Tag Archives: Dai Li

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The Invasion (Part 2)

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Author’s note: In which Zuko has a badass moment, the final epic battle does… not happen and there is an almost-meeting.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***The Invasion (Part 2)***

The sun was slowly becoming hidden by the moon and Lia paused, starting to feel a little lightheaded. Her powers weren’t completely connected to the sun but that didn’t mean she wasn’t feeling any discomfort at the moment. She knelt next to her brother and Sokka, while Toph a little further away was knocking tanks out of their way. Sokka winced when a rather loud explosion happened next to them before looking up. His face lightened up as he saw Katara and their father approaching.

“Dad! You’re on your feet again.” Katara helped Hakoda to sit next to his son.

“Thanks to your sister. I’m in no shape to fight but maybe there is some way I could help,” the Chief said.

“Everything’s going smoothly and the eclipse hasn’t even kicked in yet,” Sokka reported.

“Let’s hope our luck holds out.” Hakoda turned to his daughter to see her watching intently the horizon. “Katara, you seem distracted. Is something wrong‌?”

“Yeah… Is that… is that Aang‌?” the waterbender pointed at rapidly growing shape at the horizon.

“What?” Lia asked incredulously.

 

Indeed it was Aang. He avoided a couple of projectiles and landed in front of the rest of the gang, looking unusually grim.

“Please tell you’re here because the Fire Lord turned out to be a big wimp and you didn’t even need the eclipse to take him down,” Sokka said hopefully. Zuko snorted at the thought, his hand going involuntary to his scar.

“He wasn’t home. No one was. The entire palace city is abandoned,” Aang explained. Everyone palled.

“They knew,” Sokka whispered.

“It’s over. The Fire Lord is probably long gone. Far away on some remote island where he’ll be safe during the eclipse,” Aang said disappointed. Zuko shook his head.

“No,” he said. “Before I left there were some plans being discussed. They were going to make a secret bunker. Somewhere where fath…the Fire Lord could go so it’ll be safe during a siege but still be close enough to lead the Fire Nation.” Toph cleared her throat loudly. Once she felt everyone’s eyes on her she said:

“If it’s an underground secret bunker we’re looking for, I’m just the girl to find it.”
Sokka took out a small device from his pocket.

“The Mechanist gave me this timing device,” he explained. “It looks like we’ve got about ten minutes until the full eclipse. Ten minutes to find the Fire Lord.”

“We can still do this. We can still win the day,” Aang said hopefully but Katara didn’t seem to share the sentiment.

“Wait. If they knew we were coming, it could all be a trap. Maybe we should use the time we have left to make sure all of us get out of here safely.”
“Everyone who’s here today came prepared to risk everything for this mission. They know what’s at stake. If there’s still a chance and there’s still hope, I think they would want Aang to go for it,” Hakoda argued back. Everyone turned to Aang.

“What do you think‌? You’re the one who has to face the Fire Lord. Whatever you decide, I’m with you,” Sokka said seriously to the airbender. Aang took a deep breath.

“I’ve got to try,” he said decisively.

Katara decided to stay with the invasion force just in case. Before the rest of the gang left, Zuko took his sister to the side, to have a word with her.

“If anything goes wrong, keep an eye on Katara for me,” he said grimly.

“You think we’ll walk right into a trap?” Lia asked seriously. Zuko offered her a small smile.

“I don’t think so. I know. Azula had all the time and resources to learn of the invasion while she was in Ba Sing Se.” Lia nodded in agreement.

“Perhaps Aang can still beat Ozai,” she said, trying to keep uncertainty away from her voice. She hugged him briefly and then they walked over to the rest of the team. Zuko and Katara only nodded to each other, not wanting to consider the possibility of not seeing each other again.

 

The group took Appa and flew towards the volcano inside which the palace city was built. The closer they got, the tenser Lia seemed to get. Everyone jumped down as soon as the bison landed.

“Do you feel anything down there‌?” Aang asked Toph. She nodded, her eyes half-closed in concentration.

“Yep. There are natural tunnels criss-crossing through the inside of the volcano.”

“Anything else?‌ Is there a structure somewhere‌?” Zuko asked.

“There’s something big, dense, and made of metal deep in the heart of the volcano,” the earthbender added after a moment.

“Sounds like a secret bunker to me,” Sokka said, raising an eyebrow.

 

Toph made a tunnel into the ground and everyone hurried in. Aang turned to Appa and Momo.

“Stay safe. We’ll be back soon,” he said before he jumped inside the hole to land behind Toph. The earthbender was feeling the ground.

“This way! That one’s a dead end,” she said, jumping on her feet and rushing down the tunnel.

“What would we do without you‌?” Sokka asked as he raced behind her.

“Perish and burn in hot magma,” came the cool reply. The boy gulped as they passed next to a small waterfall of lava.

“Yeah, pretty much,” he squeaked.
They paused at the opening of a cave, filled with vents that could occasionally spit out steam and magma.

“The tunnel continues on the other side and it leads right to the bunker,” Toph explained. Sokka made a movement forward.

“We’ll have to be fast but careful,” he advised the rest of the group. One of the vents erupted right in front of him. Zuko grabbed him from the back of his armour and yanked him backwards.

“How was that careful‌?” he asked.

“I was wrong. We need to be fast, careful and lucky,” Sokka amended. With some careful running and dodging (and Zuko and Lia stopping a few vents before they could erupt) they managed to reach the other side of the cave. The sight that greeted them made everyone let out a sigh.

“There’s no floor! It’s just a river of lava.” Sokka whined. “How are we supposed to cross this?”

“That’s why you have me here,” Lia said, moving to stand in front of everyone. Moving her hands she made the lava rise at their level, before she bended the heat out of the molten rock, making a narrow bridge appear. Toph tested it and raised an eyebrow.

“Sweet.”

 

It wasn’t far from there that they stopped again, this time in front of an enormous metal contraption, with an equally huge entrance.

“That’s some door!” Sokka whistled impressed. Toph pressed her ear against it and knocked the metal before smiling.

“Not a problem.” A few jabs, punches and kicks later the door had an opening big enough for them to pass through. Toph took the lead again, pointing at the right direction.

“I am so glad we added you to the group,” Sokka called after her.

 

Outside, Bato turned to address the soldiers, having taken the lead once Sokka and Zuko had left.

“The eclipse is only minutes away. We should be able to make it up the hill by the time it starts and secure the entire palace by the time it’s finished!” he explained to the men. With a battle cry they started pressing forward again. Katara turned to her father. They had been moving at the back of the force since Hakoda was not in any shape to press himself.

“We can wait here if you want,” she offered.

“No. I want to press forward with the others,” he insisted and they continued moving.

 

As they ran through the tunnel the teens heard a gasp. Spinning on their heels they saw War Minister Qin pressed against the wall, his arms in surrender. In a second he had a sword, a staff, a small rock and two fireballs aimed at him.

“The Fire Lord’s chamber is that way down the hall to the left and up the stairs. You can’t miss it,” he blurted immediately. They all looked at him suspiciously for a moment longer before Aang gave him a cheerful smile.

“Thanks!” he said and they continued at the direction he had pointed. As they ran Sokka took out his clock.

“Only 30 seconds until the total eclipse,” he informed the others. They came to a halt in front of a door with the royal symbol etched on it. Aang took a deep breath and looked at the engraved flame with determination.

“I’m ready,” he said. “I’m ready to face the Fire Lord.” He made a move to blast the door when Lia stopped him with a hand on his shoulder.

“Wait,” she said and turned to the earthbender. “Toph, how many people are in there?” she asked. Toph placed a hand to the ground and concentrated.

“There is one man sitting on the back, a line of guards behind him and…” she trailed opened her eyes and turning to the others. “Azula is there too.” The others shared a look of uncertainty.

“I still think we should go for it,” Toph said dismissively. Aang nodded.

“Yes, after all no one in there will be able to bend.”

 

Without further ado the door was blasted off its hinges, and the team rushed in. Ozai and Azula looked up from their thrones, a line of the Imperial Guard behind them standing in attention.

“So… you are alive after all,” Azula drawled carelessly at Aang, not sparing the rest of the group a look. Her father was glaring full-force at Zuko. “I had a hunch that you survived,” the princess continued as she stood from her throne. “It doesn’t matter, we’ve known about the invasion for months.”

 

On the hillside the invasion force was steadily advancing towards the palace city. The Mechanist paused to observe the sky. The sun and the moon were nearly completely overlapping.

“The eclipse is starting,” he warned the others. “Put on your eclipse glasses.” The men stopped for a second to put on the devices that would protect their eyes and then pressed on.

 

Underneath, inside the bunker, Zuko felt a sudden wave of energy leaving his body. Lia next to him looked a bit nauseous but otherwise fine. The eclipse had started. Aang seemed to gather his wits because he daringly stepped forward and pointed his staff at the Fire Lord.

“Fire Lord, your reign comes to an end today. Surrender or” here the boy visibly gulped, although his voice remained strong, “this will be a fight to the death,” he finished. Ozai did not answer but Azula stepped towards the small group with a mock-hurt expression on her face.

“You mean I’m not good enough for you? You’re hurting my feelings.” Wordlessly Toph encased her on a cone of earth.

“The eclipse has started Azula,” Zuko said shaking his head. “There is nothing you can do.” His younger sister smirked when suddenly the rock encasing her shattered.

“When I left Ba Sing Se, I brought home some souvenirs.” Two Dai Lis landed in from of her. “Dai Li agents. Do you still think that there is nothing I can do Zu-zu?” Aang tried to blast the earthbenders away with his airbending but they made a wall rise protecting themselves and the royalty behind them.

 

Outside the invasion force had reached the edge of the crater. Bato turned to give the next set of instructions to the men.

“Surround the periphery! We have to secure the palace by the time the eclipse is over. Otherwise, we’ll be in for the fight of our lives.”

The invasion force scattered around the capital, all of them heading towards the palace. A small group of earthbenders came across some guards.

“Stop! Surrender peacefully and we won’t harm you,” one of them, Tyro, said.

“We’ll never surrender!” one of the guards said arrogantly. He started moving his arms frantically but not even the smallest flame came out. He shared a nervous look with the rest of him team. “Okay, we surrender,” he amended hastily.

 

Katara and Hakoda had paused to catch their breath at the edge of the crater. The beauty of the relatively peaceful city took the waterbender by surprise. She suddenly knew why Zuko had been so desperate to return.

“There it is. The Fire Nation royal palace. We’ve come so far,” her father said in admiration. Katara shook her head.

“It’s not over yet,” she said as they began their descent.

 

Toph and Aang burst through the stone wall. The Dai Li attacked Aang who blocked their attacks with ease. Toph came to his side and drove them away, before bending a stone wave towards Azula. The Princess used it as leverage and jumped back on her throne. Zuko and Lia were forced to stand to the side along with Sokka. At this point they would be more of a hassle than help for the two earthbenders on their team.  Aang turned his attention to Azula and tried to blast her away but the Fire princess cartwheeled out of reach, avoiding his blasts with ease. With the help of the Dai Li agents she jumped through the hole of a wall that Toph had made later and landed near her brother. Aang and Toph rushed after her, the girl having the good sense to block the exit with another wall.

“I can’t pin her down. She’s too quick!” Aang panted. Toph nodded and paused long enough to detain the agents with a few quick metalbending moves. The two of them return to cornering Azula when suddenly Sokka called them.

“Wait! Aang, Toph, stop attacking.” Everyone looked at him in shock. “Don’t you see what she’s doing‌? She’s just playing with us. She’s not even trying to win this fight!”

“Not true, I’m giving it my all,” Azula sing-songed.

“You’re trying to keep us focused on you and waste all our time!” Toph exclaimed.

“Um, right. I think your friend just said that genius. And since you can’t see, I should tell you I’m rolling my eyes,” Azula snorted. Zuko made a move to lunge at her but Lia held him back.

“I’ll roll your whole head!” he snapped at his younger sister angrily.

“She’s just baiting you again,” his older sister said calmly.

“Okay, so what do we do‌? Just ignore her‌?” Aang asked confused.

“We don’t have a choice,” Sokka decided. “We need to focus on the Fire Lord.”

 

They turned to leave when Azula’s voice was heard.
“It’s a trap. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” Everyone stiffened at her words and Aang and Toph almost turned back.

“Ignore!” Sokka said shrugging. The princess frowned before trying again.

“So, Sokka’s your name right‌? My favourite prisoner used to mention you all the time.” Sokka stopped and turned around shocked. “She was convinced that you were going to come rescue her. Of course, you never came and she gave up on you.” Forgetting his previous words the boy lunged at her with a yell, missing her smug smile.

“Come and get it…” Azula mattered under her breath. Before she could throw the dagger in her hand she found herself pinned to the wall while Zuko was struggling to hold Sokka back. With a jerk the Water Tribe warrior freed himself and rushed to Azula.

“Where is Suki‌?” he asked furiously. “Answer me!” he demanded when the girl remained silent.

“Sokka, she won’t talk,” Aang said calmly. Sokka hesitated for a moment before turning back at Azula.

“Where are you keeping her‌!” he yelled. Azula smirked smugly.

 

Lia was about to physically drag Sokka away from the princess when a wave of energy hit her. Zuko next to her must have felt it too because he doubled over. On the other side of the room Ozai stood and with a single fireblast cracked the earthen wall.

“Oh. Sounds like the firebending’s back on.” Azula blasted herself free, satisfied to see the horrified realisation in her enemies’ eyes.  She blasted the wall again, causing it to crumble.

“I’m sure dad will be glad to see you now,” she said cheerfully.

 

Indeed Ozai was slowly approaching them with an emotionless face and an impressive fireball ready to launch. Lia shook her head slightly and the fire went out. The man’s impassive expression turned to one of annoyed surprised as he failed to keep his fire going long enough to throw it at anyone. Lia gave a look to the teens around her.

“I believe it’s time to take our leave.” Aang was about to protest but thought better of it. They started backing towards the door when Azula sent a fireblast to their direction. Lia turned to block it, her attention momentarily diverted, which was more than enough for Ozai. Lightning crackled and launched towards the retreating Avatar. Zuko stood protectively in front of the boy, catching the lightning in his hand. The electricity surrounded him and he nearly lost his balance but managed to follow through the movements Iroh had taught him and send it back to his father. Ozai was blasted to the wall as smoke filled the room. When the atmosphere cleared the Avatar and his friends had disappeared.
“I fell for it!” Sokka lamented as they hurried to the surface again.

“It’s not your fault, Sokka. Azula was ready for us. She had every move planned out,” Toph tried to cheer him up. It didn’t work.

“And now it’s too late,” he sighed.

“The Fire Lord knew we were coming this time. We thought we had surprise on our side but we didn’t. It just wasn’t our day. What we need to do now is go help the others,” Lia interjected calmly. “Aang will get his chance soon.” They exited the tunnel and stopped to survey the scene. Suddenly Zuko started to run away.

“Where are you going?” Aang asked confused.

“To find uncle,” Zuko explained, looking back at them. “I can’t leave him here.” The others looked ready to protest but the Fire prince ignored them. With a sigh Lia laid a hand on the Avatar’s shoulder.

“I’ll make sure he doesn’t kill himself,” she promised, hurrying after Zuko.
With low spirits, Sokka, Aang and Toph climbed back on Appa to meet up with the invasion force. When they landed Katara ran to them with an anxious expression. Aang hung his head, not wanting to admit his failure.

“It was all a trap. Azula knew we were coming and she’s plotted out every move,” Sokka explained. “We’ve got to get to the beach as fast as we can. If we can make it to the submarines, maybe we can get away safely.” Everyone cast a nervous look at the war balloons that were rapidly approaching.

“They’ve got air power, but so do I!” Aang said resolutely. “I’m going to do what I can to slow them down.” He flew away on his glider.
“Appa, you and I can help too,” Katara said, jumping on the bison’s saddle. She desperately wanted to know what had happened and more importantly where Zuko was but now was not the time. She bit her lips in worry and gazed at her targets. Hopefully he was safe.
As it was, Zuko was running towards the Capital’s prison. He was aware of Lia following but his sole focus was getting his uncle out of his cell and meeting with the others. The door of the building lay in shambles and the interior was not in any better condition. Zuko ignored everything, focusing solely on finding Iroh, but Lia paused surprised. The invasion force hadn’t reach this far. What had happened there? Reaching the last cell Zuko burst in.

“Uncle!” he called frantically. The only person there was a guard. Zuko ran to him and grabbed him by the collar.

“Where is my uncle‌?” he demanded angrily.

“He’s gone. He busted himself out. I… I’ve never seen anything like it! He was like a one man army!” the man stuttered shocked.

“He’s gone Zuko,” Lia said calmly. “We need to get to the others.” Zuko followed her wordlessly although in his mind he was screaming.

“I shouldn’t have left him in Ba Sing Se,” he only said.

As they raced outside the sounds of bombs greeted them again. A fleet of zeppelins and air balloons was heading for the subs. Zuko and Lia watched in horror as one by one their means of escape were blown away.

“How will we escape?” Zuko whispered, his eyes scanning the land beneath him for the invasion force. A hand on his shoulder made him turn to where Lia was pointing silently. The familiar figure of Appa rose in the horizon, his back loaded with passengers.

“Katara and the others are probably on Appa. At least the younger ones,” she reasoned. “Now we just need to catch up to them.”

“With one of these,” her brother finished with his eyes trained on one of the war balloons, a familiar spark in them.

“What goes around, comes around I guess,” the Fire Spirit sighed in wry amusement.

 

They found one unguarded balloon and set out on figuring out how to make it take off, which was much simple than they expected. Once in air and concealed by the clouds, Zuko started scanning the horizon for Appa. He could just barely make out his form in the distance but it was enough for him. After all it wasn’t as if he had never been to their destination before.

“Looks like we’re going to the Western Air Temple,” he announced.

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The Earth King

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Author’s note: In which the bad pun is not made by the author for a change, Zuko goes through character development AGAIN, Lia fullfills a promice and Katara sucks at giving someone the silent treatment.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

*** The Earth King ***

Sokka looked around him. Katara and Toph were sitting on the ground near Appa, while Aang was still clinging to the bison’s fur.

“I missed you more than you’ll ever know buddy,” the Avatar murmured, his head buried in the tuft of hair on bison’s forehead. Momo landed next to him, hugging Appa too. The bison licked them off of his face, looking equally glad.

“Look, we escaped from the Dai Li, we got Appa back, I’m telling you, we should go to the Earth King now and tell him our plan. We’re on a roll,” Sokka suddenly proposed confidently. Katara shot him a disbelieving look.

“One good hour after weeks of trouble isn’t much of a roll,” she said dryly.

“We can build on it,” her brother insisted. “If we want to invade the Fire Nation when the eclipse happens, we need the Earth King’s support.”

“What makes you think we’ll get it‌?” Toph said critically. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but things don’t usually go that smoothly for our little gang.”

“I know, but I’ve got a good feeling about this. This time will be different.” Sokka’s confidence didn’t seem to work.

“Sokka, Long Feng is control of the city,” Katara said unconvinced. “His conspiracy with the Dai Li is too powerful. I think we should just keep flying and leave this horrible place behind us.”

“I’m with Sweetness. I’ve seen enough of Ba Sing Se. And I can’t even see!” Toph exclaimed raising her arms dramatically.

“But now that we have Appa back, there is nothing stopping us from telling the Earth King the truth about the conspiracy and the war,” Aang said suddenly. Sokka flashed a bright smile and put an arm around the other boy’s shoulder, glad for the support.

“See? Aang’s with me. It’s the whole reason we came here in the first place, we have to try.”

“Well, I guess if the Earth King knew the truth, things could change,” Katara admitted, still hesitant. Toph rose to her feet and approached Sokka.

“I don’t trust the new positive Sokka,” she said gravely. “Long Feng brainwashed you, didn’t he?” she yelled accusingly.
Aang turned towards the shore, in time to see three ships moving in the distance.

“That’s probably the Dai Li searching for us,” Sokka said frowning. He turned to Katara. “So?” he asked her expectantly.

“‌ Let’s fly!” the waterbender said decisively.

 

Appa was flying, glad to be in his element for the first time in a month. Aang was sitting solemnly in front. Hearing to Toph’s voice he turned worried.

“Can we please buy a new saddle?‌ Riding bareback is terrifying!” the earthbender yelled before burying her face into Appa’s fur. In front of them the palace appeared. Sokka pointed at it.

“There it is! That whole thing is the palace. The Earth King’s chambers should be in the centre.”

“We have to be careful,” Katara said thoughtfully. “Long Feng’s probably warned the King that we’re coming.” Her brother shot her an incredulous look.

“Why would you assume that‌? If you ask me, I think we’re just gonna sail right in….Ahhh!” he yelled seeing a huge boulder coming flying towards their direction. Appa dived to avoid it, growling.

“What was that?” Toph shouted scared.

“Surface to air rocks!” Sokka yelled back alarmed. “More coming!” he said as rows of boulders came at them.
As the Earth Kingdom soldiers continued their attacks Aang was staring ahead of him, concentrating on manoeuvring Appa between the flying stones. He earthbended one into dust without even looking and shot to his feet as another boulder – the size of Appa – came at them. He cut it clean to two pieces using his staff before making Appa dive towards the ground. In front of them, a whole battalion was waiting, riding on their ostrich-horses. Aang leaped at the leader, creating a mini earthquake. The shock wave tossed the soldiers in every direction. The rest hopped off Appa and raced towards the courtyard’s stairs, where another wave of earthbenders appeared. They sent a bunch of head-sized stones at the kids, only to be swiped away by Aang and Toph. Katara took soldier after soldier out with her waterwhip. She winced when some of them groaned in pain.

“Sorry!” she called over her shoulder.

Yet another wave of earthbenders appeared at the top of the stairs. They sent two huge badgermole statues against the gaang. With a simple move Toph created an igloo from the pavement. The moment it stopped raining stones and dust she toppled the ground, domino-ing the soldiers and leaving them pinned.

“Sorry!” Katara called as they rushed past. “We just need to get through to see the Earth King!”
As they reached the top of the stairs, more soldiers came running from the corridors. Aang and Toph took earthbending stances and turned the enormous staircase into a slide. As the guards were sliding down helplessly, Toph and Aang bended an elevator platform from the floor and began ascending.

“Seriously, we’re actually on your guys’ side!” Sokka called to the soldiers that continued falling. His shoulders fell. “Sorry,” he said sheepishly, realising the pointless of his words.

 

Reaching the top of the stairs another dozen of guards approached them. Toph and Aang bended stone walls and pushed them back. Finally the kids entered the palace and Sokka took the lead.

“In there!” he called pointed forward. Rushing through the hallway they entered a large room with four hallways. Toph stomped her foot and pinned several of the guards to the ceiling.

“Toph, which way to the Earth King?” Sokka asked her. She raised an eyebrow.

“How should I know? I’m still voting that we leave Ba Sing Se,” she snapped. Sokka shrugged and started opening doors, while the others kept the guards distracted. In the third one he saw a woman standing in front of a mirror.

“Burglar!” she screamed shocked, before tripping on her dress and falling – face-first- on the floor.

“Sorry,” Sokka closed the door behind him. “Wrong door.”

 

Meanwhile, at the Lower Ring, Zuko and Iroh were walking back to their apartment. Zuko felt like he was about to collapse. All his thoughts were tangled together and the only thing he could do was to force his feet to keep walking. Entering the apartment he let his swords fall to the ground, his only thought being sleep. Behind him Iroh said pleased:

“You did the right thing, letting the Avatar’s bison go free.” Zuko rubbed his eyes, trying to clear his head.

“I don’t…feel right,” he managed to say before everything blurred and he fell to the ground unconscious. Iroh turned alarmed by the noise and rushed worried to his nephew’s side. Recognising the symptoms he sent a silent prayer for Lia to return soon.

*          *          *

On the other side of the Earth Kingdom Lia willed her pounding heart to calm down as she walked through the alleys of the small village. The things the people there had told her proved her vision true. Indeed, a woman from the Fire Nation had come six years ago. She lived in a small house, near the shore, making money by selling her paintings. No one knew anything about her past or who she was.

 

Taking another calming breath the Spirit knocked the door. This is ridiculous! she scolded herself. There’s no point in feeling so edgy! The door opened and the sweet face of Ursa appeared, looking at the redhead in front of her questioningly. Lia smiled and bowed in greeting.

“Lady Ursa?” she said. The older woman’s face turned from confused to worried. Before she had a chance to retreat inside her house Lia continued. “I come on behalf of your son.”

 *          *          *

Looking around him Sokka sighed. They had practically wrecked the room and still not found the way to the Earth King’s throne room. Deciding it was worth one last try he climbed over the mountain of wreckage and felt his jaw drop.

“Now that’s an impressive door!” he whistled gaping at the two huge, gold doors. “It’s gotta go somewhere.” He jumped to the other side and sprinted towards them. Landing a flying kick, he only succeeded in falling in front of them. Sharing an exasperated glance Aang and Toph earthbended the doors – and Sokka in the process – out of the way. The warrior landed on his face…again… and sat up rubbing his head.

“A little warning next time!” he whined.

 

The rest of the gang entered the throne room, blatantly ignoring the still grumbling Sokka. At the far end, the Earth King was seated at an impressive throne. He feels far too young and soft for this job, Toph thought curiously. Before anyone had a chance to talk Long Feng and a line of Dai Li appeared, standing protectively in front of the King.

“We need to talk to you!” Aang said urgently.

“They’re here to overthrow you,” Long Feng said persuasively to the King.

“No,” Sokka interfered. “We’re here to help.”

“You have to trust us,” his sister added. The Earth King stood up aggravated.

“You invade my palace, lay waste to all my guards, break down my fancy door, and you expect me to trust you‌?” Toph raised an eyebrow.

“He has a good point,” she said.

“If you’re on my side,” the King continued, “then drop your weapons and stand down.” Aang nodded at the others and they dropped their stances.

“See?” the Avatar said smiling widely. “We’re friends, your Earthiness.”

 
The King’s frown didn’t falter. That was sign enough for Long Feng. He motioned his agents and they sent their stone gloves at the startled teens.

“Detain the assailants,” The Head Dai Li ordered.

“But,” Sokka said confused, “we dropped our weapons. We’re your allies.”

“Make sure the Avatar and his friends never see daylight again,” Long Feng continued unfazed. The Earth King looked up at Sokka surprised.

“The Avatar?‌ You’re the Avatar?”

“Uh, no.” Sokka pointed towards Aang as best as he could while cuffed. “Him,” he explained.

“Over here!” Aang called, waving his hands before letting them be cuffed again.

“‌ What does it matter Your Highness?” Long Feng insisted.‌ “They’re enemies of the state.”

“Perhaps you’re right,” the Earth King agreed hesitantly. Suddenly his bear approached Aang and started licking him. The boy giggled happily. “Though Bosco seems to like him,” he added happily. “I’ll hear what he has to say.” Long Feng frowned as Aang approached the throne.

“Well, sir,” the Avatar began, “there is a war going on right now. For the past hundred years, in fact. The Dai Li’s kept it secret from you. It’s a conspiracy to control the city, and to control you.”

“A secret war‌! That’s crazy!” the Earth King exclaimed.

“Completely!” Long Feng hurried to add. Aang glared at him.

“Long Feng didn’t want us to tell you, so he stole our sky bison to blackmail us,” he continued. “And blackmail is the least of his crimes, he brainwashed our friend!”

“All lies,” Long Feng assured the King. “I‘ve never even seen a sky bison Your Majesty. Frankly, I thought they were extinct.” The King sat back on his throne.

“Your claim is difficult to believe, even from an Avatar,” he said.

“These hooligans are part of an anarchist cell that my agents have been tracking for weeks. If you listen to them, you’re playing right into your own destruction,” Long Feng told him quietly. The Earth King sighed.

“I have to trust my advisor,” he told the children.
The Dai Li made a move to take the kids away when suddenly Sokka was struck by one of his inspirations.

“Wait, I can prove he’s lying,” he said enthusiastically. “Long Feng said he’s never seen a sky bison. Ask him to lift his robe.”

“What?” the minister said appalled. “I am not disrobing!” Aang and Sokka shared a look. Aang took a deep breath and sent a mini typhoon towards the minister, blowing his robes to cover his head. A big bruise appeared on one of his legs.

“ Right there!” Aang exclaimed. “Appa bit him.”

“Never met a sky bison, huh?” Sokka said smugly. Long Feng pushed down his robes annoyed.

“That happens to be a large birthmark. Thanks for showing everyone,” he said.

“Well, I suppose there’s no way to prove where those marks came from.” The Earth King said hesitantly.

“Of course there is!” Sokka insisted, sounding even smugger.
Appa was brought inside immediately. It took only one glance on his teeth to prove it.

“Yup, that pretty much proves it,” the Earth King decided. The kids exchanged triumphant grins. “But it doesn’t prove this crazy conspiracy theory,” he continued. Before Sokka would begin complaining again the Earth King decided. “Though, I suppose this matter is worth looking into.”

 

Iroh looked at his nephew worried. He had known this moment would come since he had discovered Zuko’s affections for the waterbender. It had been part of the reason he had abandoned his quest for the Avatar, but Iroh wasn’t certain whether his nephew had never had second thoughts.

“You’re burning up. You have an intense fever,” he said quietly, placing a wet cloth on the boy’s forehead. “This will help cool you down.”

“So thirsty,” Zuko muttered deliriously. He tried to stand up only to be pushed back down again by his uncle. The old man turned and filled a small cup with water.

“Here’s some clean water to drink. Stay under the blankets, and sweat this out.” Zuko drained the cup before snatching the bucket that was next to Iroh and drinking right from it. He felt as if he was on fire on the inside.

“Katara…” he whispered before passing out again.

 

 *          *          *

It was hours later when Lia stopped talking, her mouth dry. She had recounted everything that had happened the last six years. Ursa had heard of course of Zuko’s banishment, and she had worried herself sick not knowing what had happened to her son.

“It’s so hard to believe how much pain has come to our family,” she said pouring them some tea. “I never thought Ozai would change so suddenly so much.” Lia looked up interested.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“Before the siege of Ba Sing Se, Ozai was more warm and human,” Ursa explained. “He would play with Zuko and Azula, teach them small firebending tricks, much like Iroh did with Lu Ten. As the siege dragged on, he became more cold and distant. At first I thought he was just stressed about the outcome of the war, but then that audience came and…” she took a steadying breath. “It was as if some other person had taken over his place: a calculating, cold man I had never seen inside him before.”

 

Lia was deep in thought. The siege of Ba Sing Se seemed awfully important all of a sudden. It was as if someone had cursed the royal family, tearing it apart and letting the most ruthless to rule. And if Ursa was right, Ozai’s change of heart was almost timed with his nephew’s death. The Fire Spirit raised an eyebrow. Now that reminded her of an old friend…

 *          *          *

It has been said that the day the Earth King would use public transport would be the day the world ended. It definitely looked like it, judging by the looks on the passengers’ faces.

“So, this is what a train is like.‌ I didn’t realize it would be this…public,” the Earth King commented. Katara looked at him surprised.

“So you’ve never been outside the Upper Ring before‌?” she asked

“I’ve never been outside of the palace,” he corrected her cheerfully. “Now that’s the way to travel.” He said pointing at Aang who was flying alongside the train on Appa. “So, may I ask where we’re going‌?” he asked the kids.

“Underneath Lake Laogai, Your Kingliness,” Sokka informed him. “To the Dai Li’s secret headquarters. You’re about to see where all the brainwashing and conspiring took place.”
The shores of the lake look so innocent. Awfully innocent, Katara thought with a bad feeling. Toph earthbended the platform, like she had done the previous time, but only a few stones appeared.

“It’s gone!” she said surprised. Sokka’s shoulders slumped.

“Oh, don’t tell me” he took a deep breath and forced a smile. “That’s ok, still got my positive attitude.”

“The Dai Li must have known we were coming and destroyed the evidence,” Katara concluded.

“That seems awfully convenient,” the Earth King said suspiciously.

“Hey, if anything, this proves the conspiracy exists even more,” Sokka said desperately. The Earth King frowned.

“Long Feng was right; this was a waste of time. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going back to the palace.” He turned to leave. Katara suddenly looked up.

“The wall! They’ll never be able to cover that up in time!” Aang smiled at her before airbending himself in front of the King.

“If you come with us to the outer wall, we can prove to you that the secret war is real!”

“No Earth King has ever been to the outer wall. I don’t have any more time for this nonsense,” the Earth King said annoyed.

“If you come with us, this time you can ride on Appa,” Sokka offered.

 

This offer seemed to do the trick. In a few minutes everyone – including a terrified King and his personal guard – was in the air.

“First time flying?” Toph asked him flatly.

“It’s both thrilling and terrifying,” the Earth King said breathlessly. She gave him a small smile.

“Yeah, I hate it too.” The King smiled back before sobering.

“I have to be honest with you. Part of me really hopes that what you are telling me about this war…isn’t true,” he said seriously.

“I wish it wasn’t,” Aang whispered as they flew to the outer wall.
Soon they were right outside the city.

“It’s still there!” Aang said, pointing at the wreckage of the drill.

“What is that?” the Earth King whispered horrified.

“It’s a drill,” Sokka explained. “A giant drill made by the Fire Nation, to break through your walls.” They landed on the wall itself. The Earth King braced himself against the railing, trying to take in everything.

“I can’t believe I never knew,” he whispered shaken. Suddenly Long Feng and two Dai Li appeared.

“I can explain this, Your Majesty,” he said trying to find a believable excuse. “This is nothing more than… a construction project.”

“Really?” Katara said crossing her arms. “Then perhaps you can explain why there’s a Fire Nation insignia on your construction project.” She pointed at the huge piece of junk metal.

“Well, it’s imported of course. You know you can’t trust domestic machinery,” Long Feng said. Noticing the stares he was receiving he frowned. “Surely you don’t believe these children, instead of your most loyal attendant‌!” he exclaimed. The Earth King frowned.

“Dai Li, arrest Long Feng. I want him to stand trial for crimes against the Earth Kingdom,” he ordered. The two agents exchanged a quick glance before handcuffing their former leader.

“You can’t arrest me. You all need me more than you know!” Long Feng shouted as they dragged him away.

“Looks like Long Feng is “long gone”!” Sokka called after him. “Ha…Oh, yeah, I’ve been waitin’ to use that one,” he said, wiping a tear of laughter from his eyes.

 

By night time they had returned to the palace. The Earth King was devastated.

“I want to thank you, young heroes for opening my eyes. All this time, what I thought was a great metropolis, was merely a city of fools, and that makes me the king fool.” He buried his head in his hands. “We’re at war, with the Fire Nation.”

“That’s why we came to Ba Sing Se, Your Highness. Because we think you can help us end the war,” Sokka said stepping forward.

“We don’t have much time. There’s a comet coming this summer. Its energy will give the fire benders unbelievable strength. They’ll be unstoppable,” Aang continued.

“But there is hope,” Sokka took over again. “Before the comet comes, we have a window of opportunity. A solar eclipse is coming. The sun will be entirely blocked out by the moon, and the fire benders will be helpless.”

“What are you suggesting, Sokka‌?” the King asked.

“That’s the day we need to invade the Fire Nation. The Day of Black Sun.” The Earth King looked at them hesitantly.

“I don’t know. That would require moving troops out of Ba Sing Se. We’d be completely vulnerable.”

“You’re already vulnerable,” Sokka insisted. “The Fire Nation won’t stop until Ba Sing Se falls. You can either sit back and wait for that to happen, or take the offensive, and give yourself a fighting chance.” The King looked at the teens who were waiting for his answer anxiously.

“Very well. You have my support.”

 

Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of one of the Five Generals. The man bowed deeply in front of the throne.

“Your Majesty. I apologize for the interruption.”

“This is general Hao, He’s the leader of The Council of Five. My highest- ranking generals,” The Earth King explained.

“We searched Long Feng’s office. I think we found something that will interest everybody,” the general explained.

 

They moved to the office of the former Grand Secretariat. A guard placed a box in front of the Earth King and left.

“There are secret files on everyone in Ba Sing Se. Including you kids,” general Hao said.

“Secret files‌!”Aang said surprised. The Earth King picked up a scroll and read the name out loud.

“Toph Bei Fong.” He handed the scroll to the little earthbender, who wordlessly handed it to Katara. The older girl opened it and scanned through the lines.

“It’s a letter from your mom. You mom’s here in the city, and she wants to see you.” Toph’s face lighted up before shaking her head.

“Long Feng intercepted our letters from home‌ That’s just sad,” she said pityingly.

“Aang,” The Earth King said, handing the next scroll.

“This scroll was attached to the horn of your bison when the Dai Li captured it,” general Hao explained.

“It’s from the Eastern Air Temple,” Aang said with a bright smile.

“Is there a letter for me and Sokka by any chance‌?” Katara asked hopefully.

“I’m afraid not,” The King said softly. Noticing the sad expressions on the Water Tribe siblings’ faces general Hao spoke up:

“But there is an intelligence report that might interest you.” He handed the last scroll to Katara.

“A small fleet of water tribe ships…” the waterbender read aloud.

“What?‌ That could be dad,” Sokka exclaimed. Katara continued reading.

“Protecting the mouth of Chameleon Bay… Led by Hakoda. It is dad!”
“You should know this is not a natural sickness. But that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying tea,” Iroh said calmly to the sick teen. Zuko looked at him scared.

“What…what’s happening‌?” he asked.

“Your critical decision,” Iroh explained grimly. “What you did beneath that lake…it was in such conflict with your image of yourself that you are now at war within your own mind and body.”

“What’s that supposed to mean‌?” Zuko managed to ask through a coughing fit.

“You’re going through a metamorphosis, my nephew. It will not be a pleasant experience, but when you come out of it, you will be the beautiful prince you were always meant to be,” Iroh said, mopping the sweat from his nephew’s forehead, as he slipped back into unconsciousness. Inside him though, the old general had decided that if the fever didn’t break before the morning, he would go seek Katara.

 

“I can’t believe it.” Aang said, looking up from his scroll smiling. “There’s a man living at the Eastern Air Temple. He says he’s a Guru.” Sokka looked at him confused.

“What’s a Guru?‌ Some kind of poisonous blowfish‌?”

“No, a spiritual expert. He wants to help me take the next step in the Avatar journey. He says he can teach me to control the Avatar State,” Aang explained eagerly.

“And I can’t believe we know where our dad is now,” Katara said, putting up a smiling face. For some reason she had this bad feeling twisting around her heart all day.

“I know what you mean,” Toph said. “My mom’s in the city, and from her letter it sounds like she finally understands me.”

“This is all such big news. Where do we even start‌?” Sokka wondered. His sister sighed.

“I hate to say it, but…we have to split up.”

“Split up‌?” Aang exclaimed. “We just found Appa and got the family back together. Now you want us to separate‌?”

“You have to meet this Guru, Aang,” Katara insisted. “If we’re gonna invade the Fire Nation, you need to be ready.” Aang smiled.

“Well, if I’m going to the Eastern Air Temple. Appa and I can drop you at Chameleon Bay to see your dad,” he offered. Sokka frowned.

“Someone has to stay here with the Earth King and help him plan for the invasion. I guess that’s me,” he said, standing up resigned. Katara stood up too. She didn’t know what her bad feeling was about, but it had to do with Ba Sing Se. There was no way she’d leave the city without finding out.

“No Sokka, I know how badly you want to help dad. You go to Chameleon Bay. I’ll stay here with the king.” She said. Sokka did a small happy dance before hugging her.

“You are…the nicest… sister…ever,” he managed to say. Katara pushed him back smiling.

“Easy there, big brother. Though you’re right, I am.”

 

The next morning found them at the great courtyard in front of the Earth King’s palace. Toph was patting Appa affectionately when she felt Aang approaching.

“Toph, I need to tell you something,” he said hesitantly. She looked at him curiously. His heartbeat was double its normal rate.

“What is it Twinkle Toes?” she asked. Aang blushed.

“I think I…” before he had a chance to finish his sentence, Sokka jumped in. Toph really wanted to punch him to the South Pole and back.

“Alright! Who’s ready to get going on our little men-only man trip‌?” the warrior said, gripping the surprised Avatar in a head lock.

“Aang and Sokka, I wish you good journey.” The two boys turned, Aang still in a headlock. “Ba Sing Se owes you its thanks, and we look forward to your return.” Smiling they bowed to the King. A guard suddenly appeared.

“Your Majesty. There are three female warriors here to see you. They’re from the island of Kyoshi.”

“That’s Suki!” Sokka said shocked, freezing half-way through climbing to Appa’s side. He slipped back to the ground.

“You know these warriors‌?” the Earth King asked them.

“Oh yeah.” Sokka said standing. “The Kyoshi warriors are a skilled group of fighters, trustworthy too. They’re good friends of ours.”

“Then we shall welcome them as honoured guests,” the King said satisfied.

 

Toph approached Aang blushing.

“Wait, Twinkle Toes,” she said before throwing her arms around the surprised boy. She kissed his cheek quickly before turning red and running to hide behind Katara.

“I’m really gonna miss you guys,” she said, regaining her cool.

“Me too,” Katara added, smiling at the idea of the two youngest benders together. They hugged each other, before rushing to Sokka for a proper group hug.

“Ahhh! Great! That’s enough! Ok, we love each other,” the warrior said embarrassed before patting their heads. “Seriously.”

 

Soon the sky bison was flying once again. Sokka turned satisfied to Aang.

“You see Aang? A little positive thinking works wonders. We got the King on our side, we got Long Feng arrested, and when we get back, Suki’s waiting for me.”

“Yeah, girls are waiting for us,” the Avatar said dreamily. “Thanks positive attitude.” Sokka continued cheerfully.

“Everything’s gonna work out perfectly, from now on and forever.”
On the Upper Ring Toph stood hesitantly in front of the door of a big, impressive house. Taking a deep breath she knocked, only to find the door open. She stepped into a big room, completely empty of any furniture.

“Hello?‌ Mom?‌ Anyone home‌?” she called. Walking into the centre she looked around suspiciously. Suddenly a big metal box dropped from the ceiling, trapping her inside.

“Hey!” she called frightened. “Who do you think you’re dealing with‌?” Xin Fu and Master Yu stepped out of the shadows.

“One loud mouth little brat who strayed too far from home,” the first said.

 

Katara walked alone through the streets of the Upper Ring. It felt so strange knowing that she would be on her own now. A few days ago she would be elated, but now it seemed to her pointless. She missed Zuko, but her pride refused to let her go to the Lower Ring. If he wanted to talk to her, he would have to do it the hard way.

 

As she approached the house she was surprised to see a lone figure knocking the door.

“Can I help you?” she called coming closer. Iroh turned, relief evident on his face.

“Katara! Thank the Spirits!” he waited until she was near. “I need your help,” he explained.

“What happened?” the waterbender asked worried. Could someone have found out who they were?

“It’s Zuko,” Iroh said, watching the worried expression on the girl’s face turn to a guarded one. He continued nevertheless. “He’s seriously ill and had been asking for you in his delirium. I was hoping that your presence might help him.” Katara was torn. On the one hand she was still hurt by Zuko’s lack of trust. But this wasn’t a reason to refuse him her help. She hadn’t done so even when they were enemies.

“I’m coming,” she said decisively. Iroh’s face showed his relief. Now he’d have a chance to see why these two weren’t on speaking terms anymore.

 

They walked in silence for a while, deep in their thoughts. When they passed the train station Katara looked surprised.

“Won’t we go on the Lower Ring?” she asked confused.

“We just moved on the Upper Ring,” Iroh explained. “I have my own teashop here now.” He stole a glance to Katara. “I suppose you had already argued with my nephew when this happened. May I ask why?”

Might as well learn something, Katara thought. “I came to the teashop one day and saw it being repaired. When I asked Zuko about it he wouldn’t tell me,” she said out loud. “I told him that when he was ready to talk openly with me I would be waiting.” She hesitated for a moment. “What happened?” she finally asked. Iroh didn’t speak for a long moment.

“It is my fault actually,” he eventually began. “At the port we had a brief encounter with your friend, Jet. While Zuko was talking with him, I heated my tea with firebending. He must have noticed, because the night before you and my nephew argued, he barged in accusing us of being firebenders. Zuko fought him off so that I wouldn’t have to firebend and betray our identities, but it was the teashop that suffered the consequences.” Katara’s face was clouded.

“This doesn’t explain why Zuko wouldn’t tell me,” she insisted as Iroh opened the door to the new apartment.

“Maybe he didn’t want to distress you,” the old man said tentatively. “After all you were quite upset when you crossed paths with Jet at the ferry.” Katara nodded. She could see the logic behind it.

“Where is he?” she asked. Iroh guided her to a door at the far end of the apartment.

“Do you need anything?” he asked her. He had never witnessed a waterbender heal. Katara nodded negatively before entering the room and closing the door behind her.

 

Zuko was laying on his bed, tangled in another fever-dream judging by the tossing and turning he was doing. Whatever anger she still felt disappeared instantly as Katara knelt next to him. Taking his face in her hands she drew out water and formed the healing glove. Placing it on his forehead she willed the fever to go away. Slowly Zuko’s breathing became steadier. Katara leaned his head softly back on the pillow and brushed a few strands of hair away from his closed eyes. She let her hand wander absentmindedly on his face, thinking of what Iroh had just told her. Wouldn’t she have done the same if she was in Zuko’s position? Sighing she made a movement to withdraw her hand, when she felt a larger one keeping it in place. Startled she looked down to see Zuko wide awake looking at her in disbelief. She gave him a weak smile.

“Feeling better?” she asked him softly. Zuko nodded. Katara made a movement again to stand up. “I’ll let you sleep,” she said. To her surprise Zuko’s grip tightened.

“Don’t go,” he managed to say. “I’m sorry.” Katara sat back down and brought their joined hands to her lips.

“There is nothing to be sorry about,” she told him. “Iroh explained to me what happened. I would have probably done the same if I was in your position,” she admitted. Zuko smiled at her hesitantly. She smiled back. “I missed you,” she continued, leaning forward. Zuko pushed himself up and their lips met halfway. Pulling her next to him, the prince gathered Katara into his arms, holding her close.

“If there is one thing I like about fighting,” he whispered before bringing her face near his again, “it’s making up.”