Tag Archives: Long Feng

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The Earth King

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Author’s note: In which the bad pun is not made by the author for a change, Zuko goes through character development AGAIN, Lia fullfills a promice and Katara sucks at giving someone the silent treatment.

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*** The Earth King ***

Sokka looked around him. Katara and Toph were sitting on the ground near Appa, while Aang was still clinging to the bison’s fur.

“I missed you more than you’ll ever know buddy,” the Avatar murmured, his head buried in the tuft of hair on bison’s forehead. Momo landed next to him, hugging Appa too. The bison licked them off of his face, looking equally glad.

“Look, we escaped from the Dai Li, we got Appa back, I’m telling you, we should go to the Earth King now and tell him our plan. We’re on a roll,” Sokka suddenly proposed confidently. Katara shot him a disbelieving look.

“One good hour after weeks of trouble isn’t much of a roll,” she said dryly.

“We can build on it,” her brother insisted. “If we want to invade the Fire Nation when the eclipse happens, we need the Earth King’s support.”

“What makes you think we’ll get it‌?” Toph said critically. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but things don’t usually go that smoothly for our little gang.”

“I know, but I’ve got a good feeling about this. This time will be different.” Sokka’s confidence didn’t seem to work.

“Sokka, Long Feng is control of the city,” Katara said unconvinced. “His conspiracy with the Dai Li is too powerful. I think we should just keep flying and leave this horrible place behind us.”

“I’m with Sweetness. I’ve seen enough of Ba Sing Se. And I can’t even see!” Toph exclaimed raising her arms dramatically.

“But now that we have Appa back, there is nothing stopping us from telling the Earth King the truth about the conspiracy and the war,” Aang said suddenly. Sokka flashed a bright smile and put an arm around the other boy’s shoulder, glad for the support.

“See? Aang’s with me. It’s the whole reason we came here in the first place, we have to try.”

“Well, I guess if the Earth King knew the truth, things could change,” Katara admitted, still hesitant. Toph rose to her feet and approached Sokka.

“I don’t trust the new positive Sokka,” she said gravely. “Long Feng brainwashed you, didn’t he?” she yelled accusingly.
Aang turned towards the shore, in time to see three ships moving in the distance.

“That’s probably the Dai Li searching for us,” Sokka said frowning. He turned to Katara. “So?” he asked her expectantly.

“‌ Let’s fly!” the waterbender said decisively.

 

Appa was flying, glad to be in his element for the first time in a month. Aang was sitting solemnly in front. Hearing to Toph’s voice he turned worried.

“Can we please buy a new saddle?‌ Riding bareback is terrifying!” the earthbender yelled before burying her face into Appa’s fur. In front of them the palace appeared. Sokka pointed at it.

“There it is! That whole thing is the palace. The Earth King’s chambers should be in the centre.”

“We have to be careful,” Katara said thoughtfully. “Long Feng’s probably warned the King that we’re coming.” Her brother shot her an incredulous look.

“Why would you assume that‌? If you ask me, I think we’re just gonna sail right in….Ahhh!” he yelled seeing a huge boulder coming flying towards their direction. Appa dived to avoid it, growling.

“What was that?” Toph shouted scared.

“Surface to air rocks!” Sokka yelled back alarmed. “More coming!” he said as rows of boulders came at them.
As the Earth Kingdom soldiers continued their attacks Aang was staring ahead of him, concentrating on manoeuvring Appa between the flying stones. He earthbended one into dust without even looking and shot to his feet as another boulder – the size of Appa – came at them. He cut it clean to two pieces using his staff before making Appa dive towards the ground. In front of them, a whole battalion was waiting, riding on their ostrich-horses. Aang leaped at the leader, creating a mini earthquake. The shock wave tossed the soldiers in every direction. The rest hopped off Appa and raced towards the courtyard’s stairs, where another wave of earthbenders appeared. They sent a bunch of head-sized stones at the kids, only to be swiped away by Aang and Toph. Katara took soldier after soldier out with her waterwhip. She winced when some of them groaned in pain.

“Sorry!” she called over her shoulder.

Yet another wave of earthbenders appeared at the top of the stairs. They sent two huge badgermole statues against the gaang. With a simple move Toph created an igloo from the pavement. The moment it stopped raining stones and dust she toppled the ground, domino-ing the soldiers and leaving them pinned.

“Sorry!” Katara called as they rushed past. “We just need to get through to see the Earth King!”
As they reached the top of the stairs, more soldiers came running from the corridors. Aang and Toph took earthbending stances and turned the enormous staircase into a slide. As the guards were sliding down helplessly, Toph and Aang bended an elevator platform from the floor and began ascending.

“Seriously, we’re actually on your guys’ side!” Sokka called to the soldiers that continued falling. His shoulders fell. “Sorry,” he said sheepishly, realising the pointless of his words.

 

Reaching the top of the stairs another dozen of guards approached them. Toph and Aang bended stone walls and pushed them back. Finally the kids entered the palace and Sokka took the lead.

“In there!” he called pointed forward. Rushing through the hallway they entered a large room with four hallways. Toph stomped her foot and pinned several of the guards to the ceiling.

“Toph, which way to the Earth King?” Sokka asked her. She raised an eyebrow.

“How should I know? I’m still voting that we leave Ba Sing Se,” she snapped. Sokka shrugged and started opening doors, while the others kept the guards distracted. In the third one he saw a woman standing in front of a mirror.

“Burglar!” she screamed shocked, before tripping on her dress and falling – face-first- on the floor.

“Sorry,” Sokka closed the door behind him. “Wrong door.”

 

Meanwhile, at the Lower Ring, Zuko and Iroh were walking back to their apartment. Zuko felt like he was about to collapse. All his thoughts were tangled together and the only thing he could do was to force his feet to keep walking. Entering the apartment he let his swords fall to the ground, his only thought being sleep. Behind him Iroh said pleased:

“You did the right thing, letting the Avatar’s bison go free.” Zuko rubbed his eyes, trying to clear his head.

“I don’t…feel right,” he managed to say before everything blurred and he fell to the ground unconscious. Iroh turned alarmed by the noise and rushed worried to his nephew’s side. Recognising the symptoms he sent a silent prayer for Lia to return soon.

*          *          *

On the other side of the Earth Kingdom Lia willed her pounding heart to calm down as she walked through the alleys of the small village. The things the people there had told her proved her vision true. Indeed, a woman from the Fire Nation had come six years ago. She lived in a small house, near the shore, making money by selling her paintings. No one knew anything about her past or who she was.

 

Taking another calming breath the Spirit knocked the door. This is ridiculous! she scolded herself. There’s no point in feeling so edgy! The door opened and the sweet face of Ursa appeared, looking at the redhead in front of her questioningly. Lia smiled and bowed in greeting.

“Lady Ursa?” she said. The older woman’s face turned from confused to worried. Before she had a chance to retreat inside her house Lia continued. “I come on behalf of your son.”

 *          *          *

Looking around him Sokka sighed. They had practically wrecked the room and still not found the way to the Earth King’s throne room. Deciding it was worth one last try he climbed over the mountain of wreckage and felt his jaw drop.

“Now that’s an impressive door!” he whistled gaping at the two huge, gold doors. “It’s gotta go somewhere.” He jumped to the other side and sprinted towards them. Landing a flying kick, he only succeeded in falling in front of them. Sharing an exasperated glance Aang and Toph earthbended the doors – and Sokka in the process – out of the way. The warrior landed on his face…again… and sat up rubbing his head.

“A little warning next time!” he whined.

 

The rest of the gang entered the throne room, blatantly ignoring the still grumbling Sokka. At the far end, the Earth King was seated at an impressive throne. He feels far too young and soft for this job, Toph thought curiously. Before anyone had a chance to talk Long Feng and a line of Dai Li appeared, standing protectively in front of the King.

“We need to talk to you!” Aang said urgently.

“They’re here to overthrow you,” Long Feng said persuasively to the King.

“No,” Sokka interfered. “We’re here to help.”

“You have to trust us,” his sister added. The Earth King stood up aggravated.

“You invade my palace, lay waste to all my guards, break down my fancy door, and you expect me to trust you‌?” Toph raised an eyebrow.

“He has a good point,” she said.

“If you’re on my side,” the King continued, “then drop your weapons and stand down.” Aang nodded at the others and they dropped their stances.

“See?” the Avatar said smiling widely. “We’re friends, your Earthiness.”

 
The King’s frown didn’t falter. That was sign enough for Long Feng. He motioned his agents and they sent their stone gloves at the startled teens.

“Detain the assailants,” The Head Dai Li ordered.

“But,” Sokka said confused, “we dropped our weapons. We’re your allies.”

“Make sure the Avatar and his friends never see daylight again,” Long Feng continued unfazed. The Earth King looked up at Sokka surprised.

“The Avatar?‌ You’re the Avatar?”

“Uh, no.” Sokka pointed towards Aang as best as he could while cuffed. “Him,” he explained.

“Over here!” Aang called, waving his hands before letting them be cuffed again.

“‌ What does it matter Your Highness?” Long Feng insisted.‌ “They’re enemies of the state.”

“Perhaps you’re right,” the Earth King agreed hesitantly. Suddenly his bear approached Aang and started licking him. The boy giggled happily. “Though Bosco seems to like him,” he added happily. “I’ll hear what he has to say.” Long Feng frowned as Aang approached the throne.

“Well, sir,” the Avatar began, “there is a war going on right now. For the past hundred years, in fact. The Dai Li’s kept it secret from you. It’s a conspiracy to control the city, and to control you.”

“A secret war‌! That’s crazy!” the Earth King exclaimed.

“Completely!” Long Feng hurried to add. Aang glared at him.

“Long Feng didn’t want us to tell you, so he stole our sky bison to blackmail us,” he continued. “And blackmail is the least of his crimes, he brainwashed our friend!”

“All lies,” Long Feng assured the King. “I‘ve never even seen a sky bison Your Majesty. Frankly, I thought they were extinct.” The King sat back on his throne.

“Your claim is difficult to believe, even from an Avatar,” he said.

“These hooligans are part of an anarchist cell that my agents have been tracking for weeks. If you listen to them, you’re playing right into your own destruction,” Long Feng told him quietly. The Earth King sighed.

“I have to trust my advisor,” he told the children.
The Dai Li made a move to take the kids away when suddenly Sokka was struck by one of his inspirations.

“Wait, I can prove he’s lying,” he said enthusiastically. “Long Feng said he’s never seen a sky bison. Ask him to lift his robe.”

“What?” the minister said appalled. “I am not disrobing!” Aang and Sokka shared a look. Aang took a deep breath and sent a mini typhoon towards the minister, blowing his robes to cover his head. A big bruise appeared on one of his legs.

“ Right there!” Aang exclaimed. “Appa bit him.”

“Never met a sky bison, huh?” Sokka said smugly. Long Feng pushed down his robes annoyed.

“That happens to be a large birthmark. Thanks for showing everyone,” he said.

“Well, I suppose there’s no way to prove where those marks came from.” The Earth King said hesitantly.

“Of course there is!” Sokka insisted, sounding even smugger.
Appa was brought inside immediately. It took only one glance on his teeth to prove it.

“Yup, that pretty much proves it,” the Earth King decided. The kids exchanged triumphant grins. “But it doesn’t prove this crazy conspiracy theory,” he continued. Before Sokka would begin complaining again the Earth King decided. “Though, I suppose this matter is worth looking into.”

 

Iroh looked at his nephew worried. He had known this moment would come since he had discovered Zuko’s affections for the waterbender. It had been part of the reason he had abandoned his quest for the Avatar, but Iroh wasn’t certain whether his nephew had never had second thoughts.

“You’re burning up. You have an intense fever,” he said quietly, placing a wet cloth on the boy’s forehead. “This will help cool you down.”

“So thirsty,” Zuko muttered deliriously. He tried to stand up only to be pushed back down again by his uncle. The old man turned and filled a small cup with water.

“Here’s some clean water to drink. Stay under the blankets, and sweat this out.” Zuko drained the cup before snatching the bucket that was next to Iroh and drinking right from it. He felt as if he was on fire on the inside.

“Katara…” he whispered before passing out again.

 

 *          *          *

It was hours later when Lia stopped talking, her mouth dry. She had recounted everything that had happened the last six years. Ursa had heard of course of Zuko’s banishment, and she had worried herself sick not knowing what had happened to her son.

“It’s so hard to believe how much pain has come to our family,” she said pouring them some tea. “I never thought Ozai would change so suddenly so much.” Lia looked up interested.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“Before the siege of Ba Sing Se, Ozai was more warm and human,” Ursa explained. “He would play with Zuko and Azula, teach them small firebending tricks, much like Iroh did with Lu Ten. As the siege dragged on, he became more cold and distant. At first I thought he was just stressed about the outcome of the war, but then that audience came and…” she took a steadying breath. “It was as if some other person had taken over his place: a calculating, cold man I had never seen inside him before.”

 

Lia was deep in thought. The siege of Ba Sing Se seemed awfully important all of a sudden. It was as if someone had cursed the royal family, tearing it apart and letting the most ruthless to rule. And if Ursa was right, Ozai’s change of heart was almost timed with his nephew’s death. The Fire Spirit raised an eyebrow. Now that reminded her of an old friend…

 *          *          *

It has been said that the day the Earth King would use public transport would be the day the world ended. It definitely looked like it, judging by the looks on the passengers’ faces.

“So, this is what a train is like.‌ I didn’t realize it would be this…public,” the Earth King commented. Katara looked at him surprised.

“So you’ve never been outside the Upper Ring before‌?” she asked

“I’ve never been outside of the palace,” he corrected her cheerfully. “Now that’s the way to travel.” He said pointing at Aang who was flying alongside the train on Appa. “So, may I ask where we’re going‌?” he asked the kids.

“Underneath Lake Laogai, Your Kingliness,” Sokka informed him. “To the Dai Li’s secret headquarters. You’re about to see where all the brainwashing and conspiring took place.”
The shores of the lake look so innocent. Awfully innocent, Katara thought with a bad feeling. Toph earthbended the platform, like she had done the previous time, but only a few stones appeared.

“It’s gone!” she said surprised. Sokka’s shoulders slumped.

“Oh, don’t tell me” he took a deep breath and forced a smile. “That’s ok, still got my positive attitude.”

“The Dai Li must have known we were coming and destroyed the evidence,” Katara concluded.

“That seems awfully convenient,” the Earth King said suspiciously.

“Hey, if anything, this proves the conspiracy exists even more,” Sokka said desperately. The Earth King frowned.

“Long Feng was right; this was a waste of time. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going back to the palace.” He turned to leave. Katara suddenly looked up.

“The wall! They’ll never be able to cover that up in time!” Aang smiled at her before airbending himself in front of the King.

“If you come with us to the outer wall, we can prove to you that the secret war is real!”

“No Earth King has ever been to the outer wall. I don’t have any more time for this nonsense,” the Earth King said annoyed.

“If you come with us, this time you can ride on Appa,” Sokka offered.

 

This offer seemed to do the trick. In a few minutes everyone – including a terrified King and his personal guard – was in the air.

“First time flying?” Toph asked him flatly.

“It’s both thrilling and terrifying,” the Earth King said breathlessly. She gave him a small smile.

“Yeah, I hate it too.” The King smiled back before sobering.

“I have to be honest with you. Part of me really hopes that what you are telling me about this war…isn’t true,” he said seriously.

“I wish it wasn’t,” Aang whispered as they flew to the outer wall.
Soon they were right outside the city.

“It’s still there!” Aang said, pointing at the wreckage of the drill.

“What is that?” the Earth King whispered horrified.

“It’s a drill,” Sokka explained. “A giant drill made by the Fire Nation, to break through your walls.” They landed on the wall itself. The Earth King braced himself against the railing, trying to take in everything.

“I can’t believe I never knew,” he whispered shaken. Suddenly Long Feng and two Dai Li appeared.

“I can explain this, Your Majesty,” he said trying to find a believable excuse. “This is nothing more than… a construction project.”

“Really?” Katara said crossing her arms. “Then perhaps you can explain why there’s a Fire Nation insignia on your construction project.” She pointed at the huge piece of junk metal.

“Well, it’s imported of course. You know you can’t trust domestic machinery,” Long Feng said. Noticing the stares he was receiving he frowned. “Surely you don’t believe these children, instead of your most loyal attendant‌!” he exclaimed. The Earth King frowned.

“Dai Li, arrest Long Feng. I want him to stand trial for crimes against the Earth Kingdom,” he ordered. The two agents exchanged a quick glance before handcuffing their former leader.

“You can’t arrest me. You all need me more than you know!” Long Feng shouted as they dragged him away.

“Looks like Long Feng is “long gone”!” Sokka called after him. “Ha…Oh, yeah, I’ve been waitin’ to use that one,” he said, wiping a tear of laughter from his eyes.

 

By night time they had returned to the palace. The Earth King was devastated.

“I want to thank you, young heroes for opening my eyes. All this time, what I thought was a great metropolis, was merely a city of fools, and that makes me the king fool.” He buried his head in his hands. “We’re at war, with the Fire Nation.”

“That’s why we came to Ba Sing Se, Your Highness. Because we think you can help us end the war,” Sokka said stepping forward.

“We don’t have much time. There’s a comet coming this summer. Its energy will give the fire benders unbelievable strength. They’ll be unstoppable,” Aang continued.

“But there is hope,” Sokka took over again. “Before the comet comes, we have a window of opportunity. A solar eclipse is coming. The sun will be entirely blocked out by the moon, and the fire benders will be helpless.”

“What are you suggesting, Sokka‌?” the King asked.

“That’s the day we need to invade the Fire Nation. The Day of Black Sun.” The Earth King looked at them hesitantly.

“I don’t know. That would require moving troops out of Ba Sing Se. We’d be completely vulnerable.”

“You’re already vulnerable,” Sokka insisted. “The Fire Nation won’t stop until Ba Sing Se falls. You can either sit back and wait for that to happen, or take the offensive, and give yourself a fighting chance.” The King looked at the teens who were waiting for his answer anxiously.

“Very well. You have my support.”

 

Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of one of the Five Generals. The man bowed deeply in front of the throne.

“Your Majesty. I apologize for the interruption.”

“This is general Hao, He’s the leader of The Council of Five. My highest- ranking generals,” The Earth King explained.

“We searched Long Feng’s office. I think we found something that will interest everybody,” the general explained.

 

They moved to the office of the former Grand Secretariat. A guard placed a box in front of the Earth King and left.

“There are secret files on everyone in Ba Sing Se. Including you kids,” general Hao said.

“Secret files‌!”Aang said surprised. The Earth King picked up a scroll and read the name out loud.

“Toph Bei Fong.” He handed the scroll to the little earthbender, who wordlessly handed it to Katara. The older girl opened it and scanned through the lines.

“It’s a letter from your mom. You mom’s here in the city, and she wants to see you.” Toph’s face lighted up before shaking her head.

“Long Feng intercepted our letters from home‌ That’s just sad,” she said pityingly.

“Aang,” The Earth King said, handing the next scroll.

“This scroll was attached to the horn of your bison when the Dai Li captured it,” general Hao explained.

“It’s from the Eastern Air Temple,” Aang said with a bright smile.

“Is there a letter for me and Sokka by any chance‌?” Katara asked hopefully.

“I’m afraid not,” The King said softly. Noticing the sad expressions on the Water Tribe siblings’ faces general Hao spoke up:

“But there is an intelligence report that might interest you.” He handed the last scroll to Katara.

“A small fleet of water tribe ships…” the waterbender read aloud.

“What?‌ That could be dad,” Sokka exclaimed. Katara continued reading.

“Protecting the mouth of Chameleon Bay… Led by Hakoda. It is dad!”
“You should know this is not a natural sickness. But that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying tea,” Iroh said calmly to the sick teen. Zuko looked at him scared.

“What…what’s happening‌?” he asked.

“Your critical decision,” Iroh explained grimly. “What you did beneath that lake…it was in such conflict with your image of yourself that you are now at war within your own mind and body.”

“What’s that supposed to mean‌?” Zuko managed to ask through a coughing fit.

“You’re going through a metamorphosis, my nephew. It will not be a pleasant experience, but when you come out of it, you will be the beautiful prince you were always meant to be,” Iroh said, mopping the sweat from his nephew’s forehead, as he slipped back into unconsciousness. Inside him though, the old general had decided that if the fever didn’t break before the morning, he would go seek Katara.

 

“I can’t believe it.” Aang said, looking up from his scroll smiling. “There’s a man living at the Eastern Air Temple. He says he’s a Guru.” Sokka looked at him confused.

“What’s a Guru?‌ Some kind of poisonous blowfish‌?”

“No, a spiritual expert. He wants to help me take the next step in the Avatar journey. He says he can teach me to control the Avatar State,” Aang explained eagerly.

“And I can’t believe we know where our dad is now,” Katara said, putting up a smiling face. For some reason she had this bad feeling twisting around her heart all day.

“I know what you mean,” Toph said. “My mom’s in the city, and from her letter it sounds like she finally understands me.”

“This is all such big news. Where do we even start‌?” Sokka wondered. His sister sighed.

“I hate to say it, but…we have to split up.”

“Split up‌?” Aang exclaimed. “We just found Appa and got the family back together. Now you want us to separate‌?”

“You have to meet this Guru, Aang,” Katara insisted. “If we’re gonna invade the Fire Nation, you need to be ready.” Aang smiled.

“Well, if I’m going to the Eastern Air Temple. Appa and I can drop you at Chameleon Bay to see your dad,” he offered. Sokka frowned.

“Someone has to stay here with the Earth King and help him plan for the invasion. I guess that’s me,” he said, standing up resigned. Katara stood up too. She didn’t know what her bad feeling was about, but it had to do with Ba Sing Se. There was no way she’d leave the city without finding out.

“No Sokka, I know how badly you want to help dad. You go to Chameleon Bay. I’ll stay here with the king.” She said. Sokka did a small happy dance before hugging her.

“You are…the nicest… sister…ever,” he managed to say. Katara pushed him back smiling.

“Easy there, big brother. Though you’re right, I am.”

 

The next morning found them at the great courtyard in front of the Earth King’s palace. Toph was patting Appa affectionately when she felt Aang approaching.

“Toph, I need to tell you something,” he said hesitantly. She looked at him curiously. His heartbeat was double its normal rate.

“What is it Twinkle Toes?” she asked. Aang blushed.

“I think I…” before he had a chance to finish his sentence, Sokka jumped in. Toph really wanted to punch him to the South Pole and back.

“Alright! Who’s ready to get going on our little men-only man trip‌?” the warrior said, gripping the surprised Avatar in a head lock.

“Aang and Sokka, I wish you good journey.” The two boys turned, Aang still in a headlock. “Ba Sing Se owes you its thanks, and we look forward to your return.” Smiling they bowed to the King. A guard suddenly appeared.

“Your Majesty. There are three female warriors here to see you. They’re from the island of Kyoshi.”

“That’s Suki!” Sokka said shocked, freezing half-way through climbing to Appa’s side. He slipped back to the ground.

“You know these warriors‌?” the Earth King asked them.

“Oh yeah.” Sokka said standing. “The Kyoshi warriors are a skilled group of fighters, trustworthy too. They’re good friends of ours.”

“Then we shall welcome them as honoured guests,” the King said satisfied.

 

Toph approached Aang blushing.

“Wait, Twinkle Toes,” she said before throwing her arms around the surprised boy. She kissed his cheek quickly before turning red and running to hide behind Katara.

“I’m really gonna miss you guys,” she said, regaining her cool.

“Me too,” Katara added, smiling at the idea of the two youngest benders together. They hugged each other, before rushing to Sokka for a proper group hug.

“Ahhh! Great! That’s enough! Ok, we love each other,” the warrior said embarrassed before patting their heads. “Seriously.”

 

Soon the sky bison was flying once again. Sokka turned satisfied to Aang.

“You see Aang? A little positive thinking works wonders. We got the King on our side, we got Long Feng arrested, and when we get back, Suki’s waiting for me.”

“Yeah, girls are waiting for us,” the Avatar said dreamily. “Thanks positive attitude.” Sokka continued cheerfully.

“Everything’s gonna work out perfectly, from now on and forever.”
On the Upper Ring Toph stood hesitantly in front of the door of a big, impressive house. Taking a deep breath she knocked, only to find the door open. She stepped into a big room, completely empty of any furniture.

“Hello?‌ Mom?‌ Anyone home‌?” she called. Walking into the centre she looked around suspiciously. Suddenly a big metal box dropped from the ceiling, trapping her inside.

“Hey!” she called frightened. “Who do you think you’re dealing with‌?” Xin Fu and Master Yu stepped out of the shadows.

“One loud mouth little brat who strayed too far from home,” the first said.

 

Katara walked alone through the streets of the Upper Ring. It felt so strange knowing that she would be on her own now. A few days ago she would be elated, but now it seemed to her pointless. She missed Zuko, but her pride refused to let her go to the Lower Ring. If he wanted to talk to her, he would have to do it the hard way.

 

As she approached the house she was surprised to see a lone figure knocking the door.

“Can I help you?” she called coming closer. Iroh turned, relief evident on his face.

“Katara! Thank the Spirits!” he waited until she was near. “I need your help,” he explained.

“What happened?” the waterbender asked worried. Could someone have found out who they were?

“It’s Zuko,” Iroh said, watching the worried expression on the girl’s face turn to a guarded one. He continued nevertheless. “He’s seriously ill and had been asking for you in his delirium. I was hoping that your presence might help him.” Katara was torn. On the one hand she was still hurt by Zuko’s lack of trust. But this wasn’t a reason to refuse him her help. She hadn’t done so even when they were enemies.

“I’m coming,” she said decisively. Iroh’s face showed his relief. Now he’d have a chance to see why these two weren’t on speaking terms anymore.

 

They walked in silence for a while, deep in their thoughts. When they passed the train station Katara looked surprised.

“Won’t we go on the Lower Ring?” she asked confused.

“We just moved on the Upper Ring,” Iroh explained. “I have my own teashop here now.” He stole a glance to Katara. “I suppose you had already argued with my nephew when this happened. May I ask why?”

Might as well learn something, Katara thought. “I came to the teashop one day and saw it being repaired. When I asked Zuko about it he wouldn’t tell me,” she said out loud. “I told him that when he was ready to talk openly with me I would be waiting.” She hesitated for a moment. “What happened?” she finally asked. Iroh didn’t speak for a long moment.

“It is my fault actually,” he eventually began. “At the port we had a brief encounter with your friend, Jet. While Zuko was talking with him, I heated my tea with firebending. He must have noticed, because the night before you and my nephew argued, he barged in accusing us of being firebenders. Zuko fought him off so that I wouldn’t have to firebend and betray our identities, but it was the teashop that suffered the consequences.” Katara’s face was clouded.

“This doesn’t explain why Zuko wouldn’t tell me,” she insisted as Iroh opened the door to the new apartment.

“Maybe he didn’t want to distress you,” the old man said tentatively. “After all you were quite upset when you crossed paths with Jet at the ferry.” Katara nodded. She could see the logic behind it.

“Where is he?” she asked. Iroh guided her to a door at the far end of the apartment.

“Do you need anything?” he asked her. He had never witnessed a waterbender heal. Katara nodded negatively before entering the room and closing the door behind her.

 

Zuko was laying on his bed, tangled in another fever-dream judging by the tossing and turning he was doing. Whatever anger she still felt disappeared instantly as Katara knelt next to him. Taking his face in her hands she drew out water and formed the healing glove. Placing it on his forehead she willed the fever to go away. Slowly Zuko’s breathing became steadier. Katara leaned his head softly back on the pillow and brushed a few strands of hair away from his closed eyes. She let her hand wander absentmindedly on his face, thinking of what Iroh had just told her. Wouldn’t she have done the same if she was in Zuko’s position? Sighing she made a movement to withdraw her hand, when she felt a larger one keeping it in place. Startled she looked down to see Zuko wide awake looking at her in disbelief. She gave him a weak smile.

“Feeling better?” she asked him softly. Zuko nodded. Katara made a movement again to stand up. “I’ll let you sleep,” she said. To her surprise Zuko’s grip tightened.

“Don’t go,” he managed to say. “I’m sorry.” Katara sat back down and brought their joined hands to her lips.

“There is nothing to be sorry about,” she told him. “Iroh explained to me what happened. I would have probably done the same if I was in your position,” she admitted. Zuko smiled at her hesitantly. She smiled back. “I missed you,” she continued, leaning forward. Zuko pushed himself up and their lips met halfway. Pulling her next to him, the prince gathered Katara into his arms, holding her close.

“If there is one thing I like about fighting,” he whispered before bringing her face near his again, “it’s making up.”

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – Lake Laogai

Standard

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.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***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.