Author’s Note:In which there are tensions, call-back, revelation and Wan Shi Tong knows EVERYTHING! Also, in which the font randomly changes for no apparent reason.
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If the trip to Agni’s home had been wary the descent back to the plains was tenser than a coiled spring. Lia and Azula were doing their absolute best to avoid the new addition to the group, leaving the others to awkwardly shuffle around them, any attempt at conversation being snuffed out almost as soon as it started. Although it seemed to the gaang that they took the same way down, the path they followed ended almost in the middle of a dense forest. The thick canopy filtered the light almost completely, leaving the group to light their way with small fires at the hands of the firebenders of the group. Eventually Sokka decided that the silence had gone on long enough.
“So we have one crystal,” he said, perhaps a little louder than was necessary. “How are we going to find the others? Do elementals have some sort of hidden headquarters or something?”
“In a manner of speaking,” Lia explained. “Unfortunately for us they are really hidden, it’s not just a name.”
“So how are going to find them? Should I just wish really hard again and see what happens?” Toph asked, more eager than daunted at the prospect. A chorus of “No!” from the rest of the group stopped her from putting her plan to action immediately.
“We should go to the Library” Agni suggested as the chatter started dying down again. Lia stiffened at the sound of his voice but did not stop him from explaining. “There are books on everything there. There should be something.”
“We don’t have anything with us to offer for entrance there,” said Katara nervously. “Is Won Shi Tong even going to let us in after what happened last time?” Agni looked at her confused.
“You’ve been to the Library before?”
“We sorta convinced him to move the Library back here…” Aang explained with an awkward laugh.
“With us still in it,” Zuko grumbled from where he stood on the side. He could still remember the frantic run through the labyrinth corridors even as the building collapsed around them. Agni chuckled.
“You and your children Lily! You sure know how to leave an impression!” Lia pretended not hear him, though the fire in her hand flared up a little.
Eventually they stopped at a clearing and spread out the maps that Roku had given since, for all his bright ideas, Agni didn’t know either where exactly the Library was. Unfortunately for them the maps were more pictures of various areas on the Spirit World than actual reference points. After a few minutes of scrutinising one of the more detailed ones for anything even vaguely resembling the enormous palace they had visited Sokka frowned in exasperation.
“How are we supposed to find anything in these things if everything keeps changing place anyway?”
“It’s not the places that move, it’s your distance from them,” Lia corrected absently, her eyes scanning another parchment at the same time.
“What’s this?” Azula asked suddenly, pointing at an ornate arrow near the corner of the map she was scrutinising. “It keeps repeating.”
“It’s the northern direction,” Lia explained. “Directions don’t change no matter the realm. In fact…” She took out a map of the mortal world and placed it side by side with those of the Spirit World. Zuko pointed at the desert.
“The Library was around here I think.” Sokka shook his head.
“No, it was a little more to the west. But what has this to do with finding the Library.”
“It’s not that hard to figure Snoozles,” Toph sighed exasperated. “If directions don’t change then it should be in the same place both maps.”
“Is it this one?” Suki asked, pointing at the image of an enormous palace. The others crowded around her to check it.
“Yeah, that’s the one,” Lia agreed. “Bit far from where we are though.”
“That’s not really a problem,” Agni shrugged. “Although it will much simpler if we work together.”
Lia gave him a curt nod and moved to sit cross-legged at the edge of the clearing, pulling out the crystal and letting it float between her and her partner. Agni mimicked her on the exact opposite side.
“You might want to sit down,” he told the others who, remembering Toph’s stunt, hurried to follow the instruction. Silence fell as the two Spirits concentrated and without any warning the crystal between them glowed white with their combined energy and their surroundings shifted violently, reformed, dissolved again and finally reformed to a much sparser clearing. The crystal hovered uncertainly between the two Spirits for a moment before floating back to Lia’s outstretched hand. The gaang sprawled on the ground, fighting various degrees of nausea. After a few minutes they all stumbled to their feet, with Toph leaning heavily on Aang and Sokka pretending not to lean against Suki.
“So how far from here is the Library exactly?” he asked, looking at Lia’s general direction and most certainly not swaying. The redhead laughed and pointed at something behind him.
“See that huge, ornate building right there?” she asked. Sokka turned around frowned.
“I knew that!” he exclaimed defensively. “I was just testing you all, making sure you keep your eyes open at all times!”
“What, for enemy birds?” Zuko raised an eyebrow at his friend.
Five minutes later, they were still standing at the entrance uncertainly.
“I’m not going in first,” Lia said stubbornly. She could still remember the pressing feeling of sand closing in around her, trying to resist the pull of the Spirit World even as she struggled to reach air. She shuddered.
“One of us at least will have to go,” Aang said. “Maybe we’ll bump to Professor Zei instead of the Wan Shi Tong?” The others gave him dubious looks. “Just trying to be positive!” With a sigh Agni walked away from the group and towards the entrance.
“For the record,” he called over his shoulder, drawing everyone’s eyes on him, “You owe me one.” A few minutes later he returned with a smug smile, followed by a tall, lean man with skin as pale as parchment. “Mission accomplished,” he said. Wan Shi Tong surveyed the group in distaste but motioned them to follow him nonetheless.
They walked in silence through corridors that were more shadowed than the group remembered from last time. Finally they stopped in front of a room furnished only by a table almost completely covered in parchments and books.
“This is everything my library offers on the Elementals,” the Owl said. “Copy what you will but take nothing. I will know if you did,” he added, fixing Sokka with a sharp look. With one last threatening glance to the entire group he left them. They wasted no time crowding around the table, scanning through the texts and passing the older ones to the Spirits in the group.
For a while the rustling of sheets was the only thing heard. Suddenly Suki broke the silence.
“Hey, how about this?” she exclaimed, holding up a fragment.
“What about it?” asked Lia, thankful for the distraction. The book she had been going through had been obscurely old even by her standards. Suki handed her the parchment and Lia read it out loud. “…And with the work amongst their people completed the two Earth elementals returned to their home, and around the crystal of their power they created the Hidden City to remind the worlds that what is most worth is…most often…hidden…” she trailed off in the thought.
“I’ve heard something like this before,” Katara said frowning. Aang nodded.
“Me too. I think it went ‘love shines brightest in the dark’?”
“Oh, yeah!” the waterbender nodded. “It was at the tunnels near Omashu, wasn’t it?”
“Oma and Shu!” Agni exclaimed, his eyes widening in realisation.
“What about them?” Toph asked from her place near the door. “They were the first earthbenders, weren’t they?” Agni shook his head.
“Earth elementals,” he corrected. “I guess they figured the badgermoles couldn’t teach everyone… We used to be a lot more hands on back in the olden days.”
“You would know…” Lia muttered under her breath. Agni opened his mouth to reply but she cut him off. “The good news is, this tells us exactly where to look.”
“You know where the Hidden City is?” Zuko asked.
“The general area. But if we get there Oma and Shu will sense our approach. They will guide us in.”
They gathered up the copies they had made of some of the maps and texts and headed for the exit, with Sokka taking the lead. By the time they had left the clearing of the Library behind, the rest of the group was practically running, trying to catch up with him.
“What’s the hurry?” Zuko asked him, when they finally started to slow down.
“You know…” Sokka babbled. “Places to be…artefacts to collect…bad guys to beat…” Katara narrowed her eyes suspiciously.
“Sokka, you didn’t take anything, did you?”
“What? Me? No!” Sokka exclaimed, his hands practically strangling the strap of his bag.
“Liar!” Toph said around a cough. She turned casually to the group, ignoring the looks of exasperation she (and Sokka for the matter) were getting. “Which way now?” Silence answered her. Finally Azula shrugged.
“As far away from here and as fast as possible?”