Tag Archives: Koh

Twilight of the Spirit World: Dies Irae

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Author’s note: In which an ominous Latin choir is mandatory soundtrack, hell indeed has no fury like a woman enraged, battles are concluded and an uncharted future begins.

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***Dies Irae***

The hit never connected. Agni had practically launched himself between the two opponents managing to incinerate the Faceless one second before the black bolt hit him on the chest. He hit the ground hard, while fell on her knees next to him, almost as if someone had cut her strings. With trembling hands she turned him around so that he was facing her.

“Not you too!” she choked out, running a hand tenderly on the side of his face. Agni was having trouble focusing but managed to meet her eyes nonetheless.

“Anything for you love,” he said with a pained smile before he went limp.

 

Everyone in the battlefield froze as a heart-wrenching scream rose above all the noise. Zuko and Katara paused a few meters away, taking in the scene of Lia cradling Agni in her arms, tears rolling down her face as she silently mouthed “no” again and again. Zuko’s eyes were drawn to the crystal fearfully. He still remember what she had told him when she had given him her pendant all those years ago.

“If the carvings turn red I know you’re in danger. If they turn black…Let’s just hope that they won’t.”

The Fire Crystal had turned black.

 

This time there was no warning, no gathering clouds or yelled threats. One moment everyone stared uneasily at the tableaux in the middle of the battlefield. The next they were running for their lives as the very air they were breathing started to burn. With Lia as its epicentre a raging inferno spread across the plain, destroying everything in its path. Everyone fell on retreat, even the most resolute of Faceless realising that there was nothing they could do against such an assault. A red dragon landed in front of Zuko and Katara and the waterbender hurriedly dragged them both on the creature’s back. No sooner were they securely sitting than he took off, flying as low as possible towards the Avatars’ protective barrier. The air there was pulsing the energy, energy that seemed to be slowly compressing to a semi-corporeal figure.

 

The dragon-riders hurriedly joined the rest of their friends, relief to see everyone accounted for waring with trepidation over the new situation.

“What are we going to do?” Sokka asked nervously, eyeing the slowly approaching wave of fire nervously. “Will the barrier hold against,” he gestured wildly, “this?”

“If we are very lucky,” Koh answered from nearby. Everyone jumped at his silent approach and the fact that his face had changed to a human one for now. He turned to face the inferno as well. “Our best hope is that using the Crystal so much will knock her out soon,” he added, watching indifferently as the inferno consumed their enemies.

“But what will happen after that?” Azula asked quietly. “Will she be alright?” Koh gave her an unreadable look before shifting back to his Noh mask face.

“What do you think?” he asked before slithering away.

“She was trying to prevent this!” Toph whispered as soon as she felt the Face-Stealer out of earshot.

“What?” Suki asked her confused.

“She’s been trying to push him away since we came here,” the earthbender explained. Zuko’s eyes widened in realisation.

“She must have known this would happen!” he said. Azula looked at him confused.

“How could she have known?”

“The white flames,” Katara’s eyes widened in realisation. “She can’t just see the past, she can see the future too.” Zuko nodded grimly before turning to his sister.

“Lia has this…ability,” he explained haltingly. It was only now that he realised that since the war had ended, Lia hadn’t mentioned any visions she might have had. “Sometimes she catches glimpses of the future. But they are usually too jumbled for her to make more than vague hints out of them.”

“Unless she saw the vision more than once,” Ao said. The others turned to him, hoping for answers. He shook his head. “She doesn’t like talking about it. It’s not a very pleasant ability to have, even if it can be useful. I only knew she had visions because one came to her once when we were travelling together.”

 

Any more speculation was cut off by a sudden spike of energy. A slow hum built, just at the edge of their hearing range. The Avatar Spirit was finally awake. It looked more like a cloud of energy, amorphous and ever-shifting than anything they had ever seen before. It stretched leisurely over the battlefield, covering it and smothering the flames in the process. By the time it had reached the enemy lines, with only a few desperate attacks trying to halt its advance to no effect, the hum had become a roar. The Avatar Spirit seemed to rise up for a moment, as if it was measuring up its opponents, before descending to them, stretching to cover the entire battlefield for a few short moments.

 

When it lifted the Council and its forces had completely disappeared. A nervous hush fell over the remaining Spirits as the Avatar Spirit hovered above them all. For a moment it seemed as it would not return to its human incarnations but then is slowly moved to envelop them. There was a bright light and as one the Avatars opened their eyes, some collapsing to the ground from the effort. Toph was on Aang’s side as fast as she could, checking him over as best as she could even as he reassured her that he was fine. Similarly Zuko and Ao had ran back to the battlefield, closely followed by Azula and Katara. They found Lia unconscious, still clutching Agni’s body against her. The two men shared a grim look before carefully separating the two. Neither failed to notice the deep fiery red that the Crystal was, even in the state its bearer was.

 

In silence the group trudged back to where the healers were stationed, where a haggard-looking Yue pointed them to where those hit by the black energy were laying, separate from the rest of the injured.

“However they managed to create that weapon, it creates an energy imbalance,” she explained to the group. “Spirits are being of energy, regardless of how they reached that status. To be hit by something like this, it causes their own bodies to be at war with themselves.” She gave the group as sad smile. “We’re doing everything we can but it is not certain whether they can be healed.”

“What about the rest of the injured? Are they safe for teleportation?” La asked from the entrance. Yue gave him a confused look.

“Yes,” she answered hesitantly. “But why…”

“We’re moving everyone to the Council City. If the Council has any hidden backup armies we’ll be safe in there, at least long enough to regroup.” Yue didn’t seem convinced and neither did Katara.

“Yes, but what of those that are unconscious?” she asked. “They will wake in a completely unfamiliar environment. They will panic!” La gave her a sad look.

“We’re vulnerable here as it is,” he explained. “Most of us don’t even have all that much energy to fight left. Unfamiliar to some or not, the city is right now the safest place for us.” Any further debate was cut off when an antelope-headed Spirit appeared at the entrance of the tent they were in.

“We are ready to move out,” he told the Elementals respectfully. La nodded.

“I will join you in the teleportation circle,” he said before nodding to the others and leaving. Mindful of their previous experiences with teleportation everyone hurried to sit down.

 

It was a testament to how well everyone involved had coordinated that when the world stopped spinning around them they realised they were inside a large healing chamber with beds lining the walls. The healer Spirits started immediately organising everyone, moving the more seriously injured to the beds, while the less injured and the gaang helped anywhere they could. Soon quite a few of the less serious cases were led out of the healing chambers with strict orders to find a resting place and sleep. After most of them had left Ao pulled Yue to where Lia was still unconscious, her head resting on Zuko’s lap.

“Is there anything you can do for her?” the Blue Spirit asked anxiously. Yue shook her head.

“She is exhausted in every sense of the word,” she explained. “Only sleep can heal that. I suggest you take her to a bedchamber and let her be. She will probably want some space once she wakes.” The others nodded in grim understanding. Ao picked the redhead carefully and marched out of the door with Zuko following closely. Everyone knew better than to try and talk to him into letting Lia out of his sight.

 

The pair travelled silently to another wing on the enormous complex, Ao obviously familiar with its layout. Eventually they reached a door with the symbol of fire carved in it. Wordlessly Zuko opened the door and, taking in the red and golds, dragons and lilies, dominating the room’s appearance, he wondered why Lia would have her own room in this place.

“All Elementals have chambers here,” Ao answered the Fire Lord’s silent question. “It’s more of a token gesture, considering their status amongst other Spirits.” He lay Lia on the bed and moved towards the door. “Aren’t you coming?” he asked Zuko when the latter didn’t budge.

“She’ll need a familiar face when she wakes up,” Zuko answered simply, taking a chair and moving it close to the bed. Ao nodded in understanding.

“Try to get some sleep yourself,” he said simply, before leaving to join the others again.

 

Lia did not wake up until late the next morning. Her eyes snapped open and, recognising her surroundings instantly, her heartbeat quickened, as she looked around for any possible enemies or escape exits. Her mind was still foggy but she knew for a fact that this was not where she had been when she lost consciousness. Warm hands covered one of her own where it was clutching the bed sheets.

“It’s alright,” Zuko said soothingly. “You’re safe.” Her breath hitched and she turned to face him.

“It all came true, didn’t it?” she asked brokenly. Zuko looked pained but nodded once. Lia lay back down on the bed and turned her back to him. “Just…let me have a moment?” she said quietly. Zuko sighed but stood up.

“Come find me later,” he told her. “You’re not alone.” Lia didn’t acknowledge his words so the firebender gave her turned back one last sad look and left the room. Lia waited until his energy signature had faded in the distance before she let the tears fall.

Twilight of the Spirit World: New Divide

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Author’s note: In which the author attempts a large scale fight scene on a tight schedule and with dubious success, prophesy comes a-knocking and things are about to get even deadlier.

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Next chapter: link

***New Divide***

There was no official signal, no last minute efforts for negotiation between the sides. One moment they were standing in orderly lines, a stretch of no-man’s-land between them, and the next they were charging at each other, each faction intent on tearing the other apart. Chaos couldn’t quite describe what unfolded. Whatever illusion of order might have survived the first assault was swiftly dispelled as many Spirits sought out past enemies, taking advantage of the situation to exact revenge for past grievances. Smaller pockets of battle were formed as friends grouped together in order to better avoid stray hits. Lightning and all sorts of energy streaked through the air, shortly followed by dragon fire as an entire legion of them took flight, the riders on their backs pelting the enemy lines with arrows.

 

In the middle of it all smaller groups tried to reach the wounded and take them back to the edge of the camp. There, the Avatars were deep in meditation, their energy forming an impenetrable shield, making it the safest place for Yue, with the aid of more water spirits, to focus on healing those brought to her, at least to the point where they could join the fray again. They had tried healing them as soon as they found them but the focus required in the process left them as open targets and in a melee that was hardly the best way to ensure survival.

 

One thing was certain though. The Council was not holding back at all. Whether that meant they viewed the army amassed by the Avatars as a genuine threat or simply didn’t want to risk any loose ends was anyone’s guess. Nevertheless their forces, comprised in large by the Faceless and, to Azula’s immense annoyance, the Mantis Spirits and Dark Energy Spirits from their pervious skirmishes.

“Isn’t there anything that can kill these things?” she snarled in frustration as lightning bolt after lightning bolt was harmlessly absorbed by them. Ao, who hadn’t left her side for a moment, didn’t answer but pushed her so that they could switch opponents. Spirits energy shots seemed to do the trick, while the trio of armoured lizards he had been fighting was swiftly incinerated.

 

A terrified howl made them turn to the side where Koh, who had uncoiled to his full terrifying height, had allowed himself to be surrounded by an entire swarm of enemies and then, with as much of a bloodthirsty smile as the Noh mask would allow, proceeded to absorb their faces. The immobile bodies fell to the ground where Toph and a handful of Earth spirits trapped just in case they could still move after the shock they had gone through.

 

“WATCH OUT!” No one was certain who exactly had yelled the warning but those unfortunate or careless enough to not duck for cover were practically torn by the howling wind that tore through the battlefield, attacking friend and foe alike.

“What was that?” Sokka exclaimed as he and Suki pressed against a wall of granite that Shu had erected in front of their group.

“The Air crystal,” he said through gritted teeth, reinforcing and spreading the wall to cover more of their side as another gust followed up. “Either they got the Elementals to side with them or they found a way to harness the Crystal.”

“Not good then,” Suki frowned, tightening the grip on her sword.

“Not good,” Shu nodded.

 

There was not much that could be done either way. Whoever or whatever unleased these winds however couldn’t keep them up for long and they quickly found a way to time around the miniature hurricanes sweeping through the battlefield. It seemed that their opponents, those at least capable of having a facial expression, weren’t any happier about this indiscriminate form of attack. It wasn’t long before it became clear that the battle would be decided less by strength and more by tenacity. Those fighting on the Avatars’ side knew they were simply the distraction, meant to draw attention away from the fact that a good portion of their forces were unaccounted for, at least until the Avatar Spirit awoke. The Council only wanted the complete annihilation of its enemies and would not stop until that goal was achieved. Whenever wind wasn’t ravaging the landscape around them bolts of dark energy flew from their side, felling opponents one by one.

“Don’t let them hit you!” one of the healer Spirits called out over the din. “They…” A stray bolt that had been deflected by a nearby, tower-tall Spirit (one that looked like it was made of armour and not much else) hit the healer and he fell to ground unmoving. In under a minute the information had spread through the entire army; the black bolts killed on contact.

 

An added urgency seemed to colour everyone’s attacks and in their hastiness to shield from the bolts a lot of them turn to a clumsy defence. More and more fell when the entire two front rows of a battalion of the Council’s forces were incinerated were they stood. Agni landed near to where Zuko and Katara had been trying to calm a group of more inexperienced fighters. His hair and clothes were smouldering at the edges and his expression was wild as he blasted some more oncoming attackers before turning to glare at the now quiet group.

“Focus on the battle now,” he barked at them. “You can have a nice panic attack later.” Katara frowned and was about to tell him off when Zuko cut her off.

“We were separated from Lia early on,” he told Agni, a little out of breath. The last skirmish he had been in had involved a lightning user and while he was a master at redirecting lightning it took its toll on him. Agni’s attention immediately went from the cowering Spirits to the Fire Lord and Zuko found himself suppressing a shiver at the sight of the almost inhuman eyes trained on him. “If you are not with her, then who is watching her back?” he asked nonetheless.

 

Agni looked at him blankly for a moment before the implication sank in as a bolt of black energy missed them by centimetres. With a curse he took off running, all his senses honed to the lone beacon that was Lia, right at the very front of their line of attack. Zuko and Katara exchanged a look and followed him from a distance. They had both seen Lia fighting angry and were not eager to be caught in the crossfire.

 

Lia was only as aware of her surroundings as she needed to be to not be randomly hit by friendly fire. Her consciousness had all but merged with the Crystal, the Spirits around her registering as masses of energy, some to be preserved and some to be extinguished. If you were to ask her she wouldn’t be able to tell you whether she used fire, lightning or even her own energy to cut down her opponents. There was a reason for that. She could feel it down to her bones. If her vision was to come true, it would in this field, in this battle. It all matched. The scorched earth, the cries of terror and triumph from both sides, the lightning, flame and smoke shielding the sky, the ominous build-up of energy from where the Avatar Spirit was summoned. There was but one thing missing for the tableaux to be complete and she had done her damned best to ensure he wouldn’t want to be near her right now.

 

So strong was her certainty that she completely missed the Faceless sneaking up to her, his energy signature carefully masked by the hordes of attackers at all sides. Silently he took aim, focusing on the redhead’s half-turned back. Neither of them noticed the Spirit running towards them until it was too late. Lia turned completely to face her new opponent, torn from her trance by the violent sense of imminent death clashing in her mind with that of a prophesy being fulfilled. For the longest moment the world seemed to freeze around her.

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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Next chapter: link

***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.

Twilight of the Spirit World – A Blast from the Past

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Author’s note: In which the author brings back a favourite character of hers, denial is also a river in the Spirit World and there is an addition to the Gaang.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***A Blast from the Past***

Dawn found nearly everyone in the group wishing they could sleep in for once. They gathered in the front room of the house they had been given looking pale, tired and, in Lia’s case, more than a little hangover. Sokka’s eyes widened at the sight of the usually energetic Spirit trudging last in the room, dark circles under her eyes and hair framing her face limply.

“What happened to you?” he nearly yelled. Lia winced as his loud voice added to her headache.

“Less noise, more quiet,” she managed to mumble, massaging her temples. “And for the record, whatever I might have said last night best be forgotten.” Suki chuckled.

“What, you spill your secrets when you get drunk?” she asked.

“Then how come you’ve never mentioned it before?” Toph added disappointed. “Think of all the fun we’ve missed.” The redhead just groaned in response.

“See if I ever touch the stuff again…” she said before turning hopefully to Katara. “A little help for your soon-to-be-sister-in-law?” The waterbender rolled her eyes but healed the headache nonetheless.

“Why did you drink so much anyway?” she couldn’t help but scold the redhead. “You knew we wouldn’t be staying here.” Lia shrugged carelessly.

“It was worth it!” she said.

“Not like you said anything particularly embarrassing Lily,” Agni said from his place by the door. “Even drunk you wouldn’t say what your secret was.” Lia looked at him blankly for a moment, then some of last night’s memory decided to present itself. To everyone’s surprise she blushed.

“Of course!” she grumbled. “Of course you’d be the one to find me drunk out of my mind!” She took a deep breath. “I suppose it could have been worse.” She picked her bag and made for the door. Turning to face the rest of the gang, who were gaping at her relatively calm reaction, she raised an eyebrow impatiently. “Well? Are you coming or what?” Toph whistled impressed and waltzed over to Agni.

“I don’t know what you did last night but it sure mellowed her!” she said, punching him in the arm. “Good work!”

“Thanks, I think,” he answered, rubbing his arm. For a sixteen-year-old she sure was strong!

 

All teasing aside, the festival seemed to have siphoned at least some of the tension that had hung over the group before. Short conversations would break every now and then as they walked towards the city gates. The streets were mostly deserted, the city’s inhabitants clearly preferring to lie in after last night’s revel, although a few were out and about and they cheerfully waved at the group as they passed them. Under the early morning light the city’s colour seemed washed out, even the gems sparkling half-heartedly. Most surprisingly perhaps, when they arrived at the gate they had entered through the previous day, instead of the ornate marble arch, they found a plainer one, carved out of rough granite. Oma stood at the side, waiting for them with a soft smile. Surveying the still-sleepy expressions in some of their faces she chuckled.

“It seems you all had a good time last night,” she said.  “I’m glad. And I have one last gift for you.”

“It’s not whatever Lia drank last night, is it?” Zuko asked, laughing at how the Spirit perked up at the prospect despite her earlier vow of abstinence. Oma shook her head smiling.

“No, I don’t think that would be of much help right now,” she said lightly. Then she grew solemn. “It has to do with your quest,” she said. “The location of the Water crystal.”

“You know where it is?” Aang asked eagerly. His face fell when the Earth Spirit shook her head negatively.

“No,” she said. “But I do know someone who does. Koh, the Face Stealer.” Aang involuntarily shuddered at the idea of dealing with the creepy Spirit again. The rest of the group also seemed weary, having heard Aang’s account of his encounter with Koh. Lia snorted at their expressions.

“Oh come on!” she said. “He’s not that bad!” The others gave her dubious looks. “He’s not!” Even Oma was looking at her surprised.

 

Clearing his throat awkwardly Aang turned to Oma, once again the spokesperson for the group.

“Thank you for all your help,” he said as formally as possible. Oma bowed her head in acknowledgement.

“I hope our next meeting is under better circumstances,” she said before opening the gate for them. “Fare well on your travels.” With one final nod the group passed through the gate, exiting at the bottom of the mountain. The gate closed behind them and disappeared.

“So since you are apparently friends with the Face Stealer, does that mean that you know where he lives?” Sokka asked Lia.

“Yup!” she said. “He’s on the swamps, pretty much as close to the in-between as you can get without actually leaving the Spirit World behind.” She gave Aang a look. “You know the place, don’t you?” The Avatar nodded.

“I ended up there the first time I crossed over, during the invasion of the Northern Water Tribe. But the area is very large,” he added worriedly. “Last time I had Hei Bai to guide me through. How are we going to find him now?” Agni didn’t seem very concerned.

“I’m sure he tells his friends how to find him,” he said lazily, causing everyone to stare at Lia expectantly. She frowned and everything around her blurred. A chorus of “Hey!”s caused her to settle down, their surroundings rematerializing to the place they had been standing.

“Well?” she asked irritably. “Do you want me to take you guys there or not?”

“A word of warning first!” Azula grumbled, letting go of Zuko, whom she had grabbed in order to keep her balance. She didn’t receive an answer so she took to glaring at the Spirit’s back instead. “What’s up with her all of a sudden?” she mumbled, receiving an equally confused look from her brother.

 

In the end there wasn’t much blurring and teleporting that day and when they set up camp that night the mountain was still visible in the distance. The walk had done little to improve Lia’s mood and she had fallen to a brooding silence, ignoring the light chatter of her friends. Instead of joining the others around the fire, she sat a little further away, scowling at the fact that the others were slowly growing more comfortable with Agni’s presence, even including him in their conversation. The crystal heated up against her collarbone in reaction to her unsettled emotions as she vainly tried to figure out exactly what was that had set her on edge all day. It had to do with last night, that much she was certain, but the night was foggy in her memory. No matter what Agni had said earlier, she knew she had revealed something that she would have preferred to keep hidden. Her train of thought was interrupted by the sound of footsteps coming from the shadow-covered trees nearby. Before anyone else had much of a chance to react she was on her feet and hurtling a fireball in the direction of the sound. The shadows just behind the spot her fire landed condensed to a human shape with a face reminiscent of Zuko’s old Blue Spirit mask, and at last materialised to a man dressed in black, with a royal blue cloak and hood that he pushed back to reveal a face with sharp features and electric blue eyes. Recognising him, Lia smiled in delight and practically jumped in his arms.

“Ao!” she exclaimed, pulling away a little to look in his eyes. “It’s been ages! How did you find us?” He shrugged lazily –as best as he could with his arm around her shoulders-.

“Word of you going around and causing trouble has spread. I figured I’d come and see what all the fuss is about,” he said.

“There’s more people here you know,” Azula cut their reunion. “Are you going to introduce us or what?” Lia stepped away with a laugh.

“Sorry about that,” she said, turning to face the group. “Everyone, this is Ao, the Blue Spirit.”

“Yo,” Ao nodded in acknowledgment to the introduction before taking a seat between Azula and Lia and joining the group’s conversation.  Distracted as they were by their exchange of stories, nobody noticed that Agni, who had at first been amused at Lia’s reaction towards all things unidentified, was frowning deeper by the moment as he observed the friendship between Lia and Ao. After their exchange party he had thought that maybe the redhead had decided to call a truce but apparently he had been wrong.

 

Regardless of Agni’s frustration Ao’s addition to the group managed to relieve some of the tension if only because he knew how to distract Lia when her mood seemed to take a turn for the worse. He listened with amusement as she recounted how she had talked Zuko into taking up the Blue Spirit as an alias for a while and would have probably talked about sword-fighting techniques with Zuko and Sokka for the rest of the day if their arrival at Koh’s domain didn’t interrupt them. Everyone quieted down as they took in their surroundings. The place seemed even more desolate than Aang remembered, tendrils of mist winding around the trees like clawed hands.

“Do we need to go in there?” he asked, pointing at the cave entrance and looking about as eager as Lia had looked in front of the Library.

“We’re in his front yard,” Toph pointed out. “He probably knows we’re here already.”

“Doesn’t mean he’ll come out,” Suki said, her hand nervously resting against the fans hanging from her belt. Lia shook her head and marched towards the entrance, although she didn’t step into the shadows either.

“Koh!” she called instead, leaning casually against the wall and ignoring Aang’s hurried instruction of the “no emotion” rule. “Are you going to keep us waiting all day or are you going to crawl out.”

“I can hear you quite well without the screaming,” Koh’s smooth voice came from the shadows, followed by the Spirit itself. He observed the group before him, completely ignoring the amused redhead at his side. “Let us dispense with the formalities. I have no interest in adding any of your faces in my collection.” A few hesitant expressions of relief appeared.

“Isn’t that just grand!” Lia said, moving to join the others as they slowly approached. “Oma said you know where the Water crystal is. Don’t suppose you’ll tell us.” Koh’s face shifted from his customary Noh mask to that of an old, annoyed-looking human.

“I am not here to provide trivia,” he said, his voice unchanging and contrasting eerily with the age face he sported.

“But you’ll make an exception just this once?” Toph asked in a sugary-sweet voice that made everyone look at her bewildered. Koh focused his eyes on her, taking note of her sightless eyes in interest.

“Not quite,” he said finally. “There is no love lost between me and the Avatar,” he paused and looked at Aang knowingly, “and I have already aided him once with no recompense. Why would I do it again?”

“Because if you don’t there’ll be even less people stumbling in on your domain and it will become harder to collect faces?” Azula offered only half-joking. Koh appeared to consider her point. In the end he sighed and shifted back to the inscrutable Noh mask.

“The mists of this swamp conceal all things sought by Spirit or mortal,” he said, almost as if reciting from an old text. “All that is hidden is revealed within them to those brave enough to enter.” Without another word he turned and returned to his cave, leaving the group to stare at his retreating back confused.

“Does that mean that the crystal is somewhere in the swamps then?” Katara asked hesitantly. Zuko took her hand, feeling uneasy but staring at the mist-covered terrain in front of them determined.

“I suppose there is only one way to find out,” he said.

“You don’t mean…” Sokka trailed off when he saw Zuko heading towards the swamp and sighed. “Of course you do.”

“It’s not like we have much of a choice,” Aang reasoned, although he didn’t look particularly eager to enter the swamp either.

“Well, let’s go then!” Lia pushed forward, bypassing Zuko and Katara and pretty much diving in the mist. Her voice came out muffled. “The sooner we find the crystal, the sooner we can get out of here.”

 

One by one the mists swallowed the group until nothing was left to mark their passage. In the shadows Koh chuckled knowingly.

“All that is sought and all that is hidden,” he mused, “all that has been covered by the mists of the past.”