Tag Archives: Earth Kingdom

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 Old Masters

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Author’s note: In which all those weird old guys we’ve met and liked so far are back, there are strategies discussed and the final battle is due to begin.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***The Old Masters***

Sokka’s eyes widened in recognition.

“Hey, I remember her. She helped you attack us!” he told Zuko accusingly. The prince shrugged and walked in, pulling Katara close to him in the process.

“Yup, back in the good old days,” he told Sokka over his shoulder. Sokka frowned at the comment and Zuko’s hand around Katara’s waist, but noticing some of the looks Suki was getting he hurried to do the same. Toph was too young to be noticed and Lia was doing an excellent job of death glaring anyone that looked at her direction. June noticed their approach.

“Oh great, it’s prince Pouty,” she sighed. “Where’s your creepy grandpa‌?”

“He’s my uncle, and he’s not here,” Zuko corrected him. June noticed the closeness between him and the waterbender and smirked.
“I see you worked things out with your girlfriend.”  The two teens blushed, remembering that particular encounter while Lia snickered in the background. “So what do you want?” the bounty hunter asked.

“I need your help finding the Avatar,” Zuko explained. June shrugged indifferently.

“Doesn’t sound too fun.” Zuko felt his temper flare. He slammed his hands on the table.

“Does the end of the world sound like more fun‌?” he yelled.

 

With a sigh, and a wish to be left in peace, June followed them outside. They found Appa ready to pick a fight with the shirshu.

“Nyla…” June called her pet, holding up a piece of meat. She scratched Nyla’s nose affectionately. “Who’s my little snuffly-wuffly… Whoa! Careful there!” she stepped back when Nyla made a move to let out its tongue. She turned to the teens. “Okay, who’s got something with the Avatar’s scent on it?” Katara climbed on the saddle.

“I have Aang’s staff.” She offered it to June who placed it in front of Nyla’s nose. The shirshu took a sniff and started walking around, trying to catch the scent. After a few moments it slumped to the ground and covered its nose with its paws.

“Well, what does that mean‌?” Zuko asked impatiently.

“It means your friend’s gone,” June answered, petting Nyla. Toph rolled her eyes.

“We know he’s gone, that’s why we’re trying to find him.” The bounty hunter shook her head.

“No, I mean he’s gone, gone. He doesn’t exist.” Frozen silence met the statement.

“What do you mean Aang doesn’t exist‌?” Sokka finally asked exasperated. “Do you mean he’s… you know, dead‌?” June shook her head carelessly.

“Nope, we could find him if he were dead. Ah, a real head scratcher. See ya.” She turned and mounted on Nyla.

“Helpful, real helpful,” Toph drawled. Zuko ignored her as he raced back to the saddle.

“Wait,” he called over his shoulder, digging through his pack. “There’s only one other person in this world who can help us face the Fire Lord.” He brought out an old, really smelly sandal.

“You saved your uncle’s sweaty sandal‌?” Sokka asked incredulously. Lia smirked.

“I think it’s kind of sweet,” she said her voice tight from holding her breath.

“Let’s do this.” June took the reins of Nyla and rushed towards the forest as the gaang rushed on Appa and after her.
They rushed through the Earth Kingdom, stopping at the outer wall of a very familiar city.

“We’re going to Ba Sing Se‌?” Zuko wondered out loud surprised.

“Your uncle’s somewhere beyond the wall,” June explained. “Nyla’s getting twitchy so he can’t be too far. Good luck.” She took off again. Zuko sighed tiredly and turned to the others.

“It’s been a long day. Let’s camp and start our search again at dawn.”

 

Lia opted to stand watch, too tense to sleep. Not feeling any threatening presences nearby, she let her eyes wander over their camp. Zuko and Katara were asleep holding each other while Sokka and Suki slept next to each other a little further away. Toph had made her customary earth tent. Suddenly the Spirit felt four presences approaching. She made a protective ring of fire around them at the same moment Toph woke up, waking everyone else in the process. Four men in white and blue robes walked out of the ruins of the wall. Sokka’s and Katara’s faces lit up in recognition.

“Well, look who’s here,” one of the men cackled giddily. Suki, Toph and Zuko looked at the Water siblings questionably.

“What’s going on‌?” Toph asked confused as Lia let her fire die. “We’re surrounded by old people.”

“Not just any old people. These are great masters and friends of ours,” Katara explained, bowing in front of one. “Pakku.” The old waterbender bowed back.

“It is respectful to bow to an old master but how about a hug for your new grandfather?” he asked opening his arms. Katara rushed to him, smiling happily while Sokka’s jaw hit the ground.

“That’s so exciting. You and Gran Gran must be so happy to have found each other again,” Katara said excitedly.

“I made her a new betrothal necklace and everything,” Pakku said before he was tackled by Sokka’s hug.

“Welcome to the family Great Gramp!”

“You can still just call me Pakku,” the man said dryly.

“How about Grand Pakku‌?” Sokka offered.

“No.”

 

Katara moved on hurriedly.

“And this was Aang’s first firebending teacher,” she explained. Zuko bowed respectfully to the man and he bowed back but before he had a chance to introduce himself, Lia materialized at her brother’s side. The man’s eyes widened.

“Well, if it isn’t my old flame…” she said playfully. “Glad to see you again Jeong Jeong.

“Lia,” the firebender said with the smallest hint of a smile, ignoring his companions’ looks of astonishment and disbelief. “Still as mesmerizing as ever.” She smiled back.

“Coming from any other man, I would have taken this as a compliment.” She kissed him lightly on the cheek before stepping back to stand next to Toph.

 

Sokka had walked over to Piandao, decidedly ignoring how weirded out he had been.

“Master Piandao,” he greeted bowing. The sword master bowed back.

“Hello, Sokka,” he said cheerfully.

“So wait, how do you all know each other‌?” Suki asked confused.

“All old people know each other, don’t you know that‌?” the crazed man, called Bumi, said cheerfully.

“We’re all part of the same ancient secret society. A group that transcends the divisions of the four nations,” Piandao explained more rationally. Zuko shook his head in understanding.

“The Order of the White Lotus.”

“That’s the one,” Bumi jumped in.

“The White Lotus has always been about philosophy, and beauty and truth. About a month ago, a call went out that we were needed for something important,” Jeong Jeong explained.

“It came from a Grand Lotus, your uncle, Iroh of the Fire Nation,” Pakku explained, addressing Zuko.

“Well that’s who we’re looking for,” Toph said, bored with the long winded introduction.

“Then we’ll take you to him,” Piandao said decisively.

“Wait!” Bumi explained looking around. “Someone’s missing from your group. Someone very important. Where’s Momo‌?” he asked Sokka.

“He’s gone. And so is Aang,” Sokka said taking a step back to put some space between them. Bumi shrugged.

“Oh well, so long as they have each other I’m sure we have nothing to worry about. Let’s go.”

 

They had been walking in silence for about ten minutes when a sudden shout made everyone jump.

“FOR THE LOVE OF THE SUN AND THE MOON ZUKO!” Lia huffed. “It was just harmless flirting! Besides, you weren’t even born then!” she stormed away from her brother. Sokka turned awkwardly to Bumi.

“So Bumi, how did you end up escaping your imprisonment in Omashu‌?” he asked.

“Escape‌?” the king said, bending his head to look at the teens behind him. “I didn’t escape, everybody else escaped. There I was, back in Omashu, waiting for just the right moment. I didn’t know what or when but I knew I’d know it when I knew it.” He went on to describe how he had used the eclipse to kick the Fire Nation soldiers out of his city.

“Wow, you took back your whole city all by yourself,” Suki said amazed in the end.

“So what about you guys? ‌ Did you do anything interesting on the day of the eclipse‌?” Bumi asked interested. Sokka and Zuko exchanged a look. Memories of the failed invasion passed through their heads.

“Nah!”

“No, not really.”
They had reached the inner wall were the White Lotus has set their camp.

“Well, here we are,” Bumi walked into the camp. “Welcome to old people camp.” Zuko looked around nervously.

“Where… where is he‌?” he asked.

“Your uncle’s in there, prince Zuko,” Piandao said, pointing at a far off tent. It crossed everyone’s mind how strange it was to hear Zuko being addressed with his title again.

 

Zuko walked up the tent but hesitated before going in. With a sigh he slumped to the ground.

“Are you okay‌?” Katara asked concerned, walking to his side.

“No, I’m not okay. My uncle hates me, I know it. He loved me and supported me in every way he could and I still abandoned him. How can I even face him?” Zuko asked, looking at her desperately. Katara sighed and took his hand.

“Zuko it wasn’t your fault. And even if it was, you’re sorry it happened, right?”

“More sorry than I’ve been about anything in my entire life.”

“Then he’ll forgive you. He will.” She kissed him lightly before walking back to where the rest of the gang was setting up their tents.
Taking a deep breath Zuko walked into the tent.

“Uncle?” he called quietly, to be greeted with a loud snore. Smiling lightly he sat next to Iroh’s sleeping mat, waiting for the old man to wake up. At dawn Iroh stirred and paused when he felt another presence on the room.

“Uncle, I know you must have mixed feelings about seeing me,” Zuko began hesitantly. No matter what Lia and Katara said he couldn’t help but feel that he was to blame for his uncle’s capture. “But I want you to know, I’m so so sorry, uncle,” he continued, his voice cracking as he tried to not cry. “I’m so sorry that I left you back there. I don’t know how I can ever make it up to you but I’ll…” he was cut off by Iroh’s embrace. His eyes widened in amazement. “How can you forgive me so easily‌? I thought you would be furious with me,” he said in disbelief.

“I was never angry with you. I was sad because I didn’t know what had become of you,” Iroh said without pulling away from his nephew.

“I taught Aang,” Zuko said simply. Iroh’s smile widened.

“I’ve heard so,” he said pulling back to look at his nephew’s face. “I am very proud of you. And I am so happy you found your way here.”
As soon as they walked out of the tent Lia and Toph rushed to hug Iroh, glad to see him again. They settled for breakfast and began filling Iroh in on their latest adventures. The subject eventually turned to Aang’s disappearance.

“Uncle, you’re the only person other than the Avatar who can possibly defeat the Father Lord,” Zuko said. Lia giggled at his mistake.

“You mean the Fire Lord?” she asked.

“That’s what I just said,” he snapped at her. Iroh looked thoughtful. “We need you to come with us,” Zuko insisted, turning back at him.

“No, Zuko. It won’t turn out well,” he finally said.

“You can beat him and we’ll be there to help,” his nephew insisted.

“Even if I did defeat Ozai, and I don’t know that I could, it will be the wrong way to end the war. History would see it as just more senseless violence, a brother killing a brother to grab power. The only way for this war to end peacefully is for the Avatar to defeat the Fire Lord,” Iroh explained.

“And then… then would you come and take your rightful place on the throne‌?” Zuko asked. Iroh shook his head.

“No. Someone new must take the throne. An idealist with a pure heart and unquestionable honour. It has to be you, prince Zuko.” The boy’s eyes widened.

“Unquestionable honour?‌ But I’ve made so many mistakes.”

“Yes, you have,” Iroh said gently. “You struggled, you suffered but you have always followed your own path, you restored your own honour. And only you can restore the honour of the Fire Nation.” Zuko looked resolute.

“I’ll try, uncle.”

“Well, what if Aang doesn’t come back‌?” Toph asked uncertainly.

“Sozin’s Comet is arriving and our destinies are upon us. Aang will face the Fire Lord,” Iroh said calmly. “When I was a boy, I had a vision that I would one day take Ba Sing Se. Only now do I see that my destiny is to take it back from the Fire Nation so the Earth Kingdom can be free again.”

“That’s why you gathered the members of the White Lotus,” Suki said, nodding in understanding.

“Yes.” He turned back to Zuko with a serious look. “Zuko, you must return to the Fire Nation so that when the Fire Lord falls, you can assume the throne and restore peace and order. But Azula will be there, waiting for you.”

“I can handle Azula,” Zuko said frowning.

“Not alone,” Lia cut off Iroh’s next words. “You’ll need help.” Her brother nodded and turned to his girlfriend.

“You’re right. Katara, how would you like to help me put Azula in her place‌?” She smiled at him.

“It would be my pleasure.”

“What about us‌?” Sokka asked, pointing at himself, Toph, Suki and Lia. “What’s our destiny today‌?”

“What do you think it is‌?” Iroh asked.

“I think that… even though we don’t know where Aang is, we need to do everything we can to stop the airship fleet,” Sokka concluded decisively. Toph smiled.

“And that means when Aang does face the Fire Lord, we’ll be right there if he needs us.”

 

Piandao led Sokka, Suki and Toph to the edge of the camp and presented them with an oversized lizard.

“Nothing runs faster over land or swims quicker than a giant eel-hound,” he explained as they mounted. “The airship base is on a small island just off the Earth Kingdom shore. You should be able to intercept the fleet within a day’s journey.” Sokka took a look at the map he was given and nodded.

“Thank you, Master,” he said.

 

Zuko and Katara would take Appa in order to fly back to the capital. Lia decided to stay and help the White Lotus. The prince turned to Iroh.

“So if I’m going to be Fire Lord after the war is over, what are you going to do‌?” he asked.

“After I re-conquer Ba Sing Se, I’m going to re-conquer my tea shop and I’m going to play Pai Sho every day.” Zuko and Katara smiled at that and Lia laughed a little. Being around Iroh was certainly refreshing.

“Goodbye, General Iroh,” Katara said respectfully as they prepared to take off.

“Goodbye, everyone. Today, destiny is our friend. I know it.”

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.

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***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 – The Crossroads of Destiny

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Author’s note: In which tensions run high, there is an epic showdown and any chance the canon had of rearing its ugly face ever is offered as tribute to Koh the Face Stealer (because he was cool and deserved more screen time!).

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***The Crossroads of Destiny***

Aang had flown to Chameleon Bay as fast as Appa could. There he didn’t even have to say a word. His worried expression spoke miles and Sokka followed him without questions. They had flown all night at a frantic pace and now they were able to make out Ba Sing Se’s walls at the horizon.

“So, what kind of trouble is Katara in‌?” Sokka finally asked, sounding more curious than worried.

“I don’t know,” Aang admitted. “In my vision, I just knew she needed help.” Sokka sighed.

“It would be nice if your Avatar powers could be just a little more specific from time to time,” he said frustrated. Suddenly a rumble was heard from the ground below them. “What is that‌?” Sokka exclaimed.

 

They leaned over the edge of Appa’s head to see a cloud of dust moving fast towards the wall. Every now and then a flash of green appeared through it. Aang brought Appa down, near the ground. From there they could make out now Toph clearly through the dust.

“Need a ride‌?” Sokka called to her. Toph was startled out of her concentration, stumbled and fell to the ground. Aang and Sokka winced.
Meanwhile, inside the city, Zuko and Iroh had arrived at the palace. They made their way towards the entrance.

“Many times, I imagined myself here, at the threshold of the palace. But I always thought I would be here as a conqueror…instead, we are the Earth Kings personal guests, here to serve him tea. Destiny is a funny thing,” Iroh chuckled. Zuko laughed back. For once he appreciated his uncle’s proverbs.

“It sure is uncle.”

 

After Toph had appropriately punched Sokka for startling her, she sat next to Aang, holding on him tightly as they flew.

“So how did it go with the Guru‌? Did you master the Avatar State‌?” she asked him curious. Aang hesitated and then smiled nervously.

“Yes! It went great with the Guru. I completely mastered the Avatar State!” he finally said and prayed that no one detected his lie.

 

The two firebenders were led to a small antechamber near the actual throne room. Iroh had set everything up and now was pouring himself a cup of tea, seemingly content. Zuko on the other hand felt on edge. Something didn’t feel right.

“What’s taking so long‌?” he finally asked

“Maybe the Earth King overslept,” his uncle guessed.

 

Suddenly several Dai Li walked into the room and circled them.

“Something’s not right,” Zuko whispered.

“It’s tea time,” Azula’s arrogant voice travelled inside the room. Zuko sprung to his feet at the sound of it. “Have you met the Dai Li‌? They’re earthbenders, but they have a killer instinct that is so firebender, I just love it!” she continued. Iroh stood calmly next to his nephew, the full cup still in his hands.

“Did I ever tell you how I got the nickname the ‘Dragon of the West’‌?” he asked his niece.

“I’m not interested in a lengthy anecdote, uncle,” she answered disinterested.

“It’s more of a demonstration really.” Iroh raised the cup to his lips and took a long sip. Zuko next to him saw his movements and smirked. Suddenly he ducked behind the older man’s back, right as Iroh exhaled a torrent of fire at the Dai Li.

 

Zuko blasted a hole in the wall and they ran away, Iroh still breathing fire at the Dai Li. Two agents tried to stop them with their rock gloves and missed. As they reached a dead end Iroh shot a bolt of lightning and jumped out of the hole, to land in a bush shaped like a bear. He looked up to see Zuko standing at the opening.

“Come on. You’ll be fine,” he called. Zuko didn’t move.

“No. I’m tired of running. It’s time I faced Azula!” he called back before disappearing. Iroh facepalmed in frustration.

 

Zuko turned to see the corridor blocked by the Dai Li and his sister.

“You’re so dramatic,” Azula remarked. “What, are you going to do, challenge me to an Agni Kai‌?”

“Yes! I challenge you!” Zuko shot back.

“No thanks!” she answered sweetly. Zuko raised his hands, making an impressive amount of fire to appear and sent it towards Azula. She didn’t make a move to block the attack, as two Dai Li made a shield out of the floor, before launching two stone gloves against him. Zuko stumbled and placed a hand to the floor to steady himself. It turned out to be a bad idea. A second later it was also trapped to the floor and he was struggling in vain to free himself. Azula smirked. Her older brother was always so predictable…

 

Katara had lost track of how long she had been wondering in circles inside the catacombs, under the palace. At first she had tried to find an exit, but it seemed like this place was an endless maze. Thankfully she had discovered a cave with an underground river so she wasn’t completely defenceless. Suddenly a rumble was heard from above. She looked up to see three shadowed figures standing at an opening.

“You’ve got company,” one of them, obviously a Dai Li, said as the third person went tumbling down to the cave. As the entrance sealed again the boy got to his knees and looked up at her surprised. Katara felt her jaw hit the floor.

“Zuko?”

 

The King had told Sokka, Aang and Toph that Katara was with the Kyoshi Warriors, so they had decided to check on their apartment first. Appa landed in front of it and they ran inside. The moment they opened the door, Momo ran to meet them, chattering as he climbed to Aang’s shoulder.

“Momo!” the boy exclaimed happy.

“There’s no one else here,” Toph said suspiciously.

“Katara is in trouble! I knew it!” Aang told Sokka.

“Oh, no!” Sokka said, remembering all the times Katara had been alone and got herself in trouble.

“Wait, someone’s at the door,” Toph said right before a knock was heard. She smiled. “I know who it is. It’s an old friend.” She opened the door to reveal Iroh. “Glad to see you again.”

“I need your help,” Iroh explained.

 

Aang felt his head was ready to burst. What on earth was going on?

“Iroh, what are you doing here?” he finally managed to ask.

“Princess Azula is here in Ba Sing Se,” Iroh explained entering the house. If possible, Aang’s eyes widened even more.

“She must have Katara,” he exclaimed worried.

“She has captured my nephew as well,” Iroh added. Aang frowned and crossed his arms.

“Then we’ll work together to fight Azula, and save Katara and Zuko.”

“Whoa there!” Sokka finally said. “You lost me at, ‘Zuko’.”

“Then we’ll work together to fight Azula, and save Katara and Zuko.”

“Whoa there!” Sokka finally said. “You lost me at, ‘Zuko’.”

“I know how you must feel about my nephew. But believe me when I tell you there is good inside him,” Iroh smiled pleadingly.

“Good inside of him isn’t enough. Why don’t you come back when it’s outside him too, okay‌?” Sokka said stubbornly. Toph raised an eyebrow.

“What’s your problem Snoozles? Zuko travelled with us. He’s part of the group,” she pointed out.

“Toph is right Sokka,” Aang said, speaking over the older boys protests. “Katara is in trouble. All of Ba Sing Se is in trouble. Working together is our best chance.” Said boy sighed. He hated when the others were right.

“I brought someone along who might be able to help us,” Iroh said satisfied.
Outside, a bound and gagged Dai Li was waiting. Toph trapped him between two boulders and Iroh pulled out the gag.

“Azula and Long Feng are plotting a coup,” he said immediately. “They’re going to overthrow the Earth King.”

“My sister!” Sokka said pointing his machete at his face angrily. “Where are they keeping Katara?”

“In the crystal catacombs of old Ba Sing Se, deep beneath the palace.” They didn’t need to hear anything else and they took off for the palace.

 

Zuko leaned against an overgrown crystal while Katara paced around getting more frustrated by the second.

“Why did they throw us in here‌? Oh wait. Let me guess. It’s a trap. So when Aang shows up to rescue us, your sister can finally have him in her little Fire Nation clutches.” She made claws with her fingers. Zuko sighed but said nothing. There was no point in trying to reason with her right now. When Katara didn’t get an answer she continued ranting. “Your sister’s a terrible person, you know that‌? Following us, hunting the Avatar, trying to capture the world’s last hope for peace! But what would she care?‌ She’s the Fire Lord’s daughter. Spreading war and violence and hatred runs in the family.” Zuko’s expression darkened.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” he snapped before he could stop himself. Katara’s face reddened.

“I don’t‌! How dare you! You have no idea what this war has put me through. Me personally.” She turned her back to him, not wanting to let Zuko see her cry. “The Fire Nation took my mother away from me.”

 

Zuko snapped his eyes from the ground to the trembling form of the waterbender. She had never told him that before. Walking to her he placed his arms on her shoulders.

“I’m sorry,” he said earnestly. He hadn’t meant to bring back painful memories. “That’s something we have in common,” he admitted. Katara stopped crying, surprised from what she had heard. He has never told me that before.

 

Several levels above them Toph raised an eyebrow impressed. She had expected the Dai Li to be lying.

“Well whaddya know. There is an ancient city down there, but it’s deep.” She motioned to the others to stand back and earthbended a small crater in the ground. Sokka looked thoughtful.

“We should split up,” he said. “Aang, you go with Iroh to look for Katara and the angry jerk…no offence,” he added hurriedly remembering that Iroh was indeed the jerk’s uncle.

“None taken,” Iroh assured him.

“And I’ll go with Toph to warn the Earth King about Azula’s coup,” Sokka concluded.

 

The two teams split and went on their ways. As they travelled further underground Aang kept stealing hesitant glance at the old man at his side. Iroh was known for his wisdom. Maybe he could ask him for advice regarding the whole Avatar State problem.

“So, Toph thinks you give pretty good advice. And great tea,” he said to the old man awkwardly.

“The key to both is proper aging. What’s on your mind‌?” Iroh asked him. Aang paused to deepen the tunnel they were in.

“Well, I met with this Guru who was supposed to help me master the Avatar State, and control this great power. But to do it, I had to let go of someone I love, and I just couldn’t,” he admitted a little shamefully.

“Perfection and power are overrated. I think you were very wise to choose happiness and love,” Iroh said calmly. He knew that the young Avatar would eventually have to come to terms with his destiny, but it couldn’t hurt to ease the child’s insecurity for a little while. Aang didn’t seem convinced.

“What happens if we can’t save everyone and beat Azula?‌ Without the Avatar State, what if I am not powerful enough‌?” he asked.

“I don’t know the answer,” Iroh admitted. “Sometimes life is like this dark tunnel. You can’t always see the light at the end of the tunnel, but if you just keep moving…” he paused as they entered the beautiful catacombs. “…You will come to a better place,” he concluded.

 

Sokka and Toph entered the throne room running. The coup had already begun, but thankfully the Dai Li hadn’t reached it yet.

“Thank goodness we’re in time!” he said urgently.

“In time for what?” the Earth King asked.

“Yeah, what are you in time for… cutie‌?” Ty Lee asked innocently, somersaulting in front of Sokka.

“Uh, I’m kinda involved with Suki,” he said awkwardly. Ty Lee raised an eyebrow.

“Who?” she asked

 

Toph blew her bangs annoyed and earthbended Ty Lee to the air. The Fire Nation girl yelped and landed on a badger mole statue.

“They’re not the real Kyoshi Warriors!” she explained. The Earth King gasped and Mai smiled grimly.

“Sorry to disappoint you.” She flung three knives at Toph, who created a shield of earth. She then kicked the shield towards Mai, but the knife-thrower jumped out of the way. Once she landed Toph knocked her down, shifting the earth under her feet.

 

Meanwhile Ty Lee snuck up at Sokka, giggling. The Water Tribe warrior heard her and ducked in time to avoid being paralysed. Ty Lee continued to chase him around the room, still laughing.

“Ooo, it’s like we’re dancing together,” she giggle excitedly.

“This fight is over,” Azula suddenly said. She had entered the room unseen and taken the Earth King captive.

 

Sokka and Toph raised their hands in surrender, frowning. Ty Lee jumped between them and disabled them. Momo tried to fly away, but a Dai Li saw him and trapped him in a stone glove. Azula pushed the Earth King away.

“Get them all out of my sight,” she ordered.

 

Katara had calmed down considerably, now that she had vented her bottled-up frustration out.

“I’m sorry I yelled at you before,” she said a little shamefully.

“It doesn’t matter,” Zuko assured her softly. But Katara wanted to explain.

“It’s just that for so long now, whenever I would imagine the face of the enemy, it was your face, and now I realise that Azula’s would be much more suitable.” Zuko drew away from her, a hand covering self-consciously his scar.

“My face. I see,” he murmured. Katara’s eyes widened in realisation.

“No, no, that’s not what I meant,” She said hastily.

“It’s ok,” Zuko said in a flat voice. “I used to think this scar marked me. The mark of the banished prince, cursed to chase the Avatar forever. But lately, you’ve helped me realize that I’m free to determine my own destiny, even if I’ll never be free of my mark.” A thought crossed Katara’s mind.

“Maybe you could be free of it,” she said hesitantly.

 

Zuko spun to meet her eyes.

“What‌?” he asked hopefully.

“I have healing abilities,” the waterbender reminded him. He shook his head.

“It’s a scar,” He said bitterly. “It can’t be healed.” Katara reached and took out the vial her waterbending master had given her before she had left the Northern Water Tribe.

“This is water from the Spirit Oasis at the North Pole,” she explained. “It has special properties, so I have been saving it for something important. I don’t know if it would work, but…” She stepped closer to him, a hand lightly touching the scar. Zuko exhaled softly, before searching her eyes.

“Would you waste it on me?” he asked her.

“I don’t consider it a waste,” Katara said, as if reprimanding him. “But yes, if you want, we can give it a try.”

 

Zuko was torn. To be rid of his scar would be a dream come true. But Azula was here and it was only a matter of time before a battle broke out. A vial of magic water would be of greater use if someone was wounded. So he shook his head.

“Maybe it would be better if you kept it for now, just in case,” he told her. Katara smiled at him. She couldn’t help but feel proud for her boyfriend right now. She hid the vial again.

“Just so you know,” She told him. “I think you look more handsome with the scar.” Zuko smiled back.

“You’re certainly the first,” he told her, leaning in.

“I’m obviously the only girl around using her eyes.” She stood on her tiptoes, in anticipation for the kiss. A kiss that soon grew passionate, as Zuko pulled her body close to his own, his hand playing with her hair.

 

Then an explosion was heard near them. Katara curled instinctively against Zuko, as he embraced her even more tightly. Out of the dust Aang and Iroh appeared, both looking a little bit shocked on finding the two teens wrapped around each other, blushing.

“Aang!” Katara exclaimed, quickly moving away from her boyfriend.  She hurried to the Avatar’s side and hugged him briefly. Iroh was doing the same to Zuko, but the prince was only aware of the airbender glaring at him.

“Aang, I knew you would come,” Katara said smiling to her friend as she drew away.

“Someone had to save you,” he told her smiling proudly. Zuko snorted, but his uncle’s warning glance silenced him.

“Zuko, it’s time we talked,” he said sternly before turning to Katara and Aang. “Go help your other friends. We’ll catch up with you.” Aang hurried back to the tunnel, and Katara followed slowly. At the entrance she turned to look longingly to Zuko. He caught her eyes for a few moments, before turning to his uncle.

 

Iroh seemed to be measuring him, a look Zuko realised he had seen before, whenever an important decision would follow.

“Why uncle?” he asked hurt. Why do you still not trust me?

“You are not the man you used to be, Zuko. You are stronger and wiser and freer than you have ever been. And now you have come to the crossroads of your destiny. It’s time for you to choose. It’s time for you to choose good!” Iroh said. Zuko closed his eyes. There was no decision to be made now. He had made his decision a long time ago. Before he could tell his uncle that, the crystals erupted, trapping the old man. Zuko turned to a fighting position, as Azula and two agents approached.

“I expected this kind of treachery from uncle, but Zuko, prince Zuko…you’re a lot of things, but you’re not a traitor, are you‌?” she said plainly.

“Release him immediately!” he demanded angrily. Azula continued ignoring her brother’s words.

“It’s not too late for you Zuko. You can still redeem yourself.”

“The kind of redemption she offers is not for you,” Iroh interrupted.

“Why don’t you let him decide, uncle?” Azula said annoyed. She could definitely do without his interruptions.‌ “I need you Zuko,” she continued on a softer voice. “I’ve plotted every move of this day. This glorious day in Fire Nation history. And the only way we win is together. At the end of this day, you will have your honour back. You will have your father’s love. You will have everything you want.”

“Zuko, I am begging you, look into your heart and see what it is that you truly want,” Iroh said quietly. Azula waved the agents away and moved towards the tunnel Aang and Katara had disappeared into.

“You’re free to choose,” she called over her shoulder.
As soon as she was out of earshot Zuko turned to his uncle, his face resolute. He conjured a flame in his hand and moved closer to the crystal. With a look of deep concentration he began melting it. Noticing Iroh’s pleasantly surprised expression he smiled grimly.

“You really thought I would betray Katara?” he asked. Before Iroh had a chance to answer, another voice was heard.

“I for one didn’t.” Lia stepped out of the shadows. She had arrived right on time to listen to the confrontation between the two royal siblings. She moved near the two men, motioning to Zuko to step back.

“This is going to take a while,” she said pointing at the half melted crystal.

“You need to go and help the others. I’ll take it from here.” Zuko nodded and hurried after his sister. Right before he disappeared at the tunnel he thought he heard his uncle’s voice.

“I’m really proud of him.”

“Me too,” Lia said,

 

Aang and Katara were running franticly towards the waterfall. They had to stop Azula and the Dai Li before it was too late.

“We’ve got to find Sokka and Toph,” Katara said worried to Aang. Before he could answer blue fire erupted in front of them, forcing them to an abrupt halt. Aang caught most of the impact and was knocked back. Katara called a wave from the river and sent it against Azula. The princess deflected it, but Katara attacked again, this time with a wave that Azula evaporated. Steam covered the battlefield for a few moments.

 

Suddenly two balls of blue fire came from one of the largest crystals. Aang and Katara bended a shield of water. Azula jumped and landed to another rock. Aang sent a shockwave on it, causing the princess to lose her balance. Paling a little, Azula jumped and landed between the waterbender and the Avatar. Taking a defensive stance she waited nervously for their next move.

 

Before anyone had a chance to move a blast of red fire landed between Aang and Azula. They both turned to see Zuko in a firebending stance. He was in the simple clothes he wore under his robe. His gaze slipped from his sister to Aang and finally Katara. The waterbender seemed the only one to have guessed which side he was taking. Ending the standstill, Zuko sent another steam of fire against his shocked sister.

 

At the prison Sokka watched suspiciously through the small window of the cell he, Toph, Momo and the Earth King were in. The corridor was empty.

“See any Dai Li agents nearby‌?” Toph asked.

“Nope,” he answered. “All clear.”

Toph moved from the wall she had been leaning in. She cracked her knuckles once and then metalbended the door, tearing it from its hinges. She ran out, followed by Momo while Sokka dragged the Earth King.

“I’m not leaving without Bosco!” the king cried as they ran.

 

Zuko continued shooting fire at his sister and she continued blocking each shot. Katara noticed Azula standing on some water. She gathered it with a sharp movement, causing the princess to trip and lose her balance. Zuko stole an impatient glance towards the tunnel. Where were Iroh and Lia?

“We need to get out of here!” Aang said nervously. The other two nodded and started to slowly back towards the waterfall.

 

Before they had a chance to move much the ground erupted under their feet. Katara was flung to the crystals behind them and knocked out cold. Zuko made a movement to attack his sister, but Aang stopped him.

“No! Go check on Katara!” Zuko opened his mouth to retort and promptly closed it as they were forced to duck another attack from the Dai Li that had just arrived. Without another comment he raced on Katara’s side. Aang focused again on Azula.

 

The princess smiled smugly and launched another attack to the Avatar. Aang airbended himself out of danger and landed behind her. He tried to surprise Azula with a waterwhip, but she dodged with her fire and attacked again. Aang made the crystals in front of him rise and shielded himself. Stealing a glance he saw Zuko standing in front of Katara, blasting away the rocks Dai Li sent against them.

 

Katara came back to consciousness and immediately called water to her forming a ring of watery tendrils around her and Zuko. He studied her stance for a few seconds before turning his back on her and mimicking. A second ring with eight fiery tentacles joined the one made of water forcing the Dai Li to back away a few steps. However they kept coming and the teens were tiring quickly.

“There’s too many,” Aang whispered desperately. Suddenly Guru Pathik’s words rang to his ears. The only way, is to let her go. The Avatar closed his eyes sadly.

“I’m sorry Katara.”

Turning his back to everyone and bended a small tent of crystals around him. He sat down and started mediating. Outside the battle came once again to a standstill. Azula took involuntary a step back as the small crystal tent began to glow. Katara smiled relieved as Aang hovered in the Avatar State. It was a short-lived relief. A flash of lightning shined and Aang writhed in pain as Azula’s shot hit him in the back.

Katara felt the tears run freely down her face as she watched her friend fall helplessly. She gathered all her water in a massive wave and holding Zuko tightly by the arm she sped towards the rapidly falling boy. Zuko caught Aang mid-air and passed him hurriedly to Katara as he stood between them and his sister and agents.

 

Before Azula had a chance to move a fireblast landed in front of her as Iroh and Lia appeared in the cave.

“You’ve got to get out of here! I’ll hold them off as long as I can!” Iroh called at the teenagers before attacking the Dai Li. Lia was already fighting with Azula. Deflecting a blast she looked inside the younger girl’s eyes searching for something, anything that would prove her theory wrong. Fierce gold glared back at her.

“You hope to stare me to defeat?” Azula smiled grimly. Lia blinked twice. She had been concentrating so hard she had forgotten she was actually fighting. Steadily she pushed the Fire princess away from the waterfall where Katara and Zuko were struggling to get Aang.

“No,” she said coldly to the other girl. “I’m giving you a warning. Don’t you dare come near my brother again.” A flash passed from Azula’s eyes and for a moment Lia saw a pair of much more ruthless and ancient golden eyes glare back at her.

“Your brother…” the princess whispered in strange voice. But before anything else could happen Lia had raced to the other end of the cave (in a speed that would challenge even Aang) and was flying after her friends. She gave one last look behind her shoulder to see Iroh surrendering.

 

They had stopped for as little time as possible to their apartments to gather some basic necessities. Zuko had nearly raced back to the catacombs when he realised that his uncle had been captured. It had taken Lia, Toph and a Katara close to tears to dissuade him from going. All of them where now on Appa, leaving the fallen city of Ba Sing Se behind them. Katara laid Aang gently on Appa’s back and took out the vial with the Spirit water. She sent a small guilty look at Zuko next to her who was sitting at the front, steering Appa. He had declined her offer fearing something like that would have happened. Sighing she reached and placed the small amount of water on Aang’s wound. It shone brighter than she had ever seen before as the healing took effect. Aang’s tattoos glowed and he opened his eyes for a few seconds. Katara smiled down at him, relieved he was still with them. As Aang fell back to unconsciousness she shifted him so he could safely rest, his head on her lap, while rested against Zuko. The firebender wrapped an arm around her, pulling her closer to him. The last thing Katara heard before sleep claimed her too was the Earth King’s words.

“The Earth Kingdom…has fallen.”

***End of Book 2 – Earth***

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The Guru

Standard

Author’s note: In which there is calm before the inevitable storm, someone is in denial, Toph is even more awesome than usual and someone ominous makes a comeback.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***The Guru***

The next morning Katara shifted contently under the blanket. She had had a good night’s sleep and for some reason her bed was pleasantly warmer than usual. Opening her eyes she smiled, seeing Zuko asleep next to her. Zuko! Her eyes widened as the memories of the previous night kicked in. They must have fallen asleep next to each other. She blushed crimson. Iroh and Lia would tease them to their deaths…She frowned. Where exactly was that Spirit? Knowing her she wouldn’t have moved from Zuko’s side if she was in the city. Zuko shifted next to her and she lay completely still, afraid she might wake him. When he settled back into his slumber, Katara stood and straightened her clothing. She left the room to look for Iroh, determined to get some answers.

 

The old man was making tea in the kitchen. He looked up from his pot when he heard Katara entering.

“Ah, good morning my dear!” he welcomed her, smiling brightly.

“Good morning Iroh,” she answered a little awkwardly. He seemed to understand.

“When I came to check on you and Zuko you were sleeping so peacefully, I didn’t have the heart to wake you,” Iroh explained. “Would you stay for breakfast?”

“I would love to,” Katara smiled. Iroh rubbed his hands excitedly.

“Great! I wanted to try this new recipe and now I have an excuse to do so!”

 

Soon enough the overly sweet smell of whatever Iroh was making drew Zuko out of his room. Rubbing his eyes groggily he asked:

“What’s that smell?”  Iroh looked at him hesitantly.

“It’s jook,” he explained. “I’m sure you wouldn’t like it.” Zuko leaned over the pot and took a deep breath.

“Actually, it smells delicious. I’d love a bowl, uncle.” He smiled and filled a bowl. Turning to the table he saw Katara studying him and his smile only widened. He placed the bowl in front of her, before serving one more for himself.

“Thank you Your Highness,” Katara said, smiling too. She had never seen this side of Zuko before and she really liked it. She liked it even better when he kissed her on the cheek. Iroh looked at all this with a raised eyebrow.

“Now that your fever is gone, you seem different somehow,” he said suspiciously. Zuko shrugged.

“It’s a new day. We’ve got a new apartment, new furniture, and in a few days it’s the grand opening of your new tea shop. Things are looking up uncle.” Besides, he added in his head, Katara and I made up!

 

A few days later Katara found herself wondering, for the umpteenth time, why Sokka would even consider staying in Ba Sing Se when he could go to Chameleon Bay. The war meetings she had to attend in his stead were long and boring, making her feel all stiff when she finally left the room. Besides, her only contribution was to help read some of her brother’s almost incomprehensible notes. Most of the time she could just watch as the generals discussed amongst themselves the strategy. Allowing herself to daydream, she thought of her life the last few days. She had all but moved into Zuko’s and Iroh’s place, being there most of the time. Much to the two teens’ glee Iroh had been hustling and bustling at the teashop, adding the finishing touches and left them to their own devices.

 

-Flashback:-

“I have to go down to the teashop children,” Iroh said, “When I’m back I’d like to find everything the way I left it.” He winked at the blushing teens. Not that he didn’t trust them, but you can never be too cautious.

“Of course uncle,” Zuko assured him glaring. What did he think they would be doing? As soon as the door closed both he and Katara breathed a sigh of relief.

“What does he imagine we’d do?” Zuko muttered, still glaring at the door. “Burn the whole building?” Katara giggled. She seemed to be laughing all the time lately.

“We could always go out you know,” she said cheerfully. “It’s a lovely day.” Zuko shrugged.

“As long as it doesn’t involve tea,” he mumbled before taking his girlfriend’s hand. “You know this place better than I do,”hHe told her. “Got any good suggestions?”

-End Flashback-

 

Katara smiled fondly at the memory. They had found a small quiet park and spent the day there, walking through the paths and just enjoying each other’s company. She was pulled out of her musings by General Hao’s voice.

“General Fong’s base will serve as the launching point of the attack,” he was explaining. “In exactly two months, the army and navy will invade the Fire Nation on the Day of Black Sun.” To illustrate his point he earthbended a few unit markers across the table, placing them directly in front of the Fire Nation capital. Momo decided that he didn’t like the arrangement and jumped on the map, scattering pieces all over the place.

“Or we could send in Momo to do some damage,” Katara chuckled as the lemur continued shuffling around the table. “Cause the…” she trailed off when she noticed the expressions on the generals’ faces. She sobered quickly. “Sorry.”

 

Hao snapped the pieces back in place wordlessly. Momo shrieked frightened and raced back to Katara’s shoulder.

“All we need is the Earth King’s seal in order to execute the plan.” He earthbended the scrolls with the plans towards Katara’s side of the table. The waterbender took them and stood up.

“I’ll get these scrolls to him right away. Thank you, General Hao.” She bowed before leaving the room with a quiet sigh of relief.

***

While Katara was having Ba Sing Se all to herself, Aang had just reached the Eastern Air Temple. Once upon a time this was the most populated of the Air Temples. But now… He spotted the figure of an ascetic, old man and guessing that was the guru he landed Appa nearby. He climbed the stairs to the small balcony the old man was apparently meditating on.

“Um, hello?” he called uncertainly. “You’re guru Pathik, right? The person who attached the note to Appa’s horn?”

“Indeed. I was a spiritual brother of your people, and a personal friend of monk Gyatso,” guru Pathik said without opening his eyes. Aang sat in front of him.

“In your note, you said you could teach me to gain control of the Avatar State. How?” he asked.

“You must gain balance within yourself before you can bring balance to the world. And the first step to gaining balance begins with this,” guru Pathik explained holding out a simple, wooden cup. “Drink up!” Aang took it hesitantly and took a long swallow. He spitted it out immediately.

“It tastes like onion and banana juice!” he exclaimed disgusted.

“That’s because it is,” Pathik said cheerfully. Aang sighed again. This was going to be a long week.

***

Aang was not the only one in an awkward situation. In a crossroads somewhere outside Ba Sing Se a strange carriage had been stilled for at least half an hour.

“I believe we need to go right!” Master Yu insisted for the thousandth time.

“What are you talking about?” Xin Fu scoffed. “The Bei Fong Estate’s this way.”

“I’m quite certain you’re mistaken.” Before Master Yu had time to add anything else, a loud banging was heard from the metal box they had been carrying.

“Hey! Can you two old ladies quit your bickering for a second? I gotta go to the bathroom!” Toph called urgently. Master Yu looked uneasy.

“Oh. Okay, but make it quick.” He stood and turned to open the cage. Xin Fu grabbed his arm.

“What’s wrong with you?” he asked frustrated. Master Yu’s eyes widened in realisation.

“Oh very sneaky Toph! Nice try, but you can’t trick me.” He bragged sitting down again.

“Let me out of here, so I can kick both your butts!” Toph screamed angrily. Xin Fu punched the wall of the box.

“Quit your banging! You might think you’re the greatest earthbender in the world, but even you can’t bend metal.” He called as the wagon began again. Inside the box Toph frowned.

Is that what you think?

***

The teashop had come out nicely, Zuko decided. Knowing his uncle’s love for curious, useless things he had been kind of worried, but the outcome was definitely better than he had dared to hope. Iroh, standing next to him, suddenly spoke:

“Who thought when we came to this city as refugees that I’d end up owning my own tea shop. Follow your passion Zuko, and life will reward you,” he advised. Zuko smiled cheerfully.

“Congratulations uncle,” he said. The last few days he had been on a ridiculously good mood, as Lia would have said. He felt a slight pang of loss at her absence, but suppressed it.

“I’m very thankful,” Iroh said.

“You deserve it,” Zuko said, a hint of his old bossiness in his voice. “The Jasmine Dragon will be the best tea shop in the city.” Iroh shook his head.

“No, I’m thankful because you decided to share this special day with me,” he said putting a hand on Zuko’s shoulder. “It means more than you know.” Zuko hugged him. Life was good at last.

“Now let’s make these people some tea,” he said enthusiastically, although inwardly he was wincing. Might as well do what he wants me to do for once.

“Yes! Let’s make some tea!” his uncle practically skipped to the kitchen to begin brewing.

***

Guru Pathik had guided Aang through unlocking the first three chakras successfully. Aang was beginning to wonder what the difficulty on the whole thing was. During the pep talk the older man had given him he had thought the whole process would be next to impossible. They were now inside a partially destroyed shrine, sitting under the watchful gaze of an Air Nun.

“The fourth chakra is located in the heart. It deals with love, and is blocked by grief. Lay all your grief out in front of you,” guru Pathik instructed him. Aang closed his eyes and his mind was transported to an endless plain covered with fog. Opening his eyes he saw Monk Gyatso and the rest of the Air Nomads appearing in front of him. Aang had barely time to smile at the vision before they disappeared in to thin air.

“You have indeed felt a great loss. But love is a form of energy, and it swirls all around us. The Air Nomads love for you has not left this world. It is still inside of your heart, and is reborn in the form of new love,” he heard Pathik’s voice. The cloud that used to be the Air Nomads took the form of Katara and Toph, dressed up for Earth King’s party. “Let the pain flow away,” Pathik said softly. Watching the young airbender’s face relax he smiled. “Very good!” he praised him.

“Can I have some onion banana juice please?” Aang asked wiping a few tears away.

***

Toph had been testing her idea for a few hours now with no success. She could feel the tiny pieces of Earth in the metal, but couldn’t get them to respond to her orders. Taking a deep breath, she stomped her foot against the whole once again.

“Come on metal…. budge,” she ordered through her teeth. Punching the wall again she managed to create a huge dent on the wall. Feeling her achievement she smirked triumphantly. “Whoo! Toph, you rule!” she praised herself before attacking her prison once again.

***

Katara loved her freedom as she walked through the streets of the Upper Ring, putting as much distance between the building where the generals were and herself as possible. As she passed in front of the Jasmine Dragon she paused.

“What do you say Momo? A cup of tea before we get back to the king?” she wondered aloud. Stepping inside she smiled at the waitress at the door. “Table for two please,” she said politely, while looking around for her boyfriend.

 

Zuko was standing near another table, obviously taking orders. He turned to his uncle’s general direction and called:

“Uncle, I need two jasmine, one green and one lychee.”

“I’m brewing as fast as I can!” Iroh called back cheerfully. Katara took a seat on a table near the counter, waiting for someone to come and take her order. Zuko saw her as he poured the freshly brewed tea on a pot and flashed her a grin. She smiled back as he hurriedly served his customers and came at her table.

“What would you like?” he asked in his most fake-polite voice. Katara stifled a giggle.

“A cup of today’s special for me and a few leechee nuts for my little friend.” Momo jumped on Zuko’s arms at the mention of his favourite treat. The boy laughed and petted the lemur.

“Sorry Momo, you’ll have to wait,” he said, handing him back to Katara. “I’ll be right back,” he told her.

 

Indeed, five minutes later they were sharing a pot of tea, since Iroh had decided to give his nephew a small break. Katara was describing how Momo had messed the generals’ map and how these men just seemed so unemotional to her.

“I mean honestly, they didn’t even say anything! They just glared,” she said. “Do they ever do anything else?”

“Aside from plotting? No,” Zuko told her, remembering the one war meeting he had attended. His expression darkened a bit and Katara looked at him surprised. He seemed fine a moment ago.

“Do you want to talk about it?” she asked tentatively. Zuko shook his head a few times and shook his head.

“Maybe some other time, when no one can overhear us,” he said and managed a smile. “You shouldn’t be talking about top secret meetings in teashops though.”

“I know I can trust you, to keep them secret,” Katara answered clamly, taking a sip of her tea.

***

Aang leaned back to admire the night sky over his head. Away from Ba Sing Se’s lights the stars could be seen clearly. He focused his attention again to the old man in front of him.

“This is the last chakra isn’t it?” he asked.

“Yes. Once you open this chakra, you will be able go in and out of the Avatar State at will. And when you are in the Avatar State, you will have complete control and awareness of all your actions.” Aang smiled in anticipation.

“Let’s do this.”

“The thought chakra is located at the crown of the head. It deals with pure cosmic energy and is blocked by earthly attachment. Meditate on what attaches you to this world.”

 

Aang closed his eyes and in his mind Katara appeared immediately. She smiled at him as Pathik continued talking.

“Now, let all of those attachments go. Let them flow down the river. Forgotten.”

Aang opened his eyes shocked.

“What? Why would I let go of Katara? I….I….I love her.” The moment the words left his mouth they felt wooden. Nevertheless he didn’t think over it.

“Learn to let her go, or you cannot let the pure cosmic energy flow in from the universe,” the Guru explained. Aang frowned.

“Why would I choose cosmic energy over Katara? How could it be a bad thing that I feel an attachment to her? Three chakras ago, that was a good thing.”

“You must learn to let go,” Pathik insisted firmly. Aang opened his mouth to retort, but the Guru raised his hand. “Let me tell you a story: Years ago a young Spirit came to this temple. A hard decision lay ahead of her.”

“What kind of decision?” Aang asked curiously.

“She had to decide between her attachment to her world and what she felt was right to do. We had some long discussions before she came to her decision.”

“And what did she decide?” Pathik looked at the young Avatar sternly.

“To do the right thing and let go.” Aang looked away, deep in thought.

***

Katara entered the throne room cheerfully. The newly arrived Kyoshi Warriors guarded the now-empty throne.

“Hi girls!” she greeted them cheerfully. “Once you are done with your shift, you should really go try that new teashop, “The Jasmine Dragon”. Suki, you must remember Zuko, he and his uncle are running it. Once the rest of the gang is back, maybe we could do a gathering there.” She looked around. “Where is the Earth King? We need to tell him that the orders for the invasion are ready.” The three girls stood up.

“Oh, don’t worry. I’ll be sure to let him know.” Katara’s eyes widened, recognizing the voice of the Fire Nation princess. Before she had a chance to react, Ty Lee jumped behind her and paralyzed her. Katara fell helpless to the ground. She could only hear in horror as Azula said:

“So, Zu Zu’s in the city too. I think it’s time for a family reunion.”

***

Aang looked up resolute.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t let go of Katara.” Guru Pathik shook his head.

“Aang, to master the Avatar State, you must open all the chakras. Surrender yourself.” The Avatar bit his lip, torn. Then he took a deep breath. He knew he had at least to try.

“Okay, I’ll try,” he said hesitantly.

 

A vision of a starry sky appeared in front of his eyes. The stars were moving around him at blurring speeds as the image of Katara appeared smiling and glided away. The stars stood on their position.

“Let the pure cosmic energy flow,” Pathik advised.

In front of Aang the Avatar Spirit appeared, along with trail of light connected him with his current incarnation. As Aang started walking towards him, his tattoos began to glow. He entered a sphere the Spirit created out of the spiritual energy surrounding them.

 

Suddenly another vision crossed his eyes. Katara was locked up in a small room, crying for help. Determined Aang leapt out of the sphere and ran to her. Thus he broke the connection and snapped rapidly out of his trance.

“Katara is in danger!” he cried, jumping to his feet. “I have to go.”

“No Aang!” Guru Pathik called alarmed. “By choosing attachment, you have locked the chakra!” Aang froze shocked. “If you leave now you won’t be able to go into the Avatar State at all!” Aang stood for a moment and then he ran to Appa, never once looking back. Pathik watched him go mournfully.

“You were right,” he whispered. “He wasn’t ready.”

“I wish I was able to be of more help,” a feminine voice said from his side. “I still haven’t repaid you for your guidance.” The old man turned to the Spirit.

“It was an honour to assist you,” he said humbly. “But why you came back here? It certainly wasn’t to warn me about the Avatar’s immaturity.” She shook her head.

“No,” she admitted. “The tranquillity of this place had always helped me to clear my thoughts. I learned lately some really interesting facts that seem to tie together in a rather unexpected way. Just by breathing the air here my thoughts now are clearer.”  She walked to end of the plateau. “But I need to return to Ba Sing Se too. I fear I’ve been gone for too long.” Guru Pathik shook his head in understanding.

“I hope I will see you again child.” She bowed in respect to the old man.

“I hope so too.” Then she disappeared.

***

Xin Fu was finding his patience unravelling rapidly. The brat’s whining had stopped, but it had given itself to a pounding that began and ended several times. Suddenly a loud clang was heard and the whole wagon shook. He stopped abruptly, waking his fellow traveller and they rushed to the back of the wagon.

“It’s another one of her tricks!” Master Yu said as they gaped to the empty cage.

“There’s a giant hole in the box. How’s that a trick?” Xin Fu retorted annoyed.

“It’s not!” Toph was heard behind them. “It’s the real deal!”

 

The two men turned to see the petite form of the earthbender standing a little away. With a few earthbending moves she threw them inside the cage, before bending it shut. Jumping on the roof of it she stomped her foot.

“I am the greatest earthbender in the world! Don’t you two dunderheads ever forget it!” Diving to the ground again she started running back to the direction of Ba Sing Se, the ground also moving to give her extra speed.

***

The teashop had closed for the day, so Zuko was surprised to hear feet approaching the front door as he cleaned up. A well-dressed man appeared and walked towards Iroh.

“A message from the royal palace.” He said respectfully. Worried Iroh scanned through the lines, paused and then read it again.

“I…I can’t believe it,” he managed to say.

“What is it uncle?” Zuko asked him worried too.

“Great news! We’ve been invited to serve tea to the Earth King!” he practically skipped back to the kitchen triumphantly. Zuko watched him go with a slight smile. He didn’t remember seeing his uncle so happy since the Siege of Ba Sing Se. It was definitely a wonderful turn of events they had come to this city.

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The Earth King

Standard

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.”

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – Lake Laogai

Standard

Author’s Note: In which Jet causes trouble, Lia has a vision, Zuko learns that it’s a bad idea to try and keep secrets from Katara and a vital member of Team Avatar returns.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***Lake Laogai***

Another night came and Jet was once again hiding in the shadows near the teashop. He had been doing so ever since he had discovered where they had been working, but hadn’t yet managed to find any proof. In his frustration he had begun considering just challenging the old man, in order to force him to firebend. Narrowing his eyes he thought of his options.

“Jet! We need to talk,” he heard a muffled voice behind him. He turned alarmed.

“What?” he exclaimed, his hand immediately on his hook-swords. Realising it was his friends he relaxed. “Oh great, it’s you guys. Where have you been? I could use some help with surveillance here.” He turned his eyes back at the teashop. Why had nothing suspicious happened yet?

“We’ve been talking,” Smelarbee continued. “And we think you’re becoming obsessed with this. It’s not healthy!”

“Oh really…” Jet said slowly. “You both think this?”

“We came here to make a fresh start, but you want let this go, even though there’s no real proof…”

“Well maybe if you’d help me…” Jet started accusingly.

“Jet, you’ve got to stop this!” Smelarbee was now raising her voice.

“Maybe you forgot why we need to start over,” Jet continued obviously ignoring what she was telling him. “Maybe you forgot how the Fire Nation left us all homeless, how they wiped out all the people we loved?” the other two teens looked away, but still seemed to disagree with him. “If you don’t want to help me, I’ll get the evidence on my own.” He walked towards the door resolutely. He’d show them that he was right.

 

Iroh was going around the buzzing teashop, serving people with freshly brewed tea.

“This is the best tea in the city!” the customer he had just served – a soldier – said.

“The secret ingredient is love!” Iroh answered happily. Zuko and Lia shared an exasperated glance behind his back. Their employer did not seem to share their sentiment as he looked at his packed shop in satisfaction.

“I think you’re due for a raise,” he said to Iroh.

 

The door suddenly burst open. Jet appeared at it, glaring full force at Iroh and Zuko.

“I’m tired of waiting!” he said, sounding just a little unhinged mad. He pointed accusingly. “These two men are firebenders.” Zuko and Iroh shared a look. “I know they’re firebenders,” Jet continued, drawing his swords. “I saw the old man heating his tea!” The soldier Iroh had served last raised an eyebrow.

“He works in a teashop!” he said incredulously.

“He’s a firebender, I’m telling you!” Jet insisted.

“Drop your swords boy,” the soldier ordered frowning, as he and his friend stood. “Nice and easy.” Jet ignored him and approached Iroh threateningly.

“You’ll have to defend yourself. Then everyone will know. Go ahead! Show them what you can do,” he prodded. The soldier made a movement to draw his swords, but before he had a chance to do so, Zuko took them approaching Jet angrily. He had had enough of this guy for the rest of his life.

“You want a show?” he asked frostily. “I’ll give you a show!” He kicked a table towards Jet, hoping to throw him off balance, but, just like he suspected, his opponent was better than that. Jet charged towards Zuko only to find his every attack blocked and not even the slightest trace of firebending appearing. That opened a major hole on his theory and pissed him incredibly.

 

Lia made a movement to join the fight but doubled over, feeling the breath being knocked out of her. She collapsed to a nearby chair and closed her eyes trying to make the speedy images of her vision slow down. She saw a lit candle spin around her madly, dimly lit corridors, the mask of the Blue Spirit smiling at her from underwater, green crystals engulfing her, a lightning strike and finally the picture of a small village near the sea appearing. Her eyes snapped open, in time to see Zuko flying out of the broken door.

 

Zuko felt a little winded from the hit but managed to land on his feet and block the next attack.

“You must be getting tired of using those swords,” Jet taunted him. “Why don’t you go ahead and firebend at me?” Zuko didn’t answer, he just pushed him back.

“Please son, you’re confused!” Iroh called worried from the door. “You don’t know what you’re doing!” The two boys ignored him, slowly drawing the battle away from the teashop.

“Bet you wish he’d help you with a fireblast right now!” Jet grumbled. Zuko wordlessly dropped his one sword. Jet looked at him surprised. Had he managed to convince him firebend?

“You’re the one who needs help!” Zuko told him, moving his remaining sword uncomfortably close to Jet’s face. The Freedom Fighter jumped away.

“You see that?” he asked the people that had gathered. “The Fire Nation is trying to silence me! It’ll never happen!” He jumped again, charging at Zuko.

 

The fight continued. For Zuko it felt refreshing to use a sword again, even though he’d much prefer to use his firebending. He had more chance to knock his opponent out with his fire than with a blade. Suddenly the crowd parted, and two Dai Lee appeared.

“Drop your weapons!” they ordered. Zuko took a few steps away from Jet, still keeping a wary eye on him.

“Arrest them!” Jet tried again. “They’re firebenders!”

“This poor boy is confused,” Iroh said calmly. “We’re just simple refuges.”

“This young man racked my teashop and assaulted my employees,” the owner of the teashop added, looking very much like he would have liked to personally drag Jet to prison.

“It’s true sir,” the soldier backed him. “We saw the whole thing. This crazy kid attacked the finest tea maker in the city.”

“Oh, that’s very sweet…” Iroh said blushing.

“Come with us son,” the Dai Lee ordered calmly. Jet tried to fight them, but they handcuffed and dragged him away ignoring his protests.

 

As the crowd was thinning, Zuko looked around for Lia. He had been surprised that she hadn’t made any comments. Not seeing her anywhere, he entered the teashop again, followed by his uncle. There she was, sitting in a chair, her face buried on her knees.

“Are you okay Lia?” Iroh asked the girl worried. She raised her head a little and nodded.

“Just a little faint,” she managed to say. “I’ll be fine tomorrow.” She tried to stand up and swayed. Zuko wordlessly steadied her.

“You’re not a very good liar, you know it, right?” he said calmly.

“I think you should stay home until you feel better,” their employer decided. “The teashop will be closed anyway for a few days. It’s about time I did some renovations.”

 

The moment they arrived back home, Zuko led a protesting Lia – she had recovered that much – to her bed.

“But I’m telling you I’m fine! It was just a vision!” she insisted. Zuko didn’t change his mind.

“Even so, you need to rest. You look like you’d collapse if you move.” He hesitated for a moment and Lia rolled her eyes.

“Come on, ask me!” she told him, a hint of exasperation in her voice. Zuko looked at her guiltily.

“Okay, what did you see?” he asked. Lia opened her mouth to answer, but Iroh came in.

“What are you doing talking?” he asked them sternly. “You should be resting. Go to sleep,” he ordered them. Behind his back Lia mouthed, I’ll tell you tomorrow.

 

When Zuko woke up the next morning, he was surprised to see that the redhead was already up. She was at the kitchen, packing a small bag quietly. She looked up guiltily when she heard him entering the room.

“So you’d leave like this?” Zuko asked her tonelessly. Lia didn’t answer, just went back to her packing.

“I need to travel for a while.” she explained. “Get out of this town, it’s not good for me.” Zuko looked at her suspiciously.

“Where are you going?” he asked her carefully. Her expression saddened.

“I can’t tell you,” Lia said closing the bag and walking towards the door.

 

Zuko looked at her leaving. Something was not right. Lia never acted like this, so distant. He was still thinking of it when his uncle woke up. The old man looked around surprised.

“Where’s Lia?” he asked, a little worried. Zuko was looking out of the window at that time and jerked when he heard Iroh’s voice.

“She left,” he informed his uncle. “She said she had to travel for a while.”

“But why would she leave? She wasn’t in any condition to travel yesterday night.”

“She was looking much better today.” Zuko said in a cold voice, going back to staring outside the window. What had she meant? “I’m going for a walk,” he said going over to the door. Iroh opened his mouth to answer but the teenager had already left. The old General shook his head. There was an air of foreboding in the atmosphere.

 

Zuko’s feet carried him to the teashop, where the workers had already begun making repairs. It would be a few days until they return to work, but thankfully the damage wasn’t big. His eyes wondered absentmindedly to a lone figure in blue. Katara seemed to sense someone’s eyes on her because she turned to face him.

“What happened here?” she asked surprised. Zuko shrugged.

“Nothing major,” he said embracing her and hoping she’d drop the subject. He didn’t want to talk about it. It didn’t work. Katara took a step back and looked at him suspiciously.

“The teashop is closed for repairs, half the front wall was demolished and you’re telling me nothing major happened?” she asked a little hurt. “You know you can trust me.”

“It’s not a matter of trust!” Zuko assured her annoyed. First Lia, now Katara. What was going on today? “I just don’t want to talk about it.”

“And when will you want to?” the waterbender asked, her eyes flashing dangerously.

“I don’t know!” Zuko exclaimed. “Can’t I keep something to myself?” The moment he had said it, he regretted it. Katara’s expression closed off and she stepped away from him.

“When you want to talk with me, you know where I live,” she told him before turning and leaving. Zuko looked at her going away; feeling much like lightning struck him. What was he to do now?

 

A few days later, in the living room of a house in the Upper Ring, papers were scattered everywhere, covered with pictures. Sokka had been working on them the whole morning, trying to make something that resembled Appa. It was harder than it sounded. The front door opened and Katara and Aang stepped in.

“We found a printer to make our posters!” she said excited. Aang nodded approvingly at the – obviously professionally made – poster. Sokka looked up annoyed.

“Hey, I thought designing the “Lost Appa” posters was my job.” He held his latest creation up. “I’ve been working on my Appa the whole morning.” Katara tried to stifle her giggles, while Aang looked shocked.

“Sokka, the arrow is on Appa’s head!” he said.

“This is his head!” Sokka cried offended.  His sister knelt next to him.

‘Why are there feet coming out of it?” she asked suppressing her giggles.

“Those are his horns!” Sokka bowed his head defeated. “I haven’t seen him in a while, okay?”

“It looks just like him to me!” Toph said cheerfully. Sokka turned towards her.

“Thanks, I really worked really…” he frowned, realisation hitting him. “Why do you feel the need to do that?” he asked her.

“Let’s just stick with the professional version,” Katara decided. Sokka ripped his latest “creation” angrily.

“Come on!” Aang said excited. “Let’s get busy!”

 

On the Lower Ring of the city, a small teashop was bustling with life, celebrating its re-opening. Iroh had just served a few fancy-dressed men. With barely a sip they stood up and approached him. The fancier-dressed one said:

“So you’re the genius behind this incredible brew! The whole city is buzzing about it.” He smiled. “I hope Pao pays you well.”

“Good tea is its own reward,” Iroh replied good-naturally.

“But, it doesn’t have to be the only reward,” the man continued. “How would you like to have your own teashop?” he asked.

“My own teashop?’ Iroh said thunderstruck. “This is a dream come true.” Pao heard his words and rushed between them.

“What’s going on here?” he asked hostilely. “Are you trying to pouch my tea-maker?”

“Sorry Pao, but that’s business to you, am I right?” the man said laughing a little.

“Mushi, if you stay I’ll make you assistant manager.” Pao said desperately. “Wait! Senior assistant manager.”

“I’ll provide you with a new apartment in the Upper Ring. The teashop is yours to do whatever you want. Complete creative freedom,” the other man proposed.

 

Zuko glanced at them before returning back to his job. So long it had to do with tea, he’d let his Uncle handle it. He had his own problems.

“I even get to name the shop?” Iroh asked.

“Of course!” the other man laughed. Pao tried one last time.

“Senior executive assistant manager?” he half-whined. Iroh wordlessly handed him the teapot. Seeing Zuko passing by he smiled.

“Did you hear nephew?” he asked. “This man wants to give us our own teashop in the Upper Ring!”

‘That’s right young man!” his uncle’s new employer said. “Your life is about to change for the better!”

“I’ll try to contain my joy,” Zuko said, sarcasm virtually raining from his words. He banged his tray on a free table, before exiting the teashop.

 

The Fire prince looked longingly at the sky. He hadn’t seen Katara for almost a week now, and had to admit it was entirely his fault. He acted like an idiot and all because he had been jealous of Jet. He knew the boy meant nothing to Katara, Agni, she had almost killed him back at the ferry. He couldn’t explain it but Zuko didn’t want her to know that Jet was around. Maybe it’s because I know it’d upset her, he mused. Smiling bitterly he turned his eyes towards the sky, hoping for a solution to all his problems. A paper landed in front of him. Curious Zuko picked it up. The picture of a sky bison caught his eyes immediately. So Aang hadn’t found Appa yet, he thought grimly. That wasn’t good for the little monk. But it could be for him.

 

Zuko quickly climbed at the roof of the teashop, looking around for the little airbender. He only saw more papers being carried by the breeze. What was the difference? If Katara didn’t want to talk to him, not even the Avatar would convince her otherwise. Sighing, the young man moved to put the flyer in his pocket. Then he paused and hesitantly scrutinized the paper. What would Lia tell him if she was there? He buried his face in his hands. Probably stop being an idiot and go make things up with the waterbender. Zuko shook his head. There was no way she’d talk to him, unless… Zuko stared on Appa’s picture thoughtfully. She’d talk to him, if he brought them the thing they were looking for.

 

Sokka and Katara were playing cards when Aang returned.

“I just finished dropping all the leaflets,” he announced. “Has anyone come with news about Appa?” he asked joining them at the table.

“It’s only been a day,” Katara answered, not bothering to raise her eyes. She had been a little moody lately. “Just be patient.” Aang plopped down disappointed, to jump on his feet again, hearing a knock on the door.

“Wow, you’re right!” he exclaimed. “Patience really pays off!” he ran to the door excited. His face fell immediately when he saw who was there. “Ju Dee?”

“Hello Aang and Katara and Sokka and Toph,” she greeted them with her usual bright smile.

“What happened to you?” Sokka asked. “Did the Dai Lee throw you in jail?”

“What? Jail? Of course not!” she said dismissively. “The Dai Lee are the protectors of our cultural heritage.”

“But you disappeared at the Earth King’s party,” Toph insisted.

“Oh, I simply took a small vacation on Lake Laogai, out in the country. It was quite refreshing.”

“But then they replaced you with some other woman, who also said her name was Ju Dee,” Katara added. Ju Dee looked at her surprised.

“I’m Ju Dee,” she said.

“Why are you here?” Aang asked. She took out one of the flyers.

“Dropping flyers and putting up posters isn’t permitted within the city.” She explained. “Not without proper clearance.”

“We can’t wait around to get permission for everything,” Sokka said frustrated.

“You are absolutely prohibited by the rules of the city to continue putting up posters,” Ju Dee said, her smile only brightening. Aang felt the blood rushing to his head.

“We don’t care about the rules and we’re not asking permission! We’re finding Appa on our own and you should stay out of our way!” he slammed the door on her face.

“That might come back to bite us in the blubber,” Sokka remarked, raising an eyebrow.

“I don’t care,” Aang snapped. “From now on we do whatever it takes to find Appa.”

“Yeah! Let’s break some rules!” Toph exclaimed, before earthbending a wall to ruins to underline her point. No one bothered to answer her. Instead they took the posters they had printed earlier and went out to put them up. No one noticed to shadows dressed in dark green following them silently.

 

Zuko returned to their apartment, hoping to find it empty. Instead his uncle was there, packing their few belongings. Hearing the door open and then close Iroh said:

“So… I was thinking about names for my new teashop. How about, the Jasmine Dragon? It’s dramatic, poetic, has a nice ring to it.” Zuko handed him the flyer.

“Aang is still looking for Appa,” he said instead, turning to look out of the window. His uncle gazed first at the paper and then at the tense figure of the prince. For a moment he flashbacked to their days on the ship.

“We have a chance for a new life here. If you start stirring up trouble, we could lose all the good things that are happening for us,” he warned the teenager. Zuko felt his temper rising. Good things? Nothing good had happened to him in this city, aside from his dates with Katara. He spun around angrily.

“Good things that are happening for you. Have you ever thought that I want more from life than a nice apartment and a job serving tea‌?” Iroh shook his head.

“There is nothing wrong with a life of peace and prosperity.” His face grew stern. “I suggest you think about what it is that you want for your life, and why.”

“I want my destiny,” Zuko mumbled.
“What that means is up to you.” Iroh watched his nephew leaving for the roof wordlessly. “The Tea Weevil!” he suddenly exclaimed. He frowned. “No, that’s stupid.”

 

At the roof the Fire prince looked down the city. His uncle thought obviously that he was after the Avatar. Zuko smiled bitterly. There was nothing further from the truth. His thoughts turned to the mask, securely hidden inside his things. Spotting a figure dressed in dark green walking down the street he started working on his plan. Tonight, the Blue Spirit would be hunting once again.

 

Sokka carefully put up a poster on the wall. A little further away Katara and Aang were doing the same, while Toph was resting against the wall” observing” their work. The warrior looked at the stack of posters they still had to place.

“We’ll split up to cover more area,” he decided. Turning to the petite girl near him he said, “Toph, I guess you should just come with me.” Toph glared at his direction.

“Why? Because you think I can’t put up posters on my own‌?” she snapped. Snatching the brush from his hand she splashed the wall with glue and slammed a poster on it. The others just looked.

“It’s upside-down isn’t it‌?” Toph asked sounded resigned. “I’ll just go with Sokka.” She sighed.

 

They split up and Katara somehow found herself in the Lower Ring. Approaching a small stream she sighed, thinking of the times she had sat there with Zuko after they had been shooed away from the roof from Iroh. She closed her eyes stubbornly. She would not think of him before he decided to apologise for his lack of trust.

“Katara!” she heard a boy calling behind her. A boy she knew. Turning sharply she saw Jet smiling confidently at her.

“I think I can help you,” he told her approaching.

 

Before he had a chance to say anything else, Katara’s shock melted into rage. Raising her arms she bended the water behind her into two huge waves, sending them against the Freedom Fighter.

“Katara, I’ve changed!” Jet yelled alarmed as the water swept him into a nearby alley. Katara ran after him, a rather impressive amount of water in her hands. She froze it mid-air, turning it to icy daggers and sending them at him. Jet dodged them with his hook swords, only managing to fuel her frustration.

“I don’t want to fight you! I’m here to help,” he said dropping the swords to the ground. Katara approached him cautiously. Seeing his one hand moving slowly to his back she pinned him to the wall with the remaining ice.
Footsteps approached and she heard Sokka calling her.

“Katara, what is it‌?” he asked a little out of breath. Behind him appeared Toph and Aang.

“Jet’s back,” she informed them tonelessly, not bothering to turn and look at them. Sokka opened his mouth, probably to ask for an explanation but his sister cut in. “We can’t trust anything Jet says.”

“But we don’t even know why he’s here,” Sokka reasoned.

“I don’t care why he’s here!” Katara snapped. “Whatever the reason is, it can’t be good.”

“I’m here to help you find Appa.” Everyone turned to stare at him as he unrolled one of the leaflets Aang had dropped earlier. The airbender looked from the paper to Jet and then to Katara.

“Katara, we have to give him a chance.” Jet seeing his chance tried again.

“I swear I’ve changed. I was a troubled person, and I let my anger get out of control. But I don’t even have the gang now. I’ve put all that behind me.” His words reminded Katara a little too much of another dark-haired boy she knew. She closed her eyes frustrated for a moment before glaring at him again.

“You’re lying,” she said simply.

Now Toph was never a really patient person. She had learned when she was still young to hate dramatics, what with her parents fusing over her all the time. She was ready to cut Sugar Queen some slack, as she had obviously argued with her boyfriend lately, but this was ridiculous! Brushing past the older girl, the blind earthbender touched the wall next to Jet and concentrated.

“He’s not lying,” she announced.

“How can you tell?” she heard Sokka asking incredulously.

“I can feel his breathing and heart beat,” Toph explained. “When people lie, there is a physical reaction. He’s telling the truth.” She turned towards Katara expectantly, feeling Sokka and Aang doing the same.

“Katara, we don’t have any leads. If Jet says he can take us to Appa, we have to check it out,” Aang said pleadingly. Katara sighed defeated.

“Alright…” she said melting the ice on the way. Before Jet had a chance to move she turned rapidly towards him with a warning glare. “But we’re not letting you out of our sight!”
Surprisingly, near the alley they had been in, there was a large warehouse. Katara wondered how she hadn’t seen it before.

“This is the place I heard about,” Jet explained as they started looking around.

“There’s nothing here,” Aang sighed disappointed. Katara turned angrily towards Jet.

“If this is a trap…” she began with her hand already on her pouch.

“I told you, I work nearby! Two guys were talking about some giant furry creature they had. I figured it must be Appa,” Jet snapped, a little annoyed himself.

“He was here!” Toph suddenly exclaimed. Everyone rushed to her side to see her holding a clump of white fur. She silently handed to Aang.

“We missed him,” he whispered.
“They took that big thing yesterday,” an old man suddenly appeared behind them. Aang spun to look at him in shock. “Shipped him out to some island,” The janitor continued. “About time, I’ve been cleaning up fur and various, uh leavings all day.”

“What island?” Aang asked frantically.‌ “Where’s Appa‌?”

“Foreman said some rich royal type on Whale Tail Island bought him up, guess for a zoo or such, though could be for the meat; would be good,” the old man answered on the same weary tone. Aang turned to the others anxiously.

“We’ve gotta get to Whale Tail Island.” He crouched next to Sokka, who had already spread a map on the ground. “Where’s Whale Tail island‌?” The warrior’s face fell.

“Far. Very far,” He announced pointing at the map. “Here it is. It’s near the South Pole almost all the way back home.”

“Aang, it’ll take us weeks just to get to the tip of the Earth Kingdom,” Katara reasoned. “And then we’ll need to find a boat to get to the island.” Aang stood up, his face set.

“I don’t care. We have a chance to find Appa. We have to try.”

“Must be nice to visit an island. I haven’t had a vacation for years,” the janitor suddenly commented, sweeping in the background. Katara looked at him annoyed.

“Don’t you have some more hair to clean up‌?” she snapped.

“Shuffle on, I get ya. No more need for “old sweepy,” the old man grumbled. The waterbender turned back to Aang.

“You’re right Aang,” she said placing a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Right now, our first concern has to be finding Appa. We can come back when we have him.” Everyone stood up.

“All right, let’s get moving,” Sokka said decisively.

“I’ll come with you,” Jet said firmly. Katara glared at him.

“We don’t need your help.” The boy looked at her hurt.

“Why won’t you trust me‌?” he asked her. Katara crossed her arms.

“Gee, I wonder‌!” she huffed. Toph raised an eyebrow.

“Was this guy your boyfriend or something‌?” she asked confused. Katara blushed a little.

“What‌? No!” she shook her head and headed towards the door.

“I can tell you’re lyyyyying,” Toph called from behind following her.

Out in the street Sokka had already began planning.

“We can take the train out to the wall, but then we’ll have to walk.” He didn’t seem enthusiastic about the prospect.

“Don’t worry!” Aang said cheerfully. “On the way back, we’ll be flying!”

“We’re finally leaving Ba Sing Se.” Toph threw her arms in the air in relief. “Worst city ever!”

Suddenly two more familiar figures appeared. Smelarbee’s eyes doubled in size seeing her old leader walking freely around.

“Jet!” she called rushing after the group with Longshot behind he. Katara heard the cry and turned surprised.

“I thought you said you didn’t have your gang anymore‌,” she accused Jet.

“I don’t,” he told her bewildered. As if to prove him wrong Smelarbee threw herself on him, relieved he was still in one piece.

“We were so worried,” she told him. “How did you get away from the Dai Li‌?”

“The Dai Li‌!” Katara said alarmed.

“I don’t know what she’s talking about‌!” Jet said close to panicking.

“He got arrested by the Dai Li a week ago,” Smelarbee explained. “We saw them drag him away.”

“Why would I be arrested‌?” Jet wondered. “I’ve been living peacefully in the city.” Toph knelt on the ground, her brow furrowed in concentration.

“This doesn’t make any sense,” she said. “They’re both telling the truth.”

“That’s impossible,” Katara said dismissively. Sokka looked thoughtful.

“No, it’s not. Toph can’t tell who’s lying because they both think they’re telling the truth. Jet’s been brainwashed,” he concluded.

“That’s crazy! It can’t be.” Jet looked at them closing in, in panic. “Stay away from me!” he half-ordered them.

***

Patrolling the streets at night must have been one of the most boring jobs in Ba Sing Se. For the lone Dai Li agent though, things were about to become very interesting. A dark figure with a Blue Spirit’s mask suddenly knocked him out of the way, running through an alley.

“Out of my way, skinny!” he ordered not bothering to look back. The agent ran right after him, to see a figure waiting motionlessly on the back of the alley. Knocking his stone gloves together, he managed to make the dummy fall to the ground. The Dai Li looked at it perplexed. Before he had a chance to move, a sword was resting dangerously close to his neck.

“If you don’t want to end up like him, you’ll do what I say,” the Blue Spirit hissed.

 

A few blocks away the gang had gathered in Jet’s apartment. Katara was staring at the boy thoughtfully.

“The Dai Li must have sent Jet to mislead us, and that janitor was part of their plot too.”

“I bet they have Appa here in the city. Maybe he’s in the same place they took Jet,” Aang said turning to Jet hopefully. “Where did they take you‌?” he asked. The Freedom Fighter looked at them cluelessly.

“Nowhere. I, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“We need to find a way to jog his real memories back.” Aang looked around for ideas.

“Maybe Katara could kiss him. That should bring something back.” Sokka smirked at his sister. It disappeared when he saw the death glare she was giving him.

“Maybe you should kiss him, Sokka,” She snapped.

“Hey, just an idea!” he said nervously

“A bad one.” She glared at him. Suddenly Sokka’s eyes brightened.

“Oh, wait. I got it!” He rushed to the mattress and picked a straw. Rushing back to Jet he pocked it on the other boy’s mouth, looking at him expectantly.

“I don’t think it’s working,” Jet remarked flatly, spiting the straw out.

“Try to think of something from your past that triggers your emotions,” Toph suggested.

“The Fire Nation!” Smelarbee suddenly exclaimed. “Remember what they did to your family?”

“Close your eyes,” Katara instructed. “Picture it.”
Jet complied, closing his eyes. Silence reigned into the room as the rest of the teens waited for something, anything, to happen. Suddenly he snapped his eyes open.

“No! It’s too painful,” he managed to choke out. Katara walked behind him, bending some water from her pouch.

“Maybe this will help.” The water began to glow as she placed it on his temples. Jet stared right ahead, his eyes unfocused, as if he was seeing something no one else could.

“They took me to a headquarters under the water, like a lake,” he said tentatively after a while.

“Wait!” Sokka exclaimed. Everyone turned to look at him. “Remember what Ju Dee said? ‌ She said she went on vacation to Lake Laogai.” Jet jumped on his feet.

“That’s it! Lake Laogai.”

 

They waited until morning before taking the train to the northern outskirts of town. The lake was beautiful, surrounded by mountains, a few small islands tracing its surface. Sokka looked around.

“So where’s this secret headquarters‌?” he asked to Jet’s general direction. The older boy scratched his head.

“Under the lake. I think,” He said unsure. Toph pointed to her right, her head still facing forward.

“There’s a tunnel right there near the shore.” She walked away whistling innocently. Reaching the end of the shore, she stomped her feet, creating a stone pathway with a hatch at the end of it. The teens peered inside it, before climbing in. Momo flew away, chattering nervously. That dark hole looked evil to the poor, little lemur.

 

Inside everything was lit with a dim, green light. The passage was spacey, created by smoothly-cut stones. Clearly the work of expert earthbenders. The group waited for a pair of Dai Li that were walking by to disappear into a nearby passage before sneaking in. Jet took the lead.

“It’s all starting to come back to me,” he said quietly, his memories falling back into place. They walked silently past a slightly open door. Sokka sneaked a look and felt his eyes widen. Inside there were at least a dozen of women, all dressed like Ju Dee, repeating the mantra a Dai Li was chanting.

“I’m Ju Dee. Welcome to Ba Sing Se,” he said and they repeated. “We are so lucky to have our walls to create order.”

“I think there might be a cell big enough to hold Appa up ahead,” Jet said, taking again the lead. He stopped in front of a door. “I think it’s through here. “
Appa raised his head as the door to his cell opened. He moaned uncertainly, wishing it wasn’t another Dai Li. Instead he saw a figure dressed in black, wearing the mask of the Blue Spirit.

“Expecting someone else‌?” Zuko whispered drawing his swords. Appa tried to back away, but the chains on his feet wouldn’t let him. Zuko approached carefully the bewildered animal. Raising slowly a hand he patted the bison’s nose, just like he had seen Aang do. To his surprise Appa relaxed. Lowering his guard a little Zuko whispered.

“I’ll help you if you help me.”

 

In another part of the headquarters a door opened. Jet and the others stepped into a massive cavern. Suddenly the door behind them thud shut. Looking around warily, they noticed the Dai Li hanging from the ceiling over them. Turning to face the door, they saw Long Feng.

“Now that’s something different.” Sokka remarked, still staring at the Dai Li on the ceiling.

“You have made yourselves enemies of the state,” Long Feng announced grimly. “Take them into custody,” He ordered his men.

 

The Dai Li dropped from the ceiling surrounding the teens. Two of them launched their stone fists but Toph turned them into dust before they could hit a target. Before the men had a chance to do anything she launched them across the room, much like she did with Sokka and Aang whenever she was annoyed with them. Behind her Jet was fighting another pair. Aang was using both his air and earthbending, giving his opponents a field day, while in another corner Sokka and Katara were fighting together. Suddenly two stone fists grabbed the two Water siblings. Toph sensed the movement and placed a wall between them and the agents. Before they had a chance to hit her, she made earth rise under her, creating a rather impressive pillar and forcing the agents surrounding her to do them same, becoming easy pray for Aang’s airbending.

 

Soon it was obvious that the Dai Li were going to lose. Long Feng turned wordlessly and left, shutting the passage behind him. Aang saw him.

“Long Feng is escaping!” he cried. Together with Jet they lunged after him. Aang blasted the door open and the two boys raced after the Head Dai Li. He led them to another huge room before disappearing. They looked wearily around them when they heard the door close behind them. They turned just in time to see Long Feng dropping from the ceiling.

“Alright Avatar, you’ve caused me enough problems. This is your last chance, if you want your bison back,” He said threateningly. Aang looked at him aghast.

“You do have Appa. Tell me where he is!”

“Agree to exit the city now, and I’ll waive all charges against you and allow you to leave with your lost pet,” Long Feng insisted.

“You’re in no position to bargain,” Jet said raising his swords.

“Am I not‌?”

“You’re definitely not!” Aang shouted, bringing his staff forward.

“Jet,” Long Feng said calmly. “The Earth King has invited you to Lake Laogai.” Jet’s eyes dimmed.

“I am honoured to except his invitation,” He said in an empty voice, before turning and attacking viciously Aang.

 

In Appa’s cell Zuko had knelt and was working on the chains on the bison’s feet, when he heard the door creak open. He sprung to his feet, swords ready for attack. Seeing who the person who opened the door was, he nearly dropped them in surprise.

“Uncle‌?” he whispered taken aback. The old man crossed his arms, looking at him with fake puzzlement.

“So, the Blue Spirit,” he began disapprovingly. “I wonder who could be behind that mask‌…” Zuko sighed before removing the mask.

“What are you doing here‌?” he asked his uncle. Iroh scowled.

“I was just about to ask you the same thing. What do you plan to do now that you have found the Avatar’s bison? ‌ Keep it locked in our new apartment? ‌ Should I go put on a pot of tea for him‌?” Zuko turned back to face Appa.

“First I have to get it out of here,” he said, his eyes searching for possible exits.

“AND THEN WHAT‌!” Iroh yelled. “You never think these things through! This is exactly what happened when you captured the Avatar at the North Pole! You had him, and then you had nowhere to go!”

“I would have figured something out!” Zuko shouted back. This wasn’t helping. His plan had been simple: free Appa and return him to Aang, hoping to get back in Katara’s good books.

“No! If his friends hadn’t found you, you would have frozen to death!” Iroh said, concern lacing his frustration. Zuko shut his eyes, memories of his two fights with Katara at the North Pole flashing through his mind. He had thought that was his destiny. He knew better now.

“I know my own destiny uncle.” Iroh didn’t seem to agree with him.

“Is it your own destiny? ‌ Or is it a destiny someone else has tried to force on you‌?”

“Stop it uncle. I have to do this.” Zuko tried to shut the voices out of his head.

I must do it.

There are other ways. Lia’s voice said inside his head.

Katara hates me.

No she doesn’t. She’s just hurt because YOU wouldn’t trust her.

But…

“I’m begging you prince Zuko! It’s time for you to look inward, and begin asking yourself the big questions. Who are you‌? And what do you want‌?” Iroh said silencing the debate inside his nephew’s head. With a cry of frustration Zuko dropped the mask and his swords on the ground.

He still thinks I’m after the Avatar, he thought bitterly. And Katara accused him for lack of trust.

 

Aang was twisting and turning, trying to avoid Jet’s attacks without hurting him.

“Jet, it’s me Aang! You don’t have to do this,” he pleaded, hoping to help the Freedom Fighter snap out of his trance.

“I’m afraid he no longer has a choice,” Long Feng sneered. Jet stopped, trying to catch his breath. Then he charged again towards Aang yelling. The Avatar sent a blast of air against him, but Jet used his hook swords to grab onto the stones of the floor. Taking advantage of the break, Aang tried again.

“Jet, I’m your friend! Look inside your heart!” he pleaded.

“Do your duty Jet,” Long Feng ordered. Jet obeyed nearing the airbender.

“He can’t make you do this! You’re a Freedom Fighter.”

 

His words made Jet freeze in shock. Images of Smelarbee, the Duke, Pipsqueak, Katara, Longshot, Iroh and Zuko flashed through his mind. Being dragged away from the Dai Li, the brainwashing. Iroh, the Fire Nation soldiers that had attacked his town and Long Feng. His eyes cleared as Long Feng ordered once again.

“Do it! Do it now!” Enraged Jet whirled and attacked the head Dai Li. Before he had a chance to land a hit, Long Feng sent a huge rock against him, before earthbending himself to the exit.

“Foolish boy,” he said scornfully. “You’ve chosen your own demise.” Aang moved stunned to where Jet was lying injured.

“I’m sorry, Aang,” He said quietly.

“Don’t be,” Aang said back, sitting next to him.

 

Behind them, the door opened once again and the rest of the group appeared. They all rushed next to the fallen Freedom Fighter. Katara knelt next to him, drawing her water and starting to heal the crushed portion of Jet’s chest. Worried she turned to the others.

“This isn’t good,” She said gravely.

“You guys go find Appa. We’ll take care of Jet,” Smelarbee decided. Katara looked at her shocked.

“We’re not going to leave you,” Longshot shook his head.

“There’s no time. Just go. We’ll take care of him. He’s our leader,” He said gravely. The others looked at him shocked by the fact he spoke.

“Don’t worry Katara,” Jet smiled weakly. “I’ll be fine.” Katara closed her eyes to keep the tears from running. She never thought it would end up like this. As they headed away from the Freedom Fighters Toph whispered to Aang.

“He’s lying.”

They hurried silently from cell to cell until they reached the right one. Stepping inside they only saw Appa’s former manacles lying broken on the floor.

“Appa’s gone. Long Feng beat us here,” Aang concluded disappointed.

“If we keep moving, maybe we can catch up to him,” Sokka said optimistically.

 

Toph took the lead and after blasting a few walls away, the gang ended up on one of Lake Laogai’s islands. Aang tuned his head in time to see nine Dai Lis following them.

“Do you think we can outrun them‌?” Sokka asked running at his side.

“I don’t think it’s gonna matter.” Aang said seeing six more Dai Lis and Long Feng ahead of them. The agents bended two walls, effectively trapping the teens inside. Momo appeared suddenly appeared and sat on Aang’s shoulder, chattering excitedly.

“What is it Momo?” the airbender asked.‌ The lemur took off again and for a moment seemed to disappear on the midday sun. A few moments later he returned, followed closely by the familiar figure of Appa.

“Appa!” Aang called delighted.

 

The bison crashed into the first wall, bringing it down easily, as Aang and Toph did the same for the other one. (Toph earthbended as many Dai Li as possible into the

lake in the process.) Appa landed in front of Long Feng. Seeing his men running away, the earthbender fell into stance with a malicious look on his face.

“I can handle you by myself,” he said. He launched a kick but before he had a chance to strike, Appa caught his leg between his teeth. With one mighty move, he tossed Long Feng to the lake, before spitting the Dai Li’s shoe out.

 

Sokka, Aang, Katara and Momo threw themselves on the giant animal while Toph stroked his nose tenderly.

“Yeah!” Sokka yelled celebrating. “Appa!”

“I missed you, buddy,” Aang whispered, feeling like crying.
Back on the shore Zuko climbed tiredly out of the trap door Toph had created earlier. Turning, he helped his uncle out. The old man took a few breaths. All this running and climbing had taken its toll on him. Nevertheless, he gave his nephew a proud look.

“You did the right thing, nephew,” Zuko wordlessly took out the Blue Spirit mask, staring at it longingly.

Flashback-:

Lia had handed him a small package. “If you’re going to make life hard for Commander Monkey-face you need a proper alter ego.” Zuko opened the box to reveal a Blue Spirit mask. He raised an eyebrow.

“A Water Tribe Spirit?” he had asked her dubiously.

“What? I know the guy! He’s great for secret missions. We’ve gone to a few together. And who would guess prince Zuko under it?”

“Good point,” the boy had murmured still scrutinizing the grinning mask.

-End Flashback-

The mask had turned out to be so much more for him. But perhaps it was time to let go. Iroh put a hand on his shoulder.

“Leave it behind,” he encouraged the teen. With a sigh, Zuko walked at the edge of the small path and threw the mask in the water. The last tie to his ship-bound years was gone.

 

At the same time, on the shores of the Earth Kingdom Lia was walking through the streets of a small village. She stopped at a house near the coastline and took a deep breath. It was time for her search to come to an end.