Tag Archives: Ju Dee

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – Lake Laogai

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

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***Lake Laogai***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Sokka and Katara were playing cards when Aang returned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m Ju Dee,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re lying,” she said simply.

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

“He’s not lying,” she announced.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Out in the street Sokka had already began planning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Dai Li‌!” Katara said alarmed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey, just an idea!” he said nervously

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s it! Lake Laogai.”

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ll help you if you help me.”

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Am I not‌?”

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I must do it.

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

Katara hates me.

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

But…

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

“I’m sorry, Aang,” He said quietly.

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

 

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

“This isn’t good,” She said gravely.

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

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

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

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

“He’s lying.”

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

“Appa!” Aang called delighted.

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Flashback-:

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

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

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

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

-End Flashback-

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

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

 

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

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The King’s Ball

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Author’s note: In which the plot rears its head again but the shipping remains strong, Sokka is incredibly oblivious and Zhao’s Earth Kingdom counterpart enters fashionably late.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***The King’s Ball***

The gaang had arrived in Ba Sing Se to find things much more different than they expected. That was what Katara was thinking one morning during their fourth week in the city. Everyone was discouraged to say the least, waiting impatiently for Ju Dee to tell them when they would finally see the King. Their hostess on the other hand avoided the subject like the plague. Despite their disappointment they had started making a routine of their everyday life. Aang would train with Toph, and less regularly with Katara. Sokka made plans for an invasion, improving them with each revision. What Katara was most thankful for though, was that they didn’t ask her too many questions about her absences. She would sneak out and go on the Lower Ring almost every day, helping at the teashop, walking around the streets with Zuko or simply sitting with him on the roof talking about whatever came to their mind.

 

The air was warm when, still half-asleep she went outside the house to gather the newspaper. The night she had stayed after the teashop had closed to help tidy the place and had returned home very tired. She took a look at the title of the paper and immediately felt sleep leave her mind. She rushed back inside.

“I’ve got it!” she said excited. “I know how we’re going to see the Earth King!”

“How are we supposed to do that?” Toph asked. “One doesn’t just pop in on the Earth King,” she mimicked Judy.

“The King is having a party next week for his pet bear,” Katara explained.

“You mean platypus bear?” Aang asked.

“No, it’s just says bear,” Katara said uneasily.

“Certainly you mean his pet skink bear,” Sokka guessed.

“Or his armadillo bear?” Toph offered.

“Just bear,” Katara insisted.

“This place is weird,” Toph decided a little creeped out.

“The palace will be packed,” Katara continued with her train of thought. “We can sneak in with the crowd.”

“Won’t work,” Toph tossed dismissively.

“Why not?” the older girl asked her.

“Well no offence to you simply country folk, but a real society crowd would spot you a mile away. You’ve got no manners,” Toph concluded.

“Excuse me?’ Katara asked offended. “I’ve got no manners? You’re not exactly lady Fancy-Fingers.” As if to prove it, Toph burped.

“I learnt proper society behaviour and chose to leave it,” the earthbender explained. “You never learnt anything. And frankly, it’s a little too late now.”

“Aha!” Sokka suddenly exclained. “But you learnt it. You could teach us!”

“Yeah, I’m mastering every element,” Aang added. “How hard can manners be?” He shot standing and wrapped a curtain around him like a cloak. “Good evening mister Sokka Watertribe;” he began bowing respectfully. “Miss Katara Watertribe; Lord Momo of the Momo Nation; Your Momoness.” Sokka joined the game talking in a false grown-up voice.

“Avatar Aang how do you go on?” they began to bow to each other until they crashed their heads together.

“Katara might be able to pull it off, but I’m not so sure about you two,” Toph said reluctantly.

“But I feel so fancy,” Sokka insisted rubbing his head.

“Besides,” Toph continued, “we lack two very important things: invitations and escorts.”

“What do you mean escorts?” Katara asked her surprised.

“It’s the fancy word for a date,” Toph explained sighing. “We need a least one boy who already knows this stuff.”

“And where are we supposed to find one?” Sokka asked frowning. Katara’s face brightened.

“I know!” she said rushing to the door. “I’ll be back later. Toph can you begin teaching them?”

“Okay,” the little earthbender said with a sly smile. “Just because I want to see who your date will be,” she called after the waterbender. Katara slammed the door feeling her cheeks heating up.

 

“…And that’s how things are.” Katara concluded putting down her cup. The teashop was closed today, so she had met with Zuko and Lia in their apartment. Iroh had left the three teens on their own, after brewing them a pot of tea. Lia had a thoughtful expression on her face.

“So what’s your idea?” she asked the other girl.

“Well, I was wondering if you could help me find some invitations,” Katara said hesitantly. Lia smiled standing up.

“No problem. I’ll drop by one of these days to give them to you.” She went over to the door and turned her head. “Three invitations for pairs, right?” she asked.

“Yes,” Katara told her with a grateful smile. Once the Spirit was out of earshot Zuko turned to his girlfriend surprised.

“Why three pairs?” he asked her. She looked at him awkwardly.

“I was wondering if you could come too. Like Toph said we need a boy that will know what he’s doing. And you are a prince. Don’t tell me that you don’t know about these things.” Zuko shifted uneasily.

“I do,” he admitted. “But what will Sokka or Aang say…” he caught sight of her expression. “What?” he asked suspiciously.

“Remember at the ferry when Aang left earlier than us?” Zuko nodded. “Well he happened to wake up before me and…” she took a deep breath. “He saw us holding hands in our sleep.”

“How did he take it?”

“Better than I had thought,” Katara said, recalling the Avatar’s reaction. “But he told me to tell you that if you hurt me, not even Lia will be able to save you.” Zuko laughed.

“If I did hurt you, I would go myself and ask him to punish me.”

“So this means you’ll come?” Katara looked at him pleadingly. “Please.”

 

Zuko looked at her, biting his lip thoughtfully. He was having a hard time saying no when she was looking at him like this. At last he sighed.

“Fine,” he grumbled admitting his defeat. Katara kissed him enthusiastically.

“I guess Lia will come too,” Zuko said. “Someone will have to keep an eye on Sokka.”

“You’re right!” Katara laughed. “If she could keep him under control when he was drunk, I don’t see why she wouldn’t be able to do so during the party.” She stood up.

“Won’t you stay a little more?” Zuko asked her disappointed.

“I’m sorry, but I need to get back.” Katara didn’t sound very enthusiastic about the concept. “Will you walk me to the station?” she asked him.

“As if I wouldn’t.” Zuko said under his breath standing as well. The waterbender didn’t hear him. Smiling to himself he moved silently behind her and scooped her in his arms laughing when she yelped surprised.

“Put me down Zuko!” Katara ordered him trying to sound stern and to stifle her giggles at the same time.

“What will you give me to do so?” the price asked her still laughing.

“Nothing. Put me down!” she told him stubbornly.

“Then I won’t.” he answered sounding equally stubborn. Katara sighed, knowing he was more than capable to keep holding her like that for a while.

Fine!” she grumbled. “What do you want?” Zuko paused seemingly thinking about it.

“How about one more kiss?” he asked her finally.

“Okay,” Katara sighed. Zuko put her down and twirled her to face him, still not letting her go. Katara kissed him quickly on the lips. Then she looked at him expectantly.

“What?” he asked her.

“Won’t you let me go?” she asked him frustrated.

“You didn’t give me a kiss.”

“What? I did!”

“No you didn’t”

“Did!”

“Didn’t”

“Did!”

“Didn’t!”

“Di…” before Katara had a chance to continue their banter Zuko pressed his lips on hers. Like every other time they kissed she immediately relaxed and kissed him back. Suddenly they heard the door open. They broke away hastily right as Iroh entered the room winking at the two flushed teens.

“I thought I heard you two arguing but apparently I was mistaken,” he said acting as if nothing happened.

“I…I was just leaving,” Katara stammered.

“Until next time then, my dear,” the old man told her, completely ignoring the glare he was receiving from Zuko. As the waterbender left the house, he wordlessly followed her slamming the door behind him.

 

When outside they both breathed a sigh of relief. Iroh wouldn’t reprimand them, but his teasing would be worse. Zuko and Katara walked towards the train station chatting and comparing their lives so far. Before they entered the station Katara dragged Zuko into a nearby alley. There she kissed him fully on the lips. When they broke away she gave him a Happy now? look. Zuko laughed.

“I’ll try to come tomorrow,” Katara told him smiling herself.

“I want you to tell me how exactly Toph is teaching them. Too bad I can’t see this myself.”

 

Zuko’s words rang in her ears when she heard a loud crash as she opened the door to their house. Sokka was on the ground, a few heavy-looking books next to him.

“What happened here?” the waterbender asked surprised. Her brother looked at her helplessly.

“Toph says we must learn to dance without dropping these books from our head,” he whined. “It’s impossible!”

“No, it just needs good balance,” Aang defended his earthbending teacher. Katara raised an eyebrow.

“I suppose you woudln’t have much of a problem with it,” she commented helping Sokka to his feet.

“Let’s see how you will do Sugar Queen.” Toph handed her a few tomes. Katara balanced them on her head and took a few steps cautiously. The books didn’t fall. Toph nodded approvingly.

“That’s how it’s done,” she said. “Did you have any luck with the invitations?”

“Yes,” Katara answered trying a few dance moves. “We’ll have them one of these days.”

“And your date?” Toph insisted.

“My escort,” Katara corrected her. “I took care of that too.”

“Then we just have a week for you to learn society manners and to find dresses.”

“And something for the boys to wear,” Katara added. “Let’s go shopping tomorrow morning.”

“Okay.” Toph agreed. The prospect of shopping didn’t thrill her. “Now let’s continue with our lesson…”

 

– A week later: –

Sokka and Aang were dressed in the stuffy, formal outfits the girls had picked for them. They had been waiting for Katara and Toph for almost an hour now.

“Katara what’s taking you so long?” Sokka finally yelled frustrated.

“Relax Sokka,” Aang advised him although he felt a little impatient himself. “Girls always take their time to get ready.”

“How much time? We’ll be late!” A door opened behind the stressed Warrior. Katara and Toph appeared wearing formal Earth Kingdom light green kimonos. They had styled their hair with flowers and had even put some make-up on.

“What do you think?” Katara asked as they stepped into the light. Aang was gaping at them. Who knew that Toph would look so pretty in a formal dress?

“Wow!” he told her. “You look…”

“You’re date’s here,” Toph cut him talking to Katara.

“What date?” Sokka asked alarmed.

 

Katara rushed to the door. Outside Lia was waiting wearing a dress similar to Katara’s, only hers was dark green and beside her, stood Zuko looking incredibly nervous. Lia moved inside, casually greeting everyone, while the secret couple halted at the entrance. “You look beautiful,” Zuko told her nervously. Why am I feeling so nervous? he wondered, a little annoyed with himself. Katara blushed lightly.

“Thanks,” she said kissing him on the cheek. They moved inside. Lia must have just finished explaining why they were here, because Toph was laughing at Sokka’s expense. Sokka’s frown deepened when he saw Zuko.

“Why isn’t he wearing the same clothes as me and Aang?” he asked looking accusingly at the Prince.

“Because he, unlike you two, doesn’t need his sister to pick a decent outfit for him to wear,” Lia said not bothering to turn and look at him.

 

Of course this meant that Sokka was grumbling under his breath for the whole way to the palace. Lia felt like she was back at the desert. At least, she noted satisfied, Aang is staring at Toph and not Katara. In front of the gates there was a reasonable queue of guests.

“See?” Sokka glared at his sisters. “I told you we’d be late!”

“Oh, relax Sokka!” Katara snapped at him. “There’s no point in being the first to arrive.”

 

It took them twenty minutes to get inside the palace. When they arrived at the hall where the party was being held, they felt their mouths drop. It wasn’t just the size of the room, which was an impressive one anyway; it was mainly how many people had been invited. Many were sitting at the huge table that was placed in the middle, but still the room was almost packed. Aang looked around discouraged.

“How are we going to find the Earth King in here?”

“We’d better split up and look for him,” Sokka suggested.

“But we don’t even know what he looks like!” Katara reminded him. Sokka shrugged.

“You know: royal, flowing robe, fancy jewellery…” they took a look around them.

“That could be anyone!” Aang said.

“I don’t think the King is here yet,” Zuko said thoughtfully.

“Why would you say that?” Toph asked him.

“There are still guests arriving,” the prince explained. “If here it is anything like the Fire Nation, the guests arrive much earlier than their host. We’ll just have to wait.”

“And what do you suggest we do while waiting?” Sokka asked dismissively.

“We could dance,” Aang said. He bowed to Toph. “May I have this dance?” he asked her formally.

“It would be an honour,” she answered at the same tone. They walked away at the dance floor, with Zuko and Katara following right after them. Sokka looked worried at Lia.

“I hope you don’t want us to dance,” he told her. She smiled reassuringly.

“No, I’m no good at this type of dancing.” She looked around casually. “Why don’t we find a nice quite place to sit? All this noise is getting to my head.”

 

They found a quiet table near the doors that were now closed. Once the dance was over, the two pairs approached them. Aang took a jug and a few glasses and served everyone. Toph’s eyes widened suddenly.

“Wait!” she said in disbelief. “What is…?” Before she had time to finish her sentence, Judy appeared.

“What are you doing here?” she asked them worried. “You all have to leave immediately or we’ll all be in terrible trouble!”

“Not until we see the King,” Sokka said firmly.

“You don’t understand,” Judy said gravely. “You must go!” She tried to push him towards the door, but only managed to make him bump into Aang. Aang lost his step and the jug he was holding overturned and splashed a lady that was near them. The woman turned shocked to see who did it.

“Sorry! No, don’t shout!” Aang pleaded sending hastily an air current to dry her.

“The Avatar!” the woman exclaimed giddily. “I didn’t know the Avatar would be here!” Many heads turned towards Aang’s direction. He waved awkwardly.

“You keep their attention while we’ll look for the King,” Sokka hissed to him. Aang nodded.

“Watch this everybody!” he called, flying to the table. There he waterbended the wines from different glasses and started doing tricks with them, while everyone was looking in awe.

 

Thankfully he didn’t have to do it for a long time. Soon the palanquin οf the Earth King appeared. Sokka spied the figure inside and turned to call Aang. The Avatar turned and approached the other end of the table doing the air scooter.

“Greetings Your Majesty,” he called. Sokka turned to inform the others, but before he had a chance to find them, two Dai Lee agents seized him silently. Two more did the same to Katara and Toph. Lia and Zuko were still standing near the doors, looking over everything unnoticed. Lia saw a few Dai Lee agents entering from a side door. They had obviously not noticed them but she decided not to take any chances. Taking Zuko’s arm she concentrated and transported them to the apartment that had been granted to the Avatar. He looked at her surprised.

“Why did you do that?” he asked her.

“There were suddenly too many Dai Lee for my taste,” Lia explained. She took out the small charm that was only now losing its red colour. She showed it wordlessly to Zuko.

“But what about the others?”

“The others are not wanted. I’ll go to see what the Dai Lee want with them, but you’ll wait here,” she half-proposed, half-ordered. Zuko plopped down in a chair.

“Okay,” he said. There was no point in arguing with her. Lia nodded once and disappeared.

 

Aang stopped in front of the Earth King’s bodyguards. A middle-aged man appeared from behind them.

“Avatar Aang it is a great honour to meet you,” he said in a measured voice. “I am Long Feng, Grant Secretariat of Ba Sing Se and head of the Dai Lee. I’d like to talk to you. Your friends will be waiting for us in the library.” He turned and Aang followed him surprised. Unknown to both a certain Fire Spirit followed them unseen.

 

Once the library doors closed behind them Sokka tuned angrily to Long Feng.

“Why won’t you let us talk to the King?” he asked. “We have information that could defeat the Fire Nation!”

“The Earth King has no time to get involved with the political squabbles and the day-to-day management of the military,” Long Feng answered.

“This could be the most important thing he’s ever heard,” Aang insisted.

“What’s most important to His Majesty is maintaining the cultural heritage of Ba Sing Se. All his duties rely to issuing decrees to such matters. It’s my job to oversee the rest of the city’s resources, including the military.”

“So the King is just a figure head!” Katara said surprised.

“He’s your puppet!’ Toph accused.

“Oh no, no!” Long Feng hastened to assure them. “His Majesty is an icon, a god to his people. He can’t soil his hands with the hourly changes of an endless war.”

“But we found out about a solar eclipse that would leave the Fire Nation defenceless,” Sokka tried again. “You could lead an invasion and…”

“Enough!” Long Feng ordered standing. “I don’t want to hear your ridiculous plan. It is the strict policy of Ba Sing Se, that the war not to be mentioned within the walls. Constant news about an escalating war would lead the citizens of Ba Sing Se into a state of panic. Our economy would be ruined, our peaceful way of life, our traditions would disappear. In silencing the talk of conflict, Ba Sing Se remains an orderly peaceful utopia. The last one on earth.”

“You can’t keep the truth from all these people,” Katara said horrified. “They have to know.”

“I’ll tell them,” Aang threatened. “I’ll make sure everyone knows.”

“Until now you’ve been treated like an honoured guest, but from now on you’ll be watched every minute by Dai Lee agents. If you mention the war to anyone you’ll be expelled from the city.” Long Feng turned to face the fireplace. “I understand you’ve been looking for your bison,” he turned back towards the teens. “It would be quite a shame if you were unable to complete your quest.” As he took a seat again the flames behind him livened up for a moment. Katara looked at them surprised to see their apartment pictured inside them for a moment. Then she understood. There could only be one person that could make something like this happen.

“Now Ju Dee will show you home,” Long Feng said as the door opened again. A woman they had never seen before appeared.

“Come with me please,” she said.

“What happened to Ju Dee?” Katara asked feeling a shiver pass down her spine.

“I’m Ju Dee,” the woman said. “I’ll be your host as long as you remain in our wonderful city.”

 

The ride home was a silent one. The moment they were inside the apartment everyone breathed a sigh of relief. Something was seriously wrong in this city.

“I don’t know about you guys,” Sokka said, “but I’m going to bed.” He yawned.

“We’re not alone Snoozles,” Toph said icily. Zuko and Lia appeared from the shadows.

“Sorry guys, but this trick only works with close distances,” Lia explained.

“So that’s why the Dai Lee didn’t find you!” Aang said wide-eyed.

“It wouldn’t do any good if they did,” Lia said indifferently going over to the door. “It was some party though…” she laughed to herself quietly.

“Will you stay for the night?” Katara asked them. Zuko shook his head.

“We’d better return home. Uncle Iroh will already be more worried than is necessary.”

“Okay!” Sokka said with a smile that rivalled Ju Dee’s plastered on his face. “Nice to see you and all that stuff, but goodbye!” he swept them towards the door, banging it after them. They heard Katara yell, “Sokka!” before Lia transported them back to the Lower Ring.

Avatar: The Last Airbender – City of Walls and Secrets

Standard

Author’s Note: In which Ba Sing Se is not what it seems, Zuko lands himself the worst job ever, Iroh lands himself the BEST job ever and possibly the most annoying character in the Avatar canon is introduced.

Last Chapter: link

Next Chapter: link

***City of Walls and Secrets***

The train the newly-christened gaang was riding in was an amazing example of earthbending. Completely made of stone but still able to be moved by only two earthbenders. Still the trip was lengthy and tiring. Aang had dozed off for a while next to Katara, while on the benches opposite to her Sokka and Toph were also battling sleep. Katara was wondering if Zuko, Iroh and Lia had made it safely inside the city. Absentmindedly she looked out of the window.

“Look! The inner wall!” she said shaking Aang. “I can’t believe we finally made it to Ba Sing Se in one piece.”

“Hey, don’t jinx it!” Sokka said nervously. “We could still be attacked by some giant explosive Fire Nation spoon or find out that the city has been submerged to an ocean of killer shrimp.”

“You’ve been hitting the cactus juice again?” Toph asked him.

“I’m just saying; weird stuff happens to us.” As if to prove his words a creepy looking man appeared out of nowhere and sat between them. Aang wasn’t looking so enthusiastic.

“Don’t worry Aang. We’ll find Appa,” Katara tried to assure the Avatar.

“It’s such a big city,” he said discouraged.

“He’s a giant bison. Where could someone possibly hide him?” Sokka wondered going over to them. Their heads hanged out of the window as they crossed the tunnel and finally entered the city. Katara felt her heart drop to her stomach. The ocean of buildings seemed to expand endlessly. Where would they find Appa? And how could she even meet Zuko in there? It would be impossible to find him.

 

They left the train at the central station. Toph sighed. She hated being in Ba Sing Se.

“Back in the city. Great,” she muttered gloomily.

“What’s the problem?” Sokka asked her. “It’s amazing!”

“Just a bunch of walls and rules. You wait. You’ll get sick of it in a few days,” she answered. Aang took out his bison whistle.

“I’m coming for you buddy,” he whispered gazing at the city. Behind them the train left again. As they turned to look at it, a woman approached them smiling widely. Something in her smile made chills run through Katara’s spine.

“Hello,” she greeted them on a honeyed voice. “My name is Ju Dee. I have been given the great honour of showing the Avatar around Ba Sing Se. And you must be Sokka, Katara and Toph. Welcome to our wonderful city. Shall we get started?”

“Yes,” Sokka said conspiratorially. “We have information about the Fire Nation army that we need to deliver to the Earth King immediately.”

“Great!” Ju Dee said on the same cheerful voice. “Let’s begin our tour, and then I’ll show you to your new home here. I think you’ll like it.” She turned signalling them to follow her.

“Maybe you missed what I said,” Sokka told her annoyed. “We need to talk to the King about the war. It’s important. ”

“You’re in Ba Sing Se now. Everyone is safe here,” Judy assured them. The four teens stared at her. The drill was still fresh in their memories. These people had been so close to getting invaded by the Fire Nation, yet they still believed themselves untouchable by the war.

 

They boarded a carriage half listening to Ju Dee’s babbling about the “wonderful city”. They were now crossing the poorest area of Ba Sing Se.

“This is the lower ring,” Ju Dee was saying.

“What’s that wall for?” Katara asked curious.

“Oh, Ba Sing Se has many walls. There are the ones outside protecting us, and the ones inside that help maintain order,” their guide explained. “This is where our newest arrivals live, as well as our craftsmen and artisans; people that work with their hands. It’s so quaint and lively.” A few men glared at them as they passed. “You do want to watch your step though,” Ju Dee added uneasily.

“Why do they have all these poor people blocked off in one part of the city?” Katara asked disapprovingly.

“This is why I never came here before,” Aang said. “I always heard it was so different from the way the monks taught us to live.” As they turned to leave the marketplace, Katara swore she had caught a glimpse of red hair.

 

Zuko walked absentmindedly around the market. Lia and his uncle had wondered off, each one on their own business. He didn’t know what to do, so he just wondered around, his thoughts on Katara. The city was huge. How could they find each other? Iroh approached him carrying a big vase with flowers. Zuko sighed inwardly. Here he goes again! he though grimly. More useless shopping. Iroh caught sight of his nephew’s glare.

“I just want our new place to look nice, in case someone brings his lady friend,” he said mischievously. Zuko shook his head.

“This city is a prison,” he said as they walked. “I don’t want to make a life here.” He missed the days he travelled around the Nations. Settling down in this city, now of all times, sounded like a nightmare.

“Life happens wherever you are,” Iroh told him wisely. “Whether you make it or not. Now come on, we need to find your sister. I found us some new jobs and we start this afternoon.”

“What kind of jobs?” Lia asked, materialising next to them. She was once again wearing Earth Kingdom clothes. Zuko found it strange how the greens and browns contrasted to her red hair. She looked just like a Fire Lilly.

“At a tea shop of course!” Iroh looked at her incredulously.

“Of course,” she sighed. “Are there any other jobs? I guess it’s a good thing the apartment I found is the same way the tea shop is.”

 

On another part of the city Sokka was trying with all his might not to start yelling. This Ju Dee-woman was simply unable to shut up and hear what the people around her said. They were now in a much better neighbourhood than the Lower Ring.

“This is the Middle Ring of Ba Sing Se,” she was saying now. “Home to the financial district, shops and restaurants and the university.”

“Yeah we met a professor from Ba Sing Se University. He took us to an ancient underground library where we discovered some information about the war that is absolutely crucial for the King to hear!” he stretched the last words hoping to gain her attention. Her smile didn’t falter a bit.

“Isn’t history fascinating?” she exclaimed. “Look! Here is one of the oldest building in the Middle Ring; Town Hall.” The carriage stopped and she stepped out of it without another word. Sokka turned to the others incredulous.

“Is that woman deaf?” he asked. “She only seems to hear every other word I say.”

“It’s called ‘being handled’” Toph informed him. “Get used to it.” They looked at each other disappointed. Ba Sing Se turned out to be much different than they had imagined.

 

The teashop was a small, badly-lit building. The man who owned was obviously glad to have hired a tea-maker and two waiters at the same time. Judging by the looks of this place he had been doing everything by himself, rather unsuccessfully. He gave them aprons and then scrutinized them satisfied.

“Well, you certainly look like official tea-servers. How do you feel?”

“Ridiculous,” Zuko muttered under his breath. Lia was thankfully the only one who heard him and elbowed him subtly on the side. Iroh on the other hand was trying, unsuccessfully to tie his apron.

“Does this possibly come to a larger size?” he asked finally. The man nodded.

“I have some in the back,” he said. “Have some tea while you’re waiting.”

 

As soon as he left Iroh took an experimental sip and made a disgusted face.

“This tea is nothing more than hot leaves’ juice!” he said insulted.

“Uncle, that’s what all tea is,” Zuko reminded him rolling his eyes.

“How could a member of my own family say something so horrible?” Iroh glared at his nephew and then at the teapot. “We’ll have to make some major changes around here.” He emptied the pot outside the window. Lia giggled.

“I think someone has just found his paradise,” she said conspiratorially to Zuko.

“He’s the only one,” the teen muttered back.

“Oh just wait and see…”she whispered absentmindedly.

“See what?” Zuko prodded her. Lia shrugged.

“I don’t know. It just came to me to say this.” She paused for a moment. “I think though, that you’d better keep an eye on the girls you’ll be serving. You never know.”

 

“The Upper Ring is home to our most important citizens.” Ju Dee continued her babbling tirelessly. “Your house is not far from here.” They were passing an impressive building.

“What’s inside that wall?” Katara asked curious.

“And who are the mean-looking guys in robes?” Sokka added noticing a few men glaring at them.

“Inside is the Royal Palace,” Ju Dee explained. “Those men are agents of the Dai Li, the cultural authority of Ba Sing Se. They are the guardians of all our traditions.”

“Can we see the King now?” Aang asked impatiently.

“Oh no!” Judy laughed. “One doesn’t just pop in on the Earth King!” She obviously missed the disappointed looks the kids shared.

 

Finally the carriage stopped in front of a modest house.

“Here we are! Your new home.” Ju Dee announced. A man appeared at the door and handed her an important looking scroll. “More good news. Your request for an audience with the Earth King is being processed and should be put through in about a month. Much more quickly than usual.”

“A month?” Sokka whined.

“Six to eight weeks actually.” They entered the house, looking around. It really was a nice apartment, not overly-decorated but not poor either. “Isn’t it nice? I think you’ll really enjoy it here.”

“I think we’d enjoy it more if we weren’t staying for so long,” Sokka insisted. “Can’t we see the King any sooner?”

“The Earth King is very busy running the finest city in the world, but he will see you as soon as time permits.” Ju Dee said in a tighter, but still bright smile.

“If we’re going to be here for a month, we should spend our time looking for Appa,” Aang said thoughtfully, looking out of a window.

“I’d be happy to escort you wherever you’d like to go,” Ju Dee offered immediately.

“We don’t need a babysitter,” Toph told her frostily. She stood and headed for the door.

“Oh I won’t get in the way,” Ju Dee assured her blocking her way. “And to leave you alone would make me a bad host. Where shall we start?”

 

They went once again to the Lower Ring. Judy led them to what seemed to be a huge pet store.

“I’m sorry but have never heard anything about a flying bison,” the owner told them. “I didn’t even know there were any.”

“If someone wanted to sell a stolen animal without anyone knowing where would they go?” Aang asked.

“Where’s the black market? Who runs it?” Sokka asked interrogatorily. “Come on, you know!” The man looked nervous. Ju Dee nodded “no” to him behind Sokka’s back.

“That would be illegal,” the owner finally said nervously. “You have to leave now. Your lemur is harassing my birds.”

 

Next they tried at the Ba Sing Se University. They found a lone student sitting near the gates and immediately started questioning him.

“I’ve never seen any sandbenders or nomads around here,” he said. “You should ask Professor Zei. He teaches the class on desert cultures.”

“Right,” Sokka said with the same interrogator face. “And which of your professors could we ask about the war with the Fire Nation.” The student stole a glance at Ju Dee. She nodded negatively.

“I don’t know. I’m not a political science student,” he said rising hastily. “I have to get to class.” In his haste he stumbled on his feet and feel to the ground.

 

After that and with exhaustion and tiredness weighing them down, they decided to call it a day. The carriage dropped them in front of their house, with Ju Dee inside it.

“Well,” she said, “I’m sorry no one has seen your bison. Why don’t you go get some rest? Someone will be over with dinner later.” With these parting words she left. The kids were left standing uneasily on the doorstep. Sokka looked at the house opposite of their own, to see a man hastily moving away from the door.

“Hey, come with me,” he told the rest of them. They knocked the door and an old man opened them.

“You’re the Avatar!” he said with a bright smile. “I heard you were in town. I’m Pong.”

“Nice to meet you Pong,” Aang said pleasantly.

“So Pong, what’s going on with this city?” Sokka asked. “Why is everyone here so scared to talk about the war?” Pong’s smile faltered.

“War? Scared? What do you mean?”

“I can feel you shaking,” Toph pointed out evenly.

“Look I’m just a minor government official. I waited three years to get this house. I don’t want to get into trouble.”

“Get in trouble with who?” Katara asked. He hastily shushed her.

“Listen, you can’t mention the war here. And whatever you do, stay away from the Dai Li.” With these parting words he banged the door on their faces.

 

Night fell quickly. They had gone to their apartment, where Lia had immediately set on making dinner, something Zuko was thankful for. She was now inside the room that would serve them as a bedroom, making the beds.

“Would you like a pot of tea?” Iroh suddenly asked his nephew.

“We’ve been working on a teashop all day,” Zuko answered from the couch he was resting, glaring at the ceiling and not even bothering to mask the whine in his voice. “I’m sick of tea!”

“Sick of tea?” his uncle repeated aghast. “That’s like being sick of breathing!” he turned his attention back on the stove. “Have you seen our spark-rocks to heat up the water?” Lia opened the door.

“I have them here,” she said, passing them to Iroh. “I’m going to call it a night.” She continued, yawning. “Good night everyone.”

“Good night my dear,” Iroh called after her. Zuko simply stood up.

“Good night uncle,” he said following the Spirit.

“Good night my nephew.”

 

Later that night, while everyone else was asleep, a boy in the Lower Ring and a girl in the Upper Ring sat by their windows, looking at the moon, and wondered when would they see each other again.