Tag Archives: Fire Nation

Twilight of the Spirit World: Epilogue

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Author’s note: In which a short “x years later” snapshot is offered, the author teases the Korra canon in a hopefully subtle way and for once happy endings do not have strings attached to them. It’s been a journey and a half everyone!

Previous chapter: link

***Epilogue***

The summer sun heated gently the sandy beach and a gentle breeze caused small waves in the sapphire blue sea. It was a truly beautiful place, serene and picturesque, a place that would certainly calm the most troubled of minds.

“MOM! SUYIN AND BATO TOOK MY SCROLL!”

“Suyin Bei Fong give your sister her scroll back!”

“Bato! Start acting your age or your father will NOT be taking you ice-dodging anytime soon!”

Well, perhaps not all minds.

 

Not far from the seashore Toph and Suki were berating their more mischievous offspring, much to the amusement of their friends. With a huff Lin snatched the scroll that her pouting twin held and marched off to sit next to Zuko and Katara’s eldest, Izumi. Next to them, and closer to their parents was Izumi’s younger sister, Kya, and Suki and Sokka’s youngest (for the time being), Yue. The two little girls were watching in fascination Lin and Suyin’s little brother, Bumi, as he re-enacted an over-the-top rendition of the epic tale of “The Bear of Ba Sing Se”. If in the process he raised more sand than his sisters’ attempts at sandbending that was certainly not intentional.

 

With a huff the two women sat back down, Toph taking baby Tenzin from Aang. Suki turned exasperated to Katara.

“Was Sokka like that too at that age?” Katara chuckled.

“More or less,” she said, ignoring her brother’s indignant look.

“Is that true Councilman Sokka?” Zuko asked laughing. Sokka glared at him.

“I’m sure if Azula was visiting Fire Lord Zuko she would have some interesting stories to say for you too.” Zuko raised an eyebrow.

“No doubt about it,” he said dryly.

 

Before ribbing between the two men could escalate, or Toph could get involved, Kya happened to look up. Seeing a familiar portal opening in the distance she jumped to her feet, dragging her cousin up excitedly.

“Aunt Azula!” the two girls squealed in delight as a very pregnant Azula stepped out of the portal, with Ao on her side looking very much like he would prefer to be carrying his lover rather than letting her walk through the sand. The little girls were almost instantly at their sides, seemingly determined to drag them were the rest of their family was standing and approaching them at a more sedate pace.

“Wait little ones,” Azula said as she carefully kneeled to hug them. Yue giggled, feeling the baby kicked. “We have a surprise for everyone.”

“And what would that be?” Zuko asked, hugging his sister carefully and giving a friendly nod to Ao. The couple smiled mysteriously.

“Turns out that when Agni and Lia went up to that mountain of theirs, they weren’t just coming up with new firebending moves,” Ao said mischievously. Katara’s eyes widened.

“You don’t mean?” she asked. It had been nearly a year since Lia and Agni had last visited the mortal plane after all…

“Oh, yes!” Azula said enthusiastically. Zuko paled slightly. Two daughters and several nieces and nephews later this kind of code was no longer lost to him. That did not mean he cared much for the implications. When Azula and Ao had first told them they were expecting he had been torn between wanting to congratulate them and wanting to punch Ao. Sokka had actually punched him when they had announced they were expecting Izumi! Ao turned towards the portal.

“Well?” he called. “What are you lot waiting for?” Almost as if cued Agni and Lia stepped through, both with wide smiled on their faces. In Lia’s arms, wrapped in a white-gold blanket, was a new-born baby.

“Everyone, meet Kōjin,” Agni said softly as the portal closed silently behind them. Even little Tenzin turned curiously in his mother’s arms towards the new centre of attention.

 

The children immediately surrounded Lia, the shorter ones standing on their tip-toes in order to peer at the latest addition to the family.

“He’s so small!” Lin whispered, her eyes widening when Kōjin opened his eyes and turned slightly towards the sound of her voice. Lia smiled at the girl. Of all of Aang and Toph’s children she had been the one to inherit most of the blind earthbender’s brash attitude. And, like her mother, Lin tended to melt when around babies.

“Let’s go sit down,” the redhead said, “and you can hold him if you want.” Lin nodded eagerly and the group moved back to where they had originally been sitting.

 

Much later, when the sun was setting over the sea, bathing everything in a soft red glow, the entire second generation of the gaang was sat around Izumi as she read to them, with the occasional interruption from Bato, an account of General Iroh’s travels through the Earth Kingdom. Tenzin was napping in a blanket next to his father, too young to stay awake after a day of excitement, while the adults were talking quietly among themselves. Zuko turned to Lia, who was leaning against him contently.

“Are you happy?” he asked her. Lia looked around thoughtfully for a moment, her eyes resting at Agni, who was rocking Kōjin gently, lulling the baby to sleep, and gave her brother a soft smile.

“Yes,” she said. “I am.”

The End

Twilight of the Spirit World: Homecoming

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Author’s note: In which the story is almost over, hints are dropped (some more subtly than others) and everyone slowly finds their own place.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***Homecoming***

The morning that dawned was glorious, the sky awash with shades of red and gold that gave way to a vibrant blue. The whole Council City was buzzing with an inexplicable euphoria and people found themselves laughing and smiling without even being sure why. And in the centre of it all Lia could be seen walking around, looking more like her old cheerful self than ever. Sokka, the first to come across her in one of the gardens, had to make a double-take to make certain he wasn’t seeing things.

“Are you…alright?” he called after her uncertainly. The fact that fire lilies were spontaneously blooming around her was a little distracting. Lia turned to look at him with a bright smile.

“Just fine!” she said. “All is good in the world!” Sokka frowned and moved closer to look in her eyes.

“You haven’t been drinking sake again, have you?” he asked cautiously. She didn’t look drunk, but then again… Lia laughed.

“No,” she assured him. “Just had a really good night is all. Oh, and I passed Suki on my way here. She said that if she doesn’t have her leachy nuts soon there will be hell to pay.” Sokka gulped, appropriately fearful of his fiancé’s recent mood-swings and hurried back inside. Lia only chuckled and turned back to her original mission of finding her brother and assuring him she wasn’t about to lock herself away from the world.

 

In another part of the palace Zuko had decided that pulling the protective brother act when it came to Azula and Ao’s budding relationship would no doubt cause more trouble than it was worth. Azula didn’t take kindly people telling her what she can and cannot do and, to be fair, Ao had been nothing if not a gentleman. There was someone else however, with a close relationship to one of Zuko’s sisters who could use a grilling. The Blue Spirit was more than happy to help him with that plan and that was how the two of them ended up prowling the corridors, looking for a certain, recently-awakened Fire Spirit, hopefully before Lia came across him.

 

Agni, oblivious to the plans of his impending pain, had also been strolling around, too wrapped up in blissful memories to notice the two overprotective men closing in on him. Until his back was slammed against a wall that is…

“Seriously, why can’t anyone just call out when they want my attention?” he complained, wincing at the bruises that were no doubt forming.

“We just wanted to have a little chat,” Zuko said pleasantly and Agni decided that the bruises were probably the least of his worries.

“You see,” Ao continued, “we both view Lia as our sister.”

“And you have made her cry more than once,” Zuko picked up the speech, his smile replaced by a threatening look. “So, if you ever think of…”

“Boys,” a feminine voice cut through the string of threats about to be unleashed. “I think he gets it.” Agni gave Lia a relieved smile and easily shrugged off Ao’s and Zuko’s hands.

“I have never been happier to see you love,” he said, walking up to her side and wrapping an arm around her waist. “Well, last night excluded,” he added with a mischievous look and teleported the two of them to the other side of the palace before what he said sank in the younger men’s brain.

 

Too his surprise Lia didn’t even call him out on possibly traumatising her two adoptive brothers. Instead she waited until they had materialised in a different room before leaning against him and laughing hysterically. Agni started chuckling as well, too happy with life at that moment to bother finding an explanation as to why they were laughing. The sound of someone delicately clearing their throat cut through their mirth.

“So I take it you too have figured things out?” Toph asked sweetly, in a tone that everyone who knew her agree that was scarier than any yell could ever be. The two Fire Spirits looked up, although neither bothered disentangling from the other, to see not only the earthbender, but also Aang, Sokka, Suki and Katara sitting there, looking at them in amused confusion.

“Something like that…”Agni smirked, “Shorty,” he added for good measure. Toph raised an eyebrow and drummed her fingers against the floor. A faint ripple followed her movement and the two Spirits stumbled a little before regaining their footing.

“Nicknames are my shtick Lover-Boy,” she said. “Get your own.”

“What Toph means,” Suki cut in, pausing to sprinkle her bowl of grapes with a liberal amount of curry dust, “is that it is great to see you both well and happy again.” The others looked at her nervously as she popped some grapes in her mouth.

“Um…sweetheart,” Sokka said nervously, “Are you sure this won’t upset your stomach?” Suki looked at him and then at her bowl confused.

“No,” she said, “They taste great!” Katara and Lia exchange a suspicious look, even as everyone else gagged at the idea.

 

Short of Suki’s increasingly bizarre food combinations during mealtimes (and her increasingly violent reactions when it was pointed out to her that maybe rice and melted rock candy should not go together…) the next few days were peaceful. Everyone was aware that their time at the Spirit World was drawing to a close, even if they were not eager to acknowledge the fact. This however didn’t change the fact that they had responsibilities in their own world, responsibilities they could not ignore for much longer. So it was decided that at the end of the week, they would return. No one was surprised when Lia said that she would stay behind. There was much that still needed to be fixed in the Spirit World, and even if there hadn’t, it was obvious to everyone that she was not letting Agni out of her sight anytime soon. Although she did promise to Suki, in a tone that had the women in the group smiling in secret understanding and the men looking at them incredibly confused, to be there when the time came.

 

What did cause some surprise was Ao formally asking Zuko’s permission to court his sister. Azula had already talked with her brother (in what must have been the most awkward conversation the siblings had ever had) and told him that she wanted to stay behind just a little longer, explore the Spirit World like she hadn’t had the chance with a battle for all reality looming over everyone’s head. Zuko had grudgingly agreed to allow it, but only if she didn’t travel alone. Now, with Ao’s request, his mind could rest a little easier, not that that stopped him from tagging a threatening “and you had better be a perfect gentleman” to his assent.

 

In the end, it was a smaller group than had started that stood in front of the glowing portal that would take them back to the mortal world. Toph and Katara had returned their respective Crystals to the elementals they belonged to and Aang had said his farewells to Roku, so that it was only Agni, Lia, Ao and Azula that saw them off. With last minute hugs and solemn promises for regular visits by those who stayed behind, Zuko and Katara, Aang and Toph, Sokka and Suki stepped through the glowing energy to find themselves standing under a blazing sunset in front of the Fire Nation palace, with Ursa and Iroh there to welcome them back. And it would have been a bold-faced lie if any of them said that this didn’t feel like coming home.

Twilight of the Spirit World – Returns

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Author’s note: In which overhearing conversations is the most reliable method of information,  bad guys ALWAYS plot in shadow-y rooms and Azula has become the other resident snarker.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***Returns***

A fine summer morning in Sozin found Lia walking through the gardens of the Fire Nation Palace, seeking to burn them in her memory. Today marked ten years from the first time she had visited the garden and decided to aid the little prince. Although she was by no means eager to return to her world, she felt obliged to, fearing that further shows of –ahem- disrespect might result in further problems. Besides for the last four years she had avoided thinking of certain…unresolved issues that were awaiting her back home. Eventually they would catch up to her and she’d rather be alone when that happened. Shaking her head she banished the depressing thoughts and walked leisurely back at the palace.

 

The next day found the Fire Lord and princess standing at the stairs at the front courtyard of the palace, facing the red-haired Spirit. Despite her constant grumbling about the Council, Lia had truly missed her home. Smiling she hugged Zuko and Azula.

“Don’t be so gloom little brother!” she told the now twenty-year old Fire Lord.  “I promise to visit soon!”

“You’d better,” Azula said, struggling to keep a straight face. “I don’t know how Zuzu will be able to survive with Katara at the South Pole and you away. I’m afraid he will start burying himself under paperwork again, like that time mother visited Ba Sing Se.” Zuko glared at his sisters as they shared a laugh at his expense.

“Sokka was right. Sisters are a headache,” he muttered, causing them to laugh even more.

“Sokka tends to bring to himself whatever trouble he lands with Katara,” Lia remarked, recalling the numerous time the Water Tribesman had felt his sister’s waterwhip after some comment or another. “But seriously,” she continued at a calmer tone, “I just need to settle a few things back home and then I’ll be free to visit whenever I want.”

 

Turning her back to the Royal siblings, she concentrated on the ever-present pull of the Spirit World, allowing it to open a portal, not to the in-between anymore. Lia started walking towards it before pausing and turning to flash a smile to the two firebenders.

“Give my love to the rest of the gang!” she called before disappearing in a bright light.

 

The meadow she appeared was not far from the Council City. Lia stood there for a minute taking in how everything had changed in her absence. The city had grown, more towers rising at the centre and a line of walls surrounded the outer ring of buildings. The Fire Spirit frowned as she took in the barren fields that were green and lush ten years ago.

 

The joy of her return evaporated as she hurried towards the walls. With the balance mostly restored in the mortal plane what could possibly be so threatening that the Council felt the need to fortify its lair? The gates were unguarded yet she felt eyes on her as she raced through the deserted streets towards the palace in the middle of the city. Not a soul was in sight and despite the grim situation Lia smirked at her pun. She rarely visited the city, preferring to roam the endless countryside surrounding it and visiting her less popular friends or taking the odd trip in the mortal word, but every time she did come for some reason or another she could hardly walk through the endless mass of Spirits walking the streets. In fact the only time she had seen the streets empty was when she had been banished for disobeying the no-aid-for-mortals rule.

 

Pausing in front of the Council’s Palace Lia gave her surroundings one last suspicious look before entering. Still no one was present. Swallowing her uneasiness she walked purposely to the Hearing Hall, determined to get to the bottom of this. Sure she had not expected a welcoming committee, but this was beginning to resemble the equivalent of human world’s quarantine. Hearing the low buzz of voices she paused at the entrance.

“…return of Fire…” she could just make out through the heavy wooden door, “…need to hasten…crystals.” At the mention of one of the many unresolved issues that had accumulated in her absence she stiffened and pressed her ear closer to the door, willing the voices to become just a little clearer.

“…need to do something about the Avatar…” came a second voice, “…can’t let it get in our way…” There was a noise of approval from the rest of the audience. Lia was growing more alarmed with every fragment and tid-bit of information she heard. Sliding the door open a little – and praying no one would notice – she waited for the conversation to begin again.

“What about the other elementals?” one councilman asked. “They will not be swayed by promises of power; they are easily the most powerful after the Avatar Spirit.”

“Agni might,” the other speaker seemed doubtful but pressed on for the sake of argument, “if nothing else it will cause chaos and he thrives in situations like this.”

“He will not be as easily manipulated this time,” the first Council member said disappointedly. “I believe the true consequences of his actions in the human world hit home harder than we had calculated. He will not risk another confrontation with his partner.”

“Maybe then she would side with us? She has no fond feelings for Agni.”

 

Lia raised an eyebrow. True she had no intention whatsoever of ever being in the same room with her equal and opposite Spirit but she did not hate him enough to blindly side with the Council of all Spirits. She would need to speak with Roku. As she turned to leave, she came face-to-spear with the reason she had felt eyes on her since she had returned. The Faceless were a special force organised by the Council for security reasons. They were efficient and most of all silent, although the difficulty of finding something that would actually kill a Spirit reduced their job to merely “silencing” the Council’s targets. At that moment Lia was certain that someone had to have jinxed her. So much for a welcoming committee.

 

Forgoing any attempt for discreetness Lia blasted the guard in front of her and made a dash for the door.

Hardly an hour back home and already in trouble! The sarcasm sounded bitter even inside her own head. Racing back out of the Palace she continued dodging attacks at the now-understandably empty streets. The moment she was through the gates and back at the barren land, blasts of black energy were raining around her. Lia’s eyes widened in horror when a blast landed next to her and nearly melted a hole on the ground. In a normal fight she would probably be able to hold her own long enough to find a way to get out of the situation. Now, with the opponents she had, aiming closer and closer to her those deadly blasts, there was only one thing she could do. With a curse Lia closed her eyes and literally threw herself to the in-between before racing back to the human world. She would need backup for this one.

 

Zuko was surprised to hear commotion outside the throne room. He and Azula were about to go investigate when the doors burst open and a familiar redhead walked in.

“When you said you’d come to visit soon, I didn’t think you meant so soon,” Azula said bemused. Lia shook her head negatively.

“This isn’t a social call,” she said grimly. Zuko and Azula frowned at the grave tone.

“What’s going on?” the Fire Lord asked, motioning for the dumbfounded guards to leave them.

“I’m not sure yet.” Lia flopped on the ground near the throne. She had raced all the way to the palace and even for a mostly-immortal being that was too much. “But I do know that I just eavesdropped on a plan to take out the strongest spirit in existence and that the Spirit Council is certifiably insane.”

“How so?” Azula asked, trying to make heads from tales of the absentminded mumbling of the Spirit. Zuko made a motion to shush her, more used to Lia’s explanations.

“Well,” the Fire Spirit had a slightly insulted expression, “they thought that I might even be tempted to side with them just because Agni wouldn’t.”  The siblings gave an inaudible “oh” as an answer. All things considered that sounded pretty silly.

“I wasn’t able to hear much,” Lia continued her explanation, “but from what I understand this has being going on for quite a long time. I don’t get what anyone could possibly gain by permanently upsetting the balance and yet here they are planning just that.”

“Maybe they want to replace the Avatar Spirit?” Azula offered.

“Perhaps, though I doubt any one of those old power grabbers would be able to handle it.”

“You didn’t come here just to give us a heads-up, did you?” Zuko asked. Lia gave him a mischievous smile.

“Actually no,” she said. “I’ll need your help with this mess and since the rest of the gaang will be coming soon anyway I thought it’d be safer to wait here instead of back home.”

“Yeah…” Zuko mused, then looked up. “Wait, how do you know the others will be coming?”

“It was her idea to invite them Zuzu,” Azula rolled her eyes. “Something to get your mind off things for a while.”

“Time rolls differently in the Spirit World. How long have I been away?” Lia asked, looking around her for a clue.

“A couple of hours. Why? How long were you there?” Zuko asked.

“Pretty much that long.” Lia seemed satisfied. “That means the two worlds are aligned for now. It’ll make it easier to cross over.” She paused. “You guys are coming, right?” Zuko rolled his eyes.

“Of course!” he said. “We can’t let you get in trouble all by yourself now, can we?” Azula nodded in agreement.

“Besides,” she said, “if I stay on this palace for much longer I might end up as bored as Mai was.”

“Then it’s settled,” Lia smiled relieved. “We’ll wait for everyone else to arrive and then we’re off.” She winked at Zuko. “Feels like old times, doesn’t it?”

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 – Avatar Aang

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Author’s note: In which the fighting is over, there is sequel foreshadowing…again and the author closes on a sweet note to wind down from all the excitement.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***Avatar Aang***

The battle of Ba Sing Se was almost over. Lia had come across Bumi at some point, and together they were cheerfully knocking out the last of the tanks that had been guarding the city. Lia looked at the sky. With the comet moving over them, heading for the west, everything was bathed in a crimson light, casting sinister shadows on the buildings. Contrary to what people might think the comet was neither Agni’s nor her doing. Separated, they had little control over nature’s forces. Allowing herself to contemplate that for a moment, she wondered if her equal and opposite would make an appearance. After all, by stopping the war they would have most certainly ruined his fun. Yes, she decided, he would have to appear. But where? Looking around, she suddenly knew. Agni wouldn’t trifle with the Avatar Spirit, and Ba Sing Se was Earth Kingdom territory and therefore immaterial to him. Pulling herself together she took flight. She had to reach Sozin and she had to reach it fast.

 

Katara had never focused more intently on healing someone before. Even when Aang had been wounded, it had been the Spirit water doing most of the work. Now all her skill and concentration fuelled the glowing water. Zuko winced in pain but the healing began to take effect and he found his body relaxing. Opening her eyes, Katara smiled at him, not bothering to stop the tears from running down her cheeks.

“Thank you, Katara,” Zuko managed to whisper, still weak from the lightning.

“I think I’m the one who should be thanking you,” Katara answered, pulling him into a hug, mindful of his injury. Zuko wrapped an arm around her, pulling her closer, needing to feel for himself that they had both made it alive. They met in a kiss that ended abruptly when something landed with a thud nearby.
Both turned, Zuko much less gracefully than usual, to see Azula unconscious on the ground. Standing over her was a young man who looked at all three of them with an expression torn between amusement and annoyance.

“Now that won’t do,” he said smoothly to the unconscious Azula, as if berating a child. “You can’t go and ruin my fun like that! Now how am I going to amuse myself?” He grinned as he cast his gaze over the destruction caused by the Agni Kai, and satisfaction radiated from his golden eyes. “A battle befitting of my name,” he said, addressing Zuko now, who was staring at him warily. “You have shown exceptional growth prince Zuko. Lia was right to take an interest in you.” He bowed to the firebender gracefully. “You will make a fine Fire Lord.” He took a few steps away from Azula and called over his shoulder. “Don’t judge her too harshly. She was hardly in control of her actions.”

 

Katara wasn’t sure what was going on, but she remembered Lia’s story about hers and Agni’s involvement with the royal family. Wordlessly she helped Zuko to his feet, one hand wrapped around his waist for support and the other close to her water pouch.

“We need to check on Azula,” Zuko told her quietly. Katara nodded and helped him walk over to his sister. A part of her could not help but pity the firebending girl. She didn’t have any more choice over her fate than Zuko had over his banishment.

 

Agni watched their progress towards his latest pawn and shook his head.

“No,” he said making a movement to their direction, “that won’t do. That won’t do at all. I’m afraid I’ll have to stop you.” But before he had the chance to do anything a fireball landed at his feet. Lia landed in front of Zuko, Katara and Azula, glaring coldly at Agni.

“You’re right,” she said as she took in the situation. “That won’t do at all.” Agni smiled and took another step closer, silently daring her. “Katara,” Lia said, never taking her eyes from the Spirit in front of her, “please make sure that all three of you are out of the way and near water. This will be messy.” The waterbender nodded and with Zuko’s help carried Azula off to where she had been initially standing, by a fountain.

 

The two Fire Spirits took their places at opposite sides of the courtyard, neither saying a word, though their expressions spoke volumes. Lia’s face showed only cold fury, Agni’s barely contained excitement. Wordlessly they attacked at the same time, Agni with small, sharp blasts and Lia with a steady current that swallowed up his flames. It twirled around Agni without actually touching him and for a few moments it was sent back and forth between them before Lia grew tired of the game and banished the flames with a move of her hand. Running towards her opponent, she continued blasting him with fireballs which he dodged, leading her around the courtyard and occasionally sending a blast or two of his own in her direction. The more time passed, the more of Lia’s control was drained and her attacks grew in speed and force. She was aiming to kill, balance be damned.

 

A pained moan distracted Zuko and Katara from the deadly fight and they both turned back to Azula, just as she opened her eyes. For a moment it seemed as though she didn’t recognise them. Then her memory came back and she sat up with a gasp. Katara made a move to keep Azula from straining too much. They had no way of knowing if she was hurt or not and besides, Katara was still slightly suspicious of the princess. Azula looked around, taking in the situation. The waterbender watched her with a mix of suspicion and concern, while her brother’s face showed only worry for her. Azula found herself wondering what was this all about. She expected to be left in the middle of the courtyard.

“Azula,” Zuko started hesitantly. His sister had made his life a nightmare for the last few years but now he knew that that hadn’t been explicitly her fault. His thoughts on the matter were not clear but for now he allowed his worry to override everything else. “Are you all right?” he asked softly.

 

To his surprise the princess’s eyes watered. He didn’t remember ever seeing her cry before. Azula threw her arms around her brother as she broke down.

“I’m sorry Zuzu,” she sobbed, desperate to explain about the voice. “I didn’t want to, I swear but he said I had to. That it was my destiny.” Zuko hissed in pain, his injury deciding to remind him of its presence, but he ignored it in favour of exchanging a look with his girlfriend. Tentatively, he wrapped his arms around his sister in an awkward hug.

“It’s okay Zula,” he said. “It will be all right.” That was a promise he intended to keep. Katara also placed a comforting arm around the princess’ shoulders, silently offering her support as all three of them turned to watch the battle once more.

 

Lia sent another current of fire at her opponent who had to bend to an uncomfortable angle to avoid being hit. Agni smiled at her. Whatever enjoyment he might find in manipulating mortals for generations, it was his fights with Lia that made him feel the most alive.

“Missed me,” he taunted. “Now you have to kiss me.” Lia narrowed her eyes.

“Kiss this!” she screamed before shooting lightning. Zuko gasped and tightened the protective embrace around his sister. He felt Katara scooting near him as Lia’s blood-red lightning crackled, and although her equal, Agni had to jump out of the way, lest the hit connected.

 

Rising again, the playfulness vanished from his eyes; he looked at her with an unreadable expression.

“So you are serious about this,” he finally said gravely.

“Took you long enough to get it,” the red-haired Spirit snapped under her breath before falling into a stance Katara recognised to her surprise as waterbending. A wave of magma reared up before Lia, growing in size and power as it raced towards her opponent. Agni raised an eyebrow and tried to redirect it back to its creator. When he failed to do so, he dropped his stance and bowed to Lia. She halted her attack, waiting for his next move, her eyes searching his. He straightened from the bow and took a step back.

“You have won,” he said with a small smile. “I will take a break from interfering with the mortals for a few years.”

“A hundred years,” Lia demanded coldly. Agni opened his mouth to protest but thought better of it. The wave was still looming over him.

“Very well,” he finally said. “A hundred years.” He took another step back. “Until we meet again Fire Lily.” Then he disappeared.

 

Lia waited warily for a few moments before returning the melted stones to their original place on the ground and rushing to her brother’s side. After taking a few deep breaths she offered him a bright smile.

“Do you get now why I hate being called Agni?” she asked casually, a tinge of humour barely audible in her voice. It must be the comet, she decided, because her fight with Agni had made her feel more alive than she had felt in a long time. Closing her eyes she made the fire that still burned at the courtyard go out. The comet was almost gone and now they could only wait for news of the battle between the Fire Lord and the Avatar.

 

Azula watched the red-head warily, and she tried to stay as close to her brother as possible without worsening his injury. Both he and the waterbender – she really needed to learn the girl’s name – had treated her kindly, disregarding the fact that she had aimed to kill during their fights. But what of the Spirit? Lia ended any thoughts the princess had on the matter by rising fluidly and helping the girl to her feet as well, supporting most of her weight.

“Shaking off Agni’s influence must have taking its toll on you. We should probably get you and Zuko to a bed before you collapse again.” Azula only nodded, not fully understanding what the Spirit was talking about. Katara helped Zuko to his feet and slowly, the four of them made their way to the palace. The four Sages, snake-like as they might be, could recognise a Spirit when they saw one and a glare from Lia was all they needed to return to their temple, no questions asked.

 

Inside, Zuko and Katara took the lead, the prince guiding them to his room. He had never been gladder to see a bed in his life. Katara’s healing had saved his life, but the wound still burned with every move he made. The waterbender helped him lie down with tender touches, before sitting next to him and holding his hand, her expression anxious. She too knew that the healing she had done earlier was simply not enough. Her eyes strayed to the two girls that stood nearby, both Zuko’s sisters. Lia’s expression was a carefully constructed mask of calm, but Katara could read the worry for her brother as well as relief at finding him alive. Azula’s guilt-ridden expression, less artfully hidden thanks to the shock and exhaustion pulled at the waterbender’s heartstrings.

“Do you want to stay with Zuko Azula?” she asked the girl kindly. “You’re not looking so good yourself and I’d rather watch over both of you until we know for sure what is going on. Neither of you are in any condition to fight.” Azula’s surprise must have shown more than she expected because even Zuko managed to crack a smile and, using his free hand, he patted the space on the bed next to him.

“Come here Zula,” he said softly. Without waiting for an answer, Lia led the girl to the bed and helped her out of her armour and between the sheets. Both of the royal siblings were out like candles the moment their heads touched their pillows. Lia turned to Katara.

“Will you be all right on your own with them?” she asked the girl. “I have one final thing to do before this is all over.” Katara nodded and then turned her attention to her two patients, tucking the blanket around their form as Lia disappeared once more. Standing over Azula, Katara brushed a few strands of hair from the girl’s face and watched in surprise as the Fire princess’ face melted to a soft smile.

“Mother…” she whispered in her sleep before edging closer to her brother.

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – Into the Inferno

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Author’s note: In which there are epic battles all over the place but the author focuses on the epic-est (and no, it’s not Aang’s) and the chapter ends on a cliffhanger just because.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***Into the Inferno***

Zuko and Katara flew Appa in tense silence. The prince was staring straight at the horizon, which had turned a bloody red, signalling the comet’s arrival. Next to him, Katara searched his face worriedly as his frown deepened.

“Zuko, don’t worry. We can take Azula,” she said soothingly. Her boyfriend shook his head.

“I’m not worried about her, I’m worried about Aang. What if he doesn’t have the guts to take out my father? ‌ What if he loses‌?” he asked pessimistically.

“Aang won’t lose. He’s gonna come back. He has to.” The last part was said more to herself than to the firebender next to her. Katara couldn’t help feeling a little doubtful herself.

 

Back in Ba Sing Se, Lia felt the arrival of the comet like a gasp of fresh air. She gave the men lined up next to her a quick once-over and saw the two firebenders standing a little straighter despite their age.

“Ba Sing Se, the Order of the White Lotus is here,” Bumi said, unusually serious.

“Here to set you free,” Pakku added solemnly. Iroh took a step forward.

“Only once every hundred years can a firebender experience this kind of power,” he mused, taking a deep breath. He took several more deep breaths, a ring of fire surrounding them, the flames dancing in tune with his heartbeat. Abruptly he gathered them in an enormous ball of fire and thrust it in the direction of the city. The blast demolished part of the wall and the five Masters, plus the Spirit, charged forward. The rest of the Order quickly followed its leaders.

 

Pakku was the first to attack, pulling water from a nearby stream, with Piandao following closely behind, taking care of any soldiers that the master waterbnder’s tidal wave missed. Jeong Jeong had positioned himself on a crossroad in a different section of the city and created his signature walls of fire, melting the tanks that came against him. The rest of the Order was fighting soldiers spread all over the city. From Lia the only thing that could be seen was a blur and a faint smell of smoke that seemed to linger wherever she passed as she raced through the city, knocking soldiers out, melting tanks and generally having the time of her life.

 

Compared to the chaos that reigned in Ba Sing Se, Sozin was draped in an almost oppressive silence. At the ceremonial staircase in front of the palace Azula was kneeling, preparing for her coronation. She was dressed in the heavy robe tradition dictated but her usually impeccable topknot was a tangled mess. Pale faced and tense she was far cry from her usual perfect self. The head Sage took the Fire Lord diadem and stood behind her.

“By decree of Phoenix King Ozai, I now crown you Fire Lord…” he paused when he heard a strange noise and looked up. Azula turned to him annoyed.

“What are you waiting for? ‌ Do it!” But then she heard it to, the groan of an air bison. Snapping her head forward she saw Appa landing at the side of the courtyard and her brother and the Water Tribe girl jumping down.

“Sorry, but you’re not going to become Fire Lord today. I am.” Zuko took a step forward confidently. Azula couldn’t mute the slightly crazed edge to her laughter.

“You’re hilarious,” she said. Katara walked next to Zuko and glared at the princess.

“And you’re going down,” said the waterbender. The Sage made a motion to crown Azula but she stopped him. Standing up, she smiled maliciously at her brother.

“Wait. You want to be Fire Lord? ‌ Fine. Let’s settle this. Just you and me, brother. The showdown that was always meant to be. Agni Kai!” Zuko’s eyes narrowed at her words but she didn’t notice, not any more than she noticed the soft voice that had been whispering to her since her grandfather had died.

“You’re on,” came the answer.

 

Katara’s eyes widened in alarm when she heard the dare and Zuko’s answer.

“What are you doing‌?” she hissed concerned. “She’s playing you. She knows she can’t take us both so she is trying to separate us.” Zuko nodded in agreement.

“I know. But I can take her this time.”

“But even you admitted to your uncle that you would need help facing Azula.”

“There’s something off about her, I can’t explain it but she’s slipping. Remember what Lia told us? Perhaps she’s fighting against his influence.” He looked at her with a softer look. “And this way, no one else has to get hurt.” Katara tightened her lips but nodded in resignation. She should have known that Zuko wouldn’t risk her safety. She would have done the same.
The Fire Sages retreated and the two siblings took their positions at opposite sides of the courtyard. Azula turned and shrugged the Fire Lord’s robes off her shoulders.

“I’m sorry it has to end this way, brother,” she said the last word venomously. Zuko slid into his stance.

“No, you’re not,” he answered simply. Azula’s smile was chilling as she attacked him first. With the comet over them they were both at their most powerful. Zuko brought his arms up and blocked, using his own scarlet fire to block Azula’s blue flames. Before the fire had a chance to die Azula attacked again, propelling herself forward and shooting another jet of fire. Zuko blocked again, never attacking himself, intent on tiring his sister out.

 

As the flames weakened he was vaguely aware of some of the buildings around them catching fire but he was focused solely on Azula’s blue flames. They collided with his own red ones for a moment before rushing towards him. Zuko used one hand to guard himself while he sent his own stream of fire at his sister. The battle came to a standstill, until Azula noticed the damage done on her side of the courtyard and charged at her brother furiously. Zuko surrounded himself in flames, drawing on the tricks he learned from his lessons with Lia and forcing Azula to back down. She was breathing hard now and looked at her older brother, scared for the first time. Gritting her teeth she stood up again to face the two fireballs that came in her direction. Azula was sent flying to the ground.

 

She forced herself to her feet, her hair falling unevenly across her face as she glared at her brother, who stood straight-backed, barely ruffled.

“No lightning today‌?” Zuko taunted. “What’s the matter‌? Afraid I’ll re-direct it‌?” Azula jumped to her feet.

“Oh, I’LL SHOW YOU LIGHTNING!” she yelled, beginning the familiar movements she’d taught herself. Lightning crackled around her and her eyes narrowed at her brother before a movement caught her attention. Katara had stepped away from the protection of the pillars and stood wide open for an attack. Azula found herself knowing that this would hurt her brother more than anything she could do to him personally. With a smirk, she let the lightening loose in the waterbender’s direction.

 

Zuko followed its graceful arc, his eyes widening in horror. Katara’s face was frozen in fear as she watched her death come to her. Without thinking, Zuko threw himself between the blast and the waterbender. His arms struggled to redirect the electricity out of his body but he wasn’t focused enough and some of it passed through his heart. He fell to the ground twitching in pain as the last bit of lightening left his body. Katara seemed to be brought back to life by his pained cry.

“Zuko!” she cried, coating her hands in water, her only thought to heal him before it was too late. Nobody noticed Azula freeze when her lightning connected with her brother, nor when she fell to the ground, clutching her head in an attempt to make the voice quiet down as the reality of what she had just done hit her.

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.”