkle-Toes. I know that you will beat the Fire Lord.”
“What if… what if I don’t come back?” Aang said uncertainly. Toph seemed to falter at the idea and under Aang’s gaze – even though she could only guess it –. Aang was indeed staring at her. Lately he had found himself thinking constantly of his earthbending teacher in a way that confused him as he had always associated with Katara.
“Don’t you say that!” Toph cried. “Of course you’ll…” she was caught off by Aang pressing his lips to hers before he hastily opened his glider and took off. Toph stared dumbly in front of her when Sokka’s head reappeared.
“Toph, what are you doing? It’s time to submerge.” He came out to help the little girl back in, surprised when she didn’t offer any resistance.
Inside the tension was almost tangible. No one talked as the subs closed in on the port of the capital.
“Everyone in position. Earthbenders, into your tanks. This is going to be a rough ride,” Hakoda called from his position at the periscope. As soon as they entered the port harpoons were being shot down at them from the various battlements. One of them grabbed one of the subs and started reeling it in. Katara saw it and hastily led Appa out of the water, cutting the harpoon with her waterwhip. The sub dived back into the water and continued as if nothing had happened.
Despite the constant rain of projectiles the submarines were able to land safely. Their front part gave way and tanks carrying the warriors came out. Sokka and Zuko joined to lead them, while Toph and the rest of the earthbenders were given rocks to launch at the various battlements around them. Appa landed near them and Katara jumped down, running to join Lia a little further. Seeing tanks armed with firebenders joining the fight Lia called to the other girl.
“We need to catch up to the boys. They’ll need cover from those things.” They quickened their pace when they saw that Sokka and Zuko had been divided. Zuko was using his own firebending to keep the firebenders on hold while Sokka was busy with those soldiers riding Komodo rhinos. When a waterwhip and a fireblast came from his sides he turned and gave the two girls a thankful smile. Lia stood in front of the two teens and, concentrating, she made a wall of flames rise in front of her, melting the front part of the oncoming tanks. She turned to the water and firebender.
“I’ve got it covered here. You go and help elsewhere.” With a nod they took off to join Sokka.
Zuko hastily bent a shield as a fireball came in their direction. They arrived in time to hear Hakoda say:
“We’ve got to take out those battlements. It’s our only chance.” Sokka looked at them thoughtfully.
“I’ve got an idea,” he finally said.
They left Zuko with the ground forces as more firebenders where coming and he was needed there. The Water Tribe Chief and his children hopped on Appa and flew towards the battlements, destroying a few before they landed. Hakoda pointed at the battlement further from the point Appa was standing on.
“You two take out that battlement. I’ve got this one. Watch each other’s backs.” He ran towards the closest battlement with Katara and Sokka following his example. Sokka cut through the door and his sister froze the soldiers inside before they destroyed the projectile that was ready to be launched. They ran out again, in time to see their father to enter the other one. There were sounds of struggle and suddenly a blast of fire appeared. Hakoda stumbled out of it, grasping his side in pain. The two Water Tribe teens ran to his side and carried him back to ground level. There, Katara started immediately to heal the wound.
“How does that feel, dad?” she asked concerned.
“A… a little better.” He struggled to sit up. “I need… to get back… to the troops.” He groaned and fell back.
“You’re hurt. Badly. You can’t fight anymore,” Katara said sternly.
“Everyone’s counting on me to lead this mission, Katara. I won’t let them down,” Hakoda argued.
“Can’t you heal him any faster?” Sokka asked.
“I’m doing everything I can,” Katara said, trying to keep her voice calm.
“I’ll do it,” Sokka said solemnly.
“No offence, Sokka but you’re not exactly Mr. Healing Hands,” his sister said a little annoyed. Sokka stood up.
“No,” he explained. “I’ll lead the invasion force.”
“Don’t be crazy, Sokka,” Katara said, now openly worried.
“Maybe I am a little crazy but the eclipse is about to start and we need to be up that volcano by the time it does,” Sokka insisted. “Besides, I’ll have Zuko help me.” That seemed to calm his sister a little.
“You can do this. I’m proud of you, son,” Hakoda said solemnly.
“I still think you’re crazy but I’m proud of you too.” Katara hugged her brother.
With a final nod, Sokka ran to Appa and took off. He landed in front of the main force, knocking away a tank in the process. He stood up in the saddle and raised his voice:
“Listen up everyone,” everyone paused and turned to the teen. “I want the tanks in wedge formation! Warriors and benders in the middle. We’re taking that tower and heading for the royal palace!” There were a few moments of chaos as everyone moved to their new positions. Spotting two Fire Nation uniforms in the middle of greens and blues Sokka called once again.
“Zuko!” Said teen raised his head. “I want you and Lia with me up front.” With a nod the two firebenders climbed on Appa’s saddle. Sokka exchanged an excited smile with Zuko before turning to the rest of the force.
“Charge!” he yelled.
In another part of the city Aang was standing on a roof confused. There was no one in sight.
“That’s strange,” he muttered to himself. He took off again to land in front of the palace. He bended an air current to force the doors open.
“The Avatar is back!” he shouted, hoping for a dramatic entrance. He was met with silence. Looking around he walked further inside the palace cautiously.
“Hello?” he called nervously. “Anyone home?”
Outside it was raining fire but the Fire Nation soldiers were steadily retreating. The invasion plan had been going without a fail so far. It was almost…
“Too good to be true,” Lia whispered as she climbed through a hole at the outer wall of the capital. For a moment she gazed on the land that had so long ago been her home. She had feared that she would hesitate in causing further damage to the place but now she realised that her brother had been right. As long as she stayed concentrated on their goal, the memories stayed away. With a final look at the beautiful city below her, the Spirit of Fire turned back to the task at hand.
Aang airbended his way to the throne room, hoping that someone would be there. Seeing the room empty and dark, he fell to his knees as realisation hit him like a ton of bricks.
“No…” he said on disbelief. “Fire Lord Ozai where are you?” he screamed at the empty room.
End of Part 1