Category Archives: Fanfiction

Twilight of the Spirit World – The Temple

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Author’s note: In which there is tension mounting, deadlines approaching and a very evil cliffhanger, curtesy of the author.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***The Temple***

Even with Katara’s healing abilities, Azula’s injuries caused the group to slow down its progress. This was not necessarily a bad thing considering that none of them had much of an idea where to go next. So far they had been following the trail of clues provided to them by their friends and allies. Now they found themselves at a loss. Nobody, not even Agni who was by far the oldest in the group knew where the Air Elementals resided, just that they were as flighty and elusive as their mortal counterparts had been. A quick trip to the Library for more clues was out of the question, what with Wan Shi Tong probably out for their blood. The parchments that Sokka had stolen proved to be more unhelpful than they had initially realised. They were written in such a complex code that none of them could make heads or tails of them.

 

The rendezvous time with the rest of the army was fast approaching, bringing with it nervousness, short tempers and an overall gloominess. Even Ao, who was probably the most careless in the group, seemed to be dragged down by the atmosphere. Lia had taken to not speaking unless absolutely necessary, seemingly convinced that she might admit something she should if she said more than five words at a time. It made the rest of the girls feel worse, since it was their prodding, no matter how well-meant, that had started it. The boys in the group, sensing the nervous tension, were walking on eggshells. It seemed that even the slightest thing might cause an explosion, although when it finally arrived it wasn’t quite in the way any of them expected.

 

Amongst the many things that Agni had not taught Lia was the art of pickpocketing. However, he lacked the manners (and some might say morals) to hesitate to “borrow” somebody else’s things. Which was how he ended up one night, long after everyone else had fallen asleep, shifting through Sokka’s parchments by the slowly dying embers. True he had had a quick look at them before, but they had been snatched out his hands by some of his more impatient co-travellers before he had a chance to really study them. And despite the tentative truce that had existed since their stint at the swamp the others were still a little wary of him. Add to that Lia’s sudden depression and Agni was determined to end the war brewing at the horizon at his own terms. Not at it would be easy. He had already studied half the parchments and even if he had an idea on how to decode the rest, the text did not seem to offer any help. Determined not to give up he picked another leaf and scanned the opening lines. His eyes widened and he read them again more carefully. Within moments he was frantically searching through his satchel for any sort of blank surface and –after finally finding a few loose leaves- scribbling down the text’s translation. It seemed like Sokka’s strange brand of luck had struck again.

 

The morning dawn grey, with the promise of storm clouds looming in the distance. The heavy weather didn’t encourage anyone to leave their tent bright and early but at last they all gathered around the rekindled campfire where Katara and Suki were teaching Azula how to cook. Lia and Toph sat next to them, fiddling with their crystals nervously. The quiet conversation between the girls stopped as soon as Agni approached.

“What do you want?” Lia asked warily, her grip tightening around the burgundy red crystal until her knuckles turned white. Her partner gave her an unreadable look before handing her a parchment.

“Courtesy of the Library,” he said simply before moving to stand a little away.

 

The redhead looked down on the page with a slight frown, her eyes skimming through the lines. Then, to everyone’s surprise, she swore loudly and jumped to her feet.

“We need to leave,” she said, hurrying to the closest tent and starting to pack. “NOW!” she barked when she realised the others were frozen to their spots.

“What’s going on?” Zuko asked her alarmed, moving to help her nonetheless. She waved the parchment she was still clutching to his general direction.

“We had the location of the Air Crystal all along,” she explained exasperated. “We just didn’t know it.” At these words the others jumped to their feet, breakfast forgotten completely and rushed to shove everything in their bags. As soon as everything was put away, and any sign of their campsite hidden or erased, the three Spirits formed a triangle around everyone else, pooling their energy together. A sphere of lightning blue energy crackled around the group for a moment before everything turned white.

 

When the world re-materialised around them they were standing near the edge of a cliff. In front of them was one of the biggest stone buildings anyone of them had ever seen. Built out of white and grey marble it towered and somehow blended with the heavy sky above. The wind seemed to batter at it from every direction and as they entered it they realised that not even the inside was safe. The deceptively solid walls were littered with small, almost invisible holes that left drafts rush in and created an eerie music in the air. Light drifted in sporadically as well, lighting the dust around them like little floating flakes of silver. Their footsteps echoed oddly inside the empty halls as they ran from one room to the next, desperately looking for any indication that the Air Crystal was still there.

“We need to go to the top,” Aang said suddenly, the only one in the group not breathing heavily. Sokka opened his mouth to add a comment but he could only wheeze for breath. He had never felt so starved for air even when Aang had flown Appa higher than usual.

“Closer to the element,” Azula managed to gasp in agreement as they hurried towards the large staircase that dominated the middle of the building.

 

By the time they reached the highest floor even Aang was struggling for breath. The grey-white crystal floating serenely in the middle of the room seemed to absorb all the air around it, the soft light it exceeded pulsing mesmerizingly with the short breaths everyone was taking.

“Well, hurry up Avatar!” Agni managed to say through gnashed teeth. He could feel his very essence being distorted by the uncontrolled energy and if Lia’s glazed eyes were any indication she wasn’t doing much better. Aang nodded once and moved closer to the crystal, swallowing down the nausea that almost overtook him as his hand wrapped around it. But before he could actually grab it, the Crystal zoomed upwards meshing itself with the ceiling high above them. The airbender had barely a chance to widen his eyes in surprise before a coil of energy shot from the opposite side of the room and hit him square in the chest.

 

Too late did they realise that the hall had another entrance and their pursuers had caught up to them again. Toph and Katara where the first to jump to action, their elemental attacks being enhanced by the crystals burning against their skins even as Azula and Suki dragged Aang out of the line of fire despite his loud protests. The others joined the melee, charging against their opponents who looked like amorphous masses of dark energy. However they seemed more ferocious than any previous Spirit the gaang had faced and they found themselves being pushed backwards. Aang, seeing his friends in trouble, jumped in the fray again and his air-based attacks seemed to have more of an effect on their opponents than anything else, forcing them to retreat towards the shadows once more. As the wind outside the building picked up even more a deep groaning echoed around them, almost as if the tower was in pain. Its echoes were drowned by the victorious cries that the group let, thinking victory in their grasp, and the cracking sounds that followed were swallowed by the wind.

 

Agni was the only one to notice when the stone surrounded them started to break, deep cracks appearing on the floor and spreading rapidly on the walls and ceiling. The others didn’t seem to notice, too focused on their enemy. Any words of warning died in his throat when a massive piece of the ceiling landed next to him, finally drawing everyone’s attention to the fact that they were in a more perilous situation than they had thought. To his surprise however everyone stood their ground, neither group willing to concede defeat. He saw Lia rise to the air, flying towards the Air Crystal, using the power of the one hanging around her neck –now dark like blood that had dried- to counteract the effects. She had almost reached the Air Crystal when a stray bolt of dark energy shot towards her, honing on her aura that was almost visible around her in the effort she was making. With a curse Aang forcibly summoned the Fire Crystal to himself, ignoring the pained scream that escaped the redhead as the energy emitted by her prize hit her, sending her plummeting to the ground. Aang rose to catch her even as the floor finally gave way under their feet and Agni used the Fire Crystal to blast their entire group out of the closest window.

Twilight of the Spirit World: The Ambush

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Author’s Note: In which the bad guys decide to grace us with their presence, there is action and girl talk (not necessarily in that order…)

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***The Ambush***

Nobody commented on Agni’s carrying Lia as they moved away from the Swamps with three Crystals in their possession. Truth be told, it was probably the most peaceful any of them had seen her look since they had arrived at the Spirit World. For her part, Lia did not stir even as they set camp by a river and did not wake until the sun rose the next morning. Even then her good mood seemed to continue, not the almost manic cheerfulness the others, especially Zuko, were used on seeing on her, but rather a serenity. Agni noted with satisfaction that the Fire Crystal, which had been acting erratically in response to its bearer’s turmoil, had also calmed, its surface settling on a rich, cheerful red.

 

For a few days this calmness reigned, the group wondering almost aimlessly, lacking any clues for the whereabouts of the last Crystal but for once not in a particular hurry either. Stories were exchanged from past adventures, the gaang bringing Ao and Agni up to speed with their war-related adventures and the two of them returning the favour with their own stories, and if the more embarrassing or funny ones always happened to include Lia in some capacity…it was hardly their fault!

 

Reality decided to intrude on their little bubble with the smell of salty air and the sound of waves crashing on the shore. When the ocean came to view they stopped and gazed in awe. The sea in the Spirit World is a lot different than what passes for sea in the mortal plane. One might even say that it was the original from which an imperfect copy was made. Every possible blue, green and purple (and some the gaang didn’t even know existed) swirled in perfect harmony, now calm and now thunderous, forming waves that crashed on the rocky shore, leaving behind them a booming sound like distant thunder. Aang summed up everyone’s reaction at the sight:

“Wow!”

 

For once Katara took the lead, the water’s call amplified by the Crystal’s energy meshing with her own creating an insistent call at the back of her mind that urged her to joindanceswimragebeone with the ocean. Before the others had time to even reach the beach she was almost on the water’s edge.

“Katara wait up!” her brother’s annoyed voice broke through the haze and she stopped abruptly, not having realised how far ahead she had run. She turned sheepishly at the others.

“Sorry,” she called over the roar of the water. “I don’t know what came over me.”

“Not to worry,” Lia assured her, staying far from the water’s range. “It’s the Crystal. You’ll get used to it.” Katara looked at her confused.

“The Crystal wanted me to get in the water?” she said. She wrapped her arms around her middle uneasily when every Spirit in the group turned to look at her alarmed.

“What do you mean, get in the water?” Ao said cautiously, casting a wary glance around them. Katara frowned.

“It sounded like somebody was speaking to me,” she tried to explain. “I couldn’t make out the words but it felt like I should join the water?” She paused, realising how bizarre that must have sounded to her friends. Toph opened her mouth to say something when, out of nowhere, what looked like the older brother of the snake from Serpent’s Pass (only more spiky, bigger and a lot more angry) burst out of the water and lunged at them. The twin lightning bolts he received from Agni and Azula did little to deter it.

“Why is the ocean trying to kill us?” Sokka exclaimed as they scrambled away from the water’s edge. Toph pushed her bangs away from her face annoyed and sent a wave of sand at the general direction of the Serpent.

“Is this really the time for questions Snoozles?” she snapped and then yelped when somebody wrapped an arm around her waist and unceremoniously dragged her backwards.

“Is this really the time for snark Toph?” Zuko snapped back, having dragged the two of them just out of blast radius. “This thing is shooting the water equivalent of Combustion Man’s blasts!” That was all it took to get Toph to focus, switching from sand waves to pelting the Serpent with increasingly large rocks. Aang landed next to her, using his airbending to stir the boulders she was launching closer to the thing’s head. Katara was standing nearby, her face creased in concentration as she tried to use the ocean’s waves to drag the Serpent back inside the water. It should have been easy, yet it felt as though something was blocking her power…

 

The second wave (pun not intended) of attackers appeared with as much warning as the Serpent. They seemed to be materialising out of nowhere, a platoon of vaguely humanoid spirits with heads like praying mantises, armed with some wickedly sharp scythes. Suki, Sokka and Ao attacked them immediately since their more elemental-oriented companions where still focusing on the Serpent. Agni, the first to notice the additions to the fray, turned to Azula and Zuko.

“Help the others,” he said seriously. “Lia and I can handle this one.” The siblings gave him an uncertain look but moved to help their friends. Aang, Toph and Katara joined them shortly, having been told similarly by Katara. Confident that their companions could handle themselves, the two Fire Spirits moved closer to the Serpent. With no mortals near enough to be caught in the immediate blast the two pooled their powers to blast the Serpent. The result was a fireball with the temperature of a small sun that completely disintegrated the Serpent. Lia and Agni exchanged a smug look before joining their friends against the Mantis Spirits.

 

They were right on time for that too since one of them, taking advantage of everyone’s momentary distraction caused by the blast managed to swipe his scythe on Azula’s side. The young woman fell on the ground with a cry of pain. Katara was instantly at her side, trying to step the blood flow, the battle too chaotic around them to allow for the concentration required for a healing session. Ao was on Azula’s side a moment later, destroying her attacker with a blast of spirit energy. The battle didn’t last long after this. With the addition of Lia and Agni the group was able to push back the Mantis Spirits, who fled the scene with their numbers severely diminished.

 

Once they were certain that no one and nothing else would attack them unexpectedly the group set up camp close to the battle site. A tent was set almost immediately and a worried Zuko, followed by an equally worried Ao, carried Azula inside. Katara stepped in behind them and shooed the two men away so that she could concentrate on her patient. With grumbles the two men went to join the others as they wearily finished setting the camp, a surprisingly haggard-looking Agni getting the fire going and slumping next to it. The others followed suit, none of them particularly in the mood for conversation. Lia rummaged through her satchel and produced a copper bottle that she passed wordlessly to the Spirit next to her. Agni popped it open and took a small sip.

“Sake?” he asked her amused. She shrugged.

“It’ll wake you up, won’t it?” she muttered, letting her hair fall forward to hide her expression. Her partner chuckled.

“True,” he said before taking another sip and passing the bottle back to her. Lia took it, closed the top again and chucked it to Ao. It startled his out of the stupor he had fallen since Katara had kicked him out of Azula’s tent but not enough to realise what was going on.

“Drink!” Lia half-ordered him in an exasperated tone. “You’re more high-strung than a freshly-made bow!” The Blue Spirit rolled his eyes and threw the bottle back.

“No, thanks,” he said sarcastically. “If the two of you are planning on drinking I’ll have to remain sober. The last time you,” he pointed at Agni, “got drunk you created a new flower. And if I remember correctly, you,” now he turned to Lia who cut him off hurriedly.

“Fine, fine don’t drink!” she said hurriedly. “No need to get all stroppy about it!”

“Defensive!” Toph said around a cough but before the conversation could turn into an argument Katara stepped out of the tent.

“How is she?” Zuko and Ao asked at the same time, before turning to look at each other surprised, although Zuko’s look was vaguely threatening. He had a sneaking suspicion he’d find himself in Sokka’s shoes soon enough.

“She’s fine and resting,” Katara reassured them before sitting next to Zuko. “Can somebody else cook tonight?” she asked tiredly.

“I’ll do it!” Suki offered, moving towards the bags with supplies they had. A simple stew would be easy enough to make.

 

It was a testament to how close the girls of the gaang that after dinner, and without having exchanged a word on the matter, they moved together, dragging a protesting Lia inside Azula’s tent. Toph entered last, shouting a “Girl talk!” to the stunned men’s general direction before shutting the door behind her. Inside the tent Lia sat down and rubbed her eyes tiredly, doing her best to ignore her friends’ expectant stares.

“What now?” she asked them finally. Azula, never one to beat around the bush, spoke first.

“What’s going on with you and Agni?” she asked, propping herself up against Katara’s shoulder to get a better vantage point.

“Absolutely nothing,” Lia answered firmly, already moving to stand up. Toph sent a slight ripple under the redhead’s feet and she was forced to sit down again.

“You’re lying,” she said flatly, none of her usual jokiness in her voice. “Being around you two is like being around Zuko and Katara, Sokka and Suki and Azula and Ao…”

“And you and Aang,” Azula added in a sing-song, steadfastly ignoring the blush that she knew had covered her cheeks.

“Whatever!” Toph exclaimed before turning towards Lia again. “Your heartbeats are in sync. Even when you’re fighting, you two never fall out of sync.” For a while it looked like Lia would not speak, even as the other pondered the implication of what the earthbender had said. Finally the redhead caved.

“Just because I love him, doesn’t mean I trust him!” she said. “Or he trusts me for the matter…” Toph was perhaps the only one not shocked by that admission.

“You…love him?” Suki stammered. “But…”

“You tried to kill him!” Katara finished her friend’s words. Lia shrugged.

“And he’s been a lying, manipulative bastard since the day I met him,” she said, this time managing to stand up.

“Well he’s certainly not acting like one now,” Toph said exasperated. “What does a guy need to do to get on your good books? Die for you?” Lia froze, one hand at the tent flap, as a very familiar vision flashed through her mind.

“That’s what I’m trying to stop,” she whispered, too low for the girls to hear, as she left them to discuss what she had admitted among themselves.

Twilight of the Spirit World – Closure

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Author’s note: In which some long overdue conversations happen, there is hard character development and the author wonders whether she should stop tormenting her characters…

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Next chapter: link

***Closure***

The first thing the group realised when they stepped through the thick mist was that Koh’s territory was an exotic paradise compared to what they were facing. The parchment-yellow and ash-grey fog that surrounded them thinned at places to reveal cracked rocks and skeletal trees. The sky and sun were hidden completely and the only light came from Zuko, Azula and Agni’s hands, the ruby crystal around Lia’s neck and the odd flash of light that appeared and disappeared without warning. Silence seemed to swallow them, not even their footsteps echoing. Nervously they huddled even closer together and hurried to catch up with Lia.

“Slow down, will you?” Ao said eventually, his voice resonating oddly, almost like the rumble of thunder. “If we end up losing we’ll waste even more time in here.”  Lia turned to look at him annoyed.

“It’s not my fault you can’t keep up,” she snapped. “We’re not going on a picnic, so hurry…” she trailed off, a look of fear flitting across her face. She clutched the crystal with one hand before turning on her heel and rushing forward again.

“This place reminds me of that swamp we ended up in before we met Toph,” Katara said suddenly. “You don’t think what Koh meant is that we’ll see the people we lost again?” She and Sokka exchanged a nervous look.

“I saw Toph,” Aang offered. “Maybe whoever we see will be here to help us?”

“These are the Mists,” Agni said grimly. “Only the lost walk them and the longer they stay the more they loose of themselves. I doubt they’d be of any help.”

“Then why would the Water crystal be here?” Azula asked him confused. To her surprise his answer was almost gentle.

“Who would dare to knowingly venture in a place like this?”

“You mean we’ll be affected too?” she asked scared. He pointed at the crawling tendrils of mists, tendrils that were more solid than they should probably be, that seemed to surround them like predators stalking their prey.

“If you listen carefully you can hear the lost,” he said before speeding up to walk next to Lia.

 

Toph was the first to understand what he meant. Her more sensitive ears caught the sound of the lost first and she visibly shuddered. It didn’t take long for the others to understand why. The deeper they moved the louder the voices became, unintelligible cries of agony, ecstasy and fury, all blending together so that it wasn’t clear if it was one person screaming or a multitude. Zuko blasted a few tendrils that moved too close for comfort and the mist seemed to retreat for a moment.

“I don’t think they like fire too much,” he remarked. Azula smirked, glad to be able to do something about the situation and she started using the tendrils for target practice, even as they continued to walk. She didn’t miss Ao’s appreciative look either. If her shots started becoming more elaborate, no one commented on it.

“It’s too quiet,” Suki said suddenly, causing everyone to pause. She was right. Nothing, not even the crackle of fire could be heard and even the tendrils had seemingly retreated. Then, with no warning, the fog descended and covered the group. They scrambled to keep hold of the person closest to them as cold fingers seemed to brush against their faces, chilling their breaths even as the air left their bodies. The retreat of the fog found them divided and further from each other than they realised.

 

Aang and Toph found themselves standing at the entrance of the Southern Air Temple. The airbender shuddered. It looked just as it had when he, Katara and Sokka had first visited it together and a part of him relived the terror and rage that he had first experienced there. Toph seemed to sense his turmoil.

“This is the Temple you grew up in, isn’t it?” she said quietly, the softness of her voice belaying the strength of her grip on his hand. Aang gulped.

“It is,” he said. “You know, even after meeting Zuko for the first time, even with Katara’s and Sokka’s warnings, I didn’t believe that the Air Nomads were lost until I came here. Why would the mist bring us here though?” Toph frowned and took a step forward, dragging him along.

“If the mist is made out of lost things then perhaps you need to find whatever it is you lost here. We’ll just have to start looking.”

 

Together they walked through the quiet and empty halls until they made it to what must have been an orchard once. Now the trees stood dry and half-wild, some of them having long fallen and rotted away.

“Do you think I can do it Toph?” Aang asked suddenly, leading his girlfriend towards a few steps and sitting there with her.

“You’ll have to be more specific Twinkle-Toes,” she said dryly. “I think you can do plenty of things.”

“Do you think I can revive the Air Nomads? Keep them from disappearing?” he paused and looked around. “It’s not just for the sake of the Avatar circle. I don’t want all the legacy that my people will have to be stories and ruins.”

“I don’t think things will be as dark as you think Aang,” Toph said seriously. “You ended the Hundred Year War…” Aang opened his mouth to interrupt her but she covered it with her hand. “Let me finish!” she chided. “Your story inspires people. There will be those that will wish to follow your way of living; the Air Nomads’ way of living. It will be slow going but we can restore the temples. And if you are worrying about the next Avatar not having an airbending master well…” she paused and blushed. “Our children are as likely to be airbenders as they are to be earthbenders.” Aang blushed as well at her words and smiled shyly. Suddenly the wild garden didn’t seem as unwelcoming as before.

“Promise me we’ll take it one day at a time together?” he said. Toph leaned against him.

“I promise,” she said.

 

Behind them the mist started to thin.

 

When the mist cleared Sokka and Suki found themselves, to their endless surprise, on a small boat in the middle of the ocean. The sky above them was cloudy and its reflection gave the water a strange milky-white colour. The couple looked around, trying to find the shore or, better yet, the way back to their friends. There wasn’t any wind and the only thing rocking the boat was their own movements. Finally Sokka exhaled in exasperation.

“How on earth are we going to leave this place?” he whined, flopping on his back and staring at the sky moodily. Suki nudged him with her foot.
“I thought you are the idea guy,” she teased him gently. “Why don’t you put that big head of yours to use?”

“This isn’t our world! Half the time I don’t even understand why things happen the way they do here!”

“When has that stopped you before from being brilliant?” a voice said from above them. A soft voice that Sokka recognised immediately and had him jumping to his feet searching frantically for its owner.

“Yue?” he called out hopefully.

 

Above the boat the clouds parted to reveal the moon and from it descended the former Princess of the Northern Water Tribe. She smiled at the pair kindly.

“It’s good to see you again Sokka,” she said, hovering in front of the boat, just out of reach. She turned to Suki. “And it is good to finally meet you Suki.” The Kyoshi warrior nodded carefully at the Moon Spirit, glancing quickly at Sokka, nervous at his tense silence.

“It is good to meet you too Yue,” she said at last. “I have heard a lot about you.” She fell silent again, not sure what else to say.

“Was it my fault?” Sokka blurted out, looking at Yue desperately. “Was there anything I could have done?” She looked at him serenely but sadly and shook her head.

“No,” she said at last. “This was meant to happen. It would have always happened.” Her expression crumbled for a moment. “But I am sorry to have caused you grief. I never meant to hurt you.” They looked at each other and for a moment all that could have been seemed to make the gap between them even greater.

“How could it have been either’s fault?” Suki broke the silence, looking at both Sokka and Yue sternly. “You were children trying to fix the problems the hatred of the previous generations caused. And from all the stories I’ve heard you both did more and sacrificed more than anyone had the right to ask of you.” Sokka looked at her stunned but Yue smiled.

“You are very wise Suki,” she said. “Take care of him for both of us.” Suki nodded quietly, a silent message passing between the two women. Then Yue turned to Sokka and place a palm on the side of his face. “Be happy,” she whispered before disappearing. Sokka turned to Suki and silently hugged her, the guilt of Yue’s death finally leaving him.

 

Around them the mist disappeared.

 

“This is too weird,” Azula said exasperated, looking around at the courtyard she had played in many times as a child. Next to her Ao was examining their surroundings curiously.

“This is where you grew up?” he said surprised. “How come you’re a warrior?” She turned to him in surprise and he took a hasty step back. “I did not mean to say that! But seriously, this place looks to comfortable!”

“You don’t look like a Water Spirit anyway,” Azula retorted, “so I guess nothing is at appears.” She gave him another look. “I still think your eyes are beautiful though.” She blushed as red as her tunic and slapped a hand over her mouth. Ao blushed too but he managed a flirty smile.

“Same goes to you princess,” he said. “I think I get it,” he added more seriously. “This is a place where truths are revealed. That’s why we can’t control what we say. Once we save reality as we know it, do you want to go traveling with me?” He groaned and banged his head against a nearby tree. “Great!” he muttered. “That’s exactly how I planned asking you.” To his surprise Azula laughed.

“Let’s save the world before we make any travel plans, shall we?” she said and reached for his hand. “Now how about I show you around and we look for an exit?”

 

Neither noticed the courtyard melting as they left it behind.

 

The clearing shook as yet another fireblast hit one of the few trees not to be burnt down yet. Lia doubled over, breathing heavily as she tried to conjure the energy to continue with her destruction of the landscape. Agni stood to the side, well out of her range, frowning worriedly. When the mist had first cleared they had found themselves in an idyllic clearing, one that belonged to the distant past, with trees and flowers that had not survived the shifts in spiritual energy that had caused the first benders to appear. When one more tree fell to the ground he decided enough was enough. He marched up to Lia and grabbed her hands just as she released her energy. It rippled between them for a moment before being absorbed by the crystal.

“This isn’t real,” he told her forcefully. “You’re gaining nothing by burning everything to the ground.” Lia tried to wrench her hands free.

“It’s my memories that conjured this place up,” she spat. “If I want to burn it I will.”

“Perhaps, but the memory will remain!” Agni shook her angrily, trying to get through before she began to truly panic. He had noticed the signs since she had realised that the fog would conjure memories back to life, but truth be told he wasn’t certain what might happen to Lia if she really managed to destroy one of her most important memories. He wasn’t very eager to find out either. Tightening his grip to force her to look at him he forced himself to speak calmly. “You cannot escape what has already been done. Let’s just try to find our way out, okay.”

 

For a moment it seemed like Lia didn’t understand what she was told. Finally she jerked her head in a sharp nod and pulled away, striding towards the edge of the clearing, doing her outmost to ignore the destruction around her. For once she didn’t object to Agni walking by her side. They had almost reached the edge when a childish voice, carried by the wind, caused Lia to freeze in place, all blood draining from her face. Agni wrapped an arm around her waist letting her lean against him as her breathing grew ragged and her hands started to tremble. The voice was louder now, coming closer, and Agni turned them both to face the burnt land just as a black-haired, brown-eyed boy dressed in green appeared. He couldn’t be more than ten years old and the only indication of his nature was the unearthly pallor of his skin. He took one look at them and with a bright smile threw himself to Lia’s embrace. In turn her trembling increased as she looked down to a face she had not seen in millennia.

“You’re dead,” she said hoarsely even as her arms moved to cradle the boy tightly. He nodded against her.

“I don’t mind,” he answered, his voice muffled from where he rested his face on her shoulder. He pulled back a little to look her in the eye and frowned, for the first time realising that his sister wasn’t exactly looking happy. “You…you can’t be blaming yourself?” he exclaimed in disbelief. Lia frowned and let go of him.

“I’m the very incarnation of fire, the thing that killed you Hisao!” she said angrily brushing a few tears away. “And even if I weren’t a Fire Spirit, I was your sister. It was my job to protect you, not the other way around!” Hisao bit his lip and then, more carefully this time, hugged his sister again, pulling her to sit on the ground.

“It’s okay,” he said quietly. “It’s okay to be sad.” His arms tightened around her as she started crying.

“I…just…miss you…so much,” she choked out. “It wasn’t fair!”

“I miss you too. But think of all the things that wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t become a Fire Spirit.” Lia shook her head.

“Agni would have managed,” she said.

“Maybe I would have,” Agni said suddenly, kneeling on her other side. “But I wouldn’t have given to our people all that you gave them.” Lia looked up surprised. He managed a small smile and wrapped his arms around her too. “We are equals in everything and don’t you forget it!”

 

Tremulously, hesitantly, the tears seemed to slow down. Lia looked at her brother to find him watching with a hopeful expression.

“I’ll always miss you,” she told him. “And I will always be sad that I lost you the way I did. But I think I am ready to start moving on.” Hisao gave her a bright smile and stood up. All the wisdom drained from his expression as he turned threateningly towards Agni.

“And you treat my sister nicely mister!” he ordered the Spirit before giving the redhead one last hug and with a cheerful wave disappeared in the woods. Agni, still startled by that last comment had barely had time to recover when Lia leaned against him, turning to curl with her side against his chest as the emotional turmoil finally took its toll and she fell asleep.

 

A bright light covered them.

 

Katara and Zuko turned abruptly at the sound of footsteps behind them. They had been walking through ankle-deep water since the fog had transported them away from the others. Seeing nothing they warily turned to continue walking when the water in front of them started rippling. It rose and formed a figure that slowly condensed to a woman dressed in Water Tribe clothes. Katara took a step back in shock.

“Mum?” she whispered in disbelief. Kya opened her eyes and smiled lovingly at her grown-up daughter.

“It’s so good to see again sweetie,” she said, spreading her arms to embrace Katara. The waterbender didn’t any more encouragement. She rushed to her mother’s arms laughing and crying at the same time. When the two finally parted Kya looked at Zuko first and then Katara.

“Aren’t you going to introduce me to this nice young man Katara?” she asked almost playfully. Katara blushed but moved to her boyfriend’s side.

“Mum, this is Zuko,” she said. Kya looked at them silently for a moment, taking in the way they held hands and leaned into each other and the necklace that hung on Katara’s neck, a blue ribbon and a finely carved sunstone.

“It is nice to meet you Zuko,” she said finally, nodding her head in greeting.

“It is an honour to meet you ma’am,” Zuko answered, nodding respectfully back.

“Mum what are you doing here? We were told this is where the lost souls go.” Katara’s eyes widened in fear. She couldn’t bear to imagine her mother roaming this desolate place forever.

“Don’t worry dear,” said Kya. “This is also a place for lost things to be found. Just like I found you.” She reached under her parka and pulled out a brilliant blue crystal. “The Spirits wished to entrust you with this and I couldn’t miss a chance to see my little girl again. So offered to wait for your arrival so that I might give it to you.”

 

Katara extended her hand to take the crystal, her eyes widening as she became almost hyperaware of the water surrounding her. In front of her, her mother’s spectre started fading.

“Wait,” Katara cried. “I thought we’d have more time!” Kya shook her head.

“My time is over Katara. You know this.” By now she was a mere echo. “I love you sweetie. And tell your father and brother that I love them too.”

“I love you mum.” Katara whispered as her mother completely disappeared from sight. Slowly she pulled the chain from which the crystal hung around her neck and took Zuko’s hand.

“Are you okay,” he asked her hesitantly.

“Yes,” she answered, and to her surprise she said the truth.

 

Everything around them disappeared.

 

Aang and Toph thought they were the first to stumble out of the swamp and into clean air. To their surprise they found Agni leaning against a tree, with Lia wrapped protectively in his arms, fast asleep. Toph smiled softly. She didn’t need sight to tell that their hearts were beating in sync.

Twilight of the Spirit World – A Blast from the Past

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Author’s note: In which the author brings back a favourite character of hers, denial is also a river in the Spirit World and there is an addition to the Gaang.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***A Blast from the Past***

Dawn found nearly everyone in the group wishing they could sleep in for once. They gathered in the front room of the house they had been given looking pale, tired and, in Lia’s case, more than a little hangover. Sokka’s eyes widened at the sight of the usually energetic Spirit trudging last in the room, dark circles under her eyes and hair framing her face limply.

“What happened to you?” he nearly yelled. Lia winced as his loud voice added to her headache.

“Less noise, more quiet,” she managed to mumble, massaging her temples. “And for the record, whatever I might have said last night best be forgotten.” Suki chuckled.

“What, you spill your secrets when you get drunk?” she asked.

“Then how come you’ve never mentioned it before?” Toph added disappointed. “Think of all the fun we’ve missed.” The redhead just groaned in response.

“See if I ever touch the stuff again…” she said before turning hopefully to Katara. “A little help for your soon-to-be-sister-in-law?” The waterbender rolled her eyes but healed the headache nonetheless.

“Why did you drink so much anyway?” she couldn’t help but scold the redhead. “You knew we wouldn’t be staying here.” Lia shrugged carelessly.

“It was worth it!” she said.

“Not like you said anything particularly embarrassing Lily,” Agni said from his place by the door. “Even drunk you wouldn’t say what your secret was.” Lia looked at him blankly for a moment, then some of last night’s memory decided to present itself. To everyone’s surprise she blushed.

“Of course!” she grumbled. “Of course you’d be the one to find me drunk out of my mind!” She took a deep breath. “I suppose it could have been worse.” She picked her bag and made for the door. Turning to face the rest of the gang, who were gaping at her relatively calm reaction, she raised an eyebrow impatiently. “Well? Are you coming or what?” Toph whistled impressed and waltzed over to Agni.

“I don’t know what you did last night but it sure mellowed her!” she said, punching him in the arm. “Good work!”

“Thanks, I think,” he answered, rubbing his arm. For a sixteen-year-old she sure was strong!

 

All teasing aside, the festival seemed to have siphoned at least some of the tension that had hung over the group before. Short conversations would break every now and then as they walked towards the city gates. The streets were mostly deserted, the city’s inhabitants clearly preferring to lie in after last night’s revel, although a few were out and about and they cheerfully waved at the group as they passed them. Under the early morning light the city’s colour seemed washed out, even the gems sparkling half-heartedly. Most surprisingly perhaps, when they arrived at the gate they had entered through the previous day, instead of the ornate marble arch, they found a plainer one, carved out of rough granite. Oma stood at the side, waiting for them with a soft smile. Surveying the still-sleepy expressions in some of their faces she chuckled.

“It seems you all had a good time last night,” she said.  “I’m glad. And I have one last gift for you.”

“It’s not whatever Lia drank last night, is it?” Zuko asked, laughing at how the Spirit perked up at the prospect despite her earlier vow of abstinence. Oma shook her head smiling.

“No, I don’t think that would be of much help right now,” she said lightly. Then she grew solemn. “It has to do with your quest,” she said. “The location of the Water crystal.”

“You know where it is?” Aang asked eagerly. His face fell when the Earth Spirit shook her head negatively.

“No,” she said. “But I do know someone who does. Koh, the Face Stealer.” Aang involuntarily shuddered at the idea of dealing with the creepy Spirit again. The rest of the group also seemed weary, having heard Aang’s account of his encounter with Koh. Lia snorted at their expressions.

“Oh come on!” she said. “He’s not that bad!” The others gave her dubious looks. “He’s not!” Even Oma was looking at her surprised.

 

Clearing his throat awkwardly Aang turned to Oma, once again the spokesperson for the group.

“Thank you for all your help,” he said as formally as possible. Oma bowed her head in acknowledgement.

“I hope our next meeting is under better circumstances,” she said before opening the gate for them. “Fare well on your travels.” With one final nod the group passed through the gate, exiting at the bottom of the mountain. The gate closed behind them and disappeared.

“So since you are apparently friends with the Face Stealer, does that mean that you know where he lives?” Sokka asked Lia.

“Yup!” she said. “He’s on the swamps, pretty much as close to the in-between as you can get without actually leaving the Spirit World behind.” She gave Aang a look. “You know the place, don’t you?” The Avatar nodded.

“I ended up there the first time I crossed over, during the invasion of the Northern Water Tribe. But the area is very large,” he added worriedly. “Last time I had Hei Bai to guide me through. How are we going to find him now?” Agni didn’t seem very concerned.

“I’m sure he tells his friends how to find him,” he said lazily, causing everyone to stare at Lia expectantly. She frowned and everything around her blurred. A chorus of “Hey!”s caused her to settle down, their surroundings rematerializing to the place they had been standing.

“Well?” she asked irritably. “Do you want me to take you guys there or not?”

“A word of warning first!” Azula grumbled, letting go of Zuko, whom she had grabbed in order to keep her balance. She didn’t receive an answer so she took to glaring at the Spirit’s back instead. “What’s up with her all of a sudden?” she mumbled, receiving an equally confused look from her brother.

 

In the end there wasn’t much blurring and teleporting that day and when they set up camp that night the mountain was still visible in the distance. The walk had done little to improve Lia’s mood and she had fallen to a brooding silence, ignoring the light chatter of her friends. Instead of joining the others around the fire, she sat a little further away, scowling at the fact that the others were slowly growing more comfortable with Agni’s presence, even including him in their conversation. The crystal heated up against her collarbone in reaction to her unsettled emotions as she vainly tried to figure out exactly what was that had set her on edge all day. It had to do with last night, that much she was certain, but the night was foggy in her memory. No matter what Agni had said earlier, she knew she had revealed something that she would have preferred to keep hidden. Her train of thought was interrupted by the sound of footsteps coming from the shadow-covered trees nearby. Before anyone else had much of a chance to react she was on her feet and hurtling a fireball in the direction of the sound. The shadows just behind the spot her fire landed condensed to a human shape with a face reminiscent of Zuko’s old Blue Spirit mask, and at last materialised to a man dressed in black, with a royal blue cloak and hood that he pushed back to reveal a face with sharp features and electric blue eyes. Recognising him, Lia smiled in delight and practically jumped in his arms.

“Ao!” she exclaimed, pulling away a little to look in his eyes. “It’s been ages! How did you find us?” He shrugged lazily –as best as he could with his arm around her shoulders-.

“Word of you going around and causing trouble has spread. I figured I’d come and see what all the fuss is about,” he said.

“There’s more people here you know,” Azula cut their reunion. “Are you going to introduce us or what?” Lia stepped away with a laugh.

“Sorry about that,” she said, turning to face the group. “Everyone, this is Ao, the Blue Spirit.”

“Yo,” Ao nodded in acknowledgment to the introduction before taking a seat between Azula and Lia and joining the group’s conversation.  Distracted as they were by their exchange of stories, nobody noticed that Agni, who had at first been amused at Lia’s reaction towards all things unidentified, was frowning deeper by the moment as he observed the friendship between Lia and Ao. After their exchange party he had thought that maybe the redhead had decided to call a truce but apparently he had been wrong.

 

Regardless of Agni’s frustration Ao’s addition to the group managed to relieve some of the tension if only because he knew how to distract Lia when her mood seemed to take a turn for the worse. He listened with amusement as she recounted how she had talked Zuko into taking up the Blue Spirit as an alias for a while and would have probably talked about sword-fighting techniques with Zuko and Sokka for the rest of the day if their arrival at Koh’s domain didn’t interrupt them. Everyone quieted down as they took in their surroundings. The place seemed even more desolate than Aang remembered, tendrils of mist winding around the trees like clawed hands.

“Do we need to go in there?” he asked, pointing at the cave entrance and looking about as eager as Lia had looked in front of the Library.

“We’re in his front yard,” Toph pointed out. “He probably knows we’re here already.”

“Doesn’t mean he’ll come out,” Suki said, her hand nervously resting against the fans hanging from her belt. Lia shook her head and marched towards the entrance, although she didn’t step into the shadows either.

“Koh!” she called instead, leaning casually against the wall and ignoring Aang’s hurried instruction of the “no emotion” rule. “Are you going to keep us waiting all day or are you going to crawl out.”

“I can hear you quite well without the screaming,” Koh’s smooth voice came from the shadows, followed by the Spirit itself. He observed the group before him, completely ignoring the amused redhead at his side. “Let us dispense with the formalities. I have no interest in adding any of your faces in my collection.” A few hesitant expressions of relief appeared.

“Isn’t that just grand!” Lia said, moving to join the others as they slowly approached. “Oma said you know where the Water crystal is. Don’t suppose you’ll tell us.” Koh’s face shifted from his customary Noh mask to that of an old, annoyed-looking human.

“I am not here to provide trivia,” he said, his voice unchanging and contrasting eerily with the age face he sported.

“But you’ll make an exception just this once?” Toph asked in a sugary-sweet voice that made everyone look at her bewildered. Koh focused his eyes on her, taking note of her sightless eyes in interest.

“Not quite,” he said finally. “There is no love lost between me and the Avatar,” he paused and looked at Aang knowingly, “and I have already aided him once with no recompense. Why would I do it again?”

“Because if you don’t there’ll be even less people stumbling in on your domain and it will become harder to collect faces?” Azula offered only half-joking. Koh appeared to consider her point. In the end he sighed and shifted back to the inscrutable Noh mask.

“The mists of this swamp conceal all things sought by Spirit or mortal,” he said, almost as if reciting from an old text. “All that is hidden is revealed within them to those brave enough to enter.” Without another word he turned and returned to his cave, leaving the group to stare at his retreating back confused.

“Does that mean that the crystal is somewhere in the swamps then?” Katara asked hesitantly. Zuko took her hand, feeling uneasy but staring at the mist-covered terrain in front of them determined.

“I suppose there is only one way to find out,” he said.

“You don’t mean…” Sokka trailed off when he saw Zuko heading towards the swamp and sighed. “Of course you do.”

“It’s not like we have much of a choice,” Aang reasoned, although he didn’t look particularly eager to enter the swamp either.

“Well, let’s go then!” Lia pushed forward, bypassing Zuko and Katara and pretty much diving in the mist. Her voice came out muffled. “The sooner we find the crystal, the sooner we can get out of here.”

 

One by one the mists swallowed the group until nothing was left to mark their passage. In the shadows Koh chuckled knowingly.

“All that is sought and all that is hidden,” he mused, “all that has been covered by the mists of the past.”

Twilight of the Spirit World – The Festival

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Author’s note: In which there is philosophy, SHIPPING, and things don’t go wrong for once! Also, in which the author has a LOT of fun world-building.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: coming soon…

***The Festival***

Unbelievably Wan Shi Tong didn’t hunt them down immediately, much to Sokka’s relief, although Lia had grumbled about the Owl joining the Council’s side out of sheer annoyance. Her frustration however was short lived and Toph was doing a great job of distracting her with questions about the Earth elementals and the Hidden City they were travelling to. The rest of the gaang would jump in with comments and questions every now and then with the exception of Agni, who remained silent for most of the trip.

 

Eventually the lush environment began to give way and the ground became rocky and dry. As they started climbing to a higher altitude the air too began thinning, as if the other three elements were shying away from the area. At the closing of the day they had reached a landing large enough to camp in and most of the group shuffled towards they sleeping bags, too tired to bother with dinner. Zuko took a few deep breaths, staring at the star-filled sky that seemed to press down on them.

“Am I the only one feeling light-headed?” Katara scooted closer to him, rubbing her temples.

“No, I feel it too. What’s going on?” Aang gave them a sympathetic look.

“The higher we go, the thinner the air gets,” he explained. “I remember when we first started learning to air glide. The instructors wouldn’t let us go over the clouds.”

“But it’ll pass, right?” Azula asked. Aang nodded emphatically.

“As soon as we climb lower,” he assured her.

 

Toph turned towards the rest of the group curiously. True, she too had felt a little light-headed when they had reached the clearing but it had gone away almost immediately. In fact the more she sat with her back against a conveniently placed rock the more energised she felt. Due to her earthbending she had always been more comfortable when she was surrounded by her element but this was new. Absently, Toph took one of her metal bracelets and started playing around with it. Her eyes widened in surprise when the material responded to the minutest metalbending. She could feel the impurities she manipulated as clear as if she was working with regular stones. So absorbed she was by her discovery that she completely missed the presence at her side.

“We’re very close to the City now,” Agni said quietly, as if trying not to startle her. Still, she turned sharply towards him, her concentration broken. “Easy there!” he said with a chuckle. “I thought you had heard me.” Toph settled a little.

“Nah,” she said, reforming her bracelet. “Too far away in my head I guess.” Then what he said sank in. “How close is very close?” Agni shrugged.

“I’ve never been,” he admitted. “But I can tell the energy is different here. I imagine we’ll be getting a visit by Oma or Shu either tonight or come morning.” Toph nodded in understanding and then raised an eyebrow.

“You are very social all of a sudden,” she said. Agni chuckled.

“I think Lily is too distracted right now to yell at me for talking to one of you.” He pointed towards the rest of the group were the girls were trying to teach Azula to cook, much to the amusement of the boys. Toph rolled her eyes at the ruckus they were making but nonetheless stood up to join the group.

“Somehow I don’t think this will make her like you” she called over her shoulder, drawing out the word ‘like’ more than it was probably necessary. Agni looked at her with wide eyes, too shocked to really form an answer.

 

In the morning the group woke to find that what last night had been a solid rock wall was now the entrance of a tunnel. Shaped out of hard, black rock, it stood out against the paler stones of the mountain. Sokka couldn’t help but comment:
“What is it with Elementals and impressive entrances?” Lia chuckled.

“We get bored?” she offered before moving towards the opening with quick steps. The others followed more hesitantly.

 

Almost immediately after they entered, the rock moved behind them, sealing the entrance and plunging them in darkness. The small flames that appeared on the hands of Zuko, Azula, Lia and Agni did little to break through the inky blackness surrounding them. The others huddled closer to them, even Toph who, although not bothered by the lack of light, felt intimidated by the almost claustrophobic atmosphere.

“Are we sure this isn’t a trap?” Katara asked hesitantly in a low voice.

“I don’t think so,” Aang shook his head. “There is the same strange energy here as was at Agni’s mountain.”

“And that is so reassuring,” Azula mumbled. To everyone’s surprise Lia let a breathless chuckle.

“Took the words right out of my mouth,” she told Azula before breathing deeply through the nose and concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. Elementals very rarely visited each other’s home domain and for good reason. The build-up of their personal energy, combining with that of the crystals caused an imbalance. Lesser Spirits didn’t really notice it, with the exception of those whose abilities were tied to one element or another and thus might find themselves temporarily stronger or weaker. In her case, it felt as though the entire mountain was pressing down her eardrums and she could feel the crystal pulsing against her breastbone as it tried to remedy the problem. A quick glance at her counterpart told her that he wasn’t faring much better. His face had grown paler during their walk and a slight grimace of pain flitted across his features.

 

Without warning light flooded the tunnel as an opening appeared right in front of them, leading to a straight drop a long way down. Aang, who had been closest to the opening, half-floated half-jumped backwards, frowning at how much effort airbending suddenly required. A deep, throaty laugh drew the group’s attention to their side, where a short, tan man with emerald green eyes and obsidian black hair now stood.

“I apologise for startling you,” he said in a friendly tone. “You can never be too cautious these days.”

“Are you Shu, the Earth Spirit?” Suki asked hesitantly. His comment about caution went both ways after all, and she hadn’t missed how the two Fire Spirits seemed to shy away from him. The man bowed slightly to her.

“Indeed I am, daughter of Kyoshi,” he answered. “Your arrival has been expected for a while now,” he continued, this time addressing the entire group.

“Then you will show us the way to the Hidden City?” Sokka asked excitedly. Toph huffed in exasperation.

“It’s a Hidden City alright…I can’t feel it even though I really want to.”

“You cannot see it little bender because it doesn’t stand out, but rather it is embraced by our element,” he said kindly. “Once we are closer you will understand.” Another gateway opened at his side and he motioned to the group to follow him. Toph was the first to cross the threshold, eager to find out what Shu meant and the others scrambled after her, the gateway disappearing behind them as soon as they had all crossed.

 

This new tunnel was much shorter than the previous ones and sooner than they’d imagined they emerged from yet another gateway, this one much more elaborate and carved out of marble. The sight that greeted them on the other side was unlike anything they had ever seen. Everything in the Hidden City was made out of different kinds of stones and metals. An explosion of colours surrounded them, as the warm sunlight fell on the gems inlet on the buildings’ walls and created small rainbows on the white marble roads.  Spirits filtered on the streets, some walking, some flying, some using bizarre combinations of the two, but most of the carrying different kinds of parcels and baskets and all moving in the same direction. As Shu led them through, they paused and let them pass in respect, before turning back to whatever they had been doing, even as the first stirrings of a melody reached them from somewhere else in town.

 

Even though the City looked beautiful to the entire group, Toph felt that only she could truly appreciate its true magnificence. Each different type of rock, gem or metal gave off a different vibration and her own, unique way of seeing revealed details on their structures that were probably invisible to the naked eye. In a way, Toph thought, it was nice to be the one to see clearly everything. And not just in a metaphorical way either…. Reluctantly she brought her attention back to her friends and to where they were going. The street they were walking on felt as smooth and soft as silk under the soles of her feet and she bit her lip to keep from laughing out loud when she heard more than one pair of legs slipping and sliding, caught off-guard by the sudden loss of traction.

 

Finally they arrived at their destination, a temple in the middle of the City, built in the almost conical way that characterised the buildings in Omashu. At its entrance stood Oma, whose tan complexion, warm brown eyes and reserved expression did little to distract from her rich, deep green hair that cascaded down her back like ivy.

“Do all female Elementals have strange-coloured hair?” Zuko blurted out, blushing when the Elementals in question turned to him with equally unimpressed expressions. They gave each other measuring looks before Lia shrugged.

“I don’t see anything strange,” she said. “Do you?” she asked Oma. The earth Elemental shook her head.

“Not really, no,” she said before turning to address the entire group. “Welcome to the Hidden City. I must applaud your courage to stand by your friend’s side on a fight that isn’t your own. We are honoured to have you here and if you would follow us, we will take you to what you came seeking.” While she talked the group composed themselves from laughing quietly at Zuko’s expense and listened to her with serious expressions. When she finished talking Aang took a step forward, becoming the spokesman for the gaang.

“We thank you for your kind words and hospitality,” he said formally after a deep bow, figuring that if the Earth Spirits where anything like the earthbenders they would appreciate brevity. Indeed, Oma and Shu nodded in acknowledgment once and motioned to the group to follow them inside the temple.

 

The halls inside were lit by the same green crystal as the catacombs of Ba Sing Se, casting eerie lights on the obsidian walls. Before they could move further than the first hall, Shu turned apologetically to Agni and Lia.

“I’m afraid you two will have to wait here,” he said. The two Fire Spirits nodded in understanding and Lia even managed to give Zuko a reassuring smile in answer to his concerned look before the gaang followed the Earth Spirits deeper in the temple. As soon as they were out of sight she slumped against the wall, taking deep breaths through the nose. The Fire crystal could do little to counteract the effects the build-up of the Earth crystal’s energy was having on her and a similar thump from the opposite wall told her that Agni was not faring much better. His face was sweaty and his eyes had dulled, almost like he was feverish but he said nothing. Lia bit her lip hesitantly. If she felt as horrible as she did, then how could her partner be feeling, without the crystal shielding him. With a deep breath and telling herself that she would probably regret it immediately she let the Fire crystal float between them, and it glowed a fiery red as it struggled to shield both of them. Lia let her head fall to her knees as gravity seemed suddenly to double, even as she heard Agni’s breathing ease a little. Closing her eyes, she wished that Oma and Shu wouldn’t have any elaborate ceremonies before entrusting their crystal to one of the group.

 

Meanwhile the others had reached the main chamber of the temple, a room bare of anything other than the glowing emerald crystal floating at its exact centre, orbiting around itself. The Earth Spirits each placed a hand on Toph’s shoulders and gently led her towards the crystal.

“I can see it,” Toph whispered, almost hypnotised as she raised a hand towards the crystal.

“Earthbending has always been for you as natural as breathing because you understood its true meaning,” Shu explained, a hint of pride colouring his voice as he addressed her.

“That is why you are the right person to safeguard the crystal until our world is safe again,” Oma continued softly. “Not since the time we walked amongst the mortals has there been someone whose understanding of earthbending is as complete as yours.” Hearing these words seemed to snap Toph out of her daze and she shook her head.

“I am great at earthbending,” she agreed, “but I do not have complete understanding of it. There are still many things I want to experiment with.”

“And you have both the vision and the ability to do so,” Oma said. “Earth is not static and there will always be new things to discover. That however doesn’t subtract from what you have already achieved.”

“The crystal chose you because it felt your affinity for it,” Shu said as the emerald stone attached itself to Toph’s headband. “It might enhance your abilities but not to a great extent. You see, that is the paradox of the elemental crystals. They do not truly enhance your powers. Rather they highlight what was already there.”

 

They did not linger at the now-darkened chamber but hurried back to where they had left Lia and Agni. They found them sitting on opposite walls, Agni seemingly dozing and Lia looking at the ceiling bored. She slowly turned her head towards them and moved to stand.

“What took you so long?” she grumbled, her voice startling Agni into opening his eyes.

“Can we go now?” he mumbled, sounding as moody as the redhead. Shu chuckled.

“I apologise for the uncomfortable wait friends,” he said. “But perhaps you might delay your departure until the morning? There is a festival tonight and it might the last chance any of us has for merriment for a while.” Aang’s face practically lit up at the prospect of a party and the others seemed pretty enthusiastic about the idea.

“Might as well,” Agni said carelessly. “I’m starting to get used to the thin air you locals breathe anyway.”

 

Shu had other duties to see to, so Oma led the group to a small house, where they could leave their packs and freshen up for the party. She left them with directions on how to reach the area where the festival was taking place and smiled as she heard the girls of the group loudly and enthusiastically order the boys to hurry up and get ready in one of the smaller rooms so that they could have the larger ones to themselves. Since none of them had planned on coming across any sort of celebration during their travels, getting ready mostly consisted of washing off the dust they had gathered on the road and touching up on hairstyles, before hurriedly leaving the house and following the –now louder- sound of music and laughter to another area of the City.

 

When they reached the square where the festivities were being held they saw that more of the green crystals were hung everywhere, intermingled with candles that shone through gems, bathing everything in a rainbow of colours as night fell. In one corner a group of Spirits were playing songs and in another tables were set with foods and drinks. Sokka’s eyes zeroed on the food and, grabbing Suki’s hand, he made a beeline for it.

“We’ll see you guys later!” he called over his shoulder. Suki laughed at her boyfriend’s antics, but she followed him willingly enough.

“Sokka has the right idea,” Katara said, eyeing the crowd of Spirits that seemed to grow bigger by the minute. “It will be hard to keep track of everyone with so many people around. How about we just meet later in the house?” Azula nodded in agreement.

“Sounds good,” she said. “That way everyone can do what they want.”

“And that means Twinkle-Toes and I are dancing,” Toph said determinedly, grabbing Aang by the collar and dragging him off closer to the music, where a few couples were already dancing. Azula, Zuko, Katara and Lia chucked at the antics of the youngest members of their group. Azula turned to the others and gave a smile.

“I think I’ll go exploring,” she said in almost childish excitement. For all the doom and gloom prospects of their quest and even with Agni’s presence stirring up unpleasant memories she had found herself loving every moment of their travels on the Spirit World.

“Have fun Zula,” Zuko told his sister before turning his attention to the remaining members of their team, only to find it short one member.

“Wow,” Katara told Lia, also noticing Agni’s absence for the first time. “And I though you moved silently.” The redhead scoffed and made a shooing gesture at them.

“Well, go on!” she told them teasingly. “Away with you! Go find a dark corner and enjoy each other’s presence or whatever it is you kids call it these days. I know you want some alone time.” Zuko and Katara –sporting matching blushes and guilty smiles- didn’t need to be told twice before they disappeared into the crowd, holding hands tightly. Lia surveyed the scene for a moment longer from where she stood before moving towards the drinks. Early she had spotted a few bottles of one of her favourites and she fully intended to indulge herself.

 

Agni found her a few hours later, after he had to navigate through a group of particularly giggly tree Spirits, sitting on a staircase, cradling an empty bottle and sporting a particularly thoughtful expression. Wherever her mind was traveling, it returned back to reality as soon as he came within view of her. Her eyes focused on his intently and she waited until he was close enough to hear her before speaking.

“I’m drunk,” she declared with all the gravity of a royal decree. Agni chuckles and stooped to pry the bottle from her loose hold.

“I can see that,” he told her teasingly. “I didn’t realise you were that bored. Do you want me to help you pass the time?” For a few moments she seemed to consider his offer before she shook her head.

“Naaaah,” she said with a giggle and she leaned closer to him. “Do you want to know a secret?” she asked in an excited whisper. Agni couldn’t resist leaning closer too, having missed seeing her so relaxed around him, even if it had taken a bottle of strong alcohol to get her to that stage.

“What secret?” he whispered back in a conspiratory tone. Lia raised her finger, as if to underline the importance of what she was about to say, took a dramatically deep breath and declared:

“I can’t tell you! It won’t be a secret then!” She burst into another round of giggles and stumbled to her feet. Agni laughed and wrapped an arm around her waist, steading her against him. She wrapped her arms around his neck and smiled. “But I will dance with you,” she told him sweetly. “I like it when we dance. We’re not fighting then.” Agni’s smile softened and he shifted his hold so that he could softly sway them both with the music.

“I like it too when we are not fighting,” he told her quietly. Lia leaned almost completely against him and closed her eyes.

“Then let’s not fight anymore,” she said sleepily. Agni started to answer but caught himself when he saw she had fallen asleep. With a bittersweet sigh he gathered her in his arms and made his way back to the house they had been given. At least one of them would sleep peacefully tonight.

 

While the couples of the group where having their moments, Azula had wondered to the far end of the square, taking in the sights idly. A few friendly Spirits invited her to dance with them and she joined them for a few songs, catching sight of Sokka and Suki swaying a little further away for a moment, before a rather large Spirit shaped like a radish passed between them and she lost them. Eventually she retreated to the edge of the impromptu dance-floor to catch her breath. A strange jingling noise caught her attention and she turned to see a small collection of gemstones trembling on an earthen dish held by a Spirit that looked like a kindly grandmother.

“My, my!” the Spirit said. “You must have quite the future to make the stones so excited! Would you like to know more?” Azula looked at her surprised but moved closer nonetheless.

“How would I do that?” she asked curiously.

“Just pick a stone dearie. I’ll do the rest.” The Fire princess scrutinised the collection in front of her carefully. A silver-blue gem caught her eye and her hand moved towards it involuntarily. She picked it up and handed to the old Spirit.

“Well, what do we have here? Lightning and travelling and adventures in your past and present and future. You’re a special girl for sure! What else? Oh, I see a nice gentleman too and you’ll be meeting him very soon.” She looked up to smile at Azula who seemed a little overwhelmed by the torrent of words that had met her. “Keep an eye out for the one in blue,” the old Spirit said. “He will give you your dreams if you let him.”

“What do you…” Azula began to ask but trailed off when she realised that the fortune-teller had disappeared before her eyes. Pocketing the stone she walked away, pondering what she had just heard in her mind.

Twilight of the Spirit World – The Library

Standard

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.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***The Library***

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?”

Twilight of the Spirit World – An Old Acquaintance

Standard

Author’s note: In which there are travels, yet more revelations, reunions and Yours Trully makes an attempt at complex characterisation.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter:  link

***An Old Acquaintance***

They had decided that they would travel to the Sunset Mountain where Serious was last known to live on foot, seeing that Aang was quickly picking on Lia’s ability to affect distances. While most of the group was glad not to have to walk for endless days and weeks, it was a constant source of irritation for Toph, whose sense of direction was constantly messing up, leaving her disoriented and in a very bad mood. The first night they camped in another grassland and the earthbender’s first move was to make her earth tent, determined to bring some semblance of order in the otherwise chaotic world surrounding her.

“You’ll get used to it soon,” Lia tried to comfort her.

“I doubt it,” Toph grumbled. “How am I supposed to fight when I can’t be certain where everyone is?”

“You just need to figure out how to affect the distances yourself.” A mischievous smile flashed on the Spirit’s lips. “Aang’s got it already. Why don’t you ask him for a few private lessons?” The youngest pair in the group blushed while everyone else burst out laughing.

“So what kind of person is your teacher?” Suki finally asked when they calmed down. Lia looked down to her dinner.

“He’s…strange,” she finally said, choosing her words carefully. “Even now I can’t really say that I understand him, his motives and his actions completely. He liked to keep to himself a lot.”

“Did you and Agni both study under him?” Katara asked curiously. Lia shook her head.

“No, Agni came later. While I was under his tutelage it was just the two of us. I’ve actually only spoken to Agni a few times before the whole Sozin mess.”

“Then, where did he come from?” Zuko asked suspiciously. His older sister was hiding something and his gut told him that he would not like whatever it was when he found out.

“I wouldn’t know,” was the only answer he received.

 

The next morning they continued in silence, watching the landscape around them blurring softly every now and then. Suddenly everything lurched forward, causing them to lose their balance and fall to the ground as their surroundings changed at breakneck speed before Lia was able to stop it.

“Did it work?” asked a slightly dizzy but nonetheless excited Toph.

“You mean that was you?” Sokka exclaimed, rubbing the bump at the back of his head. “I thought you said you didn’t like abrupt changes.”

“There weren’t any mountains that I could feel nearby. I just thought it’d be nice to know how far they are,” Toph explained.

“Which somehow resulted in us landing in front of the mountains,” Azula commented, looking impressed at the imposing mountain range in front of them.

“Is this the right place?” Aang asked Lia. The Spirit opened her mouth to answer but Sokka cut in.

“Let’s see. Ash colored mountains, no soul in sight, an ominous atmosphere,” he sniffed, “and the smell of charcoal. I’d say we’re on the right place.”

“Sokka, really!” Katara told her brother disapprovingly.

“I know it doesn’t look like the most welcoming of places but there are some really beautiful sights if you know where to look,” Lia said nervously. She hadn’t imagined that the smell of charcoal – the result of a few training sessions gone overboard – would still linger. Zuko looked at the narrow path that snaked the mountains.

“I think we might want to do this the traditional way,” he said. “No blurring or hurrying through or someone might end up falling off.”

“Fine!” Toph sounded disappointed. Taking everyone off guard before had been pretty funny.

 

As they followed Lia’s lead, the group looked around curiously. The place looked like it had been burned down repeatedly, scorch marks and even small lightning craters littering the ground, no sounds other than their own footsteps breaking the silence.

“Is there a volcano around here?” Suki finally asked, unable to take the oppressive silence anymore.

“No,” Lia said sheepishly. “Most of these marks are training sessions gone wrong. I had some issues with control back then.”

“So this is where you trained?” Katara asked. “It doesn’t really look like a place you’d choose to stay.”

“You must have had a lot of issues…”Sokka snickered, earning smacks on his head by Zuko, Katara and Suki. To their surprise, Lia just shrugged.

“I did,” she admitted. “Zuko’s temper when you first met him was nothing compared to some of the tantrums I would throw.”

“For some reason I have a hard time picturing that,” Toph said dryly. “You might be a spitfire, but you never acted like a spoiled brat.”

“Are you saying I acted like a spoiled brat?” Zuko asked annoyed.

“I never said my tantrums were directed to someone else,” Lia said, hoping to diffuse the argument before it started. “For a very long time I did not like and would not accept the fact that I was to become a Fire Spirit.” She pointed at a particularly nasty burn mark on a crevice. “That was the result of another argument between A..Sirius and I about whether or not I was fit for the job.” Aang eyed the mark nervously. “Of course my temper has mellowed down over the years, so there’s no need to worry.”

“There’s something you’re not telling us,” Azula said seriously, looking at the redhead with a calculating look. “You’ve been dancing around any question that might come up about your past, and then suddenly you volunteer tidbits that make no sense.” Lia’s back stiffened and she turned to look at her friends. Indeed they were all giving her confused looks, agreeing with what the princess had said. After a moment of deliberation, she sighed.

“Ask Zuko,” she said resigned. “He knows a few things and the story I told him is not one I’d like to repeat.”

 

Immediately they all flocked around the Fire Lord, looking at him expectantly, while he sent Lia an exasperated look.

“Thanks a lot sister,” he told her, his voice dripping with sarcasm, before turning to his audience grudgingly and retelling the story he had heard nearly five years ago in a low voice. When he was finished, the silence that followed was thick enough to be cut with a knife.

“If I turn and see anyone looking at me with pity, I will not be happy,” Lia warned lightly, before chancing a look over her shoulder in time to see Aang schooling his expression. “It was a long time ago and I’ve made peace with what happened,” she said softly. “I’m not saying that I wouldn’t change the events if I could but I’m not constantly dwelling on it anymore.”

“Zuko looks like your brother,” Azula said slowly. “Is that why you decided to help him?”

“At first yes,” Lia admitted. Then she smirked. “But I think we can all agree that Zuko has the infuriating ability to be adorable occasionally.”

“I don’t!” Zuko exclaimed blushing.

“Yes, you do!” Katara and Lia said at the same time. Zuko’s protest went unhindered as everyone burst out laughing, the heavy atmosphere finally dispelling.

 

“There’s something flat ahead of us,” Toph said suddenly, breaking every one of their amused mood. Lia look around and nodded. There was more green than grey now around them, trees and grass making an appearance again.

“We’re almost there,” she explained. “We’ll probably see the house soon.”

“There’s a strange energy here,” Aang said, tilting his head on the side, trying to understand what he was that he was sensing.

“It’s life energy,” Lia explained. “Elementals influence their environment if they stay in a place for prolonged periods of time.” They turned on the last twist of the path they’ve been following to see a breathtaking sight. The plateau was surrounded by trees and the ground was filled with blooming Fire Lilies and Panda Lilies. Near the edge stood a small house made out of the same rock the mountains were. It was so simple it almost went unnoticed if it weren’t for the steam that rose behind it.

“There’s a hot spring behind the house,” Lia explained. “I don’t know about you, but I’ll certainly have a dip before we leave.”

“A hot spring sounds pretty good,” Katara nodded.

“But first let’s find that teacher of yours,” Zuko said, sending a look at Lia that clearly said I know you’re hiding something. The innocent smile he received as an answer did nothing to calm his suspicions.

 

The front door was open, so the group moved to a sparsely furnished living room. With a steadying breath Lia allowed her aura to spread through the building instead of repressing it, part of her hoping that her old mentor would have the decency to play along. Soon enough footsteps were heard approaching and a figure appeared on the door on the opposite wall. Out of all the people they had expected to greet them, the black-haired man was certainly the last. Azula and Lia reacted first, the princess taking a step back and the Spirit blasting him away. A red glow surrounded him and cushioned the fall. Agni sat up and rubbed his head, the glow receding to the crystal hanging around his neck.

“Is that a way to greet people?” he complained, perfectly aware of Lia’s fireball aimed at his heart. With a resigned sign he took the blood red crystal and offered it to her. “That is what you came for, right?” he said. When no answer came his way he moved closer. Instantly everyone tensed, hands going to weapons or bending positions. Agni simply tied the necklace around Lia’s neck and took a step back, looking satisfied at the crystal that had turned to a soft, rosy pink.

“I had hoped you’d be more subtle about this,” Lia said as she hid the necklace under her dress.

“And I had hoped you’d be happier to see me love, but we obviously can’t have what we want.” Agni’s smile widened when he saw who their audience consisted of. “The Fire Lord and the princess!” he exclaimed, moving closer to Azula, who in turn inched closer to her brother. “What a pleasant surprise! To what do I owe this unexpected honor?”

“Cut the theatrics Agni,” Lia snapped, turning to face him and the others. “You might have holed yourself up here, but if you knew that I was coming for the crystal, then you certainly knew why I need it.”

“Maybe I wanted to hear you say that you need my help?” the other Fire Spirit insisted undeterred.

“What is going on here?” Sokka finally cried confused. “Wasn’t your mentor supposed to have the crystal?” Agni laughed incredulously.

“You haven’t told them?” he asked Lia disbelievingly. His eyes searched the group, taking in their incredulous and confused expressions. “You haven’t even told your brother?”

“Tell us what?” Zuko asked suspiciously.

“I was her mentor.” Agni said smiling. “Sirius is one of the many names I’ve taken over the centuries.” Azula turned to Lia.

“You knew that?” she asked tensely the Spirit. Lia nodded.

“Why didn’t you tell us?” Katara asked.

“Nothing I could have told you would have made this any easier.” Lia said tensely. “I promise you that he will behave himself. We can spend the night here and start searching for the next crystal in the morning.” The group exchanged an unsure nod before moving further inside the house. Zuko paused next to Lia.

“We need to talk later,” he said in a flat voice.

“Practice after you put your things away?” she offered, understanding this would be a tense conversation. With a final nod the Fire Lord left and Lia hurried out, purposely ignoring Agni.

 

They walked through the garden and Lia stopped next to the spring, studying how the melted rock formed shapes.

“You should have told them,” Agni said calmly, all traces of his previous amusement gone.

“They only know you as the reason behind the hundred year war,” Lia said in an equally calm, though colder voice.

“Is that it, or did you simply not want to bring up your past Lily?”

“Don’t call me that!” Lia snapped annoyed. Agni raised an eyebrow.

“You liked it,” he said.

“I was a silly girl back then,” Lia retorted. Agni looked at her silently for a moment before shaking his head.

“No, you weren’t,” he said softly as he turned to leave. “I’ll be coming with you,” he called over his shoulder before disappearing inside the house again.

“I was,” Lia insisted in a whisper, her thoughts at the day she was first offered the Fire crystal.

 

Lia’s flashback:

Lia let out the breath she had been holding and took a step back to admire her work. The water was still flowing at the hot spring but the previously roughly cut rock was now forming twists and twirls making it look like the rock was flowing as well. There was no particular pattern she had followed; she had just let her instincts take over, increasing and decreasing the heat to get the different textures and colors out.

“This is magnificent!” The voice of her mentor startled her and she turned to face him with a slight blush. It wasn’t often that she got any kind of praise out of him. Sirius nodded satisfied. “You have completely mastered fire,” he said moving closer to the young Spirit. So much younger than he was. But she was ready. The redhead watched him curiously as he revealed a deep red crystal, fashioned as a necklace. “This is yours now,” he told her.

“What is it?” Lia asked curiously, a hand outstretched towards the crystal.

“It is a little something to mark you as the Spirit of Fire. Every Elemental has one in their possession. It will amplify your powers and help you in any predicament you might land yourself.” Serious raised an eyebrow when, at this end of his explanation, Lia withdrew her hand.

“Could you hold on to it for a little while longer?” she asked hesitantly. “I don’t think I’d be able to handle more responsibility yet.” The other Spirit nodded and hid the necklace under his shirt.

“Very well,” he said. “I will keep it safe until you are ready to claim it.” He frowned at her serious expression. “Don’t look so formal Lily! Now you can actually travel around. Don’t tell me you haven’t been bored staying here, with only me for company.” Lia blushed a little at his teasing but nodded and hurriedly made her way to the house. It was true after all… She couldn’t wait to start exploring.

End of flashback

 

It hadn’t been long after that, only a few centuries that she had learned of her mentor’s true identity and had learned never to trust him again. The sound of footsteps shook her out of her reverie. Zuko came to stand beside her, tracing the engravings on the rock with his eyes.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” he finally asked. “Did you not trust me?” Lia bit her lips. Trust was a very delicate matter for both of them.

“It was not a matter of trust,” she said slowly, determined to choose her words as carefully as possible. “As long as I did not talk about it, then some part of me could remain convinced that it wasn’t true.” Zuko looked at her frowning.

“Why would you want that?”

“Why did you want Ozai to care for you? I had lost everyone I loved Zuko, and he guided me through the darkness. Of course I didn’t want to believe he was my enemy.” They both fell silent for a few minutes, their eyes once again trained on the water.

“Are you still up for that training session?” Zuko finally asked. Lia nodded with a soft smile, knowing that this was his way of telling her that he understood.

“I always am,” she said simply. Neither of them noticed Toph hiding behind the melted rock as they left. The earthbender dipped her feet in the warm water; hands firmly planted on the ground, and tilted her head towards the sky thoughtfully. Lia hadn’t been lying to Zuko, but then again she wasn’t saying the full truth either.

Twilight of the Spirit World – A Given Quest

Standard

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.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***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!”

Twilight of the Spirit World – Arrivals

Standard

Author’s note: In which there is exposition, Spirit World travels and new rules on the game.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***Arrivals***

Zuko had often wondered exactly how tuned with the Spirit World his uncle was, especially now that the old man decided to pay a family visit two days after Lia’s news. After the customary formalities the two men locked themselves in the Fire Lord’s office and Iroh proceeded to interrogate his nephew over his latest travel plans. When Zuko finished recounting everything Lia had told him and Azula the old man stayed quiet for a few minutes, thinking everything over.

“These are indeed grave news,” he said at last, “and I can understand why Lia would seek your friends’ and yours help, but Zuko are you certain it is wise to go through with your idea?”

“I understand that the Spirit World can be dangerous for mortals,” his nephew admitted, “but I can’t just abandon Lia after she helped me so much, and I know the others would agree with me. Besides, the balance of the Spirit World would affect our world too. In a way I’m protecting our people too.” Iroh smiled.

“While I admire your care for your nation and the world Fire Lord Zuko, are you sure this is the true reason for wanting to go through with this?” Zuko’s serious expression melted to one of disappointment.

“You can still read my like a book uncle,” he grumbled under his breath. “Azula and I, we are both getting restless. While I would not even think of starting a war again, sometimes life at the palace can just be so…” he paused searching for the right word.

“Boring?” Iroh offered, getting a guilty smile as an answer. “You are both still young my nephew so it is only natural that you would wish for some excitement even though you have both been remarkably mature and responsible regarding your duties.”

“So will you look after mum and the Fire Nation while we will be away?” Zuko took his chance the moment he saw it. Iroh laughed.

“I don’t have much choice, do I? It’s my favorite nephew asking after all,” he added, conveniently ignoring the fact that his nephew could also order him if he wanted to.

Meanwhile, at another part of the palace, a similar conversation was taking place. For the last four years Ursa had become a confidant of sorts for the girls of Team Avatar, especially Lia, who found the woman’s calm demeanor contagious.

“I can’t help but feel guilty for dragging them to this,” Lia admitted, looking down at her tea. Ursa raised an eyebrow.

“You told them everything you know and they’ve been around you long enough to understand the dangers they might be getting themselves into. Much as I hate to see my children in danger I can’t keep them locked up here forever.”

“It’s not just that,” Lia insisted. “Zuko knows a part of my past and I have let the occasional thing to slip in conversation but essentially they have no idea and inevitably things will come out that I’d rather have kept secret.”

“So you are afraid that they might be scared from what they’ll find about you?”

“Yeah.” Lia stood and started pacing the room, hugging herself. “And I wouldn’t blame them if they did.” Ursa raised an eyebrow.

“I think you underestimate them. Five years ago I would agree with you, but now they are all a lot more mature and understand better how the world works. Whatever it is that you are hiding it might surprise them but in the end they will still be your friends.” She laid a hand on the Spirit’s shoulder when she passed by her to calm her down. Lia closed her eyes and forced herself to relax.

“As usual I’m overreacting on little things,” she muttered with a frown. “You’re right, it’s all going to be fine.”

Katara, Sokka and Suki were the first to arrive three days after Iroh had, having already planned to visit the Fire Nation. As was their tradition since the end of the war, Azula, Suki and Lia teamed up to distract Sokka long enough for Zuko and Katara to greet each other properly. To be fair, the Water Tribe warrior had slowly become a lot more relaxed about his little sister’s love life but he still tended to act before he thought a lot.

“So how was the travel?” Azula asked casually the couple as she stood right next to Lia, effectively hiding her brother and the waterbender from Sokka’s view.

“It was good,” Suki answered just as casually, lacing her fingers with her fiancé’s in an extra effort to keep him on her side. Zuko and Katara were sneaking back to the palace, having read the signs and determined not to let the antsy man ruin another reunion. Luckily for them, Sokka’s attention was mostly caught by the redhead of the group.

“Hey, weren’t you supposed to go back to the Spirit World?” he asked Lia.

“There have been some developments,” Lia said casually. “I thought it’d be better if I waited for everyone to arrive before I explained.” Sokka nodded.

“Last we heard of Aang and Toph, they were at the Western Air Temple. They should probably be here tomorrow or the day after,” he said. Looking around he suddenly realized something. “Hey! Where’s Zuko and Katara?” The girls shrugged.

“They probably went to see mother and uncle Iroh,” Azula said  before turning towards the palace. “How about I show you to your room?”

“Sounds good,” Suki agreed, dragging Sokka along.

“But Suki…” the man’s half-formed complain fell to deaf ears.

Aang’s and Toph’s arrival on Appa was just as dramatic. The arrived the next evening, just in time for dinner. Toph marched loudly into the dining room, demanding a seat and something that was not “Twinkle-Toes’ whacky, all-vegetables-and-no-meat cooking.” The all-powerful Avatar had followed his girlfriend complaining loudly about her assessment of his cooking abilities. With the entire group laughing at Aang’s expense Lia’s unexpected presence went unnoticed until everyone quieted down and settled for dinner.

“So Sparky,” Toph asked after a while, “how come we’re not one down in our numbers?”

“There were some complications,” Zuko explained vaguely. Toph raised an eyebrow unsatisfied with the explanation.

“I’ll tell everyone after dinner Toph,” Lia promised and in an effort to change subjects she asked, “So, what was Aang’s latest attempt at cooking?” The earthbender grinned and began describing how Aang had tried to make the soup they were making cook faster with a combination of water and firebending which resulted in an explosion “so bad I thought Combustion Man had come back from the dead!”

After dinner the gaang gathered in the one of the courtyards, the hot weather making any inside room stuffy even for firebenders.

“Now are you going to explain what’s going on?” Sokka asked impatiently. Lia made herself comfortable against a rock and began narrating her brief sojourn in the Spirit World. When she finished everyone was frowning. Aang was the first to speak.

“So how can we help?” he asked seriously. Lia took a moment to study him while she thought of how to phrase her answer. He and Toph had hit their growth sprout and looked a lot more mature than when they were twelve. Aang especially was a lot more serious; having to deal with full-time scheming nobles tended to take away some of your childishness.

“It’s not your war to fight of course,” she finally said, “but I could use all the help I could get when it comes to the Council.  Most Spirits have at least some respect for it so it will be hard to find many who would outright challenge its decisions. I would know,” she added the last part under her breath.

“What’s your plan?” Katara asked, looking every bit as determined as Aang to help.

“I was planning on lying low for a while and then sneak back to the Spirit World and contact Roku. He will definitely know what’s going on.” Lia shrugged. “From then on I’ll play it by ear.” The gaang looked at each other unanimously reaching a decision.

“It wasn’t your war to fight when you helped us against Ozai either,” Aang said decisively. “We’ll help.” The rest of the gaang nodded in agreement.

“But how are we going to cross over to the Spirit World?” Azula asked the most logical question, cutting Sokka half-way through an exclamation. He gave her a glare in return. Lia gave them an impish smile.

“The same way I do everything,” she said. “By breaking the rules.” Toph snickered. “Theoretically any being can cross over between the worlds given the proper guidance. The reason this doesn’t happen often is because the Spirit World is thought as a purely spiritual realm.” She sent a look at Aang’s direction. “The Air Nomads had a lot to do with this idea,” she added. “The only thing I need to do is open a portal and we can cross over worrying only about what we’ll find on the other side.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Sokka said yawning loudly and causing Toph and Zuko to yawn as well.

“How about we call it a night and begin preparing first thing tomorrow?” Katara proposed. “It’s getting late and we all need our rest.”

Two days later the group had gathered in the courtyard in their travelling gear. Lia stood in front of everyone with eyes closed concentrating, while the others were saying goodbye to Iroh and Ursa. A strange, crackling sound cut through the last minute conversations and everyone turned to see a gateway made out of white-blue energy appear out of thin air.

“All right!” Sokka rubbed his hands eagerly. “Team Avatar to the rescue!” Suki poked him on the shoulder.

“Plus me and Azula,” she said dryly. Lia rolled her eyes as everyone walked through the portal. At first it was like they floated in an endless grey nothingness. Toph moved around franticly before grasping Aang’s hand, looking for something familiar.

“This is the in-between,” she heard Lia’s calm voice a little ahead. “I know it’s unpleasant but it will help us stay hidden a little longer.” Toph frowned.

“It makes me queasy,” she complained. “There’s no vibrations at all here. Even Aang’s not giving any vibrations.”

Lia half-turned to answer the earthbender when a bright light appeared in front of them. Instinctively everyone closed their eyes and the next thing they felt was the wind whipping at their faces. Everyone’s eyes snapped open in alarm to see that they were out of the in-between and in quite a height in the air.

“WHAT IS GOING ON?” Sokka screamed in horror. Aang gasped and hastily bended a cushion of air under them. When they landed on the ground everyone was as white as a sheet.

“That was not my fault,” Lia hastily assured the others, trying to keep an adrenaline-induced chuckle from surfacing. Nevertheless she received seven glares from the rest of the group. Suddenly Aang looked up confused and asked:

“Why can I only airbend?”

Twilight of the Spirit World – Returns

Standard

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

***Returns***

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?”