Tag Archives: Roku

Twilight of the Spirit World: Homecoming

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Author’s note: In which the story is almost over, hints are dropped (some more subtly than others) and everyone slowly finds their own place.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***Homecoming***

The morning that dawned was glorious, the sky awash with shades of red and gold that gave way to a vibrant blue. The whole Council City was buzzing with an inexplicable euphoria and people found themselves laughing and smiling without even being sure why. And in the centre of it all Lia could be seen walking around, looking more like her old cheerful self than ever. Sokka, the first to come across her in one of the gardens, had to make a double-take to make certain he wasn’t seeing things.

“Are you…alright?” he called after her uncertainly. The fact that fire lilies were spontaneously blooming around her was a little distracting. Lia turned to look at him with a bright smile.

“Just fine!” she said. “All is good in the world!” Sokka frowned and moved closer to look in her eyes.

“You haven’t been drinking sake again, have you?” he asked cautiously. She didn’t look drunk, but then again… Lia laughed.

“No,” she assured him. “Just had a really good night is all. Oh, and I passed Suki on my way here. She said that if she doesn’t have her leachy nuts soon there will be hell to pay.” Sokka gulped, appropriately fearful of his fiancé’s recent mood-swings and hurried back inside. Lia only chuckled and turned back to her original mission of finding her brother and assuring him she wasn’t about to lock herself away from the world.

 

In another part of the palace Zuko had decided that pulling the protective brother act when it came to Azula and Ao’s budding relationship would no doubt cause more trouble than it was worth. Azula didn’t take kindly people telling her what she can and cannot do and, to be fair, Ao had been nothing if not a gentleman. There was someone else however, with a close relationship to one of Zuko’s sisters who could use a grilling. The Blue Spirit was more than happy to help him with that plan and that was how the two of them ended up prowling the corridors, looking for a certain, recently-awakened Fire Spirit, hopefully before Lia came across him.

 

Agni, oblivious to the plans of his impending pain, had also been strolling around, too wrapped up in blissful memories to notice the two overprotective men closing in on him. Until his back was slammed against a wall that is…

“Seriously, why can’t anyone just call out when they want my attention?” he complained, wincing at the bruises that were no doubt forming.

“We just wanted to have a little chat,” Zuko said pleasantly and Agni decided that the bruises were probably the least of his worries.

“You see,” Ao continued, “we both view Lia as our sister.”

“And you have made her cry more than once,” Zuko picked up the speech, his smile replaced by a threatening look. “So, if you ever think of…”

“Boys,” a feminine voice cut through the string of threats about to be unleashed. “I think he gets it.” Agni gave Lia a relieved smile and easily shrugged off Ao’s and Zuko’s hands.

“I have never been happier to see you love,” he said, walking up to her side and wrapping an arm around her waist. “Well, last night excluded,” he added with a mischievous look and teleported the two of them to the other side of the palace before what he said sank in the younger men’s brain.

 

Too his surprise Lia didn’t even call him out on possibly traumatising her two adoptive brothers. Instead she waited until they had materialised in a different room before leaning against him and laughing hysterically. Agni started chuckling as well, too happy with life at that moment to bother finding an explanation as to why they were laughing. The sound of someone delicately clearing their throat cut through their mirth.

“So I take it you too have figured things out?” Toph asked sweetly, in a tone that everyone who knew her agree that was scarier than any yell could ever be. The two Fire Spirits looked up, although neither bothered disentangling from the other, to see not only the earthbender, but also Aang, Sokka, Suki and Katara sitting there, looking at them in amused confusion.

“Something like that…”Agni smirked, “Shorty,” he added for good measure. Toph raised an eyebrow and drummed her fingers against the floor. A faint ripple followed her movement and the two Spirits stumbled a little before regaining their footing.

“Nicknames are my shtick Lover-Boy,” she said. “Get your own.”

“What Toph means,” Suki cut in, pausing to sprinkle her bowl of grapes with a liberal amount of curry dust, “is that it is great to see you both well and happy again.” The others looked at her nervously as she popped some grapes in her mouth.

“Um…sweetheart,” Sokka said nervously, “Are you sure this won’t upset your stomach?” Suki looked at him and then at her bowl confused.

“No,” she said, “They taste great!” Katara and Lia exchange a suspicious look, even as everyone else gagged at the idea.

 

Short of Suki’s increasingly bizarre food combinations during mealtimes (and her increasingly violent reactions when it was pointed out to her that maybe rice and melted rock candy should not go together…) the next few days were peaceful. Everyone was aware that their time at the Spirit World was drawing to a close, even if they were not eager to acknowledge the fact. This however didn’t change the fact that they had responsibilities in their own world, responsibilities they could not ignore for much longer. So it was decided that at the end of the week, they would return. No one was surprised when Lia said that she would stay behind. There was much that still needed to be fixed in the Spirit World, and even if there hadn’t, it was obvious to everyone that she was not letting Agni out of her sight anytime soon. Although she did promise to Suki, in a tone that had the women in the group smiling in secret understanding and the men looking at them incredibly confused, to be there when the time came.

 

What did cause some surprise was Ao formally asking Zuko’s permission to court his sister. Azula had already talked with her brother (in what must have been the most awkward conversation the siblings had ever had) and told him that she wanted to stay behind just a little longer, explore the Spirit World like she hadn’t had the chance with a battle for all reality looming over everyone’s head. Zuko had grudgingly agreed to allow it, but only if she didn’t travel alone. Now, with Ao’s request, his mind could rest a little easier, not that that stopped him from tagging a threatening “and you had better be a perfect gentleman” to his assent.

 

In the end, it was a smaller group than had started that stood in front of the glowing portal that would take them back to the mortal world. Toph and Katara had returned their respective Crystals to the elementals they belonged to and Aang had said his farewells to Roku, so that it was only Agni, Lia, Ao and Azula that saw them off. With last minute hugs and solemn promises for regular visits by those who stayed behind, Zuko and Katara, Aang and Toph, Sokka and Suki stepped through the glowing energy to find themselves standing under a blazing sunset in front of the Fire Nation palace, with Ursa and Iroh there to welcome them back. And it would have been a bold-faced lie if any of them said that this didn’t feel like coming home.

Twilight of the Spirit World: Revelation Day

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Author’s note: In which we’re once more in countdown mode, the author incorporates LoK elements for the heck of it and the pressure is on like you wouldn’t believe it…

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***Revelation Day***

Lia was gone for that day and most of the next. When she returned to where the others had made camp she was pale, quiet and had swapped her dress for armour. The crystal hung visible against her breastplate, its colour nearly black. She regarded the group silently for a few moments, before Zuko noticed her and stood up, a worried question ready on his lips. Lia shook her head, cutting him off and addressed the whole group instead.

“The army has been gathered. I can take us all there if you are ready.” Her answer came in a series of uneasy nods. Everyone stood, breaking camp and preparing their weapons. Once they were ready, they approached the Fire Spirit. “Form a circle around me,” she said. “It will be easier to transport everyone this way.”

“You sure you don’t need help with the teleporting?” Ao asked her concerned. Over the centuries he had faced his fair share of battles, and Lia’s almost mechanic behaviour, combined with Agni’s absence didn’t fill him with confidence. It was always hard to keep track of a companion in the midst of a fight, harder yet when said companion didn’t have a clear enough mind to take care of themselves. Lia shook her head.

“I’ll be fine,” she told him and the next moment they were standing at the edge of the largest and most chaotic camp any of them had ever seen.

 

Spirits of all shapes and kinds, some human-looking, some less so, hurried around, forming in battalions, putting on armour and sharpening weapons. Some searched for friends or lovers in other groups, wanting to have a few last moments of peace before the uncertainty of the fight started. Different incarnations of the Avatar walked through the different groups, some joining them, some simply pausing to exchange of few words. The gaang stared slack-jawed at the gathering for a moment before they realised that Lia was already walking towards the centre of the camp and hurried to follow her.

 

As they walked amongst the different Spirits they noticed that most of them seemed to group by characteristics or abilities. A large group of dragons flew overhead, some carrying warriors on their backs, roaring in acknowledgement when they saw Lia. A group of Spirits that seemed to be carved out of precious stones, greeted Toph enthusiastically as she passed by, making the earthbender blush slightly and hide behind her bangs. In a different section, one suspiciously covered in mist and studiously avoided by most Spirits, Koh sat, calmly observing the chaos around him, and Sokka could have sworn he saw Hei Bai pass by, carrying baskets of weapons in his back.

 

For all the noise and voices and new sights however, no one could ignore that under all that they could still hear, almost to quiet to register, a similar noise dimly coming from the enemy camp. Perhaps not surprisingly Zuko was the first to break the silence. He caught up to his sister and turning to face her he asked,
“Where exactly are we going?” Are you alright? he’d rather ask. Will you be alright once this is over and we return to our world? But he knew Lia would never answer him openly in front of everyone and so chose to stick to a more neutral ground. Lia gave him a quick glance and then turned to face forward again, although she spoke up for the benefit of the group.

“Just a little further ahead. There is a meeting going on. We are trying to come up with a strategy and I am sure your experience with…unconventional methods of war craft will be useful. From behind them they heard Sokka, Suki and Azula immediately starting to brainstorm, with Ao and Aang offering their thoughts at points. Taking advantage of their distraction Zuko turned to Lia again.

“Will you be alright?” he asked her quietly. She turned to look at him surprised, her hand going reflexively to cover the crystal.

“I always am,” she told him softly, but didn’t resist when he pulled her to a quick hug.

 

Ahead of them, around a large table almost completely covered in papers, stood a group of Avatars, Roku included, Oma, Shu, Yue, La, and, to the gaang’s surprise, Agni, dressed in black armour and looking more grave than anyone remembered seeing him since he had started travelling with them. By unspoken agreement the group broke, everyone heading towards their elemental counterparts, with Aang and the non-benders staying with Ao. It caused no small amount of stares when Lia took her place next to Agni, even though she refused to look at him. Instead she turned her attention to Kyoshi who was standing opposite of her.

“Any news on the Air elementals?” she asked in a measured tone. If the female Avatar was surprised at their arrival she did not show it.

“No,” she said instead. “We hope this means that they are choosing to remain neutral on the matter.”

“What of the Air crystal?” Sokka asked. “We do not have it but the tower was pretty much destroyed so…”

“Without the Air elementals there is no way of knowing whether the Council managed to take the crystal or not,” Roku said frowning.

“What about the plan you told us about Roku?” Aang jumped in. “How are we going to awaken the Avatar Spirit?” An uneasy looked was swapped by the older Spirits. True that had been the plan since the beginning, but it was one rife with risks.

“It is not as simple as you may imagine,” La said finally, his voice similar to waves crashing on the shore. “The Avatar Spirit is the Spirit of Life, birth from the union of Raava and Vaatu, Order and Chaos. It cannot be controlled or predicted. Moreover, it would severely diminish our forces.” Azula looked at him with a frown.

“How so?” she asked, leaning against the table.

“It would require the combined energy of all the Avatars together to awaken it,” Avatar Kuruk explained. “If we follow this course of action we cannot participate in the battle. Our side will be deprived of at least a thousand warriors.”

“Do we have a choice?” Toph asked, before the conversation turned to calculating the odds. That never helped.

“What do you mean child?” Oma looked at her like she could already guess the earthbender’s next words.

“Do we have an alternative plan? Anything other than charge blindly and hope for the best.” Toph shrugged. “I’m usually all for the head-on approach but in this case…”

“Toph is right,” Lia said. “At this point we do not have a choice. We do not know exactly what the Council has in store, but if it is anything like those blasts they used when I first returned, well, we cannot afford to hold back.” She gave Aang a sharp look, already guessing where any opposition might come from. “They will definitely not.” The airbender didn’t look happy, but didn’t contradict her either.

“It might be best if this…” Zuko paused, uncertain of what awakening the Avatar Spirit might entail. He continued nonetheless. “Close to the camp. Then in case everything goes wrong we will have one last line of defence.”

“For whatever good it might do…”Agni muttered but gave an approving nod to the Fire Lord. “But you are correct. If it comes down to it we will at least have enough time to send you children back and seal any passages between our worlds.”

“What do you mean, seal the passages?” Aang asked alarmed. Agni gave him a grave look.

“We cannot allow the Council’s bid for rewriting how the universe works. One way or another they will need to be contained.”

“But to completely seal the gates…” Yue looked hesitant, and most of the other elementals nodded in agreement. “This has never happened before. How do we know it will not cause a worse disaster to the mortal realm than what we are already facing?”

“Yue,” Lia spoke up for the first time, turning to face the youngest Spirit present, “you and I both know better than anyone that the mortals always find a way to survive, and even prosper, at the most adverse of circumstances. We will have to trust that this trend will continue.” Another round of nods, some more confident than others, rippled across the table. Katara took a deep breath and spoke for the entire gaang.

“What do you need us to do?” she asked decisively.

 

Each one of them was assigned to a different battalion, though there was little doubt they would sooner or later find each if only because after all these years they tended to gravitate together. Around them the warriors were beginning to line up in a surprisingly orderly fashion. Toph and Aang were the first to separate, with the earthbender roughly pushing her boyfriend towards the barrier the other Avatars were slowly forming, with explicit instructions as to where he was to take her for a date as soon as they won the battle. Aang, knowing better than to disagree with her, enveloped her in a tight hug and moved to join his other incarnations. Toph paused only to punch Zuko to the arm and wolf-whistle at Sokka and Suki who were kissing (“It’s for good luck!” Suki exclaimed with a blush.) before joining the gemstone Spirits.

 

Getting over their slight embarrassment, Sokka and Suki waved at the reminder of the group and joined a group near the middle that seemed to be formed mostly of Spirits formed out of what could only be described as solidified energy. They didn’t try to put their thoughts to words, both firmly of the belief that a casual farewell was the best way to ensure you’d find someone on the other side of the battle.

 

Azula embraced her brother and Katara tightly, her throat too tight for words. Ao moved to stand to her side, their affinity with lightning making them the perfect long-range offensive. Zuko looked at them both sternly, one hand firmly wrapped around Katara, the other pointing at them warningly.

“Look after each other,” he ordered them. His eyes focused on Ao. “Once this is over, we two need to have a talk.”

“Zuko!” Azula exclaimed, indignant embarrassment overpowering the pre-battle nervousness. Ao however simply nodded and took her hand.

“That we do Fire Lord,” he said with a slight inclination of the head before he led Azula away to where they’d be stationed.

 

Katara chuckled softly, shifting so that she could face Zuko.

“Did Sokka pull a stunt like this with you?” she asked idly. Zuko shook his head.

“No, he was too afraid of Lia’s reaction, so close to our encounter with the Combustion Man, remember?” The waterbender nodded, a concerned look passing through her eyes.

“Lia will be alright, right?” she said hesitantly. Zuko sighed and tightened his grip.

“I don’t know,” he admitted quietly. “I wish she would talk to me instead of hiding away.” Katara pecked him on the cheek comfortingly.

“We’ll get through this battle,” she said strongly. “Then we’ll make sure she is really alright.” Zuko wasn’t sure things would work quite that well, they never did with their little group, but, with the pre-battle hush slowly falling over the entire battlefield, he nodded once. Together they moved towards the front lines, with the other close-range warriors.

 

While these last minute conversations and promises were happening, Lia stood at the very edge of the battlefield, eyes closed, as she concentrated on the shifting energies around her. So deeply she was in her meditation that the sudden flare of energy right next to her seemed like a small star. She opened her eyes and turned to face him. Agni’s expression was almost mournful as he stood there, his hands rigidly on his sides like he was forcing himself to not embrace her. For an endless moment they looked at each other silently.

“You know that I love you, right?” Agni finally said in a resigned tone. “It doesn’t matter how often we scream at each other or you try to kill me, it doesn’t change anything.” Lia parted her lips to say something but he cut her off. “Don’t. I just wanted you to know for certain. Just in case.” With these words he turned to leave, completely missing the way her expression crumbled in despair. Wordlessly Lia turned once more forward to face the battlefield, refusing to let her tears fall.

Twilight of the Spirit World – A Given Quest

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Author’s note: In which the author starts the first of what will be a litany of cameos, a plan is hatched, and Toph is a shipper.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***A Given Quest***

A tense silence followed Aang’s question. Lia looked at him confused.

“What do you mean you can only airbend?” she said. Aang tried to earthbend a platform but nothing happened. Nervously Toph repeated her boyfriend’s movement, managing to create the aforementioned platform.

“The vibrations are a little off,” she said with a furrowed brow. “They seem clearer somehow.”

“The ground is harder here than in the human world,” Lia explained. “That’s why gems are easier to find here.”

“Interesting, but it still doesn’t explain why Aang is three bending abilities down,” Azula said, trying to bring everyone back to focus. Katara surveyed the area around them. They had landed on a vast green field that seemed to go on forever. If anyone was to appear, no matter how far away, they would see them immediately. Then again, the same could be said for her group.

“Maybe we should continue this somewhere less open?” she asked. Zuko nodded in agreement.

“It feels like there is a forest up ahead,” Toph offered. “Maybe we should go there.” Suki blinked.

“What forest?” she asked the earthbender. “There’s only more grasslands around us.” Lia shook her head.

“Nothing is as it seems here. Both of you could be right and wrong. The environment is affected by your expectations and some features could be constantly changing to meet them.” She began to walk ahead, the grass remaining undisturbed under her feet. The rest of the group hurried to follow.

“How is that even possible?” Sokka asked, ever the pragmatist.

“Mind over matter,” Aang offered. “The monks taught us that during meditation the only way to fully embrace our subconscious and thus enter the spiritual plane was to let go of any earthly needs and desires.”

“Which is why crossing over to the Spirit World and entering the Avatar State has always been easy for you and your earthbending still leaves much to be desired,” Lia added. Taking pity at everyone else who looked more or less lost she added: “Think of it this way; if you think about something really hard it will quite possibly become your reality here. For example now I’m making sure that no one will be able to track us by following any footsteps left on the grass and also by shortening the distance to Roku’s place. If a few of you also put your mind at it, we might even reach it before nightfall.”

 

A trip that should have taken at least a few days – although none of the gaang were certain if that estimate was correct – was over only after five hours of fast walking. The end of the field and the woods Toph had sensed appeared in the distance and along with them a mansion that seemed to have been pulled straight out of the Sozin-era Fire Nation. As they walked up to the gate they saw that the main building was surrounded by gardens and a small river was cheerfully rolling on the side of it.

“Should we knock?” Sokka asked, pointing at the Lotus-shaped brass.

“Nah,” Lia pushed the heavy door open casually. “This is the one place here that I’m always welcome, no strings attached, no questions asked.” She had barely made a step inside the garden when the shadow of a dragon appeared over them, seconds before the actual creature descended and launched itself at the Fire Spirit.

“What the?” Sokka yelped pulling out his boomerang before Zuko’s hand on his shoulder held him back.

“Just watch,” the Fire Lord said, pointing at the laughing redhead and the equally cheerful creature looming over her.

“Fang!” Lia exclaimed between her chuckles, “Get off me! I swear you grow larger by the decade!”

“He’s definitely missed you,” a woman’s voice, one that reminded Zuko and Azula eerily of their mother’s, was heard from the doors. Fang finally moved back, allowing Lia to sit up and push her hair out of her eyes, still with a wide smile.

“That can’t be Ta Min,” she said addressing the woman. “I have it in good conscience that your husband sneaks him many more treats than I ever did.”

“Maybe the rarity is what gives them value.” The majestic form of Avatar Roku appeared behind his wife. “We were very worried when we heard what happened at the city.” Lia’s expression sobered but she still tried to downplay the event.

“I couldn’t have expected anything less for my Welcome Home party,” she said casually. “But maybe you can bring me up to speed with the Council’s latest folly. From the little I’ve heard they’re trying to overthrow the Avatar Spirit.”

 

Her words burnt away any lingering merriment from those around her. Roku motioned at them to follow him back inside as Ta Min gently guided Fang away. Inside the walls the air was cool and a lingering scent of smoke seemed to come from everywhere. The long corridor they were walking in led them to a spacious room overlooking the garden.

“Have a seat,” Roku said to the group that seemed to hang awkwardly by the door. “This will take a while.”

“So what is going on Roku?” Aang asked as soon as everyone was comfortable. Despite the bleakness of the situation he was glad to see his old friend and somewhat mentor again. “Is it possible for the Avatar Spirit to be killed?”

“And what would that mean for us?” Toph jumped in, making very clear who the us were by taking Aang’s hand on hers.

“The Council consists of six very powerful Spirits,” Roku explained. “Even before the war and my death they had a slight,” Lia coughed something that sounded like humongous, “fixation with power. Over the centuries they came to view the original Spirits, the elementals and the Avatar, as too powerful and therefore potential threats to the balance between the worlds.” Zuko crossed his arms.

“And yet, from what Lia told us they had a part in causing the hundred-year war.” Roku turned surprised to his great-grandson.

“What do you mean?” he asked alarmed.

“Apparently Agni was somehow manipulated in orchestrating the war,” Lia explained. “While I’m not one to compliment him, it’s hard to imagine that he of all Spirits would be caught in something like this unawares.”

“Not unless he was led to believe it would be worth it,” Sokka said thoughtfully. Katara gave him a look.

“And what could you possibly promise an all-powerful, cunning Spirit in order to make him your puppet?” Toph made a show of turning to “look” at Lia’s direction. The Spirit’s eyes narrowed in annoyance.

“If you mean that he now ranks at an all-time low on the list of people that I don’t like then you are right.”

“Defensive!” Toph whistled.

“On another note,” Lia continued forcefully, “Aang said he cannot earth, water, or firebend here. Any ideas why?”

“But of course he wouldn’t!” Roku exclaimed. “Here every incarnation of the Avatar exists as a separate Spirit and therefore have no access to the Avatar State or the bending disciples they gain through their connection with their past lives.”

“So, essentially I’m only an airbender here,” Aang said slowly. Seeing his friends’ worried expressions he grinned. “That’s not that bad!” Roku had to smile at his next life’s optimism. Turning to Lia again he focused on another matter.

“The Council’s actions cannot go unchecked or unpunished,” he said, drawing everyone’s attention. “I have begun gathering like-minded Spirits and I’m certain that the rest of the Avatars will be doing the same. You need to focus on securing the crystals.”

“What are these crystals everyone seems to be making a huge deal about?” Sokka asked, fed up with understanding only half the conversation.

“Each elemental possesses a crystal that focuses and enhances their power, similarly to how the full moon and the comet affect water and firebenders. However, even on their own, the crystals carry enormous energy.” Lia shrugged. “In simple words they’re not something we can afford to lose on the other side.”

“In any case,” Katara said, “we already have one.”

Everyone turned to where Lia was sitting, looking decidedly uncomfortable.

“I don’t have it,” she admitted guiltily. “When Sirius passed the title on me, I didn’t feel ready to handle the crystal so I asked him to keep it.” Toph shrugged unconcerned.

“So we just need to find this Sirius-guy, take the crystal and move on, right?” Sokka shook his head.

“Somehow I know that it will not be so simple.” He grumbled.

 

Roku stood and brought a few scrolls on the table they were sitting around. Sokka and Zuko reached for them eagerly, to unravel detailed –and not so detailed- maps of the Spirit World. Azula leaned next to her brother to study one particularly vague representation of a swampy area when a thought occurred to her.

“Please tell me there will not be a time limit for this?” she asked hopefully.

“I’m afraid there is,” Roku chuckled at the exasperated expressions on everyone’s faces. “The Council will not rest, especially when they learn that we are moving against them.” His expression turned grim. “And I’m afraid that there will be war. Our only hope is to have awakened the Avatar Spirit and use the elemental crystals to push them back.”

“And hopefully replace them with someone a tad nicer,” Lia added.

“This definitely feels like the good old days, doesn’t it?” Katara said, raising an eyebrow at Aang’s and Zuko’s direction.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the two men said together and then shared an amused look.

“Well,” Roku said, standing up, “why don’t you familiarize yourself with the maps? I need a word with Lia.”

 

They moved out in the garden again. Lia let the elder Avatar lead the way to where his dragon was resting.

“I’m going to assume that they do not know who your mentor is,” he finally said.

“No,” Lia answered evenly. “I avoided talking about my past as much as possible. Even Zuko, who knows the most, does not know who Sirius is. To be honest I did not plan to have to explain our connection ever. I certainly did not expect finding myself forced to make any sort of alliance with him.”

“Don’t let what happened then to cloud your judgment now my dear. I understand things between you are complicated but remember who the real enemy is now. None of us can afford any distractions.” Lia huffed.

“You have no idea how much I would have loved to argue with you over this,” she said as they walked back at the house. “But,” she continued with a slight smile, “duty calls!”

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The Avatar and the Firelord

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Author’s Note: In which there are flashbacks and Spirit World travels but not all that much action. Also, in which we get proof that enigmatic talking is a side-effect of old age and not just Iroh’s shtick. Huh! Go figure!

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***The Avatar and the Firelord***

– Aang’s dream-

Roku appeared in front of Aang through a wall of fire, his usual benevolent smile in place.

Aang, it’s time you and your friend Zuko learned my history with Fire Lord Sozin. You need to understand how the war began, if you want to know how to end it. Meet me on my home island on the day of the summer solstice.” With these words he disappeared.

-End of Aang’s dream-

Aang shifted on Appa’s saddle.

“Okay Roku,”, he mumbled before rolling over.

 

A flock of birds looked curiously as an abnormally large cloud moved fast towards an island. Inside the cloud the Avatar bended air and water together to keep up their camouflage. Seeing the island up ahead he called to the rest of the group.

“There it is. That’s Roku’s home.” Katara looked over the edge confused.

“But there’s nothing here,” she said. They landed and Toph was the first to jump off the saddle, curious about the place where the previous Avatar had lived. The vibrations sobered her mood.

“Yes, there is. An entire village. Hundreds of houses. All completely buried in ash,” she explained. Indeed the entire island was covered by a thick layer of solid magma.

 

The gang found a plateau and Aang hurried to take his meditating stance. Zuko followed him hesitantly.

“So, explain to me again why I have to do this?” he asked. Aang opened an eye and shrugged.

“Don’t know,” he said cheerfully. “But Roku said you have to be there so I guess it’s important.”

“But how I’m even going to cross into the Spirit World?” the prince exclaimed. “You are the only one who can cross in and out without a problem.” Aang slumped.

“Well…” he began uncertainly. “I guess if you concentrated reaaaaaaaally hard…” Zuko gave him a look.

“As stupid as it sounds, Aang is right, Zuko,” Lia interfered before the boys could start arguing. “Crossing over in Spirit form is basically very deep meditation. Iroh managed it. You can do it too.” With a deep breath and a final nod the two boys returned to their meditation. Aang’s tattoos and eyes began glowing but Zuko gave no sign that he had followed his airbending friend.

“Did Zuko cross over too?” Katara asked Lia. The redhead closed her eyes, concentrated and then flashed a brilliant smile.

“He did it!” she smiled, proud of her student.

 

Inside the Spirit World Zuko and Aang found themselves atop of a mountain, scanning the clouds around them. A growl was heard and Fang appeared, with Roku riding him. The old Avatar smiled down at the two youngsters as the dragon hovered in front of them.

“Come, boys,” Roku said kindly. Aang climbed behind him eagerly, Zuko following him a little apprehensively. Being in Sprit form felt strange to him. Like a very important part of him was missing. Plus a very old, very powerful person was in front of him (and he didn’t mean Aang). The airbender didn’t seem to share his inhibitions.

“Where are we going?” he asked curiously.

“To visit my past,” Roku explained with a smile. “Our shared past.” As Aang smiled back, Zuko dared a question.

“And why am I here?” he asked respectfully.

“Because some parts of this story are important to understanding your legacy too,” the old man said.
The scene shifted to a courtyard. With a pang of longing Zuko recognised it as a part of the Fire Nation Palace. Two young men were sparring, using some quite impressive firebending. Zuko frowned, as he looked closer at the two men. They seemed familiar. The taller man took a few steps back to avoid an attack and ended up tripping over a root. His friend stood over him smiling.

“Looks like I win again, Roku,” he said, extending a hand to the fallen man. The young Roku chuckled.

“Are you kidding?” he asked as he took his friend’s hand. “The tree root did all the work.” He patted his friend on the back. “Nice work Sozin.” Aang turned surprised to Roku.

“You were friends with Fire Lord Sozin?”

“Back then, he was just prince Sozin, and he was my best friend.” The two boys shared an astonished look.
As Sozin and Roku left the courtyard, a young woman passed by the door. Roku instantly blushed and stared at her with a dreamy expression. Sozin shook his head exasperated and nudged his friend.

“Say something to her,” he urged. Roku made a move towards the woman but didn’t manage to utter a word. Embarrassed beyond belief he slumped to the ground. Sozin sat next to him and the two of them started to talk as the memory faded.

“Love is hard when you’re young,” the older Roku remarked.

“You don’t have to tell me,” Aang sighed.

“Don’t worry,” his past life assured him. “It gets better. Now come with me. We have a party to attend.

 

The scene shifted to a large celebration. Lanterns were lit everywhere and people were laughing and having a good time. Two figures stood out at the top of a staircase.

“Wait,” Aang said confused. “Whose party is that?”

“Sozin and I shared many things, including a birthday,” Roku explained. They watched as the two friends walked down the stairs. Roku noticed the young woman from earlier just as she looked away blushing. Blushing himself, he tripped on the stairs and Sozin had to grab him to avoid an embarrassment. Suddenly the crowd went quiet as a group of Fire Sages appeared. Sozin walked down the last steps, concern evident in his expression.

“Did something happen to my father‌?” he asked. The Head Sage moved forward.

“No, prince Sozin. We are not here for you. We are here to announce the identity of the next avatar.” Whispers ran through the crowd in new-found excitement. The Sages bowed. “It is our honour to serve you, Avatar Roku.” The young man could only watch in shock as everyone, including his long-time friend, bowed before him.
The three Spirits returned to Fang and started flying through Roku’s memories again. Soon another familiar place appeared.

“Hey, we’re almost at the Southern Air Temple!” Aang said excitedly to Zuko.

“This was the first stop on my avatar journey,” Roku explained. They watched as a group of young airbenders were instructed. At the end of the line, young Roku was airbending his long hair at the face of a young monk.

“It was the place where I was trained to master airbending and also where I met an old friend of yours, Monk Gyatso,” the older Roku explained.

“No way!” Aang exclaimed incredulously.

 

As Fang flew gracefully around the mountains, they watched the young monks do an airbending exercise on their gliders. Zuko watched amazed, having only seen Aang in action when it came to airbending. Roku brought Fang closer to the mountainside, while his younger self called out to his friend.

“Hey, Gyatso, you want to see a new glider trick?!” he did a double loop and looked at the young monk expectantly. Gyatso just laughed.

“Check THIS out!” He called before flipping his glider and standing on top of it.

“He’s air-gliding!” Aang exclaimed a little jealously. “I can’t believe I never thought of that.

“A good thing you didn’t,” Zuko remarked. Gyatso had lost his balance and although Roku caught him before he fell to his death, the added weight threw them off balance and sent them crashing in front of the rest of the students.
“That’s amazing,” Aang said smiling. “I can’t believe you were friends with Monk Gyatso just like I was!”

“Some friendships are so strong, they can even transcend lifetimes,” his previous life said fondly.

 

The background surrounding them faded to reconstruct itself to the glaciers of the North Pole. Roku was standing on a small iceberg looking older.

“After my years mastering airbending, I travelled to the Northern Water Tribe,” the spirit-Roku explained. “Waterbending was especially challenging for me.” He remarked as his younger self was knocked in the water, unable to block his master’s attack. Zuko winced sympathetically, having been at the receiving end of one too many waterwhips. “In time though, I mastered it as well.”
The scene faded again and an Earth Kingdom mountain replaced it. Roku was a grown man now, as he practised earthbending.

“I moved on to the Earth Kingdom. My Earthbending master, Sud, was uncompromising, stubborn, and blunt…” the two earthbenders raced each other uphill. “…and a lifelong friend.” Sud stopped satisfied at the top of the mountain, confident he had finished first, to turn and see Roku already there, sipping his tea. Zuko stifled a laugh at the scene that reminded him so much of his uncle.
The next scene Zuko recognised as the Fire Nation Palace throne room. Roku entered cheerfully, his travels having made him a fully-realised Avatar. His friend also had moved on.

“Sozin!” Roku greeted with a smile. “Or should I say, Fire Lord?”

“Customarily, my subjects bow before greeting me,” Sozin began sombrely, before breaking to a smile, “but you’re the exception.”

“After all these years he was still my friend,” Roku said to the two boys. A wedding ceremony appeared before them. “And a few months later, he was my best man.” A beautiful young woman was standing next to the young Roku.

“Roku, it’s that girl who didn’t even know you were alive!” Aang said surprised.

“Ta Min,” Roku said with a fond smile. “I was persistent. When love is real, it finds a way, and being the Avatar doesn’t hurt your chances with the ladies, either,” he winked to his next incarnation.

The three of them watched the reception and then the banquet. Zuko was trying to memorize as many details as possible, his mind already on Katara. The younger Roku and Ta Min were thanking their guests when Sozin approached them.

“Excuse me. May I borrow him for a moment‌?” he asked Ta Min. She raised an eyebrow.

“It’s not very traditional, but ok.”
The two men went to the balcony, in search for some peace and quiet.

“What’s on your mind?” Roku asked his friend worried.

“I’ve been thinking hard about the state of the world lately,” Sozin said seriously. Roku shook his head incredulously.

“Sozin, it’s my wedding. Have a cookie. Dance with someone. Lighten up,” he tried to lighten the Fire Lord’s mood.

“I know, I know, but just hear me out. Right from the start, I was destined to be Fire Lord. And although we didn’t always know it, you were destined to be the Avatar. It’s an amazing stroke of fate we know each other so well, isn’t it?‌ Together, we could do…anything!” Sozin said.

“Yeah…” Roku looked at him hesitantly. “We could.”

“Our nation is enjoying an unprecedented time of peace and wealth. Our people are happy, and we’re so fortunate in so many ways,” Sozin continued in an almost delirious way.

“Where are you going with this‌?” Roku asked suspicious.

“I’ve been thinking,” Sozin explained, “We should share this prosperity with the rest of the world. In our hands is the most successful empire in history. It’s time we expanded it.”  Roku took a step back, horrified at the idea.

“No. The four nations are meant to be just that: four.”

“Roku, you haven’t even stopped to consider the possibilities.”

“There are no possibilities. This is the last I want to hear about this,” Roku stalked away angrily.

 

The spirit Roku looked at the youngsters sadly.

“That was my first real test as the Avatar. Unfortunately, it was many years before I learned that Sozin had gone ahead with his plan, despite my warning.”
They were transported back the Fire Nation throne room. A middle aged Roku burst through the doors enraged.

“I’ve seen the colony, Sozin. How dare you occupy Earth Kingdom territory?” The Fire Lord regarded him coldly.

“How dare you, a citizen of the Fire Nation, address your Fire Lord this way? Your loyalty is to our nation first. Anything less makes you a traitor.” Roku’s eyes narrowed.

“Don’t do this, Sozin,” he warned. “Don’t challenge me. It will only end badly. It’s over.” With a disappointed look he turned to leave.

 

As the Avatar turned to leave saddened, Sozin leaped from the throne furious and sent an enormous blast of fire to his old friend. The room was filled with smoke and when the air cleared Roku was nowhere to be found. Sozin looked around, alarmed. Roku suddenly appeared behind him through the floor. He blasted the Fire Lord away with air and before he had time to stand in his feet again, Roku had earthbended him inside an earth pillar in the middle of the nearly-demolished throne room. Roku airbended himself in front of his old friend.

“I’m sparing you, Sozin. I’m letting you go in the name of our past friendship, but I warn you, even a single step out of line will result in your permanent end.” Without another word, the Avatar left.

 

Fang drifted away from the scene, his passengers’ spirits low. Their next destination was a small volcanic island that seemed eerily familiar.

“Sozin and I didn’t speak or see each other for 25 years after our battle. I spent most of my spare time here at my home,” Roku continued his story. Suddenly the volcano in the middle of the island began erupting. A much older Roku rushed out of his house with his wife.

 

Below them the townspeople were running away, panicking. Roku took the lead, bringing them to safety, when lava started spurting out of the volcano. The Avatar paused for a moment and then motioned to Ta Min to go on without him. Assured that everyone would safely be soon on the boats Roku turned to face the destruction. A landslide was approaching the city. Roku bended the earth to change its course. He created a channel, sending the lava to meet the sea.

“This is amazing, Roku. You’re battling a volcano, and you’re winning!” Aang exclaimed amazed. His older counterpart shook his head grimly.

“Unfortunately, my success didn’t last, Aang. There was no way I could do it all. Battling the elements was hard enough. I had to do it while I could barely breathe. The poisonous, volcanic gasses were overwhelming.”
The real Fang appeared and tried to approach his master. Roku waved him away.

“It’s all right, Fang. Get out of here, I’m fine,” he choked.  As soon as the dragon obeyed, Roku’s eyes flashed and he entered the Avatar State. He managed to pacify the volcano, but a second crater erupted a little further away. Zuko nudged Aang suddenly.

“Look!” he said pointing in the distance.

“Need a hand, old friend‌?” Sozin’s voice called. He was approaching on a blue dragon.

“Sozin?” Roku called surprised. The Fire Lord landed next to him.

“There’s not a moment to waste,” he said grimly.
The two men continued their efforts to put out the volcanoes. A rumble passed through the ground and Sozin lost his footing. Roku bended a shelf of earth underneath his feet, saving his life. Before either of them could say anything another wave of ash appeared. They turned to run.

“Don’t breathe the toxic gas,” Roku called, bending the air around his old friend clean. Another wave of gas erupted in front of him and caught him by surprise. The old Avatar fell to his knees. He turned towards Sozin and held out a hand, weakly asking for help. Sozin’s face was set in stone.

“Without you, all my plans are suddenly possible.” His dragon landed in front of him and he mounted. “I have a vision for the future, Roku.” With these parting words he left.  Aang and Zuko watched in horror and disbelief as lava came down and engulfed Roku and Fang.
A blinding light appeared and the next thing they knew they were flying over a field in the Spirit World.

“Where are we?” Zuko asked confused.

“The Spirit World,” Roku explained, “where I met a good friend of yours.” A familiar redhead was talking with the Roku of the memory.

“That’s Lia!” Aang exclaimed surprised. Roku nodded.

“With her help I was able to watch over my loved ones, even after I crossed over. I had the chance to see my granddaughter to grow up to a beautiful young woman and marry the second grandson of my once best friend.” The two teenagers looked at him and then at its other astonished.

I’m Avatar Roku’s great-grandson! Zuko thought in disbelief. Below them they could see Lia, appearing a little younger and a lot more care-free, sneaking out to watch over the Fire Nation palace.

“She watched over you Zuko without me asking her to,” Roku explained softly. “But I’m glad that she did. I didn’t want Sozin’s influence over my great-grandchildren.”

“She was banished from the Spirit World because of me,” Zuko said guiltily. He couldn’t help but think it was his fault. They were back at the field where they had first arrived. The ancient Avatar put a hand on the firebender’s shoulder.

“Do not feel guilty. You have helped her as much as she has helped you.” He turned to Aang. “Make sense of our past Aang and you will bring peace and restore balance in the world.” With these words he disappeared, leaving the boys alone. With a start, they woke up in their bodies.
The two boys only gave a brief recount of what they have seen, still dazed from the revelations. After they finished, silence reigned for a few minutes.

“You mean, after all Roku and Sozin went through together…even after Roku showed him mercy, Sozin betrayed him like that‌?” Katara finally asked her voice full of disbelief. Toph seemed to share her sentiments.

“It’s like these people are born bad.” Zuko hung his head at that, ashamed that one of his ancestors was the reason Avatar Roku had died. Aang shook his head.

“No, that’s wrong. I don’t think that was the point of what Roku showed me at all.”

“Then what’s the point?” Sokka asked confused.
“Sozin was just as much Fire Nation as Roku and Zuko, right‌? If anything, this story proves anyone’s capable of great good and great evil. Everyone, even the Fire Lord
and the Fire Nation have to be treated like they’re worth giving a chance. And I also think it was about friendships.”

“Do you really think friendships can last more than one lifetime‌?” Toph asked softly. Aang took her hand and blushed a little.

“I don’t see why not.”

 

Katara took hold of Toph’s other hand, with Zuko and Lia following them.

“Well, scientifically speaking, there’s no way to prove that…” Sokka began. Lia rolled her eyes.

“Oh just shut up and hold hands Sokka!” she said. The boy didn’t turn but his hand shot to grab hers. With a laugh they all looked at each other. Some friendships may not last, but theirs would surely would.

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The Awakening

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Author’s note: In which there are tensions, plan-making and Avatar-yelling. Also, in which the author would like to apologise for last chapter’s cheesy ending. I was feeling nostalgic….

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***The Awakening***

Aang drifted back into consciousness slowly and painfully. His whole body hurt and he could feel bandages covering his arms and torso. Managing to sit on his bed he blinked a few times to clear his vision. A wave of pain came through his stomach.

“What happened?” Aang muttered confused. Looking around for the first time he realized that he was on a Fire Nation ship. His eyes widened. Azula captured me. Scrambling off his bed Aang made a beeline for the door. He grabbed his staff from its resting place not pausing to think why the Fire princess would leave it there. Limping through the corridors Aang tried to find his way on deck. Coming out of a corner he saw two soldiers standing a little far ahead. He gasped and quickly hid behind the corner again.

“You hear something?” one of the soldiers asked.

 

Aang decided to use whatever element of surprise he had. He jumped out of his hiding place and bended a strong air current to the soldiers. As they shielded themselves Aang ran between them, down the corridor.

“He’s awake!” the taller soldier exclaimed. They ran after him and Aang tried desperately to stay ahead. “Stop, wait!” the soldier called. He ignored them and seeing a small staircase in front of him he half-limped, half-airbended himself on deck. He ended up on lying on his stomach, the staff having been tossed on the other side of the deck. In front of him he saw Momo being petted by   Zuko who was wearing a Fire Nation armour. More men were scattered here and there wearing armours. The prince looked up when he heard the sound of Aang bursting out. Momo squealed happily and rushed to the boy, licking his cheek.

“Momo?” Aang asked uncertainly. He heard Toph’s voice.

“Twinkle-Toes, that’s got to be you!” She and Katara rushed to his side along with a smiling Zuko, Lia and another soldier, this one wearing a helmet.

“Aang, you’re awake!” Katara said relieved and happier than anyone had heard her for quite some time. Aang rubbed his eyes.

“Are you sure?” he asked. “I feel like I’m dreaming.” Toph lunged herself at him, hugging him furiously.

“You’re not dreaming. You’re finally awake,” Katara assured him. The soldier with the helmet gave Aang a quick hug.

“Aang, good to see you back with the living, buddy,” a familiar voice said. Aang looked incredulous.

“Sokka?” he asked. His eyes rolled to his head and the last thing he heard was Toph.

“Uh-oh!” she said worried. “Somebody catch him, he’s gonna…” Aang fell to the ground unconscious before anyone was quick enough to catch him. “…faint.”

 

It took only two minutes for Aang to wake up again. Zuko handed him a cloak which the Avatar put on gratefully. He turned to Katara who was sitting in front of him.

“Why are we on a Fire Nation ship? Why is everyone dressed this way? And why am I the only one out of it?” Katara placed a hand on his shoulder.

“You need to take it easy, okay? You got hurt pretty bad.” She gave him a small smile. “I like your hair.” Shocked Aang touched his head.

“I have hair? How long was I out?” he panicked. Katara chuckled.

“A few weeks.”

 

Hakoda approached them worried.

“Everything okay?” he asked. Katara rolled her eyes annoyed.

“We’re fine dad,” she snapped. Hakoda offered his hand to Aang.

“I’m Hakoda, Katara and Sokka’s father,” he introduced himself. Katara huffed.

“He knows who you are. I just called you ‘Dad’, didn’t I?” Aang shot her a surprised look as Hakoda’s small smile fell.

“I guess you’re right,” he said. Aang extended his arm on a warrior’s handshake.

“Nice to officially meet you, Chief Hakoda.”

“It’s an honour to meet you,” The man said back. Katara simply waved her hand.

“Great, great. Now you guys have finally met, so would you mind giving us a little privacy?”

“Of course,” her father sighed and walked off to Appa. Aang looked at the waterbender curiously.

“Are you mad at your dad or something?” he asked tentatively. She looked at him surprised.

“What? Not at all, why would you say that?” she asked confused. Aang shrugged and immediately doubled over as pain shot from his back.

“Maybe we should go upstairs,” Katara decided. “You need a healing session.”

 

With Lia’s help Katara carried Aang back to his room. There the Spirit leaned on the wall, looking them with a measuring gaze as Katara knelt behind her patient and placed the glowing water on his back.

“Tell me where your pain feels most intense,” she instructed him. Aang squeezed his eyes shut and grunted a little.

“A little higher,” he told her. He gasped as the ghost pain from the lightning hit him again. “Wow, you are definitely in the right area there,” he mumbled.

“I can feel a lot of energy twisted up around there. Let me just see if I can…”

 

Katara tentatively drew her water back, coaxing the trapped energy to follow it. Aang arched his back, letting out a grunt of pain. He took a few deep breaths, trying to recover from the shock and looked alarmed at the girls.

“I went down! I didn’t just get hurt, did I? It was worse than that. I was gone.” He turned to face Katara. “But you brought me back.” The girl shrugged.

“I just used the spirit water from the North Pole. I don’t know what I did, exactly.”

“You saved me,” he told her plainly. Katara eased him on his bed.

“You need to rest,” she told him before leaving the room with Lia.

 

Later that night Zuko heard a knock on his door. He was about to get ready for bed and the only one he could think of coming to visit him at this hour was Katara. His face fell a little when he saw Lia standing at his door but he let her in anyway. The past weeks she would scribble down furiously in any piece of parchment she could get her hands on, always making sure no one saw what was written on it. And now here she was with the expression of someone mentally preparing themselves for an argument.

“You are going to be mad at me,” she said decisively. Zuko looked at her confused.

“Why? Did you set someone on fire?” Lia gave him a small wink but quickly put her serious expression on.

“I took my sweet time telling you this but there was hardly any appropriate time earlier.” She took a deep breath. “I found your mother.”

 

Zuko looked at her thunderstruck.

“She’s alive?” he finally whispered, throwing himself to a chair next to her.

“Alive, well and happy now that she knows you are okay too,” Lia assured him.

“You spoke with her?” She nodded. Her words sank in at last. “WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME EARLIER?” Zuko shouted, hurt that she had indeed taken her “sweet time”. Lia glared at him a little but didn’t shout back.

“When?” she asked him. “While we were running from Azula, trying to convince Hakoda that yes you won’t murder everyone in their sleep or the last two weeks when you had decided to spend half your time in the engine room and the other half revising Sokka’s plan?” her voice started to rise too but she controlled herself. Zuko lowered his head.

“It’s just…” he said quietly now. “It almost feels like a dream that after all these years my wish came true.” Lia smiled gently.

“I promise you Zuko,” she said. “Your mother will see you in your coronation. But for now she is safer in anonymity. Once everything is over we’ll go together and bring her back to the palace.” The younger firebender gave her a small smile.

“That would be nice,” he said. That night he dreamt of his mother.

 

The next morning they were all eating breakfast on the deck. Sokka was sitting in the middle on the group of friends and was filling in Aang on what he had missed…when his mouth was not completely full of noodles.

“After what happened in Ba Sing Se, we had to get you to safety,” he explained. “We flew back to Chameleon Bay, where we found my father and the other Water Tribe men. The Earth King decided he wanted to travel the world in disguise, so he set off alone.”

“Not completely alone,” Toph jumped in. “That creepy bear-thing-pet of his followed him.”

“Soon, the bay was overrun with Fire Nation ships,” Sokka continued after an annoyed look which Toph didn’t see. “Rather than fight them all, we followed Zuko’s plan, captured a single ship and made it our disguise.” He unrolled a map and showed their route to the Avatar. “Since then, we’ve been traveling west. We crossed through the Serpent’s Pass a few days ago. We’ve seen a few Fire Nation ships, but none have bothered us.”

“So, what now?” Aang asked confused.

“We’ve been working on a modified version of the invasion plan,” Hakoda explained. Katara shot him an annoyed look.

“It’s Sokka’s invasion plan,” she corrected him.

“Yes, Sokka’s plan,” Hakoda repeated uneasily. He turned back to Aang. “We won’t be able to mount a massive invasion without the Earth King’s armies, but the solar eclipse will still leave the Fire Nation vulnerable.”

“So we’re planning a smaller invasion,” Sokka continued. “Just a ragtag team of our friends and allies from around the Earth Kingdom. We already ran into Pipsqueak and The Duke.” He pointed at said people.

“Good to see you again, Aang,” Pipsqueak said.

“And the best part is, the eclipse isn’t even our biggest advantage!” He leaned towards Aang and whispered as if fearing someone might overhear them. “We have a secret. You!”

“Me? “ Aang looked at him confused. The whole world knew he was back.

“Yep, the whole world thinks you’re dead!” Sokka stood up enthusiastically. “Isn’t that great?” Aang looked at him shocked.

“The world thinks I’m dead? How is that good news? That’s terrible!” he finally managed to say.

“No, it’s great,” Sokka insisted. “It means the Fire Nation won’t be hunting us anymore. And even better, they won’t expect you on the Day of Black Sun.” Aang shook his head.

“No, no, no, no, no. You have no idea. This is so messed up!” He clutched his head frustrated.

 

From somewhere nearby a horn was heard. They all looked up alarmed to see another ship approaching them. Zuko squinted his eyes.

“They’re signalling us to stop,” he informed Hakoda. Aang took out his glider.

“I’ll handle this. The Avatar is back!” However, even the simple movement it took to open his glider made him double in pain. He ignored it and took position to take off.

“You’re going to give our cover away,” Lia pointed out calmly. “They think we are Fire Nation.” Aang lowered his head resigned and closed his glider.

“Everyone just stay calm,” Hakoda ordered putting on his helmet. “Bato and I will take care of this.”

 

Pipsqueak and The Duke hurriedly covered Appa with a piece of tarp, making him look like a bulky mass of cargo. Momo quickly hid next to his friend. The kids hid on the staircase that led below deck with the exception of Zuko and Lia who wore helmets and decided impromptu to act as “soldiers”.

“I hate not being able to do anything,” Aang muttered. Toph heard him and rolled her eyes.

“Hopefully, you won’t need to,” she snapped at him.

 

A bridge was put between the two ships and a Fire Nation officer accompanied by two soldiers crossed to their ship. Hakoda bowed to the man.

“Commander, why are you off course? All Western Fleet ships are supposed to be moving toward Ba Sing Se to support the occupation,” the officer demanded.

“Actually, we’re from the Eastern Fleet. We have orders to deliver some cargo,” Hakoda improvised quickly. The man seemed to believe him.

“Ah, Eastern Fleet. Well, nice of Admiral Chan to let us know he was sending one of his ships our way.”

“I am sure Admiral Chan meant no disrespect, sir,” Bato assured him hurriedly.

“I mean, how hard is it to write a quick note and send a hawk our way?” the officer insisted. By the looks of it this Admiral wasn’t the most helpfully person to work with.

“Next time, we’ll send two hawks to be sure you get the message,” Hakoda assured him.

 

He and Bato bowed to the officer and he bowed back. As he turned to leave a soldier whispered to him:

“Sir, Admiral Chan has been on leave for two months at Ember Island.”

“What? Why doesn’t anyone ever tell me anything? Something’s not right. They should’ve known that. I think this is a captured ship,” he lowered his voice. “Just stay quiet until we’re safely across the ramp. Then we’ll sink this ship.” He didn’t count on Toph’s exhalent hearing though. She jumped from her hiding place.

“They know!” she shouted before metalbending the bridge and throwing the three Fire Nation men on the water.

 

Katara jumped out too and hurriedly gathered a small mountain of water between the two ships. Her father opened his mouth to warn her not to bend so much water or she might lose control but then she simply used it push the two ships apart with the ease someone swats away a fly. The ship began to accelerate as Zuko and Lia returned hurriedly on deck.

“The engine will go faster for a little more but we need to lose them fast or they’ll sink us,” Zuko shouted. Both he and Lia had dropped their helmets and were preparing for battle. The other ship prepared the catapults and started firing at them. It was only their steadily increasing speed that saved them from the first few shots.

“Now that seems oddly familiar,” Sokka called over his shoulder as he dragged Aang to a small room on deck where he would be safe. Zuko ignored him. On the back side of the ship Pipsqueak was placing boulders in front of Toph. She sent them back on the enemy ship, destroying one of their catapults and stopping mid-air one of the flaming boulders that came against them.

 

Aang saw a fireball landing centimetres from the ship and made a move to go out. Sokka grabbed him by the shoulder forcing him to stay inside. Frustrated the Avatar knocked his head on his glider. The Fire Nation ship fired a projectile, piercing the side of the ship. Katara shut the hole with ice and turned to Lia.

“We need some cover!” she called and the Spirit nodded. A cloud of mist and steam rose between the ships hiding each other from view. Another fireball appeared and Lia hurriedly called the flames to herself in an attempt to minimise the damage done.

 

Inside the small room Aang huffed.

“I can’t just stand by and do nothing!” he rushed outside.

“Aang! No!” Sokka ran after him. He grabbed the other boy’s staff. “You’re still hurt, and you have to stay secret. Just let us handle this.” Aang snatched it back.

“Fine!” he muttered before returning to the room. Sokka barely had time to send him a concerned look before another hit was launched. Zuko saw it and pushed Katara out of the way, managing to kick the fireball to the water. She gave him a small smile in thanks.

“How we doing?” Toph asked.

“Things couldn’t get much worse,” Sokka called back, leaning against the railing. Just then a giant serpent decided to appear behind him. Sokka gulped. “The Universe just loves proving me wrong, doesn’t it?” he said resigned. Toph sent a glare to his direction.

“You make it too easy!” Another fireball was launched. Lia smirked and redirected it to hit the Serpent. It screeched and dived underwater to appear moments later and proceed to attack the enemy ship.

“Thank you The Universe!” Sokka sighed.

 

Later that afternoon they docked near a small island to restock. Aang was lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling, bored out of his mind when his friends appeared at the door.

“Hey, Aang, we’re going into town to find some dinner,” Toph said cheerfully.

“Well, I am pretty hungry. Maybe dinner’s a good idea.” He was still down from not being able to take part at the battle earlier. Sokka took out a red headband.

“Here, tie this around your head. It’ll cover your arrow,” he explained. Aang glared at him.

“I’m not going out if I can’t wear my arrow proudly,” he snapped.

“Aang, be practical,” Sokka tried to make him understand.

“Why don’t you guys go ahead and we’ll catch up with you,” Lia said suddenly. With an uncertain glance from Katara they left.

“It’s because of Ba Sing Se, isn’t it?” she said as soon as everyone was out of earshot. “You don’t want people to think you failed.”

“You’re right, I don’t. But the problem is, I did fail,” Aang muttered. Lia raised an eyebrow.

“You’re alive. That alone disproves your point.”

“But I was in Ba Sing Se. I was there, but I lost. And now, the Earth Kingdom has fallen for good.” Lia tried again.

“We still have the invasion plan,” she reminded him, forcing herself to sound cheerful.

“And I hate the invasion plan, too!” Aang said angrily. “I don’t want Katara or any of my friends risking their lives to fix my mistakes.” He tried to take a few calming breaths. “I’ve always known that I would have to face the Fire Lord, but now, I know I need to do it alone.”

“Aang…” Lia began in a slightly reproving tone but he cut her.

“Lia, please. Just go, please.” She sighed defeated and made her way to the door.

“Is there anything you need?” she asked before leaving.

“I need to redeem myself. I need my honour back,” Aang said resolutely. He was sure he heard her say “Zuko all over again” before she moved away.

 

Katara had made sure to bring something nice from the town for Aang. Meatless of course but Zuko had assured her that this was one of the best dishes in the Fire Nation and she trusted his opinion.

“I brought you some food,” She called entering Aang’s room. Her eyes widened seeing it empty and the tray fell from her nerveless fingers. Not caring about it she ran back on deck immediately.

 

She ran immediately to where her father and Bato were standing. Seeing her crying Zuko made a movement to go to her but Lia placed a hand on his shoulder. Getting the message he stood back.

“I’ll leave you two alone,” Bato said awkwardly.

“What’s wrong Katara?” Hakoda asked worried. He hadn’t seen his daughter cried since his wife’s death.

“He left.”

“What?” he asked her confused.

“Aang. He just took his glider and disappeared. He has this ridiculous notion that he has to save the world alone. That it’s all his responsibility,” she explained frustrated.

“Maybe that’s his way of being brave,” her father told her calmly.

“It’s not brave. It’s selfish and stupid. We could be helping him. And I know the world needs him, but doesn’t he know how much that we need him too? How could he just leave us behind?” Hakoda looked at her in silence for a few moments.

“You’re talking about me too, aren’t you?” he finally said gravely.

“How could you leave us, dad?” Katara was finally crying and she felt like she couldn’t stop the tears. “I mean, I know we had Gran Gran, and she loved us, but…but we were just so lost without you.”

“I am so sorry, Katara,” Hakoda said sadly as the girl cried inside his embrace.

“I understand why you left,” Katara managed to say through her sobs. “I really do, and I know that you had to go, so why do I still feel this way? I was so sad and angry, and hurt.”

“I love you more than anything,” her father assured her. “You and your brother are my entire world. I thought about you every day I was gone, and every night when I went to sleep. I would lay awake missing you so much, it would ache.”

Plans were made immediately. They would go on Appa to find Aang and meet with the main force at the day of the invasion. While the others were hurriedly loading their stuff on the bison Lia was standing near the edge of the ship, glaring at the horizon. Following Zuko’s example everyone had wisely avoided her. Sokka was leaning over Appa’s saddle to take a bag of provisions from his father’s hands when she spoke.

“Screw the rules!” she shouted before doing a very complicated move of firebending. Everyone stopped to watch her as the majestic figure of Avatar Roku appeared through the flames. Some of the Water Tribesmen fell to the ground in awe. Lia didn’t seem to share their sentiments.

“Where in the Nations are you?” she yelled at Roku. Hakoda sucked a breath worried. That girl had been able to summon a past life of the Avatar and now she was yelling at him. They were all as good as doomed. Lia was continuing her ranting.

“I don’t care what the rules say! Find that current incarnation of yours and make sure he stays alive long enough so that I can kill him!” she paused for a breath. Before she had a chance to say anything more Roku spoke.

“I will see you at my last home.” He disappeared. Lia looked around at the shocked faces.

“What?” she asked.

“You just yelled at Avatar Roku,” Zuko pointed out. His Guardian shrugged.

“I’ve never got in big trouble for yelling,” she said. “Besides he was a firebender. He knows I have to let the steam out.”

“Pun intended I supposed,” Toph commented wryly. Lia ignored her.

“We’re heading to Crescent Moon Island,” she said climbing on the saddle.

 

Not very far Aang was struggling to keep control of his glider. As he managed to gain some altitude he saw a blockade in front of him. Taking a deep breath he closed his glider and dived to the ice cold water. He managed to avoid the blockade and resurfaced on the other side. Luckily for him a piece of drift wood was sailing next to him. Smiling Aang climbed on it and used his glider to windsurf through the tides. His luck lasted only so far and soon it began to rain. A wave threw him in the water and Aang had barely time to catch another piece of drift wood and avoid being drowned.

“I’m not gonna make it. I failed,” he whispered exhausted. A flash of lightning lighted the sky and Roku appeared in front of him.

“You haven’t failed, Aang,” he assured the boy.

“But everyone thinks I am dead again. They think I’ve abandoned them, and I’m losing this war. I’m letting the whole world down,” Aang insisted. Roku looked at him with guilt.

“If anyone is to blame for the state of the world, it is me. I should’ve seen this war coming, and prevented it. You inherited my problems and my mistakes. But I also believe you are destined to redeem me, and save the world.”

“I don’t know,” Aang said hesitantly.

“You already saved the world,” Yue’s voice was heard. Aang looked up to see the once princess of the Northern Water Tribe smiling down at him. “And you’ll save the world again. But you can’t give up,” she encouraged him. Aang nodded.

“You’re right. I won’t give up.”

 

He climbed again of the drift wood and started waterbending himself. Slowly an island appeared in front of him. By early sunrise he managed to drag himself on the shore where he collapsed exhausted. He woke up a few hours later when Momo hopped on his chest. As he sat up he was tackled by Katara.

“You’re okay!” the waterbender said relief. Soon everyone, even Zuko, joined the group hug.

“I have so much to do,” Aang said once they gave him some breathing space. Katara nodded.

“I know, but you’ll have our help.”

“You didn’t think you could get out of training just by coming to the Fire Nation, did you?” Toph asked raising an eyebrow. Neither she nor Aang had realised that they had been holding hands since the hug had broken. Still Aang wasn’t assured.

“What about the invasion?” he asked Sokka and Zuko.

“We’ll join up with my dad and the invasion force on the day of the eclipse,” the warrior assured him. Lia felt something poking her foot. Looking down she saw a piece of wood having been washed out.

“Is that your glider?” she asked shocked. Aang took it from her hands with a demure smile.

“That’s okay. If someone saw it, it would give away my identity. It’s better for now that no one knows I’m alive.” He turned his head towards the still smoking volcano. With a few airbending jumps he was on its crater.  Aang looked at his glider for one last time before he tossed to the magma and turned his back to join his friends.

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – Winter Solstice

Standard

Author’s Note: In which the author is very aware of the irony on today’s post’s title, Zhao cameos to everyone’s disappointment, we meet a past Avatar and the chapter finishes in an obnoxious, follow-up-begging cliffhanger.

Last chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***Winter Solstice***

To say Zuko was angry was a gross understatement. He was beyond furious. All it had taken was the Avatar to drop by and now an entire high security earthbenders’ prison lay empty. The commander had explained, after getting over the shock, that a Water Tribe girl had let herself be arrested and then inspired the prisoners to escape. All it had taken was a few words from this girl – and coal, of course. Zuko now stood on the platform searching for any clue that might help him. He was ready to give up when something blue caught his eye. It was the necklace the Water Tribe girl – Katara – wore. Zuko wasn’t sure why, but he had a feeling that it was far more precious than it looked. He smiled to himself as he gazed westwards, where the Avatar had flown off. He couldn’t wait until his next encounter with them. Maybe then he would at last get to fight with the blue-eyed girl too. Hopefully that would be enough to cure his strange fascination with her.

 

A few days later Zuko found himself following Lia through a forest, trying to find Iroh.

“He has to be somewhere around here. I swear I can almost hear his thoughts.” The spirit said listlessly. Something had been tingling on the back of her mind all morning and it was starting to give her a headache. Zuko cringed.

“I wouldn’t want to know what’s in there for the world.”

“You sure as hell don’t.” she said and suddenly stopped. Her face had turned ashen, the tingling turning suddenly to a telepathic call.

“What? What’s going on?” Zuko looked at her, alarmed.

“I have to go.” She whispered.

“Why? You said you’d help me.”

She gave him a small, sad smile. “There’s an old friend from home calling out to me. I need to see him.”

“Who?” Zuko was surprised. In all the years he’d known Lia, never had a spirit contacted her. She was already turning transparent, phasing from the mortal realm to that of the Spirits.

“Avatar Roku,” she said, her voice a mere echo. “Go down that way and you’ll find your uncle.”

 

Zuko stood motionless after she left. An Avatar? And not just any, but the previous incarnation of the spirit, a firebender? He was reminded quite suddenly that the Spirit of Fire was far older and held more secrets than her appearance led people believe. He wondered when she would trust him enough to share some of these secrets with him. But for now finding his uncle was more urgent. He followed the trail she had pointed out, barely aware of the temperature slightly rising.

“Over here!” Iroh suddenly called.

“Uncle?” Zuko called back, following the voice. There he was, lounging in a hot spring like they didn’t have anything to worry about. “We need to move on” Zuko reminded him angrily. “We’re closing on the Avatar’s trail and I don’t want to lose him.” The words didn’t have the effect he hoped.

“You look tired prince Zuko. Why don’t you join me in these hot springs and soak away your troubles?” was the care-free response he received.

“My troubles cannot be soaked away. It’s time to go!”

“You should take your teacher’s advice and relax a little bit. The temperature is just right. I heated it myself.” To underline the statement Iroh did it again.

 

Steam enveloped them and Zuko hastily bended it away.

“Enough! We need to leave now. Get out of the water!”

Iroh sighed. “Very well.” He said rising.

“On second thought” his nephew said hastily turning on the other side, “why don’t you take a few more minutes? But be back on the ship in half an hour or I’m leaving without you.” I bet he planned this all along when he dragged me here, he thought annoyed as he returned to the ship.

 

While Zuko was contemplating the many ways in which his uncle annoyed him (the list was a substantial one), Lia was walking along the bridge between the worlds. It wasn’t a bridge actually, more of a never ending grey nothingness half-covered in mist. She had always hated the place but it was the closest she could go to her old home without risking an even more severe punishment for border-jumping. She knew Roku knew of her opinion about this place and wouldn’t make her stay there for more than it was absolutely necessary. Sensing his presence approaching, she spun to meet him.

“Spirit of Fire.” He said, bowing Fire Nation-style.

“Avatar Roku.” She responded likewise.

The older-looking man smiled at her.

“It has been a long time Lia. I’m glad to see you in good health.”

“It’s good to see you too. In this form.”

“How is Aang coping?”

“From the little I’ve seen, as much as airbending is concerned, your friend, Gyatso, should be proud of his pupil. For the rest of the stuff…”

“He needs guidance.” Roku concluded.

“You said it!”

“I will contact him soon, but this isn’t the reason I called you here.” He paused and looked at her questioningly.

“Don’t worry,” she assured him with a smile. “It doesn’t bother me. And I guessed you would eventually ask me what is going on with Zuko.”

 

Roku looked at her for a moment. “When word went around that you had decided to aid my great-grandson I must admit I was surprised. But seeing how the Fates are leading things I believe that the Council might have been a little rash on their decision.”

“They had a point.” Lia shrugged. “Zuko is bound to make the right choices. I was and still am merely making sure that it will not be at the expense of his happiness. I have said as much to the Council but we never really got along.”

“I know. I was present when you explained your case. Some of the words you used where rather… interesting.”

Lia blushed. “I was angry.”

“I don’t blame you. But I also want you to know that whatever happens from now on, you will have my support.” He assured her.

 

A scene suddenly flashed in front of them. Lia and Roku watched with interest as Iroh, who had obviously dosed off at some point, was captured by a troop of earthbenders.

“I need to return.” Lia said to her companion. “Keep an eye on what happens. Your great-grandson can be really amusing when he’s angry. And I say this as his friend.”

Roku laughed. “I sure will. Until next time my friend.”

With a bow Lia left.

 

It was nearing sunset and neither Lia nor his uncle had returned. Zuko was getting worried. Not so much for the spirit, who was after all quite powerful and she had said that Avatar Roku was her friend. They probably were still catching up. His uncle on the other hand should have returned. There was always the chance that he had merely dosed off, but Zuko doubted this was the case. Taking a few soldiers with him as a precaution, he decided to return to the hot springs.

If he is sleeping I swear… the prince thought moodily as he walked for the second time that day through the forest, calling his uncle.

“Sir; maybe he thought you left without him.” A soldier suggested.

“Something’s not right here,” Zuko muttered, surveying the deserted springs. “That pile of rocks!”

“It looks like there’s been a landslide, sir” the same soldier said.

Zuko shook his head. “Land doesn’t slide uphill. Those rocks didn’t move naturally.” He rose. “My uncle’s been captured by earthbenders.”

 

He ordered his men back to the ship and, taking his komodo-rhino, he set to track Iroh down. By the time the sun rose he was still following the tracks, when he came across a rather smelly sandal in the middle of the road.

“Definitely uncle Iroh.” He said to himself.

“Quite right!” He knew without looking it was Lia that had materialised behind him.

“Back from your little trip to the Spirit World?” he said not bothering to look at her.

“Well, technically I wasn’t in the Spirit World but yes. Don’t worry about Iroh. He is fine. A little sore but otherwise fine.”

“How do you know?”

“I came across a group of earthbenders on my way here. They are hard to miss on those ostrich-horses.”

Zuko rose. “Can you lead the way?”

“As always kiddo!”

They went on, Zuko riding and Lia easily matching his pace on foot.

 

The tracks were getting easier to define in the dirt and they were progressing fast when a groan was heard on the horizon behind them. Zuko turned in time to see the Avatar’s bison.

“The Avatar.” He breathed turning his rhino.

Lia narrowed her eyes to see clearly. “It’s only Katara I see,” she said calmly. All the same Zuko continued turning.

“She can lead us to the Avatar.” He said with barely hidden excitement. Lia raised an eyebrow.

“What about your uncle?”  she pointed out.

Zuko stilled and then sighed and turned back to the tracks. Lia hid a smile as they continued in silence.

 

Hours later they reached a clearing, away from the forest. Below them they saw four Earth Kingdom soldiers surrounding Iroh who tied to a rock.

“These dangerous hands must be crushed.” Their leader decided lifting a boulder.

“Go,” Lia told Zuko. “No one but you can see me, but still it would be better if I didn’t interfere.” He nodded in understanding and ran towards them.

 

Before the rock had a chance to crash Iroh’s palms, Zuko kicked it aside. He turned and freed his uncle, who immediately stood, remarking:

“Excellent move prince Zuko.”

Smirking, the prince answered to the direction of both his uncle and Lia: “You taught me well.”

“Surrender yourselves,” the leader of the soldiers ordered. “You are five against two. You are clearly outnumbered.”

“That’s true” Iroh smiled, “but you are clearly outmatched.”

 

Uncle and nephew worked together, backing each other up and soon the soldiers were half-buried in the very same earth they had tried to bend. Zuko checked his Uncle for any harm and found none. From her place above them Lia laughed as he heard him say, exasperation raining from his words, “Now could you please put on some clothes?”

 

The next morning they were back on their ship and sailing fast towards the Fire Nation. Some villagers Zuko had questioned on their way back had revealed that the Avatar was heading to Crescent Moon Island. Iroh was completely against the idea of even approaching their home nation’s waters.

“Sailing into Fire Nation waters…”he said. “Of all the foolish things you’ve done in your sixteen years prince Zuko, this is the most foolish!”

Said prince didn’t even turn. “I have no choice uncle.”

“Have you completely forgotten that the Fire Lord banished you?”             Iroh looked at the teenager concerned. “What if you’re caught?” he asked quietly. At this Zuko turned.

“I’m chasing the Avatar. My father will understand why I’m returning home,” he insisted, although he couldn’t quite hide the worry in his voice.

“You give him too much credit.” Iroh scoffed. “My brother is not the understanding type.”

Lia appeared for a brief moment behind Iroh. I agree with him! she mouthed to the prince.

Zuko turned back to his spyglass, finally spotting the bison. He turned to the helmsman.

“Full steam ahead.” He ordered.

 

The ships lone catapult was brought on deck and prepared. Iroh looked at the thing with disgust.

“Really prince Zuko, couldn’t you shoot them down with something more fragrant?”

They had time to shoot only once before noticing a slight problem ahead. A blockade.

“Technically you are still in Earth Kingdom waters. Turn around now and they can’t arrest you” his uncle advised.

“He’s not turning around!” Zuko said surprised.

“Please prince Zuko,” Iroh tried again. “If the Fire Nation arrests you, there’s nothing I can do.”

Zuko lowered his head. “I’m sorry Uncle,” he whispered and turned to his men. “Run the blockade!”

 

Fireballs were soon flying around them. Lia sped frantically around the ship, casting small spells, doing the best she could without being forced to appear to protect them. It was fruitless though. Eventually the engines were hit. Zuko still ordered the ship to continue. They almost collided with the Fire Navy ships forming the blockade, when Zhao – standing on deck, apparently in charge of the operation – ordered his men to halt.

“He let you pass so that he can follow you.” Lia told Zuko.

“Let him follow.” The prince muttered darkly, mostly to himself.

 

They were closing in on the island and still there had been no sign of the Avatar.

“Zhao wants to follow you to the prize you both want. The Avatar.” Iroh pointed out.

Zuko looked at the smoke the damaged engines left behind. A smirk appeared on his lips.

“If Zhao wants to follow our trail of smoke we will let him do so.”

“What?” his uncle exclaimed surprised.

“I, on the other hand, will follow the Avatar. On the boat.”

The small lifeboat boat was lowered with Zuko inside. Before it was released he turned at his uncle who was looking at him worried. “Keep heading north. Zhao will follow the smoke while I’ll use it as a cover.”

“So… What do you plan to do once you reach the Avatar?” Lia appeared on his side as soon as they had disappeared through the smoke.

“If I find him.” Zuko corrected her.

Lia sighed. “I probably shouldn’t tell you, but he is on the island’s temple.”

“Why shouldn’t you tell me?” Zuko looked at her surprised.

“Well I don’t exactly agree with you on this whole Avatar case. All matters of national pride aside, balance needs to be restored.” She heard no reaction and turned surprised to her companion. He was gazing at the horizon solemnly.

“Why are you still here?” he asked, refusing to look at her.

“Just because we are not agreeing on something doesn’t mean I would desert you. It doesn’t work like that!”

“But why?” he insisted turning to look at her now. “You could do anything you want. Why tag along on a mission that you are against?”

It was her turn now to gaze at the ocean. “Once I had a little brother,” she said quietly. “I lost him the day he turned ten. It was hundreds of years ago. Then, six years ago, I found a ten-year-old boy, curled next to a pond in the Fire Nation palace. You remind me of him.”

“Lia…” Zuko started awkwardly but paused. He did not know what to say. It had never occurred to him that a spirit’s past could be quite so… painful. Seeing her caring he had thought at first that she wanted something interesting to pass her time. When Lia admitted to thinking of him as a friend he had reconsidered that. But a brother? Azula, his younger sister, was the only one to come to his mind when he thought of the word ‘sibling’ and their relationship was anything but ideal. “Do you want to talk about it?” he finally asked hesitantly.

“Some other time please. Now you are in too much danger by just staying here. The cover of smoke won’t hold forever. We’d better get moving.”

Lia said tonelessly, turning away to hide a few tears.

 

Avatar Roku’s temple was wonderful. In an intimidating, show-respect-or-get-kicked-out way. Lia had been there a few times in the past, after she had met Roku’s spirit. The former Avatar had shown to her the various secret passages that criss-crossed the building and now she made good use of that knowledge. Zuko followed her silently. Before they reached a staircase Lia stopped.

“The Avatar is just up the stairs. I will make sure that you are safe, but I warn you Zuko: I will not help you with this.”

He bowed on her. “Fair enough.” Then he turned and climbed up the stairs silently. He had barely reached the landing when he saw the airbender hiding behind a column.

 

“Aang!” his friends called the Avatar. Not that he could answer them. Zuko made the boy move from behind the pillar, keeping a secure grip on his arms.

“The Avatar is coming with me.” He said.

He watched intently as the Sages of the temple took control of the situation and restrained the Water Tribe teenagers and one of their numbers.

“Close the doors.” He ordered them. “Quickly!”

His attention wasn’t on the Avatar anymore. He looked at Katara. She and her brother were chained in a column with the traitor Sage. He had never thought he would ever think a woman other than his mother beautiful, but this girl couldn’t be described as anything else. It turned out that these thoughts were his downfall, literally. The Avatar twisted against him and run away. Before he knew it he was flying down the stairs.

“Gotcha!” Lia appeared out of nowhere and balanced him back to his feet.

 

By the time he had made it back up the stairs the Avatar was already in the inner chamber. Together with the four remaining Sages Zuko tried to open the door but it wouldn’t budge.

“Why isn’t it working? It sealed shout!” he said angrily.

The elder Sage next to him said, “It must have been the light; Avatar Roku doesn’t want us inside.”

Nicely done Roku! Zuko could have sworn he heard Lia’s voice from the shadows.

He turned to the traitor Sage. “Why did you help the Avatar?” he demanded, torn between curiosity and exasperation.

“Because that was once the Sages’ duty,” the man explained averting his eyes for a moment. “It is still our duty.”

 

“What a moving and heartfelt performance.” Zhao stepped out of the shadows suddenly. “I’m certain that the Fire Lord will understand once you explain why you betrayed him.”

“Commander Zhao.” The elder of the Sages bowed.

“And prince Zuko.” Zhao finished nodding at the boy. “It was a noted effort, but your little smoke screen didn’t work.”

Zuko narrowed his eyes, already calculating ways to get out of the situation.

“Two traitors in one day.” A soldier came and took hold of the prince. “The Fire Lord will be pleased.”

“You are too late Zhao.” Zuko smirked. “The Avatar is inside and the doors are sealed.”

“No matter.” Zhao looked like the proverbial cat that had right now eaten a canary. “Sooner or later he has to come out.”

 

As soon as the alignment of the solstice was over Zhao prepared his men in front of the majestic doors.

“When those doors open, unleash all your power,” he commanded.

“How’s Aang going to make out of this?” Zuko turned from the column he had been tied against when he heard Katara speak to the boy next to her. They looked like each other, so Zuko guessed that they were siblings. The boy asked her back in a high-pitched voice: “How are we going to make it out of this?”

 

A bright light appeared from behind the doors as they opened. Before the person standing there had a chance to walk out Zhao and his men fired. Avatar Roku stepped forward unharmed, as the fire twisted to his will and attacked the soldiers. A tendril strayed away and freed the Sage, Katara and her brother, ignoring Zuko completely. Lia appeared and melted his chains instead.

“Never trust the Avatar to do anything perfectly,” she advised him cheekily. “Follow me now! He is going to destroy the temple.”

They ran together through the corridors, not bothering with hiding this time, until they reached the boat and set sail.

 

They found Iroh and the ship quickly. Seeing his nephew in one piece, but without the Avatar, the old General wisely didn’t say anything. That night, on the banished Fire prince’s ship, two figures sat on the empty deck, watching the full moon. Zuko turned to Lia and asked her quietly:

“Would you tell me your story?”