Tag Archives: Aang

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

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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 – Prologue

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Author’s note: In which the author glosses over four years’ worth of material and the comic continuity is COMPLETELY ignored.

Next chapter: link

***Prologue***

The first few years after the war rolled by faster than anyone would have expected. The reconstruction process forced the gaang to stretch thin, each one of the teens returning to their respective nations.

 

The end-of- war negotiations went surprisingly smoothly, especially with a vengeful Spirit on call to glower at anyone trying to take advantage of the lack of political experience of the new Fire Lord and –to a lesser extent- of the Avatar.

 

When Katara finally found out the story behind Zuko’s scar it was only the fact that she was in Omashu at the time, helping out with the repairs from Bumi’s liberation campaign that prevented her from having a little “chat” with Ozai.

 

Lee got his visit at Sozin and spent two memorable months touring not only the Fire Nation but also the Earth Kingdom with the Fire Lord, the Avatar and their friends.

 

The Southern Water Tribe grew from a small village to a bustling city with the return of the warriors and the introduction of more waterbenders from the Northern Water Tribe.

 

Sokka divided his time between the South Pole and Kyoshi Island, prompting an endless stream of jokes from not only Toph but also his entire tribe.

 

While Ty Lee felt more at home than ever amongst the Kyoshi Warriors, Mai decided that staying anywhere for more than a few days was a waste of her precious time and gratefully took up Zuko’s offer to travel through the Fire Nation in search of any problems that might arise with the return of his father’s soldiers.

 

Aang managed to convince Toph to see her parents again. He regretted it when Toph’s father caught them kissing in the garden and launched a speech on what his daughter’s boyfriend – Avatar or not Avatar – was not allowed to do. Toph offered not to visit them again until after their second child was born. In hindsight, that was a bad idea considering that Aang fainted while flying Appa.

 

Zuko proposed to Katara under the full moon on their third anniversary. This prompted Suki to propose to Sokka on their fourth anniversary. Another thing on the long list of things that no one would over allow Sokka to live down.

 

Azula re-mastered lightning when she was sixteen under the careful guidance of Lia.

 

Iroh’s teashop in Ba Sing Se became a regular hangout for the gaang whenever they were there. It also became internationally famous for its Pai Sho tournaments.

 

Lia did not have nightmares or visions of the future again and soon returned to her carefree self. She told no one that she always went to bed with her back turned to the Fire Lily on her bedside table and woke up facing it.

 

For four wonderful years there was peace.

 

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Epilogue

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Author’s note: In which most loose ends are tied, there is shipping you saw coming and shipping you probably did not see coming, reunions, parties and Sokka’s atrocious painting skills.

Previous chapter: link

***Epilogue***

It was not surprising that Azula woke up first the next morning. Opening her eyes slightly she saw Zuko still sleeping peacefully next to her. Katara had bandaged his wounds while they were out. The princess couldn’t help the prick of guilt that she felt. Hearing footsteps she sat up in alarm, not seeing the waterbender anywhere and still feeling too drained to firebend. The door opened quietly and Azula’s eyes widened when she saw the woman that stood in the threshold.

“Mother?” she whispered in disbelief. Ursa had hardly changed since she had last seen her, although she was dressed in plain red robes now. Without pausing to think of her tiredness the girl jumped off the bed and hurried towards her mother, pausing in front of her. Ursa hesitantly took a step closer, opening her arms to embrace her youngest. Azula didn’t need to be told twice. She threw herself into her mother’s arms, feeling the last piece click back into place in her mind.

“I’ve missed you, little one,” Ursa told her daughter tenderly.

“Zuko will be so glad to see you,” Azula murmured, throwing a glance at her brother’s sleeping form. She turned her eyes back to her mother. “I am too,” she added shyly. Ursa just smiled.

“Zula?” a sleepy voice came from the bed. The princess returned to her brother’s side, helping him to sit up.

“Look who’s here Zuzu!” she said excitedly. Zuko followed her gaze and his face split to the biggest grin Azula had ever seen.

“Mom!” he said elated. Ursa walked up to her son and pulled him to an embrace as well, content to be near her children at last.

 

Suddenly a yell came from outside.

“No, you can’t bother them!” Lia’s annoyed voice rang out clearly through the door. “They’re probably still sleeping,” Katara added, just as annoyed. She had been up all night worrying over the two firebenders. The early morning visitors wasn’t helping her temper much.

“But we need to tell Zuko the news!” Sokka whined. “And why won’t you have a look at my leg? You can heal it, why do I have to walk around with a crutch?”

“Because your sister is very tired,” Lia said sternly. She opened the door to see Zuko and Ursa giving her amused looks. Azula just seemed confused by the argument. Katara appeared next to the redhead.

“We didn’t wake you up, did we?” she asked worried. Zuko shook his head.

“Zula woke me,” he explained with a smile. “Not that I’m complaining.”

“Who’s Zula?” Sokka asked appearing behind his sister. His eyes doubled when he noticed the princess. “You!” he yelled in shock, struggling to jump in front of his sister. Katara rolled her eyes, pushed him back and looked at Azula apologetically.

“They just came and I haven’t had time to explain,” she said.

“Explain what?” Aang’s voice came from behind them as he and Toph joined the group.

“Why Azula is here,” Katara said. The Avatar and earthbender looked at her confused before turning towards the bed. The princess was sitting between her brother and mother, hiding her nervousness behind a calm look. There was silence for a moment before Aang’s face split in a huge smile.

“Well, if Lia lets you anywhere near Zuko we have to welcome you to the group,” he decided happily.

“I agree with Twinkle-Toes,” Toph added. “Everyone knows that Blazes is paranoid.” Lia raised an eyebrow.

“Since when do I have a nickname?” she asked. Toph shrugged.

“It’s about time if you ask me.”

Sokka remained silent, watching the rest of the gaang gathering around the bed to share stories of their separate battles. Suki joined them soon and pulled her boyfriend along. Before he knew it, the Water Tribe boy found himself recounting enthusiastically how he had destroyed the airship fleet, seemingly not noticing that most questions came from Azula.

 

Aang had left again in the afternoon to bring the members of the White Lotus to Sozin for the final formalities that followed the ending of the war. Zuko was declared Fire Lord after both Iroh and Azula had explicitly told the nobles that in no way they would step between him and the throne. The official coronation was scheduled in a week so that he could recover enough, not that that stopped Zuko from ordering the release of any prisoners of war that were still held.

 

The day of the coronation was sunny, and Zuko wondered if Agni was doing it on purpose to annoy Lia, silently approving the new Fire Lord. He turned his attention back to struggling to pull his official robes on. Despite the repeated healings by Katara, the lightning had done a lot of damage and he hadn’t had much chance to rest and recover. He winced when a clumsy move made pain shoot through his torso.

“You need some help with that?” an amused voice came from the doorway. The soon-to-be-Fire Lord turned with a huge smile.

“Katara!” he hadn’t seen her much in the last few days, other than during the brief healing sessions. He smiled sheepishly. “I guess some help wouldn’t hurt.” The waterbender helped him pull the stuffy outfit on.

“How do you feel?” she asked him, concerned.

“A little sore,” Zuko answered truthfully, knowing better than to lie to a master waterbender/healer. “And nervous,” he admitted in a more quiet tone. Katara smiled at him reassuringly.

“You’ll do fine,” she said, placing a hand on the side of his face. “We all believe in you and we know that you will make a wonderful Fire Lord.” She stood on her tiptoes to kiss him softly. “And if you ever have a hard time Lia, Azula and I can always deal with whoever is the issue.” Zuko couldn’t help but laugh at that.

 

Iroh came soon after to talk over some last-minute issues with Zuko. Sokka and Katara met up, determined to look for their father in the hundreds of people that had gathered for the coronation. Finally, after navigating through a swarm of swampbenders they found Hakoda and Bato talking to each other.

“Dad!” they exclaimed as they rushed to the man. Well, Katara did. Sokka was still limping around.

“I heard what you two did. I am the proudest father in the world,” Hakoda said embracing them. “And your mother would be proud too,” he added, more to Katara than Sokka. Sokka looked up to notice a group of girls dressed in forest-green approaching.

“There’re my favourite warriors! I have to admit, I kind of missed the face paint. How does it feel to be back in uniform again‌?” he asked his girlfriend smiling.

“It feels great!” Ty Lee said, jumping from behind Suki. Sokka had lost count of the times he had been shocked, but this definitely took the cake. He half-jumped in front of Suki, pointing his crutch in Ty Lee’s direction.

“Careful Suki! Ty Lee is pretending to be a Kyoshi Warrior again,” he said accusingly.

“It’s ok,” Suki chuckled. “She’s one of us now.”

“Yeah, the girls and I really bonded in prison,” the acrobat explained. “And after a few Chi-blocking lessons, they said I could join their group. We’re going to be best friends forever,” she exclaimed, smiling brightly.

 

Zuko paused before the doors that would lead him to the coronation ceremony and took a deep breath. Aang was standing next to him in his formal monk robes.

“I can’t believe a year ago my purpose in life was hunting you down, and now…” Zuko trailed off.

“And now we’re friends,” Aang completed the sentence peacefully.

“Yeah…we are friends.”

“I can’t believe a year ago I was still frozen in a block of ice,” Aang said lightly. “The world’s so different now.”  Zuko placed a hand on his pupil’s shoulder.

“And it’s gonna be even more different, when we build it together.”

 

Zuko stepped out and instantly thunderous applause rocked the full courtyard. On the plateau stood Ursa, Iroh and Azula dressed in ceremonial robes for the coronation. Zuko raised his hand.

“Please, the real hero is the Avatar,” he said, taking a step to the side and allowing Aang to take the centre. “Today, this war is finally over,” he continued to address the crowd. “I promised my uncle that I would restore the honour of the Fire Nation, and I will. The road ahead of us is challenging. A hundred years of fighting has left the world scarred and divided. But with the Avatar’s help, we can get it back on the right path, and begin a new era of love and peace.” Aang stepped back as Zuko knelt for the coronation. The head Fire Sage moved forward with the crown when the unexpected happened. He paused. From the shadows emerged the figure of a redheaded woman, dressed in an elaborate scarlet kimono with golden dragons stitched on it. The Sage bowed low to her and handed her the crown. With a proud smile Lia stood behind her adoptive brother.

“All hail Fire Lord Zuko!” she said in a loud voice as she placed the flame-shaped crown on his head. The entire courtyard knelt in front of the new Fire Lord as he stood up. He turned to the Spirit to see her bowing slightly as well, though not to the ground as the rest of the people did. They shared a smile as his family stood from their bows and gathered around him. Zuko could see that Lia was, for the first time in the last few months, at peace.

 

The early afternoon found Azula standing uncertainly in front of a door, a package held tightly in her hands. She couldn’t remember the last time she had felt so uncomfortable and suddenly wished that someone was with her. But her brother was busy signing papers with the guidance of their uncle and the newly-reappeared Jeong Jeong, whom Zuko had made a member of the Council of advisors, and her mother was overseeing the preparations for the ball to celebrate the end of the war and Zuzu’s coronation. Get a hold of yourself! Azula scolded herself. You have faced worse things than that.

 

So, taking a deep breath, the princess knocked and opened the door to Katara’s room. Just like she had imagined all four girls of team Avatar (as Sokka insisted more than ever on calling them) were there. Following Katara and Lia’s example the other two girls had welcomed her. Azula took a moment to survey the scene. Toph was lying on the bed, seemingly overlooking everything, while Suki, Lia and Katara were sprawled on the floor chatting. They smiled at her and Azula smiled back hesitantly.

“I thought you were preparing for the ball?” she asked, unsure of what the etiquette was for this occasion. Since her very first lessons at the Fire Nation Academy for Girls it had been drilled to her that a princess ought to always follow the proper etiquette.

“Oh we were,” Suki explained, standing up to help the other girl place her package on the floor. Azula followed her and sat between the Kyoshi Warrior and the Fire Spirit. “But given the fact that none of us knows what to wear we were trying to figure it out,” Suki concluded. Azula had thought of this.

“That’s why I’m here,” she explained, gaining courage. Becoming friends with Ty Lee and Mai had been so much simpler. “I thought you probably wouldn’t have anything appropriate with you so…” she paused after a snort from Toph. Had she offended them? She thought worried.

“Ignore Toph,” Lia said eyeing the box. Azula nodded. “So I had some dresses made for you,” She finished in one breath. Even Toph looked surprised at that.

“Wow Sugar Queen! I think you just found a competitor for the title,” she said jumping from the bed.

“Thanks Azula,” Katara smiled gratefully. Said girl glowed with happiness.

 

Opening the box she took out the first dress. Although its style was obviously Fire Nation, it was made out of icy blue silk with silver decorations. Katara looked at it speechless for a whole minute before blurting out “I love it!” Relaxing a little Azula pulled out the second dress. This one resembled the uniform of a Kyoshi warrior, forest green with golden decorations. Suki squealed and impulsively hugged Azula. The firebender looked a little shocked but nevertheless pulled out a smaller, simpler dress in pale green.

“This one is for Toph,” she explained. Not hearing a reaction the earthbender approached and ran her fingers across the fabric nervously.

“How does it look like?” she asked.

“Like Aang asking you out the moment he sees you wearing it,” Lia said finally. Toph blushed and snatched the dress.

“He’d better!” she muttered. Taking out the last dress, Azula handed it to Lia.

“What do you think?” she asked. The dress was scarlet with golden flames decorating it, leaving the left shoulder bare.

“Whoever made this dress,” Lia began slowly, “is a genius!” she concluded with a huge smile.

 

Suki and Katara talked Azula into staying with them for the rest of the evening and the princess found herself slowly loosening up at their company. When they were finally ready later that evening they walked out of the room to meet Zuko, Sokka and Aang, all dressed up for the occasion. They walked together to the ballroom of the palace, chatting carelessly along the way. Zuko and Katara entered first, followed by Aang and Toph, Sokka and Suki and finally Lia and Azula. As the entire Team Avatar walked in, another round of applause rocked the packed room. Mercifully, as Lia put it, there had been no great need for formalities and soon everyone was mingling, old friends meeting again and couples dancing the night away.

 

Much to Toph’s displeasure Aang had been whisked away after only one dance by a bunch of nobles who wanted to meet him. This left her, Azula and Lia standing together chatting quietly.

“May I have the honour of this dance fair lady?” A smooth voice said behind them. The three girls turned to see a black-haired young man dressed as Fire Nation nobility. Recognizing him Azula tensed but before she could say anything Lia cut in.

“I thought you promised not to interfere with the mortals,” she pointed out. Agni offered her a Fire Lily and a crooked smile.

“But you are not a mortal.” To Azula’s surprise Lia grudgingly took the offered flower.

“Just one dance and then you’ll disappear,” she warned as they made their way to the centre of the room.

 

“Care to tell me who this guy is?” Toph asked the princess. “His vibrations were weird.” Azula regained her speech.

“That was Agni,” she managed to say, her eyes never leaving the couple dancing gracefully and silently.

“Agni?” Toph raised an eyebrow. “As in the same Agni she tried to kill a few days ago?”

“That one.” Toph cackled.

“Well that explains her vibrations,” she grinned. “And by the looks of it he has quite the crush.”  Just in time the dance stopped. Agni whispered something in Lia’s ear before bowing and promptly disappearing through the crowd. The red-head made her way to her friends.

“So?” Azula asked curiously. “What did he say?”

“Nothing!” Lia said, her blush deepening. She had placed the Fire Lily in her hair.

“I can tell you’re lying…” Toph said in a sing-song voice. “So spill.” Lia muttered something under her breath. “What was that?” Toph insisted. “We couldn’t hear you.”

“He likes the dress,” Lia said louder.

“And?” Azula prompted.

“And he said I still owe him a kiss.”

 

It took two months, during which the gaang split to return to their respective nations and help the rebuilt effort, for Toph to stop teasing Lia. Now, with the excuse of a trade agreement, they had all gathered at Ba Sing Se again. Today the Jasmine Dragon remained closed to the public as Aang, Katara, Sokka, Suki, Toph, Zuko, Azula and Lia gathered for the evening. Iroh was playing the Tsungi horn on a corner, the melody he made up filling the air. At a table nearby Azula and Suki were playing Pai Sho with Katara and Lia observing them. Aang was playing with Momo and Zuko was going around bringing cups of tea to everyone.

“Zuko, stop moving!” Sokka suddenly yelled. Everyone’s eyes turned to him in surprise. He was holding a brush and had an annoyed expression. “I’m trying to capture the moment. I wanted to do a painting, so we always remember the good times together,” he explained in a softer tone.

“That’s very thoughtful of you Sokka,” Katara smiled at him as everyone walked around to see the picture. Her face fell. “Wait! Why did you give me Momo’s ears‌?” she asked.

“Those are your hair loopies!” Sokka explained. Zuko crossed his arms.

“At least you don’t look like a boarcupine. My hair’s not that spiky!”

“I look like a man,” Azula complained.

“And why did you paint me firebending‌?” Suki asked confused.

“I thought it looked more exciting that way,” Sokka shrugged. Momo jumped on the table and chirped. “Oh, you think you can do a better job, Momo‌?” Sokka asked the lemur annoyed. Iroh put the Tsungi horn down and came to see the offending picture.

“Hey, my belly’s not that big anymore, I’ve really trimmed down!” he said. Toph spread her arms in the air.

“Well, I think you all look perfect!” she said, making everyone burst out laughing.

 

The little earthbender stopped laughing when she felt Aang walk out. She had been in Ba Sing Se with Bumi and a few of her friends from the earthbending matches the last two months and before that she hadn’t managed to confront the flighty airbender about their argument on Ember Island. Determined, she following him outside.

 

Aang was leaning against the railing, his thoughts on his earthbending teacher. During his fight with Ozai he had been forced to finally let go of Katara, completely unlocking the Avatar State at last. Now, his thoughts and meditations often turned to a petite, blind earthbender. He turned to say something to her when Toph’s hand grabbed the front of his robes and brought his lips down to hers. Aang’s eyes widened before sliding shut and he kissed the girl back. Words could wait. The world was finally at peace and everything was as it should be.

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The Phoenix King

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Author’s note: In which the countdown to the comet begins, Aang pulls a disappearing act… again and everyone’s favourite bounty hunter is back.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***The Phoenix King***

Fire roared loudly as Zuko and Aang practiced side by side under the strict watch of Lia. Since the play she had taken to overlooking the lessons of the two boys, snapping the occasional correction.

“More ferocious!” she yelled at Aang, when she realized he was holding back on his attacks. His shoulders slumped and he turned to her.

“I’m trying!” he groaned. Zuko noticed the Spirit’s eyes narrowing dangerously and stepped forward.

“Now let me hear you roar like a tiger-dillo!” he ordered the younger boy. Aang nodded and did the move, a half-hearted stream of fire coming out of his mouth.

“That sounded pathetic! I said roar!” Aang frowned at the words of his teacher and repeated the exercise, this time with more fire coming out. Zuko nodded in approval.

“Who wants a nice, cool glass of watermelon juice‌?” Katara’s voice was heard from the house as she came out with a tray.  Aang’s eyes widened in glee.

“Ooo, ooo, me, me, me!” he exclaimed, rushing towards her. He gasped as Zuko lifted him from the back of his robes.

“Hey, your lesson’s not over yet! Get back here,” he ordered.

“Come on, Zuko. Just take a break. What’s the big deal‌?” Suki called from where she was lounging on the steps of the courtyard. Sokka was leaning next to her, lazily sipping his drink.

“Fine,” Zuko huffed and let go of the airbender who raced towards the juices. With a sigh he followed his student and sat next to Katara. Lia did not bother following.

“I’m going to go train,” she said curtly as she walked off towards the beach.

“Maybe Lia’s right,” Sokka said thoughtfully. “Sitting around the house has made us pretty lazy. But I know just the thing to change that. Beach party!”
Everyone looked at him in surprise. Then Katara shrugged and shared a look with Zuko.

“I suppose it’s okay,” she said. They walked down to the house’s private beach. Lia could be seen at a distance practising some moves that made it look like she was dancing with a fiery partner. With one last concerned look in her direction the teens returned to their party. Katara and Sokka immediately rushed to the water, with Zuko hesitantly following his girlfriend after a while. Suki opted to lay on a towel and sunbath while Aang and Toph played with the sand. The airbender turned to his earthbending teacher.

“Check out my Appa sand sculpture,” he said eagerly. Things between them had been a little awkward since the play and Toph had taken to dealing it by acting as if nothing had happened – and fooling no one in the process –. Now she felt the vibrations carefully.

“Not bad, baldy. But I’ve been working on my sandbending.” She cracked her knuckles. “You’re gonna love this.” She stomped her feet, moving into an earthbending stance. A miniature of Ba Sing Se appeared in front of them. Aang knelt to it and looked in amazement.

“Whoa! Wow, you even made a little Earth King and Bosco.” A little further Sokka was frantically making something out of a wet sand dune.

“Try and top that, Sokka,” Toph dared the older boy. He gave them a smug look before jumping to the side to reveal his atrocious creation.

“Is that a blubbering, blob monster‌?” Aang asked confused. Sokka looked at him insulted.

“No! It’s Suki.” Aang and Toph looked at him in shock and then burst out laughing. Katara and Zuko, who had just come out of the water raised eyebrows.

“Suki, we’ll all understand if you break up with him over this,” Toph told the Kyoshi Warrior.

“I think it’s sweet,” Suki said awkwardly. Sokka rushed to her and gave her a swift kiss.

“But it doesn’t even look like…” Aang began but was cut off by the sudden sound of fire near them.

 

They turned to see Lia having created an enormous amount of white flames. Recognising them Zuko rushed, worried to see what they had to reveal.

“General Shinu, your report,” Fire Lord Ozai’s voice was heard. Everyone paled as the image of the Fire Nation throne room was formed. A middle-aged man stood.

“Thank you, sir. Ba Sing Se is still under our control. However, earthbender rebellions have prevented us from achieving total victory in the Earth Kingdom.”

“What is your recommendation‌?” Ozai said calmly. Katara wrapped her arms around Zuko who looked like he was ready to pass out at the sight of his father.

“Our army is spread too thin but once the eclipse is over and the invasion defeated, we should transfer more domestic forces into the Earth Kingdom.” Another general shook his head.

“The people of the Earth Kingdom are proud and strong. They can endure anything as long as they have hope.”

“I think you should take their precious hope and the rest of their land, and burn it all to the ground,” Azula said from her seat on Ozai’s right side. The Fire Lord smiled in approval.

“Yes… Yes, you’re right, Azula. Sozin’s Comet is almost upon us and on that day it will endow us with the strength and power of a hundred suns. No bender will stand a chance against us.” General Shinu sat back down.

“What are you suggesting, sir‌?”

“When the comet last came, my grandfather, Fire Lord Sozin, used it to wipe out the Air Nomads. Now, I will use its power to end the Earth Kingdom. Permanently.” Ozai went on to explain his plan. “From our airships, we will rain fire over their lands. A fire that will destroy everything. And out of the ashes, a new world will be born. A world in which all the lands are Fire Nation and I am the supreme ruler of everything!” Lia stopped the conjuration in disgust and gave Aang a look that spoke volumes. He took a few steps back horrified.

“But…but… I’m not ready. The comet is three days away and I need more time to master firebending.”

“And frankly, your earthbending could still use some work too,” Toph added.

“Honestly, if Aang tries to fight the Fire Lord right now, he’s gonna lose. No offence,” Sokka told the other boy.

“What am I going to do?” Aang asked no one in particular.

“I know you’re scared,” Zuko told him gravely. “And I know that you’re not ready to save the world. But if you don’t defeat the Fire Lord before the comet comes, there won’t be a world to save anymore.”
Aang turned panicky to Lia.

“Why didn’t you tell us about his dad’s crazy plan sooner‌?” he yelled at Lia.

“I’m not getting updates from the Fire Lord before breakfast,” she snapped back at him. “Be thankful that we have what we have.”

“This is bad.” Aang clutched his head. “This is really, really bad.”

“Aang, you don’t have to do this alone,” Katara said in an attempt to calm him.

“Yeah!” Toph agreed eagerly. “If we all fight the Fire Lord together, we got a shot at taking him down.” Sokka rubbed his hands eagerly.

“Alright! Team Avatar is back!” He started pointing at the various members of the group. “Air! Water! Earth! Fire!” he paused for a second and then grinned in inspiration. “Fan and Sword!”

“Fighting the Fire Lord is going to be the hardest thing we’ve ever done together. But I wouldn’t want to do it any other way,” Aang said, smiling confidently again. Katara pulled everyone to a hug, relieved that the tense moment ended. Lia stood back with a ghost of a smile until the waterbender looked up at her.

“Get over here, Lia. Being part of the group also means being part of group hugs,” she said and the Spirit hesitantly obliged.

 

After lunch Zuko took Aang to the courtyard where Lia trained with him. Aang gulped audibly at the sight of some melted and re-solidified stones. Katara followed them curiously from a distance.

“There’s one technique you need to know before facing my father. How to redirect lightning,” Zuko said seriously, frowning at Aang’s eager face. “If you let the energy in your own body flow, the lightning will follow it. You turn your opponent’s energy against them,” he continued explaining nonetheless, showing the Avatar the movements.

“That’s like waterbending!” Aang exclaimed after studying the movement. The firebender nodded.

“Exactly. My uncle invented this technique himself by studying waterbenders.” Aang started practicing the move, mirroring Zuko.

“So… Have you ever redirected lightning before‌?”

“Once. Against my father, during the invasion. You guys were already out of the room.”

“What did it feel like‌?” Aang asked curiously. Zuko dropped his arms.

“Exhilarating. But terrifying,” he said remembering the rush of energy. “You feel so powerful holding that much energy in your body. But you know that you make the wrong move, it’s over.” Aang laughed nervously.

“Well, not over over, right‌ I mean there’s always Katara and a little spirit water action… Am I right‌?” he turned to the waterbender. Katara raised an eyebrow.

“Actually I used it all up after Azula shot you,” she said dryly. Aang’s face fell again.

“You’ll have to take the Fire Lord’s life. Before he takes yours,” Zuko said grimly.

“Yeah… I’ll just do that,” Aang muttered, following the prince with his eyes as he joined Katara and they moved inside the house.
At sunset Sokka dragged everyone on some rock formations near the house.

“Gather round Team Avatar,” he said creating a scarecrow with a mean-looking, bearded watermelon as a head. “In order to take out the Fire Lord, or in this case, the Melon Lord, our timing has to be perfect.” He knelt to the ground and started sketching a diagram on the dirt. “First, Suki and I will draw his fire. Then, Katara and Zuko charge in with some liquidly hot offence and while the Melon Lord is distracted, Aang swoops in and BAM! He delivers the final blow.”

“Err… what about me‌?” Toph asked with a confused look.

“For now, you and Lia are the Melon Lord’s forces.”

“So we get to chuck flaming rocks at all of you‌?” the Spirit asked gleefully.

“Whatever makes the training feel more realistic,” Sokka answered. Toph and Lia shared a look.

“Sweetness!” they said. To Zuko that sounded more threatening than any yell from Azula ever had.
Toph even took it upon herself to make sound effects and evil laughs while Lia created a ring of fire around them. The two girls had gathered a few boulders around them as well and covered them with oil as an extra line of offence. For a moment there was silence and then Sokka signalled at his group to charge. Before he and Suki had time to go very far an army of Fire Nation soldier statues popped from the ground. They evaded them but then flaming boulders started raining down at them. Suki somersaulted over one and Sokka fell flat on his face in front of it. He jumped to his feet.

“Watch it, Toph!” he yelled at the earthbender.

“I am not Toph; I am Melon Lord! Muahahahahaha!” Toph yelled back, clearly having the time of her life. On the other side Lia was having her own fun, raining attacks down her student and his girlfriend, proud that they blocked all of them.

“Now Aang!” Sokka yelled suddenly, seeing the two Melon Lords sufficiently distracted. The airbender launched himself against his enemy, his staff on the ready. He landed in front of the scarecrow and froze. Slowly he lowered his stuff.

“What are you waiting for? ‌ Take him out!” Zuko called at him surprised. Aang shook his head.

“I can’t,” he muttered, taking a step back. The gang walked up to him.

“What’s wrong with you‌?” Sokka asked the younger boy angrily. “If this was the real deal, you’d be shot full of lightning right now.”

“I’m sorry, but it just didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel like myself,” Aang tried to explain. Sokka wordlessly took out his sword and cut the melon in half.

“There,” he said tonelessly. “That’s how it’s done.” Aang’s eyes widened in terror.
Dinner was silent and tense that night until Katara rushed outside with a big smile on her face and a scroll on her hands.

“I have a surprise for everyone!” she announced. Toph looked up.

“I knew it! You did have a secret thing with Haru!”

“What?” Sokka, Zuko and Katara asked at the same time.

“No!” Katara rushed to add at her boyfriend’s direction. “I was looking for cooking pots in the attic and I found this.” She unrolled the scroll to reveal the picture of a baby. “Look at baby Zuko! Isn’t he cute‌?” Lia snorted with laughter while Zuko frowned. “Oh lighten up, I was just teasing,” Katara said, kissing him lightly on the cheek.

“That’s not me. It’s my father,” he said dryly. The scroll rolled itself as it fell from Katara’s fingers.

“But he looked so sweet and innocent,” Suki said surprised.

“Well that sweet little kid grew up to be a monster. And the worst father in the history of fathers,” Zuko added the last part under his breath.

“But he is still a human being,” Aang said suddenly.

“You’re going to defend him‌?” Zuko asked incredulously.

“No, I agree with you. Fire Lord Ozai is a horrible person and the world will probably be better off without him. There’s gotta be another way.”

“Like what?” Lia asked dubiously.

“I don’t know,” Aang shrugged. “Maybe we can make some big pots of glue and then I can use gluebending to stick his arms and legs together so he can’t bend anymore.”

“Yeah. Then you can show him his baby pictures and all those happy memories will make him good again,” Zuko added sarcastically while everyone else tried to hide their laughter.

“Do you really think that would work‌?” Aang asked hopefully.

“No!” Zuko snapped.
“This goes against everything I learned from the monks. I can’t just go around wiping out people I don’t like…”

“Sure, you can. You’re the Avatar. If it’s in the name of keeping balance, I’m pretty sure the Universe will forgive you,” Sokka said cheekily. Lia nodded in agreement.

“This isn’t a joke, Sokka! None of you understands the position I’m in!” Aang burst out.

“Aang, we do understand. It’s just…” Katara tried to calm him down.

“Just what, Katara‌! What‌?” Aang interrupted angrily.

“We’re trying to help!” the waterbender raised her voice as well.
“Then when you figure out a way for me to beat the Fire Lord without taking his life, I’d love to hear it!” he stormed off.

“Aang, don’t walk away from this.” Katara stood up, ready to follow him when Zuko stopped her with a hand on her shoulder.

“Let him go. He needs time to sort it out by himself,” he said calmly, pulling the angry girl to an embrace. They walked back to where the others were still sitting. Zuko could have sworn he heard Lia muttered something along the lines of “spoiled brat.”
The next morning they were loading Appa, having decided to move off of the island and make their way to the capital.

“Okay, that’s everything,” Sokka said, dusting his hands.

“No, it’s not,” Toph said from her seat on the steps. “Where’s Aang‌?” Everyone looked around, surprised to notice that the airbender was indeed absent. They rushed back to the house to look for him. Eventually they ended up at the balcony surprised to see the airbender’s staff but not him.

“He left his staff. That’s so strange,” Sokka said confused.

“Aang’s not in the house. Let’s check the beach,” Zuko offered before leading the way.

“Look! There’s his footprints.” Sokka pointed at the sandy trail. It finished at the edge of the water.
“So… He went for a midnight swim and never came back‌?” Suki asked.

“Maybe he was captured,” Katara speculated. Sokka shook his head.

“I don’t think so. There’s no sign of a struggle.”

“I bet he ran away again,” Toph said crossing her arms.

“Ah-uh. He left behind his glider and Appa,” Sokka said again. Toph shot him an exasperated look.

“Then what do you think happened to him oh sloozey one‌?”

“It’s pretty obvious. Aang mysteriously disappears before an important battle‌? He’s definitely on a Spirit World journey!”

“But if he was, wouldn’t his body still be here‌?” Zuko asked confused. Sokka’s shoulders slumped.

“Oh yeah, forgot about that.”

“Then he’s gotta be somewhere on Ember Island. Let’s split up and look for him,” Katara said, making her way towards Zuko, only to be cut off by Toph.

“I’m going with Zuko!” he raised an eyebrow in Katara’s fuming direction. “What? We want to get work done here!”
An hour later everyone had returned to the house disappointed. Sokka jumped off Appa.

“Judging by the looks on your faces, I’m guessing you guys didn’t find Aang either.”

“No. It’s like he just… disappeared,” Zuko said, getting worried. Toph suddenly sat up.

“Hey, wait a minute; has anyone noticed that Momo’s missing too‌?” Sokka paled.

“Oh no!” he said hysterically. “I knew it was only a matter of time. Appa ate Momo!” he rushed to Appa, opened his mouth and leaned in. “Momo, I’m coming for ya, buddy!”

“Sokka, Appa didn’t eat Momo. He’s probably with Aang,” Katara said calmly. Sokka’s dramatics were the last thing they needed now.

“That’s just what Appa wants you to think.” Sokka snapped, still inside the bison’s mouth. Zuko rolled his eyes.

“Get out of the bison’s mouth, Sokka. We have a real problem here. Aang is nowhere to be found and the comet is only two days away.”

“What should we do Zuko‌?” Katara asked him, her eyes, along with Suki’s and Toph’s trained on him.

“I don’t know,” Zuko admitted standing up. He noticed the stares. “Why are you all looking at me‌?”

“Well, you are kind of the expert on tracking Aang,” Lia said from where she was leaning against Appa. Zuko sighed and moved towards Appa.

“Get on,” he ordered everyone, taking the reins. After a few minutes of flying, Sokka looked over his map confused.

“Zuko, I don’t want to tell you how to do your job but why are we heading towards the Earth Kingdom? ‌ There’s no way Aang’s there.” Zuko looked back from Appa’s head.

“Just trust me,” he said darkly.

 

They landed on a forest and Zuko took the lead again, walking towards a small building.

“And the reason you brought us to a seedy Earth Kingdom tavern is what now‌?” Katara asked wearily as they opened the door. Zuko’s eyes swept the room and pointed at a woman near the middle.

“June,” he said simply.

“Oh yeah, that weird bounty hunter with the giant mole,” Sokka said. Suki looked at him confused.

“Mole?‌ Her skin is flawless,” she said. Sokka shook his head.

“No, she has this giant mole creature she rides around on,” he explained, shuddering at the memory of the numb feeling.

“Her shirshu,” Zuko elaborated. “It’s the only animal that can track Aang’s scent anywhere in the world. It’s the one shot we have of finding him.”

 

Toph had been observing both the conversation and the fight that had been going on inside the tavern. She smirked.

“I don’t know who this June lady is but I like her.”

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – Ember Island Players

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Author’s note: In which Bryke were teasing the fandom so the author is doing the same by actually putting some serious stuff in Season III’s funniest episode.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***The Ember Island Players***

If there was one person glad for the change of scenery, it was Lia. The warmer climate of Ember Island and the large house with a courtyard big enough for her to practice in would be enough to put her in a good mood. And then she discovered THE CLOSET. There was no other way of describing it. Apparently Azula, or some of her servants, sent there any clothes that the princess grew out of or bored of. Katara and Toph were fine with their outfits but Suki and Lia did not resist the temptation of playing dress up. Most of the house was in dire need for repairs but there had been enough rooms for everyone to get comfortable in, especially since certain people were sharing a room.

 

It only took them a few days to get settled. One morning Suki volunteered herself and a suspiciously non-reluctant Sokka to go to the market for supplies. Zuko was training with Aang in the courtyard with Katara and Toph overlooking them.

“Doesn’t it seem kinda weird that we’re hiding from the Fire Lord in his own house‌?” Katara asked absently, trying to keep herself from staring too openly at Zuko.

“I told you, my father hasn’t come here since our family was actually happy. And that was a long time ago. This is the last place anyone would think to look for us,” Zuko explained as he took a towel from her and sat next to the girls. Lia was just walking up to them from her own practice, her clothes singed a little. Toph raised an eyebrow, smelling the smoke emanating from the redhead.

“You seem a little burn out,” she told the Spirit. Before Lia had a chance to retort Sokka’s excited voice was heard.

“You guys are not going to believe this! There’s a play about us,” he said smugly.

“We were just in town and we found this poster,” Suki explained as her boyfriend unrolled a dramatic poster.

“What?” Katara exclaimed. “How is that possible?”

“Listen to this. ‘The Boy in the Iceberg’ is a new production from acclaimed playwright M. Night Shyamalan who scoured the globe gathering information on the Avatar from the icy South Pole to the heart of Ba Sing Se. His sources include singing nomads, pirates, prisoners of war and a surprisingly knowledgeable merchant of cabbage,” Sokka read.

“Brought to you by the critically acclaimed Ember Island Players,” Suki finished.
“My mother used to take us to see them. They butchered ‘Love Amongst the Dragons’ every year,” Zuko suddenly groaned. Katara looked at her brother doubtfully.

“Sokka, do you really think it’s a good idea for us to attend a play about ourselves‌?” she asked. He looked at her in disbelief.

“Come on, a day at the theatre? This is the kind of wacky time wasting nonsense I’ve been missing!”

 

Sokka decided to drag everyone to the theatre that very night for the opening of the play. Lia went ahead to buy tickets for everyone (with the money she borrowed from a noble for old time’s sake) while the rest of the gang snuck in. Zuko and Aang, the most recognisable were wearing a hood and a hat. Katara and Toph rushed to take seats in the front row with Zuko sitting next to the waterbender. Aang was left standing awkwardly. He had wanted to sit next to Katara.

“Hey, uh… I wanted to sit there,” he said meekly. Zuko lowered his hood and gave him an annoyed look.

“Just sit next to Toph, what’s the big deal‌?” he asked. Katara gave them a look and sighed. She had though Aang was past his crush on her by now. Sokka and Suki had taken the back seat and Lia was leaning against the wall near the railing of the box.

“I was just… I wanted to… Okay.” Aang threw himself between Zuko and Toph disappointed.

“Why are we sitting in the nose bleed section‌? My feet can’t see a thing from up here,” Toph complained.

“Don’t worry, I’ll tell your feet what’s happening,” Lia laughed. She had a bet going with the little earthbender about whether or not she would appear in the play. She didn’t think so.

 

The curtain was raised to reveal two actors playing Sokka and Katara. Lia took a double look in surprise. The overly made-up actress sighed dramatically.

“Sokka, my only brother. We constantly roam these icy South Pole seas and yet never do we find anything fulfilling.”

“All I want is a full feeling in my stomach, I’m starving!” The audience burst into laughter.

“This is pathetic. My jokes are way funnier than this!” the real Sokka exclaimed indignantly.

“I think he’s got you pegged,” Toph smiled at his general direction.

“Every day, the world awaits a beacon to guide us, yet none appears. Still, we cannot give up hope. For hope is all we have and we must never relinquish it. Even…even to our dying breath.” The actress Katara sniffed and pretended to sob over the side of the boat.

“Well, that’s just silly. I don’t sound like that,” Katara huffed annoyed to her laughing friends.

“Oh man, this writer’s a genius!” Toph insisted.

 

Aang had been softly laughing at Sokka’s and Katara’s unfortunate casting until the Avatar made his first appearance on stage.

“Wait,” he said in disbelief, “is that a woman playing me‌?” The rest of the gang burst out laughing at the pirouetting actress on stage. “I don’t do that. That’s not what I’m like! And… I’m not a woman!” Aang sputtered.

“Oh, they nailed you, Twinkle Toes.” Toph wrapped an arm around his shoulders to keep from falling to the ground laughing.
The next appearance was that of Zuko on his ship accompanied by a caricature of Iroh. Lia was nowhere in sight.

“I must capture the Avatar to regain my honour!” the actor Zuko declared. Iroh, who was holding a large plate with cake, answered carelessly.

“Well, while you do that, maybe I’ll capture another slice.”

“You sicken me.”

“They make me totally stiff and humourless,” Zuko complained.

“Actually, I think that actor’s pretty spot-on,” Katara said amused.

“How could you say that‌?” Zuko exclaimed. This was his girlfriend! She was supposed to be supportive.

“Let’s forget about the Avatar and get massages,” Iroh’s actor suggested.

“How could you say that?” actor Zuko said in outrage. Lia and Katara gave Zuko identical smug looks and he slumped to his seat in defeat.
The play passed through the Southern Air Temple and then to Kyoshi Island. Zuko turned to give Sokka an incredulous look, ready to ask him if he had really worn a dress. Sokka’s blush and Suki’s giggles were answers enough. King Bumi was uncannily in-character. Mercifully for both Katara and Zuko the same could not be said for the pirate scene. Both sighed in relief and then looked at each other and blushed.

“I think it was romantic,” Katara whispered to Zuko, guessing that he was too thinking of that night. The strangest thing happened when a caricature of the Blue Spirit appeared to free the Avatar from…Zuko? The two boys shared an incredulous look, their previous tension forgotten. The actress that played Aang swooned at the sight of the Blue Spirit.

“My hero!” she sighed. Lia gave the two boys a raised eyebrow as she stifled her laugh.

 

The next part of the journey involved Jet. Katara buried her face in Zuko’s shirt.

“Whatever they say,” she mumbled, “it’s not true.” Zuko had to admit that he sincerely wished she was right. Katara looked up again when the scene had changed to the North Pole. ‘Sokka’ was standing there, holding hands with an overly made-up Yue.

“Don’t go, Yue. You’re the only woman who’s ever taken my mind off of food.” They kissed audibly and Lia’s face turned a little green. ‘Sokka’s’ expression turned from melodramatic to disgusted. “Wait, did you have pickled fish for dinner‌?” he asked.

“Goodbye, Sokka,” the actress said as she was elevated away from the stage. “I have important Moon duties to take care of. And yes, I did have pickled fish.”

“You never told me you made out with the Moon Spirit,” Suki teased her boyfriend.

“Shh. I’m trying to watch,” Sokka sniffed, close to tears. His girlfriend huffed annoyed and turned to look at the stage again. ‘Aang’ was wearing an Ocean-Spirit bulky costume and jumping on toy-size Fire Nation ships.

“The Avatar is back to save the day! Yay!” she laughed before tripping over the costume and falling face-flat to the ground. The curtain was hastily lowered.

 

For the break they retreated at a balcony outside and plopped themselves down on the stairs.

“So far, this intermission is the best part of the play,” Zuko grumbled.

“Apparently, the playwright thinks I’m an idiot who tells bad jokes about meat all the time,” Sokka grumbled, biting on a strip of meat.

“Yeah, you tell bad jokes about plenty of other topics,” Suki laughed.

“I know!” Sokka explained, missing the insult.

“At least this Sokka actor kinda looks like you.” Aang sighed. “That woman playing the Avatar doesn’t resemble me at all.”

“I don’t know, you are more in touch with your feminine side than most guys,” Toph shrugged, decidedly ignoring the hovering Spirit that was standing near her expectantly.

“Relax Aang,” Katara said calmly. “They’re not accurate portrayals. It’s not like I’m a preachy crybaby who can’t resist giving overemotional speeches about hope all the time.” She noticed everyone looking at her. “What?” she asked self-consciously.

“Yeah,” Aang sat down. “That’s not you at all.”

“Listen, friends. It’s obvious that the playwright did his research. I know it must hurt but what you’re seeing up there on that stage is the truth,” Toph said cheerfully.

“And you avoided me long enough,” Lia told the youngest girl. “I won the bet, so pay up!” Toph shook her head.

“No can do,” she said. “There are still two more acts on the play.”

“What bet?” Sokka asked confused.

“We have a bet going about whether or not I’ll appear in the play,” Lia explained, smiling innocently at her brother.

 

Toph didn’t bother sitting down when they went back inside. Instead she leaned against the railing next to Lia, eager to hear her character.

“This is it! This must be where I come in.” she said excitedly as the actors looked for an earthbending teacher.

“I flew all over town but I couldn’t find a single earthbending master,” ‘Aang’ whined.

“Here it comes!” Toph leaned even further and Lia hurriedly grabbed the back of her shirt, fearing that the earthbender might fall.

“You can’t find an earthbending master in the sky, you have to look underground,” the actor playing Toph said, appearing from under a rock on the stage. Everyone in the gang felt their jaws hit the floor.

“Wait a minute,” Toph said as the actors continued their talk, “I sound like… a really buff guy.”

“Well Toph, what you hear up there is the truth. It hurts, doesn’t it‌?” Katara teased.

“Are you kidding me‌?” Toph said with a wide grin. “I wouldn’t have cast it any other way. At least it’s not a flying bald lady.” Aang and Katara glared at her.
Lia tensed a bit when they reached the scene at the abandoned town. If they were going to include her character it would be now.

“Azula! My sister. What are you doing here‌?” ‘Zuko’ exclaimed. Both Lia and the real Zuko snickered at the sight of Azula dressed in pink and heavily made-up.

“You caught me. Wait. What’s that‌?” she pointed at the audience. “I think it’s your honor.” Everyone else on stage turned.

“Where?” ‘Azula’ slipped through a door.

“She escaped. But how‌?” ‘Katara’ wondered. Lia relaxed

“I won,” she whispered smugly.
“I have to admit, Prince Zuko. I really find you attractive,” ‘Katara’ told a sulking ‘Zuko’. The real Katara turned red as everyone’s eyes – especially Sokka’s – moved back and forth from the stage to her and Zuko.

“You don’t have to make fun of me!” ‘Zuko’ snapped. ‘Katara’ shook her head and sat near him.

“But I mean it. I had eyes for you since the day you first captured me.” Aang frowned, thinking back at the incident with the pirates. Katara had never told them what had happened that night.

“Wait. I thought you were the Avatar’s girl.” ‘Zuko’ said surprised. ‘Katara’ laughed.

“The Avatar‌?” she said walking up to ‘Zuko’. “Why, he’s like a little brother to me. I certainly don’t think of him in a romantic way. Besides, how could he ever find out about this?” The two actors started to make out on stage. Sokka leaned over to his sister and boyfriend.

“Is that what happened in Ba Sing Se?” he whispered harshly. Suki pulled him back.

“It’s none of your business,” she reprimanded him. Aang suddenly stood and walked to the door.

“Oh, you’re getting up? ‌ Can you get me some fire flakes‌?” Sokka whispered to him before pulling Suki to an embrace. “Oh and fire gummies!” he called, turning suddenly. Suki scowled at him annoyed.

 

To everyone’s shock when the confrontation in Ba Sing Se came Zuko allowed his uncle to be captured.

“I hate you uncle!” he said. “You smell and I hate you for all time!” The real Zuko looked at the other side. He still regretted not going back for Iroh.

“You didn’t really say that,” Katara said, consoling him.

“I might as well have,” Zuko answered softly.

 

They didn’t bother to go back at the balcony during the next intermission. They just gathered at the corridor outside their box. Lia and Toph were fighting again about who was winning their bet.

“There’s still one act left!” Toph said with a slight tone of panic in her voice. It would ruin her reputation to lose a bet.

“It seems like every time there’s a big battle you guys barely make it out alive. I mean, you guys lose a lot,” Suki suddenly said. Sokka rolled his eyes.

“You’re one to talk, Suki. Didn’t Azula take you captive‌? That’s right, she did,” he said. Suki’s look was something between a glare and a pout.

“Are you trying to get on my bad side‌?” she asked.

“I’m just saying,” Sokka said nervously. Katara looked around from where she was sitting next to Zuko.

“Does anyone know where Aang is‌?” she asked a little worried. He had left right after the scene at the Crystal Catacombs. She hoped he wasn’t sulking about it.

“He left to get me fire gummies like, ten minutes ago. And I’m still waiting,” Sokka said, crossing his arms annoyed.
“I’m going to check outside,” Toph offered, surprising almost everyone.

 

She followed his vibrations to the balcony, feeling a little worried.

“You okay Twinkle-Toes?” she asked, not bothering to put up an act of being tough.

“No, I’m not,” Aang snapped and threw his hat to the ground. “I hate this play!”

“Geez Aang!” Toph raised an eyebrow. “You’re overreacting.”

“Overreacting? ‌ If I hadn’t blocked my chakra, I’d probably be in the Avatar State right now!” came the dramatic reply.
Back inside Sokka had a sudden inspiration.

“Suki, what are the chances you can get me backstage?‌ I got some jokes I want to give to the actor me.” His girlfriend gave him a frightening glare.

“I’m an elite warrior who’s trained for many years in the art of stealth.” The glare melted to a cheerful smile. “I think I can get you backstage,” she said. As they walked away Lia pushed herself off the wall she was leaning against.

“I’m going outside,” she told Zuko and Katara. “I’ll see you in a while.” They both nodded. As soon as she was out of earshot Katara turned to Zuko. He was still down from what had happened at the closing scene of the act.

“I know it must have been hard for you to see all this again,” she told him softly, lacing her fingers with his, “but I hope you know none of us would ever consider what happened down there the truth, no matter what Toph says.”

“You don’t get it,” Zuko told her as he pulled her to an embrace. Holding her close calmed him. “For me, it takes all the mistakes I’ve made in my life and shoves them back in my face. I should have been there for uncle Iroh like he always was for me.” Katara leaned back a little to look at his eyes.

“I know your uncle would be proud of you and besides you said that he has escaped. We’ll probably find him soon.” She stood and pulled Zuko up as well. “Let’s go back in.” She motioned at the box. Zuko raised an eyebrow.

“Why?” he asked. Katara pulled her face close to his and smiled coyly.

“I’m sure you don’t want my brother to find us kissing in the corridor.” Zuko smiled softly at that and followed her back to their seats. One reason he loved the waterbender was that she always knew what to do to make him feel better.

 

Lia had stepped out of the theater and was leaning against a wall there, her eyes sweeping the landscape. The nightmares had eased a little while they had been at the Western Air Temple but they were returning with a vengeance now. She still could not remember what was happening but she knew it was important. The Spirit had never been more thankful for the foresight to take a bedroom that was far from the others. The other night she had woken up because of how loud her sobs were. She knew that whatever she was dreaming was prophetic in a way and now, away from the others she conjured the white flames that allowed her to see the future. The battlefield that appeared before her was the most horrifying she had ever seen and she instantly recognized it. The flames were showing her her dream. She watched with bated breath herself fight and suddenly a body jumping in front of her, taking a blow she hadn’t noticed coming. The man fell to the ground and gave her a pained smile before his eyes closed. Lia saw herself screaming in anguish and releasing a terrible force before she stopped the conjuration and fell to her knees trembling in horror.

“Why?” she whispered. “Why did it have to be you?”

 

On the balcony things weren’t any more lighthearted.

“Toph,” Aang asked hesitantly, “Do you think Katara meant what she said in there?”

“Meant what?” Toph asked, understanding that Aang was talking about the play.

“When she said I was just like a brother to her and she didn’t have feelings for me.”

“An actor said that,” Toph corrected calmly.

“But it’s true, isn’t it‌?”

“Yes Aang,” Toph sighed. “And you knew that Sweetness has had feelings for Sparky for quite some time. I thought you were over her.”

“I love her!” Aang insisted angrily.

“Then you should have let her go!” Toph said just as angry. “I let you go!” Her eyes widened and one hand went to cup her mouth in shock before she rushed back inside. Aang’s eyes doubled in shock and realization. He banged his head at the railing annoyed.

“I’m such an idiot!” he yelled to himself.

 

When he finally went back in, the last part of the play had begun. Aang paused at the door for a moment. Zuko and Katara were still on their previous seats but leaning against each other in manner similar to that of Sokka and Suki. Toph was sitting next to Lia, her eyes trained in the direction of the scene with the Spirit next to her having wrapped an arm around the younger girl’s shoulders in a sisterly embrace. With a sigh Aang sat next to Sokka.

“Here’s what you missed,” Sokka told him in an excited voice. “We went to the Fire Nation and you got better and Katara was the Painted Lady and I got a sword and I think Combustion Man died. Ooo look, the Invasion’s about to start. Shh.” He scooted back to his girlfriend.

 

“I just want to let you know Aang, that I’ll always love you. Like a brother,” ‘Katara’ told ‘Aang’.

“I wouldn’t want it any other way!” ‘Aang’ answered chirpily. The real airbender pulled his hat closer to his eyes. It hurt to hear ‘himself’ say that but not as much as he thought it would.

“Hey Toph,” ‘Sokka’ said suddenly, “would you say you and Aang have a rocky relationship‌?” the audience laughed and Aang’s eyes snapped to his earthbending teacher. He noticed her stiffen and Lia’s arm subtly tighten around her. The play rushed through the failed invasion with the gang running away in a rather undignified manner.

“I guess that’s it.” Sokka stood up. “The play’s caught up to the present now.” Suki pulled him back down.

“Wait!” she said. “The play’s not over.”

“But it is over. Unless…this is the future,” he said in a spooky voice.

 

The future, as it was imagined by the playwright, involved two drawn out battles that ended with Zuko’s defeat by Azula and Aang’s by Ozai. Both boys paled at the sight and the thunderous applause that followed and the rest of their friends looked at them nervously.

“It is over, father. We’ve done it!” ‘Azula’ said triumphantly.

“Yes, we have done it! The dreams of my father and my father’s father have now been realized. The world is mine!” A large Fire Nation banner appeared behind ‘Ozai’, signaling the end of the play.

 

The gang hurried out of the theater and started walking towards the beach house in silence.

“That… wasn’t a good play,” Zuko finally broke the silence when the house appeared before them. Aang nodded from behind.

“I’ll say.”

“No kidding,” Katara said, squeezing her boyfriend’s hand.

“Horrible,” Suki added.

“You said it,” Toph nodded absentmindedly. Sokka shrugged.

“But the effects were decent,” he said, earning himself half-hearted glares from everyone else.

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The Southern Raiders

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Author’s note: In which there is a lot of shipping, Katara gets some character development and the gaang relocates to the author’s favourite setting in the Avatar ‘verse.

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***The Southern Raiders***

A few weeks later everyone was sleepily preparing breakfast near the campfire in the courtyard. Aang was standing near Appa, feeding the bison a few melons when suddenly a bomb came hissing through the air. Before anyone else had time to react Lia jumped to her feet and kicked it back out of the courtyard, a fireball forming at her hand at the same time. The gang jumped to their feet as Aang airbended the doors of the courtyard closed. Safe for the moment they rushed to gather their things as more bombs rattled outside. The old structure started to protest. A part of the ceiling was beginning to crumble. Katara was kneeling under it next to a backpack, hurriedly stuffing it with supplies, unaware of the danger.

“Watch out!” Zuko called as he ran. Before the rock had a chance to crush them he pushed her out of the way.

“What are you doing?” Katara asked alarmed.

“Keeping rocks from crushing you,” came the answer as the prince tightened his hold around her waist. Katara gave him a small smile and raised an eyebrow.

“Well, I’m not crushed,” she said teasingly. “You can get off me now.” Zuko chuckled and helped her to her feet.

“I’ll take that as a thank you,” he said.

 

Haru and Toph hurriedly made a tunnel at the far end of the courtyard.

“Come on, we can get out through here!” Toph called to the others. Haru, Teo, Chit Sang and the Duke hurried with Lia and Suki following them. Aang was trying to pull Appa inside the tunnel when he noticed Zuko standing still in front of the rumble.

“What are you doing?” he asked alarmed.

“Go ahead, I’ll hold them off. I think this is a family visit.” The firebender explained calmly. Katara’s eyes widened.

“Zuko, no!” she made a move to follow him but Sokka put a hand on her shoulder to stop her.

“Come on, we gotta get out of here.” The waterbender bit her lip and turned to help the others pull Appa.

 

Zuko took one last look at them and then ran through the smoke to face the airships. Lia would take care of the gaang. The leading airship came into view, with a very familiar figure standing on it.

“What are you doing here?” Zuko called coldly. Azula gave him a half-crazed smile.

“You mean it’s not obvious yet? I’m about to celebrate becoming an only child!” Using the railing as leverage she sent fire through her feet. Zuko ran ahead, avoiding the deadly flames. The courtyard was slowly but steadily falling apart under his feet. He jumped towards the airship, sending a few fireballs towards Azula while at it. The princess jumped from the observation tower where she was perched before it was destroyed. She watched as her brother started falling, not having enough momentum to reach the airship safely.
Inside the still somewhat protected part of the courtyard Aang was facing a few difficulties.

“I can’t get him to go in there. Appa hates tunnels,” he grumbled to the others.

“Aang, there’s no way we can fly out of here,” Katara answered sternly.

“We’ll have to find a way,” Aang insisted. Sokka turned to the others.

“We need to split up. Take the tunnel and get to the stolen airship,” he told them. Katara’s eyes widened.

“No,” she exclaimed, “the Fire Nation can’t separate our family again.”

“It’ll be okay, it’s not forever.” Hakoda embraced his daughter and then his son before they rushed back to the Avatar’s side. Suki and Lia climbed to the saddle after them and Toph knelt to the ground, concentrating on its structure.

“I can clear that away and we can fly out through there,” she told Aang before jumping to the saddle herself.

“Umm, there’s an awful lot of fire in that general direction,” Suki said nervously, scooting closer to Sokka.

“We’ll get through,” Aang said resolutely. “Let’s go.”
Toph held the earth wall in front of them for the first few moments after they rushed out of the courtyard before letting the barrier fall. Azula turned to firebend at them but stopped when a chill ran down her spine. On the airship behind her stood Zuko, a resolute expression on his face. He took off running again and this time he managed to land on his sister’s airship. Azula did not hesitate to send her fire at him but Zuko blocked each attack and rushed forward with his own.

 

Behind them Appa was flying, trying to avoid the blasts from the airships. Katara was standing at the saddle, bending her water in the form of a shield, protecting the rest of the gang. Lia was flying next to Appa, blocking as many blasts as she could, while Aang struggled to keep the bison under control.

 

Back on the airship Zuko and Azula attacked simultaneously. The explosion sent them both off the airship and into the air as gravity kicked in. Appa rushed forward and Katara stood hurriedly, catching Zuko by the wrist and pulling him on the saddle, hugging him close. Lia landed next to them, quickly checking her brother for any burns. Zuko turned to watch Azula as she continued falling.

“She’s not going to make it,” he said in disbelief. His little sister, the one that had tormented him for so long, was going to fall to her death. Azula seemed to have other plans. Ripping the hairpiece that held her bun she propelled herself to the wall of the cliff and managed to stop her fall. “Of course she did,” Zuko sighed as they flew away.

They landed on a small deserted island near the mainland of the Fire Nation. The entire gang was gathered around the fire, sharing dinner.

“Wow, camping. It really seems like old times again, doesn’t it?” Aang laughed. Zuko rolled his eyes.

“If you really want to feel like old times, I could, uhh… chase you around a while and try to capture you.” Everyone but Katara laughed at that. After the morning’s excitement had died down the waterbender had been distant, ignoring the others and remaining deep in her thoughts. Zuko gave her a questioning look which she missed as she was staring at the fire. Sokka raised his cup.

“To Zuko. Who knew after all those times he tried to snuff us out, today, he’d be our hero.” Everyone but Katara rose their cups cheerfully, toasting at the prince.

“I’m touched. I don’t deserve this,” Zuko said, blushing a little.

“Nonsense!” Lia said in a sisterly bossing way. Katara suddenly rose to her feet and stalked away from the fire.

“What’s with her?” Sokka asked confused.

“I wish I knew,” Zuko sighed and stood as well to follow the girl. Sokka watched him even more confused.

“What’s with him?” he asked no one in particular.
Zuko found Katara by the beach, watching the nearly full moon. She started when she felt him near her but instead of going to him she hugged herself and stared stubbornly ahead. Zuko stopped behind her, close enough for the waterbender to feel his warmth but not quite touching her.

“What’s wrong?” he asked her softly.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Katara said, without turning to look at him. Zuko sighed and turned to leave.

“When you want to, please come. I’ll be waiting for you,” he said, a little hurt, and began to walk away. Katara turned sharply, suddenly regretting pushing him away. Reaching out she took his hand.

“Wait,” she said softly. Zuko turned to look at her. “I’m sorry,” she continued. “It’s just that… today was the anniversary of the day I lost my mother.” At the first sign of tears she turned from him and he embraced her from behind.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “If there is anything I can do…” he trailed as she shook her head.

“Just hold me.”

 

Zuko did so until she fell asleep and then he placed her softly inside her tent, before marching up to Sokka’s. Before he had a chance to get in someone bumped to him.

“Opps, wrong tent,” Suki said blushing.

“Sorry. Do you need to talk to Sokka too?” Zuko asked her tiredly. It had been a long day and it would only get longer.

“Nope.” Suki turned even redder. “Not me.” Rolling his eyes Zuko moved inside. And his jaw promptly hit the floor.

 

Sokka had lighted candles and was lying on his sleeping mat. Hearing someone entering he turned, a rose in his mouth.

“Well, hellooo…” he trailed off noticing who it was that entered the tent. He swallowed the flower and choked on it. Zuko hit him in the back wordlessly. “Uh, Zuko. Yes, why would I be expecting any one different?” he pulled himself together and sat opposite of his friend. “So what’s on your mind?”

“Your sister,” Zuko answered immediately, ignoring the way Sokka’s expression darkened. “She’s been a wreck all day and it has something to do with your mother. I know this may seem out of nowhere, but I want you to tell me what happened to her.” Sokka looked to the side.

“It’s not a day I like to remember,” he said grimly. “Many of the warriors have seen the black snow before and they knew what it meant. A Fire Nation raid. We were badly outnumbered. But somehow, we managed to drive them off. As quickly as they came, they just left. I was so relieved when it was over but, that’s because I didn’t know yet what have happened. I didn’t know we lost our mother.”

“Wait. Can you remember any details about the soldiers who raided your village? Like, what the lead ship looked like?”

“Yeah…” Sokka said slowly. “Sea Ravens. The main ship had flags with sea ravens on them.” Zuko nodded.

“The symbol of the Southern Raiders. Thanks, Sokka.”

“No problem! Thanks for stopping by.” Sokka shoved him out and sighed. “Thought he’d never leave.” He eagerly popped his head out. “Suki!’ he called quietly. Then he noticed Zuko still standing outside the tent. Sokka started whistling innocently as the older boy walked off shaking his head.

 

The next morning a surprise awaited Katara when she came out of her tent, not quite remembering how she had ended up there. Zuko was sitting on a rock in front of her, looking ready to fall asleep.

“You look terrible,” she told him concerned.

“I waited out here all night,” he explained rubbing his eyes.

“You should have come in,” Katara said lightly, even as blush dusted her cheeks, reaching to take her comb from her bag.

“I didn’t want to disturb you,” Zuko explained. “I talked with Sokka. I know who killed your mother. I’m going to help you find him.” Katara spun around and stared at him in shock before her eyes narrowed in determination.

 

They hurriedly packed a few things in their bags and walked up to where Aang was feeding his bison.

“I need to borrow Appa,” Katara said curtly. Aang took a look at them and chuckled.

“Why? Is it your turn to take a little fieldtrip with Zuko?” he asked. Neither of the older teens seemed to appreciate the joke.

“Yes, it is,” the waterbender said. Aang looked surprised at the seriousness.

“Oh,” he said. “What’s going on?”

“We’re going to find the man who took my mother from me.” None of them noticed Sokka and Lia walking up to see what they were talking about.

“Sokka told me the story of what happened. I know who did it. And I know how to find him,” they heard Zuko explain. Sokka’s eyes widened in alarm.

“Umm… and what exactly do you think this would accomplish?” Aang asked. Katara scoffed.

“I knew you wouldn’t understand.” She turned away, only to come face to face with her brother.

“Wait, stop, I do understand. You’re feeling unbelievable pain and rage. How do you think I felt about the sandbenders when they stole Appa? How do you think I felt about the Fire Nation when I found out what happened to my people?” Aang said hurriedly. He didn’t like seeing the usually cheerful waterbender like that. Zuko walked up next to Katara.

“She needs this Aang,” he tried to explain to the monk. “This is about getting closure and justice.” Aang shook his head and frowned.

“I don’t think so. I think it’s about getting revenge.”

“Fine!” Katara exclaimed frustrated. “Maybe it is. Maybe that’s what I need.” She lowered her voice. “Maybe that’s what he deserves.”

“Katara, you sound like Jet,” Aang said disapprovingly. The waterbender turned to face him angrily.

“It’s not the same,” she said. “Jet attacked the innocent. This man, he’s a monster!” Sokka walked up hesitantly.

“Katara, she was my mother too. But I think Aang might be right,” he said.

“Then you didn’t love her the way I did,” his sister snapped, ignoring his hurt look.

“The monks used to say that revenge is like a two-headed ratviper,” Aang said grimly. “While you watch your enemy go down, you’re being poisoned yourself.” Lia rolled her eyes.

“Perhaps, in theory. But this is the real world and some things cannot be laid to rest so simply.”

“Now that I know he’s out there, now that I know we could find him, I feel like I have no choice,” Katara insisted.

“Katara, you do have a choice. Forgiveness,” Aang pleaded.

“That’s the same as doing nothing,” Zuko scoffed. Aang shook his head.

“No it’s not. It’s easy to do nothing. But it’s hard to forgive.”

“It’s not just hard, it’s impossible,” Katara said darkly before walking away. Zuko and Lia followed her immediately, the Spirit blatantly ignoring the reproachful look from Aang.

 

Needless to say that neither Katara nor Zuko changed their minds. Late that night they dressed in dark clothes and sneaked out to Appa. They had nearly finished loading their bags when Aang and Sokka appeared from behind a rock.

“So you were just going to take Appa anyway?” Aang asked annoyed.

“Yes,” the waterbender answered curtly. Aang sighed.

“It’s okay, because I forgive you.” He smiled hopefully. “That give you any ideas?”

“Don’t try to stop us,” Katara insisted.

“I wasn’t planning to,” the airbender said seriously. “This is a journey you need to take. You need to face this man.” Katara smiled lightly and turned to climb on Appa. “But when you do, please don’t choose revenge. Let your anger out and then let it go. Forgive him.” Zuko rolled his eyes as he climbed to the saddle.

“Okay, we’ll be sure to do that guru-goody-goody,” he muttered through his teeth. Katara offered another soft smile to the Avatar.

“Thanks for understanding Aang,” she said before they took off.

 

“You know,” Sokka spoke for the first time, “you’re pretty wise for a kid.”

“Thanks Sokka,” Aang said surprised.

“Usually it’s annoying but right now, I’m just impressed.”

“I appreciate that.” Aang narrowed his eyes, not sure if that was a compliment or not.
“So… can I borrow Momo for a week?” Sokka asked suddenly. Aang looked at him alarmed.

“Why do you need Momo?” he asked surprised, to receive only a shrug as an answer.

 

Zuko had taken over steering Appa with Katara sitting tensely next to him.

“We need to find the Fire Navy communication tower,” he explained to her. “All the navy’s movements are coordinated by messenger hawk. And every tower has to be up to date on where everyone is deployed.”

“So once we find the communication tower, we bust in and take the information we need,” Katara summarized. Zuko shook his head.

“Not exactly. We need to be stealthy and make sure no one spots us. Otherwise, they’ll warn the Southern Raiders. Long before we reach them.”

 

Warning or no warning Katara moved silently next to her boyfriend, melding with the shadows, drawing from her days as the Painted Lady. They sneaked inside the tower through the ventilation system and crawled to where the archives were. A guard was sitting on a table there, painting a map. Katara silently bended the ink, making its bottle topple over the guard’s hands. She sighed in annoyance and went to clean up, not noticing the two shadows that jumped inside the room.

“Okay, Southern Raiders…” Zuko muttered as he went through some files. He pulled out a map. “There.” He pointed at a small insignia. “On patrol near Whale Tail Island.”

“Whale Tail Island, here we come,” Katara said, rushing back to their way out.

 

Zuko looked at her in worry as she took the reins once again. She had not slept the previous night and dark rings were beginning to appear under her eyes.

“You should get some rest. We’ll be there in a few hours. You’ll need all your strength,” he told her softly as he took a seat next to her and gently pried the reigns from her hands.

“Now, don’t you worry about my strength. I have plenty,” the waterbender said grimly. “I’m not the helpless little girl I was when they came.” She closed her eyes for a moment, reliving the day of the raid. “I ran as fast as I could to get help. But, we were too late. When we got there, the man was gone. And so was she.” Her voice broke a little. Zuko embraced her tightly.

“Your mother was a brave woman,” he said quietly, biting back the tears that threatened to escape. Katara clutched her necklace.

“I know.”

 

Zuko might hate to see her upset but at least now she had agreed to catch up on her sleep. He had taken over steering when a fleet appeared on the horizon. He shook Katara and when she opened her eyes, he gave her the telescope and pointed out.

“There! See those Sea Raven flags? It’s the Southern Raiders,” he explained. Katara looked at him determined.

“Let’s do this.”
Repeating the trick she had used during the invasion, Katara made an air bubble around Appa’s head and they dived underwater. Her eyes narrowed in concentration, she made them come out of the water near the flagship, following an enormous wave that knocked everyone off deck. Zuko took the lead while they navigated through the corridor, looking for the captain’s cabin and knocking guards out with his swords. They finally arrived at their destination.

“This is it, Katara. Are you ready to face him?” he asked taking a step back. Katara stood in front of him wordlessly, pulled down her mask and blasted the door off its hinges with her water. The captain turned at their less-than-subtle entrance and immediately attacked them. Zuko pushed himself in front of Katara, blocking the fireball and sending one back to the captain.

“Who are you?” he asked alarmed. Zuko’s eyes narrowed in anger.

“You don’t remember her?” he spat, stealing a glance to the glowering Katara. “You will soon. Trust me.” He firebended again and his opponent blocked but as he tried to move to attack again, he found himself not being able to move.

 

Zuko’s head snapped towards Katara and his eyes widened in horror. He had noticed the full moon outside, but he didn’t think she would go as far as bloodbending to punish the man. Biting his lips he turned back at the captain. This was her fight.

“Think back. Think back to your last raid on the Southern Water Tribe,” he ordered him.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Please, I don’t know!” the man begged horrified. Zuko grew angry.

“Don’t lie! You look her in the eye and you tell me you don’t remember what you did.” Katara forced him to sit up, starring hatefully at his eyes. A flash of shock passed through her body and she let him go.

“It’s not him,” she said backing away. “He’s not the man.”

“What?! What do you mean he’s not? He’s a leader of the Southern Raiders! He has to be the guy!” Zuko asked incredulously. The waterbender turned away in disappointment but he wasn’t ready to give up yet. He grabbed the captain and pinned him to the wall. “If you’re not the man we’re looking for, who is?” he demanded.

“You must be looking for Yon Rha. He retired four years ago,” the terrified man barely had time to explain before he was knocked out.

 

A quick look through some of the papers Zuko had “borrowed” revealed where Yon Rha was living now. Zuko was giving worried glances to Katara during the entire journey. The closer they got to her mother’s murderer, the colder she became, the kindness and compassion that she usually exuded completely gone. As they sneaked around at the village they noticed an old man walking away, looking nervously around him.

“That was him. That was the monster,” Katara hissed as soon as she saw his eyes.

 

The two of them prepared a quick booby trap noticing absently that it began to rain. Yon Rha seemed to have sensed that someone was watching him because suddenly he firebended at a random direction.

“Nobody sneaks up on me without being burned,” he yelled with a hint of nervousness in his voice. As he turned to walk away he tripped right over the booby trap. A blast of fire made him freeze before he even had a chance to move.

“We weren’t behind the bush,” Zuko said calmly and took another step towards the cowering man. “And I wouldn’t try firebending again.”

“Whoever you are, take my money. Take whatever you want, I’ll cooperate,” Yon Rha said frightened. Katara walked up and pulled her mask down.

“Do you know who I am?” she demanded coldly.

“No, I’m not sure,” Yon Rha said hesitantly.

“Oh you better remember me like your life depends on it! Why don’t you take a closer look?” she yelled.  Yon Rha’s eyes widened in realisation.

“Yes, yes. I remember you now. You’re the little Water Tribe girl.” His mind flashed back to that day. “The daughter of the waterbender I killed.” Katara’s eyes narrowed and she bit her lips in an effort to calm down.

“She lied to you,” she said brokenly. “She was protecting the last waterbender.”

“What? Who?” he asked surprised. Katara’s eyes snapped in fury.

“ME!” she yelled.

 

She raised her hands and the rain stood still. The raindrops formed a dome around them. Yon Rha looked around him horrified as Katara formed icicles and with a yell threw them at his direction. The old firebender cowered, closing his eyes and waiting for the end to come. When nothing happened he opened his eyes hesitantly. The icicles were still hovering near him but Katara had held back. Wordlessly she released her hold on the water.

“I did a bad thing. I know I did and you deserve revenge. So why don’t you take my mother? That would be fair,” Yon Rha blurted out, a tone of hopefulness in his voice that made both teens want to puke.

“I always wondered what kind of person could do such a thing. But now that I see you, I think I understand. There’s just nothing inside you. Nothing at all. You’re pathetic and sad and empty,” Katara said disgusted.

“Please spare me,” Yon Rha sobbed, still fearing for his life.
“But as much as I hate you…” her voice broke. “I just can’t do it.”

 

She turned to walk away and Yon Rha looked up with a slight smile of relief that was wiped away when he noticed the glare Zuko was giving him. The prince walked away too, leaving the man weeping in relief. On the ride back Zuko wordlessly changed directions. Katara didn’t look up from where she was sitting on the saddle until she felt them landing. Looking around disinterestedly at first, her eyes widened in shock.

“Where are we?” she asked surprised as she joined Zuko on the ground. They had arrived at an abandoned beach house.

“It’s my family’s summer house. It’s closer to the capital than our campsite and we’ll be more comfortable here,” he explained, wrapping an arm around her waist.

“But is it safe?” Katara insisted. Zuko simply nodded and looked at her worried.

“Will you be okay on your own?” he asked worried. “I need to go pick up the others and you’re too tired to come with me.”

“Are you afraid of me?” Katara asked hesitantly. Zuko shook his head, understanding what she was talking about.

“You were angry and hurt. It’s natural to lose control,” he said calmly. “But I won’t tell the others,” he added reassuringly. With a light kiss on the lips he walked back to Appa and turned to look at her. Katara managed a small smile before the bison took off.

 

By sunset the others had arrived. While Lia and Suki were busy trying to bring the house in some semblance of order –Sokka and Toph having conveniently disappeared–, Aang and Zuko went to find the waterbender. She was sitting at the small dock that was on the side of the house’s private beach.

“Katara!” Aang called from behind. “Are you okay?” he asked awkwardly.

“I’m doing fine.” The waterbender didn’t bother to turn.

“Zuko told me what you did. Or… what you didn’t do, I guess. I’m proud of you,” Aang continued with a smile. Katara turned to glare at him.

“I wanted to do it. I wanted to take out all my anger at him but, I couldn’t.” She turned to look at the ocean again. “I don’t know if it’s because I’m too weak to do it or if it’s because I’m strong enough not to.”

“You did the right thing,” Aang insisted. “Forgiveness is the first step you have to take to begin healing.” Katara stood up and looked at him angrily.

“I didn’t forgive him. I’ll never forgive him.” Her face softened as she walked up to Zuko. “But I am ready to move on.” She threw herself in his arms, kissing him lightly before she walked back to the house.

“You were right about what Katara needed. Violence wasn’t the answer,” Zuko said softly.

“It never is,” Aang answered simply. Zuko turned to look at him with a grim look.

“Then I have a question for you. What are you going to do when you face my father?”