Tag Archives: Hisao

Twilight of the Spirit World: Ruins

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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.

Twilight of the Spirit World – Closure

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Author’s note: In which some long overdue conversations happen, there is hard character development and the author wonders whether she should stop tormenting her characters…

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***Closure***

The first thing the group realised when they stepped through the thick mist was that Koh’s territory was an exotic paradise compared to what they were facing. The parchment-yellow and ash-grey fog that surrounded them thinned at places to reveal cracked rocks and skeletal trees. The sky and sun were hidden completely and the only light came from Zuko, Azula and Agni’s hands, the ruby crystal around Lia’s neck and the odd flash of light that appeared and disappeared without warning. Silence seemed to swallow them, not even their footsteps echoing. Nervously they huddled even closer together and hurried to catch up with Lia.

“Slow down, will you?” Ao said eventually, his voice resonating oddly, almost like the rumble of thunder. “If we end up losing we’ll waste even more time in here.”  Lia turned to look at him annoyed.

“It’s not my fault you can’t keep up,” she snapped. “We’re not going on a picnic, so hurry…” she trailed off, a look of fear flitting across her face. She clutched the crystal with one hand before turning on her heel and rushing forward again.

“This place reminds me of that swamp we ended up in before we met Toph,” Katara said suddenly. “You don’t think what Koh meant is that we’ll see the people we lost again?” She and Sokka exchanged a nervous look.

“I saw Toph,” Aang offered. “Maybe whoever we see will be here to help us?”

“These are the Mists,” Agni said grimly. “Only the lost walk them and the longer they stay the more they loose of themselves. I doubt they’d be of any help.”

“Then why would the Water crystal be here?” Azula asked him confused. To her surprise his answer was almost gentle.

“Who would dare to knowingly venture in a place like this?”

“You mean we’ll be affected too?” she asked scared. He pointed at the crawling tendrils of mists, tendrils that were more solid than they should probably be, that seemed to surround them like predators stalking their prey.

“If you listen carefully you can hear the lost,” he said before speeding up to walk next to Lia.

 

Toph was the first to understand what he meant. Her more sensitive ears caught the sound of the lost first and she visibly shuddered. It didn’t take long for the others to understand why. The deeper they moved the louder the voices became, unintelligible cries of agony, ecstasy and fury, all blending together so that it wasn’t clear if it was one person screaming or a multitude. Zuko blasted a few tendrils that moved too close for comfort and the mist seemed to retreat for a moment.

“I don’t think they like fire too much,” he remarked. Azula smirked, glad to be able to do something about the situation and she started using the tendrils for target practice, even as they continued to walk. She didn’t miss Ao’s appreciative look either. If her shots started becoming more elaborate, no one commented on it.

“It’s too quiet,” Suki said suddenly, causing everyone to pause. She was right. Nothing, not even the crackle of fire could be heard and even the tendrils had seemingly retreated. Then, with no warning, the fog descended and covered the group. They scrambled to keep hold of the person closest to them as cold fingers seemed to brush against their faces, chilling their breaths even as the air left their bodies. The retreat of the fog found them divided and further from each other than they realised.

 

Aang and Toph found themselves standing at the entrance of the Southern Air Temple. The airbender shuddered. It looked just as it had when he, Katara and Sokka had first visited it together and a part of him relived the terror and rage that he had first experienced there. Toph seemed to sense his turmoil.

“This is the Temple you grew up in, isn’t it?” she said quietly, the softness of her voice belaying the strength of her grip on his hand. Aang gulped.

“It is,” he said. “You know, even after meeting Zuko for the first time, even with Katara’s and Sokka’s warnings, I didn’t believe that the Air Nomads were lost until I came here. Why would the mist bring us here though?” Toph frowned and took a step forward, dragging him along.

“If the mist is made out of lost things then perhaps you need to find whatever it is you lost here. We’ll just have to start looking.”

 

Together they walked through the quiet and empty halls until they made it to what must have been an orchard once. Now the trees stood dry and half-wild, some of them having long fallen and rotted away.

“Do you think I can do it Toph?” Aang asked suddenly, leading his girlfriend towards a few steps and sitting there with her.

“You’ll have to be more specific Twinkle-Toes,” she said dryly. “I think you can do plenty of things.”

“Do you think I can revive the Air Nomads? Keep them from disappearing?” he paused and looked around. “It’s not just for the sake of the Avatar circle. I don’t want all the legacy that my people will have to be stories and ruins.”

“I don’t think things will be as dark as you think Aang,” Toph said seriously. “You ended the Hundred Year War…” Aang opened his mouth to interrupt her but she covered it with her hand. “Let me finish!” she chided. “Your story inspires people. There will be those that will wish to follow your way of living; the Air Nomads’ way of living. It will be slow going but we can restore the temples. And if you are worrying about the next Avatar not having an airbending master well…” she paused and blushed. “Our children are as likely to be airbenders as they are to be earthbenders.” Aang blushed as well at her words and smiled shyly. Suddenly the wild garden didn’t seem as unwelcoming as before.

“Promise me we’ll take it one day at a time together?” he said. Toph leaned against him.

“I promise,” she said.

 

Behind them the mist started to thin.

 

When the mist cleared Sokka and Suki found themselves, to their endless surprise, on a small boat in the middle of the ocean. The sky above them was cloudy and its reflection gave the water a strange milky-white colour. The couple looked around, trying to find the shore or, better yet, the way back to their friends. There wasn’t any wind and the only thing rocking the boat was their own movements. Finally Sokka exhaled in exasperation.

“How on earth are we going to leave this place?” he whined, flopping on his back and staring at the sky moodily. Suki nudged him with her foot.
“I thought you are the idea guy,” she teased him gently. “Why don’t you put that big head of yours to use?”

“This isn’t our world! Half the time I don’t even understand why things happen the way they do here!”

“When has that stopped you before from being brilliant?” a voice said from above them. A soft voice that Sokka recognised immediately and had him jumping to his feet searching frantically for its owner.

“Yue?” he called out hopefully.

 

Above the boat the clouds parted to reveal the moon and from it descended the former Princess of the Northern Water Tribe. She smiled at the pair kindly.

“It’s good to see you again Sokka,” she said, hovering in front of the boat, just out of reach. She turned to Suki. “And it is good to finally meet you Suki.” The Kyoshi warrior nodded carefully at the Moon Spirit, glancing quickly at Sokka, nervous at his tense silence.

“It is good to meet you too Yue,” she said at last. “I have heard a lot about you.” She fell silent again, not sure what else to say.

“Was it my fault?” Sokka blurted out, looking at Yue desperately. “Was there anything I could have done?” She looked at him serenely but sadly and shook her head.

“No,” she said at last. “This was meant to happen. It would have always happened.” Her expression crumbled for a moment. “But I am sorry to have caused you grief. I never meant to hurt you.” They looked at each other and for a moment all that could have been seemed to make the gap between them even greater.

“How could it have been either’s fault?” Suki broke the silence, looking at both Sokka and Yue sternly. “You were children trying to fix the problems the hatred of the previous generations caused. And from all the stories I’ve heard you both did more and sacrificed more than anyone had the right to ask of you.” Sokka looked at her stunned but Yue smiled.

“You are very wise Suki,” she said. “Take care of him for both of us.” Suki nodded quietly, a silent message passing between the two women. Then Yue turned to Sokka and place a palm on the side of his face. “Be happy,” she whispered before disappearing. Sokka turned to Suki and silently hugged her, the guilt of Yue’s death finally leaving him.

 

Around them the mist disappeared.

 

“This is too weird,” Azula said exasperated, looking around at the courtyard she had played in many times as a child. Next to her Ao was examining their surroundings curiously.

“This is where you grew up?” he said surprised. “How come you’re a warrior?” She turned to him in surprise and he took a hasty step back. “I did not mean to say that! But seriously, this place looks to comfortable!”

“You don’t look like a Water Spirit anyway,” Azula retorted, “so I guess nothing is at appears.” She gave him another look. “I still think your eyes are beautiful though.” She blushed as red as her tunic and slapped a hand over her mouth. Ao blushed too but he managed a flirty smile.

“Same goes to you princess,” he said. “I think I get it,” he added more seriously. “This is a place where truths are revealed. That’s why we can’t control what we say. Once we save reality as we know it, do you want to go traveling with me?” He groaned and banged his head against a nearby tree. “Great!” he muttered. “That’s exactly how I planned asking you.” To his surprise Azula laughed.

“Let’s save the world before we make any travel plans, shall we?” she said and reached for his hand. “Now how about I show you around and we look for an exit?”

 

Neither noticed the courtyard melting as they left it behind.

 

The clearing shook as yet another fireblast hit one of the few trees not to be burnt down yet. Lia doubled over, breathing heavily as she tried to conjure the energy to continue with her destruction of the landscape. Agni stood to the side, well out of her range, frowning worriedly. When the mist had first cleared they had found themselves in an idyllic clearing, one that belonged to the distant past, with trees and flowers that had not survived the shifts in spiritual energy that had caused the first benders to appear. When one more tree fell to the ground he decided enough was enough. He marched up to Lia and grabbed her hands just as she released her energy. It rippled between them for a moment before being absorbed by the crystal.

“This isn’t real,” he told her forcefully. “You’re gaining nothing by burning everything to the ground.” Lia tried to wrench her hands free.

“It’s my memories that conjured this place up,” she spat. “If I want to burn it I will.”

“Perhaps, but the memory will remain!” Agni shook her angrily, trying to get through before she began to truly panic. He had noticed the signs since she had realised that the fog would conjure memories back to life, but truth be told he wasn’t certain what might happen to Lia if she really managed to destroy one of her most important memories. He wasn’t very eager to find out either. Tightening his grip to force her to look at him he forced himself to speak calmly. “You cannot escape what has already been done. Let’s just try to find our way out, okay.”

 

For a moment it seemed like Lia didn’t understand what she was told. Finally she jerked her head in a sharp nod and pulled away, striding towards the edge of the clearing, doing her outmost to ignore the destruction around her. For once she didn’t object to Agni walking by her side. They had almost reached the edge when a childish voice, carried by the wind, caused Lia to freeze in place, all blood draining from her face. Agni wrapped an arm around her waist letting her lean against him as her breathing grew ragged and her hands started to tremble. The voice was louder now, coming closer, and Agni turned them both to face the burnt land just as a black-haired, brown-eyed boy dressed in green appeared. He couldn’t be more than ten years old and the only indication of his nature was the unearthly pallor of his skin. He took one look at them and with a bright smile threw himself to Lia’s embrace. In turn her trembling increased as she looked down to a face she had not seen in millennia.

“You’re dead,” she said hoarsely even as her arms moved to cradle the boy tightly. He nodded against her.

“I don’t mind,” he answered, his voice muffled from where he rested his face on her shoulder. He pulled back a little to look her in the eye and frowned, for the first time realising that his sister wasn’t exactly looking happy. “You…you can’t be blaming yourself?” he exclaimed in disbelief. Lia frowned and let go of him.

“I’m the very incarnation of fire, the thing that killed you Hisao!” she said angrily brushing a few tears away. “And even if I weren’t a Fire Spirit, I was your sister. It was my job to protect you, not the other way around!” Hisao bit his lip and then, more carefully this time, hugged his sister again, pulling her to sit on the ground.

“It’s okay,” he said quietly. “It’s okay to be sad.” His arms tightened around her as she started crying.

“I…just…miss you…so much,” she choked out. “It wasn’t fair!”

“I miss you too. But think of all the things that wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t become a Fire Spirit.” Lia shook her head.

“Agni would have managed,” she said.

“Maybe I would have,” Agni said suddenly, kneeling on her other side. “But I wouldn’t have given to our people all that you gave them.” Lia looked up surprised. He managed a small smile and wrapped his arms around her too. “We are equals in everything and don’t you forget it!”

 

Tremulously, hesitantly, the tears seemed to slow down. Lia looked at her brother to find him watching with a hopeful expression.

“I’ll always miss you,” she told him. “And I will always be sad that I lost you the way I did. But I think I am ready to start moving on.” Hisao gave her a bright smile and stood up. All the wisdom drained from his expression as he turned threateningly towards Agni.

“And you treat my sister nicely mister!” he ordered the Spirit before giving the redhead one last hug and with a cheerful wave disappeared in the woods. Agni, still startled by that last comment had barely had time to recover when Lia leaned against him, turning to curl with her side against his chest as the emotional turmoil finally took its toll and she fell asleep.

 

A bright light covered them.

 

Katara and Zuko turned abruptly at the sound of footsteps behind them. They had been walking through ankle-deep water since the fog had transported them away from the others. Seeing nothing they warily turned to continue walking when the water in front of them started rippling. It rose and formed a figure that slowly condensed to a woman dressed in Water Tribe clothes. Katara took a step back in shock.

“Mum?” she whispered in disbelief. Kya opened her eyes and smiled lovingly at her grown-up daughter.

“It’s so good to see again sweetie,” she said, spreading her arms to embrace Katara. The waterbender didn’t any more encouragement. She rushed to her mother’s arms laughing and crying at the same time. When the two finally parted Kya looked at Zuko first and then Katara.

“Aren’t you going to introduce me to this nice young man Katara?” she asked almost playfully. Katara blushed but moved to her boyfriend’s side.

“Mum, this is Zuko,” she said. Kya looked at them silently for a moment, taking in the way they held hands and leaned into each other and the necklace that hung on Katara’s neck, a blue ribbon and a finely carved sunstone.

“It is nice to meet you Zuko,” she said finally, nodding her head in greeting.

“It is an honour to meet you ma’am,” Zuko answered, nodding respectfully back.

“Mum what are you doing here? We were told this is where the lost souls go.” Katara’s eyes widened in fear. She couldn’t bear to imagine her mother roaming this desolate place forever.

“Don’t worry dear,” said Kya. “This is also a place for lost things to be found. Just like I found you.” She reached under her parka and pulled out a brilliant blue crystal. “The Spirits wished to entrust you with this and I couldn’t miss a chance to see my little girl again. So offered to wait for your arrival so that I might give it to you.”

 

Katara extended her hand to take the crystal, her eyes widening as she became almost hyperaware of the water surrounding her. In front of her, her mother’s spectre started fading.

“Wait,” Katara cried. “I thought we’d have more time!” Kya shook her head.

“My time is over Katara. You know this.” By now she was a mere echo. “I love you sweetie. And tell your father and brother that I love them too.”

“I love you mum.” Katara whispered as her mother completely disappeared from sight. Slowly she pulled the chain from which the crystal hung around her neck and took Zuko’s hand.

“Are you okay,” he asked her hesitantly.

“Yes,” she answered, and to her surprise she said the truth.

 

Everything around them disappeared.

 

Aang and Toph thought they were the first to stumble out of the swamp and into clean air. To their surprise they found Agni leaning against a tree, with Lia wrapped protectively in his arms, fast asleep. Toph smiled softly. She didn’t need sight to tell that their hearts were beating in sync.

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The Western Air Temple

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Author’s note: In which the setting comes full circle, Combustion Man makes one final appearance, Lia reminds everyone why she is the personification of fire and the author had way too much fun with the reunion scene.

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***The Western Air Temple***

Losing a battle is bad. Losing a battle because of something as silly as poor time management is worse. Losing a battle because of bad time management and being forced to leave almost everyone important to you behind is even worse. All this happening to you and having to walk to your new hideout though certainly takes the cake. Katara suppressed a sigh as she looked around her at the group. Toph, Haru and Sokka were walking in front of her, while Aang, Teo and the Duke were behind her dragging their feet – or in Teo’s case wheels – tiredly.

“This is humiliating,” she whispered.

“Do you mean getting thoroughly spanked by the Fire Nation, or having to walk all the way to the Western Air Temple?” Sokka asked grumpily. His sister shrugged.

“Both.”

“Sorry guys, but Appa gets tired carrying all these people,” Aang said apologetically.

“I wonder how the rest of the troops are,” Teo said. Haru shrugged.

“They’re probably on their way to a prison. Seems like my dad just got out, now he’s going back in.”

“I miss Pipsqueak,” The Duke sniffed. The little guy might have been a Freedom Fighter but he was by far the youngest of the group.

“I miss not having blisters on my feet,” Sokka whined. Katara’s eyes narrowed and she was about to start yelling at him when Toph stopped dead.

“Hey, we’re here. I can feel it!” she exclaimed relieved. Anger forgotten, the waterbender raised an eyebrow.

“I think your feet need their eyes checked,” she said taking a look at the cliff they were at. It was a long way down. Aang shook his head.

“No,” he said, “she’s right, we are here.”

“Wow,” Toph whistled, taking in the enormous size of the temple, “it’s amazing!”

 

The Western Air Temple had been carved on the side of the cliff, keeping it almost completely concealed from the rest of the world. Gigantic statues and carvings decorated the place, making Toph wonder how much of it had been designed by earthbenders. They landed in a courtyard with an hour-glass shaped fountain. Teo, The Duke and Haru were looking around amazed. Sokka and Katara, not so much. This was the third air temple they visited, and although it was beautiful they were more used to places like this.

“It’s so different from the Northern Air Temple,” Teo said impressed. “I wonder if there are any secret rooms.” Haru followed the other boy up the stairs.

“Let’s go check it out,” he said eagerly. The Duke hurried after them enthusiastically. Aang made a move to go with them but Katara stopped him.

“You guys go…” she called at the boys. “I think we need to talk about some things.”

“Why can’t I go?” Aang complained.

“We need to decide what we’re gonna do now. And since you’re the Avatar, maybe you should be a part of this,” Katara explained seriously. The Avatar crossed his arms sulking.

“Fair enough. So, what’s the new plan?” he asked. The gang gathered, sitting or leaning against the columns and stone benches.

“Well, if you ask me, the new plan is the old plan. You just need to master all four elements, and confront the Fire Lord before the comet comes,” Sokka said with his inspirational smile. Aang rolled his eyes.

“Oh, yeah, that’s great. No problem, I’ll just do that.” He stood and started to walk away.

“Aang, no one said it was gonna be easy,” Katara called after him. He crossed his arms frustrated.

“Well, it’s not even gonna be possible. Where am I supposed to get a firebending teacher?” Everyone’s thoughts raced to Zuko. Katara had cried herself to sleep after they had left him behind. Lia might have stayed with him but the waterbender couldn’t help but worry that he had been caught. Pushing her thoughts forcefully aside she sighed.

“We could look for Jeong Jeong,” she offered.

“Yeah right,” Aang scoffed, “like we’ll ever run into Jeong Jeong again.”

“Who’s…” Toph asked confused but shrugged. “Oh, never mind. If it’s important, I’ll find out.” Aang jumped to his feet, a little satisfied with the dead-end they had drawn.

“Oh well, guess we can’t come up with anybody. Why don’t we just take a nice tour around the temple?” he said taking off with Momo.

“What’s with him?” Toph asked confused, staring where Aang had disappeared. Sokka leaned against the stone he had been sitting at.

“I can’t believe I’m saying this but I really wish Zuko was here. He could teach Aang. Or Lia would.” Katara looked away sadly.

 

Sokka jumped to his feet again.

“Well, no point in just sitting here,” he said stretching. “How about that tour Aang promised?” he asked the girls. Katara followed him wordlessly as he dragged a loudly protesting Toph to Appa. Aang had been gliding nearby, enjoying the air rifts that were unique to each Air Temple. Hearing Appa groan he turned and did a few flashy moves, winking at his audience.

“Aang, can we talk about you learning firebending now?” Katara called over the wind. The Avatar suppressed a groan. Then he smiled deviously.

“What? The wind is too loud in my ears!” he fake-yelled before grinning at them. “Check out this loop.”

“Aang,” Sokka tried next, “I think we should be making some plans about our future.” They landed back were they had started.

“Ok, we can do that while I show you the giant Pai Sho table,” the airbender said carelessly. “Oh, you’re gonna love the all-day echo chamber.”

 

And they probably would but before anyone could move a blast was shot on the fountain. They all whipped around to see Combustion Man standing on a ledge nearby. The assassin took a deep breath and sent another blast on their direction, as the teens ran for cover.

 

Not too far away, with the war balloon secured, Zuko and Lia raced towards the edge of the cliff in time to see the first blast. Zuko’s eyes swept the courtyard where Appa was, locking on Katara. He watched as the second blast forced them to take cover. Wordlessly he took hold of a nearby vine. Lia gave him a curious look.

“What are you…?” she was cut off when he jumped of the edge, throwing himself on Combustion Man and causing his third blast to miss its target. Zuko jumped to his feet and raced to the assassin, his fist engulfed in fire. Combustion Man grabbed him by the shirt and Zuko tried to blast him but missed as Combustion Man threw him to the ground.

 

Aang looked up at the sound of fire, so different than the soundless blasts of Combustion Man. A shadow loomed over him and blocked another blast. Lia pushed a stray of red hair from her face annoyed as she watched her brother hurry to his feet again.

“Rushing to a fight without thinking…” Aang heard her mutter. “He’s Hisao’s reincarnation all right…” Grasping Aang from the back of his neck she pushed him where the rest of the gang was standing. “And stay here!” she ordered him sternly before rushing out again.

 

For Zuko things weren’t exactly looking good. True, he had diverted the man’s attention from Katara and the others but now Combustion Man was focused on only blasting him. He hastily cast a shield of fire to block an incoming shot. The impact sent him over the edge and he had barely time to grab hold of a vine before he tumbled to his death. Two cries tore through the air.

“Zuko!”

“Hisao!”

 

With a move faster than any of them could notice Lia had launched herself to the air, her body engulfed in flames and a murderous look in her eyes. Combustion Man turned to her, the only one unfazed by her anger, and tried to blast her mid-air. The blast dissipated before it even had a chance to touch her. White flames appeared in her hands and she hurtled towards the assassin. He ducked, but part of her blast grazed his shoulder, melting part of the wall behind him. Ominous flames appeared around the man, slowly approaching until he was engulfed by them. Thick smoke covered the plateau where he and Lia were standing.

 

Back at the courtyard a horrified gang was straining to see what was going on. Katara was crying silently, convinced that Zuko had fallen off the cliff. Sokka had an arm wrapped comfortingly around his sister’s shoulders shocked both by Zuko’s sudden appearance and disappearance as well as Lia’s reaction. Toph had dropped into a crouch, both palms flat on the ground, determined to understand what was going on. The distant crackling of fire as well as the grim silence of her friends weren’t exactly reassuring. As for Aang, he was standing in front of the others protectively, not sure what to do now that Lia lost her temper like that. And the unspoken question rang to the back of everyone’s mind. Who was Hisao?

 

Suddenly the smoke cleared and Lia was seen again on the plateau, no sign of Combustion Man anywhere. Aang took off on his glider wordlessly and landed next to her. She was standing in front of a small puddle of lava and molten metal and the airbender’s stomach turned at the thought of what must have happened inside the smoke. A sound of shuffling broke Lia out of the trance she seemed to have fallen and her head turned sharply to where Zuko had been blasted from. A hand appeared and slowly but surely Zuko climbed back on the plateau, breathing hard. In an instant Lia was at his side, muttering words that Aang couldn’t hear but which Zuko could and his face took an expression of pained understanding as he answered in a low voice. Lia nodded once at his answer and helped him to his feet.  The Fire prince turned with a smile to the Avatar.

“Sorry we were late,” he said calmly.

 

Aang flew back to get Appa since Zuko was too drained to bend anymore and too heavy for Lia or Aang to carry. The bison landed in awkward silence and Lia could feel the stare burning holes through her. Zuko next to her didn’t seem comfortable either.

“Hi guys,” he said nervously. Before he had a chance to add anything Katara rushed forward and threw her arms around him, tears still falling slowly from her eyes. He hugged her back immediately and looked down to tell her how much he had missed her, but before he had a chance to say anything, Katara’s lips were on his on a deep kiss. They only broke away for air, having completely forgotten about the others.

“Don’t you dare scare me like that again,” Katara breathed eventually. Zuko silently tightened the embrace, burying his face on the top of her head. They would have stood there, like this, for hours if it wasn’t for Toph.

“Sugar Queen, if you care for your brother’s wellbeing you might want to step away from Prince Sparky,” she said obviously enjoying the situation.

 

Sokka really looked like he was going to have a heart attack. He stared at them with wide eyes. There she was, his baby sister, still in the Fire prince’s arms looking at him nervously. His face steadily becoming red and his lips kept moving as he tried to form words. Toph punched him on the back, sending him to sprawl to the ground. That made him snap out of it. He leaped on his feet and pointed an accusatory finger at Zuko.

“You!” he yelled. “How dare you corrupt my innocent, little sister!” Everyone looked at him unimpressed and a little amused. Almost everyone that is. Lia was still shaken from nearly losing her brother. What had happened with Combustion Man had been too close to old, painful memories for comfort. She was still on edge, the adrenaline pumping through her veins. Her eyes narrowed.

“You have any comments on the matter?” she asked Sokka venomously. The boy looked a little scared and closed his mouth hastily.

 

Aang, eager to ease the tension, searched for something to say. With sudden inspiration and a smile he turned to Lia.

“We were all very worried for you.” She turned to look at him, the fury in her eyes slowly dying. “And now that you are here you can be my firebending master!” he said cheerily. To his surprise Lia shook her head.

“I am no master or even a firebender,” she said. “Zuko would be much more suitable as a teacher for you.”

“But you taught Zuko!” Sokka said confused.

“He’s a special case,” Lia insisted. “I would never make a good teacher. You need someone with self-control, but also someone who knows how hard it can be to master firebending.” Once again she turned to Zuko, her eyes lingering for a second on his scar. Aang’s eyes widened in realization and he also turned to address the stunned prince.

“I think you are supposed to be my firebending teacher. When I first tried to learn firebending, I burned Katara. And after that, I never wanted to firebend again. But I know you understand how easy it is to hurt the people you love.” He smiled encouragingly at the panicking boy. “I’d like you to teach me.” Katara squeezed Zuko’s hand and Lia nodded to him. With a deep breath he turned to the Avatar.

“I promise, I won’t let you down,” he said resolutely.

 

Later Zuko was unpacking in the room Katara had shown him. It was strategically placed between Lia’s and her own. He frowned as he thought of the Spirit. She had locked herself in her room and when he had passed by it earlier he could have sworn he’d heard crying. With a sigh he pulled out the next item from his bag; a picture of uncle Iroh.  A small smile lighted his lips as he thought back to when he had first arrived to the temple, before he had met Lia.

-Flashback-

Zuko tried his best to ignore the pain that still cursed through his face from the burnt and bandaged side of it as he stared resolutely at the impressive statues of the temple.

“If I have to, I will spend every day of the rest of my life hunting the Avatar. I know it’s my destiny to capture him.” Iroh placed a hand on his nephew’s shoulder and said grimly:

“You know, prince Zuko, destiny is a funny thing. You never know how things are going to work out. But if you keep an open mind and an open heart, I promise you will find your own destiny someday.”

-End of flashback-

 

Zuko smiled lightly at the memory of his uncle’s words. Now he knew what the old man had known all along. His destiny was tied with the Avatar’s, and bound him to stay by the younger boy’s side. A slight sound from the door made him look up. The smile widened when he saw Katara leaning against the doorway. He walked up to her and wrapped his arms around her waist pulling her to his chest. With a sigh the waterbender relaxed, the tension that had built since the invasion leaving her system. She let Zuko guide her to the bed and they lay there, holding each other. No words were exchanged as they slowly drifted to sleep. When they were both safely dreaming, Lia crept inside the room and pulled a blanket over them before brushing a few strands of hair from Zuko’s face. She was much calmer now, the all-consuming rage from earlier having died to the quiet simmer she was accustomed to.

“Goodnight brother,” she whispered before turning to the door and returning to her room. Zuko did not hear her as he turned to face Katara in his sleep, happy to be near her again.

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – Trick or Tea?

Standard

Author’s Note: In which the bad puns for titles continue, there is a shift in dynamics and tea is not as life-and-situation-saving as usual…

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***Trick or Tea?***

Back when Zuko had first been banished, and before he and Lia truly started to spend time together, he had wondered many times if there was any worse life. Now he could safely answer yes, yes there was. He hated every moment of being a fugitive. He hated the uncertainty and the struggle to get even the most basic of necessities, but most of all, he hated the fact that people stared and pitied him. They stared at him before his banishment too, but then he was a prince –a banished one, but a prince nonetheless. Now he couldn’t even use his bending in public for fear of being recognized.

He stumbled over some bushes, only to find his uncle staring, mesmerized, at some flower.

“I didn’t find anything to eat,” Zuko announced. “I can’t live like this. I wasn’t meant to be a fugitive. This is impossible!” he waited for a proverb, but none came. “Uncle, what are you doing?” he asked, turning.

“You’re looking at the rare White Dragon bush. Its leaves make a tea so delicious it’s heart-breaking.” Iroh’s dreamy expression turned to a scowl. “That or it’s the White Jade bush which is poisonous.”

“We need food not tea.” Zuko reminded him exasperated. “I’m going fishing.” Before he left he heard his Uncle muttering to himself. “Hm… delectable tea or deadly poison?”

 

Zuko found a small steam nearby. He stood unsure for a moment, not really knowing how to fish. I could always bend the river dry, he thought sitting down. His musings turned back to Lia. She and Katara seemed to dominate his mind whenever he rested for a moment. Lia especially, her rage and power barely leashed on their last encounter. Zuko had thought he understood his adoptive sister well enough, and this new side made him uncomfortable. It was different to hear about Lia’s penchant for destruction in a story that had happened thousands of years ago and to actually see it before him. What is more, he had known from what Zhao had done at the North Pole that a Spirit can be killed while in mortal form. If this was true Lia had been risking her life constantly just by protecting him. Zuko didn’t know what scared him most about her; her thinly veiled power or the carelessness she showed for her own life.

 

It was almost past midday when he returned to his uncle. He had been so absorbed with his thoughts and musings that he had only managed to catch one tiny fish. Iroh was still staring at the flower.

“Zuko, remember that plant I thought might be tea?” Iroh asked with a guilty voice.

“You didn’t?” Zuko refused to believe that his uncle could have done something so stupid.

“I’m afraid I did. And it wasn’t.” Iroh turned to face his nephew, his face covered in reddish swellings. “When the rush spreads to my throat I’ll stop breathing,” he continued calmly, ignorant of Zuko’s worried expression. “But look what I had found! These are Bacui Berries, known to cure the poison of the White Jade bush. That or Macahoni Berries that cause blindness.”

Zuko threw the berries away. “We’re not taking any more chances with these plants. We need to get help.”

“But where are we going to go?” his uncle asked him, nearly kneeling on one knee to scratch himself. “We’re enemies on the Earth Kingdom and fugitives from the Fire Nation.”

“If the Earth Kingdom discovers us, they’ll have us killed,” Zuko said thoughtfully.

“But if the Fire Nation discovers us we’ll be turned over to Azula,” Iroh completed. Both shuddered at the thought.

“Earth Kingdom it is,” Zuko decided.

 

Luckily for them, there was a small village nearby. Zuko saw a young girl carrying a basket full of herbs. He approached her, with Iroh on his tail, thinking of what Lia had told him once. “When you speak with a girl and you want her to help, don’t bribe her, just be polite.” Let’s see if politeness works.

“Excuse me miss,” he said hesitantly. She turned and smiled him friendlily.

“How can I help you?” she asked pleasantly.

Zuko pointed towards Iroh. “My uncle drank some plant called White Jade bush. Is there a healer in the village?”

“Actually I’m a healer myself. If you two would come with me, I’d be glad to help.”

“Thank you my dear.” Iroh answered gratefully, still scratching his arm.

They followed the girl through the streets to a well-lit building.

 

Inside there were many more healers, helping someone or preparing medicines. The girl guided them to a corner of the infirmary, where she prepared a greenly cataplasm that she applied to Iroh’s rash.

“You two must not be from around here,” she said trying to make conversation. “We know better than to touch the White Jade, much less make into tea and drink it!” she giggled. “So where are you traveling from?” she asked.

Zuko rose from his seat nervously. “Yes we are travellers,” he hastily said.

“Do you have names?” the girl seemed really interested.

“Names? Of course we have names! I’m Lee, and this is my Uncle Mushi,” he stammered. Iroh glared at him from behind the girl’s back.

“Yes, my nephew was named after his father, so we just call him Junior.” It was Zuko’s time to glare.

“Mushi and Junior. It’s a good thing they call you so,” she said turning to Zuko, “because my name is Lia. They sound close to one another. You two look like you could use a good meal,” she said turning and slapped Iroh’s hand away from the itching rash. “Why don’t you stay for dinner?”

“Sorry, but we need to be moving on.” Zuko said decisively.

“That’s too bad. I had made roasted duck earlier and I have no one to share it with.”

“Where do you live exactly?” Iroh hurried to ask her.

 

They agreed to wait for her shift to end and then go home all together. As Lia walked around, helping and chatting with her patients, Zuko watched her intently. When she had called herself Lia he had been shocked. The girl only vaguely resembled the Spirit of Fire as he knew her. She was definitely Earth Kingdom. The way she acted friendly to everyone did remind Zuko of his friend but he shrugged it off as a co-incidence. When the sun set they finally followed her to a small house at the end of the village. She quickly set the table and they sat. They ate in silence but when they had nearly finished, Lia didn’t seem able to hold her questions any more.

“So you’re refuges… I was until very recently a refuge as well. When I was younger a gang of firebenders raided my village,” she lowered her eyes. “That was the last time I saw my family.”

Zuko lowered his gaze. “I haven’t seen my father in many years.”

“Oh, is he fighting in the war?” she asked with understanding. Iroh nearly chocked alarmed, while Zuko lowered his bowl.

“Yes,” he said bitterly.

“So is my little brother. He left three years ago not even knowing what he believed was right and wrong.”

“That’s a bad thing,” Iroh remarked. “A soldier must be sure about his loyalties before leaving to fight.”

“I know,” Lia sighed. “But I get his news regularly, thank the Spirits, and I believe that he is finally beginning to find his destiny.” She rose and began to gather the dishes. “Please, would you stay the night? I can prepare a few things to take with you tomorrow morning.

“We would greatly appreciate it. Now if I could make use of your kitchen to make some tea…” Iroh asked, his eyes sparkling.

“I’ll be outside,” Zuko announced, suddenly rising.

Lia shot Iroh a questioning look.

“Don’t mind my nephew,” he reassured her. “He is extremely shy when it comes to girls.” Winking the old man navigated himself into the kitchen.

 

Zuko sat outside trying to calm his mind. The more he was near this girl the more he was reminded of his mentor. It couldn’t be the Spirit though; she would have given him a sign it was her. He heard the door open and Lia approached him.

“Can I join you?” she asked quietly. “I know what you’ve been through. I’ve been through some very similar situations. Fire has hurt you.” She raised her hand to touch his scar. He stopped her silently. “It’s okay,” she told him softly. “You shouldn’t be ashamed of it.”

“I’m not ashamed of what happened that day. I just hate it when people pity me,” Zuko snapped. Lia looked away, hurt. “You used to let me touch it,” she said quietly. Zuko’s head snapped to her direction.

“Lia?” he asked uncertainly. The Spirit gave him a weak smile.

“I once told you that you see me as I was when I left this world. It was half-true. My position as a Fire Spirit had changed my appearance to resemble more my element. What you see now is Hisao’s sister.” She smiled bitterly. “The non-bender who created a volcano.”

“You called yourself a non-bender?” Zuko looked at her disbelievingly. Lia shook her head.

“That was what the leader of those… men called me right before I killed him.” Suddenly her eyes brightened. “And I thought you would understand who I was the moment I told you my name.”

“I thought it was you, but wouldn’t believe it!” Zuko protested.

“Excuses…” Lia said teasingly. She dropped her voice. “Iroh is listening to our conversation. Do you want to tell him?”

“Do you?” Zuko asked her uncertainly.

“Actually, my intent was to travel with you,” Lia continued louder.

“Didn’t you before?”

“I meant visibly,” Lia explained.

“Good point,” Zuko said smiling.

 

They went inside. Iroh had re-set the table, this time for tea. He was obviously waiting for them.

“Is there something I should know?” he asked calmly the two teenagers.

Zuko shifted his weight from one foot to another nervously. “Uncle, do you remember the Western Air Temple? Well, Lia and I met here and she said she would teach me, but I didn’t see her for three years and…” he trailed seeing his uncle’s confused gaze.

“Maybe it would be best if I explained,” Lia cut in. She sat in front of Iroh and Zuko mimicked her. “I am the Spirit of Fire,” she began, ignoring Iroh’s shocked expression. “I have been watching over Zuko for quite some time now, but it was only three years ago that we met officially. I offered him a deal: in exchange of a favour I have yet to ask him, I would find his mother and teach him some secret aspects of firebending. Unfortunately our travels kept as apart for the greater part of these years. We’ve met again when the Avatar was freed. Ever since I have resumed his training, while continuing my search. I’ve been traveling with you secretly for quite some time, but I thought it would be better if I didn’t hide anymore.”

Iroh took a few silent sips from his tea. He then started to talk in a solemn voice.

“When Zhao tried to kill my nephew you it was you who led me to him.” Lia nodded. “The next day I paid the Admiral a visit. He served me a plainly warm tea, yet at some point it seemed to burn him.”

“I didn’t like his expression, so I might have altered slightly the temperature,” Lia admitted sheepishly. Zuko shot her an incredulous look. And here he thought about her fearsome powers. Iroh burst out laughing.

“Well this explains a few things. I thought I was getting crazy, feeling I was being watched all the time.” He smiled at the Spirit. “I would consider it an honour to travel at your presence mighty Agni.” Lia visibly winced at the name.

“Just promise not to call me that stupid name and we’re all set,” she asked him.

 

The next morning they left as soon the sun rose. Lia had even found an ostrich horse for Iroh to ride. She and Zuko preferred to walk, arguing half the time. Iroh couldn’t help but smile, understanding who the little brother Lia had talked about last night really was.

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – Past of a Spirit

Standard

Author’s Note: In which there is exposition, the author tries her hand as drama without being overdramatic and there is set-up for further conflict.

Last chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***Past of a Spirit***

“Would you tell me story?” Zuko asked her. “You don’t have to.” He added quickly, sensing her reluctance. Lia kept her eyes trained on the horizon.

“But you want to know,” she said reluctantly.

“It’s just that you know everything about me, but I know nothing about you, other than that you are the Spirit of Fire.”

“A Spirit of Fire,” she corrected him.

“What?”

“I’m not the only one. But I suppose you’re right. It is unfair for you to know nothing about me.” Lia took a deep breath and began.

 

“It was such a long time ago; sometimes even I forget how long. The world was more divided then than it was now, several small warring kingdoms that eventually formed the four nations. The people then were only just discovering their bending abilities. I wasn’t born a Spirit, you know. I was normal, living with my little brother on a village that would much later become the Fire Nation capital. Those were strange times,” she added with a laugh. “It was more common for someone to see a Spirit walking the earth than to see a mortal control one of the elements. My brother, Hisao we called him, was a born earthbender, always wondering in the forest, helping around the village and usually landing himself in all sorts of trouble. I on the other hand wasn’t gifted. Not that it bothered me. With no established styles of bending, it was usually more fuss than good to learn to control your abilities.

 

The day of Hisao’s tenth birthday he asked me, as a present, to go on a picnic. There were rumours that a band of thieves near our village, but I didn’t have the heart to say no. We walked deep into the forest, much farther from our village than it was wise. It wasn’t long before they appeared. They were all firebenders. They demanded our money and didn’t believe us when we said we had none.” Lia paused and took another shaky breath. Then she continued in a colourless voice, while Zuko listened wide-eyed.

 

“Hisao stood up and tried to defend us with his earthbending, but he was only a kid with barely any training. They killed him right in front of me, while I could do nothing but watch. You’ve never seen someone die in front of you, Zuko. It shattered my soul, everything that made me human burnt away for the moment. The next thing I remember is fire consuming everything and I was just standing there, the cause of it. I watched the land around me change, the forest transforming to a volcano.

 

If these men were afraid they didn’t show it. Where I let the power flow through me, they knew how to manipulate it and turn it against me. Mortal or not, they would have won, had I not had a little help.” She smiled faintly at the memory.

 

“I can still remember their surprise. They had cornered me, when out of nowhere this man appeared to help me.” Her smiled disappeared along with the light in her eyes as she said “He guided me and I killed every single one of them.”

 

“With nothing left for me in the mortal plane I did not think twice before I followed him to the Spirit World. He said that he was the sole Fire Spirit, that he had tired of the burden of the responsibility and that he needed someone to help him soldier it. I trained under his tutelage for years and in due time took my place as a Fire Spirit, a personification of the element. I travelled between the worlds and created the dragons so that those born firebenders would be taught how to control their element.

 

And then, six years ago, I found a little boy that looked so much like Hisao curled on the side of a pond. I couldn’t help it. I started watching you and your family. You were so much like my brother. So I decided to help you.”

 

Heavy silence followed the end of Lia’s story. Zuko was looking at her, trying to comprehend everything she had told him. As it started to sink in he finally saw why Lia seemed to stick to his side no matter what. He felt guilty. He always lashed out at her and his uncle, throwing accusations every which way whenever things went wrong. And even though his uncle drove him crazy regularly, he and Lia, who teased him even more often, didn’t actually anger him. How could they? Deep down Zuko knew they would be the ones to stick with him no matter what. Then another thing occurred him. Lia had told him that she had lost her brother when he was ten. She couldn’t have been much older. Suddenly Zuko felt really bad for the girl sitting next to him.

“So that’s why you said I was like a brother to you?” he asked her quietly.

“Yes. It’s not as if it can change anything, but I think you need a family as much as I needed one back then. I still need one. So why can’t we help and support each other?”

Help and support each other… Zuko thought of it. As long as he didn’t have the Avatar he couldn’t return home. And even if he did, his mother wouldn’t be there to welcome him. His father and Azula could hardly be considered a family. His uncle and Lia on the other hand…

“Maybe…” he said hesitantly. “I would like that.”

Lia smiled at the distance and instead of answering him turned and embraced him with a heartfelt hug.

 

Urged by the strong winds, the ship sailed north…