Tag Archives: Sozin

Twilight of the Spirit World – Returns

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Author’s note: In which overhearing conversations is the most reliable method of information,  bad guys ALWAYS plot in shadow-y rooms and Azula has become the other resident snarker.

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***Returns***

A fine summer morning in Sozin found Lia walking through the gardens of the Fire Nation Palace, seeking to burn them in her memory. Today marked ten years from the first time she had visited the garden and decided to aid the little prince. Although she was by no means eager to return to her world, she felt obliged to, fearing that further shows of –ahem- disrespect might result in further problems. Besides for the last four years she had avoided thinking of certain…unresolved issues that were awaiting her back home. Eventually they would catch up to her and she’d rather be alone when that happened. Shaking her head she banished the depressing thoughts and walked leisurely back at the palace.

 

The next day found the Fire Lord and princess standing at the stairs at the front courtyard of the palace, facing the red-haired Spirit. Despite her constant grumbling about the Council, Lia had truly missed her home. Smiling she hugged Zuko and Azula.

“Don’t be so gloom little brother!” she told the now twenty-year old Fire Lord.  “I promise to visit soon!”

“You’d better,” Azula said, struggling to keep a straight face. “I don’t know how Zuzu will be able to survive with Katara at the South Pole and you away. I’m afraid he will start burying himself under paperwork again, like that time mother visited Ba Sing Se.” Zuko glared at his sisters as they shared a laugh at his expense.

“Sokka was right. Sisters are a headache,” he muttered, causing them to laugh even more.

“Sokka tends to bring to himself whatever trouble he lands with Katara,” Lia remarked, recalling the numerous time the Water Tribesman had felt his sister’s waterwhip after some comment or another. “But seriously,” she continued at a calmer tone, “I just need to settle a few things back home and then I’ll be free to visit whenever I want.”

 

Turning her back to the Royal siblings, she concentrated on the ever-present pull of the Spirit World, allowing it to open a portal, not to the in-between anymore. Lia started walking towards it before pausing and turning to flash a smile to the two firebenders.

“Give my love to the rest of the gang!” she called before disappearing in a bright light.

 

The meadow she appeared was not far from the Council City. Lia stood there for a minute taking in how everything had changed in her absence. The city had grown, more towers rising at the centre and a line of walls surrounded the outer ring of buildings. The Fire Spirit frowned as she took in the barren fields that were green and lush ten years ago.

 

The joy of her return evaporated as she hurried towards the walls. With the balance mostly restored in the mortal plane what could possibly be so threatening that the Council felt the need to fortify its lair? The gates were unguarded yet she felt eyes on her as she raced through the deserted streets towards the palace in the middle of the city. Not a soul was in sight and despite the grim situation Lia smirked at her pun. She rarely visited the city, preferring to roam the endless countryside surrounding it and visiting her less popular friends or taking the odd trip in the mortal word, but every time she did come for some reason or another she could hardly walk through the endless mass of Spirits walking the streets. In fact the only time she had seen the streets empty was when she had been banished for disobeying the no-aid-for-mortals rule.

 

Pausing in front of the Council’s Palace Lia gave her surroundings one last suspicious look before entering. Still no one was present. Swallowing her uneasiness she walked purposely to the Hearing Hall, determined to get to the bottom of this. Sure she had not expected a welcoming committee, but this was beginning to resemble the equivalent of human world’s quarantine. Hearing the low buzz of voices she paused at the entrance.

“…return of Fire…” she could just make out through the heavy wooden door, “…need to hasten…crystals.” At the mention of one of the many unresolved issues that had accumulated in her absence she stiffened and pressed her ear closer to the door, willing the voices to become just a little clearer.

“…need to do something about the Avatar…” came a second voice, “…can’t let it get in our way…” There was a noise of approval from the rest of the audience. Lia was growing more alarmed with every fragment and tid-bit of information she heard. Sliding the door open a little – and praying no one would notice – she waited for the conversation to begin again.

“What about the other elementals?” one councilman asked. “They will not be swayed by promises of power; they are easily the most powerful after the Avatar Spirit.”

“Agni might,” the other speaker seemed doubtful but pressed on for the sake of argument, “if nothing else it will cause chaos and he thrives in situations like this.”

“He will not be as easily manipulated this time,” the first Council member said disappointedly. “I believe the true consequences of his actions in the human world hit home harder than we had calculated. He will not risk another confrontation with his partner.”

“Maybe then she would side with us? She has no fond feelings for Agni.”

 

Lia raised an eyebrow. True she had no intention whatsoever of ever being in the same room with her equal and opposite Spirit but she did not hate him enough to blindly side with the Council of all Spirits. She would need to speak with Roku. As she turned to leave, she came face-to-spear with the reason she had felt eyes on her since she had returned. The Faceless were a special force organised by the Council for security reasons. They were efficient and most of all silent, although the difficulty of finding something that would actually kill a Spirit reduced their job to merely “silencing” the Council’s targets. At that moment Lia was certain that someone had to have jinxed her. So much for a welcoming committee.

 

Forgoing any attempt for discreetness Lia blasted the guard in front of her and made a dash for the door.

Hardly an hour back home and already in trouble! The sarcasm sounded bitter even inside her own head. Racing back out of the Palace she continued dodging attacks at the now-understandably empty streets. The moment she was through the gates and back at the barren land, blasts of black energy were raining around her. Lia’s eyes widened in horror when a blast landed next to her and nearly melted a hole on the ground. In a normal fight she would probably be able to hold her own long enough to find a way to get out of the situation. Now, with the opponents she had, aiming closer and closer to her those deadly blasts, there was only one thing she could do. With a curse Lia closed her eyes and literally threw herself to the in-between before racing back to the human world. She would need backup for this one.

 

Zuko was surprised to hear commotion outside the throne room. He and Azula were about to go investigate when the doors burst open and a familiar redhead walked in.

“When you said you’d come to visit soon, I didn’t think you meant so soon,” Azula said bemused. Lia shook her head negatively.

“This isn’t a social call,” she said grimly. Zuko and Azula frowned at the grave tone.

“What’s going on?” the Fire Lord asked, motioning for the dumbfounded guards to leave them.

“I’m not sure yet.” Lia flopped on the ground near the throne. She had raced all the way to the palace and even for a mostly-immortal being that was too much. “But I do know that I just eavesdropped on a plan to take out the strongest spirit in existence and that the Spirit Council is certifiably insane.”

“How so?” Azula asked, trying to make heads from tales of the absentminded mumbling of the Spirit. Zuko made a motion to shush her, more used to Lia’s explanations.

“Well,” the Fire Spirit had a slightly insulted expression, “they thought that I might even be tempted to side with them just because Agni wouldn’t.”  The siblings gave an inaudible “oh” as an answer. All things considered that sounded pretty silly.

“I wasn’t able to hear much,” Lia continued her explanation, “but from what I understand this has being going on for quite a long time. I don’t get what anyone could possibly gain by permanently upsetting the balance and yet here they are planning just that.”

“Maybe they want to replace the Avatar Spirit?” Azula offered.

“Perhaps, though I doubt any one of those old power grabbers would be able to handle it.”

“You didn’t come here just to give us a heads-up, did you?” Zuko asked. Lia gave him a mischievous smile.

“Actually no,” she said. “I’ll need your help with this mess and since the rest of the gaang will be coming soon anyway I thought it’d be safer to wait here instead of back home.”

“Yeah…” Zuko mused, then looked up. “Wait, how do you know the others will be coming?”

“It was her idea to invite them Zuzu,” Azula rolled her eyes. “Something to get your mind off things for a while.”

“Time rolls differently in the Spirit World. How long have I been away?” Lia asked, looking around her for a clue.

“A couple of hours. Why? How long were you there?” Zuko asked.

“Pretty much that long.” Lia seemed satisfied. “That means the two worlds are aligned for now. It’ll make it easier to cross over.” She paused. “You guys are coming, right?” Zuko rolled his eyes.

“Of course!” he said. “We can’t let you get in trouble all by yourself now, can we?” Azula nodded in agreement.

“Besides,” she said, “if I stay on this palace for much longer I might end up as bored as Mai was.”

“Then it’s settled,” Lia smiled relieved. “We’ll wait for everyone else to arrive and then we’re off.” She winked at Zuko. “Feels like old times, doesn’t it?”

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – Avatar Aang

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Author’s note: In which the fighting is over, there is sequel foreshadowing…again and the author closes on a sweet note to wind down from all the excitement.

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Next chapter: link

***Avatar Aang***

The battle of Ba Sing Se was almost over. Lia had come across Bumi at some point, and together they were cheerfully knocking out the last of the tanks that had been guarding the city. Lia looked at the sky. With the comet moving over them, heading for the west, everything was bathed in a crimson light, casting sinister shadows on the buildings. Contrary to what people might think the comet was neither Agni’s nor her doing. Separated, they had little control over nature’s forces. Allowing herself to contemplate that for a moment, she wondered if her equal and opposite would make an appearance. After all, by stopping the war they would have most certainly ruined his fun. Yes, she decided, he would have to appear. But where? Looking around, she suddenly knew. Agni wouldn’t trifle with the Avatar Spirit, and Ba Sing Se was Earth Kingdom territory and therefore immaterial to him. Pulling herself together she took flight. She had to reach Sozin and she had to reach it fast.

 

Katara had never focused more intently on healing someone before. Even when Aang had been wounded, it had been the Spirit water doing most of the work. Now all her skill and concentration fuelled the glowing water. Zuko winced in pain but the healing began to take effect and he found his body relaxing. Opening her eyes, Katara smiled at him, not bothering to stop the tears from running down her cheeks.

“Thank you, Katara,” Zuko managed to whisper, still weak from the lightning.

“I think I’m the one who should be thanking you,” Katara answered, pulling him into a hug, mindful of his injury. Zuko wrapped an arm around her, pulling her closer, needing to feel for himself that they had both made it alive. They met in a kiss that ended abruptly when something landed with a thud nearby.
Both turned, Zuko much less gracefully than usual, to see Azula unconscious on the ground. Standing over her was a young man who looked at all three of them with an expression torn between amusement and annoyance.

“Now that won’t do,” he said smoothly to the unconscious Azula, as if berating a child. “You can’t go and ruin my fun like that! Now how am I going to amuse myself?” He grinned as he cast his gaze over the destruction caused by the Agni Kai, and satisfaction radiated from his golden eyes. “A battle befitting of my name,” he said, addressing Zuko now, who was staring at him warily. “You have shown exceptional growth prince Zuko. Lia was right to take an interest in you.” He bowed to the firebender gracefully. “You will make a fine Fire Lord.” He took a few steps away from Azula and called over his shoulder. “Don’t judge her too harshly. She was hardly in control of her actions.”

 

Katara wasn’t sure what was going on, but she remembered Lia’s story about hers and Agni’s involvement with the royal family. Wordlessly she helped Zuko to his feet, one hand wrapped around his waist for support and the other close to her water pouch.

“We need to check on Azula,” Zuko told her quietly. Katara nodded and helped him walk over to his sister. A part of her could not help but pity the firebending girl. She didn’t have any more choice over her fate than Zuko had over his banishment.

 

Agni watched their progress towards his latest pawn and shook his head.

“No,” he said making a movement to their direction, “that won’t do. That won’t do at all. I’m afraid I’ll have to stop you.” But before he had the chance to do anything a fireball landed at his feet. Lia landed in front of Zuko, Katara and Azula, glaring coldly at Agni.

“You’re right,” she said as she took in the situation. “That won’t do at all.” Agni smiled and took another step closer, silently daring her. “Katara,” Lia said, never taking her eyes from the Spirit in front of her, “please make sure that all three of you are out of the way and near water. This will be messy.” The waterbender nodded and with Zuko’s help carried Azula off to where she had been initially standing, by a fountain.

 

The two Fire Spirits took their places at opposite sides of the courtyard, neither saying a word, though their expressions spoke volumes. Lia’s face showed only cold fury, Agni’s barely contained excitement. Wordlessly they attacked at the same time, Agni with small, sharp blasts and Lia with a steady current that swallowed up his flames. It twirled around Agni without actually touching him and for a few moments it was sent back and forth between them before Lia grew tired of the game and banished the flames with a move of her hand. Running towards her opponent, she continued blasting him with fireballs which he dodged, leading her around the courtyard and occasionally sending a blast or two of his own in her direction. The more time passed, the more of Lia’s control was drained and her attacks grew in speed and force. She was aiming to kill, balance be damned.

 

A pained moan distracted Zuko and Katara from the deadly fight and they both turned back to Azula, just as she opened her eyes. For a moment it seemed as though she didn’t recognise them. Then her memory came back and she sat up with a gasp. Katara made a move to keep Azula from straining too much. They had no way of knowing if she was hurt or not and besides, Katara was still slightly suspicious of the princess. Azula looked around, taking in the situation. The waterbender watched her with a mix of suspicion and concern, while her brother’s face showed only worry for her. Azula found herself wondering what was this all about. She expected to be left in the middle of the courtyard.

“Azula,” Zuko started hesitantly. His sister had made his life a nightmare for the last few years but now he knew that that hadn’t been explicitly her fault. His thoughts on the matter were not clear but for now he allowed his worry to override everything else. “Are you all right?” he asked softly.

 

To his surprise the princess’s eyes watered. He didn’t remember ever seeing her cry before. Azula threw her arms around her brother as she broke down.

“I’m sorry Zuzu,” she sobbed, desperate to explain about the voice. “I didn’t want to, I swear but he said I had to. That it was my destiny.” Zuko hissed in pain, his injury deciding to remind him of its presence, but he ignored it in favour of exchanging a look with his girlfriend. Tentatively, he wrapped his arms around his sister in an awkward hug.

“It’s okay Zula,” he said. “It will be all right.” That was a promise he intended to keep. Katara also placed a comforting arm around the princess’ shoulders, silently offering her support as all three of them turned to watch the battle once more.

 

Lia sent another current of fire at her opponent who had to bend to an uncomfortable angle to avoid being hit. Agni smiled at her. Whatever enjoyment he might find in manipulating mortals for generations, it was his fights with Lia that made him feel the most alive.

“Missed me,” he taunted. “Now you have to kiss me.” Lia narrowed her eyes.

“Kiss this!” she screamed before shooting lightning. Zuko gasped and tightened the protective embrace around his sister. He felt Katara scooting near him as Lia’s blood-red lightning crackled, and although her equal, Agni had to jump out of the way, lest the hit connected.

 

Rising again, the playfulness vanished from his eyes; he looked at her with an unreadable expression.

“So you are serious about this,” he finally said gravely.

“Took you long enough to get it,” the red-haired Spirit snapped under her breath before falling into a stance Katara recognised to her surprise as waterbending. A wave of magma reared up before Lia, growing in size and power as it raced towards her opponent. Agni raised an eyebrow and tried to redirect it back to its creator. When he failed to do so, he dropped his stance and bowed to Lia. She halted her attack, waiting for his next move, her eyes searching his. He straightened from the bow and took a step back.

“You have won,” he said with a small smile. “I will take a break from interfering with the mortals for a few years.”

“A hundred years,” Lia demanded coldly. Agni opened his mouth to protest but thought better of it. The wave was still looming over him.

“Very well,” he finally said. “A hundred years.” He took another step back. “Until we meet again Fire Lily.” Then he disappeared.

 

Lia waited warily for a few moments before returning the melted stones to their original place on the ground and rushing to her brother’s side. After taking a few deep breaths she offered him a bright smile.

“Do you get now why I hate being called Agni?” she asked casually, a tinge of humour barely audible in her voice. It must be the comet, she decided, because her fight with Agni had made her feel more alive than she had felt in a long time. Closing her eyes she made the fire that still burned at the courtyard go out. The comet was almost gone and now they could only wait for news of the battle between the Fire Lord and the Avatar.

 

Azula watched the red-head warily, and she tried to stay as close to her brother as possible without worsening his injury. Both he and the waterbender – she really needed to learn the girl’s name – had treated her kindly, disregarding the fact that she had aimed to kill during their fights. But what of the Spirit? Lia ended any thoughts the princess had on the matter by rising fluidly and helping the girl to her feet as well, supporting most of her weight.

“Shaking off Agni’s influence must have taking its toll on you. We should probably get you and Zuko to a bed before you collapse again.” Azula only nodded, not fully understanding what the Spirit was talking about. Katara helped Zuko to his feet and slowly, the four of them made their way to the palace. The four Sages, snake-like as they might be, could recognise a Spirit when they saw one and a glare from Lia was all they needed to return to their temple, no questions asked.

 

Inside, Zuko and Katara took the lead, the prince guiding them to his room. He had never been gladder to see a bed in his life. Katara’s healing had saved his life, but the wound still burned with every move he made. The waterbender helped him lie down with tender touches, before sitting next to him and holding his hand, her expression anxious. She too knew that the healing she had done earlier was simply not enough. Her eyes strayed to the two girls that stood nearby, both Zuko’s sisters. Lia’s expression was a carefully constructed mask of calm, but Katara could read the worry for her brother as well as relief at finding him alive. Azula’s guilt-ridden expression, less artfully hidden thanks to the shock and exhaustion pulled at the waterbender’s heartstrings.

“Do you want to stay with Zuko Azula?” she asked the girl kindly. “You’re not looking so good yourself and I’d rather watch over both of you until we know for sure what is going on. Neither of you are in any condition to fight.” Azula’s surprise must have shown more than she expected because even Zuko managed to crack a smile and, using his free hand, he patted the space on the bed next to him.

“Come here Zula,” he said softly. Without waiting for an answer, Lia led the girl to the bed and helped her out of her armour and between the sheets. Both of the royal siblings were out like candles the moment their heads touched their pillows. Lia turned to Katara.

“Will you be all right on your own with them?” she asked the girl. “I have one final thing to do before this is all over.” Katara nodded and then turned her attention to her two patients, tucking the blanket around their form as Lia disappeared once more. Standing over Azula, Katara brushed a few strands of hair from the girl’s face and watched in surprise as the Fire princess’ face melted to a soft smile.

“Mother…” she whispered in her sleep before edging closer to her brother.

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – Into the Inferno

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Author’s note: In which there are epic battles all over the place but the author focuses on the epic-est (and no, it’s not Aang’s) and the chapter ends on a cliffhanger just because.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***Into the Inferno***

Zuko and Katara flew Appa in tense silence. The prince was staring straight at the horizon, which had turned a bloody red, signalling the comet’s arrival. Next to him, Katara searched his face worriedly as his frown deepened.

“Zuko, don’t worry. We can take Azula,” she said soothingly. Her boyfriend shook his head.

“I’m not worried about her, I’m worried about Aang. What if he doesn’t have the guts to take out my father? ‌ What if he loses‌?” he asked pessimistically.

“Aang won’t lose. He’s gonna come back. He has to.” The last part was said more to herself than to the firebender next to her. Katara couldn’t help feeling a little doubtful herself.

 

Back in Ba Sing Se, Lia felt the arrival of the comet like a gasp of fresh air. She gave the men lined up next to her a quick once-over and saw the two firebenders standing a little straighter despite their age.

“Ba Sing Se, the Order of the White Lotus is here,” Bumi said, unusually serious.

“Here to set you free,” Pakku added solemnly. Iroh took a step forward.

“Only once every hundred years can a firebender experience this kind of power,” he mused, taking a deep breath. He took several more deep breaths, a ring of fire surrounding them, the flames dancing in tune with his heartbeat. Abruptly he gathered them in an enormous ball of fire and thrust it in the direction of the city. The blast demolished part of the wall and the five Masters, plus the Spirit, charged forward. The rest of the Order quickly followed its leaders.

 

Pakku was the first to attack, pulling water from a nearby stream, with Piandao following closely behind, taking care of any soldiers that the master waterbnder’s tidal wave missed. Jeong Jeong had positioned himself on a crossroad in a different section of the city and created his signature walls of fire, melting the tanks that came against him. The rest of the Order was fighting soldiers spread all over the city. From Lia the only thing that could be seen was a blur and a faint smell of smoke that seemed to linger wherever she passed as she raced through the city, knocking soldiers out, melting tanks and generally having the time of her life.

 

Compared to the chaos that reigned in Ba Sing Se, Sozin was draped in an almost oppressive silence. At the ceremonial staircase in front of the palace Azula was kneeling, preparing for her coronation. She was dressed in the heavy robe tradition dictated but her usually impeccable topknot was a tangled mess. Pale faced and tense she was far cry from her usual perfect self. The head Sage took the Fire Lord diadem and stood behind her.

“By decree of Phoenix King Ozai, I now crown you Fire Lord…” he paused when he heard a strange noise and looked up. Azula turned to him annoyed.

“What are you waiting for? ‌ Do it!” But then she heard it to, the groan of an air bison. Snapping her head forward she saw Appa landing at the side of the courtyard and her brother and the Water Tribe girl jumping down.

“Sorry, but you’re not going to become Fire Lord today. I am.” Zuko took a step forward confidently. Azula couldn’t mute the slightly crazed edge to her laughter.

“You’re hilarious,” she said. Katara walked next to Zuko and glared at the princess.

“And you’re going down,” said the waterbender. The Sage made a motion to crown Azula but she stopped him. Standing up, she smiled maliciously at her brother.

“Wait. You want to be Fire Lord? ‌ Fine. Let’s settle this. Just you and me, brother. The showdown that was always meant to be. Agni Kai!” Zuko’s eyes narrowed at her words but she didn’t notice, not any more than she noticed the soft voice that had been whispering to her since her grandfather had died.

“You’re on,” came the answer.

 

Katara’s eyes widened in alarm when she heard the dare and Zuko’s answer.

“What are you doing‌?” she hissed concerned. “She’s playing you. She knows she can’t take us both so she is trying to separate us.” Zuko nodded in agreement.

“I know. But I can take her this time.”

“But even you admitted to your uncle that you would need help facing Azula.”

“There’s something off about her, I can’t explain it but she’s slipping. Remember what Lia told us? Perhaps she’s fighting against his influence.” He looked at her with a softer look. “And this way, no one else has to get hurt.” Katara tightened her lips but nodded in resignation. She should have known that Zuko wouldn’t risk her safety. She would have done the same.
The Fire Sages retreated and the two siblings took their positions at opposite sides of the courtyard. Azula turned and shrugged the Fire Lord’s robes off her shoulders.

“I’m sorry it has to end this way, brother,” she said the last word venomously. Zuko slid into his stance.

“No, you’re not,” he answered simply. Azula’s smile was chilling as she attacked him first. With the comet over them they were both at their most powerful. Zuko brought his arms up and blocked, using his own scarlet fire to block Azula’s blue flames. Before the fire had a chance to die Azula attacked again, propelling herself forward and shooting another jet of fire. Zuko blocked again, never attacking himself, intent on tiring his sister out.

 

As the flames weakened he was vaguely aware of some of the buildings around them catching fire but he was focused solely on Azula’s blue flames. They collided with his own red ones for a moment before rushing towards him. Zuko used one hand to guard himself while he sent his own stream of fire at his sister. The battle came to a standstill, until Azula noticed the damage done on her side of the courtyard and charged at her brother furiously. Zuko surrounded himself in flames, drawing on the tricks he learned from his lessons with Lia and forcing Azula to back down. She was breathing hard now and looked at her older brother, scared for the first time. Gritting her teeth she stood up again to face the two fireballs that came in her direction. Azula was sent flying to the ground.

 

She forced herself to her feet, her hair falling unevenly across her face as she glared at her brother, who stood straight-backed, barely ruffled.

“No lightning today‌?” Zuko taunted. “What’s the matter‌? Afraid I’ll re-direct it‌?” Azula jumped to her feet.

“Oh, I’LL SHOW YOU LIGHTNING!” she yelled, beginning the familiar movements she’d taught herself. Lightning crackled around her and her eyes narrowed at her brother before a movement caught her attention. Katara had stepped away from the protection of the pillars and stood wide open for an attack. Azula found herself knowing that this would hurt her brother more than anything she could do to him personally. With a smirk, she let the lightening loose in the waterbender’s direction.

 

Zuko followed its graceful arc, his eyes widening in horror. Katara’s face was frozen in fear as she watched her death come to her. Without thinking, Zuko threw himself between the blast and the waterbender. His arms struggled to redirect the electricity out of his body but he wasn’t focused enough and some of it passed through his heart. He fell to the ground twitching in pain as the last bit of lightening left his body. Katara seemed to be brought back to life by his pained cry.

“Zuko!” she cried, coating her hands in water, her only thought to heal him before it was too late. Nobody noticed Azula freeze when her lightning connected with her brother, nor when she fell to the ground, clutching her head in an attempt to make the voice quiet down as the reality of what she had just done hit her.

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The Old Masters

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Author’s note: In which all those weird old guys we’ve met and liked so far are back, there are strategies discussed and the final battle is due to begin.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***The Old Masters***

Sokka’s eyes widened in recognition.

“Hey, I remember her. She helped you attack us!” he told Zuko accusingly. The prince shrugged and walked in, pulling Katara close to him in the process.

“Yup, back in the good old days,” he told Sokka over his shoulder. Sokka frowned at the comment and Zuko’s hand around Katara’s waist, but noticing some of the looks Suki was getting he hurried to do the same. Toph was too young to be noticed and Lia was doing an excellent job of death glaring anyone that looked at her direction. June noticed their approach.

“Oh great, it’s prince Pouty,” she sighed. “Where’s your creepy grandpa‌?”

“He’s my uncle, and he’s not here,” Zuko corrected him. June noticed the closeness between him and the waterbender and smirked.
“I see you worked things out with your girlfriend.”  The two teens blushed, remembering that particular encounter while Lia snickered in the background. “So what do you want?” the bounty hunter asked.

“I need your help finding the Avatar,” Zuko explained. June shrugged indifferently.

“Doesn’t sound too fun.” Zuko felt his temper flare. He slammed his hands on the table.

“Does the end of the world sound like more fun‌?” he yelled.

 

With a sigh, and a wish to be left in peace, June followed them outside. They found Appa ready to pick a fight with the shirshu.

“Nyla…” June called her pet, holding up a piece of meat. She scratched Nyla’s nose affectionately. “Who’s my little snuffly-wuffly… Whoa! Careful there!” she stepped back when Nyla made a move to let out its tongue. She turned to the teens. “Okay, who’s got something with the Avatar’s scent on it?” Katara climbed on the saddle.

“I have Aang’s staff.” She offered it to June who placed it in front of Nyla’s nose. The shirshu took a sniff and started walking around, trying to catch the scent. After a few moments it slumped to the ground and covered its nose with its paws.

“Well, what does that mean‌?” Zuko asked impatiently.

“It means your friend’s gone,” June answered, petting Nyla. Toph rolled her eyes.

“We know he’s gone, that’s why we’re trying to find him.” The bounty hunter shook her head.

“No, I mean he’s gone, gone. He doesn’t exist.” Frozen silence met the statement.

“What do you mean Aang doesn’t exist‌?” Sokka finally asked exasperated. “Do you mean he’s… you know, dead‌?” June shook her head carelessly.

“Nope, we could find him if he were dead. Ah, a real head scratcher. See ya.” She turned and mounted on Nyla.

“Helpful, real helpful,” Toph drawled. Zuko ignored her as he raced back to the saddle.

“Wait,” he called over his shoulder, digging through his pack. “There’s only one other person in this world who can help us face the Fire Lord.” He brought out an old, really smelly sandal.

“You saved your uncle’s sweaty sandal‌?” Sokka asked incredulously. Lia smirked.

“I think it’s kind of sweet,” she said her voice tight from holding her breath.

“Let’s do this.” June took the reins of Nyla and rushed towards the forest as the gaang rushed on Appa and after her.
They rushed through the Earth Kingdom, stopping at the outer wall of a very familiar city.

“We’re going to Ba Sing Se‌?” Zuko wondered out loud surprised.

“Your uncle’s somewhere beyond the wall,” June explained. “Nyla’s getting twitchy so he can’t be too far. Good luck.” She took off again. Zuko sighed tiredly and turned to the others.

“It’s been a long day. Let’s camp and start our search again at dawn.”

 

Lia opted to stand watch, too tense to sleep. Not feeling any threatening presences nearby, she let her eyes wander over their camp. Zuko and Katara were asleep holding each other while Sokka and Suki slept next to each other a little further away. Toph had made her customary earth tent. Suddenly the Spirit felt four presences approaching. She made a protective ring of fire around them at the same moment Toph woke up, waking everyone else in the process. Four men in white and blue robes walked out of the ruins of the wall. Sokka’s and Katara’s faces lit up in recognition.

“Well, look who’s here,” one of the men cackled giddily. Suki, Toph and Zuko looked at the Water siblings questionably.

“What’s going on‌?” Toph asked confused as Lia let her fire die. “We’re surrounded by old people.”

“Not just any old people. These are great masters and friends of ours,” Katara explained, bowing in front of one. “Pakku.” The old waterbender bowed back.

“It is respectful to bow to an old master but how about a hug for your new grandfather?” he asked opening his arms. Katara rushed to him, smiling happily while Sokka’s jaw hit the ground.

“That’s so exciting. You and Gran Gran must be so happy to have found each other again,” Katara said excitedly.

“I made her a new betrothal necklace and everything,” Pakku said before he was tackled by Sokka’s hug.

“Welcome to the family Great Gramp!”

“You can still just call me Pakku,” the man said dryly.

“How about Grand Pakku‌?” Sokka offered.

“No.”

 

Katara moved on hurriedly.

“And this was Aang’s first firebending teacher,” she explained. Zuko bowed respectfully to the man and he bowed back but before he had a chance to introduce himself, Lia materialized at her brother’s side. The man’s eyes widened.

“Well, if it isn’t my old flame…” she said playfully. “Glad to see you again Jeong Jeong.

“Lia,” the firebender said with the smallest hint of a smile, ignoring his companions’ looks of astonishment and disbelief. “Still as mesmerizing as ever.” She smiled back.

“Coming from any other man, I would have taken this as a compliment.” She kissed him lightly on the cheek before stepping back to stand next to Toph.

 

Sokka had walked over to Piandao, decidedly ignoring how weirded out he had been.

“Master Piandao,” he greeted bowing. The sword master bowed back.

“Hello, Sokka,” he said cheerfully.

“So wait, how do you all know each other‌?” Suki asked confused.

“All old people know each other, don’t you know that‌?” the crazed man, called Bumi, said cheerfully.

“We’re all part of the same ancient secret society. A group that transcends the divisions of the four nations,” Piandao explained more rationally. Zuko shook his head in understanding.

“The Order of the White Lotus.”

“That’s the one,” Bumi jumped in.

“The White Lotus has always been about philosophy, and beauty and truth. About a month ago, a call went out that we were needed for something important,” Jeong Jeong explained.

“It came from a Grand Lotus, your uncle, Iroh of the Fire Nation,” Pakku explained, addressing Zuko.

“Well that’s who we’re looking for,” Toph said, bored with the long winded introduction.

“Then we’ll take you to him,” Piandao said decisively.

“Wait!” Bumi explained looking around. “Someone’s missing from your group. Someone very important. Where’s Momo‌?” he asked Sokka.

“He’s gone. And so is Aang,” Sokka said taking a step back to put some space between them. Bumi shrugged.

“Oh well, so long as they have each other I’m sure we have nothing to worry about. Let’s go.”

 

They had been walking in silence for about ten minutes when a sudden shout made everyone jump.

“FOR THE LOVE OF THE SUN AND THE MOON ZUKO!” Lia huffed. “It was just harmless flirting! Besides, you weren’t even born then!” she stormed away from her brother. Sokka turned awkwardly to Bumi.

“So Bumi, how did you end up escaping your imprisonment in Omashu‌?” he asked.

“Escape‌?” the king said, bending his head to look at the teens behind him. “I didn’t escape, everybody else escaped. There I was, back in Omashu, waiting for just the right moment. I didn’t know what or when but I knew I’d know it when I knew it.” He went on to describe how he had used the eclipse to kick the Fire Nation soldiers out of his city.

“Wow, you took back your whole city all by yourself,” Suki said amazed in the end.

“So what about you guys? ‌ Did you do anything interesting on the day of the eclipse‌?” Bumi asked interested. Sokka and Zuko exchanged a look. Memories of the failed invasion passed through their heads.

“Nah!”

“No, not really.”
They had reached the inner wall were the White Lotus has set their camp.

“Well, here we are,” Bumi walked into the camp. “Welcome to old people camp.” Zuko looked around nervously.

“Where… where is he‌?” he asked.

“Your uncle’s in there, prince Zuko,” Piandao said, pointing at a far off tent. It crossed everyone’s mind how strange it was to hear Zuko being addressed with his title again.

 

Zuko walked up the tent but hesitated before going in. With a sigh he slumped to the ground.

“Are you okay‌?” Katara asked concerned, walking to his side.

“No, I’m not okay. My uncle hates me, I know it. He loved me and supported me in every way he could and I still abandoned him. How can I even face him?” Zuko asked, looking at her desperately. Katara sighed and took his hand.

“Zuko it wasn’t your fault. And even if it was, you’re sorry it happened, right?”

“More sorry than I’ve been about anything in my entire life.”

“Then he’ll forgive you. He will.” She kissed him lightly before walking back to where the rest of the gang was setting up their tents.
Taking a deep breath Zuko walked into the tent.

“Uncle?” he called quietly, to be greeted with a loud snore. Smiling lightly he sat next to Iroh’s sleeping mat, waiting for the old man to wake up. At dawn Iroh stirred and paused when he felt another presence on the room.

“Uncle, I know you must have mixed feelings about seeing me,” Zuko began hesitantly. No matter what Lia and Katara said he couldn’t help but feel that he was to blame for his uncle’s capture. “But I want you to know, I’m so so sorry, uncle,” he continued, his voice cracking as he tried to not cry. “I’m so sorry that I left you back there. I don’t know how I can ever make it up to you but I’ll…” he was cut off by Iroh’s embrace. His eyes widened in amazement. “How can you forgive me so easily‌? I thought you would be furious with me,” he said in disbelief.

“I was never angry with you. I was sad because I didn’t know what had become of you,” Iroh said without pulling away from his nephew.

“I taught Aang,” Zuko said simply. Iroh’s smile widened.

“I’ve heard so,” he said pulling back to look at his nephew’s face. “I am very proud of you. And I am so happy you found your way here.”
As soon as they walked out of the tent Lia and Toph rushed to hug Iroh, glad to see him again. They settled for breakfast and began filling Iroh in on their latest adventures. The subject eventually turned to Aang’s disappearance.

“Uncle, you’re the only person other than the Avatar who can possibly defeat the Father Lord,” Zuko said. Lia giggled at his mistake.

“You mean the Fire Lord?” she asked.

“That’s what I just said,” he snapped at her. Iroh looked thoughtful. “We need you to come with us,” Zuko insisted, turning back at him.

“No, Zuko. It won’t turn out well,” he finally said.

“You can beat him and we’ll be there to help,” his nephew insisted.

“Even if I did defeat Ozai, and I don’t know that I could, it will be the wrong way to end the war. History would see it as just more senseless violence, a brother killing a brother to grab power. The only way for this war to end peacefully is for the Avatar to defeat the Fire Lord,” Iroh explained.

“And then… then would you come and take your rightful place on the throne‌?” Zuko asked. Iroh shook his head.

“No. Someone new must take the throne. An idealist with a pure heart and unquestionable honour. It has to be you, prince Zuko.” The boy’s eyes widened.

“Unquestionable honour?‌ But I’ve made so many mistakes.”

“Yes, you have,” Iroh said gently. “You struggled, you suffered but you have always followed your own path, you restored your own honour. And only you can restore the honour of the Fire Nation.” Zuko looked resolute.

“I’ll try, uncle.”

“Well, what if Aang doesn’t come back‌?” Toph asked uncertainly.

“Sozin’s Comet is arriving and our destinies are upon us. Aang will face the Fire Lord,” Iroh said calmly. “When I was a boy, I had a vision that I would one day take Ba Sing Se. Only now do I see that my destiny is to take it back from the Fire Nation so the Earth Kingdom can be free again.”

“That’s why you gathered the members of the White Lotus,” Suki said, nodding in understanding.

“Yes.” He turned back to Zuko with a serious look. “Zuko, you must return to the Fire Nation so that when the Fire Lord falls, you can assume the throne and restore peace and order. But Azula will be there, waiting for you.”

“I can handle Azula,” Zuko said frowning.

“Not alone,” Lia cut off Iroh’s next words. “You’ll need help.” Her brother nodded and turned to his girlfriend.

“You’re right. Katara, how would you like to help me put Azula in her place‌?” She smiled at him.

“It would be my pleasure.”

“What about us‌?” Sokka asked, pointing at himself, Toph, Suki and Lia. “What’s our destiny today‌?”

“What do you think it is‌?” Iroh asked.

“I think that… even though we don’t know where Aang is, we need to do everything we can to stop the airship fleet,” Sokka concluded decisively. Toph smiled.

“And that means when Aang does face the Fire Lord, we’ll be right there if he needs us.”

 

Piandao led Sokka, Suki and Toph to the edge of the camp and presented them with an oversized lizard.

“Nothing runs faster over land or swims quicker than a giant eel-hound,” he explained as they mounted. “The airship base is on a small island just off the Earth Kingdom shore. You should be able to intercept the fleet within a day’s journey.” Sokka took a look at the map he was given and nodded.

“Thank you, Master,” he said.

 

Zuko and Katara would take Appa in order to fly back to the capital. Lia decided to stay and help the White Lotus. The prince turned to Iroh.

“So if I’m going to be Fire Lord after the war is over, what are you going to do‌?” he asked.

“After I re-conquer Ba Sing Se, I’m going to re-conquer my tea shop and I’m going to play Pai Sho every day.” Zuko and Katara smiled at that and Lia laughed a little. Being around Iroh was certainly refreshing.

“Goodbye, General Iroh,” Katara said respectfully as they prepared to take off.

“Goodbye, everyone. Today, destiny is our friend. I know it.”

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The Invasion (Part 1)

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Author’s note: In which the main plot is back from holidays, there are lots of cameos and the best laid plans go the proverbial way.

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Next chapter: link

***The Invasion (Part 1)***

They say a good night’s sleep can do miracles. In the case of the Avatar that couldn’t be truer. He cheerfully jumped to where the rest of the gang was eating breakfast as soon as he woke up. Toph, Sokka and Katara had changed to their nations’ colors, in anticipation of the battle. Momo saw his master and immediately flew to his shoulder.

“Top of the morning, Momo!” Aang said happily, petting the lemur. Katara looked up from where she was serving everyone.

“Sounds like you slept well,” she commented.

“Like a baby mooselion. I’m ready to face the Fire Lord!” Aang answered confidently, sitting next to Zuko and taking a plate.

“So what’s your strategy for taking him down‌?” Toph asked curiously. “Going to get your glow on and hit him with a little Avatar State action‌?” Aang shook his head with a sad look.

“I can’t. When Azula shot me with lightning, my seventh chakra was locked, cutting off my connection to all the cosmic energy in the Universe.” Lia sent him a suspicious look but didn’t say anything. Toph on the other hand had something to say.

“You know what I just heard?‌ Blah blah spiritual mumbo jumbo blah blah something about space.” Zuko looked at the horizon worried. There was a cloud of thick fog coming towards the island.

“Do you think the fog will delay the invasion‌?” Sokka squinted his eyes and gave the other boy a bright smile.

“No, that is the invasion,” he explained.
Through the fog, five Water Tribe ships appeared. Toph and Aang bended docks on the protected natural port underneath their campsite. Sokka and Katara rushed to their father, excited to see him again.

“You made it dad!” Katara said, hugging the man.

“Were you able to locate everyone I told you to find‌?” Sokka asked anxiously.

“I did. But I’m a little worried, Sokka. Some of these men aren’t exactly the warrior type.” Hakoda pointed at a couple of swampbenders. Unlike his wary father, Sokka looked enthusiastic.

 

“Hi, Katara,” a young man’s voice was heard. Katara turned with a delighted smile.

“Haru, it’s so good to see you.” Aang and Toph approached them.

“Toph, this is Haru. When we met him, his town was controlled by the Fire Nation. So he had to hide his earthbending.” The airbender explained.

“Katara inspired me and my father to take back our village.” Said man approached them and gave Katara a proud smile.

“You helped us find our courage, Katara. Now we’re here to help you.”

 

Suddenly Toph’s head snapped up in surprise. She was feeling some vibrations she hadn’t felt in a long time.

“No way!” she exclaimed. “Is that…” She was lifted up in the air by an enormous man.

“Hippo happy to see Blind Bandit!” the man said. Zuko, who had come up with Lia during the introductions turned to Aang confused.

“Who’s this guy now?” he asked.

“Toph used to be a champion in earthbending tournaments,” Aang explained. “That’s how we found her. These guys were her opponents.”

“You guys here for a re-match‌?” Toph asked angrily. The other man shook his head.

“Negatory. The Boulder and the Hippo no longer fight for others’ entertainment. Now, we fight for our Kingdom!” Toph smiled satisfied.

“Sweet!” she said.
Sokka had originally planned to present the invasion plan on his own. However, after seeing the nasty glares Zuko was receiving from some of the soldiers – mainly because of the Fire Nation armour he was wearing again – he decided to include the other boy too in the presentation.

“Don’t worry, you’ll do great,” Hakoda encouraged the two nervous looking boys. With deep breaths they climbed the impromptu stage that had been set up.

“Good morning, everyone!” Sokka called, trying to get the soldiers’ attention while Zuko set a few maps up. “Today is the Day of the Black Sun, during which a solar eclipse will happen, making it the perfect time to invade the Fire Nation.” Everyone’s attention was fixed on him, making Sokka blush a little. Seeing him a step from stuttering, Zuko took over.

“There will be two steps to the invasion. A naval stage and then a land stage. To gain sea access to the Fire Nation capital,” he pointed at map of the Fire Nation, “we have to get pass our first major obstacle here. The Great Gates of Azulon.”

“Next we hit land,” Sokka continued, punching his palm with his fist for effect. “And we hit hard. We must fight past their battlements and secure the plaza tower.” He changed the map to one of the capital. “Once we do that, it’s up to the royal palace. At that point, the eclipse will begin.” The Boulder raised a hand to ask a question.

“Excuse me, The Boulder is confused. Isn’t the point to invade during the eclipse‌? When the firebenders are powerless‌?”

“The eclipse will only last 8 minutes. Not enough time for the whole invasion and the royal palace is heavily guarded by firebenders. So that’s where we’ll need the advantage of the eclipse the most. When this is finished, Aang will have defeated the Fire Lord. We will have control of the Fire Nation capital and this war will be over!” Zuko explained, his face turning to stone when he talked of his father. Everyone cheered at the plan, as Zuko and Sokka walked off the stage and shared a high five.

Immediately everyone set to preparing. Katara had a strong moment of déjà vu when she looked up from where she was filling her pouches. Zuko and Lia had donned Fire Nation uniforms, and both of them were also carrying swords. Zuko had gathered his hair in a topknot, reminding the waterbender vividly of what he had looked like when they had first met. Sokka was standing a little ways, showing off his “Space Sword” to some men of their tribe excitedly, while Toph chatted animatedly with her fellow earthbenders. Aang landed next to her, startling her.

“Soooo…” he trailed with an excited smile. “You ready?” Katara turned to look at him, to see that he was once again shaved and wearing Air Nomad clothes.

“I believe so,” she said smiling back. She turned to look again at their little family. Aang followed her eyes and smiled too.

“We are one strange group, aren’t we?” he said more to himself that to the girl next to him. “We kind of look like how the world should be. All nations working together in balance.” Katara placed a hand on the airbender’s shoulder.

“It will be like that again Aang,” she told him softly. “We all have faith in you.” The two friends shared a smile before rushing to the others who were already boarding the ships.
“There they are,” Bato called after about an hour of sailing. He had been scanning the horizon with the telescope on the front of the ship. “The Great Gates of Azulon.”

“I don’t see any gates,” Katara said from his side. Zuko handed her another telescope and gently guided her to the right direction.

“It’s a dragon and a statue of Fire Lord Azulon,” he explained.

“Wasn’t Azulon your grandfather or something?” Sokka asked. Zuko just nodded.

“Katara, you and the swamp benders whip up a fog cover,” Hakoda told his daughter and she rushed to take position between the swampbenders.

“We’ll sneak by those statues just like we sneaked by that fire navy blockade,” one of them said as thick mist rose from the sea.
“Keep it up, we’re almost through,” The Water Tribe Chief said when a shrill alarm sounded and a flaming net rose between the statues, blocking their passage.

 

Hakoda calmly turned to the rest of the crew.

“Everyone below deck.” He turned to Sokka as they left the deck. “Let’s hope your invention works.” They all entered the contraption attached under the ship. It looked like a room with glass windows and a panel of controls at the front, where the Mechanist was sitting. With a few hurried explanations Katara and the swampbenders took positions and made the submarine move forward, thus avoiding the Fire Nation soldiers that were by that time swarming the ships. Hakoda turned proudly to his son.

“You really outdid yourself this time, son.”
“Yeah. Congratulations, Sokka,” Toph groaned from the back. “You managed to invent a worse way of travel than flying.” The Duke took off his helmet and offered it to her sympathetically. She took it and promptly threw up.

“Well, I just came up with the idea but The Mechanist did all the work,” Sokka said modestly.

“But don’t sell yourself short, my boy. It was your idea to use waterbending to make the subs sink and float. Brilliant, though your original designs were a bit difficult to decipher.” He unrolled a scroll to reveal a childish sketch. Lia let out a short laugh. “Unfortunately, there is one problem I couldn’t fix,” The Mechanist continued. “The subs have a limited air supply. Before we land on the beaches, we’ll need to resurface.”
Indeed an hour later they resurfaced much to the happiness of Toph and Zuko who had been the most seasick. Aang had been with Appa but now he flew over to the sub where the rest of the gang was.

“So, this is it huh‌?” he asked nervously.

“Are you ready for the Fire Nation to know the Avatar’s alive‌?” Sokka asked back. With a deep breath Aang met everyone’s gaze confidently.

“I’m ready.” He broke into a grin and everyone gathered for a group hug.

“I hope you kick some serious Fire Lord butt, Twinkle Toes,” Toph smiled at him.

“Everyone listen up!” Hakoda called from the entrance of the sub. “The next time we resurface, it’ll be on the beaches. So stay alert and fight smart. Now break time’s over, back in the subs.” Sokka followed his father immediately with Lia right behind him. Zuko followed them and Katara waterbended herself to Appa and bended an air bubble around his head. Soon it was only Toph and Aang left outside.

“Aang I…”

“Toph I…” They both stopped and blushed.

“You go first,” Aang finally said.

“I just wanted to say I’m proud of you Twinkle-Toes. I know that you will beat the Fire Lord.”
“What if… what if I don’t come back?” Aang said uncertainly. Toph seemed to falter at the idea and under Aang’s gaze – even though she could only guess it –. Aang was indeed staring at her. Lately he had found himself thinking constantly of his earthbending teacher in a way that confused him as he had always associated with Katara.

“Don’t you say that!” Toph cried. “Of course you’ll…” she was caught off by Aang pressing his lips to hers before he hastily opened his glider and took off. Toph stared dumbly in front of her when Sokka’s head reappeared.

“Toph, what are you doing? It’s time to submerge.” He came out to help the little girl back in, surprised when she didn’t offer any resistance.

 

Inside the tension was almost tangible. No one talked as the subs closed in on the port of the capital.

“Everyone in position. Earthbenders, into your tanks. This is going to be a rough ride,” Hakoda called from his position at the periscope. As soon as they entered the port harpoons were being shot down at them from the various battlements. One of them grabbed one of the subs and started reeling it in. Katara saw it and hastily led Appa out of the water, cutting the harpoon with her waterwhip. The sub dived back into the water and continued as if nothing had happened.

 

Despite the constant rain of projectiles the submarines were able to land safely. Their front part gave way and tanks carrying the warriors came out. Sokka and Zuko joined to lead them, while Toph and the rest of the earthbenders were given rocks to launch at the various battlements around them. Appa landed near them and Katara jumped down, running to join Lia a little further. Seeing tanks armed with firebenders joining the fight Lia called to the other girl.

“We need to catch up to the boys. They’ll need cover from those things.” They quickened their pace when they saw that Sokka and Zuko had been divided. Zuko was using his own firebending to keep the firebenders on hold while Sokka was busy with those soldiers riding Komodo rhinos. When a waterwhip and a fireblast came from his sides he turned and gave the two girls a thankful smile. Lia stood in front of the two teens and, concentrating, she made a wall of flames rise in front of her, melting the front part of the oncoming tanks. She turned to the water and firebender.

“I’ve got it covered here. You go and help elsewhere.” With a nod they took off to join Sokka.

 

Zuko hastily bent a shield as a fireball came in their direction. They arrived in time to hear Hakoda say:

“We’ve got to take out those battlements. It’s our only chance.” Sokka looked at them thoughtfully.

“I’ve got an idea,” he finally said.

 

They left Zuko with the ground forces as more firebenders where coming and he was needed there. The Water Tribe Chief and his children hopped on Appa and flew towards the battlements, destroying a few before they landed. Hakoda pointed at the battlement further from the point Appa was standing on.

“You two take out that battlement. I’ve got this one. Watch each other’s backs.” He ran towards the closest battlement with Katara and Sokka following his example. Sokka cut through the door and his sister froze the soldiers inside before they destroyed the projectile that was ready to be launched. They ran out again, in time to see their father to enter the other one. There were sounds of struggle and suddenly a blast of fire appeared. Hakoda stumbled out of it, grasping his side in pain. The two Water Tribe teens ran to his side and carried him back to ground level. There, Katara started immediately to heal the wound.

“How does that feel, dad‌?” she asked concerned.

“A… a little better.” He struggled to sit up. “I need… to get back… to the troops.” He groaned and fell back.

“You’re hurt. Badly. You can’t fight anymore,” Katara said sternly.

“Everyone’s counting on me to lead this mission, Katara. I won’t let them down,” Hakoda argued.

“Can’t you heal him any faster‌?” Sokka asked.

“I’m doing everything I can,” Katara said, trying to keep her voice calm.

“I’ll do it,” Sokka said solemnly.

“No offence, Sokka but you’re not exactly Mr. Healing Hands,” his sister said a little annoyed. Sokka stood up.

“No,” he explained. “I’ll lead the invasion force.”

“Don’t be crazy, Sokka,” Katara said, now openly worried.

“Maybe I am a little crazy but the eclipse is about to start and we need to be up that volcano by the time it does,” Sokka insisted. “Besides, I’ll have Zuko help me.” That seemed to calm his sister a little.

“You can do this. I’m proud of you, son,” Hakoda said solemnly.

“I still think you’re crazy but I’m proud of you too.” Katara hugged her brother.
With a final nod, Sokka ran to Appa and took off. He landed in front of the main force, knocking away a tank in the process. He stood up in the saddle and raised his voice:

“Listen up everyone,” everyone paused and turned to the teen. “I want the tanks in wedge formation! Warriors and benders in the middle. We’re taking that tower and heading for the royal palace!” There were a few moments of chaos as everyone moved to their new positions. Spotting two Fire Nation uniforms in the middle of greens and blues Sokka called once again.

“Zuko!” Said teen raised his head. “I want you and Lia with me up front.” With a nod the two firebenders climbed on Appa’s saddle.  Sokka exchanged an excited smile with Zuko before turning to the rest of the force.

“Charge!” he yelled.

 

In another part of the city Aang was standing on a roof confused. There was no one in sight.

“That’s strange,” he muttered to himself. He took off again to land in front of the palace. He bended an air current to force the doors open.

“The Avatar is back!” he shouted, hoping for a dramatic entrance. He was met with silence. Looking around he walked further inside the palace cautiously.

“Hello?” he called nervously. “Anyone home?”

 

Outside it was raining fire but the Fire Nation soldiers were steadily retreating. The invasion plan had been going without a fail so far. It was almost…

“Too good to be true,” Lia whispered as she climbed through a hole at the outer wall of the capital. For a moment she gazed on the land that had so long ago been her home. She had feared that she would hesitate in causing further damage to the place but now she realised that her brother had been right. As long as she stayed concentrated on their goal, the memories stayed away. With a final look at the beautiful city below her, the Spirit of Fire turned back to the task at hand.

 

Aang airbended his way to the throne room, hoping that someone would be there. Seeing the room empty and dark, he fell to his knees as realisation hit him like a ton of bricks.

“No…” he said on disbelief. “Fire Lord Ozai where are you?” he screamed at the empty room.

End of Part 1

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

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

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***The Avatar and the Firelord***

– Aang’s dream-

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

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

-End of Aang’s dream-

Aang shifted on Appa’s saddle.

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

“Where are we going?” he asked curiously.

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

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

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

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

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

“You were friends with Fire Lord Sozin?”

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No way!” Aang exclaimed incredulously.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The spirit Roku looked at the youngsters sadly.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

“Look!” he said pointing in the distance.

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

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

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

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

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

“Where are we?” Zuko asked confused.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t see why not.”

 

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

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

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