Tag Archives: fire

Twilight of the Spirit World: Ruins

Standard

Author’s note: In which more things than a building lay in shambles, angry words are spoken and after much deliberation the author decided that no, she is not through tormenting her characters. Also, in which the author could not read her own outline properly and stuck the opening scene for the chapter as the final seen of the previous one. Make of that what you will about my writing process.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***Ruins***

It was only Aang’s relative calmness that saved them from an incredibly gruesome death. The Avatar bended a funnel of air around them, slowing their descent enough to save their lives. Even so, there were a lot of pained groans as everyone picked themselves of the ground. Behind them the temple collapsed under its own weight, the damage done during the battle too great for the ancient structure to withstand. Aang hurriedly pushed the massive cloud of dust that rose away as they all watched in frozen silence. Almost all that is. Lia, despite the strain on her very essence that the Air crystal had put was the first to get over her shock, white hot fury replacing it as what exactly had just happened sunk in. She turned to Agni and with every step she took towards him the ground under her feet smouldered, what little grass there was around lighting up with sparks that escaped from her hair. She was silent but it was the silence that comes before the lightning storm and Agni watched her warily. The crystal that still hung around his neck glowed for a moment before turning even darker. Lia grasped it, forcefully tearing the chain from his neck and fastened it around her own. Sokka opened his mouth to say something, anything to break the tension, but Ao silenced him with a look. Anything could set Lia off at this moment and none of them wished to be at the receiving end.

 

In the end the redhead was the own to break the silence.

“The crystal was right there,” she said in a voice ominous in its calmness. Even the flickers of fire around her seemed to pause expectantly. “It was there, I could have got it and victory would have been easy. And you,” her eyes flashed and without warning lightning struck between her and Agni, “STOPPED ME?”

“If I hadn’t, we would all have been buried under the rubble,” Agni snapped back, his own temper being on a rather short fuse after everything that had happened. “All the power in the world cannot save you if you are not able to harness it properly.” The ground was beginning to melt around them, creating a small stage for their confrontation. Lia laughed scornfully.

“With all four elemental crystals on our side?” she scoffed. “We’d have burst out as easily as melting snow and you know it. Are did you feel like giving the other side a sporting chance?”

“Don’t patronise me! I know far better than you what these creatures are capable off. You’ve never had to deal with them. Or do you think I get away with everything I do just because I don’t make a scene all the time?”

“Don’t make a…when have you ever been involved in anything major and NOT caused a scene? I’ve seen you do nothing but cause scenes since the day I met you!” Agni raised an eyebrow.

“I don’t recall you complaining about me causing a scene back then. In fact I distinctly remember you being glad to see me.”

“It’s not like I knew better.” Lia crossed her arms, in a posture that was half-confident, half-defensive. “I was more concerned with those firebenders of yours.”

“Yours too love. You just didn’t know it yet.” Lia actually took a step back when she heard this.

“Never mine,” she said. “How could they be? I was mortal. You made me a Spirit.” Agni shook his head.

“You were an elemental confined in the body of a mortal. You just needed the right push to reveal your true nature.” Lia’s eyes widened in disbelief.

“Is that what you think happened? I would give back every single moment of eternity that I’ve spent if it meant keeping that day from happening.” Agni took an angry step towards her, his anger finally loose as he spoke without thinking:
“And I wouldn’t! Your place was and still is at my side as my equal and opposite and even if I could go back to that time I would not change a thing. I’m glad everything happened as it did.”

 

The hush that fell after that statement could only be described like the vacuum of space. All the fires around the two Spirits extinguished and even the air seemed to grow colder. It seemed that all the warmth, the fire, the very life of world around her had condensed in a ball of energy that shone like a tiny sun on Lia’s hand.

“Get out of my sight,” she told Agni murderously. “Now, or I will not be held responsible for what I will do.” Agni seemed to realise that there was no going back from what he had just said. With an angry curse he disappeared, leaving the faintest trail of smoke behind him. No sooner had he disappeared that Lia turned and without warning hurled the ball of energy at the remains behind them, reducing them to dust even as she screamed in fury. Over them the sky seemed to mirror her emotional state as it rumbled, sinister clouds appearing out of nowhere and the wind picking up. The lightning storm that her earlier chilling calm had promised was upon them.

“We need to find shelter!” Katara yelled over the sound of the storm, effectively breaking through the spell of horrified awe that had fallen over everyone. “Ao, can you get us out of here?” The blue-eyed Spirit nodded, his brow furrowing in concentration as he cast his mind, trying to find the closest place that could offer them sanctuary. They were all too exhausted to manage a long-distance teleportation at that point. Finally he nodded curtly.

“Got it!” he called out to the others, motioning them to step closer.

“Wait!” Zuko called back, noticing that Lia was still standing at the heart of the lightning storm she was conjuring, too wrapped in her own fury to notice the danger. Her brother ignored the alarmed yells of his friends and ran to her side.

“Lia!” he yelled, grabbing her by the shoulder and trying to shake her out of her trance. For the longest moment it seemed like he wouldn’t get through to her. Then Lia’s eyes focused sharply in his, helpless fury to concerned care, and she followed him silently to where the others were waiting. As soon as they had stepped close enough Ao transported them.

 

The ravaged landscape where the tower once stood disappeared and was replaced by a forest clearing with a small pond. The contrast between the two was eerie and more than one person shuddered at the sudden absence of the howling wind and sparking lightning. The group looked at each other in uneasy silence. Lia, seemingly having gotten her emotions under control for the moment, gave them a cursory glance. Most of them avoided her gaze, even though Zuko, Katara and Ao were giving her concerned but sympathetic looks. The redhead managed a small bitter smile before she turned and disappeared in the forest.

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Epilogue

Standard

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

Standard

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

Standard

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

Standard

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

Standard

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

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***The Phoenix King***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What are you suggesting, sir‌?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

“So… Have you ever redirected lightning before‌?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Like what?” Lia asked dubiously.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh yeah, forgot about that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Just trust me,” he said darkly.

 

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

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

“June,” he said simply.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – Ember Island Players

Standard

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

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***The Ember Island Players***

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

“You sicken me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What bet?” Sokka asked confused.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

On the balcony things weren’t any more lighthearted.

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

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

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

“An actor said that,” Toph corrected calmly.

“But it’s true, isn’t it‌?”

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

“I love her!” Aang insisted angrily.

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

“I’ll say.”

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

“Horrible,” Suki added.

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

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