Author’s note: In which the author starts the first of what will be a litany of cameos, a plan is hatched, and Toph is a shipper.
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***A Given Quest***
A tense silence followed Aang’s question. Lia looked at him confused.
“What do you mean you can only airbend?” she said. Aang tried to earthbend a platform but nothing happened. Nervously Toph repeated her boyfriend’s movement, managing to create the aforementioned platform.
“The vibrations are a little off,” she said with a furrowed brow. “They seem clearer somehow.”
“The ground is harder here than in the human world,” Lia explained. “That’s why gems are easier to find here.”
“Interesting, but it still doesn’t explain why Aang is three bending abilities down,” Azula said, trying to bring everyone back to focus. Katara surveyed the area around them. They had landed on a vast green field that seemed to go on forever. If anyone was to appear, no matter how far away, they would see them immediately. Then again, the same could be said for her group.
“Maybe we should continue this somewhere less open?” she asked. Zuko nodded in agreement.
“It feels like there is a forest up ahead,” Toph offered. “Maybe we should go there.” Suki blinked.
“What forest?” she asked the earthbender. “There’s only more grasslands around us.” Lia shook her head.
“Nothing is as it seems here. Both of you could be right and wrong. The environment is affected by your expectations and some features could be constantly changing to meet them.” She began to walk ahead, the grass remaining undisturbed under her feet. The rest of the group hurried to follow.
“How is that even possible?” Sokka asked, ever the pragmatist.
“Mind over matter,” Aang offered. “The monks taught us that during meditation the only way to fully embrace our subconscious and thus enter the spiritual plane was to let go of any earthly needs and desires.”
“Which is why crossing over to the Spirit World and entering the Avatar State has always been easy for you and your earthbending still leaves much to be desired,” Lia added. Taking pity at everyone else who looked more or less lost she added: “Think of it this way; if you think about something really hard it will quite possibly become your reality here. For example now I’m making sure that no one will be able to track us by following any footsteps left on the grass and also by shortening the distance to Roku’s place. If a few of you also put your mind at it, we might even reach it before nightfall.”
A trip that should have taken at least a few days – although none of the gaang were certain if that estimate was correct – was over only after five hours of fast walking. The end of the field and the woods Toph had sensed appeared in the distance and along with them a mansion that seemed to have been pulled straight out of the Sozin-era Fire Nation. As they walked up to the gate they saw that the main building was surrounded by gardens and a small river was cheerfully rolling on the side of it.
“Should we knock?” Sokka asked, pointing at the Lotus-shaped brass.
“Nah,” Lia pushed the heavy door open casually. “This is the one place here that I’m always welcome, no strings attached, no questions asked.” She had barely made a step inside the garden when the shadow of a dragon appeared over them, seconds before the actual creature descended and launched itself at the Fire Spirit.
“What the?” Sokka yelped pulling out his boomerang before Zuko’s hand on his shoulder held him back.
“Just watch,” the Fire Lord said, pointing at the laughing redhead and the equally cheerful creature looming over her.
“Fang!” Lia exclaimed between her chuckles, “Get off me! I swear you grow larger by the decade!”
“He’s definitely missed you,” a woman’s voice, one that reminded Zuko and Azula eerily of their mother’s, was heard from the doors. Fang finally moved back, allowing Lia to sit up and push her hair out of her eyes, still with a wide smile.
“That can’t be Ta Min,” she said addressing the woman. “I have it in good conscience that your husband sneaks him many more treats than I ever did.”
“Maybe the rarity is what gives them value.” The majestic form of Avatar Roku appeared behind his wife. “We were very worried when we heard what happened at the city.” Lia’s expression sobered but she still tried to downplay the event.
“I couldn’t have expected anything less for my Welcome Home party,” she said casually. “But maybe you can bring me up to speed with the Council’s latest folly. From the little I’ve heard they’re trying to overthrow the Avatar Spirit.”
Her words burnt away any lingering merriment from those around her. Roku motioned at them to follow him back inside as Ta Min gently guided Fang away. Inside the walls the air was cool and a lingering scent of smoke seemed to come from everywhere. The long corridor they were walking in led them to a spacious room overlooking the garden.
“Have a seat,” Roku said to the group that seemed to hang awkwardly by the door. “This will take a while.”
“So what is going on Roku?” Aang asked as soon as everyone was comfortable. Despite the bleakness of the situation he was glad to see his old friend and somewhat mentor again. “Is it possible for the Avatar Spirit to be killed?”
“And what would that mean for us?” Toph jumped in, making very clear who the us were by taking Aang’s hand on hers.
“The Council consists of six very powerful Spirits,” Roku explained. “Even before the war and my death they had a slight,” Lia coughed something that sounded like humongous, “fixation with power. Over the centuries they came to view the original Spirits, the elementals and the Avatar, as too powerful and therefore potential threats to the balance between the worlds.” Zuko crossed his arms.
“And yet, from what Lia told us they had a part in causing the hundred-year war.” Roku turned surprised to his great-grandson.
“What do you mean?” he asked alarmed.
“Apparently Agni was somehow manipulated in orchestrating the war,” Lia explained. “While I’m not one to compliment him, it’s hard to imagine that he of all Spirits would be caught in something like this unawares.”
“Not unless he was led to believe it would be worth it,” Sokka said thoughtfully. Katara gave him a look.
“And what could you possibly promise an all-powerful, cunning Spirit in order to make him your puppet?” Toph made a show of turning to “look” at Lia’s direction. The Spirit’s eyes narrowed in annoyance.
“If you mean that he now ranks at an all-time low on the list of people that I don’t like then you are right.”
“Defensive!” Toph whistled.
“On another note,” Lia continued forcefully, “Aang said he cannot earth, water, or firebend here. Any ideas why?”
“But of course he wouldn’t!” Roku exclaimed. “Here every incarnation of the Avatar exists as a separate Spirit and therefore have no access to the Avatar State or the bending disciples they gain through their connection with their past lives.”
“So, essentially I’m only an airbender here,” Aang said slowly. Seeing his friends’ worried expressions he grinned. “That’s not that bad!” Roku had to smile at his next life’s optimism. Turning to Lia again he focused on another matter.
“The Council’s actions cannot go unchecked or unpunished,” he said, drawing everyone’s attention. “I have begun gathering like-minded Spirits and I’m certain that the rest of the Avatars will be doing the same. You need to focus on securing the crystals.”
“What are these crystals everyone seems to be making a huge deal about?” Sokka asked, fed up with understanding only half the conversation.
“Each elemental possesses a crystal that focuses and enhances their power, similarly to how the full moon and the comet affect water and firebenders. However, even on their own, the crystals carry enormous energy.” Lia shrugged. “In simple words they’re not something we can afford to lose on the other side.”
“In any case,” Katara said, “we already have one.”
Everyone turned to where Lia was sitting, looking decidedly uncomfortable.
“I don’t have it,” she admitted guiltily. “When Sirius passed the title on me, I didn’t feel ready to handle the crystal so I asked him to keep it.” Toph shrugged unconcerned.
“So we just need to find this Sirius-guy, take the crystal and move on, right?” Sokka shook his head.
“Somehow I know that it will not be so simple.” He grumbled.
Roku stood and brought a few scrolls on the table they were sitting around. Sokka and Zuko reached for them eagerly, to unravel detailed –and not so detailed- maps of the Spirit World. Azula leaned next to her brother to study one particularly vague representation of a swampy area when a thought occurred to her.
“Please tell me there will not be a time limit for this?” she asked hopefully.
“I’m afraid there is,” Roku chuckled at the exasperated expressions on everyone’s faces. “The Council will not rest, especially when they learn that we are moving against them.” His expression turned grim. “And I’m afraid that there will be war. Our only hope is to have awakened the Avatar Spirit and use the elemental crystals to push them back.”
“And hopefully replace them with someone a tad nicer,” Lia added.
“This definitely feels like the good old days, doesn’t it?” Katara said, raising an eyebrow at Aang’s and Zuko’s direction.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the two men said together and then shared an amused look.
“Well,” Roku said, standing up, “why don’t you familiarize yourself with the maps? I need a word with Lia.”
They moved out in the garden again. Lia let the elder Avatar lead the way to where his dragon was resting.
“I’m going to assume that they do not know who your mentor is,” he finally said.
“No,” Lia answered evenly. “I avoided talking about my past as much as possible. Even Zuko, who knows the most, does not know who Sirius is. To be honest I did not plan to have to explain our connection ever. I certainly did not expect finding myself forced to make any sort of alliance with him.”
“Don’t let what happened then to cloud your judgment now my dear. I understand things between you are complicated but remember who the real enemy is now. None of us can afford any distractions.” Lia huffed.
“You have no idea how much I would have loved to argue with you over this,” she said as they walked back at the house. “But,” she continued with a slight smile, “duty calls!”