Author’s Note: In which there are revelations and plot development and another Spirit makes a cameo.
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Appa landed a few days later on an arid plain filled with small holes. Aang immediately jumped off the bison, clutching a wooden pipe in his hand. He sat cross-legged on the ground, unaware on everyone looking at him questioningly.
“What is he doing?” Zuko asked surprised. Katara next to him shrugged. They slipped off Appa, still staring at Aang.
“What’s out here?” Sokka half-asked, half-grumbled. He was still annoyed that Zuko and Lia had tagged along. Toph placed a hand on the ground, trying to make sense of all the movements under her feet.
“Not what,” she said. “Actually there’s hundreds of little…” Aang shushed her.
“I know you can see underground, but don’t ruin the surprise,” he said. “Just watch.” He turned his back to the group once again and played a few notes. A couple of martens appeared singing the notes he had just played. Lia laughed. She sat next to him and started whistling. The martens repeated the tune.
“We’re putting an orchestra together!” Aang exclaimed laughing.
“Orchestra, huh?” Sokka said dismissively. “Well, la-di-da,” he sang in a deadpan voice. The marmots repeated it perfectly. Aang and Lia continued their whistling and piping for a few more minutes, while Momo chased the little animals.
Finally Sokka decided to be the killjoy. He rushed to the musicians’ side and shut Lia’s mouth and Aang’s pipe.
“This is great nonsense, but don’t we have more important things to worry about? We should be making plans,” He complained, trying to put everyone on serious mode.
“We did make plans,” Toph reminded him. “We’re all taking a mini-vacation.”
“Sounds like a good plan to me,” Lia said mischievously.
“There’s no time for vacations!” Sokka insisted. He turned to Zuko and Katara for back-up.
“I’m learning the elements as fast as I can. I practise hard every day with Toph and Katara. I’ve been training my arrow off!” Aang argued.
“Besides, what’s wrong with having a little fun in our down-time?” Katara backed him. Sokka turned to Zuko, expecting to see the prince rolling his eyes at their childishness. Instead he found him eyeing Lia speculatively.
“If we take a vacation,” he asked his Guardian, “does it mean I get away from practising with you for a few days?” Lia had been pushing him hard lately. But now she smiled.
“For as long the vacation holds,” she said generously.
“Then I agree with the Avatar,” Zuko said satisfied. Sokka, realising that he had no back-up whatsoever, tried to reason with Aang.
“Even if you do master all four elements; then what?” he asked. “It’s not like we have a map of the Fire Nation! Should we head west until we reach the Fire Lord’s house?”
“Well,” Lia whispered to Katara and Toph, “should I remind him that we have the Fire prince with us?”
“No,” Toph said. “Let him rant a little more.”
“Knock, knock!” Sokka continued. “Hello? Fire Lord? Anybody home?” he turned back to Aang. “I don’t think so. We need some intelligence if we’re going to win this war.”
“Which you obviously lack,” Zuko mumbled under his breath, studying the warrior. They just had to ask him for information.
“Alright. We’ll finish our vacations and then look for Sokka’s intelligence,” Katara laughed.
Aang opened the map, stretching his arms as far as he could to fully unroll the parchment. “Your turn Katara. Where would you like to go on your mini-vacation?” The waterbender studied the map.
“How about the “Mystic Palms Oasis”?” she asked. “That sounds refreshing.”
“Oh, yeah. I’ve been there,” Aang said. “It’s a pristine natural iceberg.”
“Natural?” Lia sound doubtful. “It’s at the beginning of a dessert.”
“It’s one of nature’s wonders.” Aang insisted. Lia just shrugged.
“Well, turns out the Mighty Distrustful Spirit was right,” Sokka said when they arrived.
“It must have changed ownership since I was there.” Aang said nervously. The oasis looked much like the rest of dessert. From the iceberg, only a small block of ice remained. The city itself reminded Zuko of the small port where he had encountered the pirates for the first time. Lia on the other hand seemed delighted. Unlike the mortals of the group she loved high temperatures.
“Let’s have a look around,” she said eagerly. Without waiting for them she dashed off. The rest followed her uneasily. Zuko saw her entering a building out of the corner of his eye.
“We’d better stay together,” he said taking the lead and pulling the rest of the group with him.
The building they entered looked like a bar. Lia approached them with a mango juice in hand. Sokka felt his mouth water.
“I don’t see anything wrong with having one of those fruity beverages while we plan our strategy.” He pushed everyone aside and rushed to the bar. “Excuse me!” he half-shouted. The man that had just been served moved to the side. As he turned he stumbled and his juice splashed Aang.
“No worries,” the airbender reassured him cheerfully, “it’ll clean up easy.” He bended a strong air current to dry himself.
“You’re an airbender!” the man said ecstatic. “You’re a living relic!”
“Thanks! I think,” Aang answered sheepishly.
Lia leaned next to Zuko. “He’s a living relic, I’m a living artefact, why don’t we just open a museum and get it over with?”
“Jealous?” Zuko whispered back teasingly.
“Nope. I’m still original: the only Spirit around here.” She turned her attention back to the stranger.
“An Air Nomad!” he was saying. “Right in front of me. Professor Zei. Head of Anthropology at Ba Sing Se University,” he introduced himself. “Tell me, which of the Air Temples do you come from?”
“The Southern Temple.” Aang answered nervously.
“Oh, splendid! Now, tell me, what was the primary agricultural product of your people?” Sokka passed Zuko his juice.
“This man is nuts,” he said quietly. “Wait until he understands we travel with the Avatar AND a Spirit.”
“No point in talking too much about the Spirit. If he asks, Zuko and I are siblings.” Lia repeated the now much-used story quickly.
“You don’t look much like each other,” Sokka argued.
“It has worked before,” Zuko told him.
“Are fruit pies an agricultural product?” Aang was heard asking awkwardly.
“Truly fascinating! That is one for my journal.”
“So Professor,” Sokka started, “you’re obviously a well-travelled guy. Do you have a more current map? Ours seems to be a little dated.”
“Certainly!” Professor Zei said, still enthusiastic from his “discovery”.
They sat around a nearby table and Sokka opened the map the Professor lent them. Immediately everyone’s face fell.
“What, no Fire Nation?” Sokka sounded like a little kid, not taking presents on his birthday. “Doesn’t anyone have a good map of that place?” he gave a meaningful glare at Zuko. Before he had a chance to begin a fight Katara marvelled:
“You’ve made a lot of trips into the dessert.”
“All in vain, I’m afraid,” Zei sighed. “I found lost civilizations all over the Earth Kingdom, but I haven’t managed to find the crown jewel. Wong Shi Tong’s Library.”
Everyone’s eyes shot to Lia. “The Spirit of Knowledge,” she explained. Now she was intrigued. She didn’t know that he was still around.
“You spent years walking into the dessert to find some guy’s library?” Toph sounded incredulous.
“Hey!” Lia said offended. “It’s a souvenir straight from the Spirit World!”
“This library is more valuable than gold, little lady,” the Professor added. “It is said to contain a vast collection of knowledge. And knowledge is priceless.”
“Sounds like good times,” the little earthbender said solemnly.
“Oh, it is!” he continued, missing the sarcasm completely. “According to legend it was built by the great Knowledge Spirit Wong Shi Tong, with the help of his foxy knowledge seekers.”
“Oh, so the Spirit has attractive assistants, huh?” the last remark had caught Sokka’s attention.
“I think he means they look like actual foxes, Sokka,” Katara said disapprovingly. Once again everyone glued their eyes to Lia.
“You both have a point,” she said. “They are foxes, but they were blessed by the Spirit with human intelligence. Too bad they can’t speak,” Lia explained sounding a little exasperated.
“You seem really knowledgeable on the subject,” Professor Zei said interested. Lia shrugged.
“I’ve done my research,” she said lazily. “Wong Shi Tong built a palace and put all the books his helpers brought him, for mankind to read,” she continued.
Zei unfolded a paper. “This is how it is supposed to look like,” he explained, pointing at the drawing.
“That’s quite accurate!” Lia said in a hushed voice, leaning to study it closely. “The point was for humanity to better itself.”
“If this place has books from all over the world, do you think they’d have info on the Fire Nation?” Sokka asked carefully. “A map maybe?”
“I wouldn’t know. But if such a thing exists, it’s on Wong Shi Tong’s library.”
“Then it’s settled,” Sokka announced. “Aang, I do believe it’s my turn. I’d like to spend my vacation, at the library!”
“Hey! What about me?” Toph asked annoyed.
“Or me?” Zuko added.
“When do we get to pick?” Toph finished.
“You both have to work here a little longer before you qualify for vacation time.” Sokka seemed delighted to say so.
“Of course, there’s the matter of finding it,” Zei said. “I’ve made several trips into the Si Wong dessert and almost died each time. I’m afraid that dessert is impossible to cross.” Sokka and Aang shared a look.
“Professor, would you like to see our sky bison?” Sokka asked smugly.
“A sky bison? You actually have one?”
They hurried outside, this time following the Professor. A few sandbenders had approached Appa but Zei shooed them away. Once in flight the heat became a bother even for Lia. She gathered her hair in a ponytail, thankful for her loose dress. Moving carefully on Appa’s back she sat next to Zuko. He was at the back of the saddle as usual.
“I need to show you something,” she said in a low voice. She took out a paper from her pocket and showed it to him silently. It was a wanted poster of him and his uncle.
“Azula,” Zuko hissed.
“I checked the city. That was the only one, but we need to be careful.”
“What’s going on?” Katara asked, coming near them. Zuko silently handed her the poster. She frowned. Then she took a look at Zuko and smiled.
“That’s not the most accurate picture of you they could have had. Your sister isn’t that good after all,” she tried to reassure him.
“We can only hope,” He said taking back the poster. He took a look to check if Zei was looking and burnt it.
A few hours later and everyone was getting impatient. Zei had moved to the back and Zuko was sitting next to Katara scanning the horizon.
“Oh! Does this place even exist?” finally Toph asked.
“Some say it doesn’t!” Zei informed her cheerfully.
“Shouldn’t you have mentioned that before?” she asked him, the first traces of anger audible in her voice.
“He needn’t have,” Lia cut in. “It exists.”
“How can you be so sure?” Toph half-yelled at her before realisation hit her.
“I just know,” Lia insisted.
“That’s the spirit young lady!” Zei praised her. Lia merely laughed.
“There it is!” Toph suddenly cried. Everyone rushed on her side, to see empty space. “That’s what it will sound like when one of you spots it,” she added.
“It shouldn’t be this hard to spot a giant ornate building from the air,” Katara said thoughtfully, her eyes still scanning the horizon.
“Wait a minute!” Zuko snatched the spyglass out of Sokka’s hands ignoring his protest. He scanned again the horizon. “I think we found it,” he said spotting a lone tower in the distance.
They landed near the base of the building. The tower loomed over them with no visible entrances.
“Forget it,” Katara sighted. “It’s obviously not what we’ve been looking for. The building in this drawing is enormous.”
“Then what’s this?” Lia asked, pointing at a fox approaching.
“What kind of animal is that?” Sokka asked.
“I think it’s one of the knowledge seekers,” Zei was on his element now. “We must be close to the library.”
“No, this is the library,” Sokka said studying the drawing. “Look, it’s completely buried.”
“Almost completely. The tower is still out,” Lia said.
“My life’s ambition, full of sand!” Zei exclaimed. He knelt on the sand. “Time to start excavating.”
“Actually, that won’t be necessary.” Toph said, feeling the wall. “The inside seems to be completely intact. And it’s huge!”
“That fox thingy went through a window.” Sokka studied the tower. “I say, we climb up the tower and give it a look.”
“I say, you guys go ahead without me,” Toph said evenly.
“You’ve got something against libraries?” Katara asked her.
“I’ve held books before, and trust me they didn’t exactly work out for me.”
“Oh right.” The waterbender looked away guiltily. “Sorry.”
“Do you want one of us to stay with you?” Zuko offered. He felt bad for the little girl being left out.
“Nah, I’ll be okay,” she assured him. “Just let me know if they have something you can listen to.”
They slowly climbed inside. The building was indeed huge. Lia smiled, noting the owl pattern on the wall carvings. Wise he might be, but the Knowledge Spirit had quite an opinion of himself.
“It’s breathtaking!” Zei exclaimed. “This Spirit spent no expense in designing this place. Look those beautiful decorations!” The teens, with Lia first laughed. Zei acted as if he had entered the Spirit World with a personal invitation. “What’s so funny?” he asked them.
“Nothing,” Aang hastily replied. “We just like architecture.”
“As do I,” the man was completely oblivious to sarcasm. They finally landed on a bridge linking two different sections of the library. “My word! The amazing handiwork of this mosaic!” Before he had a chance to ramble more Lia interrupted.
“We have company,” she said, sensing a Spirit approaching. Indeed footsteps were heard from a distance. They hastily hid behind some columns, Zuko pulling Katara close to him. A giant owl appeared at the bridge they had landed. He immediately noticed the rope they had used to climb in.
“I know you’re back there,” he calmly called.
“It was worth a try,” Lia sighed stepping into the light. Before Wong Shi Tong had a chance of answering, Professor Zei appeared from behind another column.
“Hello!” he said nearly bouncing on his feet from excitement. “I’m Professor Zei, head of Anthropology at Ba Sing Se University.” He bowed.
“You should leave the way you came,” the Spirit said hostilely. “Unless you want to become stuffed head of anthropology.”
“Are you the Spirit that brought this library to the physical world?” Sokka asked, approaching with the rest of the group.
“Indeed, I am Wong Shi Tong, he who knows ten thousand things. And you are obviously humans, which are no longer permitted in my study.”
“What, the library is closed to the public now?” Lia asked daringly.
“Same goes for you, Agni,” Wong Shi Tong warned.
“For someone who knows ten thousand things you seem to forget the basics,” Lia told him annoyed.
“What do you have against humans?” Aang asked.
“Humans only bother to learn things to get on the edge of other humans,” the Great Owl scoffed. “Like that firebender who came to this place a few years ago, looking to destroy his enemy.”
“The Ocean Spirit took care of him,” Lia informed Wong Shi Tong. “You can’t judge everyone using Zhao as your standard.”
“Your ideas on the matter are widely known Fire Spirit. But who are your friends trying to destroy?”
“What?” Sokka exclaimed. “No, no, no, no destroying! We’re not into that.”
“Then why have you come here?” the Knowledge Spirit insisted.
“Um…Knowledge for knowledge’s sake?”
“If you’re going to lie to an all-knowing Spirit you should at least put some effort into it.” Wong Shi Tong said dryly.
“I’m not lying!” Sokka insisted. “I’m here with the Avatar, he’s the bridge between our worlds. He’ll vouch for me.” He dragged Aang forward.
“Yeah, I’ll vouch,” he said nervously. “We will not abuse the knowledge in your library good Spirit. You have my word.”
“Very well,” the Spirit said reluctantly. “I’ll let you peruse my vast collection on one condition. To prove you’re worthy scholars you’ll have to contribute some worthwhile knowledge.”
Professor Zei stepped forward. Kneeling he offered a book. “Please accept this tome as a donation to your library.”
“First edition. Very nice.” He passed his wing over the book, making it disappear. Next was Katara.
“I have an authentic waterbending scroll,” she said.
“Oh, these illustrations are quite stylish,” Wong Shi Tong said accepting it.
“Was that the scroll you stole from the pirates?” Zuko asked her.
“Yes,” she whispered back, “but don’t tell him.” Next was Aang. He unfolded his wanted poster.
“I see,” The Spirit said slightly disappointed. “I suppose that counts.”
“Oh great Spirit, check this out.” Sokka took a piece of string and tied it into a flower. “It’s a special knot!” he insisted. “That counts as knowledge.”
“You’re not very bright, are you?” Wong Shi Tong asked before accepting it. Finally he turned to Lia and Zuko.
“My apprentice and I do not have some kind of donation to make,” Lia began formally. “But we can restore a part of the library that has been destroyed by our element. Would that please you?” The Knowledge Spirit studied her for a few moments.
“Very well,” he finally contested. “Enjoy the library.”
The group walked through the corridors, pulling down scrolls from time to time and scanning through them. Sokka sneaked a few that seemed useful on his bag, sending suspicious looks over his shoulder. He approached a showcase that was the centrepiece of that particular room.
“The darkest day on Fire Nation history. It’s got a date on it but nothing else. Hey Zuko…” he turned to see neither the firebender nor the Fire Spirit.
“Where’s Zuko and Lia?” he asked.
“They went to restore the part of the library that had been destroyed,” his sister told him. “Why?”
“I want to know what happened on the Fire Nation on their darkest day,” he said snatching the parchment and taking off. “This could be promising.”
Zuko and Lia had gone straight to wing dedicated to the Fire Nation. Everything there had been reduced to ashes.
“Zhao,” Zuko sneered. He turned to Lia. “How are we going to restore the books? There is nothing salvageable here.” Lia walked inside the room.
“Can you feel the fire calling you, even from the ashes?” she asked her student. Zuko closed his eyes and concentrated. Indeed he felt his element calling out to him faintly.
“What should I do?” he asked.
“Call it back to you. I’ll do the rest.” His mentor’s soft voice came to him. Standing, facing each other they began. The work was progressing fast and they only stopped when they heard footsteps.
“There you are!” Sokka called. He, Katara, Zei and Aang entered the room. They took a look at the ashes still to be restored.
“What happened here?” Katara asked shocked.
“Zhao paid a visit,” Lia explained frowning. “We have been correcting his stupidity.” Sokka gave Zuko the parchment.
“Do you know what happened then?” he asked eagerly. Zuko took a look at the date.
“That was five hundred years ago! How am I supposed to know what happened then?”
“You are Fire Nation. You ought to know your country’s history!” Sokka yelled. “That’s so unfair! Just when I think I’m one step out of the Fire Nation it turns out that they beat us a long time ago. I need to know what happened on the darkest day.” A sound was heard from the door. It was one of the foxes, trying to get their attention. “Hello,” Sokka called. “Little weird fox-guy.” The fox turned indicating a way.
“It seems she’s trying to assist you,” Zei said.
“Um sure, I guess I’ll follow you,” They turned to leave.
“Are you coming?” Katara asked Zuko and Lia. Zuko nodded negatively.
“We’ll finish here first and then we’ll catch up with you,” he said. Lia had moved further inside the room to place a few books on the shelves. Zuko leaned in and kissed Katara quickly, before she rushed to follow her brother. Her cheeks blushed pink, but she smiled at him before she ran.
The gang arrived at a huge golden door. The fox disappeared through a hole and opened it from the inside. They entered cautiously, to see it pushing a lever. The dome overhead turned from day to night.
“This room is a true marvel!” Zei breathed. “It’s a planetarium that shows the heavens moving.”
“This is beautiful. But how is it helpful?” Sokka wondered.
“Maybe these dials represent dates and times.” Katara guessed, pointing at a circular table in the middle of the room. “Sokka try the date from the parchment you took.”
“Katara! Not in front of the fox! He’s with the owl,” her brother reprimanded her. Casting suspicious looks on the crestfallen animal he checked the date. He then programmed the planetarium. The sky turned into night again.
“Wow! I got to hand it to you Sokka,” Aang said. “You picked the best mini vacation.” Over their heads it became day again but the sun didn’t appear.
“Hey wait! What happened to the sun?” Katara asked.
“Great!” Aang frowned. “You must have broken it.”
“It’s not broken,” Sokka narrowed his eyes. “The sun is behind the moon. It’s a solar eclipse! It’s literally the darkest day in Fire Nation history! Now I get it.” He grabbed in his excitement and started shaking him. “Something awful happened that day! I don’t know what, but I do know why. Firebenders lose their powers during a solar eclipse.” He let go of the airbender who stumbled. “Sorry,” he apologised.
“That makes sense,” Katara said. “I mean look at what the lunar eclipse did to the waterbenders on the North Pole. This is huge!” The fox didn’t seem so happy all of a sudden. He stood on his back feet.
“Fine. You earned it.” Sokka smiled, giving it a small piece of meat as a reward. “We’ve got to get this information to the Earth King at Ba Sing Se,” he continued. “We’ll wait for the next eclipse and then we’ll invade the Fire Nation when they’ll be totally helpless. The Fire Lord is going down.”
A shadow suddenly fell upon them. “Mortals are so predictable,” Wong Shi Tong said coldly. “And such terrible liars. You betrayed my trust,” he accused them. “From the beginning you intended to misuse this knowledge for evil purposes.”
“You don’t understand,” Sokka said franticly. “If anyone’s evil is the Fire Nation. You saw what they did to your library. They’re destructive and dangerous. We need this information.”
“You think you’re the first person to believe their war justified? Countless others have come before you here, seeking weapons, or weaknesses or battle strategies.”
“We had no choice,” Aang tried to explain. “Please, we’re just desperate to protect the people we love.”
“Then now I’m going to protect what I love,” Wong Shi Tong said gravely. He began flapping his wings creating a huge air current.
“What are you doing?” Aang asked alarmed.
“I’m taking my knowledge back. No one will ever abuse it again.” Sand started to come through the walls.
“He’s sinking the building,” Katara cried. “We need to find Zuko and Lia and get out of here.”
“I’m afraid I can’t allow that,” The Owl said. “You already know too much.” He striked with his beak, but missed them. They all rushed out of the planetarium with him hot on their heels.
Wang Shi Tong followed them, destroying everything in his path. Zei turned and begged him to stop the destruction and was saved only thanks to Aang’s airbending pulling him out of harm’s way. They entered another corridor.
“We have to get back to the surface,” he exclaimed.
“I’m not leaving without Zuko,” Katara argued back.
“We’re here,” Lia called, appearing from another corridor. “You go ahead. I’ll hold him off.”
“Sokka, let’s go!” Katara grasped his arm and tried to pull him along.
“But we still don’t know when the next solar eclipse is going to happen!”
“Don’t be stupid.” His sister told him urgently. “We’ll find out later.”
“No, we won’t! If we leave this place we’ll never get the information.”
“You go ahead,” Zuko suddenly said. “I’ll go with him.”
“What?” the two siblings asked simultaneously.
“You’ll need cover,” The Fire prince simply said.
“But…” Katara began. The Knowledge Spirit’s head suddenly appeared. Lia quickly attacked him with her fire. “Go!” she yelled at everyone. The two groups dashed to different directions.
She slowly backed away, drawing the Spirit away from Katara, Aang and Zei. Suddenly the Owl turned away from her and followed a different path. Lia turned in time to see Katara and Aang running away. She rushed after them cursing in a very ancient language. Why couldn’t the stupid thing stay and fight her? She saw them backing towards a bridge.
“Your waterbending won’t do you much good,” Wang Shi Tong was saying to Katara. “I’ve studied Northern style, Southern style, even Foggy Swamps style.” Sokka jumped on his head out of nowhere, knocking him out.
“That’s called Sokka style,” he said smugly. “Learn it!” As an answer the rope they had used landed on his head. “Oh, no! What are we going to do now?” he groaned.
“Aang get a hold of Sokka,” Lia said suddenly. “Zuko, do the same for Katara. We’re flying out of here.”
“Zuko can’t fly!” Sokka yelled. “What are you talking about?”
“Actually, I can,” he said. Taking Katara in his arms he began floating in the air, a look of intense concentration on his face.
“Come on professor,” Lia shouted. “Library’s closed.”
“I’m not leaving,” he said. “I can’t. I spent too long trying to find this place. There’s not another collection of knowledge like this one on Earth. I could spend an eternity in here.” He smiled. “I’ll be fine. Go.” They took off with Aang leading the way. Wang Shi Tong made one last attempt to stop them. Lia turned trying to fight him in the air.
Outside, Toph heard them landing behind her. Exhausted she let go of the tower she had been struggling to keep above ground. The impact sent her rocketing away. The tower sank to the ground. Once to the sand settled, Zuko looked around. Katara saw him turn deathly pale.
“Where’s Lia?” he asked scared. They looked around them. The Spirit was nowhere to be found. Under their feet, the earth started to rumble. The sand, where the tower once was, heated and turned into glass. Lia sprung out of the small glassy cave, struggling for breath.
“Are you okay?” Zuko helped her to her feet.
“Just let me catch my breath,” she panted.
“We got it!” Sokka was celebrating. He hugged Katara. “There’s a solar eclipse coming! The Fire Nation’s in trouble now.” Aang was also looking around worried. He went over to where Toph was sitting, her back turned to everyone else.
“Where’s Appa?” he asked her. Toph didn’t answer at first. She merely shook her head. Aang’s eyes widened. Something terrible had happened while they had been underground.