Tag Archives: Yue

Twilight of the Spirit World: Epilogue

Standard

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

Previous chapter: link

***Epilogue***

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

“MOM! SUYIN AND BATO TOOK MY SCROLL!”

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

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

Well, perhaps not all minds.

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

“No doubt about it,” he said dryly.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

“Yes,” she said. “I am.”

The End

Twilight of the Spirit World: Dies Irae

Standard

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.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***Dies Irae***

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

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

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

 

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

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

The Fire Crystal had turned black.

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?” Suki asked her confused.

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

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

“How could she have known?”

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Twilight of the Spirit World: New Divide

Standard

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

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***New Divide***

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

“Not good,” Shu nodded.

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Twilight of the Spirit World: Revelation Day

Standard

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

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***Revelation Day***

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Twilight of the Spirit World – 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.

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The Awakening

Standard

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

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***The Awakening***

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

“A few weeks.”

 

Hakoda approached them worried.

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

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

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

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

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

“Nice to officially meet you, Chief Hakoda.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Zuko looked at her thunderstruck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

“So, what now?” Aang asked confused.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Inside the small room Aang huffed.

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

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

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

“How we doing?” Toph asked.

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

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

“Thank you The Universe!” Sokka sighed.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

“He left.”

“What?” he asked her confused.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?” she asked.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t know,” Aang said hesitantly.

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

“You’re right. I won’t give up.”

 

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

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

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

“I know, but you’ll have our help.”

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

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

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

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

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