Author’s note: In which overhearing conversations is the most reliable method of information, bad guys ALWAYS plot in shadow-y rooms and Azula has become the other resident snarker.
Previous chapter: link
Next chapter: link
A fine summer morning in Sozin found Lia walking through the gardens of the Fire Nation Palace, seeking to burn them in her memory. Today marked ten years from the first time she had visited the garden and decided to aid the little prince. Although she was by no means eager to return to her world, she felt obliged to, fearing that further shows of –ahem- disrespect might result in further problems. Besides for the last four years she had avoided thinking of certain…unresolved issues that were awaiting her back home. Eventually they would catch up to her and she’d rather be alone when that happened. Shaking her head she banished the depressing thoughts and walked leisurely back at the palace.
The next day found the Fire Lord and princess standing at the stairs at the front courtyard of the palace, facing the red-haired Spirit. Despite her constant grumbling about the Council, Lia had truly missed her home. Smiling she hugged Zuko and Azula.
“Don’t be so gloom little brother!” she told the now twenty-year old Fire Lord. “I promise to visit soon!”
“You’d better,” Azula said, struggling to keep a straight face. “I don’t know how Zuzu will be able to survive with Katara at the South Pole and you away. I’m afraid he will start burying himself under paperwork again, like that time mother visited Ba Sing Se.” Zuko glared at his sisters as they shared a laugh at his expense.
“Sokka was right. Sisters are a headache,” he muttered, causing them to laugh even more.
“Sokka tends to bring to himself whatever trouble he lands with Katara,” Lia remarked, recalling the numerous time the Water Tribesman had felt his sister’s waterwhip after some comment or another. “But seriously,” she continued at a calmer tone, “I just need to settle a few things back home and then I’ll be free to visit whenever I want.”
Turning her back to the Royal siblings, she concentrated on the ever-present pull of the Spirit World, allowing it to open a portal, not to the in-between anymore. Lia started walking towards it before pausing and turning to flash a smile to the two firebenders.
“Give my love to the rest of the gang!” she called before disappearing in a bright light.
The meadow she appeared was not far from the Council City. Lia stood there for a minute taking in how everything had changed in her absence. The city had grown, more towers rising at the centre and a line of walls surrounded the outer ring of buildings. The Fire Spirit frowned as she took in the barren fields that were green and lush ten years ago.
The joy of her return evaporated as she hurried towards the walls. With the balance mostly restored in the mortal plane what could possibly be so threatening that the Council felt the need to fortify its lair? The gates were unguarded yet she felt eyes on her as she raced through the deserted streets towards the palace in the middle of the city. Not a soul was in sight and despite the grim situation Lia smirked at her pun. She rarely visited the city, preferring to roam the endless countryside surrounding it and visiting her less popular friends or taking the odd trip in the mortal word, but every time she did come for some reason or another she could hardly walk through the endless mass of Spirits walking the streets. In fact the only time she had seen the streets empty was when she had been banished for disobeying the no-aid-for-mortals rule.
Pausing in front of the Council’s Palace Lia gave her surroundings one last suspicious look before entering. Still no one was present. Swallowing her uneasiness she walked purposely to the Hearing Hall, determined to get to the bottom of this. Sure she had not expected a welcoming committee, but this was beginning to resemble the equivalent of human world’s quarantine. Hearing the low buzz of voices she paused at the entrance.
“…return of Fire…” she could just make out through the heavy wooden door, “…need to hasten…crystals.” At the mention of one of the many unresolved issues that had accumulated in her absence she stiffened and pressed her ear closer to the door, willing the voices to become just a little clearer.
“…need to do something about the Avatar…” came a second voice, “…can’t let it get in our way…” There was a noise of approval from the rest of the audience. Lia was growing more alarmed with every fragment and tid-bit of information she heard. Sliding the door open a little – and praying no one would notice – she waited for the conversation to begin again.
“What about the other elementals?” one councilman asked. “They will not be swayed by promises of power; they are easily the most powerful after the Avatar Spirit.”
“Agni might,” the other speaker seemed doubtful but pressed on for the sake of argument, “if nothing else it will cause chaos and he thrives in situations like this.”
“He will not be as easily manipulated this time,” the first Council member said disappointedly. “I believe the true consequences of his actions in the human world hit home harder than we had calculated. He will not risk another confrontation with his partner.”
“Maybe then she would side with us? She has no fond feelings for Agni.”
Lia raised an eyebrow. True she had no intention whatsoever of ever being in the same room with her equal and opposite Spirit but she did not hate him enough to blindly side with the Council of all Spirits. She would need to speak with Roku. As she turned to leave, she came face-to-spear with the reason she had felt eyes on her since she had returned. The Faceless were a special force organised by the Council for security reasons. They were efficient and most of all silent, although the difficulty of finding something that would actually kill a Spirit reduced their job to merely “silencing” the Council’s targets. At that moment Lia was certain that someone had to have jinxed her. So much for a welcoming committee.
Forgoing any attempt for discreetness Lia blasted the guard in front of her and made a dash for the door.
Hardly an hour back home and already in trouble! The sarcasm sounded bitter even inside her own head. Racing back out of the Palace she continued dodging attacks at the now-understandably empty streets. The moment she was through the gates and back at the barren land, blasts of black energy were raining around her. Lia’s eyes widened in horror when a blast landed next to her and nearly melted a hole on the ground. In a normal fight she would probably be able to hold her own long enough to find a way to get out of the situation. Now, with the opponents she had, aiming closer and closer to her those deadly blasts, there was only one thing she could do. With a curse Lia closed her eyes and literally threw herself to the in-between before racing back to the human world. She would need backup for this one.
Zuko was surprised to hear commotion outside the throne room. He and Azula were about to go investigate when the doors burst open and a familiar redhead walked in.
“When you said you’d come to visit soon, I didn’t think you meant so soon,” Azula said bemused. Lia shook her head negatively.
“This isn’t a social call,” she said grimly. Zuko and Azula frowned at the grave tone.
“What’s going on?” the Fire Lord asked, motioning for the dumbfounded guards to leave them.
“I’m not sure yet.” Lia flopped on the ground near the throne. She had raced all the way to the palace and even for a mostly-immortal being that was too much. “But I do know that I just eavesdropped on a plan to take out the strongest spirit in existence and that the Spirit Council is certifiably insane.”
“How so?” Azula asked, trying to make heads from tales of the absentminded mumbling of the Spirit. Zuko made a motion to shush her, more used to Lia’s explanations.
“Well,” the Fire Spirit had a slightly insulted expression, “they thought that I might even be tempted to side with them just because Agni wouldn’t.” The siblings gave an inaudible “oh” as an answer. All things considered that sounded pretty silly.
“I wasn’t able to hear much,” Lia continued her explanation, “but from what I understand this has being going on for quite a long time. I don’t get what anyone could possibly gain by permanently upsetting the balance and yet here they are planning just that.”
“Maybe they want to replace the Avatar Spirit?” Azula offered.
“Perhaps, though I doubt any one of those old power grabbers would be able to handle it.”
“You didn’t come here just to give us a heads-up, did you?” Zuko asked. Lia gave him a mischievous smile.
“Actually no,” she said. “I’ll need your help with this mess and since the rest of the gaang will be coming soon anyway I thought it’d be safer to wait here instead of back home.”
“Yeah…” Zuko mused, then looked up. “Wait, how do you know the others will be coming?”
“It was her idea to invite them Zuzu,” Azula rolled her eyes. “Something to get your mind off things for a while.”
“Time rolls differently in the Spirit World. How long have I been away?” Lia asked, looking around her for a clue.
“A couple of hours. Why? How long were you there?” Zuko asked.
“Pretty much that long.” Lia seemed satisfied. “That means the two worlds are aligned for now. It’ll make it easier to cross over.” She paused. “You guys are coming, right?” Zuko rolled his eyes.
“Of course!” he said. “We can’t let you get in trouble all by yourself now, can we?” Azula nodded in agreement.
“Besides,” she said, “if I stay on this palace for much longer I might end up as bored as Mai was.”
“Then it’s settled,” Lia smiled relieved. “We’ll wait for everyone else to arrive and then we’re off.” She winked at Zuko. “Feels like old times, doesn’t it?”