Tag Archives: Sokka

Twilight of the Spirit World: Epilogue

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Author’s note: In which a short “x years later” snapshot is offered, the author teases the Korra canon in a hopefully subtle way and for once happy endings do not have strings attached to them. It’s been a journey and a half everyone!

Previous chapter: link

***Epilogue***

The summer sun heated gently the sandy beach and a gentle breeze caused small waves in the sapphire blue sea. It was a truly beautiful place, serene and picturesque, a place that would certainly calm the most troubled of minds.

“MOM! SUYIN AND BATO TOOK MY SCROLL!”

“Suyin Bei Fong give your sister her scroll back!”

“Bato! Start acting your age or your father will NOT be taking you ice-dodging anytime soon!”

Well, perhaps not all minds.

 

Not far from the seashore Toph and Suki were berating their more mischievous offspring, much to the amusement of their friends. With a huff Lin snatched the scroll that her pouting twin held and marched off to sit next to Zuko and Katara’s eldest, Izumi. Next to them, and closer to their parents was Izumi’s younger sister, Kya, and Suki and Sokka’s youngest (for the time being), Yue. The two little girls were watching in fascination Lin and Suyin’s little brother, Bumi, as he re-enacted an over-the-top rendition of the epic tale of “The Bear of Ba Sing Se”. If in the process he raised more sand than his sisters’ attempts at sandbending that was certainly not intentional.

 

With a huff the two women sat back down, Toph taking baby Tenzin from Aang. Suki turned exasperated to Katara.

“Was Sokka like that too at that age?” Katara chuckled.

“More or less,” she said, ignoring her brother’s indignant look.

“Is that true Councilman Sokka?” Zuko asked laughing. Sokka glared at him.

“I’m sure if Azula was visiting Fire Lord Zuko she would have some interesting stories to say for you too.” Zuko raised an eyebrow.

“No doubt about it,” he said dryly.

 

Before ribbing between the two men could escalate, or Toph could get involved, Kya happened to look up. Seeing a familiar portal opening in the distance she jumped to her feet, dragging her cousin up excitedly.

“Aunt Azula!” the two girls squealed in delight as a very pregnant Azula stepped out of the portal, with Ao on her side looking very much like he would prefer to be carrying his lover rather than letting her walk through the sand. The little girls were almost instantly at their sides, seemingly determined to drag them were the rest of their family was standing and approaching them at a more sedate pace.

“Wait little ones,” Azula said as she carefully kneeled to hug them. Yue giggled, feeling the baby kicked. “We have a surprise for everyone.”

“And what would that be?” Zuko asked, hugging his sister carefully and giving a friendly nod to Ao. The couple smiled mysteriously.

“Turns out that when Agni and Lia went up to that mountain of theirs, they weren’t just coming up with new firebending moves,” Ao said mischievously. Katara’s eyes widened.

“You don’t mean?” she asked. It had been nearly a year since Lia and Agni had last visited the mortal plane after all…

“Oh, yes!” Azula said enthusiastically. Zuko paled slightly. Two daughters and several nieces and nephews later this kind of code was no longer lost to him. That did not mean he cared much for the implications. When Azula and Ao had first told them they were expecting he had been torn between wanting to congratulate them and wanting to punch Ao. Sokka had actually punched him when they had announced they were expecting Izumi! Ao turned towards the portal.

“Well?” he called. “What are you lot waiting for?” Almost as if cued Agni and Lia stepped through, both with wide smiled on their faces. In Lia’s arms, wrapped in a white-gold blanket, was a new-born baby.

“Everyone, meet Kōjin,” Agni said softly as the portal closed silently behind them. Even little Tenzin turned curiously in his mother’s arms towards the new centre of attention.

 

The children immediately surrounded Lia, the shorter ones standing on their tip-toes in order to peer at the latest addition to the family.

“He’s so small!” Lin whispered, her eyes widening when Kōjin opened his eyes and turned slightly towards the sound of her voice. Lia smiled at the girl. Of all of Aang and Toph’s children she had been the one to inherit most of the blind earthbender’s brash attitude. And, like her mother, Lin tended to melt when around babies.

“Let’s go sit down,” the redhead said, “and you can hold him if you want.” Lin nodded eagerly and the group moved back to where they had originally been sitting.

 

Much later, when the sun was setting over the sea, bathing everything in a soft red glow, the entire second generation of the gaang was sat around Izumi as she read to them, with the occasional interruption from Bato, an account of General Iroh’s travels through the Earth Kingdom. Tenzin was napping in a blanket next to his father, too young to stay awake after a day of excitement, while the adults were talking quietly among themselves. Zuko turned to Lia, who was leaning against him contently.

“Are you happy?” he asked her. Lia looked around thoughtfully for a moment, her eyes resting at Agni, who was rocking Kōjin gently, lulling the baby to sleep, and gave her brother a soft smile.

“Yes,” she said. “I am.”

The End

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.

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***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: Ever After

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A.N.: In which the various sub-plots begin to conclude, characters discover that sometimes good things do come out of terrible situations and Agni…well, I’m not spoiling this for you even more than I already have!

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***Ever After***

As it turned out the Council did not have any back-up armies hidden somewhere. In fact, it seemed they had bet everything on one decisive battle, much like the Avatars and their followers had. In the aftermath an uneasy peace had settled as those well enough to travel left for their domains and to inform those that had remained neutral of the situation. Some tentative talks of establishing a new Council had started but the consensus was that it wasn’t a first priority. Most Spirits were old and experienced enough to know how to fulfil their responsibilities without someone breathing down their necks after all. Nearly a week later and in the Council’s palace only a small number of the original arrivals remained, mostly those connected to the Elementals or the more seriously injured.

 

Among the last were also those hit by the black energy. The water Spirits, led by Yue, and Katara (who was holding on to the Water Crystal until the time came to return to the mortal world) were trying everything in their power and, while some progress had been made, most of the victims remained unconscious. Not being able to help much the rest of the gaang had taken to exploring, taking turns to make sure that Katara would remember to eat and rest every once in a while. And, amidst all that, Lia had completely disappeared. Zuko had gone to check on her the morning after she woke to find her room empty. They figured she was still somewhere in the city, but when the redhead didn’t want to be found then she would not be found even by the most determined tracker –not that Toph or Zuko had given up….–.

 

It was therefore no one’s fault really when some of those hit opened their eyes and the news didn’t reach her. Those that did hear however were relieved to learn that, other than complete exhaustion, no other side effects seemed to be lingering. Yue was hesitant to let them out of her sight just yet but she was confident that soon they would be well enough to be moved out of the healing chambers. Agni wasn’t among those first to wake, probably he had been hit in a much closer range but for the last couple of days his aura had been spiking and calming at odd intervals so they figured he would be up and about soon enough.

 

As it happened, when he woke up it was Azula who was the closest, having come to the chambers for some peace and quiet, away from the spontaneous parties that seemed to be springing up everywhere with no warning lately. So deeply she was absorbed in her thoughts, thoughts that centred on a certain lightning Spirit, that she didn’t notice Agni’s eyes opening until he spoke.

“Who rained on your parade Princess?” Azula turned her head so sharply, she could have sworn she heard something crack.

“You’re awake?” she squeaked surprised, wincing at how high her voice came out. Agni managed a small smile.

“Surprisingly yes,” he said, before pausing for a few deep breaths. He still felt so damned tired… “And surprisingly I found you of all people at my bedside.” Azula blushed a little. He had a point. While she didn’t fear his presence anymore, she didn’t go out of her way to be in his company either.

“It was quiet in here,” she explained awkwardly. Agni hummed in agreement.

“I suppose this means we won?” he asked, closing his eyes tiredly. Azula nodded and, realising he couldn’t see her, she added,

“Yes. Everyone’s been celebrating since those hit with the dark energy started waking.”

“What…about…Lily?” Agni asked, his words slurred by the sleepiness that caught him again. Azula turned hesitantly to answer and stopped herself. He had fallen asleep again. With a sigh the Princess stood and went to inform the healers. And if she was relieved not to have to explain to Agni that no one had seen his partner, well, who could blame her?

 

As it was Lia had spent the last few days in a non-corporeal state, floating around the palace and its extensive gardens. She had once told Katara that she didn’t much like to take her Spirit form, considering it impractical, and while she had been confined in the mortal world that had been true. Even in the Spirit world she tended to remain in her more human-looking state, in part to remind herself who she had been before she became fire incarnate. It was exactly these memories that she sought to avoid now, drifting around, visible only as the wispiest of smoke trails, only aware of the different incarnations of her element surrounding her. It was a serene, detached state of being, one that she would have easily made permanent if it weren’t for the most persistent memories and emotions still clinging to her psyche. Much as it hurt sometimes, she still couldn’t leave those she cared about completely behind….

 

It was with that thought being acknowledged that she forced her body and consciousness to be condensed back to her human-shaped form. As her senses slowly returned to her she saw that she was in one of the gardens, one of the older ones, with ancient trees shading the ground and Fire Lilies gently swaying at the breeze, reminding to the morose Spirit of drops of fresh blood. With a despondent sigh Lia sat against a tree, closing her eyes and momentarily blocking her Spirit-nearby-sense. Maybe if she tricked her mind in thinking that she just couldn’t feel him nearby, she could trick her heart into believe he’d come back…

 

A pleasant haze came over her, like sleepiness but not quite, and with it the sensation of warm arms embracing her. She smiled softly at what she was certain was a daydream, if not a hallucination, when a very real pair of lips brushed against her own. Immediately she pushed the person, not even pausing to see who it was, away from her, jumping to her feet and preparing to blast them away. Then her brain caught with her wide-open eyes and as fast as it had come her rage washed away. Agni was laying on his back in front of her, rubbing the back of his head, looking half-amused and half-exasperated and all-together alive.

“You really need to work on the way you greet people!” he grumbled. “You can’t still be mad at me!”

 

He really shouldn’t have snuck out of the healing chambers just yet. He still felt bone-tired and even trying to conjure the smallest flame took more effort than it should. But Agni hadn’t survived for millennia by listening to what others told him to do. And more than the fact he had nearly died he was worried about no one knowing –or knowing and not telling him – where Lia was. So the moment the chamber was empty of healers he snuck out. He had sensed her the moment she condensed back to her human form and headed straight for the gardens. When he saw her resting against the tree he had acted on impulse, not knowing what her reaction would be, and not particularly hopeful either. After all, he had foiled her attempts to save his life in saving hers… Lia had never taken kindly to people helping her without permission… And yet, even with knowing all this, Agni found himself surprised when he ended up on his back…

 

For once in her life Lia found that his snark could not get under her skin. Heck, she’d listen to him snark about anything and everything if it meant that she could have him by her side without worrying about omens. With a trembling laugh she threw herself in his arms, pressing her ear against his chest just to make certain that his heart was beating again. Agni looked at her bemused, but just as he began to ask her what was going on she looked up at him determinedly.

“I love you too, you know,” she said before leaning in to kiss him. For once Agni was more than happy to remain silent. The two Spirits were too absorbed by each other’s presence to notice the petite, green-clad figure that walked away quietly with a smile.

 

Toph nodded to herself, satisfied she hadn’t needed to take any drastic measures to make those two idiots talk properly to each other. Now all she had to do was to let the rest of her friends know. And collect the bet money from Sokka. It had taken them less than a century (starting at the making of the bet, Toph would insist later) to get their acts together. And really, the Water Tribesman had known her for what? Five years now? And he still thought he could win on a bet against her? The earthbender laughed at the silliness of men in general and went off to find Aang. With all that had happened they had had hardly any time to spend alone. And she had a few ideas regarding the restoration of the Southern Air Temple…

 

On her way to where she could sense Sokka and Suki sitting together, and no doubt saying sickeningly sweet things to one another, Toph paused at the sound of quiet talking. Walking closer to the half-open door, she leaned against the wall, unnoticed by Ao and Azula who were too engrossed in their discussion of travel plans to notice much of anything going on around them. It would seem the pull of the Spirit World had caught both the royal siblings even if it was in different ways.

 

Speaking of Fire Nation royalty, when Toph finally found Sokka (Aang was heading over in their direction anyway), Suki and him where sitting with Zuko and Katara, enthusiastically planning something. Toph filled the words “Earthbending police” for later before interrupting the impromptu meeting in her signature way.

“Pay up Snoozles!” she yelled, marching in the room triumphantly.

“What?” Sokka exclaimed startled. “No way!”

“Sokka!” Katara looked at her older brother disapprovingly. “What did you bet on this time?”

“Nothing!” he said in a high-pitched tone that fooled no one. Toph decided to stir his memory.

“Lia and Agni sitting under a tree…” she started singing. Katara and Suki forgot their annoyance with Sokka, instantly turning on the younger girl excited.

“Really?” Suki asked even as Katara exclaimed “Finally!” Toph nodded, satisfied at the reaction her news caused. Grumbling Sokka reached for his purse even as Zuko stood up and headed for the door.
“Zuko?” Aang said confused as the Fire Lord bypassed him on his way out. “Where are going?”

“To find Ao,” Zuko called over his shoulder.

“Last I saw, he was talking with Azula,” Toph called after him, cackling as she sensed the firebender’s steps speeding up. Aang looked at his girlfriend confused.

“What’s going on?” Laughing, Toph pulled him to sit next to her.

“Oh, Twinkle-Toes!” she chuckled. “Where to start?”

 

As it was the two overprotective brothers of Lia didn’t get a chance to corner either her or Agni that day, and by the time everyone had turned in for the night, their drafts on the Talk they would give to the male Fire Spirit had become more elaborate and significantly more violent to the amusement of everyone else. Lia herself had gone to bed in blissful ignorance of the schemes the two hot-heads were concocting. A few hours later she was torn out of her slumber by a nightmare. At least she hoped it was a nightmare…. With everything that happened during and after the battle she was having a hard time distinguishing reality from her visions and her visions from the simple nightmares that played on her fears. Nervously she jumped out of bed and, not wanting to bother with walking, teleported herself to Agni’s room.

 

Instantly a wave of sweltering heat hit her, relaxing her tense muscles. Agni, secure in the knowledge that most people wouldn’t be barging in his room uninvited, kept the temperature in there just shy of that of a lit fireplace, with small clusters of fire floating around the room, seemingly out of their own free will. Lia gently pushed one of them away as it came a little too close to her loose hair. With steadier steps than she would have thought likely she approached the bed, observing the man sleeping there deeply and peacefully. Or maybe not so deeply, she amended in her mind, when Agni cracked an eye open and smiled to her mischievously.

“You’re welcome to join me, you know,” he said, moving closer to the middle of the bed invitingly.

“You know,” Lia said with a smile, “I think I will.”

Twilight of the Spirit World: Dies Irae

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

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***Dies Irae***

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

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

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

 

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

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

The Fire Crystal had turned black.

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?” Suki asked her confused.

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

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

“How could she have known?”

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Twilight of the Spirit World: New Divide

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

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***New Divide***

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

“Not good,” Shu nodded.

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Twilight of the Spirit World: 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: Ruins

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Author’s note: In which more things than a building lay in shambles, angry words are spoken and after much deliberation the author decided that no, she is not through tormenting her characters. Also, in which the author could not read her own outline properly and stuck the opening scene for the chapter as the final seen of the previous one. Make of that what you will about my writing process.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***Ruins***

It was only Aang’s relative calmness that saved them from an incredibly gruesome death. The Avatar bended a funnel of air around them, slowing their descent enough to save their lives. Even so, there were a lot of pained groans as everyone picked themselves of the ground. Behind them the temple collapsed under its own weight, the damage done during the battle too great for the ancient structure to withstand. Aang hurriedly pushed the massive cloud of dust that rose away as they all watched in frozen silence. Almost all that is. Lia, despite the strain on her very essence that the Air crystal had put was the first to get over her shock, white hot fury replacing it as what exactly had just happened sunk in. She turned to Agni and with every step she took towards him the ground under her feet smouldered, what little grass there was around lighting up with sparks that escaped from her hair. She was silent but it was the silence that comes before the lightning storm and Agni watched her warily. The crystal that still hung around his neck glowed for a moment before turning even darker. Lia grasped it, forcefully tearing the chain from his neck and fastened it around her own. Sokka opened his mouth to say something, anything to break the tension, but Ao silenced him with a look. Anything could set Lia off at this moment and none of them wished to be at the receiving end.

 

In the end the redhead was the own to break the silence.

“The crystal was right there,” she said in a voice ominous in its calmness. Even the flickers of fire around her seemed to pause expectantly. “It was there, I could have got it and victory would have been easy. And you,” her eyes flashed and without warning lightning struck between her and Agni, “STOPPED ME?”

“If I hadn’t, we would all have been buried under the rubble,” Agni snapped back, his own temper being on a rather short fuse after everything that had happened. “All the power in the world cannot save you if you are not able to harness it properly.” The ground was beginning to melt around them, creating a small stage for their confrontation. Lia laughed scornfully.

“With all four elemental crystals on our side?” she scoffed. “We’d have burst out as easily as melting snow and you know it. Are did you feel like giving the other side a sporting chance?”

“Don’t patronise me! I know far better than you what these creatures are capable off. You’ve never had to deal with them. Or do you think I get away with everything I do just because I don’t make a scene all the time?”

“Don’t make a…when have you ever been involved in anything major and NOT caused a scene? I’ve seen you do nothing but cause scenes since the day I met you!” Agni raised an eyebrow.

“I don’t recall you complaining about me causing a scene back then. In fact I distinctly remember you being glad to see me.”

“It’s not like I knew better.” Lia crossed her arms, in a posture that was half-confident, half-defensive. “I was more concerned with those firebenders of yours.”

“Yours too love. You just didn’t know it yet.” Lia actually took a step back when she heard this.

“Never mine,” she said. “How could they be? I was mortal. You made me a Spirit.” Agni shook his head.

“You were an elemental confined in the body of a mortal. You just needed the right push to reveal your true nature.” Lia’s eyes widened in disbelief.

“Is that what you think happened? I would give back every single moment of eternity that I’ve spent if it meant keeping that day from happening.” Agni took an angry step towards her, his anger finally loose as he spoke without thinking:
“And I wouldn’t! Your place was and still is at my side as my equal and opposite and even if I could go back to that time I would not change a thing. I’m glad everything happened as it did.”

 

The hush that fell after that statement could only be described like the vacuum of space. All the fires around the two Spirits extinguished and even the air seemed to grow colder. It seemed that all the warmth, the fire, the very life of world around her had condensed in a ball of energy that shone like a tiny sun on Lia’s hand.

“Get out of my sight,” she told Agni murderously. “Now, or I will not be held responsible for what I will do.” Agni seemed to realise that there was no going back from what he had just said. With an angry curse he disappeared, leaving the faintest trail of smoke behind him. No sooner had he disappeared that Lia turned and without warning hurled the ball of energy at the remains behind them, reducing them to dust even as she screamed in fury. Over them the sky seemed to mirror her emotional state as it rumbled, sinister clouds appearing out of nowhere and the wind picking up. The lightning storm that her earlier chilling calm had promised was upon them.

“We need to find shelter!” Katara yelled over the sound of the storm, effectively breaking through the spell of horrified awe that had fallen over everyone. “Ao, can you get us out of here?” The blue-eyed Spirit nodded, his brow furrowing in concentration as he cast his mind, trying to find the closest place that could offer them sanctuary. They were all too exhausted to manage a long-distance teleportation at that point. Finally he nodded curtly.

“Got it!” he called out to the others, motioning them to step closer.

“Wait!” Zuko called back, noticing that Lia was still standing at the heart of the lightning storm she was conjuring, too wrapped in her own fury to notice the danger. Her brother ignored the alarmed yells of his friends and ran to her side.

“Lia!” he yelled, grabbing her by the shoulder and trying to shake her out of her trance. For the longest moment it seemed like he wouldn’t get through to her. Then Lia’s eyes focused sharply in his, helpless fury to concerned care, and she followed him silently to where the others were waiting. As soon as they had stepped close enough Ao transported them.

 

The ravaged landscape where the tower once stood disappeared and was replaced by a forest clearing with a small pond. The contrast between the two was eerie and more than one person shuddered at the sudden absence of the howling wind and sparking lightning. The group looked at each other in uneasy silence. Lia, seemingly having gotten her emotions under control for the moment, gave them a cursory glance. Most of them avoided her gaze, even though Zuko, Katara and Ao were giving her concerned but sympathetic looks. The redhead managed a small bitter smile before she turned and disappeared in the forest.

Twilight of the Spirit World – The Temple

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Author’s note: In which there is tension mounting, deadlines approaching and a very evil cliffhanger, curtesy of the author.

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Next chapter: link

***The Temple***

Even with Katara’s healing abilities, Azula’s injuries caused the group to slow down its progress. This was not necessarily a bad thing considering that none of them had much of an idea where to go next. So far they had been following the trail of clues provided to them by their friends and allies. Now they found themselves at a loss. Nobody, not even Agni who was by far the oldest in the group knew where the Air Elementals resided, just that they were as flighty and elusive as their mortal counterparts had been. A quick trip to the Library for more clues was out of the question, what with Wan Shi Tong probably out for their blood. The parchments that Sokka had stolen proved to be more unhelpful than they had initially realised. They were written in such a complex code that none of them could make heads or tails of them.

 

The rendezvous time with the rest of the army was fast approaching, bringing with it nervousness, short tempers and an overall gloominess. Even Ao, who was probably the most careless in the group, seemed to be dragged down by the atmosphere. Lia had taken to not speaking unless absolutely necessary, seemingly convinced that she might admit something she should if she said more than five words at a time. It made the rest of the girls feel worse, since it was their prodding, no matter how well-meant, that had started it. The boys in the group, sensing the nervous tension, were walking on eggshells. It seemed that even the slightest thing might cause an explosion, although when it finally arrived it wasn’t quite in the way any of them expected.

 

Amongst the many things that Agni had not taught Lia was the art of pickpocketing. However, he lacked the manners (and some might say morals) to hesitate to “borrow” somebody else’s things. Which was how he ended up one night, long after everyone else had fallen asleep, shifting through Sokka’s parchments by the slowly dying embers. True he had had a quick look at them before, but they had been snatched out his hands by some of his more impatient co-travellers before he had a chance to really study them. And despite the tentative truce that had existed since their stint at the swamp the others were still a little wary of him. Add to that Lia’s sudden depression and Agni was determined to end the war brewing at the horizon at his own terms. Not at it would be easy. He had already studied half the parchments and even if he had an idea on how to decode the rest, the text did not seem to offer any help. Determined not to give up he picked another leaf and scanned the opening lines. His eyes widened and he read them again more carefully. Within moments he was frantically searching through his satchel for any sort of blank surface and –after finally finding a few loose leaves- scribbling down the text’s translation. It seemed like Sokka’s strange brand of luck had struck again.

 

The morning dawn grey, with the promise of storm clouds looming in the distance. The heavy weather didn’t encourage anyone to leave their tent bright and early but at last they all gathered around the rekindled campfire where Katara and Suki were teaching Azula how to cook. Lia and Toph sat next to them, fiddling with their crystals nervously. The quiet conversation between the girls stopped as soon as Agni approached.

“What do you want?” Lia asked warily, her grip tightening around the burgundy red crystal until her knuckles turned white. Her partner gave her an unreadable look before handing her a parchment.

“Courtesy of the Library,” he said simply before moving to stand a little away.

 

The redhead looked down on the page with a slight frown, her eyes skimming through the lines. Then, to everyone’s surprise, she swore loudly and jumped to her feet.

“We need to leave,” she said, hurrying to the closest tent and starting to pack. “NOW!” she barked when she realised the others were frozen to their spots.

“What’s going on?” Zuko asked her alarmed, moving to help her nonetheless. She waved the parchment she was still clutching to his general direction.

“We had the location of the Air Crystal all along,” she explained exasperated. “We just didn’t know it.” At these words the others jumped to their feet, breakfast forgotten completely and rushed to shove everything in their bags. As soon as everything was put away, and any sign of their campsite hidden or erased, the three Spirits formed a triangle around everyone else, pooling their energy together. A sphere of lightning blue energy crackled around the group for a moment before everything turned white.

 

When the world re-materialised around them they were standing near the edge of a cliff. In front of them was one of the biggest stone buildings anyone of them had ever seen. Built out of white and grey marble it towered and somehow blended with the heavy sky above. The wind seemed to batter at it from every direction and as they entered it they realised that not even the inside was safe. The deceptively solid walls were littered with small, almost invisible holes that left drafts rush in and created an eerie music in the air. Light drifted in sporadically as well, lighting the dust around them like little floating flakes of silver. Their footsteps echoed oddly inside the empty halls as they ran from one room to the next, desperately looking for any indication that the Air Crystal was still there.

“We need to go to the top,” Aang said suddenly, the only one in the group not breathing heavily. Sokka opened his mouth to add a comment but he could only wheeze for breath. He had never felt so starved for air even when Aang had flown Appa higher than usual.

“Closer to the element,” Azula managed to gasp in agreement as they hurried towards the large staircase that dominated the middle of the building.

 

By the time they reached the highest floor even Aang was struggling for breath. The grey-white crystal floating serenely in the middle of the room seemed to absorb all the air around it, the soft light it exceeded pulsing mesmerizingly with the short breaths everyone was taking.

“Well, hurry up Avatar!” Agni managed to say through gnashed teeth. He could feel his very essence being distorted by the uncontrolled energy and if Lia’s glazed eyes were any indication she wasn’t doing much better. Aang nodded once and moved closer to the crystal, swallowing down the nausea that almost overtook him as his hand wrapped around it. But before he could actually grab it, the Crystal zoomed upwards meshing itself with the ceiling high above them. The airbender had barely a chance to widen his eyes in surprise before a coil of energy shot from the opposite side of the room and hit him square in the chest.

 

Too late did they realise that the hall had another entrance and their pursuers had caught up to them again. Toph and Katara where the first to jump to action, their elemental attacks being enhanced by the crystals burning against their skins even as Azula and Suki dragged Aang out of the line of fire despite his loud protests. The others joined the melee, charging against their opponents who looked like amorphous masses of dark energy. However they seemed more ferocious than any previous Spirit the gaang had faced and they found themselves being pushed backwards. Aang, seeing his friends in trouble, jumped in the fray again and his air-based attacks seemed to have more of an effect on their opponents than anything else, forcing them to retreat towards the shadows once more. As the wind outside the building picked up even more a deep groaning echoed around them, almost as if the tower was in pain. Its echoes were drowned by the victorious cries that the group let, thinking victory in their grasp, and the cracking sounds that followed were swallowed by the wind.

 

Agni was the only one to notice when the stone surrounded them started to break, deep cracks appearing on the floor and spreading rapidly on the walls and ceiling. The others didn’t seem to notice, too focused on their enemy. Any words of warning died in his throat when a massive piece of the ceiling landed next to him, finally drawing everyone’s attention to the fact that they were in a more perilous situation than they had thought. To his surprise however everyone stood their ground, neither group willing to concede defeat. He saw Lia rise to the air, flying towards the Air Crystal, using the power of the one hanging around her neck –now dark like blood that had dried- to counteract the effects. She had almost reached the Air Crystal when a stray bolt of dark energy shot towards her, honing on her aura that was almost visible around her in the effort she was making. With a curse Aang forcibly summoned the Fire Crystal to himself, ignoring the pained scream that escaped the redhead as the energy emitted by her prize hit her, sending her plummeting to the ground. Aang rose to catch her even as the floor finally gave way under their feet and Agni used the Fire Crystal to blast their entire group out of the closest window.

Twilight of the Spirit World: The Ambush

Standard

Author’s Note: In which the bad guys decide to grace us with their presence, there is action and girl talk (not necessarily in that order…)

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***The Ambush***

Nobody commented on Agni’s carrying Lia as they moved away from the Swamps with three Crystals in their possession. Truth be told, it was probably the most peaceful any of them had seen her look since they had arrived at the Spirit World. For her part, Lia did not stir even as they set camp by a river and did not wake until the sun rose the next morning. Even then her good mood seemed to continue, not the almost manic cheerfulness the others, especially Zuko, were used on seeing on her, but rather a serenity. Agni noted with satisfaction that the Fire Crystal, which had been acting erratically in response to its bearer’s turmoil, had also calmed, its surface settling on a rich, cheerful red.

 

For a few days this calmness reigned, the group wondering almost aimlessly, lacking any clues for the whereabouts of the last Crystal but for once not in a particular hurry either. Stories were exchanged from past adventures, the gaang bringing Ao and Agni up to speed with their war-related adventures and the two of them returning the favour with their own stories, and if the more embarrassing or funny ones always happened to include Lia in some capacity…it was hardly their fault!

 

Reality decided to intrude on their little bubble with the smell of salty air and the sound of waves crashing on the shore. When the ocean came to view they stopped and gazed in awe. The sea in the Spirit World is a lot different than what passes for sea in the mortal plane. One might even say that it was the original from which an imperfect copy was made. Every possible blue, green and purple (and some the gaang didn’t even know existed) swirled in perfect harmony, now calm and now thunderous, forming waves that crashed on the rocky shore, leaving behind them a booming sound like distant thunder. Aang summed up everyone’s reaction at the sight:

“Wow!”

 

For once Katara took the lead, the water’s call amplified by the Crystal’s energy meshing with her own creating an insistent call at the back of her mind that urged her to joindanceswimragebeone with the ocean. Before the others had time to even reach the beach she was almost on the water’s edge.

“Katara wait up!” her brother’s annoyed voice broke through the haze and she stopped abruptly, not having realised how far ahead she had run. She turned sheepishly at the others.

“Sorry,” she called over the roar of the water. “I don’t know what came over me.”

“Not to worry,” Lia assured her, staying far from the water’s range. “It’s the Crystal. You’ll get used to it.” Katara looked at her confused.

“The Crystal wanted me to get in the water?” she said. She wrapped her arms around her middle uneasily when every Spirit in the group turned to look at her alarmed.

“What do you mean, get in the water?” Ao said cautiously, casting a wary glance around them. Katara frowned.

“It sounded like somebody was speaking to me,” she tried to explain. “I couldn’t make out the words but it felt like I should join the water?” She paused, realising how bizarre that must have sounded to her friends. Toph opened her mouth to say something when, out of nowhere, what looked like the older brother of the snake from Serpent’s Pass (only more spiky, bigger and a lot more angry) burst out of the water and lunged at them. The twin lightning bolts he received from Agni and Azula did little to deter it.

“Why is the ocean trying to kill us?” Sokka exclaimed as they scrambled away from the water’s edge. Toph pushed her bangs away from her face annoyed and sent a wave of sand at the general direction of the Serpent.

“Is this really the time for questions Snoozles?” she snapped and then yelped when somebody wrapped an arm around her waist and unceremoniously dragged her backwards.

“Is this really the time for snark Toph?” Zuko snapped back, having dragged the two of them just out of blast radius. “This thing is shooting the water equivalent of Combustion Man’s blasts!” That was all it took to get Toph to focus, switching from sand waves to pelting the Serpent with increasingly large rocks. Aang landed next to her, using his airbending to stir the boulders she was launching closer to the thing’s head. Katara was standing nearby, her face creased in concentration as she tried to use the ocean’s waves to drag the Serpent back inside the water. It should have been easy, yet it felt as though something was blocking her power…

 

The second wave (pun not intended) of attackers appeared with as much warning as the Serpent. They seemed to be materialising out of nowhere, a platoon of vaguely humanoid spirits with heads like praying mantises, armed with some wickedly sharp scythes. Suki, Sokka and Ao attacked them immediately since their more elemental-oriented companions where still focusing on the Serpent. Agni, the first to notice the additions to the fray, turned to Azula and Zuko.

“Help the others,” he said seriously. “Lia and I can handle this one.” The siblings gave him an uncertain look but moved to help their friends. Aang, Toph and Katara joined them shortly, having been told similarly by Katara. Confident that their companions could handle themselves, the two Fire Spirits moved closer to the Serpent. With no mortals near enough to be caught in the immediate blast the two pooled their powers to blast the Serpent. The result was a fireball with the temperature of a small sun that completely disintegrated the Serpent. Lia and Agni exchanged a smug look before joining their friends against the Mantis Spirits.

 

They were right on time for that too since one of them, taking advantage of everyone’s momentary distraction caused by the blast managed to swipe his scythe on Azula’s side. The young woman fell on the ground with a cry of pain. Katara was instantly at her side, trying to step the blood flow, the battle too chaotic around them to allow for the concentration required for a healing session. Ao was on Azula’s side a moment later, destroying her attacker with a blast of spirit energy. The battle didn’t last long after this. With the addition of Lia and Agni the group was able to push back the Mantis Spirits, who fled the scene with their numbers severely diminished.

 

Once they were certain that no one and nothing else would attack them unexpectedly the group set up camp close to the battle site. A tent was set almost immediately and a worried Zuko, followed by an equally worried Ao, carried Azula inside. Katara stepped in behind them and shooed the two men away so that she could concentrate on her patient. With grumbles the two men went to join the others as they wearily finished setting the camp, a surprisingly haggard-looking Agni getting the fire going and slumping next to it. The others followed suit, none of them particularly in the mood for conversation. Lia rummaged through her satchel and produced a copper bottle that she passed wordlessly to the Spirit next to her. Agni popped it open and took a small sip.

“Sake?” he asked her amused. She shrugged.

“It’ll wake you up, won’t it?” she muttered, letting her hair fall forward to hide her expression. Her partner chuckled.

“True,” he said before taking another sip and passing the bottle back to her. Lia took it, closed the top again and chucked it to Ao. It startled his out of the stupor he had fallen since Katara had kicked him out of Azula’s tent but not enough to realise what was going on.

“Drink!” Lia half-ordered him in an exasperated tone. “You’re more high-strung than a freshly-made bow!” The Blue Spirit rolled his eyes and threw the bottle back.

“No, thanks,” he said sarcastically. “If the two of you are planning on drinking I’ll have to remain sober. The last time you,” he pointed at Agni, “got drunk you created a new flower. And if I remember correctly, you,” now he turned to Lia who cut him off hurriedly.

“Fine, fine don’t drink!” she said hurriedly. “No need to get all stroppy about it!”

“Defensive!” Toph said around a cough but before the conversation could turn into an argument Katara stepped out of the tent.

“How is she?” Zuko and Ao asked at the same time, before turning to look at each other surprised, although Zuko’s look was vaguely threatening. He had a sneaking suspicion he’d find himself in Sokka’s shoes soon enough.

“She’s fine and resting,” Katara reassured them before sitting next to Zuko. “Can somebody else cook tonight?” she asked tiredly.

“I’ll do it!” Suki offered, moving towards the bags with supplies they had. A simple stew would be easy enough to make.

 

It was a testament to how close the girls of the gaang that after dinner, and without having exchanged a word on the matter, they moved together, dragging a protesting Lia inside Azula’s tent. Toph entered last, shouting a “Girl talk!” to the stunned men’s general direction before shutting the door behind her. Inside the tent Lia sat down and rubbed her eyes tiredly, doing her best to ignore her friends’ expectant stares.

“What now?” she asked them finally. Azula, never one to beat around the bush, spoke first.

“What’s going on with you and Agni?” she asked, propping herself up against Katara’s shoulder to get a better vantage point.

“Absolutely nothing,” Lia answered firmly, already moving to stand up. Toph sent a slight ripple under the redhead’s feet and she was forced to sit down again.

“You’re lying,” she said flatly, none of her usual jokiness in her voice. “Being around you two is like being around Zuko and Katara, Sokka and Suki and Azula and Ao…”

“And you and Aang,” Azula added in a sing-song, steadfastly ignoring the blush that she knew had covered her cheeks.

“Whatever!” Toph exclaimed before turning towards Lia again. “Your heartbeats are in sync. Even when you’re fighting, you two never fall out of sync.” For a while it looked like Lia would not speak, even as the other pondered the implication of what the earthbender had said. Finally the redhead caved.

“Just because I love him, doesn’t mean I trust him!” she said. “Or he trusts me for the matter…” Toph was perhaps the only one not shocked by that admission.

“You…love him?” Suki stammered. “But…”

“You tried to kill him!” Katara finished her friend’s words. Lia shrugged.

“And he’s been a lying, manipulative bastard since the day I met him,” she said, this time managing to stand up.

“Well he’s certainly not acting like one now,” Toph said exasperated. “What does a guy need to do to get on your good books? Die for you?” Lia froze, one hand at the tent flap, as a very familiar vision flashed through her mind.

“That’s what I’m trying to stop,” she whispered, too low for the girls to hear, as she left them to discuss what she had admitted among themselves.

Twilight of the Spirit World – Closure

Standard

Author’s note: In which some long overdue conversations happen, there is hard character development and the author wonders whether she should stop tormenting her characters…

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***Closure***

The first thing the group realised when they stepped through the thick mist was that Koh’s territory was an exotic paradise compared to what they were facing. The parchment-yellow and ash-grey fog that surrounded them thinned at places to reveal cracked rocks and skeletal trees. The sky and sun were hidden completely and the only light came from Zuko, Azula and Agni’s hands, the ruby crystal around Lia’s neck and the odd flash of light that appeared and disappeared without warning. Silence seemed to swallow them, not even their footsteps echoing. Nervously they huddled even closer together and hurried to catch up with Lia.

“Slow down, will you?” Ao said eventually, his voice resonating oddly, almost like the rumble of thunder. “If we end up losing we’ll waste even more time in here.”  Lia turned to look at him annoyed.

“It’s not my fault you can’t keep up,” she snapped. “We’re not going on a picnic, so hurry…” she trailed off, a look of fear flitting across her face. She clutched the crystal with one hand before turning on her heel and rushing forward again.

“This place reminds me of that swamp we ended up in before we met Toph,” Katara said suddenly. “You don’t think what Koh meant is that we’ll see the people we lost again?” She and Sokka exchanged a nervous look.

“I saw Toph,” Aang offered. “Maybe whoever we see will be here to help us?”

“These are the Mists,” Agni said grimly. “Only the lost walk them and the longer they stay the more they loose of themselves. I doubt they’d be of any help.”

“Then why would the Water crystal be here?” Azula asked him confused. To her surprise his answer was almost gentle.

“Who would dare to knowingly venture in a place like this?”

“You mean we’ll be affected too?” she asked scared. He pointed at the crawling tendrils of mists, tendrils that were more solid than they should probably be, that seemed to surround them like predators stalking their prey.

“If you listen carefully you can hear the lost,” he said before speeding up to walk next to Lia.

 

Toph was the first to understand what he meant. Her more sensitive ears caught the sound of the lost first and she visibly shuddered. It didn’t take long for the others to understand why. The deeper they moved the louder the voices became, unintelligible cries of agony, ecstasy and fury, all blending together so that it wasn’t clear if it was one person screaming or a multitude. Zuko blasted a few tendrils that moved too close for comfort and the mist seemed to retreat for a moment.

“I don’t think they like fire too much,” he remarked. Azula smirked, glad to be able to do something about the situation and she started using the tendrils for target practice, even as they continued to walk. She didn’t miss Ao’s appreciative look either. If her shots started becoming more elaborate, no one commented on it.

“It’s too quiet,” Suki said suddenly, causing everyone to pause. She was right. Nothing, not even the crackle of fire could be heard and even the tendrils had seemingly retreated. Then, with no warning, the fog descended and covered the group. They scrambled to keep hold of the person closest to them as cold fingers seemed to brush against their faces, chilling their breaths even as the air left their bodies. The retreat of the fog found them divided and further from each other than they realised.

 

Aang and Toph found themselves standing at the entrance of the Southern Air Temple. The airbender shuddered. It looked just as it had when he, Katara and Sokka had first visited it together and a part of him relived the terror and rage that he had first experienced there. Toph seemed to sense his turmoil.

“This is the Temple you grew up in, isn’t it?” she said quietly, the softness of her voice belaying the strength of her grip on his hand. Aang gulped.

“It is,” he said. “You know, even after meeting Zuko for the first time, even with Katara’s and Sokka’s warnings, I didn’t believe that the Air Nomads were lost until I came here. Why would the mist bring us here though?” Toph frowned and took a step forward, dragging him along.

“If the mist is made out of lost things then perhaps you need to find whatever it is you lost here. We’ll just have to start looking.”

 

Together they walked through the quiet and empty halls until they made it to what must have been an orchard once. Now the trees stood dry and half-wild, some of them having long fallen and rotted away.

“Do you think I can do it Toph?” Aang asked suddenly, leading his girlfriend towards a few steps and sitting there with her.

“You’ll have to be more specific Twinkle-Toes,” she said dryly. “I think you can do plenty of things.”

“Do you think I can revive the Air Nomads? Keep them from disappearing?” he paused and looked around. “It’s not just for the sake of the Avatar circle. I don’t want all the legacy that my people will have to be stories and ruins.”

“I don’t think things will be as dark as you think Aang,” Toph said seriously. “You ended the Hundred Year War…” Aang opened his mouth to interrupt her but she covered it with her hand. “Let me finish!” she chided. “Your story inspires people. There will be those that will wish to follow your way of living; the Air Nomads’ way of living. It will be slow going but we can restore the temples. And if you are worrying about the next Avatar not having an airbending master well…” she paused and blushed. “Our children are as likely to be airbenders as they are to be earthbenders.” Aang blushed as well at her words and smiled shyly. Suddenly the wild garden didn’t seem as unwelcoming as before.

“Promise me we’ll take it one day at a time together?” he said. Toph leaned against him.

“I promise,” she said.

 

Behind them the mist started to thin.

 

When the mist cleared Sokka and Suki found themselves, to their endless surprise, on a small boat in the middle of the ocean. The sky above them was cloudy and its reflection gave the water a strange milky-white colour. The couple looked around, trying to find the shore or, better yet, the way back to their friends. There wasn’t any wind and the only thing rocking the boat was their own movements. Finally Sokka exhaled in exasperation.

“How on earth are we going to leave this place?” he whined, flopping on his back and staring at the sky moodily. Suki nudged him with her foot.
“I thought you are the idea guy,” she teased him gently. “Why don’t you put that big head of yours to use?”

“This isn’t our world! Half the time I don’t even understand why things happen the way they do here!”

“When has that stopped you before from being brilliant?” a voice said from above them. A soft voice that Sokka recognised immediately and had him jumping to his feet searching frantically for its owner.

“Yue?” he called out hopefully.

 

Above the boat the clouds parted to reveal the moon and from it descended the former Princess of the Northern Water Tribe. She smiled at the pair kindly.

“It’s good to see you again Sokka,” she said, hovering in front of the boat, just out of reach. She turned to Suki. “And it is good to finally meet you Suki.” The Kyoshi warrior nodded carefully at the Moon Spirit, glancing quickly at Sokka, nervous at his tense silence.

“It is good to meet you too Yue,” she said at last. “I have heard a lot about you.” She fell silent again, not sure what else to say.

“Was it my fault?” Sokka blurted out, looking at Yue desperately. “Was there anything I could have done?” She looked at him serenely but sadly and shook her head.

“No,” she said at last. “This was meant to happen. It would have always happened.” Her expression crumbled for a moment. “But I am sorry to have caused you grief. I never meant to hurt you.” They looked at each other and for a moment all that could have been seemed to make the gap between them even greater.

“How could it have been either’s fault?” Suki broke the silence, looking at both Sokka and Yue sternly. “You were children trying to fix the problems the hatred of the previous generations caused. And from all the stories I’ve heard you both did more and sacrificed more than anyone had the right to ask of you.” Sokka looked at her stunned but Yue smiled.

“You are very wise Suki,” she said. “Take care of him for both of us.” Suki nodded quietly, a silent message passing between the two women. Then Yue turned to Sokka and place a palm on the side of his face. “Be happy,” she whispered before disappearing. Sokka turned to Suki and silently hugged her, the guilt of Yue’s death finally leaving him.

 

Around them the mist disappeared.

 

“This is too weird,” Azula said exasperated, looking around at the courtyard she had played in many times as a child. Next to her Ao was examining their surroundings curiously.

“This is where you grew up?” he said surprised. “How come you’re a warrior?” She turned to him in surprise and he took a hasty step back. “I did not mean to say that! But seriously, this place looks to comfortable!”

“You don’t look like a Water Spirit anyway,” Azula retorted, “so I guess nothing is at appears.” She gave him another look. “I still think your eyes are beautiful though.” She blushed as red as her tunic and slapped a hand over her mouth. Ao blushed too but he managed a flirty smile.

“Same goes to you princess,” he said. “I think I get it,” he added more seriously. “This is a place where truths are revealed. That’s why we can’t control what we say. Once we save reality as we know it, do you want to go traveling with me?” He groaned and banged his head against a nearby tree. “Great!” he muttered. “That’s exactly how I planned asking you.” To his surprise Azula laughed.

“Let’s save the world before we make any travel plans, shall we?” she said and reached for his hand. “Now how about I show you around and we look for an exit?”

 

Neither noticed the courtyard melting as they left it behind.

 

The clearing shook as yet another fireblast hit one of the few trees not to be burnt down yet. Lia doubled over, breathing heavily as she tried to conjure the energy to continue with her destruction of the landscape. Agni stood to the side, well out of her range, frowning worriedly. When the mist had first cleared they had found themselves in an idyllic clearing, one that belonged to the distant past, with trees and flowers that had not survived the shifts in spiritual energy that had caused the first benders to appear. When one more tree fell to the ground he decided enough was enough. He marched up to Lia and grabbed her hands just as she released her energy. It rippled between them for a moment before being absorbed by the crystal.

“This isn’t real,” he told her forcefully. “You’re gaining nothing by burning everything to the ground.” Lia tried to wrench her hands free.

“It’s my memories that conjured this place up,” she spat. “If I want to burn it I will.”

“Perhaps, but the memory will remain!” Agni shook her angrily, trying to get through before she began to truly panic. He had noticed the signs since she had realised that the fog would conjure memories back to life, but truth be told he wasn’t certain what might happen to Lia if she really managed to destroy one of her most important memories. He wasn’t very eager to find out either. Tightening his grip to force her to look at him he forced himself to speak calmly. “You cannot escape what has already been done. Let’s just try to find our way out, okay.”

 

For a moment it seemed like Lia didn’t understand what she was told. Finally she jerked her head in a sharp nod and pulled away, striding towards the edge of the clearing, doing her outmost to ignore the destruction around her. For once she didn’t object to Agni walking by her side. They had almost reached the edge when a childish voice, carried by the wind, caused Lia to freeze in place, all blood draining from her face. Agni wrapped an arm around her waist letting her lean against him as her breathing grew ragged and her hands started to tremble. The voice was louder now, coming closer, and Agni turned them both to face the burnt land just as a black-haired, brown-eyed boy dressed in green appeared. He couldn’t be more than ten years old and the only indication of his nature was the unearthly pallor of his skin. He took one look at them and with a bright smile threw himself to Lia’s embrace. In turn her trembling increased as she looked down to a face she had not seen in millennia.

“You’re dead,” she said hoarsely even as her arms moved to cradle the boy tightly. He nodded against her.

“I don’t mind,” he answered, his voice muffled from where he rested his face on her shoulder. He pulled back a little to look her in the eye and frowned, for the first time realising that his sister wasn’t exactly looking happy. “You…you can’t be blaming yourself?” he exclaimed in disbelief. Lia frowned and let go of him.

“I’m the very incarnation of fire, the thing that killed you Hisao!” she said angrily brushing a few tears away. “And even if I weren’t a Fire Spirit, I was your sister. It was my job to protect you, not the other way around!” Hisao bit his lip and then, more carefully this time, hugged his sister again, pulling her to sit on the ground.

“It’s okay,” he said quietly. “It’s okay to be sad.” His arms tightened around her as she started crying.

“I…just…miss you…so much,” she choked out. “It wasn’t fair!”

“I miss you too. But think of all the things that wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t become a Fire Spirit.” Lia shook her head.

“Agni would have managed,” she said.

“Maybe I would have,” Agni said suddenly, kneeling on her other side. “But I wouldn’t have given to our people all that you gave them.” Lia looked up surprised. He managed a small smile and wrapped his arms around her too. “We are equals in everything and don’t you forget it!”

 

Tremulously, hesitantly, the tears seemed to slow down. Lia looked at her brother to find him watching with a hopeful expression.

“I’ll always miss you,” she told him. “And I will always be sad that I lost you the way I did. But I think I am ready to start moving on.” Hisao gave her a bright smile and stood up. All the wisdom drained from his expression as he turned threateningly towards Agni.

“And you treat my sister nicely mister!” he ordered the Spirit before giving the redhead one last hug and with a cheerful wave disappeared in the woods. Agni, still startled by that last comment had barely had time to recover when Lia leaned against him, turning to curl with her side against his chest as the emotional turmoil finally took its toll and she fell asleep.

 

A bright light covered them.

 

Katara and Zuko turned abruptly at the sound of footsteps behind them. They had been walking through ankle-deep water since the fog had transported them away from the others. Seeing nothing they warily turned to continue walking when the water in front of them started rippling. It rose and formed a figure that slowly condensed to a woman dressed in Water Tribe clothes. Katara took a step back in shock.

“Mum?” she whispered in disbelief. Kya opened her eyes and smiled lovingly at her grown-up daughter.

“It’s so good to see again sweetie,” she said, spreading her arms to embrace Katara. The waterbender didn’t any more encouragement. She rushed to her mother’s arms laughing and crying at the same time. When the two finally parted Kya looked at Zuko first and then Katara.

“Aren’t you going to introduce me to this nice young man Katara?” she asked almost playfully. Katara blushed but moved to her boyfriend’s side.

“Mum, this is Zuko,” she said. Kya looked at them silently for a moment, taking in the way they held hands and leaned into each other and the necklace that hung on Katara’s neck, a blue ribbon and a finely carved sunstone.

“It is nice to meet you Zuko,” she said finally, nodding her head in greeting.

“It is an honour to meet you ma’am,” Zuko answered, nodding respectfully back.

“Mum what are you doing here? We were told this is where the lost souls go.” Katara’s eyes widened in fear. She couldn’t bear to imagine her mother roaming this desolate place forever.

“Don’t worry dear,” said Kya. “This is also a place for lost things to be found. Just like I found you.” She reached under her parka and pulled out a brilliant blue crystal. “The Spirits wished to entrust you with this and I couldn’t miss a chance to see my little girl again. So offered to wait for your arrival so that I might give it to you.”

 

Katara extended her hand to take the crystal, her eyes widening as she became almost hyperaware of the water surrounding her. In front of her, her mother’s spectre started fading.

“Wait,” Katara cried. “I thought we’d have more time!” Kya shook her head.

“My time is over Katara. You know this.” By now she was a mere echo. “I love you sweetie. And tell your father and brother that I love them too.”

“I love you mum.” Katara whispered as her mother completely disappeared from sight. Slowly she pulled the chain from which the crystal hung around her neck and took Zuko’s hand.

“Are you okay,” he asked her hesitantly.

“Yes,” she answered, and to her surprise she said the truth.

 

Everything around them disappeared.

 

Aang and Toph thought they were the first to stumble out of the swamp and into clean air. To their surprise they found Agni leaning against a tree, with Lia wrapped protectively in his arms, fast asleep. Toph smiled softly. She didn’t need sight to tell that their hearts were beating in sync.