Author’s note: In which there are epic battles all over the place but the author focuses on the epic-est (and no, it’s not Aang’s) and the chapter ends on a cliffhanger just because.
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***Into the Inferno***
Zuko and Katara flew Appa in tense silence. The prince was staring straight at the horizon, which had turned a bloody red, signalling the comet’s arrival. Next to him, Katara searched his face worriedly as his frown deepened.
“Zuko, don’t worry. We can take Azula,” she said soothingly. Her boyfriend shook his head.
“I’m not worried about her, I’m worried about Aang. What if he doesn’t have the guts to take out my father? What if he loses?” he asked pessimistically.
“Aang won’t lose. He’s gonna come back. He has to.” The last part was said more to herself than to the firebender next to her. Katara couldn’t help feeling a little doubtful herself.
Back in Ba Sing Se, Lia felt the arrival of the comet like a gasp of fresh air. She gave the men lined up next to her a quick once-over and saw the two firebenders standing a little straighter despite their age.
“Ba Sing Se, the Order of the White Lotus is here,” Bumi said, unusually serious.
“Here to set you free,” Pakku added solemnly. Iroh took a step forward.
“Only once every hundred years can a firebender experience this kind of power,” he mused, taking a deep breath. He took several more deep breaths, a ring of fire surrounding them, the flames dancing in tune with his heartbeat. Abruptly he gathered them in an enormous ball of fire and thrust it in the direction of the city. The blast demolished part of the wall and the five Masters, plus the Spirit, charged forward. The rest of the Order quickly followed its leaders.
Pakku was the first to attack, pulling water from a nearby stream, with Piandao following closely behind, taking care of any soldiers that the master waterbnder’s tidal wave missed. Jeong Jeong had positioned himself on a crossroad in a different section of the city and created his signature walls of fire, melting the tanks that came against him. The rest of the Order was fighting soldiers spread all over the city. From Lia the only thing that could be seen was a blur and a faint smell of smoke that seemed to linger wherever she passed as she raced through the city, knocking soldiers out, melting tanks and generally having the time of her life.
Compared to the chaos that reigned in Ba Sing Se, Sozin was draped in an almost oppressive silence. At the ceremonial staircase in front of the palace Azula was kneeling, preparing for her coronation. She was dressed in the heavy robe tradition dictated but her usually impeccable topknot was a tangled mess. Pale faced and tense she was far cry from her usual perfect self. The head Sage took the Fire Lord diadem and stood behind her.
“By decree of Phoenix King Ozai, I now crown you Fire Lord…” he paused when he heard a strange noise and looked up. Azula turned to him annoyed.
“What are you waiting for? Do it!” But then she heard it to, the groan of an air bison. Snapping her head forward she saw Appa landing at the side of the courtyard and her brother and the Water Tribe girl jumping down.
“Sorry, but you’re not going to become Fire Lord today. I am.” Zuko took a step forward confidently. Azula couldn’t mute the slightly crazed edge to her laughter.
“You’re hilarious,” she said. Katara walked next to Zuko and glared at the princess.
“And you’re going down,” said the waterbender. The Sage made a motion to crown Azula but she stopped him. Standing up, she smiled maliciously at her brother.
“Wait. You want to be Fire Lord? Fine. Let’s settle this. Just you and me, brother. The showdown that was always meant to be. Agni Kai!” Zuko’s eyes narrowed at her words but she didn’t notice, not any more than she noticed the soft voice that had been whispering to her since her grandfather had died.
“You’re on,” came the answer.
Katara’s eyes widened in alarm when she heard the dare and Zuko’s answer.
“What are you doing?” she hissed concerned. “She’s playing you. She knows she can’t take us both so she is trying to separate us.” Zuko nodded in agreement.
“I know. But I can take her this time.”
“But even you admitted to your uncle that you would need help facing Azula.”
“There’s something off about her, I can’t explain it but she’s slipping. Remember what Lia told us? Perhaps she’s fighting against his influence.” He looked at her with a softer look. “And this way, no one else has to get hurt.” Katara tightened her lips but nodded in resignation. She should have known that Zuko wouldn’t risk her safety. She would have done the same.
The Fire Sages retreated and the two siblings took their positions at opposite sides of the courtyard. Azula turned and shrugged the Fire Lord’s robes off her shoulders.
“I’m sorry it has to end this way, brother,” she said the last word venomously. Zuko slid into his stance.
“No, you’re not,” he answered simply. Azula’s smile was chilling as she attacked him first. With the comet over them they were both at their most powerful. Zuko brought his arms up and blocked, using his own scarlet fire to block Azula’s blue flames. Before the fire had a chance to die Azula attacked again, propelling herself forward and shooting another jet of fire. Zuko blocked again, never attacking himself, intent on tiring his sister out.
As the flames weakened he was vaguely aware of some of the buildings around them catching fire but he was focused solely on Azula’s blue flames. They collided with his own red ones for a moment before rushing towards him. Zuko used one hand to guard himself while he sent his own stream of fire at his sister. The battle came to a standstill, until Azula noticed the damage done on her side of the courtyard and charged at her brother furiously. Zuko surrounded himself in flames, drawing on the tricks he learned from his lessons with Lia and forcing Azula to back down. She was breathing hard now and looked at her older brother, scared for the first time. Gritting her teeth she stood up again to face the two fireballs that came in her direction. Azula was sent flying to the ground.
She forced herself to her feet, her hair falling unevenly across her face as she glared at her brother, who stood straight-backed, barely ruffled.
“No lightning today?” Zuko taunted. “What’s the matter? Afraid I’ll re-direct it?” Azula jumped to her feet.
“Oh, I’LL SHOW YOU LIGHTNING!” she yelled, beginning the familiar movements she’d taught herself. Lightning crackled around her and her eyes narrowed at her brother before a movement caught her attention. Katara had stepped away from the protection of the pillars and stood wide open for an attack. Azula found herself knowing that this would hurt her brother more than anything she could do to him personally. With a smirk, she let the lightening loose in the waterbender’s direction.
Zuko followed its graceful arc, his eyes widening in horror. Katara’s face was frozen in fear as she watched her death come to her. Without thinking, Zuko threw himself between the blast and the waterbender. His arms struggled to redirect the electricity out of his body but he wasn’t focused enough and some of it passed through his heart. He fell to the ground twitching in pain as the last bit of lightening left his body. Katara seemed to be brought back to life by his pained cry.
“Zuko!” she cried, coating her hands in water, her only thought to heal him before it was too late. Nobody noticed Azula freeze when her lightning connected with her brother, nor when she fell to the ground, clutching her head in an attempt to make the voice quiet down as the reality of what she had just done hit her.