"So, how does this scroll thing work?"
Katara glanced up, taking note that Ty Lee had sat down on the rock by the stream, watching as she and Aang looked over the waterbending scroll that they had stolen. It had only been three days since she had joined their group, but she had fit in quite well, gladly doing chores when asked and training regularly with Sokka and Azula, the former very glad to have a sparring partner to work on his chi-blocking with. Katara liked her well enough, her giddy and cheerful personality a stark contrast to that of the Fire Nation Princess, which made her consider how they became friends in the first place.
"Uh, I don't really know. I guess I just copy the forms." she admitted,scanning the forms that lay in front of her; of all them, the water whip seemed to be the easiest one to achieve- she just needed to pull the water out and flick it at someone or something, "I think I'll try the water whip first. Aang, could you hold it open for me?" she asked, the young Avatar nodding, taking the scroll into his hands while Katara turned her eyes to the water beside them.
"Water whip, huh?" he raised a brow, glancing over the scroll before holding it out for her to see, "So you just pull it out of the water and whack something with it?"
"Pretty much." she nodded, before taking a deep breath, "That's what she said. Breathing is the key."
She reached out to the stream in front of her, closing her eyes and doing what Azula had taught her; she needed to be in synchronisation with her element if she was going to bend it. Ebbing and flowing, that was what she had told herself. She opened her eyes, leaning back in her stance slightly as she pulled an amorphous strand of water out of the stream, and pulled it around her before flicking it forward, splashing the whip down into the water.
"Huh, that was pretty cool!" Aang piped up, "Can I have a try now?" he asked her, the Water Tribe girl smirking, confident in what she had already achieved; she nodded, and he handed the scroll over to Ty Lee, who held it out for him.
He looked back at the forms displayed before him, before taking the first stance, pulling the water out of the stream with surprising fluidity; he coiled the water around him, before flicking it out, just as she had. She would admit that his motions were a little more refined than her own, but she knew that she hadn't gotten the same kind of practice with bending as he had. He was naturally gifted, and that didn't surprise her, given that he was the Avatar.
"Wow..." she mumbled, before turning away, "I've got to try it again." she admitted, Aang nodding at her.
"Let's try it together, how about that?" he asked of her, to which she nodded, both of them turning around to take stances.
"This is gonna be cool." Ty Lee piped up, before pointing to the form that they had to take, "Do it." she told them, the pair nodding before reaching forward, grasping some water out of the stream, coiling it around themselves, and thrusting their right arms forward, sending the water out, striking some trees on the opposite side of the narrow stream.
"Wow!" she clapped her hands, "Maybe you should try the other forms?"
"I think we should practice this one a little longer. I need to make sure I'm doing it fast enough." the Water Tribe girl admitted, "I can't have Azula make fun of me when we show these moves off."
"I think she might do that no matter how good we get." Aang acknowledged with a slight grimace; the acrobat nodded, before crossing her legs as she sat on top of the boulder.
"Don't worry, she just wants you to be the best you can be." she assured them, making Katara smile.
As much as she disdained the Princess's amorality, her work ethic and headstrong desire to see them improve was something she could certainly respect; she was pretty sure that she was training nearby with Sokka at that very moment, though she couldn't see or hear them at that very moment. Katara reached forward once more, grasping at the water, pulling out an amorphous blob out; she coiled the water around her before flicking her wrist forward. The water, instead of striking right into the tree she had been aiming for, instead flicked right back at her; she held back a squeal as she was thrown off her feet by the surprisingly strong push off the water whip. When she landed on her behind, Aang gasped with surprise, reaching over to try and help her up.
"Katara, are you alright?" he asked her, the Water Tribe girl simply groaning as she accepted his hand.
"That looked like it hurt." Ty Lee simply observed, "I think you're a little too into it."
She snarled at the suggestion, already frustrated after being knocked off her feet, "How do you know that? It's not like you can bend." she growled at the other girl, whose eyes widened, obviously surprised by her reaction.
"Uh... sorry?" she mumbled, looking unsure how to respond; Katara didn't really care for her response, and got back into her form.
"I think she's got a point, Katara. You're really excited. I am too... but we've got to bend like the forms do, calm and steady." he gestured to the scroll that the acrobat had been holding up for them.
She sighed, trying to hold back her frustration, before nodding, "Okay, Aang." she accepted his suggestion, "Calm and steady."
She took a deep breath, almost hearing Azula in the back of her head chiding her, reaching into the water, and grasping at it, pulling a blob out from the stream; as she raised it up, she pulled it toward her, steadily move her hand, as if she was patting Appa or cutting the meat from a sealskin; motioning her hand up, and back toward her, she moved it in a beating motion, in sync with her breathing. As the water coiled around her, she raised her left hand, stringing the water out until it formed a loop around her, Aang looking at her with surprise as he was forming his single water whip.
"What's that?" he asked her, the Water Tribe girl not responding, just taking another breath as she motioned her hands in a circle.
Her motions caused the water to spin around her, first slowly, but soon, its pace picked up; she didn't know what to do with the water- she could uncoil it and whip it out, but she'd already tried that. Instead of whipping out the stream she had coiled around her, she instead allowed the water to flow around her, getting closer and closer to her torso, as she continued to motion her hands around; turning her eyes upward, she glanced toward a tree in the distance. With a target in mind, she let the water flow with her right hand, which she moved out of the spinning motion and down toward the ground, which caused the water to move with it. Then, as she thrust her arm up, akin to the water whip she had been trying, the water that had coiled around her followed her wrist, shooting up in an intense, rapid moving stream, which struck the tree, making it shake visibly as it was doused by the blast of water.
"Okay, that was cool." Aang conceded, before smirking, "But, can we bend water together?"
"Together?" she raised a brow, "Like bend one whip together?"
"I grab the water, throw it to you, and you flick it at something." he clarified his idea, the Water Tribe girl smirking.
"Oh, I can do that." she nodded, before taking the same stance she had before; when he pulled the water out, following the forms he could see on the scroll, she watched it intently, her hand already reaching out, sensing the water, though she didn't bend it yet.
She closed her eyes, realising that if she could feel the water with her bending, she wouldn't need to see; at that moment, she understood how Toph's seismic sense worked, at least part of it- if you used your bending to sense your element, you could feel through it.
"Water sense?" she mumbled to herself, considering the possibilities, but put that thought to the back of her head as she focused on the water as Aang coiled it around himself.
"Catch!" he told her, Katara reaching out with her right hand, pulling her arm back toward her, which pulled the water alongside; as it came around her she grasped it with her left hand instead, allowing her to flick her wrist upward, firing the water whip out at a nearby tree.
"You did it!" Ty Lee cheered them on, "This is really cool. I've never seen waterbending before this. Wanna try the next form?"
"I guess we could." the Water Tribe girl conceded, Aang smiling at her.
"We definitely can." he declared with a confident voice; before they could get a good look at the scroll, their attention was drawn by a whistle coming from the woods beside them.
Turning her attention inside, she saw Azula and Sokka approaching them, both of them looking unharmed and energised; she considered that perhaps they hadn't been training, but rather doing their other favourite thing, planning.
"Sorry to interrupt your splashing session." Sokka apologised, though his mocking denigration of waterbending frustrated her, "We've figured out where we're going next."
"Next?" Aang raised a brow with interest, "Are we going to go find Azula's... army? Is it an army?"
"Not that." the Princess shook her head, "There's one place you need to go before we heard toward the North Pole." she explained, the Avatar raising a brow.
"Uh... I think I'm missing something." he acknowledged, Sokka stepping closer, clearing his throat.
"We're going to Crescent Island. To see Avatar Roku." he clarified, making the Avatar's eyes widen.
"Wait, really?" he asked them, "So we're going to the Fire Nation."
"The Fire Nation?" Ty Lee raised a brow, "I didn't think I'd be going home this quickly." she chuckled, obviously amused she'd be heading back to the Fire Nation proper after only being with them for a few days.
"Well, that's where we're going. And if the Fire Sages don't agree with me showing up, I'll just persuade them who's the real Fire Lord." Azula added, cracking her knuckles, clearly showing that her attitude toward her opponents hadn't changed.
"I think we have a very different idea of what persuasion is." Katara conceded, making the Princess scoff.
"We do." she agreed with her, before glancing at Aang, "Now, you two can keep practicing your waterbending, but we'll need to leave soon. I decided that leaving at nightfall will be the best choice, in case there's a naval blockade or something of the sorts- that means they won't be able to spot us."
"That's a good idea." he smiled at her, before glancing up into the sky, which was still coloured blue from the afternoon sun, "So, we still have time." he noted.
"Yes, but we need to pack up our tents and all that." Sokka clarified, "And cook dinner, unless you want to be eating dried food on Appa's saddle."
"I'm assuming you want me to make that." Katara guessed, her brother raising his hands in defence.
"Uh, I never said that. It's a group effort." he argued, before glancing back toward his girlfriend, "So, are we going to go make something or what?"
"You're really that hungry?" she asked him, to which the Water Tribe warrior groaned with frustration.
"I'm always hungry!" he exclaimed, making both Katara and Azula snicker at his plight.
"Don't you start." he warned his sister, before turning around, "Come on, Azula, let's go make dinner."
"Yeah, but you actually have to help." she retorted, his eyes momentarily darting back toward her.
"I will. Can we please just go make it?" he requested, the Princess nodding, before she glanced back over at the other three, "You can keep practicing." he told them, as if he had a decision in the matter, "And don't lose the scroll, that'd just be annoying."
"Got it." the acrobat nodded, "You two enjoy yourselves." she grinned, the Princess rolling her eyes as she covered her face with embarrassment; the one thing Katara absolutely loved about Ty Lee's addition to their group was that she made the usually snarky and confident Princess get embarrassed with her constant comments about her relationship with Sokka.
Turning her attention back toward the scroll, Katara took note of another move, the water shield, which she took the basic form for, "Hey, Aang, why don't we try the water shield?"
The young Avatar nodded, smiling at her as he replicated her own form; both of them reached into the stream, each pulling out an amorphous blob of water, before they took the stance shown on the scroll, pulling the water up from below so it formed a sphere around the height of their chests. Katara then turned around, moving her hands at the base and top of the sphere of water, molding into a concave shape, which widened out until it formed a whole water shield in front of her; she took a deep breath, remaining concentrated as she held it in place, slowly moving around in a circle to test it she could hold it in place. She did, with some struggle, as it was hard to maintain the proper shape of the shield, which eventually faltered, spilling out and falling to the ground, making a big splash; she covered her face from the water, sighing with frustration. Her reaction worsened when she heard Aang and Ty Lee giggling.
"How about you try it then?" she growled at the Avatar, who looked at her with slight unease, trying his best to maintain his water-shield, before he took a deep breath out, dropping the water back into the stream.
"Sorry for laughing. You just got really into it." he conceded, making her sigh.
"I've just always wanted to waterbend. You making fun of me doesn't help." she explained her feelings as best she could, before turning back to look at the scroll, "Maybe we should just go have dinner. I don't know if I'll be able to concentrate on these forms for much longer."
"We can come back to it." he suggested, "Plus, there's other ways to train."
"Like meditation?" she raised a brow, the Avatar nodding in confirmation.
Ty Lee stepped up, with a wide grin on her face, "How about we do some stretches and meditation? I always did that to get ready for my acrobatics." she explained, the Avatar smiling.
"Oooh, that's a good idea!" he clapped his hands together, "Let's go have dinner, then we can try that."
"Sounds like a plan." Katara nodded, before she turned her heels, following Ty Lee as she began to walk back towards their campsite, which was located a little further from the stream, at a small clearing.
They quickly approached the campsite, where she could see Sokka sitting with Azula, both of them working on the meal together; the Princess was boiling a pot of water with her firebending, while he was mixing together all of the ingredients they had. Her brother's eyes darted up, realising that they were coming back to the camp already.
"Oh, hey, did you come to help with the meal?" he asked, Aang nodding with a grin.
"Yeah, food will help us regain focus." he explained, eyeing Katara for a moment, "So what are you cooking?"
"Rice and some vegetables." Sokka explained, "We'll put in the meat separately so you don't need to eat it."
"Thanks." the young Air Nomad smiled, rubbing the back of his scalp, almost embarrassed, "That's actually really nice of you, Sokka."
"Don't mention it." he waved off his words, "Could one of you stir this pot? I need to cut up the meat."
"I'll do it." Katara spoke up, her brother gesturing to the pot before he stood up, walking back over toward Appa's saddle to retrieve the meat.
She sat down beside Azula, who was the one heating the fire beneath the two pots with her bending; the Princess momentarily glanced her way, before turning her attention back toward the water. Ty Lee and Aang sat nearby, and began to idly chat, though Katara didn't pay much attention to it.
"Your waterbending has improved." the other girl spoke up, "I knew that you just needed the right tools."
"Maybe we should have looked for a scroll earlier." she noted, the Princess shrugging her shoulders.
"I thought you might have needed an actual master, but maybe I was wrong. You're already learning the forms, with relative ease, I might add." she explained, making Katara chuckle; it was rare that Azula would compliment her, but she realised that she had a soft spot for her bending- maybe it was because she saw the same potential in her that she might have seen in Sokka, or even in herself.
"Maybe we can start sparring soon. I'd like to actually have someone to spar against. Plus, we're probably going to face some firebenders soon." she acknowledged, the Princess chuckling.
"Indeed. The Fire Sages are old, but they might pose a little threat, seeing that they're all master firebenders." she conceded, making the Water Tribe girl's eyes widen as she tried to keep her stirring hand steady.
"Is that... safe? Should we go there if we're going to have to deal with a bunch of master firebenders?"
"I'm sure Ty Lee and Sokka are fast enough to chi-block them anyway." she dismissed her fears, "I don't know what you're worrying about."
"We always seem to get into trouble, even when we're trying to avoid it." Katara concluded, "And this isn't avoiding it."
"Neither was stealing a waterbending scroll." the Princess retorted, "But we did deal with that, didn't we?"
"Yeah..." she nodded in concession, realising that the guards who she had been so worried about were dealt with pretty easily by Sokka and Ty Lee, although they had only ended up facing three of them instead of the whole town garrison.
"We did deal with that." Sokka piped up as he approached them, sitting down across from them a strip of meat; he had successfully trapped a large rodent-like creature the day prior with Azula's assistance, and they had already eaten a good portion of its meat the day prior, "Azula's explained it to me. These Fire Sages won't be a problem. Though, the whole Fire Nation is probably wanting the bounty on Azula's head- that's something we should worry about."
"Like they could catch us anyway. We have the fastest thing in the sky... bar a dragon, but nobody has any of those anyway." she argued, Sokka nodding.
"Well, that is right." he agreed, turning his eyes back toward Appa, "Thanks Appa for being so good at getting us away from the Fire Nation... and the Earth Kingdom too."
"Still thinking about the rebels, are you?" Katara asked her brother, who shrugged his shoulders.
"I'm just a little concerned seeing that we'll have to meet them again, if we want to make sure they can link up with Dad and the other warriors."
"And so we can recruit Toph!" Aang piped up, making him chuckle.
"And Toph. We won't forget her... the little blind earthbending master." he reminded himself, making Azula raise a brow.
"You ought to avoid calling her little to her face. I don't think I could save you from her earthbending." she warned him, Sokka raising his hands up.
"Don't worry, I know when to keep my mouth shut." he argued, Katara narrowing her eyes at her brother.
"Yeah... that's a lie." she retorted, making him cross his arms, glaring at her with annoyance.
"I'll stay quiet when I need to." he argued, Azula snickering.
"You do play the quiet intimidating type well at times, I will admit." she raised a hand, "You should have seen the look on Long Feng's face when Sokka went after him. He probably dirtied his pants that afternoon."
Katara snickered at her thought; despite never having met Long Feng, she despised him as much as the other two did. Their description of his character told her well enough, despite how cruel they had treated him; they had broken his arms and legs to stop him from bending, and Sokka beat him just to shut up in case he had brainwashed any unsuspecting people. She turned back to stirring the pot, which began to give off an aromatic smell as the vegetables inside cooked, their juices mixing together and boiling from the heat Azula was applying.
"Mhmm... I think this is going to be a good stew." she acknowledged, the Princess sighing.
"Ah yes, another time for me to denigrate my abilities with menial tasks like this." she made an exaggerated sigh, which made Ty Lee snicker.
"Hey, hey, Zula, your bending is great no matter if you use it for fighting or for cooking." she argued, Azula shaking her head, obviously not agreeing with that viewpoint.
"I'm not changing my mind on the matter." she stood her ground, "Firebending is an art-form."
"An art-form that can grill succulent meats." Sokka raised a finger, "I used to think it was a horrible, aggressive thing for demonic people to use, but you know what, I kinda like firebending. It's useful, straightforward and doesn't lead to snowballs being thrown in my face."
"Hey, I haven't done that lately." Katara argued, her brother sneering at her.
"That's exactly why I'm not looking forward to the Northern Water Tribe. Not only do I have to deal with a bunch of pompous arseholes, I have to deal with you lopping snowballs at me every time we disagree on something." he declared, Katara giving her brother a reassuring smile.
"We might find more things to agree on. Sexist waterbending rules, dumb traditions, and probably a bunch of guys who are even worse than you used to be." she suggested, his eyes narrowing at her with confusion.
"Sorry, is that meant to be a compliment?"
"Just take it as it is. You've improved, Sokka, that's what counts."
"He certainly has." Azula crossed her arms, Katara turning to nod at her.
"Thank you for helping my brother overcome his sexist ways." she gave her a genuine smile, appreciative of the fact her brother no longer viewed her as having to do one thing or the other just because she was a girl; Katara didn't think, however, that she, or Aang at that, could persuade the Northern Water Tribe to change their minds as he had.
"And thank you, Sokka, for enlightening your girlfriend on her own xenophobic views." she turned to Sokka, who raised a hand up, with a cringed look on his face.
"Uh, well, it wasn't like I didn't hate and fear the Fire Nation too. That was as a mutual effort of not despising each other." he clarified, Ty Lee looking at him with a poignant pout.
"To think you two once hated each other... that's just so sad!"
"I never hated him." Azula argued, "He was just a frustrating obstacle to begin with, and then an annoying but necessary ally."
"So then who did you hate?" the acrobat asked with an intrigued look.
"Jeong Jeong. I didn't know who he was at the time, but that arsehole of a traitor is the one who tried to have me kidnapped. He deserves my hatred, not Sokka." Azula argued, which seemed a little unusual, as she was trying to justify not disdaining her own boyfriend.
She placed her hands together, her expression shifting to a cold and spiteful one, "If I ever see that man, I don't know if I'll be able to restrain myself. He's the reason all of this happened in the first place."
"Well, luckily for us, that ended up with us finding Aang." Katara acknowledged, the Princess's eyes widening for a moment before she chuckled.
"Huh, that's true." she admitted, before she narrowed her eyes, "But we can't change any of that now. We can only move forward."
"Yeah, we'll be moving forward to the North Pole soon enough, and then we'll actually have gotten somewhere." Sokka spoke up, "Let's just hope this little trip to Crescent Island doesn't go sideways."
"Everything seems to go sideways for us." the Water Tribe girl mumbled, knowing that they didn't have the best of luck, but at the very least, they seemed to come out on top most of the time.
Sokka placed the strips of meat he had cut in the pot of water Azula was boiling, before the Princess narrowed her eyes at her, "Could you try and do some bending right now?"
"Wait, what?" she narrowed her eyes at her, before looking at the pot before her; it had no water in it, only vegetables and rice, and would need some water if it was to be properly cooked all together, "You want me to take some of that water and put it in my pot?"
"Yes. Take it as a practical exercise." she gestured to the pot before her; Katara narrowed her eyes at it, taking a deep breath as she raised her hands up, letting go of the spoon she had been using to stir the hot mixture of vegetables and rice.
"What did you just say about 'menial denigration' of your art-form?" Sokka quipped at his girlfriend, who rolled her eyes, crossing her arms as she turned to face the Water tribe girl.
"Just be careful not to burn us with it."
She took a deep breath as she motioned her hands forward, grasping the water with her bending, before she took a portion of it out, the blob rising up into the air above the two pots before she began to slowly lower it back down into her own pot. With each steady breath, the mass of water got lower, until she dropped it down into the pot, making a hissing noise as it washed into the hot metal pot.
"Good job." Azula nodded, seeming restrained in her response; she turned back to face Aang, who had been idling sitting nearby, looking up into the sky, "Did you pay attention to that, Aang?"
"What?" he glanced back over at her, "Me?"
"I'll take that as a no." she concluded, before looking back over to the pot Katara had been stirring, "We can let that... do whatever it does. I'm assuming this meat will cook quickly." she glanced back to the pot that sat before her, the flames in her hands intensifying in brightness, which made the pot radiate off steam quicker.
"So, are we just going to fly straight over to the Fire Nation, or what?" Ty Lee asked, the Princess shrugging her shoulders.
"I mean, it mightn't be that simple, but that's the idea. Appa flies us over whatever military forces we might come across, and we bee-line straight for Crescent Island." she simply told her, seeming rather unconcerned about the potential dangers they might face.
"As crazy as the world is at the moment, I don't think the Fire Nation will be that concerned about us when they're fighting each other." Sokka argued, the Avatar sighing with relief upon hearing that.
"Well, that's good to hear. I thought we were going to be running away from them until we get to the North Pole." he admitted, the Princess raising a finger.
"I mean they might try to pursue us, but it's unlikely they'd have any success. Appa's far too fast for them to catch up, and if they travel by sea, we only have to go overland for a day or two and they'll have no chance of catching up." she clarified, before sighing, "For once, I'm actually relieved the Fire Nation doesn't have any kind of fast transportation like a sky-bison."
"For now." Sokka mumbled with a slight grimace.
"Let's not worry about that." Ty Lee spoke up, obviously not wanting everyone to be feeling down or worried about things outside of their control, "Hey, could you tell me about what actually happened before you found me?" she asked, her eyes narrowed with suspicion, "You guys keep talking about these 'rebels', but nobody actually explained it."
"Oh, that's easy." Sokka's expression brightened, "My dad's friend, Bato, met these Earth Kingdom rebels while he was travelling around, trying to find a way back to the Southern Water Tribe. We went to meet them, because we thought that with Aang by our side, we could persuade them that we ought to team up against the Fire Nation."
"Wait, against the Fire Nation?" she asked, before she turned her eyes to Azula, "I know you said you were going to help the Avatar restore balance and all, but are you actually trying to fight the Fire Nation?"
"Not the whole country." Azula clarified, "We're trying to get rid of the stragglers who remained after Zuko withdrew, to the best of my knowledge. They're still in control of the Earth Kingdom, and are causing chaos everywhere." she admitted, turning her eyes to Katara for a moment, "Even at the South Pole. The Southern Raiders, who broke their allegiance from my brother, have been raiding areas in the Southern Sea for slaves to help their own war effort to defeat Zuko."
"That's disgusting." Ty Lee grimaced, "How could they do that?"
"Because they have as many morals as a rock." Sokka raised a hand up nonchalantly, "They're the first on our list. Once we've gathered the resources available, we- I mean, the Southern Water Tribe, will destroy them, and free whoever they've enslaved."
"Huh, so that's what you've been plotting on." she turned her eyes to the Princess, "The old Azula's still there, just going for far more righteous causes."
"Excuse me." the Princess raised a finger, "I've always done what I believed to be righteous, it's just that my opinion on that matter has changed somewhat."
"She's not wrong." Sokka crossed his arms, "I still haven't got an apology for the death threat you gave me after I dare suggest you not slaughter the Freedom Fighters."
"Wait, she was going to do that?" Aang gasped, obviously shocked by such an idea; given how Jet had treated Sokka, if she had actually ever met the group, she might have fought them.
"I was not. I was going to order the army to crush the dissenters in the city." she clarified, making Katara snort with amusement; she was not helping her own argument by admitting that.
"And that's meant to make you look more 'righteous'?" she quipped, the Princess narrowing her eyes at her spitefully.
"I was trying to maintain the peace. That was what my father sent me to do, although he had phrased it as 'destroying the enemies of the Fire Nation'. You should just thank me for having some room for interpretation." she argued, the Water Tribe girl rolling her eyes.
"I'm not going to thank you for relenting on doing something horrible. That's just being courteous." she retorted, Sokka raising his hands up.
"Now, please, can we not fight... and instead eat the delicious meal we have just made?" he requested of the group, who all, bar Azula, nodded in agreement.
"Who said it was going to be delicious? It's just rice-stew." she derided his claim, the Water Tribe warrior face-palming, obviously thinking her words were uncalled for.
"You eat one bag of damn fire flakes and now you're the world's biggest food critic."
Aang had been enjoying sleeping curled up on Appa's saddle, but it seemed that the world truly had it out for him; the sound of an explosion in the distance immediately woke him up. Though he was afraid for a moment, when he realised it was still dark out and that there was nothing but dark clouds around him, he felt relieved. He thought for a second that he had just imagined the sound, or had misinterpreted the grumblings of one of Appa's many stomachs, but he was quickly proven wrong. The sound of explosions sounded off once again, and he scampered over to the edge of the saddle; glancing to his right he noticed that Momo had also been awakened by the sounds, and began to chitter fearfully.
"Don't worry buddy, I'm sure it's just..." he began to try and assure his little friend, before he grimaced, completely unknowing of where the sound was coming from, "I have no idea what it is."
He peered over the edge of the saddle, looking down below Appa, but was unable to see anything but the dark clouds that reflected the light of the moon that shone above them. He heard another booming sound, this time from the other side of the saddle. He turned around and took note that Azula and Ty Lee were both awake already, glancing around, the latter with a far more tense expression than the former.
"What is that?" Ty Lee asked out, "Can you see anything, Aang?"
"No." he shook his head, "There's too many clouds in the way." he admitted, before he heard another booming sound, right ahead of them, though it was clearly from below; he could see a flash of orange light through the clouds, faded and obscured by the thick covering below them, but still present.
"Fire." he guessed, "Why would there be fire in the middle of the sea?"
"Because the Fire Navy's here." Azula deduced, leaning over the other side of the saddle, "I bet there's a battle going on right underneath us. This is the border between the homeland and the colonies, so it makes sense that there'd be a lot of ships here."
"A-are we in danger?" he asked her, obviously afraid that they might get struck out of the sky if they weren't careful.
"I doubt they can see us." Azula assured him, before she gestured to Appa's reins, "Just to be safe, take us a little higher."
"Are you sure? It gets pretty cold up in the sky." he warned her; there was a reason he flew low on Appa, and that was so they could avoid the extreme temperatures that came with high altitudes.
That night was different, given that they were already flying quite high to avoid being spotted, and now they were posed with the threat of accidentally being pulled into a fight between two Fire Nation forces.
"It's better cold than being shot out of the sky." she argued, the young Avatar nodding with a grimace.
"Okay, I'd get back in your sleeping roll then, it's going to get colder." he warned her, the Princess raising a brow at him.
"What about you?" she asked him, the Avatar shrugging his shoulders.
"Airbending helps me stay warm in the cold. That's why I didn't need a parka at the South Pole." he explained, the Princess nodding before she pulled herself back into the sleeping roll beside Sokka, who mumbled under his breath.
"Yeah, yeah, just go back to sleep." she chided her boyfriend, Aang turning his attention back toward Appa's reins, which he grasped a hold of.
"Come on, buddy, let's just get a little higher up." he told his sky-bison, who groaned lightly, before he began to fly upward, "That's it." he smiled, though his positivity was quickly shattered by the sound of what he could only guess was a fireball whirring past them; it was so bright and hot that he was forced to cover his face to stop himself from being temporarily blinded.
"Argh!" he heard Sokka cry out, "I'm trying to sleep here!"
Aang pulled the reins to the side, turning Appa around, "We need to get out of the way, right now!" he exclaimed, hearing another whirring sound behind them; he pulled the reins down, and with them, his sky-bison dove down, flying underneath the fireball that was thrown past them and into the clouds.
"How did they spot us?!" Ty Lee cried out, the Avatar gritting his teeth, not having any response in mind other than to continue their descent; if he could see the fireballs coming he'd have a better chance of dodging them.
"I have no idea!" Aang shouted out as he pulled the reins down, sending them past the clouds, quickly approaching the sea below them.
Glancing back, his jaw dropped as he actually saw what had been causing the explosions; there had to be at least a dozen Fire Nation ships, most of them on fire, all firing at each other, and now, at them. He pulled the reins to the side as he saw another fireball fly their way, Aang getting Appa to swerve to the left; glancing around for a moment, he realised that they were still in the middle of the Mo Ce Sea, and thus unable to find any cover, unless he decided they ought to take a little dip in the water. He knew that neither his or Katara's waterbending was good enough to try that kind of trick yet, so he forced it out of his mind, trying to remain focused.
"Argh!" Sokka grunted as he was forced to move by the sharp turn, "Fly a little safer!" he demanded, before he turned around, seeing the source of the orange light that had lit up the saddle, "Oh shit."
"Yeah, that's definitely my father's people trying to kill my brother's people." Azula concluded as they continued to fly away as fast as they could.
"Should we... I don't know, do something?" Ty Lee glanced back toward the burning ships, Aang lost for words; he wanted to help people everywhere he went, but he couldn't stand the idea of putting his friends in danger.
"Wh-wh..." Katara mumbled, rising up from her sleeping roll after she had been nearly thrown across the saddle, "What's going on?"
"We can't do anything." Azula declared, "There's no way we should get any closer than we already are."
"I could stop them from trying to kill each other." Aang admitted, the Princess looking at him skeptically.
"And risk getting yourself captured, hurt or worse? Why?" she growled at him, obviously in complete disagreement with the idea that he ought to help them somebody just because he was the Avatar.
"How are you going to do that, anyway?" Ty Lee mumbled, "You only have airbending."
"That's enough to put out some fires." he declared, "Just how do I know who to help. Who shot at us?" he asked, the Princess placing both her hands by her temples.
"Did you listen to a word I just said? You can't do it!" she growled at him, her voice almost rising to a shout, "Katara! You don't really believe he should put himself in danger to stop two Fire Nation fleets from destroying each other, do you?"
The Water Tribe girl blinked a few times, glancing toward the burning ships, before she grimaced, "That's what we're trying to stop, isn't it?" she gestured toward the ships, "You're the one who's going on about peace all the time."
"Hmph." she crossed her arms, "I can't argue against that." she conceded, before gesturing toward the ships with an indifferent look on her face, "Go on then, be the peace-maker, if that's what you want."
Aang pulled on the reins flying them back in the direction of the ships, "I'll get my glider out, and I'll take out whatever they're using to attack each other."
"Sounds like a plan." Katara acknowledged, "But what do we do?"
"Once they stop firing at us, you guys can land Appa down and sort this all out. Maybe they'll listen to me once I show them who I am."
"You overestimate the open mindedness of people, Aang." Azula sighed, before she stood up, "Go on, I'll take the reins. The quicker you go, the less damage that will be done."
"You're really okay with this?" he raised a brow, the Princess shrugging her shoulders, glancing down toward her boyfriend, who was frustrated by the fact that he was awake during the middle of the night.
"You're the Avatar. I can't exactly disagree with you, and this is your sky-bison." she gestured down toward the saddle.
He pulled his glider off from the saddle, and opened it up, "I won't be long." he assured them, before he leapt off to the left side of the saddle, opening up the glider as he fell down toward the water.
Using his airbending to create lift, he narrowly dodged the water, gliding along by the lapping waves as he looked ahead to the dozen or so ships that lay before him. Quite a few of them were so damaged that he thought they might have started sinking, while others were continuing to fire barrages of fireballs toward the other ships, with firebending and what he assumed were some kind of catapult. He flew right over the deck of one of the ships, the sailors looking up at him with amazement as they realised they had just seen the Avatar; he aimed toward one of the ships that was firing at the others, swerving out of the way of a fireball that was thrown his way. He flew up above the ship, before he closed his glider, tensing his grip on it as he funnelled a large gust of wind via it, striking right down in the centre of the deck he had been above. He landed down on it with his own two feet, immediately cringing from the searing heat of the metal deck, which was littered with large holes from being fired upon.
"By the spirits, it's the Avatar!" one of the sailors cried out with surprise, though his voice clearly showed fear; when he looked at the other men around him that had been thrown off their feet by the air blast, he saw the same expression- utter dread.
"I'm not here to hurt you!" he told them with as confident a tone he could muster, "I want you to stop fighting each other. You're going to kill each other!" he exclaimed, the sailors looking more perplexed at him.
"He's just a child!" one of the men on the deck declared, Aang taking note of his fancier attire, spotting him out as the captain of the ship, "You know the protocols. Take him!"
"Bad idea." he warned them, before spinning his staff around, creating a wind blast that knocked over a few sailors who tried to charge at him.
He then used his staff to once again strike the catapult they had been using to fire on other ships, shattering it with one powerful burst of air; before the sailors could catch him. He jumped up into the air, flipping around before he used the trick he learned earlier that day. Pulling a mass of water out from the water beside him, he coiled it around himself as he fell back down toward the deck, quickly whipping it ahead of himself; when it struck a sailor back, he smirked, realising that he had already figured out the technique.
"Wow, that scroll really did help." he mumbled, before raising more water out from the sea, now taking from both sides, using his staff to guide the water as he bent it; taking two globes of water on both his sides, he spun them around, making two water whips, which he used to whack the Fire Nation sailors back.
As impressed as he was by his own waterbending, it didn't pack as much of a punch as he would have liked, and the sailors were ready to tackle him, despite the setbacks.
"This is the part where I fly away." he clarified, making them look at him with confusion; despite the fact that he had told them exactly what he was going to do, he was still able to leap off of the side of the ship and use his glide to get away.
Gliding off between the ships, he glanced around, taking note that there were still ships firing on each other; he turned his glider around, rising up into the air as he focused on another ship. Aang did not relent to fly on down to the deck, using his airbending to block the fireballs that were sent his way; he closed his glider once more as he landed, using it to create an air blast that knocked the sailors off their feet.
"Come on, guys. You don't need to fight me. Just stop fighting each other!" he asked of them, the sailors turning to face him in their firebending forms.
"A hundred years for this?" one of them scoffed, looking at him; just because Aang was twelve years old didn't mean that he didn't have a few tricks up his sleeve.
He grinned smugly, the sailor taken aback by his expression as he and his comrades took form; reaching his left hand out, he grasped for the water, taking a deep breath as he pulled out a blob, shaping it into a disc as he spun his arms around, pulling it through the air and tossing it right into the soldier who had mocked him. He was thrown off his feet, and Aang used the distraction to spin his staff around, throwing his attackers off of their feet as they tried to attack him with their firebending. A few of them remained standing, and sent fire streams toward him; he ducked under a few but was forced to spin his staff around to disperse the attacks as the heat grew around him; it got so intense that his hands and feet started to ache, as they were furthest away from the core of his body which was being protected by his dispersion. Aang grit his teeth as he put his strength into throwing his staff down, sending an air blast right into one of the soldiers before he swung his staff around; though he had intended to use it to airbend the sailors away, one of them had actually grabbed a hold of the staff and thus prevented him from airbending with it. He instead jumped into the air, landing on the sailors shoulders while he tried to defend himself; Aang blocked his fireballs, and when he covered his fist with flames, he simply kicked it away before jumping off of his shoulders, taking his staff with him.
"Thank you very much!" he grinned at his opponents mockingly, before taking a fighting stance, ready to take whatever they had.
Instead, they clambered out of the way in fear, as Appa quickly approached the deck of the ship, destroying the catapult on the deck as he did so; as soon as he did, Ty Lee and Azula both jumped down from the saddle, taking fighting stances alongside him.
"Ready to kick some butts?" the acrobat quipped, making him grin.
"Oh, I am." he assured her, before he charged forward, swinging his staff around to whip up a gust that threw one of the sailors off their feet while the two girls followed behind, the Princess using her firebending to neutralise their opponent's own while her friend used her chi-blocking to paralyse them before they even had a chance to respond.
He spun around, using his staff as a pole to vault himself into the air, before he sent an air blast out of his feet, throwing their opponents back. Once he landed back on the ground, he pulled his staff back from behind swinging it at the sailors, his cutting blow of wind keeping them distracted for a moment while Azula and Ty Lee pounced, both of them quickly taking care of any stragglers.
"So, please..." he tried to speak with as calm a voice as possible, "don't fight any more." he warned them, before turning around, seeing there were still three ships that continued to barrage the others.
"You better listen." the Princess added, before turning back to face Appa, on top of whom stood Sokka and Katara, both surprised by how the fighting had gone.
"Okay, that was easier than I thought." the Water Tribesman admitted, "Does this mean I can go back to sleep now?"
"There's still three more ships firing, Sokka." his girlfriend chided him, before she launched herself up with firebending onto the saddle.
She turned back to face Ty Lee and Aang, "Aang, glide over to one of those ships and take down their catapults, we'll take another and then we'll meet up again. Got it?"
"Yep." he nodded, approving of her stern directions, given the situation.
As soon as he agreed to her idea, he sprinted off to the right, opening his glider and setting flight, spotting the nearest ship that was still attacking; it was already quite damaged, but that didn't seem to be stopping its crew from continuing their offensive. As he flew toward it, he realised that the men aboard were reorienting their catapult so they could strike Appa; he grit his teeth, realising that he had to act immediately. Dropping his right hand down, he reached toward the sea, pulling out a decent sized mass of water from below; as he pulled it out, he narrowed his eyes on the catapult, using his airbending to increase his speed and he neared it. Tensing his hand, the mass of water tightened, and struck the catapult violently, breaking it apart instantly as its payload was thrown off onto the deck, doused with water to prevent it from setting anything on fire. He landed down on the deck near the bow of the ship, turning around to face those on the deck, who looked at him with utter surprise; instead of attacking him, as the other sailors had, they simply stood there looking unsure what to do with themselves. They knew they couldn't beat him, it seemed, and although that relieved Aang, there was still a chance they could desire to fight him.
"What should we do, sir?" one of the sailors called out to their captain, who stood forward, unarmed and seemingly injured from the barrage.
"The Fire Lord's policy was that the Avatar is no longer an enemy of the Fire Nation." he admitted, making him realise that the ship was following Zuko, not Ozai; the fact that what he had just said proved what he had already been guessing- the Fire Lord wasn't his enemy, no matter how much Azula liked to tout his misdeeds.
"I'm happy to hear that." he admitted honestly, "Please, stop fighting them. You'll only cause more pain." he gestured to the other ships, the sailors looking in the direction he pointed.
The captain of the ship sighed, stepping closer, "I'm sorry, Avatar, but that's just not an option. These traitors are a threat to the integrity of the Fire Nation."
"I hope you change your mind." he simply told him, before opening his glider once more; he jumped up into the air, flying toward the final ship that continued to fire, which had a number of catapults on its deck, and seemed to have sustained an extreme amount of damage, with the superstructure of the ship barely keeping itself together, burning like a torchlight over the ocean surface.
He flew toward it, and the ship reoriented its weapons at him; he swerved out of the way as a flaming rock was tossed his way, before Aang once again used his new waterbending skills, grasping a small mass of water and pulling it up with him as he flew into the air. Rising up above the ship's deck, he spun his fist around, before closing the glider, falling down with the mass of water beside him. As he neared the deck, he raised his hand up, tensing his hold on the water before thrusting it down, sending a water whip right into the catapult, audibly breaking it. As he landed down on the deck, he spun around with his staff in hand, using it to send the sailors back away from the weapon, preventing them from trying to use it again. He turned around to face the sailors, who immediately took fighting forms, though they weakened as they realised they were facing the Avatar; it seemed that they were more forces loyal to Zuko, which suggested, disturbingly enough, that the loyalist forces were about to win the battle by sinking the rebel ships to the seafloor.
"Stand still and surrender!" he heard one of the sailors command him, "You're helping the enemy."
"Why would I help them? They're the ones who want the Fire Nation to conquer the world, aren't they?" he quipped in return, the sailors looking amongst themselves with confused looks.
"That doesn't matter." another spoke up, "You're getting in the way of peace, Avatar." one of them declared, he and a number of his comrades taking form, with either pikes in hand or fireballs.
"Peace?" he asked them, very skeptical that massacring a fleet of enemy ships was peace, "This is slaughter!" he decried their actions, "You should at least give them a chance to surrender."
He heard Appa roaring nearby, Aang turning around to see his friends on his saddle, all clearly awake and ready to assist him take out the last of the catapults; he smiled with relief, before he faced the sailors once more, standing a fighting stance.
"Either stop using the catapults or I'll make you." he declared, the sailors taking their stances.
"You've made a big mistake." one of the sailors declared, before he tossed a fireball toward Aang, who spun his staff around to deflect and disperse the attack; he glanced around, taking note that they were all about to send fire streams his way, and Aang decided to make a concerted effort to achieve what he had come there to do.
Spinning around, he used his staff to conjure a gust of wind, which he aimed at the sailors between him and the next catapult, throwing them back; the other sailors didn't relent to fire on him, the Avatar ducking under their attack. When he leaned back up, he realised that their spearmen were charging at him, and he readied his staff to block their blows. Only he never had the chance to as he heard a battle-cry from above him, Ty Lee knocking one out with a kick to the chest while Azula did the same, although with a lot less gusto.
"Now would be a good time to surrender." the Princess warned their opponents as she took a firebending stance.
"W-wait... that's her!" one of the sailors pointed toward her, his stance immediately faltering, obviously afraid of her; her reputation truly did seem to precede her.
"Princess Azula... oh... now we're fucked." one of the sailors behind him mumbled, stepping back with a dreading look on his face.
"Avatar, harbouring a traitor to the Fire Nation is a crime punishable by a life-sentence in prison." one of the sailors declared, his outfit the same as the last captain he saw, suggesting he was their leader, "Take them, alive!" he ordered his men, Aang gritting his teeth.
"Big mistake!" he shouted out, lunging forward with his staff to create an airblast that knocked the captain and the men surrounding him off their feet, before he charged ahead, swinging his staff around to block the firebending attacks that were sent his way.
He grasped to his left side, pulling some water out from the water beside the ship; he was forced to spin around to block another attack, but was able to pull the water out. He then tossed it at the catapult beside him with as much force as he could muster; the attack, frustratingly, didn't seem to damage the catapult as much as his first one had, and he was forced to shift to a defensive form, spinning his staff around with both his hands to deflect the enemy's firebending, he was surprised when he heard Azula's voice call out to him as he tried his best to defend himself.
"Get away from the catapult!" she demanded of him, Aang heeding her warning and ducking under a fireball that was sent his way; as quickly as he could, he swerved around the next attack sent his way before racing away from the catapult.
He soon understood why Azula had warned him, as a few moments later, a blinding flash of light lit up the deck of the ship, followed by shaking and a deafening boom; the Princess had just generated a lightning bolt and fired it into the catapult, blowing it apart. Aang was forced to duck down to dodge the debris, which hit the soldiers he had jumped past; they grunted with pain, and he couldn't help but feel a little guilty for what had happened. He glanced around, taking note that Appa had landed near the superstructure of the ship; Sokka and Katara both climbed off of the saddle, the former using his club and boomerang to distract the sailors while the latter used her new waterbending forms to defend them both.
He jumped up into the air, creating an air-scooter, which he used to push himself through and past the sailors that were in his way, "Coming through!" he cried out, the sailors either jumping out of the way or being tossed to the side by the powerful torque of his bending.
He ignored the sailors for the most part, focusing on the last catapult, which he needed to destroy; before they could have a chance to load the massive rocks into the launcher, he slammed his staff down, throwing the rocks out of place, which further delayed the sailors trying to load the weapon for one last assault on the enemy ships. He got off of his air scooter, launching himself up into the air, jumping over a few sailors before he landed in front of Sokka and Katara, who were fending off a large number of sailors themselves.
"Hi guys." he grinned at them, before reaching out into the water beside them, turning to the Water Tribe girl specifically, "Wanna work on our waterbending?"
"There's no time like the present." she smirked, reaching out to take some more water out of the sea beside them; both of them pulled a blob of water each toward themselves, turning them into water whips which they could easily strike the sailors with.
Sokka had for the most part ignored their moves, charging forward with his club, using it to knock out around three soldiers before the two novice waterbenders used their new forms striking a sailor each off of their feet; Aang continued to hold onto the water, forming a shield with his left hand while he used his staff to airbend with his right; he hadn't really thought about it until that moment, but he had been simultaneously bending both air and water, a feat that he thought would be considerably more challenging that expected- instead, it was just as hard as any two-handed bending would be, being clunky and unwieldy at best. He, Sokka and Katara all pushed forward, the Water Tribesman using his chi-blocking to quickly paralyse the extremities of their opponents while the two waterbenders used their whips to strike their opponents off of their feet.
"Take that!" the boisterous warrior shouted out, using his club to knock a sailor right out; a moment later, Aang was forced to close his eyes as another blinding explosion went off, Azula's lightning-bending doing its trick well enough.
He stepped forward, slamming his staff down flat onto the ship's deck, which threw the remaining sailors between him, Ty Lee and Azula off of their feet; the two girls looked at him with relieved faces, immediately heading back toward Appa.
"Let's get the fuck off this ship." the Princess declared, before she turned around, spitting at who Aang guessed was the captain of the ship, "Traitor my arse." she growled, before turning her heels, following the others as they made their way back to the sky-bison.
Momo chittered with fear as he flew around them, obviously worried for his own and their safety; the Avatar gestured for him to approach, and he landed on the young Air Nomad's shoulder. He pet the lemur on the chin, scratching it a little before he used his airbending to propel himself up onto Appa's saddle.
"Let's get out of here, buddy." he told his sky-bison, who groaned, moving slightly as the others all climbed on top, with the more athletic Ty Lee and Azula helping Katara and Sokka onto the saddle, respectively.
Once they were all onboard, he grasped onto the reins, whipping them once and pulling them up, "Yip-yip!" he called out to Appa, who immediately took flight, rising up above the deck and immediately crossing out over to the water; he turned the reins to their right, allowing them to head back in the direction they had originally been heading.
He glanced back at the ships that all remained above water, despite the damage they had sustained, and Aang sighed with relief, knowing that they couldn't sink each other without their artillery. He tensed his grip on the reins, keeping Appa heading in the direction of Crescent Island; he could only hope that they didn't run into anything like a battle once again, as he didn't know if he even had the energy to fight once more. He knew he had done what was right in stopping the fight, and they had all gotten out unscathed, much to his relief.
"Well, that was a pain." Sokka grumbled, "And all I wanted was a good night's sleep." he admitted, his sister snickering at his predicament.
"You can still sleep, Sokka. Just don't oversleep. I'm sure you want to be there to face these Fire Sage guys." she warned, the Water Tribesman nodding, dropping his weapons down before he climbed back into his sleeping roll.
"Sleepy time." he mumbled, the Princess laughing at her boyfriend's reaction.
"Now, now, Sokka. This isn't the first time you've had to fight at night." she suggested, making him groan with frustration.
"It's the first time I've done it after sleeping." he argued, before rolling over into his sleeping roll, "Let me sleep."
"Of course." she nodded, obviously not objecting to the idea; they all needed as much sleep as they could get.
"Yeah, it is time to sleep... again." Ty Lee acknowledged, "Is this what most trips are like for you guys?"
"No, not really." Aang shook his head, "But when trouble comes our way, we can't avoid it."
"Don't try to, more like it." Azula argued, making Katara roll her eyes.
"Should we? I think we did the right thing back there, even if it was dangerous." she retorted, the Princess shrugging her shoulders, slipping her boots off before she slid into the sleeping roll beside Sokka.
"I don't care, honestly. As long as we get as far away from them as possible." she told her, before pulling the sleeping roll up, "I want to get some actual sleep as much as I'd like to argue with you."
"I can't tell if that's sarcasm or not." Ty Lee mumbled, the Princess turning her head slightly.
"Not sarcasm." she clarified, before resting her head down.
The Water Tribe girl turned her head back toward Aang, looking at him sympathetically, "Are you alright, Aang?"
"I'm just annoyed." he admitted; he wasn't hurt, not physically, but seeing the Fire Nation fight each other and then argue about it with him was painful in a completely different way, "If the whole Fire Nation's like those guys, I don't know how we'll ever have peace. All of them want each other dead... all over who they think should be Fire Lord."
"It's dumb." she admitted, glancing back toward the Princess, who seemed to be ignoring their quiet conversation, "But then again, this whole war is dumb. Nothing's changed."
"Not yet." he assured her, not having lost hope just yet, "I know we can do... something. Mastering the elements might not bring peace, but it will make things like that battle a lot easier."
"And you know what else will make it easier?" Azula spoke up, catching his attention.
"What?" he asked, thinking she might have some kind of new idea to solve their problems; she was the thinker of the group, so Aang was always ready to hear what she had to say.
"Speaking with your past lives. I don't know if you learnt what the past Avatars achieved, Aang. They could really give you advice on dealing with a number of things... especially the Dai Li." she explained, the Avatar raising a brow at her.
"The Dai Li?" he mumbled, confused about what the Dai Li would have to do with the wisdoms of the Avatar; he guessed a few of them were well versed in politics, though he didn't know much about the history of the world himself- he was twelve years old, after all.
"Avatar Kyoshi created them. Just like half the things she did, it back-fired." she explained, the young Avatar nodding, agreeing with the first thing she said wholeheartedly, though less so on the second thing, "Nobody's perfect, it seems."
"Except you." he heard Sokka mumble, the Princess rolling her eyes.
"As much as I agree with that statement, there's no need to be a boot-licker, Sokka."
"I can never win." he grumbled, rolling over into his sleeping roll.
"Now, now, Sokka, you did knock out the Fire Lord. Remember that?" his sister asked him, the Water Tribesman waving his hand at her comment
"That wasn't much of a victory." he sighed, before yawning, "Now let me go to sleep."
"Of course, Mister Grumpypants." Aang assured him, "We'll keep our voices down."
"That's Mister Fire to you." Sokka offhandedly commented.
"Fire?" Ty Lee raised a brow, his girlfriend shaking her head with annoyance.
"We're not getting into that story."
"So, this is it?"
Turning back to face Ty Lee, Azula gave her friend a curt nod, before her eyes darted back toward the impressive pagoda that sat on the side of an active volcano; it was a rather dangerous place to build a temple. She knew it was the place Aang would have to go if he wanted to communicate with his predecessor, Avatar Roku, to whom the temple before them was dedicated, though she believed that it predated him, having been the home of a number of Fire Sages for centuries, their main outpost outside of the Capital City Temple.
"Yes, it is." she nodded, "Do you remember learning about this place at school?" she asked her, the acrobat nodding.
They had briefly touched on the temples of the Fire Sages when they were taught about the history of the Fire Nation at school. When they were taught about 'history' it was a rather abridged version that overstated the achievements of her immediate ancestors, Fire Lord Azulon and Fire Lord Sozin, her grandfather and great-grandfather, respectively. Ignoring the long and great history of her nation was something that disappointed her at the time, though she understood that the need for patriotic citizens outweighed her own desire to understand the Fire Nation, which she had, at the time, believed she was going to rule. She still believed that, but at least understood that there would be some delay, given her position of temporary weakness.
"Uh... yeah. I think." she mumbled, not sounding too sure of herself.
"Well, are we going to go to see Roku now?" Aang piped up, the Princess turning around to face the young Avatar, who stood with his staff ready in hand.
Whether they'd have to fight the Fire Sages to get access to the temple was something she was unsure of, but she was sure they could beat them, before coercing them into taking them right where they needed to go.
"We are." she assured him, before she turned her eyes up to Sokka, who was still fumbling about ontop of Appa's saddle, "Are you coming or what?"
"Just gimme a minute! I can't go in there and fight some old dudes if I'm hungry." he argued, the Princess rolling her eyes.
"Typical." she huffed, Ty Lee giggling at her reaction, "Don't you start. He's got to learn to be more punctual."
"You love being punctual, don't you, Zula?"
"Certainly. It is one of the great virtues a Princess ought to hold." she raised a finger, before she took a second-take at her smug expression, realising that her friend had been mocking her, "Oh... you're a little too good at that, aren't you?"
"I take pride in my ability to make you embarrassed." she argued, before raising her hands up, "I'll only ever do it in private. I'd never want to embarrass you when you're trying to act tough."
"I appreciate your thoughtfulness." she drily commented, not amused by her desire to rile her up; Sokka could annoy her and argue with her, but Ty Lee knew everything about her- she knew exactly what to say to embarrass her or in contrast, calm her down.
"Come on, guys." Aang waved them along, making his way down the path toward the temple, Momo gliding over and landing on his shoulder, "We need to get to the temple sooner or later."
"You heard him." Katara spoke up, "Let's go." she followed after him, Azula and Ty Lee taking after the pair, leaving Sokka behind on the saddle; she was sure he could catch up, anyway.
Not too long after, she heard her boyfriend cry out, "Hey, come on! I just found my jerky!" he exclaimed, the Princess not even turning her head around to check if he'd hurry up, just waiting for the pittering of footsteps behind her.
By the time Sokka caught up, he was huffing, and he placed a hand on her shoulder to try and catch a breath, though she forced him to let go; she was nobody's arm-rest, especially his. He fell forward, nearly face-planting on the path, before he clambered back up to his feet, dusting himself off before following on behind.
"That was uncalled for." he mumbled, the Princess shrugging her shoulders.
"I'm not an arm-rest, Sokka." she growled, making him sigh.
"Just a little sympathy?"
"Nope." she tersely responded, not wanting a bar of it; she wouldn't pity him if he didn't have the wit to eat before they arrived.
"What about you Momo, don't you think she's a mean girlfriend?" he asked the flying lemur, making both Katara and Ty Lee snicker, obviously amused by his indirect way of insulting her; the Princess was less so, though she didn't take it personally- he was frustrated, after all.
"You don't want me to set your hair on fire, do you?" she warned her boyfriend, who shrugged his shoulders, unphased by her casual threat.
"Do you want me to tell Ty Lee a secret?" he quipped in return, making her tense up.
"You wouldn't dare."
"Yes please." the acrobat grinned, "You've got to tell me how you first started your romance. It must have been so cute!" she asked of them, the Princess covering her face.
"Spirits save me." he mumbled under her breath, making her boyfriend chuckle.
"Now, now, I won't actually say anything. Not until you give me a good reason, of course." he suggested, Azula taking a deep breath, thinking she ought to consider what she ought to say before she had a fit of frustration.
"You're a tricky bastard aren't you." she pointed her finger at him accusingly, the Water Tribesman leaning back, more amused by her comments than offended.
"Now, if you really want, I can explain it." Katara piped up, making the Princess point at her accusingly.
"Oh, you little shit." she snarled, before her voice rose to a shout, "Don't you dare!" she decried her, "Ty Lee will never let it go if she finds out."
"Come on, there's no need to get angry." Aang tried to defuse the situation, "Katara obviously wouldn't say it if you were going to get so angry."
"I might." the Water Tribe girl grinned smugly, making Sokka point at her.
"Katara, seriously, she's going to set you on fire." he warned her, the Princess nodding along tensely, not wanting to burst out in rage once again.
"Take your brother's advice." she warned her, "You're certainly asking for it."
"It's just a joke." she dismissed her threat, "Sorry, Ty Lee. You'll just have to wait for her to explain it."
"But she'll never tell me." she pouted, sounding as disappointed as Azula guessed she would be.
"Hmph, maybe if you do something amazing, I might consider telling you." she raised a finger, realising that she could get something out of her friends stupid desire to find the truth.
"Azula, are you seriously trying to bribe her with our secrets... that aren't really secrets because Katara and my entire village knows them?" he asked her, the Princess glancing his way, her expression having shifted from one of anger to that of smugness within a minute.
"Well, I like to make the most of my situations." she declared, her boyfriend looking right back at her with a healthy amount of skepticism; he was still Sokka, after all.
"Ah yes, making the most of your situation. So, do you count stealing Naiko's clothes in your list of genius moves?" he asked her, making her turn away, feeling a small amount of guilt for what she had intended to do, given how much of a help that Earth Kingdom girl had been for them.
"That was a smart move." she retorted, feeling that the move was defensible, given the situation, "Otherwise, we were literally going to get stoned to death by a bunch of angry Earth Kingdom peasants."
"Sorry, what?" Aang glanced back toward her, obviously having missed that part of the story when she explained it to him, "You said you had to run away... they tried to kill you?"
"Uh, yep." Sokka nodded, "I wasn't really surprised, but... well, it was an experience."
"You mean beating the shit of those deserters for the second time?" she tilted her head toward him, the Water Tribesman snickering, raising a finger up.
"I did enjoy that." he conceded, before he turned his focus ahead of them toward the tall and ornate pagoda, which was impressive, given the location that it had been built in, "What did you say about Fire Sages?"
"That they're old firebending masters who are steeped in mysticism and spirituality?" she asked him, somewhat confused why he was asking her that question.
"No, that you needed them to crown you as Fire Lord." he clarified, making her eyes widen; she realised that if she had only had a crown, she could have, in theory, been crowned at the very pagoda she stood at; she doubted though that the Fire Sages would do so, knowing that that if Zuko found out, he'd likely throw them in prison.
"They're not crowning me today, as much as I'd like them to." she conceded, before smirking, "Well, there's always first impressions- at least for these ones. I've met the Capital City sages before, but these ones are the more... traditional ones."
"Traditional as in more serious... or traditional as in loyal to Aang?" he asked her in clarification, the Princess narrowing her eyes.
She knew that none of the Fire Sages had publicly declared loyalty to the Avatar in nearly a century, but that there were a good few of them who had in the past been clearly more inclined to support the master of the elements than the ruler of their nation; that had been generations ago, and she was sure that those Fire Sages alive at that very moment would likely be loyal to the Fire Lord only.
"Perhaps the latter, but I wouldn't keep my hopes up. There hasn't been an Avatar around for a century... unlike Miss Hope and Dreams over here, most of the world who might have believed in the Avatar gave up on him a long time ago." she gestured to Katara, who scowled with offence.
"Excuse me, are you saying I was stupid for believing that the Avatar could come back?" the argued, her dagger eyes not intimidating the Princess one bit, all while Aang grimaced, trying not to look her in the eye.
"No, I'm saying it wasn't a very rational view to hold." she argued in return, "Anyway, the point is, the Fire Sages are probably loyal to Zuko. If they're not... then I might have some people to crown me once I liberate the colonies."
"Well, that's something to look forward to." Ty Lee piped up, "Your coronation's going to be great."
She was surprised that her friend was so sure that she'd end up getting crowned Fire Lord, but she didn't want to question her thought process, just silently appreciating that she actually believed she could achieve it.
"Formalities and speeches." she sighed, glancing ahead to look at the doors of the pagoda that they were quickly approaching, "I'm more so looking forward to running my nation."
"We'll get to that bridge when we do, but right now, we should be thinking about how Aang's going to talk to Roku." Katara spoke up, the Princess nodding, befores she gestured to the doors.
"Aang, could you blow those doors open with your airbending?"
"Of course I can!" he grinned, spinning his staff around playfully in his hands before he thrust it toward the doors, sending a powerful gust of wind into them, forcing them to swing open, the loud bang of them slamming into the walls of the hallway; glancing inside, Azula could only see a dark red hue, forcing her to step closer.
"Well, the Fire Sages have to be somewhere in here." she admitted, "Let's get inside." she suggested, the young Avatar glancing back down towards the shoreline, where Appa was resting.
"I hope Appa's okay out there. This is a volcano, after all." he acknowledged, the Princess raising a hand up.
"If they've built a temple on this island, it must be safe. Even temples aren't lava-proof." she told him, Aang making a small smile, obviously less worried about his sky-bison and more focused on achieving their goal.
She strode on inside, though she let Aang take the lead, Sokka and Katara following after her while Ty Lee remained by her side; she turned to face her friend momentarily, who was enamoured by the ornate design of the building.
"This place is as fancy as the palace." she mumbled, "And that place is fancy."
"Almost." she nodded, acknowledging that the temple had fine design and the architecture involved was just as complex as that in the Fire Nation Royal Palace, though it was far, far more massive in its proportions.
As they made their way deeper into the temple, everything was coloured a red hue by the windows, which were tinted that colour, like most ornate interiors in the Fire Nation, colouring a blood-like hue. She glanced up as they entered a large chamber, whose roof reached up at least two stories; Aang and the others were in awe, though their attention was quickly drawn by the sounds of footsteps.
"Stop right there!" she heard a gravelly voice call out.
The group's attention was turned to a group of five men wearing the simple robes and hats of Fire Sages; all of them at least as old as her uncle, with their leader looking as ancient as her dead grandfather, who was nearly a hundred years old when he died.
"Oh, are you guys the Fire Sages?" Aang asked them, which confused them somewhat, obviously not expecting to be immediately recognised.
"Uh... yes." the leader clarified, "We are the guardians of this temple- the temple of the Avatar."
"I know that. Could you guys help me out?" he asked, the Fire Sages looking amongst themselves, before they turned around, whispering to each other; Azula couldn't hear what they were saying, and she didn't really have much care for whatever it was.
She strode ahead of her friend, clearing her throat, earning their attention, "Make that an order."
"P-P-Princess Azula." one of them gasped her name, the leader falling to his knees.
"Your highness, please, have mercy on us." he asked of her, as if she were to smite him down for simply serving her brother.
"Oh shut it, will you? I just want you to help the Avatar." she gestured to Aang, the Fire Sages' expressions shifting to ones of confusion.
"But your highness, why are you helping the Avatar?"
"He is my most esteemed ally." she proclaimed, "And I command you to serve him, as you might have once done so."
"Well... that's good to hear." the leader acknowledged, "That was the Fire Lord's order as well."
"Oh, see, Zuko isn't that bad, is he?" Aang piped up, the Princess raising a finger.
"Watch your tongue." she warned him, before turning back to face the Fire Sages, "I must ask, what is my current status?"
"I beg your pardon, your highness?" one of the sages asked her, "I am confused by what you are trying to ask."
"What does the Fire Lord say should be done with me?" she clarified her question, the Fire Sages looking at each other, grimacing, which was never a good sign, given her question.
"He states that you are not to be harmed, but apprehended upon sight." the leader of the Fire Sages clarified, before looking at her with a nervous glance, "You... you didn't think we were going to try and arrest you, did you?"
"I don't believe you'd be able to. Ty Lee and Sokka could incapacitate you all, even if my firebending is equal to yours." she acknowledged, "Now, that that is all settled, could you show us to Avatar Roku?"
"You mean the sanctuary?" the leader asked her, the Princess giving him an affirmative nod, "Well, I'm unsure if the Avatar will have much luck."
"What do you mean?" Aang looked at him with confusion, stepping a little closer, "Why wouldn't I be able to communicate with him. This is his temple, right?"
"Not exactly." he conceded, "Uh, Shyu, could you explain how this all works?"
"Of course, Great Sage." he bowed to his superior, stepping forward to address them, "Avatar Roku first mastered the Avatar State here over a hundred and forty years ago, with the assistance of my grandfather, Fire Sage Kaja. That was in the sanctuary, where he accidentally locked himself in the Avatar State on a winter solstice. That day is the best day of the year to communicate with the spirits, and for you, with your past lives."
"The winter solstice, huh?" Aang raised a brow, "When's that?"
"In about ten weeks time." he clarified, "That's the issue, Avatar. You mightn't be able to speak to him."
Aang looked dejectedly downward, before he glanced up toward the Fire Sages, "But I can at least try, can't I?"
"You can." the Great Sage told him, before his expression became more serious, "But you'll need our help. Only a fully-realised Avatar or five master firebenders could open the doors of the sanctuary."
"Is that why there are five of you here?" he asked the sages, who nodded.
"Precisely." Shyu nodded, before gesturing down a hallway, "We will lead you there, and you can meet with your past life," he began, before momentarily eyeing Azula, "alone."
"Well, let's go then. We don't have all day." Sokka spoke up, "The Fire Navy's probably go-" he began to complain, before Katara hushed him.
The Princess turned to face her boyfriend, glaring at him to stress the same feelings of annoyance his sister obviously held; revealing to the Fire Sages that they had attacked her brother's forces, albeit under the pretense of peacekeeping, would certainly not go down well.
"You're right, let's go." she told him with a clearly serious tone, as to stress the point without uttering a word about the matter; he nodded, and they all followed after the Fire Sages, who led them through the chamber toward a staircase that would lead them up through the pagoda.
She assumed that the sanctuary was located above them, and that made enough sense; it couldn't be located underground, given the fact they were on top of an active volcano. As they made their way along, she walked beside Katara, who was understandably nervous; she glanced back the way they had come before she eyed the Fire Sages.
"I don't trust these guys." she whispered, the Princess nodding, not trying to show her emotions, but rather to express herself through a few quiet words.
"We don't have much of a choice. We're ready to fight them, if need be." she told her, the Water Tribe girl nodding, believing what she had told her; of all the times she could place her trust in Azula, she was just glad it was then- she didn't want her second guessing her intentions by taking Aang to the temple.
"Don't worry, Katara." her brother assured her, "At least about them. Maybe about the fleet of ships that might be coming our way."
"They did say 'apprehend without harming'." she mumbled, before turning her eyes to face Sokka, "I don't trust them to not harm you though."
"I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have made an explicit clause on the bounty to hit me in the head as revenge... though if he did, I'd be impressed." he conceded, crossing his arms before he glanced ahead, "I wonder if everyone's going to react like these guys... or if they're going to try and arrest us as soon as you show your face."
"If they want the bounty, that is." she added, which didn't improve her own argument, in all honesty; they all turned around at a corner, facing a long set of stairs, which they began to climb.
"Well, that's why we got the disguises, right?" Katara piped up, the Princess shrugging her shoulders.
"I guess. I was more worried about patriotic Fire Nation citizens going after 'our greatest enemy'." she gestured toward the young Avatar, "A twelve year old."
"True." Sokka scratched his chin, before turning to face Ty Lee, "Hey, Ty Lee, what did you know about the Avatar before this?"
"Uh, that he was a really powerful bender who opposed the Fire Nation's mission of progress." she told him exactly what she had learnt at school.
"Mission of progress?" Katara almost scoffed, "Damn, I keep forgetting how crazy your country is."
"That's the nice way of saying it. Some people speak about vanquishing the lesser elements and all that." the Princess added, knowing that some in the Fire Nation, especially in the higher echelons of the government, had nothing but disdain toward the other nations and their denizens.
"Like who?" the Water Tribe girl raised a brow, obviously concerned by such an idea.
"I'm sure my father said it a few times." she noted, making the other girl grimace.
"Ergh... he really doesn't sound like a good guy... at all."
"He's not. He was a great teacher, if you could call his teachings worth a copper piece these days. Some of them I still hold close to heart."
"What? Like you thinking all the other nations should be subservient to the FIre Nation?" Katara quipped, making her roll her eyes.
"No, more like: those with power have the right to decide what is right by virtue of the strength they hold." she told her one of the many proverbs her father had instilled into her, "Thus, we have the most powerful person in the world, and the judge of all actions, the Avatar." she gestured forward to Aang, who turned around, obviously not having paid attention to their conversation until he was mentioned.
"Sorry, I'm not a judge... I'm a peacekeeper." he told her, obviously not thinking himself to be in the position to decide what was right, but only what things he ought to prevent- a pacifist at heart.
"You say that now." she sighed, before turning to face her boyfriend, who had an intrigued look on his face, "You look like you're going to say something?"
"Oooh... please say something about how she looks good in the red light." Ty Lee suggested with a grin, making the Water Tribesman cringe with embarrassment.
"N-no... that's not what I was thinking about." he assured them before he momentarily eyed Azula, remaining silent.
"What?" she narrowed her eyes at him, knowing for certain he had something else to say.
"I mean, she's right." he conceded, making her turn away, not wanting to get all flustered and embarrassed in front of everyone, "But, uh, I was thinking about what you just said. About the power and choosing what's right and all that."
"Yes?" she turned around, trying to keep a straight face and silently begging to the spirits that she wasn't blushing.
"I think you have a point." he conceded, "But what is right... it has to be something that is for the greater good. Not about being good, but about doing right by people."
"People." she mumbled what he had just said, "As in my people, or your people."
"My people are your people, Azula." he clarified, "I mean, for all intents and purposes, you're a member of the Southern Water Tribe now."
"Is there something to make that a little more official?"
"No, not really. Unless you wanted to join in on one of those puppet shows." he suggested, making the Princess grimace, thinking that was the worst possible way she could be inducted into the Southern Water Tribe.
"Spirits no." she looked at him with disgust, "I would rather clean up whatever Appa shits out than do that."
"N-no, no you wouldn't." Aang turned to face her with a grimace, "Have you ever seen sky-bison poop?"
"I haven't cared to look, and I now, I don't want to." she shook her head, not wanting to think about Appa's crap any longer, "Somebody say something stupid so I can stop thinking about that."
"Uh... you were the one who brought it up." Aang acknowledged the fact of the matter, the Princess narrowing her eyes at him, frustrated by his comment, which he could have used to at the very least divert the conversation somewhere else.
"Shut up." she growled, before turning to face her boyfriend, "I'm not doing that damn children's play."
"Yeah, I got that." Sokka nodded, understanding her disdain for the tradition, "But what if we made a puppet show about you?"
"That'd be even worse." she raised her chin, trying to hold back the disgust in her face, scrunching her eyes shut as she tried to push the thought out of her mind of a sock-puppet version of herself yammering on about something around a campfire.
"Okay, how about an actual play? You like those, don't you?"
"If by like, you mean tolerate, then yes." she nodded tersely, making Ty Lee grin brightly.
"A play? That'd be fun. Telling the world about your romance." she suggested, elbowing the Princess, who could only imagine two rather unattractive actors imitating herself and Sokka making out, which made her want to belch.
"No." she raised her hand, "Perhaps about my feats, yes... but I'd rather keep my private matters away from the masses."
"What, are you going to get all embarrassed because your boyfriend's a snow savage?" Sokka quipped at her, almost accusing her of being embarrassed of him.
"Of course not. You're a highly competent warrior who has saved my life a number of times. I'm more worried about people getting all into our private life, that's all. I'd love for you to be recognised, just not like that."
"I wouldn't want to get recognised until we solve the whole... Fire Lord problem, of course, seeing that you know who still wants you in prison."
"You can say his name, you know." she narrowed her eyes at him, "Emperor Jerky-Eye."
Katara snickered, obviously only beginning to pay attention to their conversation at that point, "S-sorry, what?"
"You haven't seen his face yet, but that's what his left eye looks like." she clarified, making her grimace, shaking her head.
"I have a feeling that wouldn't go down well with him."
"Precisely. That's why I'm going to refer to him just as such if I ever see his cowardly face again." she crossed her arms, feeling confident that if she ever saw her elder brother again, she would be ready to beat him down in a proper Agni Kai, where she would without a doubt win, purely running off the feeling of shame she felt for her previous defeat.
At that moment, they reached the top of the staircase, and Azula made sight of the doors of the sanctuary the Fire Sages had spoken of; the five men led them toward it, the Great Sage gesturing to the door.
"This is it." he spoke up, before turning to face Aang, "Are you ready to face your past-lives, Avatar?"
"I think so." he nodded, the Fire Sages all turning to face the doors, which had five holes that must have had to be struck simultaneously with firebending to open the doors up.
Each of them took a firebending form, simple in their motions, but when she saw the firebending that spurt out of their palms, she was truly impressed; for their age, they were still great benders, not comparable to herself or her family, but still impressive. Unlike her own fire, theirs seemed to be calm and collected, accurate and focused, unlike the bending of many firebenders she had seen throughout her life; like her uncle, the first person who came to mind with the same kind of collection to his firebending. She hadn't seen him bend in years, but she wouldn't forget it; his own style was so alien to hers, and when she fought Zuko, she could see his training in action- her brother's bending had shifted from erratic bursts of power to a refined form of bending that was like her own, though of course, lacking the pure power she had to her own firebending.
The doors opened up, revealing a statue of Avatar Roku, sitting in the middle of the room; Azula raised a brow, somewhat frustrated by the lacklustre reveal. The statue was ornate and realistic, and adorned with a ruby, but it didn't give her the ethereal aura she was expecting; thinking about auras at all made her want to insult herself for thinking like Ty Lee, but she remained silent, trying to ignore the fact she'd had the thought at all. She glanced toward the Avatar, who looked just as confused as she was.
"So it's just a statue?" Aang spoke up, the Fire Sages nodding.
"Well, yes." Shyu spoke up, "But on the winter solstice, you will be able to communicate with him, without a doubt. I believe there is still merit trying."
The young Avatar narrowed his eyes at him for a moment before nodding, "Okay, I'll go sit in there and meditate... I guess."
"Good luck." Katara waved him goodbye, Aang quickly striding inside, before the doors closed behind him, leaving them all standing there awkwardly in the hall outside.
"So... what do we do now?" Sokka spoke up, the Great Sage turning to face him.
"Await Avatar Roku to contact him. I believe the Avatar and the world may both be in need of some guidance." he explained himself, the Princess raising a brow at his words.
"You say that like we're going down the wrong path." she observed, "Are you questioning the Fire Lord?"
"No." he shook his head, "Spirituality has been something people have ignored for a long time, especially here in the Fire Nation. When the spirits are ignored... things happen. We'd all prefer it if those things didn't occur."
"The world needs Aang." Katara observed, "Without him, there'd be no one to talk to the spirits, right?"
"Essentially, yes. Gurus and sages like ourselves learn of spirituality and the spirits, but we do not have the same connection he does. He is the only one who can keep balance between the spirits and humanity." the elderly sage explained, his words seeming sensible, though Azula had little care for the matters of spirits and the Spirit World, no matter if they likely existed.
"Balance?" Sokka raised a brow, "I'm assuming we're winning at the moment."
"When it comes to spirits, there is no such thing as winning." the Great Sage retorted, sounding rather concerned in his tone, "The world is both out of balance socially but also spiritually. The Air Nomads were annihilated, and their traditions and rites to the spirits alongside them. The establishment of the colonies, no matter how much wealth they brought to our nation, also led to the destruction of spiritual sites and traditions. It's only a matter of time before all of them are swept under the rug as the world changes."
"And that's a bad thing, why? Superstition is just that, superstition." Azula argued, the Great Sage shaking his head.
"Superstition is not the right word. The spirits are very real and they don't like people, from what I've heard, and I feel they have had good reason to feel that way."
"So, does Aang have to fight these spirits or what? If they get pissed off enough they'll do something, I guess." Sokka deduced, the Fire Sages looking amongst themselves, nodding with grimaces on their faces.
One of them spoke up, "I've heard reports from the colonies of people disappearing in forests, entire villages being wiped off the map by rogue spirits or just disappearing entirely." he told them, looking toward the door with an uneasy look, "I just hope this young Avatar can stop it from getting any worse. It's only a matter of time before they start attacking the military or cities."
"It sounds like this is a problem someone like my brother ought to address." Azula acknowledged, the Great Sage nodding along.
"He has. The Fire Lord wrote to us a few months ago asking for advice on the spirits, and we provided. It is not highest on his agenda, but he knows the threat we all face."
"Ha ha." she drily laughed, "That's wonderful to hear."
Ty Lee stepped forward, standing beside her as she looked toward the doorway, "You think he'll learn anything from this past Avatar?"
"Maybe." she shrugged her shoulders, "If anything, he'll give him the whack around the head that he needs to understand what he needs to do."
"You're not really saying a dead guy's going to appear and smack Aang, are you? That'd just be a little rude." she asked her, making the Princess snicker; though she was joking, she could easily consider a justification needed to whack the twelve-year-old Air Nomad over the back of the head.
"I mean if my reincarnation wasted a hundred years frozen in an iceberg while the Fire Nation went off and conquered the world, I'd be pretty pissed off."
Sokka was honestly bored out of his brains; he knew that Aang needed to spend his time trying to communicate with Avatar Roku, but after nearly an hour sitting around outside the sanctuary, he was getting to the point where he'd rather the young Air Nomad come back out empty-handed than have him wait five minutes more with the chance he actually found something. He, Azula, Ty Lee and Katara had all been sitting around in a circle by the windows, casually talking amongst themselves, though they'd reached a lull in the conversation after discussing Ty Lee's adventure to reach the circus she had been playing in, before her sisters had come to join her, that was.
"So... what's your story then?" she asked the Water Tribe siblings, who glanced at each other.
"You mean from before I met Azula?" Sokka asked in clarification, getting an affirmative smile.
"Yeah, I want to know what you guys got up to? Did you just live at the South Pole that entire time?"
"Uh... yeah, our entire lives." his sister stated the fact of the matter.
"I didn't leave there once until about a year ago, and Katara's first time to leave was a little over a month ago."
"Huh... so I guess it must have been weird for you to see things like trees and all that." she observed, Sokka nodding along.
"I mean, I already knew what they were from stories and all that, but I will say, the first time I saw a forest I thought I was going crazy. There's just so much green in one place, it makes no sense." he conceded, making his girlfriend snicker.
"Forests aren't that weird, Sokka."
"You try living at the South Pole for sixteen years and then find out that there's something other than ice, rock, snow and freezing seawater." he argued, the Princess rolling her eyes.
"Well, I did six months, is that good enough?"
"Not nearly. Not until you can't remember the colour green." he argued, the Princess snickering.
"Well then, I guess I'd go insane by that point." she noted, Ty lee glancing her way with interest.
"The South Pole isn't that bad, is it? I know it must be cold and snowy, but snow- that must be cool."
"Yes, very cool. Ice cool." she joked, making her friend giggle, "But seriously, it's not the nicest place to live. I experienced an endless day during this last summer. It was the weirdest thing I've ever experienced, honestly. My firebending was actually more powerful than usual, so that was a plus, but that was about it."
"Oh, so I wasn't just imagining your beat-downs getting tougher, was I?" Sokka quipped, making her grin at him.
'Well, I don't want to give all the credit to the sun. You did become marginally less competent once your life wasn't constantly in danger." she conceded, making the Water Tribe warrior growl; he, for one, thought that his fighting skills had improved dramatically, and mostly due to her diligent training regime.
"Excuse me." he narrowed his eyes at his girlfriend, pointing a finger at her accusingly, "Do you want to get paralysed in front of the Fire Sages?"
"You wouldn't dare." she retorted, scoffing at the suggestion he'd willingly embarrass her in public; he didn't ever want to do it, though if he needed to prove a point, he was willing to give his girlfriend momentary paralysis.
"You underestimate how bored I am." he raised his chin up, the Princess scrunching her lips up, seemingly surprised by his comments, though her nod suggested she agreed with him.
"Oh, you have a good point. After this whole trip we need to find a nice quiet glade to train in. Then you can paralyse me as much as you like... assuming you can actually achieve it."
"Wanna team up, Ty Lee?" he turned to face the acrobat, whose expression brightened up as she realised she was being offered a chance to train with Azula.
"Oh, I wouldn't mind it. Azula and I used to train together all the time." she grinned at him, turning to face the aforementioned Princess, "Isn't that right?"
"We did. You are a worthy opponent for I, Princess Azula." she conceded, making Sokka snort; the fact she had to voice the fact she was worthy of being beaten up by her was hilarious, "And you are too, so don't think you're getting out of facing my flames."
"I'm not that lucky." he noted, before he smiled at her, "But I'm lucky enough to have somebody like you to train me to become a better warrior."
"A better chief." she raised a finger, making Katara clear her throat, realising what she meant.
"Sorry, a better chief?" she asked her, sounding less skeptical than Sokka would have expected her to be; he guessed that she had come to deduce Azula's intentions, with time.
"Well, that's what he will be eventually." she confirmed, smirking confidently as she eyed her boyfriend, "High Chief of the Southern Water Tribe."
"You know, you really choose my favourite childhood dreams to bribe me with." he conceded, making her already smug grin grow even cockier.
"Oh yes, leadership and revenge. Your two favourite things."
"Other than food, justice and you, that is." he clarified, making her expression shift to one of slight embarrassment.
Ty Lee couldn't help but giggle, "Oh, that's so sweet. Both the justice part and the 'you' part." she eyed the Princess, who cleared her throat, trying to retain her composure.
"U-uh, yeah." he mumbled, "A healthy sense of justice is what any good leader needs."
"Is that what you want, Azula?" Katara spoke up, catching her attention, "To hand down justice?"
"As much as I'd like to say I'm an absolute authority on how the world ought to be... I'm still not certain. But what I do know, is that some corrupt institutions and organisations need to be rid of before balance can be restored." she admitted, the Water Tribe girl raising a finger to her chin.
"The Dai Li?"
"Not just them. Those that have created and upheld the war-machine of the Fire Nation need to be reminded of the definition of prosperity." she argued, making Sokka smirk.
"Oh, so you just wanna redefine that oath, do you?"
"In a way, yes." she nodded, conceding that Sokka's argument had merit, "The oath is the definition of how all Fire Nation citizens ought to act, and it is the one thing that needs to be reinterpreted. Prosperity, glory, honour- these things don't need to disappear, but need to be reapplied in a way that can truly make the Fire Nation great."
"Wow, maybe that should be your coronation speech." he conceded, the Princess chuckling.
"No, that's far too philosophical for my liking. It needs to be crisp and straight-forward." she argued, before smirking, "I am looking forward to giving that speech, though."
"Well, maybe we can help." Ty Lee suggested, "What did you want to talk about?"
"My vision for the Fire Nation, how-" she began, before she was cut off by a sudden shaking.
Katara immediately rose up to her feet, "What was that?" she gasped with fear, looking toward the Fire Sages, who were also alerted by the sound, moving away from the doors of the sanctuary, "Was that Aang?"
"No." the Great Sage shook his head, "That was from outside."
"Sokka." his girlfriend immediately addressed him, her tone tense and serious, in contrast to her wistful one she had held only moments earlier, "Did any of the Fire Sages leave our presence while we've been here?"
"Uh... no." he told her, believing that they, like the four of them, had remained in the hall outside of the sanctuary, waiting for Aang's return.
"You didn't send a messenger hawk, did you?" she stood up, glancing toward the Fire Sages with her steely cold glare; she suspected them, and given their assumed loyalty to Zuko, she had every reason to think that way.
"O-of course not. Why would we want the Avatar's meeting to be disrupted?"
"Because there are greater things at play than the Avatar here. I am the only person who is capable of contending the title of Fire Lord." she stated the fact of the matter, "The Fire Lord wants me in prison, and for good reason. If I was in the mood, I could easily kill him, and there's nothing he could do to stop me."
"We did not." one of the other sages spoke up, "Our direct orders from the Fire Lord were to assist the Avatar if he came to us, and we have. We wouldn't dare put his life in danger."
"But you just said it." Sokka stood up, seeing the same thing his girlfriend had, "You're all loyal to Zuko, above Aang, as he is your Fire Lord. How can we trust anything you say?"
"Because I'm not." one of the sages, the youngest of the lot, Shyu, stood forward, "I have never been loyal to the Fire Lord, and don't intend to be. I would say it to his face if he even asked it of me... or you, your highness." he faced the Princess, "I am loyal to my own duties as sage, and to the Avatar, the bridge between our world and that of the spirits."
"Your words are pretty but they don't persuade me." the Princess conceded, before she turned around to face Ty Lee and Katara, "Get up, we need to make sure the Fire Navy doesn't reach this sanctuary. If they try and capture Aang, then we'll have a much bigger problem."
"That the Fire Nation will be our enemy." Katara acknowledged, grimacing slightly, "As much as I don't like your people, I'd prefer if they didn't try to capture us."
"As do I." Azula acknowledged, before clenching her fists, "But that is my burden. My brother and I can never be at peace, not while he sits on the throne."
"Families, right?" Ty Lee joked as she elbowed her, the Princess rolling her eyes.
"My greatest disgrace." she sighed, before turning to face Sokka, "So, what about you? Do you want to keep the Fire Navy out?"
"I won't let them touch you." he declared, before chuckling, "Though, you'd make it pretty hard just by yourself."
"Agility is a key skill that cannot be overlooked, Sokka." she nodded, before glancing back toward the sanctuary doors, "That's one thing Aang can teach us."
"I'm agile!" Ty Lee raised her fists into the air, "Can you do this many cartwheels?" she asked her, before doing about six cartwheels across the hall, surprising the Fire Sages as she landed in front of them.
"No." she narrowed her eyes, "I don't need to waste my time on learning trivial things like that."
"You're more about mastering the secrets of firebending and all that." Sokka suggested, his girlfriend cocking a smirk.
"Oh, I'm nearly there." she assured him, "I will be the greatest firebending master in history... and that's not a joke."
"I know." he nodded, before gesturing toward the staircase that led down back toward the ground floor of the temple, "Wanna go?"
"You didn't need to ask." she argued, before turning her eyes to the other two girls, "Are you two coming, or what?"
Katara shook her head, "I want to make sure Aang gets out of the sanctuary alright, if worse comes to bear." she acknowledged, the acrobat striding forward with a cocky smirk on her face.
"I'm coming. I don't want to miss out on comparing my chi-blocking with Mister Boomerang over here." she argued, the Water Tribesman pulling out his prized weapon, knowing he'd certainly have to use it.
"I'll show you the power of ranged chi-blocking." he raised his weapon up, the acrobat cartwheeling forward, making her way toward the stairs.
"I'm waiting!" she grinned at him and Azula, the two of them looking at each other with cringed expressions.
"Well, I'm not using it on you." he noted, turning his attention back toward his sister, who was standing beside the Fire Sages; they shared a moment of mutual staring, both expressing their feelings with no words- they both were afraid, even if neither of them mentioned it.
He didn't want to lose anything, or anyone- not again, and not anymore; Sokka knew that Azula was in danger, and by extension, they were all in danger. Glancing back ahead to face his girlfriend and her friend, he followed both of them down the staircase, increasing his pace to catch up; there was urgency in their strides, and he understood why. There were Fire Navy ships probably sitting right off of the shore, bombarding the island; he had felt more shakes and tremors, though he couldn't tell if they were from the volcano or from the bombardment he guessed was going on. They raced down the stairs, and once he caught up to Azula, he had to ask; he didn't know what they were going to do, or how they were going to deal with their potential opponents.
"What are we going to do? Beat them up?" he asked her, the Princess's expression narrowing; when she wasn't cocky, she was afraid, and there wasn't a shred of confidence in her eyes.
"We can't reach their ships without getting to Appa." she noted with a frustrated voice, "We'll have to wait for them to land ashore, and then fight them."
"What if they're already here?" he asked her, the Princess raising her chin up, filling her palms with blue flames.
"Then we'll fight them." she declared, the Water Tribesman nodding, tensing his grip on his boomerang.
"Together." he assured her, her eyes widening momentarily as her flames flickered brighter for a moment, before she nodded, her eyes showing more confidence than they had before.
"Yes, yes we will." she agreed with him, Sokka turning his attention back toward the stairs as they made their way down the long, winding staircase that led down to the main chamber on the ground floor.
Ty Lee got there first, and waited for them, her calmer expression suggesting that they were still alone in the temple, which was a relief to know; when he and Azula arrived, the trio charged on through the chamber, the Water Tribesman taking a moment to acknowledge the impressive size of the chamber, which was lined with ornately decorated pillars.
As they approached the entrance, Sokka swore he could hear shouts from outside of the temple, and Azula coming to a halt suggested he was hearing what he guessed he had.
"That's them, isn't it?" he turned to face her, the Princess nodding.
"They're here for me." she turned her ice cold glare toward the doors, taking a firebending stance, ready to unleash her fury upon the men who had come after them, "Get back, this is going to be hot." she warned both him and Ty Lee, the two of them stepping behind her, both shooting each other worried glances as the Princess took a deep breath.
"I am the rightful ruler of the Fire Nation and these are the people that seek to oppose my reign." she stated the fact of the matter, though Sokka found it unusual that she did so, "They have chosen this fate. It was not something they needed to do."
"What are you saying?" he asked her, the Princess forming two powerful jets of fire in her hands.
"That these men will die if they do not give up." she declared, before she used her firebending to create two fire streams, which merged into one as they roared out of her palms, quickly striking and throwing the doors open; he heard the shouts and screams of soldiers, who were obviously surprised by the impressive show of power, which faded away for a moment as she took a breath.
"Count them." she demanded of Sokka, who stepped closer to eye the men that had come to find them; he could count five, ten, fifteen and then twenty soldiers, all ready to fight them, most them looking startled by Azula's attack.
"Twenty two." he gave her his best guess, given that there could have been more soldiers down the stairs that were still approaching.
"Twenty two is easy enough. I'll soften them up, and then I want you two to take them out." she commanded the pair, who both nodded; they could achieve victory, even if it was going to be a tough fight.
"We can do it." Ty Lee assured her, before the Princess stepped forward creating a fireball in each of her palms, which grew larger with every passing second she held them; the enemy soldiers were recovering, and Sokka realised she would have to make her move quickly, or they would need to take cover from the barrage that was coming their way.
The blindingly bright blue flames then coursed out from her hands, the fire streams widening as they move away from her body, until they covered the breadth of the doorway by the time they reached them; the soldiers were forced to take covered as her flames pushed further forward, carving a path through the doorway for them. He turned to face his girlfriend, realising how physically straining the bending was, even if she could keep it up for some time. She let go of the fire streams, spinning around and sending a kick of flames in their direction, the wave of fire created by just her foot powerful enough to knock a number of soldiers off of their feet. Eventually, the enemy did return fire, sending their own fire streams toward Azula, who was forced to place her hands in front of her to bend the flames away, creating a wall of blue flames between the trio and the soldiers, whose condition Sokka couldn't discern.
"Go!" she told them both, thrust her hands forward, momentarily breaking the wall of flames, which dissipated, allowing the two chi-blockers to charge forward; they didn't relent to make their way toward the enemy soldiers, who were confused by the sudden disappearance of Azula's defences.
The Water Tribesman spotted about five soldiers on his side who were standing in front, all of them benders; he smirked, knowing that benders were easier to deal with, as once their bending no longer worked, they were practically defenceless. They turned their flames toward him instead, which was good, meaning that Azula could conserve her energy while he expended his own; unlike her attacks, his and Ty Lee's would at the very least keep the enemy down for long enough that they all might be able to flee the temple. He rolled under a fire blast that was sent his way, throwing his boomerang into the arm of one of the soldiers, immediately paralysing it; drawing out his club, he used the weapon as a distraction, swinging it viciously at one of the benders, before he threw it to his right, knocking one of the soldiers in the head and distracting another. Though he was unarmed, he was still more than capable of defeating the three undistracted soldiers, one of whom had a paralysed arm. His other arm was jabbed quickly enough, and Sokka tossed him forward into one of his comrades to again distract. Reaching down, he grasped his boomerang, though he was forced to somersault forward to dodge a fire stream that was aimed right at him. it singed the back of his tunic, but he wasn't hurt; Sokka didn't sigh with relief, instead turning around and throwing his boomerang out on a wide arc, aiming to knock out the soldiers who were still trying to attack his girlfriend. The men he was fighting were confused why he threw his weapon away once more, but he reminded them that he didn't need it; jabbing one of them in the torso, he disabled his bending, and Sokka couldn't help but laugh as he tried to send a fireball into his head, only to make an odd gesture with his palm.
"Having a little trouble there?" he smirked at him, before weaving around a fireball sent by another of the firebenders.
He grasped the wrist of the chi-blocked soldier, before he pulled him forward, throwing him into one of the soldiers who were still trying to attack him. He then used the opportunity to land a few jabs on that soldier, chi-blocking his arms, before he kicked him in the chest, throwing him down to the ground. One more soldier remained, who had defiantly picked up Sokka's own club to use against him.
"Really?" he asked him, amused by his choice; he dodged a swing of his own weapon at him, before he chi-blocked the soldier in the leg, who still tried to hit Sokka, falling over as he did so, unable to maintain his balance with just one leg.
He grabbed the club out of his hand, before using the weapon to knock the soldier out with one quick swipe to the side of his head; he glanced over to the men who had been standing behind, those wielding weapons, rather than bending; he decided to ignore them, and instead headed for the men who were still attacking Azula, one of which he had successfully knocked out with his boomerang. Tripping one of them over with his club, he swiped his boomerang off of the ground before throwing it out behind him, knowing full well that it would arc right back toward him. Facing the firebenders, two of six coming to attack him over Azula, he used his club to block a fireball sent his way, before using his club to strike one of the soldiers in the leg; he was counted lucky, seeing that Sokka's boomerang returned at that moment, hitting the soldier right behind him in the head. Though it didn't knock him out, the fact he was occupied for a moment helped the Water Tribesman greatly.
"Good job, Mister Boomerang!" he congratulated his own weapon, knowing it deserved the credit for making such a graceful motion and striking where intended; his words confused the firebenders, but their confusion turned to fear as he threw his club once more striking one of them in the chin, knocking him out cold.
The firebender he had already distracted with his boomerang came next, and was chi-blocked by a quick jab to the arms and torso. He glanced to his left, realising that Ty Lee had come in to join him. Now all of the firebenders had their attention on him and the acrobat, Azula could freely use her bending to wipe the floor with the soldiers. Sokka was hit in the shoulder with a fireball, and though it hurt, his training with the Princess had given him enough stoicism to handle the stinging as he reached forward to jab one of the firebenders in the torso. Disabling his bending first, he then paralysed his arms, tripping him over with a swift kick to his left shin, before turning to face the next soldier. They were panicked now, and Ty Lee knocking one into another didn't help their morale; the thing that really kicked the bucket was Azula firing a massive fire stream with both her hands into the group, throwing them to the ground, giving the two chi-blockers the perfect opportunity to finish them off. Jabbing them in the torso a few times, he disabled each of their bending and arms, one of them trying their best to resist by crawling away, though Sokka was able to stop him with a quick boomerang to his head, knocking him out cold. Turning around to face the non-bending soldiers who were still standing by the doorway, fearfully awaiting what they would do next. He didn't approach, waiting for his girlfriend to make the first move; she did, striding on past him, knocking out of one of the downed firebenders, before she pointed to them accusingly.
"Go back to your boat and leave this island at once. I don't want to have to burn you all alive, but if that is what it takes, then I will do it." she warned them, the soldiers stepping back with fear, breaking into a sprint as they ran away from Azula, knowing that they were no match for her bending prowess.
"Oh..." Sokka mumbled, realising that they had won 'the fight', "That was easier than I thought."
"Not so fast." she raised a hand up to warn him, walking up toward the entrance of the temple, "They still have a ship full of men. I doubt that was all of them." she argued, gesturing toward the ship that Sokka could see sitting in the bay beside the temple; he took note of the fact that Appa was nowhere to be seen.
"Where's Appa? We need him to get out of here." he noted, the Princess shrugging her shoulders.
"He's a smart creature, he flew off when they arrived. Aang's got that whistle, so as long as he gets out of that sanctuary soon, we'll be fine." she told him, her indifferent tone actually somewhat reassuring, given the context; Azula never sounded afraid, so if she didn't sound angry, that meant that she thought they were on top of things.
"I think we did pretty good." Ty Lee placed her hands on her hips, "Those guys didn't stand a chance."
"No, they did not." Azula nodded, "I'm the most powerful firebender alive... I don't mean to brag, it's a fact." she raised her hand up to stress.
"Of course, we know that." Sokka nodded, before gesturing to the fleeing soldiers, "And I'm pretty sure most of the Fire Nation knows that too."
"Aang better get out soon." she mumbled, gesturing down toward the shoreline, where they could clearly see a number of soldiers mustering, even more firebenders for them to face off; the deck of the ship that was in the bay was also lined with catapults wasn't a good sign either.
"The Fire Sages said that your bounty is wanted alive, right?" he asked the Princess for clarification, to which she nodded, her expression suddenly becoming more fearful.
"But that doesn't mean they can't kill you two." she admitted, grasping Sokka by the shoulder, "Get inside! Right now, before they do something even stupider!"
He heeded her warning, Ty Lee following right after him while the Princess remained by the doorway; as they walked into the temple once more, he made out the faint sound of footsteps on the staircase above them, which suggested that Aang was done. He sure hoped he was, because he didn't know how they were going to fight off catapults and even more firebenders if they came around.
The acrobat turned to face him, "Her aura just got a whole lot darker." she warned, Sokka glancing over toward his girlfriend, unsure what he could do in that moment.
"She's afraid... and I can see why." he admitted, "Not for herself, but for us."
The Princess continued to stride forward, and took a firebending stance once more, ready to attack the approaching enemy troops; the Water tirbesman instinctively looked around the entrance, taking note that the firebenders were all still incapacitated, though a number of them were conscious, and merely paralysed.
"You won't get away." one of them warned with a snarl, "Traitors can never escape."
"You hear what happened in Yu Dao?" he quipped in return, the soldier, who was slumped over, simply rolling his eyes back.
"Some insane bastard tried to destroy the city." he noted, Sokka reminded of the fact that Zhao had been there that entire time, doing the most insane thing he'd seen any Fire Nation forces do in his time with Azula, or before that.
"Well, not just that. We escaped. We can do it again. And this time... we have Appa."
"Who?" the soldier asked, the acrobat grinning.
"Oh, dummy, our flying-bison! He's the fluffiest cutest guy you'll ever meet. Though, I don't want you guys to meet him. He might try and eat you."
"That'd be hilarious." Sokka acknowledged, making Ty Lee raise a fist up.
"Exactly!" she beamed at him, "Maybe we should get him to do that and scare these guys off."
"Not the worst idea I've heard today." he nodded, thinking her idea had some merit, given that a massive six-legged creature was pretty intimidating, even more so if he was trying to eat you.
He suddenly heard the sound of Azula's flames roaring as she sent another fires stream toward the approaching soldiers; Sokka's eyes widened with awe as he turned to watch her move her palms forward, her hair whipping back from the wind the pure heat created. He wouldn't say it out loud, but he thought she looked pretty majestic, though that feeling was pushed out of his mind as he made sight of something in the corner of his field of view. To their right, a flaming ball was flying right toward his girlfriend.
"Azula, to your right!" he screamed out, the Princess turning her hands upward to strike the boulder, destroying it in a booming explosion, though the debris still scattered around the entrance, a piece knocking Azula in the shoulder, throwing her to the ground.
"Azula!" he screamed her name, realising what had just happened; he raced forward, not knowing what to do or what to say, only knowing that he had to help her somehow.
He could hear her groans as he approached, kneeling down beside her; she blinked a few times as she grapsed at her shoulder, groaning with pain as she did so.
"Don't move." he told her, the Princess looking up at him with fear in her eyes.
"S-Sokka... the soldiers." she gestured with her left hand down the hill, Sokka taking note that they were still coming up the path toward them.
"Fuck." he snarled under his breath, putting his arms underneath her, hoisting his girlfriend into his arms, "Fuck." he repeated himself, louder that time, "We need to get back inside. Hopefully Aang gets here quickly. I heard him on the stairs... I think." he told her as he paced himself back toward Ty Lee, who had a shocked look on her face.
"Is she alright?" she asked, the Princess raising her left hand up.
"My shoulder feels like it was blown apart, but other than that, I'm fine." she admitted, her joking tone not amusing Sokka in the slightest.
"She's not." he shook his head, "I don't know if that broke anything, but you're definitely out of the fight now."
"I can still bend." she snarled, "I can still take them." she declared with a stronger, more confident tone.
"No, no you can't." he told her, as much as he didn't want to refuse her, "Please, just let Aang take care of it when he gets back."
"You're assuming he can." she narrowed her eyes at him, Ty Lee stepping a little closer.
"Just trust the kid a little. I think he can do it. We need to stay here, away from those catapults." she argued, the Princess sighing, letting her head lean back as she looked up into Sokka's eyes; he tried not to panic, but looking at her in such pain, he couldn't help it.
"You must be going crazy." she mumbled, making him sigh, not wanting to laugh when all he could feel was worried.
"No, I just don't want you to do anything stupid." he retorted, the Princess pouting slightly.
"Hey, that's my line." she complained, which seemed completely absurd, given the situation; he was unsure if she was just trying to make light of the situation, but that didn't make him feel any less worried about her.
He glanced toward Ty Lee, who was looking over in the direction the enemy soldiers were coming from; he didn't know how much time they had, but they'd have to do something, and fast at that.
"Guys!" he heard Aang's voice call out, making Sokka sigh with relief as he saw the young Air Nomad running toward them at an exceptionally fast pace, while Katara struggled to keep up behind him.
"Took him long enough." the Princess rolled her eyes, before glancing in the direction of the enemy, "Are you going to put me down so you can fight them?" she asked, the Water Tribesman narrowing his eyes; he wasn't under the presumption he could beat a whole squad of firebenders- the closest he had got to that was when they attacked that Southern Raider ship, and he was hurting for a few days after that.
"No." he assured her, "I'm betting Appa will solve that problem for us." he argued, making her eyes dart around, as if she was trying to find the sky-bison.
"Where is that giant snot monster, anyway?" she asked him, making Sokka snicker.
"Hey, hey, don't let him hear you call him that. He mightn't let you ride on his saddle anymore." he warned her, the Princess rolling her eyes.
"I doubt that." she dismissed his words, her attention drawn to Aang and Katara, who were obviously worried by seeing Azula in his arms.
"What happened to her?" his sister asked him, sounding the most worried for the Princess's safety he'd ever heard her be.
"A catapult nearly killed her. She just got away with a rock whacking her in the shoulder." Sokka clarified, the seriousness of his words ensuring her that his deadpan phrasing of the situation was in no way a joke; perhaps in another situation, it might have been, but at that moment, he was only feeling dread, and wanted to ensure her safety, "You could test out the bison whistle now." he suggested to Aang, whose expression brightened up upon hearing those words.
"That's exactly what I was thinking!" he piped up, pulling the whistle out of his pocket.
He showed off the ornately carved whistle that was in the shape of the sky-bison, before taking a deep breath, readying himself to blow into it. When he did, instead of some kind of high pitched ringing sound, like he'd expect, he heard pretty much nothing. Sokka blinked a few times, before clenching his fist.
"Are you stupid or something?" he growled, "Did you think to try it before we ended up in a life and death situation?"
"Uh..." the Avatar cringed, before blowing into it again; Momo screeched at him, jumping off of his shoulder, suggesting to Sokka that whatever sound the whistle was making, it certainly was annoying their little furry friend.
"See, even Momo doesn't like it... or maybe he can hear something." he raised a finger to his chin, feeling uncertain as to whether the whistle simply made a sound that people couldn't hear, but sky-bisons could.
"Uh... I don't mean to panic, but those soldiers are getting close." Ty Lee gestured in the direction of the approaching squad of firebenders, Sokka gritting his teeth, turning his eyes to the acrobat.
"Should we try and chi-block them?" he asked her, the Avatar stepping forward.
"I can help." he assured them, before he pulled his staff out, "They can't firebend at us if I blow it back at them." he argued, the Princess snickering.
"I mean, you do have a point." she conceded, before turning her eyes up to meet Sokka's, "Put me down. If you're going to go kick some arse, at the very least do it without me in your arms."
"Uh... yeah." he nodded, not wanting to release her from his hold, but he knew that she was right; he wouldn't stand a chance in a fight if he was carrying Azula.
He knelt over, placing Azula on the ground, where she was able to sit herself upright, Katara stepped up beside them, looking down at her.
"I'll keep her safe, Sokka. You go save the day." she elbowed her brother, who rolled his eyes.
"You know, I'm not really a hero. Isn't that meant to be Aang's whole thing?"
"Yeah, pretty much." the young Avatar nodded, Azula snickering.
"Go beat the crap out of some people who you don't like." she gestured toward the firebenders, Sokka nodding, cracking his knuckles as he turned to face the enemy soldiers; he didn't like them, and he wanted to protect Azula, thus he would take comfort in paralysing them and making them cry like a bunch of little kids.
As he pulled his boomerang out once more, he stepped up beside Aang, who had taken a fighting stance, ready to put his mastery of airbending to use; suddenly, he heard a roar behind them, and saw Appa flying right toward them, past the temple, and then around in front of the group, flapping his tail down to create a massive air blast which threw the soldiers off of their legs.
"What about the catapults?" Ty lee asked them, Aang narrowing his eyes, obviously feeling quite annoyed by the turn of events.
"I can take care of them." he assured them, before gesturing to his sky-bison, "Everybody, get on!" he told them, "We're getting out of here."
Sokka sighed with relief, realising that they wouldn't need to fight any longer; he turned back to face Azula, and approached her, knowing that he ought to carry her. Even if it was her upper body that had been hurt and not her legs, he knew it would be a struggle for her to walk when she was in such pain. She looked up toward him with a similar expression of relief, though her right eye was twitching shut, as if she were trying to hold back the pain and not shout; he placed his hands underneath her legs and back, lifting her back off of the ground, trying his best not to touch the part of her that had been struck by the bit of debris. Rising up to his full height, he carried her along, though he heard the sound of Katara clearing her throat behind him. He turned around, seeing her holding his club in her hands.
"Forgetting something?" she asked him, Sokka making a sheepish grin.
"Oh, sorry... I completely forgot." he mumbled, before he gestured toward Appa, "Could you take it? I need to carry Azula." he clarified, his sister not even nodding, simply pacing ahead with his weapon in her hands.
As he paced toward Appa, he looked down into his girlfriend's eyes, seeing her distant, pained expression; she didn't say a word, probably just trying to hold in the pain that she was feeling. In turn, he didn't ask her anything, simply remaining silent as he carried her toward the sky-bison. When they got to the side of the saddle, he realised he couldn't exactly lift her up, though he immediately received the assistance of Ty Lee, who had already climbed aboard.
"Give her to me, Sokka." she asked of him, the Water Tribesman complying, allowing her to raise Azula up onto the saddle, lying her down by the rear.
Sokka took a deep breath before leaping upward, grasping the edge of the saddle and pulling himself up; though it took a lot of strength to do so, he was able to get himself onto the saddle, making a loud sigh of relief as he did so. His relief was broken when his club landed on his gut, making him gasp out for air; he wanted to shout at his sister for surprising him, but he literally couldn't, struggling to just take a breath.
"Seriously?" he asked her, his sister's smug grin making him forget for a moment that they were fleeing from the Fire Navy.
"Sokka, could you take the reins?" Aang asked him, the Water Tribesman curtly nodding as he tried to breathe correctly, taking hold of Appa's reins, whipping them once before saying the call that he knew all too well by that point.
"Yip-yip!" he told the sky-bison, who roared, whacking his tail down once before he flew up into the air, rising up above the volcanic landscape, Sokka looking down at the firebenders that he hadn't had to fight, all thanks to giant fluffy creature that he would probably call his friend by that point, despite the fact he couldn't speak.
"Appa, you're really a life-saver, you know that?" he smiled at the sky-bison as he used one of his hands to pat him, the other holding onto the reins to turn him around, flying him right toward the ship, which Aang had said he would take care of, which explained why he was on the reins and the Avatar wasn't.
"So, what did you find out in the sanctuary?" Ty Lee asked the young Avatar, who cleared his throat, sounding nervous of all things; if he wasn't worried, but nervous, then that suggested that whatever he had learnt must have been something that may make one or a number of them uncomfortable.
"Uh... a few things." he admitted, "I did eventually communicate with Roku, but not for very long."
"Like what?" the acrobat prodded him, the young Avatar scratching the back of his scalp.
"Well, that what we're doing is right." he acknowledged something that obviously wasn't the thing that was making him uncomfortable, "Bringing peace to the Four Nations is what I need to do, and he told me that Azula's dad, Ozai, is still the biggest threat to peace."
"Huh, really?" Azula raised a brow, before chuckling, "I mean, I'm not surprised, but it's not like my father can do much in prison."
"Yeah, he's supposedly a really bad guy, according to Roku." he admitted, "I don't know how he knows that, but I guess he and the other Avatars must have been able to see what was going on outside when I frozen." he conceded, shaking his head, obviously going off track, "Sorry, I need to get rid of these catapults." he stood up, excusing himself from saying any more.
"There's no need." Azula assured him, raising her left hand up, "One side of my body is completely uninjured." she stressed, a blue fireball appearing in her hand.
"A-Azula, you don't need to do that. You're already hurt enough as it is." he tried to to warn his girlfriend, who simply narrowed her eyes at him.
"Focus on flying us around so I can get a good angle." she commanded him, the Water Tribesman sighing as he turned the reins around, turning them back towards the ship, which they had already flown over.
The fireball in her hand grew larger and larger by the moment, her breaths becoming audible as the fire itself began to give off radiant bursts with her own heartbeat and breath; it was something he tried not to look at, just focusing on getting Appa to go exactly where they needed to be. They moved toward the deck of the ship on a low angle, the men on board turning to face them, The Princess closing her eyes for a moment as they made their final approach. That moment of peace was very short, and was followed by her eyes widening and her expression shifting to a snarl as she sent a massive fire stream into the deck of the ship, blowing the catapults apart, one by one as they flew right past the deck. Once she relinquished control over her flames, she took a deep breath outward, before lying down on the saddle. They began to fly away, from both the island and the ship that had come to capture her, and Sokka felt a sense of relief overcome him, if only for a moment, until he remembered that she was in such intense pain and probably was exhausted by that point. He could see it in her face, the absent-minded, but still pained look on her face, as she looked back toward Aang.
"You were going to say something else." she observed, the young Avatar making a cringed smile.
"Uh, yeah, I was." he mumbled, his unenthusiastic tone saying more than his words about how he felt; something was wrong, and Sokka could definitely tell that it was important.
"Uh... Aang, I don't know if this is the best time." Katara conceded, revealing that she had been told what they had not.
"What is it?" the Water Tribe warrior turned around, "Something bad happened, didn't it?"
"Bad... bad might not be the right word." Aang conceded, his eyes turning to meet the Water Tribesman's, "But I learnt something, something important."
"What?" Ty Lee asked, "Come on, you've got to tell us now." she prodded him, leaning in closer, almost as if she was going to chi-block him to force the information out.
"Who you are." he turned to face Azula, "Who you really are."
"What do you mean?" she narrowed her eyes at him, "I know for a fact who I am. Crown Princess Azula, daughter of Fire Lord Ozai and the true heir to the Fire Nation."
"Not just that. I think... I think there's a reason you found me." he admitted, the Princess's expression shifting from one of amusement to concern; though she wouldn't show that she was actually worried, the lack of humour in her eyes suggested just that.
"What, like fate?" Ty Lee raised a brow, "Like there's something special about her?"
"I'm the most prodigious firebender born in a generation. I am special."
"I know why." Aang added, Sokka raising his hand up to gesture to the young Avatar.
"Just spit it out already! What is it that's so special about her?"
"She's his descendant."
The look on Azula's face was enough to tell Ty Lee that Azula didn't approve of the fact that she was supposedly the descendant of the last Avatar, who was an enemy of the Fire Nation, despite having originated from it; at least, that was what she had heard, but she had learnt to doubt what she had learnt at school by that point.
"Wait, what?" she raised a brow, just wanting to clarify she had heard what she had, "Avatar Roku's descendant?"
"Y-yes." Aang nodded, making her eyes widen; if she was the descendant of an Avatar, that would explain her amazing firebending, which had to be the best in the world- nobody else bent blue fire, only her.
The Princess gave out a sigh, looking toward Aang with an uneasy look, "I mean it makes sense, but how?"
"He didn't explain. I guess it must be your mother's side." he concluded, making her scoff, sounding unamused by that point; Ty Lee knew how much of a sore point her mother was for her, and knew that of all things was going to set her off.
"My mother wasn't even a firebender... you're saying she's a descendant of an Avatar?" she asked her, sounding skeptical of the fact.
"Bending isn't really hereditary." Katara clarified, "I got waterbending, but none of my parents or grandparents are benders."
"Well that explains... a lot." her voice quietened to a mumble, glancing back toward Crescent Island as Appa flew further away from the danger that lay there, before she narrowed her eyes, "You're trying to say that I found you because of some mystical connection?" she asked the young Avatar, who glanced around, unsure what to say, but simply nodded.
"I- uh- think so."
"I seriously doubt that, but then again... I was born lucky. I didn't really think what my father meant when he said that, and now... now it makes a lot more sense."
"Maybe it was on purpose." Sokka guessed, grimacing slightly, "That your father married your mother just so he could have children with more powerful abilities."
"That definitely sounds like him." the Princess almost laughed, before turning her eyes toward Aang, "My father has never been the most altruistic person."
"He burnt his son's face." Katara added with a snide, almost despising tone, before chuckling, "What did you say about amusing fates, Azula?"
"Oh, I'm well aware that my father is completely responsible for his own downfall, even if Zuko was the one to beat him. He never would have had to fight my brother if he had simply... restrained himself."
"You say that like he wanted to do it." Sokka looked at her with disgust, the Princess shrugging her shoulders.
"He probably did. He really hated my brother... and even if Zuzu's always been incompetent, even I can say he overreacted." she admitted, before sighing, "But none of that matters anymore. What matters is that we do... something." she trailed off at the last part; Ty Lee hadn't taken much notice of it before, but her friend seemed to be uneased by the very fact that she was actually going against her father.
"That's what we're going to do." Aang confidently declared, turning his head in the direction they were flying, "We're going to fix the world."
"And get some rest in between." Sokka piped up, before he raised his arms up, letting out a loud yawn, "I'm gonna lie down for a bit."
"I'm the one who got hurt and you want to sleep?" his girlfriend quipped in return, making Ty Lee giggle; she could tell that Sokka, despite his skills, was pretty lazy.
"Hey, hey, you can sleep too. I'm sure you'll need some after that hit." he suggested, the Princess raising her chin up with indifference.
"I don't need to sleep yet." she argued, "The sun's still high in the sky." she gestured up with her right hand, cringing slightly as she obviously ached from the bruises that Ty Lee guessed were forming all up her shoulder.
She turned her eyes to Azula, unsure what to say, given the revelation they had just heard; the fact that she was a descendant of Avatar Roku didn't make her any different as a person, but it must have made her think about her life in a different way. If the whole reason she existed was because somebody wanted to use the bending potential of a bloodline, it would be enough to even unnerve her; she had always been the cold, tough one, but even then that didn't mean she didn't have feelings. She could become jealous, angry, sad or afraid, just like any person; just because she wasn't always kind and cheery didn't make her a bad person, and Ty Lee knew that for certain. Before, she had been just as cold and calculating, but she had never really been like her- she had never had any romantic fun like she had; she had once felt bad for her, but now seeing her friend with a caring and dutiful boyfriend, she was the one feeling jealous. Not that Azula ever said she was jealous of her, but she could tell that she had been.
"Are you asleep with your eyes open or are you really just staring at me?" Azula quipped, making the acrobat break out of her trance; she had just been idly glancing her way, but now she realised that she had perhaps made her friend feel a little uncomfortable.
"Oh, uh, sorry, Zula." she apologised, trying to think of the best way to ask what she had been thinking, "Are you... okay? I mean, I can see that you're sore, but- urgh- I can't speak straight." she grumbled, frustrated that she couldn't just get across what she wanted to.
"I'm fine." she raised her left hand up, "I know we're safe, as long as we keep moving, that is."
"I was thinking more... about you. Your aura isn't that bright anymore."
"My shoulder feels like it's been ripped apart. Do you expect me to be in a good mood after that?" she quipped, Ty Lee shaking her head.
"N-no... sorry, I just- I want you to be okay."
"You can't do much, Ty Lee." she conceded, "Unless you know how to heal bruises or make some herbal pain medicine, of course." she raised her left hand up.
"Well, what are we doing next?" she asked her, "You must have a plan... you always have a plan."
The Princess pursed her lips into a smirk, approving of her judgement, "I certainly do." she agreed, "There's only one way we can go now?"
"North?" Sokka asked her, jumping into the conversation after he had been lying down nearby.
"No, idiot. To my people." she chided him, the Water Tribesman snickering at her, rather than even considering her insult.
"You mean all those soldiers that may or may not support you anymore?" he asked, the Princess, raising a finger to the side of her head.
"Not just them. My guards must be out there too, and if they are, they can provide me with what I need."
"What you need?" Ty Lee raised a brow, unsure exactly what she was referring to.
"Appearances." she simply told her, "I need to look and lead like a Princess would if I want to get my fleet back."
"You don't mean Zhao, do you?" the Water Tribe warrior cringed, "You can't seriously be considering going to get his help? He still wants to conquer the Northern Water Tribe, remember?"
"I know." she nodded, "That's something we can use to our advantage. He has a motivation, and therefore, he'll be a lot more willing to support me if I offer to assist him."
"Assist him?" Katara raised a brow, obviously worried about what she was saying, "You remember this is the guy who wants to kill some spirits to get rid of waterbending. You said it yourself, he's insane."
"I know he's crazy, but he's the only person I believe would be cocky enough to join me. Most of the other forces who had the choice would have gone to join the coalition against my brother, but Zhao's a different breed of soldier. He wants to be remembered, not to fight it out in a long and bloody civil war."
"So, he wants to show off to the entire Fire Nation?" Ty Lee asked her, the Princess nodding.
"Essentially." she confirmed, "He's probably still trying to conquer the North Pole as we speak, and the quicker we get to him, the quicker we can intervene."
"So..." Katara mumbled, "You want to actually stop him."
"Of course I do. I never agreed to his plan in the first place. But, without his ships, I can't exactly take control of the colonies, let alone end the civil war." she argued, Ty Lee sighing, realising that her friend had something sketchy in mind.
"So you wanna trick him?" she asked, the Princess smirking, not nodding to confirm this time.
"I want to make sure there is peace. A massive fleet poised to conquer the Northern Water Tribe isn't going to help us achieve that; we need to be careful, however."
"You don't want him catching on, you mean." she argued, the Princess smirking.
"If he doesn't arrest me, we will win, no matter what, and that's assuming that he had the balls to do it."
"How can you be so sure of that?" Katara asked her, "That's a whole fleet of ships you're talking about."
"I trust that those men are loyal to the Fire Nation and not to him." she raised a finger, "I might not be the Fire Lord yet, but I'm sure that some might be persuaded to our cause. It is a simple proposition; if they fight for me, they will never have to fight again."
"Tell that to those men we fought with the rebels." Sokka spoke up, "They didn't agree with you, did they?" he asked her, surprising Ty Lee; of all the people in the group that could be skeptical of her intentions, it was her boyfriend.
"They were set on getting rid of Zuko, because they didn't care for my plans." she argued, "I will offer these men something better."
"That they'll be out of the job?" he raised a brow at her, the Princess crossing her arms.
"They won't be. Not for a while, at least. I'll need them to do the exact opposite of what they've been doing for the past few years." she conceded, "They will be our way of restoring your tribe to its former glory. We can use them to destroy the Southern Raiders, scrap their ships and bring the resources your tribe needs to rebuild itself. Trade will give them a new purpose, one that requires a lot less violence." she explained, the Water Tribesman scrunching his lips up, rather impressed by her exposition.
"Well then, I guess that's what we'll be doing then." he conceded, before narrowing his eyes, "I still don't trust Zhao, though."
"We don't have a better choice. All the other fleets are loyal to Zuko. Admiral Chan might be a choice, but for all I know, he's probably courted himself with my father's loyalists." she explained, Ty Lee narrowing her eyes in thought; where Azula was going with her plan sounded a lot more like the old Azula than the new one she had been getting used to.
"So, we're going to use the Fire Navy to take control of the colonies?" she recounted what Azula was actually trying to say.
"That was my original intention, and it is still mine to this day. The colonies are wealthy, and will provide me with the power I need to place myself as a true challenger to the throne. I can't just go around calling myself Fire Lord without some Fire Nation citizens to rule."
"But... Azula, what are we going to do?" Aang asked her, sounding a little uneased by all her talk of politics, "I'm the Avatar. I can't exactly get involved with your take over, even if I want to. I don't think the Earth Kingdom or Water Tribes would be very happy if I did."
"I understand that, Aang." she nodded, "I don't need you to do anything like that, what I need you to do is ensure that my father's loyalists aren't the ones in control of the Earth Kingdom."
"So you want to work with Bumi and any other people we find in the Earth Kingdom?" he asked her, the Princess nodding.
"Yes. They will be necessary, seeing that I don't intend to be the Earth Queen. Somebody needs to take charge over the Earth Kingdom, and I'd prefer if it were someone we could trust."
"Bumi's trustworthy." he assured her, "I know he can help. And I'm sure he must know some people around the Earth Kingdom who could help us."
"We'll need more than just him. There must be some remnants of the Earth Kingdom Army somewhere." the Princess noted, turning to face her boyfriend, "Sokka, how many groups did you and the warriors meet with before you came after me."
"A few." he mumbled, "You want to go find some of those guys?"
"Well, I want to know about the kind of people you were dealing with."
"Mostly Earth Kingdom troops. Those that kept on fighting, or at least, were holding onto what land they had left. We mostly stole Fire Navy supplies for them, and in exchange we'd get a little money." he explained, the Princess nodding.
"Hmph... so if we could go around the Earth Kingdom and coordinate with these groups, we might actually have a chance of making a somewhat united Earth Kingdom against my father's loyalists and Zuko's forces."
"Uh... yeah." he nodded, not looking too sure of himself.
"That sounds like a lot of work." Ty Lee admitted, the Princess shrugging her shoulders.
"We won't need to do all the work ourselves. The Water Tribe ships will be coming north soon enough, and if they split up, they can gather as many allies as possible. I'm sure that with news of the Avatar's return, they might be a little more willing to put their chances in with us."
"Ah..." Aang raised a brow, "So we really don't need to do much fighting. We're just sending out the message?"
"Well, there will be fighting, no matter what." she conceded, grunting as she tried to move her right arm. "Look at today, or last night."
"But stopping it all, that's our goal." Katara added, "That's what all of this will achieve. And once Aang's mastered the elements, we'll have even more bargaining power."
"Precisely." the Princess smirked, "We've just got to better our odds."
"Better get back to working with that scroll, Aang." the Water Tribe girl admitted, the young Air Nomad's expression brightening up.
"I'm looking forward to that." he admitted, "I don't know how long it'll take us to get back to the Earth Kingdom, though."
"Well, it took us all night to get to Crescent Island." Sokka spoke up, raising his head up from the saddle, "So, by dinner-time, we should be getting close to the coast."
"Your favourite time of the day." the Avatar added, Sokka wincing as he grasped at his gut.
"We need to go buy some more food. As skilled a hunter I am, I really can't be bothered looking around for berries and some little forest creatures." he conceded, Ty Lee's eyes narrowing in thought.
"Well, are we going to head to another town anytime soon?" she asked the group, who looked amongst each other with unsure faces; Azula was the first to speak up, as she had expected.
"We won't go to any town we don't need to, and when we do, we need to ensure we're in disguise. The Fire Nation- whether loyal to Zuko, my father or fighting for themselves, control almost every city and town in the colonies, according to what I've heard so far. We've attracted the wrong attention by intervening in that battle." she conceded, the young Avatar's eyes moving down in shame.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean for this all to happen. It's my fault you got hurt." he argued, the Princess shrugging her shoulders.
"I was the one who suggested we even go to the temple in the first place. It was my idea." she conceded, "I'm not letting you feel guilty for something I had complete control over."
"I mean... you didn't have complete control. We could have-" Katara began to argue, the Princess raising a finger to silence her.
"Shut up. You know I'm the one who comes up with ideas around here, because the two of you can't read maps, know anything about the military threats, and Sokka's..." she trailed off, eyeing her boyfriend with suspicious eyes, "You didn't suggest against this at all, actually."
The Water Tribesman shrugged his shoulders, seeming indifferent to the whole ordeal, even if he had been, only minutes prior, panicking about how she had gotten hurt, "In hindsight, maybe it wasn't the best idea." he conceded, "But I didn't have the power of hindsight. I thought you were making the best decision."
"It was still a good decision." Aang assured them, "I got to speak to Roku, even if it wasn't for that long."
"I have a feeling we could have gone without it." Azula narrowed her eyes; even if she didn't say it, she would have obviously preferred to have never found out about her ancestry- it must have only confused her, and brought up feelings that Ty Lee was sure nobody would ever want to experience.
"Don't worry." Sokka raised a hand up, "We just got divine confirmation that your dad's an arsehole and we're going to give him a beating if he ever decides to leave that prison cell he's cowering in."
"You're assuming we could even fight him." the princess noted, obviously skeptical that she could beat her own father; the acrobat didn't know too much about Fire Lord Ozai, but she knew for a fact that he was the one who had guided Azula's training, and his level of bending was what she had aspired for.
"Aang's going to master the elements before we have to worry about that." he argued, before smiling, "At least we don't have to worry about Sozin's Comet or anything like that. I have a feeling this whole civil war thing would have been a whole lot worse if every firebender was as powerful as you."
"That would have been the most poetically stupid way for my country to destroy itself." she argued, her expression becoming more serious, turning to face Aang, "If Roku said my father is the greatest threat, then where does that leave Zuko?"
"He didn't mention Zuko." he conceded, before his expression became more tense, "Uh... is that a good thing?"
"It depends." the Princess conceded.
"Depends on what?" the Avatar prodded her, Sokka rising up once more, clearing his throat.
"It depends on whether he's okay with the fact Azula's going to overthrow his arse." he declared, stating what Ty Lee guessed he would; he was pretty defensive of Azula's claim for the throne, and though that didn't surprise her, she didn't know how much he really knew about Zuko, at least to make a fair judgement of his character.
"My brother doesn't have the stomach for the things needed to establish peace. If that's what Roku and your other past lives want you to do, then I'm sure they could tolerate my intentions." she declared confidently, her smirk assuring her friend that at least for a moment, she was focused on the future and not on the past.
The silence that fell on the saddle clearly showed the divide in thoughts on the matter; Katara and Aang were probably a lot less enthusiastic about Azula taking the throne than Ty Lee and Sokka were. The acrobat knew the old Azula, and she was getting to know the new one too, and she could say without a doubt the new Azula was the kind of person she knew who could rule the Fire Nation. She was fairer, and more importantly more sympathetic to others, much more than she had once been; even if she was the confident, cocky Princess she had always been, that didn't mean that she couldn't see where she might have gone wrong.
"So... are we just going to sit here?" she asked out, the others glancing her way; the Avatar shrugged his shoulders, lying himself back on the saddle, patting the fur of his sky-bison.
"Uh, yeah." she told her, "It's not like we can do anything up here, anyway."
Katara's expression suddenly shifted to a snarl, which seemed to have come out of nowhere, and she pointed toward her brother accusingly, "Sokka, we're not playing that game again." he warned her, making Ty Lee raise a brow; she liked games, and that was going to be better than having any kind of serious conversation.
"What game?" she raised a brow, Azula lifting her left hand up, gesturing toward her as to warn her.
"We can't play it anymore because I scared them." she clarified, making her giggle.
"Oh, you scared them." she smiled, amused by the idea of some antics her friend might have gotten up to, "I can't imagine what you did."
"It's not what you think." Sokka cringed, "I'd rather not say it."
She became nervous, realising that she didn't know what he was referring to; it must have been something Azula hadn't spoken to her about, which suggested it was a serious matter.
"Ummm..." she mumbled, trying to think of a way to get everyone in a better mood, "Maybe another game then. Something that won't scare anyone."
"The silent game." Sokka joked, although she couldn't tell if he was just playing around or if he really wanted them all to shut up.
"I'm being serious." she stressed, turning to face the Princess, "You wouldn't happen to have any good ideas, Zula?"
"The last thing I'd know anything about is games." she conceded, before turning her eyes to her boyfriend, "Have you got any decent ideas for a change?"
The Water Tribesman shrugged his shoulders, "Not really." he mumbled, "I don't think we'll do anything like last time."
"What actually happened?" Ty Lee prodded once more, "You guys obviously learned something- uh, bad."
"Let's just say there's a reason we're all okay with fighting Azula's dad when it comes down to it." Katara told her vaguely, but what she implied was enough for her to connect the dots; she knew her friend too well, and she knew also that her father wasn't the kindest man.
He had obviously done something, or perhaps, was going to do something, and the group didn't approve of it; the way the Water Tribe girl had gotten angry, the disgust in her voice, it told her it must have been bad.
"Well then..." she mumbled, "I guess we won't play whatever game you did that time." she conceded, Azula chuckling.
"It was more of a mutual interrogation session." she joked, which earned a few chuckles from the others, though they weren't sounding that amused- dry laughter was never a good sign.
"How about some kind of laughing game? You've got to make the other person laugh, and they've got to try and not to." she suggested, knowing that was something that would certainly brighten up everyone's auras.
"MNot a bad idea." Sokka conceded, before he glared at his girlfriend, "Though I already know who's going to win."
"Oh, I do have a sense of humour, savage." she warned him; her insulting way of referring to the Water Tribesman didn't seem to faze him, and he turned around to look at his sister and the young Avatar.
"Well, do you two want to join in?" he asked, Katara crossing her arms, looking rather unimpressed.
"You're right, Azula will probably just win this no worries." she concluded, the Princess smirking.
"I will, and my injuries help. Pain makes it so much harder to laugh." she argued, before turning to face her boyfriend, "Sokka, you can go first." she suggested, before glancing around, "Who wants to try and make him laugh?"
"I think I've got an idea." Aang piped up, before turning to face the Water Tribe warrior, clearing his expression and straightening his posture; it was like he was about to interview him, but instead, he actually intended to make him break down laughing, "Sokka, I think we have to talk about the whole Wang Fire thing."
"oh, so you caught onto the joke?" he raised a brow, Aang shaking his head.
"uh, no, I mean you're Wang Fire." he gestured to him, before pointing to Azula, "She's Saila."
"Zaira." she clarified, "If we're in Fire Nation territory, that is." she clarified, the Avatar nodding, before he turned to face Katara, "Have you got a fake name?"
"Uh... Rataka?" she asked; flipping her name around was a good trick, and surprisingly enough, that was almost enough to make her brother laugh, "I nearly got him!" she hammered her right fist into her open left palm.
"Sorry... I'm not going to fall that easily." he raised his hands up, his smug expression making Azula roll her eyes; she obviously didn't think he was going to last as long as he claimed he would- Ty Lee was inclined to believe her judgement, knowing that if anyone had a good understanding of his sense of humour, it would be her.
"Wait, so what about you?" she raised a brow, the Avatar placing a hand on his chest, feigning surprise.
"Oh me?" he asked, before he smirked, turning around to reach over the side of Appa's saddle; though it seemed like a dangerous move, given they were up in the air, she could tell that he had something amusing in mind.
When he turned back to face them, his head was covered with a tuff of Appa's fur and he had a fake moustache to go alongside, making him have the appearance of a very clear skinned old man, though she guessed if he was dirtied up a little, he'd really look like one, "The name's Bonzu Pippinpaddleopsicopolis the Third, I'm your grandpa." he pointed to his chest proudly, imitating the voice of an old man.
Sokka snorted under his breath, covering his mouth as he realised he had just made a sound that could be considered a laugh.
"Forfeit, I know you were about to laugh." she declared, pointing at her boyfriend accusingly.
He raised his hands up, conceding that Aang had indeed humoured him, "That was pretty good, I won't lie. I do recommend figuring out a better outfit though, 'cause the guards or soldiers or whatever are going to see right through that."
"Sorry." he conceded, "That's why I got the bandana, and that Fire Nation disguise."
"Now all you need to do is grow out some hair." Katara noted, before raising a brow, "Speaking of which, I noticed you're getting a little fuzzier on top."
"Really?" he asked her, before his expression became more dumbstruck, "I can't remember the last time I actually had hair."
"What colour is it?" Ty Lee asked, leaning closer, "Is it curly? Or straight. I'm just curious." she asked him, the Avatar leaning back in return, obviously a little unnerved by her curiosity.
"Uh... I think it was straight, and coloured black." he conceded, "I don't know if it's going to look any good.'"
"Hey, would you rather be getting spotted out in every town we got to or have a bad hairdo for a bit?" Sokka quipped, making the Avatar shrug his shoulders, scratching at the fake moustache he had given himself.
"Who are we going to try and make laugh next?" he asked them, the group looking amongst themselves.
"You won." the Water Tribe warrior conceded, "You can go next."
"Good luck." Aang smirked, pulling the fake wig of fur off of his head and tossing it off the side of the saddle, letting it be pulled apart by the wind as it fell down into the sea below.
"Well, who can make him laugh?" Ty Lee spoke up, Katara raising a brow with thought.
"Hmmm... I think I might have a few stories that could crack a smile." she suggested, her brother's expression widening.
"Oh no." he mumbled, "Please, just don't make fun of me."
"I can see where this is going." Azula conceded, raising her left hand up to her chin, "Please, amuse us, Katara."
"It would be my pleasure." she grinned deviously, suggesting that she had a story in mind that would be insanely embarrassing for her brother, "So, you know that Sokka's a warrior, right?"
The Avatar nodded, "Yep. He went to fight with your dad and the other warriors against the Fire Nation." he just reminded himself of that fact; the fact that had eventually led to him and Azula meeting, and from that to Aang being broken out of an iceberg in the South Pole.
The more that Ty Lee thought about it, the more she thought fate was certainly skewed in their favour, though perhaps not in the most straightforward way; Azula did not defeat her brother, but instead travelled to the most isolated place on earth and released the Avatar from his century long icy slumber.
"Well, before he did any of that, Sokka was the only man in the village, and... he attended to his duties as a warrior."
"Like what?" he raised a brow, "Did he have to go around and club innocent little animals or something like that?" he asked, making Katara giggle; if she'd been the one playing, she would have lost at that point- her brother was less amused, crossing his arms as he held a serious glare toward the young Avatar.
"I, for one, think seal tastes pretty good." Sokka argued, the young Avatar grimacing with disgust; his vegetarianism meant that the Water Tribesman's apparent love of meat was something he didn't like, though he seemed to be tolerant of it.
"It's better than stewed sea-prunes." Azula added, making the acrobat raise a brow.
"Sorry, what? Sea-prunes?"
"Trust me, you're better off not knowing what they taste like... but seeing we're heading to the North Pole, I have a feeling we'll be eating it." she grimaced, both Sokka and Katara smiling at the thought.
"Sounds good to me." the Water Tribe teen piped up, before he turned his eyes back toward his sister, "Please... just don't say what I think you're gonna say."
"Oh, yeah, so warrior duties." Aang realigned their conversation back to the original topic, "So, what was it about warrior duties that's meant to make me laugh?"
"Well, Sokka took his job very seriously. If you haven't noticed, my brother's a very serious guy." she acknowledged, the last bit obviously sarcastic and mocking of her brother's character; he frowned, all while Aang forcefully straightened his lips.
"Nearly got you." Ty Lee grinned, before turning to Katara, wanting her to make him laugh, "Well, how serious are we talking?"
"Training the next generation of warriors serious." she clarified, her brother face-palming with embarrassment, "He made sure to give them drills and tell them about what they'd have to do in the case the Fire Nation attacked. I thought it was a waste of time, but Sokka, he was very vocal in arguing otherwise."
"How old were these 'warriors'?" she asked, Katara smirking.
"Oh, the eldest had to be about six." she acknowledged, making Aang look at her with confusion.
"What, so he was training a bunch of little kids to fight the Fire Nation?" he asked her, "That's not really that funny."
"Oh, I know it's kinda disturbing that he had to do it in the first place." she conceded, her expression becoming more serious for a moment, before she smiled, "But Sokka's little warriors, they didn't really like his training regime. Drills and sparring is something that four and five year olds don't really like."
"A drill sergeant for little kids." Azula scoffed, "Sokka, you've always been into bossing people around, haven't you."
"Not as much as you, your highness." he retorted, Ty Lee snickering, though she covered her mouth, not wanting to offend her friend.
"Well, Sokka was bossing these little boys around, and he demanded they didn't take their toilet breaks during training... because for some reason, peeing is the most disgraceful thing for a warrior to do." she eyed her brother, who raised his shoulders up, seeming indifferent to her claim.
"They kept using them as an excuse to get out of training." he argued, Katara sighing for a moment before turning back to Aang.
"So, Sokka had built this watchtower. He really was proud of it. Trust me, it was the greatest structure in our whole village." she assured him, though Ty Lee realised a few moments later that she was being sarcastic as she saw Sokka's frown grow more intense.
"Oh, okay." Aang tried to hold back a smile, realising exactly what she had meant; her brother wasn't very good at his 'job', from what it sounded like.
"The little warrior boys would take watch there, and Sokka would too." she explained, before clearing her throat, "So, one afternoon, he went up to take watch, checking if my father had returned yet, and he sat down on the wall, right next to his watchtower."
"Were the boys there?" the young Avatar asked, Katara shaking her head.
"Oh, no, they weren't, but they had left him a little gift. Sokka realised soon after he sat down, that he was sitting in a puddle, which is a rare sight at the South Pole. A yellow puddle." she clarified, Aang unable to hold back a laugh, Azula and Ty Lee joining in with him, all finding the turn of events hilarious; he'd sat in a puddle of urine, which was only there because he demanded the boys didn't pee when they were doing their duties.
"Ah, that's a good one!" he exclaimed, slapping his thigh, "I can't believe you sat in pee. Why didn't you look?"
"Because everyone pees in the tent, where they're supposed to." Sokka crossed his arms.
"So, did you think that was a good story?" she asked them, Azula smirking.
"I love the fact my presumptions about him keep getting confirmed." she crossed her arms, "Though, then I realise he's my boyfriend... who sat in a puddle of piss."
Sokka turned his face down with embarrassment, before his glare moved to his sister.
"Sometimes I wish I was born a waterbender so I could throw snowballs into your face when you act like an arse."
"I thought you hated waterbending." she crossed her arms, the Water tribesman turning his eyes away.
"Oh, I don't like any bending... but I do wish I had it."
"Who needs waterbending when you have the coolest skill ever, chi-blocking?" Ty Lee grinned at him, the Water Tribesman's grimace shifting to a small, appreciative smile.
"Thank you, Ty Lee. Seriously, thanks to you, I was able to share my first intimate moment with my girlfriend." he told her, the acrobat's eyes widening as she realised what he was saying.
The first time they had kissed, it had been when he had chi-blocked her, maybe for the first time; something that she was indirectly responsible for, by training her abilities with Azula.
"Wait! I thought you weren't going to say it!" she exclaimed, pointing at him accusingly, Azula face-palming with frustration.
"For fuck's sake, Sokka." she mumbled, looking at her boyfriend with a despising glare.
"But it's true! Chi-blocking got me a girlfriend!" he exclaimed, Ty Lee grinning at them; she had finally gotten what she had wanted, and a lot sooner than expected.
With her arms crossed, Azula turned to face her boyfriend, obviously disapproving of what he had said, "That's a gross oversimplification."
"Says the person whose favourite hobby is beating me up." he crossed his arms, the Princess sighing; the slightly open mouth and exasperated expression on her face was a rare thing for Ty lee to see- a concession that she was the one who had been wrong.
"Why of all times is it now that you have to be right?"