Tag Archives: Taang

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!

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***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: 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: 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…

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***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 – 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.

Twilight of the Spirit World – The Festival

Standard

Author’s note: In which there is philosophy, SHIPPING, and things don’t go wrong for once! Also, in which the author has a LOT of fun world-building.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: coming soon…

***The Festival***

Unbelievably Wan Shi Tong didn’t hunt them down immediately, much to Sokka’s relief, although Lia had grumbled about the Owl joining the Council’s side out of sheer annoyance. Her frustration however was short lived and Toph was doing a great job of distracting her with questions about the Earth elementals and the Hidden City they were travelling to. The rest of the gaang would jump in with comments and questions every now and then with the exception of Agni, who remained silent for most of the trip.

 

Eventually the lush environment began to give way and the ground became rocky and dry. As they started climbing to a higher altitude the air too began thinning, as if the other three elements were shying away from the area. At the closing of the day they had reached a landing large enough to camp in and most of the group shuffled towards they sleeping bags, too tired to bother with dinner. Zuko took a few deep breaths, staring at the star-filled sky that seemed to press down on them.

“Am I the only one feeling light-headed?” Katara scooted closer to him, rubbing her temples.

“No, I feel it too. What’s going on?” Aang gave them a sympathetic look.

“The higher we go, the thinner the air gets,” he explained. “I remember when we first started learning to air glide. The instructors wouldn’t let us go over the clouds.”

“But it’ll pass, right?” Azula asked. Aang nodded emphatically.

“As soon as we climb lower,” he assured her.

 

Toph turned towards the rest of the group curiously. True, she too had felt a little light-headed when they had reached the clearing but it had gone away almost immediately. In fact the more she sat with her back against a conveniently placed rock the more energised she felt. Due to her earthbending she had always been more comfortable when she was surrounded by her element but this was new. Absently, Toph took one of her metal bracelets and started playing around with it. Her eyes widened in surprise when the material responded to the minutest metalbending. She could feel the impurities she manipulated as clear as if she was working with regular stones. So absorbed she was by her discovery that she completely missed the presence at her side.

“We’re very close to the City now,” Agni said quietly, as if trying not to startle her. Still, she turned sharply towards him, her concentration broken. “Easy there!” he said with a chuckle. “I thought you had heard me.” Toph settled a little.

“Nah,” she said, reforming her bracelet. “Too far away in my head I guess.” Then what he said sank in. “How close is very close?” Agni shrugged.

“I’ve never been,” he admitted. “But I can tell the energy is different here. I imagine we’ll be getting a visit by Oma or Shu either tonight or come morning.” Toph nodded in understanding and then raised an eyebrow.

“You are very social all of a sudden,” she said. Agni chuckled.

“I think Lily is too distracted right now to yell at me for talking to one of you.” He pointed towards the rest of the group were the girls were trying to teach Azula to cook, much to the amusement of the boys. Toph rolled her eyes at the ruckus they were making but nonetheless stood up to join the group.

“Somehow I don’t think this will make her like you” she called over her shoulder, drawing out the word ‘like’ more than it was probably necessary. Agni looked at her with wide eyes, too shocked to really form an answer.

 

In the morning the group woke to find that what last night had been a solid rock wall was now the entrance of a tunnel. Shaped out of hard, black rock, it stood out against the paler stones of the mountain. Sokka couldn’t help but comment:
“What is it with Elementals and impressive entrances?” Lia chuckled.

“We get bored?” she offered before moving towards the opening with quick steps. The others followed more hesitantly.

 

Almost immediately after they entered, the rock moved behind them, sealing the entrance and plunging them in darkness. The small flames that appeared on the hands of Zuko, Azula, Lia and Agni did little to break through the inky blackness surrounding them. The others huddled closer to them, even Toph who, although not bothered by the lack of light, felt intimidated by the almost claustrophobic atmosphere.

“Are we sure this isn’t a trap?” Katara asked hesitantly in a low voice.

“I don’t think so,” Aang shook his head. “There is the same strange energy here as was at Agni’s mountain.”

“And that is so reassuring,” Azula mumbled. To everyone’s surprise Lia let a breathless chuckle.

“Took the words right out of my mouth,” she told Azula before breathing deeply through the nose and concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. Elementals very rarely visited each other’s home domain and for good reason. The build-up of their personal energy, combining with that of the crystals caused an imbalance. Lesser Spirits didn’t really notice it, with the exception of those whose abilities were tied to one element or another and thus might find themselves temporarily stronger or weaker. In her case, it felt as though the entire mountain was pressing down her eardrums and she could feel the crystal pulsing against her breastbone as it tried to remedy the problem. A quick glance at her counterpart told her that he wasn’t faring much better. His face had grown paler during their walk and a slight grimace of pain flitted across his features.

 

Without warning light flooded the tunnel as an opening appeared right in front of them, leading to a straight drop a long way down. Aang, who had been closest to the opening, half-floated half-jumped backwards, frowning at how much effort airbending suddenly required. A deep, throaty laugh drew the group’s attention to their side, where a short, tan man with emerald green eyes and obsidian black hair now stood.

“I apologise for startling you,” he said in a friendly tone. “You can never be too cautious these days.”

“Are you Shu, the Earth Spirit?” Suki asked hesitantly. His comment about caution went both ways after all, and she hadn’t missed how the two Fire Spirits seemed to shy away from him. The man bowed slightly to her.

“Indeed I am, daughter of Kyoshi,” he answered. “Your arrival has been expected for a while now,” he continued, this time addressing the entire group.

“Then you will show us the way to the Hidden City?” Sokka asked excitedly. Toph huffed in exasperation.

“It’s a Hidden City alright…I can’t feel it even though I really want to.”

“You cannot see it little bender because it doesn’t stand out, but rather it is embraced by our element,” he said kindly. “Once we are closer you will understand.” Another gateway opened at his side and he motioned to the group to follow him. Toph was the first to cross the threshold, eager to find out what Shu meant and the others scrambled after her, the gateway disappearing behind them as soon as they had all crossed.

 

This new tunnel was much shorter than the previous ones and sooner than they’d imagined they emerged from yet another gateway, this one much more elaborate and carved out of marble. The sight that greeted them on the other side was unlike anything they had ever seen. Everything in the Hidden City was made out of different kinds of stones and metals. An explosion of colours surrounded them, as the warm sunlight fell on the gems inlet on the buildings’ walls and created small rainbows on the white marble roads.  Spirits filtered on the streets, some walking, some flying, some using bizarre combinations of the two, but most of the carrying different kinds of parcels and baskets and all moving in the same direction. As Shu led them through, they paused and let them pass in respect, before turning back to whatever they had been doing, even as the first stirrings of a melody reached them from somewhere else in town.

 

Even though the City looked beautiful to the entire group, Toph felt that only she could truly appreciate its true magnificence. Each different type of rock, gem or metal gave off a different vibration and her own, unique way of seeing revealed details on their structures that were probably invisible to the naked eye. In a way, Toph thought, it was nice to be the one to see clearly everything. And not just in a metaphorical way either…. Reluctantly she brought her attention back to her friends and to where they were going. The street they were walking on felt as smooth and soft as silk under the soles of her feet and she bit her lip to keep from laughing out loud when she heard more than one pair of legs slipping and sliding, caught off-guard by the sudden loss of traction.

 

Finally they arrived at their destination, a temple in the middle of the City, built in the almost conical way that characterised the buildings in Omashu. At its entrance stood Oma, whose tan complexion, warm brown eyes and reserved expression did little to distract from her rich, deep green hair that cascaded down her back like ivy.

“Do all female Elementals have strange-coloured hair?” Zuko blurted out, blushing when the Elementals in question turned to him with equally unimpressed expressions. They gave each other measuring looks before Lia shrugged.

“I don’t see anything strange,” she said. “Do you?” she asked Oma. The earth Elemental shook her head.

“Not really, no,” she said before turning to address the entire group. “Welcome to the Hidden City. I must applaud your courage to stand by your friend’s side on a fight that isn’t your own. We are honoured to have you here and if you would follow us, we will take you to what you came seeking.” While she talked the group composed themselves from laughing quietly at Zuko’s expense and listened to her with serious expressions. When she finished talking Aang took a step forward, becoming the spokesman for the gaang.

“We thank you for your kind words and hospitality,” he said formally after a deep bow, figuring that if the Earth Spirits where anything like the earthbenders they would appreciate brevity. Indeed, Oma and Shu nodded in acknowledgment once and motioned to the group to follow them inside the temple.

 

The halls inside were lit by the same green crystal as the catacombs of Ba Sing Se, casting eerie lights on the obsidian walls. Before they could move further than the first hall, Shu turned apologetically to Agni and Lia.

“I’m afraid you two will have to wait here,” he said. The two Fire Spirits nodded in understanding and Lia even managed to give Zuko a reassuring smile in answer to his concerned look before the gaang followed the Earth Spirits deeper in the temple. As soon as they were out of sight she slumped against the wall, taking deep breaths through the nose. The Fire crystal could do little to counteract the effects the build-up of the Earth crystal’s energy was having on her and a similar thump from the opposite wall told her that Agni was not faring much better. His face was sweaty and his eyes had dulled, almost like he was feverish but he said nothing. Lia bit her lip hesitantly. If she felt as horrible as she did, then how could her partner be feeling, without the crystal shielding him. With a deep breath and telling herself that she would probably regret it immediately she let the Fire crystal float between them, and it glowed a fiery red as it struggled to shield both of them. Lia let her head fall to her knees as gravity seemed suddenly to double, even as she heard Agni’s breathing ease a little. Closing her eyes, she wished that Oma and Shu wouldn’t have any elaborate ceremonies before entrusting their crystal to one of the group.

 

Meanwhile the others had reached the main chamber of the temple, a room bare of anything other than the glowing emerald crystal floating at its exact centre, orbiting around itself. The Earth Spirits each placed a hand on Toph’s shoulders and gently led her towards the crystal.

“I can see it,” Toph whispered, almost hypnotised as she raised a hand towards the crystal.

“Earthbending has always been for you as natural as breathing because you understood its true meaning,” Shu explained, a hint of pride colouring his voice as he addressed her.

“That is why you are the right person to safeguard the crystal until our world is safe again,” Oma continued softly. “Not since the time we walked amongst the mortals has there been someone whose understanding of earthbending is as complete as yours.” Hearing these words seemed to snap Toph out of her daze and she shook her head.

“I am great at earthbending,” she agreed, “but I do not have complete understanding of it. There are still many things I want to experiment with.”

“And you have both the vision and the ability to do so,” Oma said. “Earth is not static and there will always be new things to discover. That however doesn’t subtract from what you have already achieved.”

“The crystal chose you because it felt your affinity for it,” Shu said as the emerald stone attached itself to Toph’s headband. “It might enhance your abilities but not to a great extent. You see, that is the paradox of the elemental crystals. They do not truly enhance your powers. Rather they highlight what was already there.”

 

They did not linger at the now-darkened chamber but hurried back to where they had left Lia and Agni. They found them sitting on opposite walls, Agni seemingly dozing and Lia looking at the ceiling bored. She slowly turned her head towards them and moved to stand.

“What took you so long?” she grumbled, her voice startling Agni into opening his eyes.

“Can we go now?” he mumbled, sounding as moody as the redhead. Shu chuckled.

“I apologise for the uncomfortable wait friends,” he said. “But perhaps you might delay your departure until the morning? There is a festival tonight and it might the last chance any of us has for merriment for a while.” Aang’s face practically lit up at the prospect of a party and the others seemed pretty enthusiastic about the idea.

“Might as well,” Agni said carelessly. “I’m starting to get used to the thin air you locals breathe anyway.”

 

Shu had other duties to see to, so Oma led the group to a small house, where they could leave their packs and freshen up for the party. She left them with directions on how to reach the area where the festival was taking place and smiled as she heard the girls of the group loudly and enthusiastically order the boys to hurry up and get ready in one of the smaller rooms so that they could have the larger ones to themselves. Since none of them had planned on coming across any sort of celebration during their travels, getting ready mostly consisted of washing off the dust they had gathered on the road and touching up on hairstyles, before hurriedly leaving the house and following the –now louder- sound of music and laughter to another area of the City.

 

When they reached the square where the festivities were being held they saw that more of the green crystals were hung everywhere, intermingled with candles that shone through gems, bathing everything in a rainbow of colours as night fell. In one corner a group of Spirits were playing songs and in another tables were set with foods and drinks. Sokka’s eyes zeroed on the food and, grabbing Suki’s hand, he made a beeline for it.

“We’ll see you guys later!” he called over his shoulder. Suki laughed at her boyfriend’s antics, but she followed him willingly enough.

“Sokka has the right idea,” Katara said, eyeing the crowd of Spirits that seemed to grow bigger by the minute. “It will be hard to keep track of everyone with so many people around. How about we just meet later in the house?” Azula nodded in agreement.

“Sounds good,” she said. “That way everyone can do what they want.”

“And that means Twinkle-Toes and I are dancing,” Toph said determinedly, grabbing Aang by the collar and dragging him off closer to the music, where a few couples were already dancing. Azula, Zuko, Katara and Lia chucked at the antics of the youngest members of their group. Azula turned to the others and gave a smile.

“I think I’ll go exploring,” she said in almost childish excitement. For all the doom and gloom prospects of their quest and even with Agni’s presence stirring up unpleasant memories she had found herself loving every moment of their travels on the Spirit World.

“Have fun Zula,” Zuko told his sister before turning his attention to the remaining members of their team, only to find it short one member.

“Wow,” Katara told Lia, also noticing Agni’s absence for the first time. “And I though you moved silently.” The redhead scoffed and made a shooing gesture at them.

“Well, go on!” she told them teasingly. “Away with you! Go find a dark corner and enjoy each other’s presence or whatever it is you kids call it these days. I know you want some alone time.” Zuko and Katara –sporting matching blushes and guilty smiles- didn’t need to be told twice before they disappeared into the crowd, holding hands tightly. Lia surveyed the scene for a moment longer from where she stood before moving towards the drinks. Early she had spotted a few bottles of one of her favourites and she fully intended to indulge herself.

 

Agni found her a few hours later, after he had to navigate through a group of particularly giggly tree Spirits, sitting on a staircase, cradling an empty bottle and sporting a particularly thoughtful expression. Wherever her mind was traveling, it returned back to reality as soon as he came within view of her. Her eyes focused on his intently and she waited until he was close enough to hear her before speaking.

“I’m drunk,” she declared with all the gravity of a royal decree. Agni chuckles and stooped to pry the bottle from her loose hold.

“I can see that,” he told her teasingly. “I didn’t realise you were that bored. Do you want me to help you pass the time?” For a few moments she seemed to consider his offer before she shook her head.

“Naaaah,” she said with a giggle and she leaned closer to him. “Do you want to know a secret?” she asked in an excited whisper. Agni couldn’t resist leaning closer too, having missed seeing her so relaxed around him, even if it had taken a bottle of strong alcohol to get her to that stage.

“What secret?” he whispered back in a conspiratory tone. Lia raised her finger, as if to underline the importance of what she was about to say, took a dramatically deep breath and declared:

“I can’t tell you! It won’t be a secret then!” She burst into another round of giggles and stumbled to her feet. Agni laughed and wrapped an arm around her waist, steading her against him. She wrapped her arms around his neck and smiled. “But I will dance with you,” she told him sweetly. “I like it when we dance. We’re not fighting then.” Agni’s smile softened and he shifted his hold so that he could softly sway them both with the music.

“I like it too when we are not fighting,” he told her quietly. Lia leaned almost completely against him and closed her eyes.

“Then let’s not fight anymore,” she said sleepily. Agni started to answer but caught himself when he saw she had fallen asleep. With a bittersweet sigh he gathered her in his arms and made his way back to the house they had been given. At least one of them would sleep peacefully tonight.

 

While the couples of the group where having their moments, Azula had wondered to the far end of the square, taking in the sights idly. A few friendly Spirits invited her to dance with them and she joined them for a few songs, catching sight of Sokka and Suki swaying a little further away for a moment, before a rather large Spirit shaped like a radish passed between them and she lost them. Eventually she retreated to the edge of the impromptu dance-floor to catch her breath. A strange jingling noise caught her attention and she turned to see a small collection of gemstones trembling on an earthen dish held by a Spirit that looked like a kindly grandmother.

“My, my!” the Spirit said. “You must have quite the future to make the stones so excited! Would you like to know more?” Azula looked at her surprised but moved closer nonetheless.

“How would I do that?” she asked curiously.

“Just pick a stone dearie. I’ll do the rest.” The Fire princess scrutinised the collection in front of her carefully. A silver-blue gem caught her eye and her hand moved towards it involuntarily. She picked it up and handed to the old Spirit.

“Well, what do we have here? Lightning and travelling and adventures in your past and present and future. You’re a special girl for sure! What else? Oh, I see a nice gentleman too and you’ll be meeting him very soon.” She looked up to smile at Azula who seemed a little overwhelmed by the torrent of words that had met her. “Keep an eye out for the one in blue,” the old Spirit said. “He will give you your dreams if you let him.”

“What do you…” Azula began to ask but trailed off when she realised that the fortune-teller had disappeared before her eyes. Pocketing the stone she walked away, pondering what she had just heard in her mind.

Twilight of the Spirit World – Arrivals

Standard

Author’s note: In which there is exposition, Spirit World travels and new rules on the game.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***Arrivals***

Zuko had often wondered exactly how tuned with the Spirit World his uncle was, especially now that the old man decided to pay a family visit two days after Lia’s news. After the customary formalities the two men locked themselves in the Fire Lord’s office and Iroh proceeded to interrogate his nephew over his latest travel plans. When Zuko finished recounting everything Lia had told him and Azula the old man stayed quiet for a few minutes, thinking everything over.

“These are indeed grave news,” he said at last, “and I can understand why Lia would seek your friends’ and yours help, but Zuko are you certain it is wise to go through with your idea?”

“I understand that the Spirit World can be dangerous for mortals,” his nephew admitted, “but I can’t just abandon Lia after she helped me so much, and I know the others would agree with me. Besides, the balance of the Spirit World would affect our world too. In a way I’m protecting our people too.” Iroh smiled.

“While I admire your care for your nation and the world Fire Lord Zuko, are you sure this is the true reason for wanting to go through with this?” Zuko’s serious expression melted to one of disappointment.

“You can still read my like a book uncle,” he grumbled under his breath. “Azula and I, we are both getting restless. While I would not even think of starting a war again, sometimes life at the palace can just be so…” he paused searching for the right word.

“Boring?” Iroh offered, getting a guilty smile as an answer. “You are both still young my nephew so it is only natural that you would wish for some excitement even though you have both been remarkably mature and responsible regarding your duties.”

“So will you look after mum and the Fire Nation while we will be away?” Zuko took his chance the moment he saw it. Iroh laughed.

“I don’t have much choice, do I? It’s my favorite nephew asking after all,” he added, conveniently ignoring the fact that his nephew could also order him if he wanted to.

Meanwhile, at another part of the palace, a similar conversation was taking place. For the last four years Ursa had become a confidant of sorts for the girls of Team Avatar, especially Lia, who found the woman’s calm demeanor contagious.

“I can’t help but feel guilty for dragging them to this,” Lia admitted, looking down at her tea. Ursa raised an eyebrow.

“You told them everything you know and they’ve been around you long enough to understand the dangers they might be getting themselves into. Much as I hate to see my children in danger I can’t keep them locked up here forever.”

“It’s not just that,” Lia insisted. “Zuko knows a part of my past and I have let the occasional thing to slip in conversation but essentially they have no idea and inevitably things will come out that I’d rather have kept secret.”

“So you are afraid that they might be scared from what they’ll find about you?”

“Yeah.” Lia stood and started pacing the room, hugging herself. “And I wouldn’t blame them if they did.” Ursa raised an eyebrow.

“I think you underestimate them. Five years ago I would agree with you, but now they are all a lot more mature and understand better how the world works. Whatever it is that you are hiding it might surprise them but in the end they will still be your friends.” She laid a hand on the Spirit’s shoulder when she passed by her to calm her down. Lia closed her eyes and forced herself to relax.

“As usual I’m overreacting on little things,” she muttered with a frown. “You’re right, it’s all going to be fine.”

Katara, Sokka and Suki were the first to arrive three days after Iroh had, having already planned to visit the Fire Nation. As was their tradition since the end of the war, Azula, Suki and Lia teamed up to distract Sokka long enough for Zuko and Katara to greet each other properly. To be fair, the Water Tribe warrior had slowly become a lot more relaxed about his little sister’s love life but he still tended to act before he thought a lot.

“So how was the travel?” Azula asked casually the couple as she stood right next to Lia, effectively hiding her brother and the waterbender from Sokka’s view.

“It was good,” Suki answered just as casually, lacing her fingers with her fiancé’s in an extra effort to keep him on her side. Zuko and Katara were sneaking back to the palace, having read the signs and determined not to let the antsy man ruin another reunion. Luckily for them, Sokka’s attention was mostly caught by the redhead of the group.

“Hey, weren’t you supposed to go back to the Spirit World?” he asked Lia.

“There have been some developments,” Lia said casually. “I thought it’d be better if I waited for everyone to arrive before I explained.” Sokka nodded.

“Last we heard of Aang and Toph, they were at the Western Air Temple. They should probably be here tomorrow or the day after,” he said. Looking around he suddenly realized something. “Hey! Where’s Zuko and Katara?” The girls shrugged.

“They probably went to see mother and uncle Iroh,” Azula said  before turning towards the palace. “How about I show you to your room?”

“Sounds good,” Suki agreed, dragging Sokka along.

“But Suki…” the man’s half-formed complain fell to deaf ears.

Aang’s and Toph’s arrival on Appa was just as dramatic. The arrived the next evening, just in time for dinner. Toph marched loudly into the dining room, demanding a seat and something that was not “Twinkle-Toes’ whacky, all-vegetables-and-no-meat cooking.” The all-powerful Avatar had followed his girlfriend complaining loudly about her assessment of his cooking abilities. With the entire group laughing at Aang’s expense Lia’s unexpected presence went unnoticed until everyone quieted down and settled for dinner.

“So Sparky,” Toph asked after a while, “how come we’re not one down in our numbers?”

“There were some complications,” Zuko explained vaguely. Toph raised an eyebrow unsatisfied with the explanation.

“I’ll tell everyone after dinner Toph,” Lia promised and in an effort to change subjects she asked, “So, what was Aang’s latest attempt at cooking?” The earthbender grinned and began describing how Aang had tried to make the soup they were making cook faster with a combination of water and firebending which resulted in an explosion “so bad I thought Combustion Man had come back from the dead!”

After dinner the gaang gathered in the one of the courtyards, the hot weather making any inside room stuffy even for firebenders.

“Now are you going to explain what’s going on?” Sokka asked impatiently. Lia made herself comfortable against a rock and began narrating her brief sojourn in the Spirit World. When she finished everyone was frowning. Aang was the first to speak.

“So how can we help?” he asked seriously. Lia took a moment to study him while she thought of how to phrase her answer. He and Toph had hit their growth sprout and looked a lot more mature than when they were twelve. Aang especially was a lot more serious; having to deal with full-time scheming nobles tended to take away some of your childishness.

“It’s not your war to fight of course,” she finally said, “but I could use all the help I could get when it comes to the Council.  Most Spirits have at least some respect for it so it will be hard to find many who would outright challenge its decisions. I would know,” she added the last part under her breath.

“What’s your plan?” Katara asked, looking every bit as determined as Aang to help.

“I was planning on lying low for a while and then sneak back to the Spirit World and contact Roku. He will definitely know what’s going on.” Lia shrugged. “From then on I’ll play it by ear.” The gaang looked at each other unanimously reaching a decision.

“It wasn’t your war to fight when you helped us against Ozai either,” Aang said decisively. “We’ll help.” The rest of the gaang nodded in agreement.

“But how are we going to cross over to the Spirit World?” Azula asked the most logical question, cutting Sokka half-way through an exclamation. He gave her a glare in return. Lia gave them an impish smile.

“The same way I do everything,” she said. “By breaking the rules.” Toph snickered. “Theoretically any being can cross over between the worlds given the proper guidance. The reason this doesn’t happen often is because the Spirit World is thought as a purely spiritual realm.” She sent a look at Aang’s direction. “The Air Nomads had a lot to do with this idea,” she added. “The only thing I need to do is open a portal and we can cross over worrying only about what we’ll find on the other side.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Sokka said yawning loudly and causing Toph and Zuko to yawn as well.

“How about we call it a night and begin preparing first thing tomorrow?” Katara proposed. “It’s getting late and we all need our rest.”

Two days later the group had gathered in the courtyard in their travelling gear. Lia stood in front of everyone with eyes closed concentrating, while the others were saying goodbye to Iroh and Ursa. A strange, crackling sound cut through the last minute conversations and everyone turned to see a gateway made out of white-blue energy appear out of thin air.

“All right!” Sokka rubbed his hands eagerly. “Team Avatar to the rescue!” Suki poked him on the shoulder.

“Plus me and Azula,” she said dryly. Lia rolled her eyes as everyone walked through the portal. At first it was like they floated in an endless grey nothingness. Toph moved around franticly before grasping Aang’s hand, looking for something familiar.

“This is the in-between,” she heard Lia’s calm voice a little ahead. “I know it’s unpleasant but it will help us stay hidden a little longer.” Toph frowned.

“It makes me queasy,” she complained. “There’s no vibrations at all here. Even Aang’s not giving any vibrations.”

Lia half-turned to answer the earthbender when a bright light appeared in front of them. Instinctively everyone closed their eyes and the next thing they felt was the wind whipping at their faces. Everyone’s eyes snapped open in alarm to see that they were out of the in-between and in quite a height in the air.

“WHAT IS GOING ON?” Sokka screamed in horror. Aang gasped and hastily bended a cushion of air under them. When they landed on the ground everyone was as white as a sheet.

“That was not my fault,” Lia hastily assured the others, trying to keep an adrenaline-induced chuckle from surfacing. Nevertheless she received seven glares from the rest of the group. Suddenly Aang looked up confused and asked:

“Why can I only airbend?”

Twilight of the Spirit World – Prologue

Standard

Author’s note: In which the author glosses over four years’ worth of material and the comic continuity is COMPLETELY ignored.

Next chapter: link

***Prologue***

The first few years after the war rolled by faster than anyone would have expected. The reconstruction process forced the gaang to stretch thin, each one of the teens returning to their respective nations.

 

The end-of- war negotiations went surprisingly smoothly, especially with a vengeful Spirit on call to glower at anyone trying to take advantage of the lack of political experience of the new Fire Lord and –to a lesser extent- of the Avatar.

 

When Katara finally found out the story behind Zuko’s scar it was only the fact that she was in Omashu at the time, helping out with the repairs from Bumi’s liberation campaign that prevented her from having a little “chat” with Ozai.

 

Lee got his visit at Sozin and spent two memorable months touring not only the Fire Nation but also the Earth Kingdom with the Fire Lord, the Avatar and their friends.

 

The Southern Water Tribe grew from a small village to a bustling city with the return of the warriors and the introduction of more waterbenders from the Northern Water Tribe.

 

Sokka divided his time between the South Pole and Kyoshi Island, prompting an endless stream of jokes from not only Toph but also his entire tribe.

 

While Ty Lee felt more at home than ever amongst the Kyoshi Warriors, Mai decided that staying anywhere for more than a few days was a waste of her precious time and gratefully took up Zuko’s offer to travel through the Fire Nation in search of any problems that might arise with the return of his father’s soldiers.

 

Aang managed to convince Toph to see her parents again. He regretted it when Toph’s father caught them kissing in the garden and launched a speech on what his daughter’s boyfriend – Avatar or not Avatar – was not allowed to do. Toph offered not to visit them again until after their second child was born. In hindsight, that was a bad idea considering that Aang fainted while flying Appa.

 

Zuko proposed to Katara under the full moon on their third anniversary. This prompted Suki to propose to Sokka on their fourth anniversary. Another thing on the long list of things that no one would over allow Sokka to live down.

 

Azula re-mastered lightning when she was sixteen under the careful guidance of Lia.

 

Iroh’s teashop in Ba Sing Se became a regular hangout for the gaang whenever they were there. It also became internationally famous for its Pai Sho tournaments.

 

Lia did not have nightmares or visions of the future again and soon returned to her carefree self. She told no one that she always went to bed with her back turned to the Fire Lily on her bedside table and woke up facing it.

 

For four wonderful years there was peace.

 

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Epilogue

Standard

Author’s note: In which most loose ends are tied, there is shipping you saw coming and shipping you probably did not see coming, reunions, parties and Sokka’s atrocious painting skills.

Previous chapter: link

***Epilogue***

It was not surprising that Azula woke up first the next morning. Opening her eyes slightly she saw Zuko still sleeping peacefully next to her. Katara had bandaged his wounds while they were out. The princess couldn’t help the prick of guilt that she felt. Hearing footsteps she sat up in alarm, not seeing the waterbender anywhere and still feeling too drained to firebend. The door opened quietly and Azula’s eyes widened when she saw the woman that stood in the threshold.

“Mother?” she whispered in disbelief. Ursa had hardly changed since she had last seen her, although she was dressed in plain red robes now. Without pausing to think of her tiredness the girl jumped off the bed and hurried towards her mother, pausing in front of her. Ursa hesitantly took a step closer, opening her arms to embrace her youngest. Azula didn’t need to be told twice. She threw herself into her mother’s arms, feeling the last piece click back into place in her mind.

“I’ve missed you, little one,” Ursa told her daughter tenderly.

“Zuko will be so glad to see you,” Azula murmured, throwing a glance at her brother’s sleeping form. She turned her eyes back to her mother. “I am too,” she added shyly. Ursa just smiled.

“Zula?” a sleepy voice came from the bed. The princess returned to her brother’s side, helping him to sit up.

“Look who’s here Zuzu!” she said excitedly. Zuko followed her gaze and his face split to the biggest grin Azula had ever seen.

“Mom!” he said elated. Ursa walked up to her son and pulled him to an embrace as well, content to be near her children at last.

 

Suddenly a yell came from outside.

“No, you can’t bother them!” Lia’s annoyed voice rang out clearly through the door. “They’re probably still sleeping,” Katara added, just as annoyed. She had been up all night worrying over the two firebenders. The early morning visitors wasn’t helping her temper much.

“But we need to tell Zuko the news!” Sokka whined. “And why won’t you have a look at my leg? You can heal it, why do I have to walk around with a crutch?”

“Because your sister is very tired,” Lia said sternly. She opened the door to see Zuko and Ursa giving her amused looks. Azula just seemed confused by the argument. Katara appeared next to the redhead.

“We didn’t wake you up, did we?” she asked worried. Zuko shook his head.

“Zula woke me,” he explained with a smile. “Not that I’m complaining.”

“Who’s Zula?” Sokka asked appearing behind his sister. His eyes doubled when he noticed the princess. “You!” he yelled in shock, struggling to jump in front of his sister. Katara rolled her eyes, pushed him back and looked at Azula apologetically.

“They just came and I haven’t had time to explain,” she said.

“Explain what?” Aang’s voice came from behind them as he and Toph joined the group.

“Why Azula is here,” Katara said. The Avatar and earthbender looked at her confused before turning towards the bed. The princess was sitting between her brother and mother, hiding her nervousness behind a calm look. There was silence for a moment before Aang’s face split in a huge smile.

“Well, if Lia lets you anywhere near Zuko we have to welcome you to the group,” he decided happily.

“I agree with Twinkle-Toes,” Toph added. “Everyone knows that Blazes is paranoid.” Lia raised an eyebrow.

“Since when do I have a nickname?” she asked. Toph shrugged.

“It’s about time if you ask me.”

Sokka remained silent, watching the rest of the gaang gathering around the bed to share stories of their separate battles. Suki joined them soon and pulled her boyfriend along. Before he knew it, the Water Tribe boy found himself recounting enthusiastically how he had destroyed the airship fleet, seemingly not noticing that most questions came from Azula.

 

Aang had left again in the afternoon to bring the members of the White Lotus to Sozin for the final formalities that followed the ending of the war. Zuko was declared Fire Lord after both Iroh and Azula had explicitly told the nobles that in no way they would step between him and the throne. The official coronation was scheduled in a week so that he could recover enough, not that that stopped Zuko from ordering the release of any prisoners of war that were still held.

 

The day of the coronation was sunny, and Zuko wondered if Agni was doing it on purpose to annoy Lia, silently approving the new Fire Lord. He turned his attention back to struggling to pull his official robes on. Despite the repeated healings by Katara, the lightning had done a lot of damage and he hadn’t had much chance to rest and recover. He winced when a clumsy move made pain shoot through his torso.

“You need some help with that?” an amused voice came from the doorway. The soon-to-be-Fire Lord turned with a huge smile.

“Katara!” he hadn’t seen her much in the last few days, other than during the brief healing sessions. He smiled sheepishly. “I guess some help wouldn’t hurt.” The waterbender helped him pull the stuffy outfit on.

“How do you feel?” she asked him, concerned.

“A little sore,” Zuko answered truthfully, knowing better than to lie to a master waterbender/healer. “And nervous,” he admitted in a more quiet tone. Katara smiled at him reassuringly.

“You’ll do fine,” she said, placing a hand on the side of his face. “We all believe in you and we know that you will make a wonderful Fire Lord.” She stood on her tiptoes to kiss him softly. “And if you ever have a hard time Lia, Azula and I can always deal with whoever is the issue.” Zuko couldn’t help but laugh at that.

 

Iroh came soon after to talk over some last-minute issues with Zuko. Sokka and Katara met up, determined to look for their father in the hundreds of people that had gathered for the coronation. Finally, after navigating through a swarm of swampbenders they found Hakoda and Bato talking to each other.

“Dad!” they exclaimed as they rushed to the man. Well, Katara did. Sokka was still limping around.

“I heard what you two did. I am the proudest father in the world,” Hakoda said embracing them. “And your mother would be proud too,” he added, more to Katara than Sokka. Sokka looked up to notice a group of girls dressed in forest-green approaching.

“There’re my favourite warriors! I have to admit, I kind of missed the face paint. How does it feel to be back in uniform again‌?” he asked his girlfriend smiling.

“It feels great!” Ty Lee said, jumping from behind Suki. Sokka had lost count of the times he had been shocked, but this definitely took the cake. He half-jumped in front of Suki, pointing his crutch in Ty Lee’s direction.

“Careful Suki! Ty Lee is pretending to be a Kyoshi Warrior again,” he said accusingly.

“It’s ok,” Suki chuckled. “She’s one of us now.”

“Yeah, the girls and I really bonded in prison,” the acrobat explained. “And after a few Chi-blocking lessons, they said I could join their group. We’re going to be best friends forever,” she exclaimed, smiling brightly.

 

Zuko paused before the doors that would lead him to the coronation ceremony and took a deep breath. Aang was standing next to him in his formal monk robes.

“I can’t believe a year ago my purpose in life was hunting you down, and now…” Zuko trailed off.

“And now we’re friends,” Aang completed the sentence peacefully.

“Yeah…we are friends.”

“I can’t believe a year ago I was still frozen in a block of ice,” Aang said lightly. “The world’s so different now.”  Zuko placed a hand on his pupil’s shoulder.

“And it’s gonna be even more different, when we build it together.”

 

Zuko stepped out and instantly thunderous applause rocked the full courtyard. On the plateau stood Ursa, Iroh and Azula dressed in ceremonial robes for the coronation. Zuko raised his hand.

“Please, the real hero is the Avatar,” he said, taking a step to the side and allowing Aang to take the centre. “Today, this war is finally over,” he continued to address the crowd. “I promised my uncle that I would restore the honour of the Fire Nation, and I will. The road ahead of us is challenging. A hundred years of fighting has left the world scarred and divided. But with the Avatar’s help, we can get it back on the right path, and begin a new era of love and peace.” Aang stepped back as Zuko knelt for the coronation. The head Fire Sage moved forward with the crown when the unexpected happened. He paused. From the shadows emerged the figure of a redheaded woman, dressed in an elaborate scarlet kimono with golden dragons stitched on it. The Sage bowed low to her and handed her the crown. With a proud smile Lia stood behind her adoptive brother.

“All hail Fire Lord Zuko!” she said in a loud voice as she placed the flame-shaped crown on his head. The entire courtyard knelt in front of the new Fire Lord as he stood up. He turned to the Spirit to see her bowing slightly as well, though not to the ground as the rest of the people did. They shared a smile as his family stood from their bows and gathered around him. Zuko could see that Lia was, for the first time in the last few months, at peace.

 

The early afternoon found Azula standing uncertainly in front of a door, a package held tightly in her hands. She couldn’t remember the last time she had felt so uncomfortable and suddenly wished that someone was with her. But her brother was busy signing papers with the guidance of their uncle and the newly-reappeared Jeong Jeong, whom Zuko had made a member of the Council of advisors, and her mother was overseeing the preparations for the ball to celebrate the end of the war and Zuzu’s coronation. Get a hold of yourself! Azula scolded herself. You have faced worse things than that.

 

So, taking a deep breath, the princess knocked and opened the door to Katara’s room. Just like she had imagined all four girls of team Avatar (as Sokka insisted more than ever on calling them) were there. Following Katara and Lia’s example the other two girls had welcomed her. Azula took a moment to survey the scene. Toph was lying on the bed, seemingly overlooking everything, while Suki, Lia and Katara were sprawled on the floor chatting. They smiled at her and Azula smiled back hesitantly.

“I thought you were preparing for the ball?” she asked, unsure of what the etiquette was for this occasion. Since her very first lessons at the Fire Nation Academy for Girls it had been drilled to her that a princess ought to always follow the proper etiquette.

“Oh we were,” Suki explained, standing up to help the other girl place her package on the floor. Azula followed her and sat between the Kyoshi Warrior and the Fire Spirit. “But given the fact that none of us knows what to wear we were trying to figure it out,” Suki concluded. Azula had thought of this.

“That’s why I’m here,” she explained, gaining courage. Becoming friends with Ty Lee and Mai had been so much simpler. “I thought you probably wouldn’t have anything appropriate with you so…” she paused after a snort from Toph. Had she offended them? She thought worried.

“Ignore Toph,” Lia said eyeing the box. Azula nodded. “So I had some dresses made for you,” She finished in one breath. Even Toph looked surprised at that.

“Wow Sugar Queen! I think you just found a competitor for the title,” she said jumping from the bed.

“Thanks Azula,” Katara smiled gratefully. Said girl glowed with happiness.

 

Opening the box she took out the first dress. Although its style was obviously Fire Nation, it was made out of icy blue silk with silver decorations. Katara looked at it speechless for a whole minute before blurting out “I love it!” Relaxing a little Azula pulled out the second dress. This one resembled the uniform of a Kyoshi warrior, forest green with golden decorations. Suki squealed and impulsively hugged Azula. The firebender looked a little shocked but nevertheless pulled out a smaller, simpler dress in pale green.

“This one is for Toph,” she explained. Not hearing a reaction the earthbender approached and ran her fingers across the fabric nervously.

“How does it look like?” she asked.

“Like Aang asking you out the moment he sees you wearing it,” Lia said finally. Toph blushed and snatched the dress.

“He’d better!” she muttered. Taking out the last dress, Azula handed it to Lia.

“What do you think?” she asked. The dress was scarlet with golden flames decorating it, leaving the left shoulder bare.

“Whoever made this dress,” Lia began slowly, “is a genius!” she concluded with a huge smile.

 

Suki and Katara talked Azula into staying with them for the rest of the evening and the princess found herself slowly loosening up at their company. When they were finally ready later that evening they walked out of the room to meet Zuko, Sokka and Aang, all dressed up for the occasion. They walked together to the ballroom of the palace, chatting carelessly along the way. Zuko and Katara entered first, followed by Aang and Toph, Sokka and Suki and finally Lia and Azula. As the entire Team Avatar walked in, another round of applause rocked the packed room. Mercifully, as Lia put it, there had been no great need for formalities and soon everyone was mingling, old friends meeting again and couples dancing the night away.

 

Much to Toph’s displeasure Aang had been whisked away after only one dance by a bunch of nobles who wanted to meet him. This left her, Azula and Lia standing together chatting quietly.

“May I have the honour of this dance fair lady?” A smooth voice said behind them. The three girls turned to see a black-haired young man dressed as Fire Nation nobility. Recognizing him Azula tensed but before she could say anything Lia cut in.

“I thought you promised not to interfere with the mortals,” she pointed out. Agni offered her a Fire Lily and a crooked smile.

“But you are not a mortal.” To Azula’s surprise Lia grudgingly took the offered flower.

“Just one dance and then you’ll disappear,” she warned as they made their way to the centre of the room.

 

“Care to tell me who this guy is?” Toph asked the princess. “His vibrations were weird.” Azula regained her speech.

“That was Agni,” she managed to say, her eyes never leaving the couple dancing gracefully and silently.

“Agni?” Toph raised an eyebrow. “As in the same Agni she tried to kill a few days ago?”

“That one.” Toph cackled.

“Well that explains her vibrations,” she grinned. “And by the looks of it he has quite the crush.”  Just in time the dance stopped. Agni whispered something in Lia’s ear before bowing and promptly disappearing through the crowd. The red-head made her way to her friends.

“So?” Azula asked curiously. “What did he say?”

“Nothing!” Lia said, her blush deepening. She had placed the Fire Lily in her hair.

“I can tell you’re lying…” Toph said in a sing-song voice. “So spill.” Lia muttered something under her breath. “What was that?” Toph insisted. “We couldn’t hear you.”

“He likes the dress,” Lia said louder.

“And?” Azula prompted.

“And he said I still owe him a kiss.”

 

It took two months, during which the gaang split to return to their respective nations and help the rebuilt effort, for Toph to stop teasing Lia. Now, with the excuse of a trade agreement, they had all gathered at Ba Sing Se again. Today the Jasmine Dragon remained closed to the public as Aang, Katara, Sokka, Suki, Toph, Zuko, Azula and Lia gathered for the evening. Iroh was playing the Tsungi horn on a corner, the melody he made up filling the air. At a table nearby Azula and Suki were playing Pai Sho with Katara and Lia observing them. Aang was playing with Momo and Zuko was going around bringing cups of tea to everyone.

“Zuko, stop moving!” Sokka suddenly yelled. Everyone’s eyes turned to him in surprise. He was holding a brush and had an annoyed expression. “I’m trying to capture the moment. I wanted to do a painting, so we always remember the good times together,” he explained in a softer tone.

“That’s very thoughtful of you Sokka,” Katara smiled at him as everyone walked around to see the picture. Her face fell. “Wait! Why did you give me Momo’s ears‌?” she asked.

“Those are your hair loopies!” Sokka explained. Zuko crossed his arms.

“At least you don’t look like a boarcupine. My hair’s not that spiky!”

“I look like a man,” Azula complained.

“And why did you paint me firebending‌?” Suki asked confused.

“I thought it looked more exciting that way,” Sokka shrugged. Momo jumped on the table and chirped. “Oh, you think you can do a better job, Momo‌?” Sokka asked the lemur annoyed. Iroh put the Tsungi horn down and came to see the offending picture.

“Hey, my belly’s not that big anymore, I’ve really trimmed down!” he said. Toph spread her arms in the air.

“Well, I think you all look perfect!” she said, making everyone burst out laughing.

 

The little earthbender stopped laughing when she felt Aang walk out. She had been in Ba Sing Se with Bumi and a few of her friends from the earthbending matches the last two months and before that she hadn’t managed to confront the flighty airbender about their argument on Ember Island. Determined, she following him outside.

 

Aang was leaning against the railing, his thoughts on his earthbending teacher. During his fight with Ozai he had been forced to finally let go of Katara, completely unlocking the Avatar State at last. Now, his thoughts and meditations often turned to a petite, blind earthbender. He turned to say something to her when Toph’s hand grabbed the front of his robes and brought his lips down to hers. Aang’s eyes widened before sliding shut and he kissed the girl back. Words could wait. The world was finally at peace and everything was as it should be.

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The Phoenix King

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Author’s note: In which the countdown to the comet begins, Aang pulls a disappearing act… again and everyone’s favourite bounty hunter is back.

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Next chapter: link

***The Phoenix King***

Fire roared loudly as Zuko and Aang practiced side by side under the strict watch of Lia. Since the play she had taken to overlooking the lessons of the two boys, snapping the occasional correction.

“More ferocious!” she yelled at Aang, when she realized he was holding back on his attacks. His shoulders slumped and he turned to her.

“I’m trying!” he groaned. Zuko noticed the Spirit’s eyes narrowing dangerously and stepped forward.

“Now let me hear you roar like a tiger-dillo!” he ordered the younger boy. Aang nodded and did the move, a half-hearted stream of fire coming out of his mouth.

“That sounded pathetic! I said roar!” Aang frowned at the words of his teacher and repeated the exercise, this time with more fire coming out. Zuko nodded in approval.

“Who wants a nice, cool glass of watermelon juice‌?” Katara’s voice was heard from the house as she came out with a tray.  Aang’s eyes widened in glee.

“Ooo, ooo, me, me, me!” he exclaimed, rushing towards her. He gasped as Zuko lifted him from the back of his robes.

“Hey, your lesson’s not over yet! Get back here,” he ordered.

“Come on, Zuko. Just take a break. What’s the big deal‌?” Suki called from where she was lounging on the steps of the courtyard. Sokka was leaning next to her, lazily sipping his drink.

“Fine,” Zuko huffed and let go of the airbender who raced towards the juices. With a sigh he followed his student and sat next to Katara. Lia did not bother following.

“I’m going to go train,” she said curtly as she walked off towards the beach.

“Maybe Lia’s right,” Sokka said thoughtfully. “Sitting around the house has made us pretty lazy. But I know just the thing to change that. Beach party!”
Everyone looked at him in surprise. Then Katara shrugged and shared a look with Zuko.

“I suppose it’s okay,” she said. They walked down to the house’s private beach. Lia could be seen at a distance practising some moves that made it look like she was dancing with a fiery partner. With one last concerned look in her direction the teens returned to their party. Katara and Sokka immediately rushed to the water, with Zuko hesitantly following his girlfriend after a while. Suki opted to lay on a towel and sunbath while Aang and Toph played with the sand. The airbender turned to his earthbending teacher.

“Check out my Appa sand sculpture,” he said eagerly. Things between them had been a little awkward since the play and Toph had taken to dealing it by acting as if nothing had happened – and fooling no one in the process –. Now she felt the vibrations carefully.

“Not bad, baldy. But I’ve been working on my sandbending.” She cracked her knuckles. “You’re gonna love this.” She stomped her feet, moving into an earthbending stance. A miniature of Ba Sing Se appeared in front of them. Aang knelt to it and looked in amazement.

“Whoa! Wow, you even made a little Earth King and Bosco.” A little further Sokka was frantically making something out of a wet sand dune.

“Try and top that, Sokka,” Toph dared the older boy. He gave them a smug look before jumping to the side to reveal his atrocious creation.

“Is that a blubbering, blob monster‌?” Aang asked confused. Sokka looked at him insulted.

“No! It’s Suki.” Aang and Toph looked at him in shock and then burst out laughing. Katara and Zuko, who had just come out of the water raised eyebrows.

“Suki, we’ll all understand if you break up with him over this,” Toph told the Kyoshi Warrior.

“I think it’s sweet,” Suki said awkwardly. Sokka rushed to her and gave her a swift kiss.

“But it doesn’t even look like…” Aang began but was cut off by the sudden sound of fire near them.

 

They turned to see Lia having created an enormous amount of white flames. Recognising them Zuko rushed, worried to see what they had to reveal.

“General Shinu, your report,” Fire Lord Ozai’s voice was heard. Everyone paled as the image of the Fire Nation throne room was formed. A middle-aged man stood.

“Thank you, sir. Ba Sing Se is still under our control. However, earthbender rebellions have prevented us from achieving total victory in the Earth Kingdom.”

“What is your recommendation‌?” Ozai said calmly. Katara wrapped her arms around Zuko who looked like he was ready to pass out at the sight of his father.

“Our army is spread too thin but once the eclipse is over and the invasion defeated, we should transfer more domestic forces into the Earth Kingdom.” Another general shook his head.

“The people of the Earth Kingdom are proud and strong. They can endure anything as long as they have hope.”

“I think you should take their precious hope and the rest of their land, and burn it all to the ground,” Azula said from her seat on Ozai’s right side. The Fire Lord smiled in approval.

“Yes… Yes, you’re right, Azula. Sozin’s Comet is almost upon us and on that day it will endow us with the strength and power of a hundred suns. No bender will stand a chance against us.” General Shinu sat back down.

“What are you suggesting, sir‌?”

“When the comet last came, my grandfather, Fire Lord Sozin, used it to wipe out the Air Nomads. Now, I will use its power to end the Earth Kingdom. Permanently.” Ozai went on to explain his plan. “From our airships, we will rain fire over their lands. A fire that will destroy everything. And out of the ashes, a new world will be born. A world in which all the lands are Fire Nation and I am the supreme ruler of everything!” Lia stopped the conjuration in disgust and gave Aang a look that spoke volumes. He took a few steps back horrified.

“But…but… I’m not ready. The comet is three days away and I need more time to master firebending.”

“And frankly, your earthbending could still use some work too,” Toph added.

“Honestly, if Aang tries to fight the Fire Lord right now, he’s gonna lose. No offence,” Sokka told the other boy.

“What am I going to do?” Aang asked no one in particular.

“I know you’re scared,” Zuko told him gravely. “And I know that you’re not ready to save the world. But if you don’t defeat the Fire Lord before the comet comes, there won’t be a world to save anymore.”
Aang turned panicky to Lia.

“Why didn’t you tell us about his dad’s crazy plan sooner‌?” he yelled at Lia.

“I’m not getting updates from the Fire Lord before breakfast,” she snapped back at him. “Be thankful that we have what we have.”

“This is bad.” Aang clutched his head. “This is really, really bad.”

“Aang, you don’t have to do this alone,” Katara said in an attempt to calm him.

“Yeah!” Toph agreed eagerly. “If we all fight the Fire Lord together, we got a shot at taking him down.” Sokka rubbed his hands eagerly.

“Alright! Team Avatar is back!” He started pointing at the various members of the group. “Air! Water! Earth! Fire!” he paused for a second and then grinned in inspiration. “Fan and Sword!”

“Fighting the Fire Lord is going to be the hardest thing we’ve ever done together. But I wouldn’t want to do it any other way,” Aang said, smiling confidently again. Katara pulled everyone to a hug, relieved that the tense moment ended. Lia stood back with a ghost of a smile until the waterbender looked up at her.

“Get over here, Lia. Being part of the group also means being part of group hugs,” she said and the Spirit hesitantly obliged.

 

After lunch Zuko took Aang to the courtyard where Lia trained with him. Aang gulped audibly at the sight of some melted and re-solidified stones. Katara followed them curiously from a distance.

“There’s one technique you need to know before facing my father. How to redirect lightning,” Zuko said seriously, frowning at Aang’s eager face. “If you let the energy in your own body flow, the lightning will follow it. You turn your opponent’s energy against them,” he continued explaining nonetheless, showing the Avatar the movements.

“That’s like waterbending!” Aang exclaimed after studying the movement. The firebender nodded.

“Exactly. My uncle invented this technique himself by studying waterbenders.” Aang started practicing the move, mirroring Zuko.

“So… Have you ever redirected lightning before‌?”

“Once. Against my father, during the invasion. You guys were already out of the room.”

“What did it feel like‌?” Aang asked curiously. Zuko dropped his arms.

“Exhilarating. But terrifying,” he said remembering the rush of energy. “You feel so powerful holding that much energy in your body. But you know that you make the wrong move, it’s over.” Aang laughed nervously.

“Well, not over over, right‌ I mean there’s always Katara and a little spirit water action… Am I right‌?” he turned to the waterbender. Katara raised an eyebrow.

“Actually I used it all up after Azula shot you,” she said dryly. Aang’s face fell again.

“You’ll have to take the Fire Lord’s life. Before he takes yours,” Zuko said grimly.

“Yeah… I’ll just do that,” Aang muttered, following the prince with his eyes as he joined Katara and they moved inside the house.
At sunset Sokka dragged everyone on some rock formations near the house.

“Gather round Team Avatar,” he said creating a scarecrow with a mean-looking, bearded watermelon as a head. “In order to take out the Fire Lord, or in this case, the Melon Lord, our timing has to be perfect.” He knelt to the ground and started sketching a diagram on the dirt. “First, Suki and I will draw his fire. Then, Katara and Zuko charge in with some liquidly hot offence and while the Melon Lord is distracted, Aang swoops in and BAM! He delivers the final blow.”

“Err… what about me‌?” Toph asked with a confused look.

“For now, you and Lia are the Melon Lord’s forces.”

“So we get to chuck flaming rocks at all of you‌?” the Spirit asked gleefully.

“Whatever makes the training feel more realistic,” Sokka answered. Toph and Lia shared a look.

“Sweetness!” they said. To Zuko that sounded more threatening than any yell from Azula ever had.
Toph even took it upon herself to make sound effects and evil laughs while Lia created a ring of fire around them. The two girls had gathered a few boulders around them as well and covered them with oil as an extra line of offence. For a moment there was silence and then Sokka signalled at his group to charge. Before he and Suki had time to go very far an army of Fire Nation soldier statues popped from the ground. They evaded them but then flaming boulders started raining down at them. Suki somersaulted over one and Sokka fell flat on his face in front of it. He jumped to his feet.

“Watch it, Toph!” he yelled at the earthbender.

“I am not Toph; I am Melon Lord! Muahahahahaha!” Toph yelled back, clearly having the time of her life. On the other side Lia was having her own fun, raining attacks down her student and his girlfriend, proud that they blocked all of them.

“Now Aang!” Sokka yelled suddenly, seeing the two Melon Lords sufficiently distracted. The airbender launched himself against his enemy, his staff on the ready. He landed in front of the scarecrow and froze. Slowly he lowered his stuff.

“What are you waiting for? ‌ Take him out!” Zuko called at him surprised. Aang shook his head.

“I can’t,” he muttered, taking a step back. The gang walked up to him.

“What’s wrong with you‌?” Sokka asked the younger boy angrily. “If this was the real deal, you’d be shot full of lightning right now.”

“I’m sorry, but it just didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel like myself,” Aang tried to explain. Sokka wordlessly took out his sword and cut the melon in half.

“There,” he said tonelessly. “That’s how it’s done.” Aang’s eyes widened in terror.
Dinner was silent and tense that night until Katara rushed outside with a big smile on her face and a scroll on her hands.

“I have a surprise for everyone!” she announced. Toph looked up.

“I knew it! You did have a secret thing with Haru!”

“What?” Sokka, Zuko and Katara asked at the same time.

“No!” Katara rushed to add at her boyfriend’s direction. “I was looking for cooking pots in the attic and I found this.” She unrolled the scroll to reveal the picture of a baby. “Look at baby Zuko! Isn’t he cute‌?” Lia snorted with laughter while Zuko frowned. “Oh lighten up, I was just teasing,” Katara said, kissing him lightly on the cheek.

“That’s not me. It’s my father,” he said dryly. The scroll rolled itself as it fell from Katara’s fingers.

“But he looked so sweet and innocent,” Suki said surprised.

“Well that sweet little kid grew up to be a monster. And the worst father in the history of fathers,” Zuko added the last part under his breath.

“But he is still a human being,” Aang said suddenly.

“You’re going to defend him‌?” Zuko asked incredulously.

“No, I agree with you. Fire Lord Ozai is a horrible person and the world will probably be better off without him. There’s gotta be another way.”

“Like what?” Lia asked dubiously.

“I don’t know,” Aang shrugged. “Maybe we can make some big pots of glue and then I can use gluebending to stick his arms and legs together so he can’t bend anymore.”

“Yeah. Then you can show him his baby pictures and all those happy memories will make him good again,” Zuko added sarcastically while everyone else tried to hide their laughter.

“Do you really think that would work‌?” Aang asked hopefully.

“No!” Zuko snapped.
“This goes against everything I learned from the monks. I can’t just go around wiping out people I don’t like…”

“Sure, you can. You’re the Avatar. If it’s in the name of keeping balance, I’m pretty sure the Universe will forgive you,” Sokka said cheekily. Lia nodded in agreement.

“This isn’t a joke, Sokka! None of you understands the position I’m in!” Aang burst out.

“Aang, we do understand. It’s just…” Katara tried to calm him down.

“Just what, Katara‌! What‌?” Aang interrupted angrily.

“We’re trying to help!” the waterbender raised her voice as well.
“Then when you figure out a way for me to beat the Fire Lord without taking his life, I’d love to hear it!” he stormed off.

“Aang, don’t walk away from this.” Katara stood up, ready to follow him when Zuko stopped her with a hand on her shoulder.

“Let him go. He needs time to sort it out by himself,” he said calmly, pulling the angry girl to an embrace. They walked back to where the others were still sitting. Zuko could have sworn he heard Lia muttered something along the lines of “spoiled brat.”
The next morning they were loading Appa, having decided to move off of the island and make their way to the capital.

“Okay, that’s everything,” Sokka said, dusting his hands.

“No, it’s not,” Toph said from her seat on the steps. “Where’s Aang‌?” Everyone looked around, surprised to notice that the airbender was indeed absent. They rushed back to the house to look for him. Eventually they ended up at the balcony surprised to see the airbender’s staff but not him.

“He left his staff. That’s so strange,” Sokka said confused.

“Aang’s not in the house. Let’s check the beach,” Zuko offered before leading the way.

“Look! There’s his footprints.” Sokka pointed at the sandy trail. It finished at the edge of the water.
“So… He went for a midnight swim and never came back‌?” Suki asked.

“Maybe he was captured,” Katara speculated. Sokka shook his head.

“I don’t think so. There’s no sign of a struggle.”

“I bet he ran away again,” Toph said crossing her arms.

“Ah-uh. He left behind his glider and Appa,” Sokka said again. Toph shot him an exasperated look.

“Then what do you think happened to him oh sloozey one‌?”

“It’s pretty obvious. Aang mysteriously disappears before an important battle‌? He’s definitely on a Spirit World journey!”

“But if he was, wouldn’t his body still be here‌?” Zuko asked confused. Sokka’s shoulders slumped.

“Oh yeah, forgot about that.”

“Then he’s gotta be somewhere on Ember Island. Let’s split up and look for him,” Katara said, making her way towards Zuko, only to be cut off by Toph.

“I’m going with Zuko!” he raised an eyebrow in Katara’s fuming direction. “What? We want to get work done here!”
An hour later everyone had returned to the house disappointed. Sokka jumped off Appa.

“Judging by the looks on your faces, I’m guessing you guys didn’t find Aang either.”

“No. It’s like he just… disappeared,” Zuko said, getting worried. Toph suddenly sat up.

“Hey, wait a minute; has anyone noticed that Momo’s missing too‌?” Sokka paled.

“Oh no!” he said hysterically. “I knew it was only a matter of time. Appa ate Momo!” he rushed to Appa, opened his mouth and leaned in. “Momo, I’m coming for ya, buddy!”

“Sokka, Appa didn’t eat Momo. He’s probably with Aang,” Katara said calmly. Sokka’s dramatics were the last thing they needed now.

“That’s just what Appa wants you to think.” Sokka snapped, still inside the bison’s mouth. Zuko rolled his eyes.

“Get out of the bison’s mouth, Sokka. We have a real problem here. Aang is nowhere to be found and the comet is only two days away.”

“What should we do Zuko‌?” Katara asked him, her eyes, along with Suki’s and Toph’s trained on him.

“I don’t know,” Zuko admitted standing up. He noticed the stares. “Why are you all looking at me‌?”

“Well, you are kind of the expert on tracking Aang,” Lia said from where she was leaning against Appa. Zuko sighed and moved towards Appa.

“Get on,” he ordered everyone, taking the reins. After a few minutes of flying, Sokka looked over his map confused.

“Zuko, I don’t want to tell you how to do your job but why are we heading towards the Earth Kingdom? ‌ There’s no way Aang’s there.” Zuko looked back from Appa’s head.

“Just trust me,” he said darkly.

 

They landed on a forest and Zuko took the lead again, walking towards a small building.

“And the reason you brought us to a seedy Earth Kingdom tavern is what now‌?” Katara asked wearily as they opened the door. Zuko’s eyes swept the room and pointed at a woman near the middle.

“June,” he said simply.

“Oh yeah, that weird bounty hunter with the giant mole,” Sokka said. Suki looked at him confused.

“Mole?‌ Her skin is flawless,” she said. Sokka shook his head.

“No, she has this giant mole creature she rides around on,” he explained, shuddering at the memory of the numb feeling.

“Her shirshu,” Zuko elaborated. “It’s the only animal that can track Aang’s scent anywhere in the world. It’s the one shot we have of finding him.”

 

Toph had been observing both the conversation and the fight that had been going on inside the tavern. She smirked.

“I don’t know who this June lady is but I like her.”