The Return @tubendo
Chapter 12

Reapplying the herbal medicine she had bought, Azula cringed slightly from the stinging it made as it touched her bruised shoulder; though she had been injured nearly two weeks prior, she still found it fruitful to continue applying medicine to it, knowing that it would hamper her in any fighting situation. Her bending style required her to be agile and quick on her feet, somewhat like the young Avatar who she was trying to guide; though she hadn't taught him firebending yet, she was still trying her best to teach him in the way of leadership and decisiveness. She wanted him to be the kind of Avatar that would not fail, that would be considered in his actions and do what was right; she knew enough from what she had learnt of the previous Avatars that a number of them were fools, either too arrogant or too light-handed. Wisdom was the one thing she had learnt with her experiences that the old Azula might have respected her for; she wouldn't have been so happy about most of the other things she had become, however.

She felt her boyfriend's hand on her shoulder, knowing that he was the only person who'd approach her without speaking, "Does it hurt?"

"Not as much as before." she simply told him, turning her eyes to face him; his warm and considerate smile was something that she'd grown to appreciate, even if part of her was infuriated that she could even fall for something like that, "I see you're all dressed up."

He ran his hands down the tunic he was wearing, the same Fire Nation garbs he had worn during their time at sea, "Oh, do you get nostalgic looking at me wearing these?" he asked her, the Princess scoffing at his words.

"I preferred you out of it, actually." she raised a finger, making him blush, her words obviously a surprise to him; making him flustered was something she could enjoy, knowing that it showed his adoration of her and his fears at the same time.

"Don't say that too loud. Ty Lee will be hounding us all day." he warned her with a whisper that was clearly too loud to be considered an effective one.

"Then maybe you should whisper a little quieter, savage." she chided him, before gesturing to the bandage that sat in the bag she had in the ground in front of her, "Could you dress the bandage over?"

"Uh, yeah." he nodded, "That's what I thought you might need help with." he conceded, the Princess chuckling.

"Oh, I don't need the help, your laziness has just rubbed off on me." she pursed her lips upward, her insult not fazing him.

"My laziness is something you need to pick up. Maybe then you'll be less worried about wasting time." he raised a hand to suggest that she was actually better off being lazy; she scoffed at his words, completely disagreeing with such a presumption.

"We waste most of our day on a sky-bison or looking for food. You really think we should be lazier?"

He pulled the bandage out of the bag, shrugging his shoulders as he looked her way, seeming indifferent, "As long as we're on the move and getting to the North Pole, then I'm not worried about being lazy."

"We're getting closer now." she conceded, before sighing, "But we've still got some distance to go... and some people to find."

"That's why we're going to this town, right? You think your people might have passed through here?" he clarified; he already knew the fact of the matter, but it made sense that he was questioning the fact specifically- certainty was hard to come by when it came to figuring out exactly what happened to her supporters.

"We're east of the colonies, and Pohuai. It's only natural that my men would have been here at some point. If that messenger hawk you sent got through in time, maybe they didn't get beat by my brother's forces." she considered the possibilities; she didn't know anything for certain, given her knowledge on the matter had dissipated after Sokka got his last bit of intelligence by sneaking into Pohuai Stronghold.

As he began to wrap the bandage around her shoulder, he couldn't help himself from asking, "Do you think your guards got out?" he asked her, the Princess shrugging her shoulders; she didn't have the answer to every question he asked her, unfortunately.

"I know they would have fought Zuko's forces, though I don't know if they would have escaped. If they did, maybe they'll be around. I guess they'd have gone to Zhao, if they really thought I was dead."

"Zuko had wanted posters for you, so I'm guessing he publicly stated you were alive. The guards must know that."

"I feel you're overestimating their loyalty to me as an individual. Sure, they respected me, but I doubt they have been waiting around for me." she conceded, his eyes narrowing in thought.

"Well, let's just hope they're not dead or anything." he conceded, making her chuckle; her laughter covered up the guilt she might have felt over letting her guards die.

Even if they were sworn to protect her and would eagerly give up their lives in her name, her loss at Zuko's hands would be only made more painful by the idea that her guards had then perished because of her failings.

"I doubt they're that incompetent, Sokka." she quipped in return, the Water Tribesman crossing his arms as he finished applying the bandage to her back.

"Well, I would say the warriors fought well against them." he argued, the pride in his voice something she immediately wanted to squash; he and his fellow warriors, no matter their skills, definitely lost the fight, even if they had sunk her Royal Barge.

"And lost." she added, her boyfriend scrunching his lips up as she turned around to face him.

"Well, maybe we lost, but the Captain's pride will never be the same." he joked, reminding her of the rage said guard had after he found out the Water Tribesman who she had recruited was the one who had beat him up on the deck of the ship.

"I thought he had an acute overreaction." she conceded, before she stood up, pulling her shirt back up so her shoulder was covered.

"I mean he's probably not like what we ended up doing." he conceded, the Princess smirking.

"He can't argue against my judgement. That'd be borderline treason. "she argued, the Water Tribesman narrowing his eyes at her, slightly amused by her words.

"Oh, really? Then how come you let me commit borderline treason every single day?" he asked her, the Princess raising a finger to her chin.

"I'm saving up all of the acts you've committed so I can hand down an even worse punishment when I finally decide to rid myself of you." she joked, the Water Tribesman scrunching his lips up.

"Well, that'd be a sad day. I'd actually have to chi-block you for real." he conceded, the Princess raising her chin up.

"You say like that you could actually do it." she suggested, Sokka raising his hand up, putting his fingers in the position they would be to immediately jab her.

"I can." he argued, "And I might."

"I don't recommend it." she warned him, the Water Tribe warrior tapping her collarbone lightly.

"Oh, I thought you liked it when I take charge." he suggestively told her, making the Princess look up at him, their eyes locking together; she held back any blushes or uneasiness she might have felt, just accepting for that moment that she wanted him to be strong- even over her, at times.

"I do." she conceded, tracing her finger up his chest, "But only when it's appropriate."

"Ah..." he leaned back, trying to hold back a grin, "I see."

"You're going to be waiting for a while." she conceded, "It's not even midday."

"Aw..." he mumbled, "Well, at least we might go down and get some snacks in the town in the meantime."

"I never said I'd let you buy anything." she crossed her arms, the Water Tribesman smirking.

"Hey, who said I was paying." he suggested, the Princess raising a finger.

"I will concede I am impressed by your idea, but I don't recommend your reason for getting thrown in jail for stealing some jerky."

"It won't be." he assured her, before he turned his head the other way; she followed his own gaze, taking note of Aang, who was still getting changed into his disguise on top of Appa. She had to take a moment to realise he had started to actually grow some hair; a short black scruff, but it was something to cover his tattoos. It framed his face and made him seem a little less like an Air Nomad and more like some random kid, though his arrow still sat right there for all to see on his forehead. Sokka glanced back the way she was looking, before he let out a light chuckle.

"Oh, so you're just as weirded out by the hair as I am?"

"I don't regret telling him to grow it, but I won't lie, it just doesn't look right." she admitted, making her boyfriend cover his mouth, not wanting to laugh.

"Uh... yeah." he nodded, awkwardly turning away from the Avatar, who hadn't noticed they had been looking at him as he dressed himself up in his Fire Nation disguise.

"Are you two ready to go?" she heard Ty Lee ask out, striding around past Appa; she had a bag strung over her shoulder, but other than that, she looked exactly the same, though Katara, who was right beside her, certainly looked a lot weirder than usual- dressed in Fire Nation clothes, imitating Azula's own hairstyle, she looked as far as possible from the Water Tribe girl she actually was.

"Yeah." Sokka nodded, "Azula's shoulder is done, so, Aang, we're waiting on you." he turned to face the young Avatar, who glanced over as he tied the bandana around his head.

"Just gimme a second." he raised a hand as he reached over to pull out another article of clothing; when he pulled it out, he revealed it was a dark red sleeveless vest- he slung it around his shoulders and buttoned it up, completing his Fire Nation disguise.

"Now we all look like a bunch of Fire Nation teenagers." Azula acknowledged the fact of the matter.

"That's exactly what we're going for." Ty Lee grinned, "Now nobody will bat an eye when we walk into town."

"Says the person who's wearing the same clothes they always do." she crossed her arms, her friend shrugging her shoulders with a smug smile.

"My clothes are right for any situation." she argued, the Princess narrowing her eyes, thinking that was a claim she shouldn't make before they had gone off to the Northern Water Tribe.

"You will regret saying that at some point." she warned her, before glancing up toward Aang, "So, are we going?"

"Well, you're the boss. Are we?" he asked her in return, making the princess roll her eyes.

"Yes." she simply told him, striding forward as Sokka followed behind her; she threw her bag back up onto Appa's saddle before walking past Ty Lee and Katara, who in turn, followed her as well.

"Were we going to buy anything?" her boyfriend asked her, to which she shot him a glare.

"Don't you dare think about wasting our money. We're nowhere near the North Pole yet." she argued, Sokka not giving her the expected quip in return; instead, he raised a finger to his chin, considering the situation.

"If only there was a way for us to make money." he mumbled under his breath, Azula turning her eyes away.

She knew that they might be able to sell their labour, but that'd just be a waste of time, in her opinion; she wasn't going to stoop as low to do peasant's work when she didn't need to. Glancing down the hill toward the nearby town, she took note of its size; it was the biggest town they'd visited that week, and the first that seemed to be anything close to a Fire Nation colony. Most of the other towns were just occupied Earth Kingdom settlements, while the one before her seemed to be a little closer to what she was used to in the homeland, though obviously a lot poorer, which made sense, given the nature of the Fire Nation colonies- it was where the poorest of her country went, even by choice or force, to live new lives, though they weren't necessarily much more prosperous. She began to make her way down the hill, winding down through the lightly wooded terrain below, and the others, as she expected, followed right after her; Ty Lee sped up and began walking alongside her, obviously wanting to talk about something, as she usually did. After spending nearly two weeks together with her again, she was pretty sure her friend was up to speed on most things that had happened to her in the interceding years, even the things that she had preferred to stay secret.

"So, Zula, what are we going to look for today?" she asked, the Princess glancing her way idly.

"If there's been any anti-Zuko forces in the area... as of recent or in the past few months. I need to figure out exactly where my supporters went, and I'm still struggling to piece everything together." she admitted, the acrobat furrowing a brow in thought.

"You know, they might have just gone into hiding. Maybe that's why you can't find any information on them." she suggested, Azula shaking her head; that was unreasonable, at least in the case of the army that had been heading for the colonies- it couldn't have just disappeared.

It either had to have disbanded or joined up with some other forces; she couldn't see them joining Zuko, though joining some of her father's loyalist forces or even joining Zhao, who was probably her most powerful supporter to begin with. She didn't know whether Zhao had even considered to make himself the leader of her rebellion after she had been forced to flee, given that he had been thrashed by Zuko's forces; it was a possibility, but she didn't know for sure.

"Maybe Zhao's got them. That'd explain why he's still fighting the Northern Water Tribe... all that fresh manpower must have given him more of a chance." she conceded, before shaking her head, "Not that I even know what he's been up to. The military reports I was lucky enough to steal didn't help me that much."

"Sounds like you need to find some more information." Ty Lee concluded, "You don't want to break into a military base or something like that?"

"That's the last resort." she conceded, knowing such an option was still on the table, though only if she was still unable to find her allies after crossing over the north western portion of the Earth Kingdom; they did need to get to the North Pole, but she could tolerate one more detour, if only to ensure she could find the supporters she would need to ultimately retake the throne, "I just hope there's some chatter around here. Somebody has to know something. People don't just disappear." she argued, before chuckling, realising such a counterclaim was walking a few strides behind her, "Unless you're Aang."

"Hah, true." Ty Lee's brows rose up, though she wasn't as amused as she was by the idea, "Are we going to get some food, though? I could go for something other than nuts, rice and random forest creatures that your boyfriend keeps killing."

"Hey, don't act like the taste of fresh game isn't good." Sokka piped up, the acrobat shaking her head.

"No, it's really not that nice. I prefer roast komodo rhino." she argued, the Princess licking her lips.

"Well, I could go for some of that." she conceded, her friend turning back to face her.

"You wanna go find some?" she asked her; it was as if she was desperate to procrastinate, and Azula had to concede that once they were done looking for information, she could tolerate going to look for some place to eat.

"Fine. But only after we've scoured the markets and taverns of this town for any useful information. Got it?" she told her, the acrobat nodding, clenching a fist as she declared her victory non-verbally by raising it up into the air.

She turned her attention back ahead of her, keeping her pace steady as she made her way down the hillside, winding around the trees the lined in; they were good cover for Appa, but they made it a little harder for her to get down to the town if there was no path through the woods. They did quickly reach a small, well-trodden path, and she led the group along down it, eyeing along toward the edge of the town. Nobody seemed to bat an eye as they got closer to town, Azula turning to face her friend.

"Well, at least nobody recognised us on the spot." she conceded, "Now, I want us to split up. I know that we fucked up the other time... but I think I can trust Katara and Sokka to behave by themselves."

"Wait, does that mean I'm going with you?" Aang raised a brow, the Princess shrugging her shoulders as she gestured to him to follow.

"What did it sound like?" she quipped in return, the Avatar taking the drift and following after her; she did know that Katara was the one at fault, as she had incited them to steal the scroll, but she was sure that if Aang was by himself, he'd get up to antics that she couldn't foresee; it was simply safer to have him tag along and keep him out of any unnecessary trouble.

"So, uh, to the tavern, you said?" Sokka asked out, the Princess glancing back toward him and giving him an affirmative nod, "Well, I'll go there." he concluded, "Are we going to have a meeting spot?"

"There'll be a public square in the centre of town. That's where the Fire Nation authorities like to give their speeches and publicly humiliate criminals." Azula clarified, making both Aang and Katara look at her with surprise.

"Oh... that's a thing?" the Water Tribe girl asked her, sounding uneased by the idea.

"You're lucky if you get humiliated and not executed." she simply clarified, knowing that humiliation, no matter how degrading, wasn't death, "So, we'll meet there. Got it?"

"Yep." Sokka confirmed his understanding, the others nodding along; a few moments later, they all split up, with Katara and Ty Lee going off in one direction, while Sokka went in another.

As she made her way down the street, moving toward the centre of town, Aang remained behind Azula, exactly where she wanted him to be. It wasn't that she didn't think he couldn't help, but when it came to the matter of persuading others, she'd prefer to try and teach him a few things instead of letting the Avatar loose on some random colonial town that would probably not appreciate his presence.

"Uh, what are we looking for?" he asked her, Azula unsure whether he was just trying to make conversation or whether he was just wanting to know what they were doing; if it was the former, she would ignore him, and if it was the latter, she'd just feel disappointed that he was unable to conclude their intentions after a number of campfire talks about exactly what they were looking for by going to Fire Nation occupied towns and villages.

"My people, obviously." she chided him, "The men who I trusted to help me take down my brother, who I failed." she spoke with a colder tone, which clearly unnerved the twelve year old boy.

She wasn't as concerned about her failure as she had been in the past, and she preferred to use it as a justification for her constant serious attitude; in reality, she simply wanted what she had always wanted, her rightful place as Fire Lord, and she was willing to do or say whatever it took to achieve that.

"Do you think people are actually looking for you?" he asked her, the Princess rolling her eyes.

"Have you seen the bounty?" she asked him, "I'm pretty sure 'the personal thanks of the Fire Lord' is a great justification for every man and his komodo rhino to come hunting me down." she joked, the Avatar scrunching up his lips.

"Do people really want to meet the Fire Lord that badly?" he questioned once more, Azula shaking her head; she hadn't been thinking about the thanks of the Fire Lord literally.

"I didn't mean his thanks like a pat on the back. He'd give whoever caught me whatever they wanted. If they wanted a castle to live in, he'd probably concede it just for my capture."

"Oh..." he mumbled, his eyes glancing around the street nervously, looking at all the pedestrians they walked by; there was a lot of people, and now she had just given him the thought that any of them could be in to take her bounty, "So, I guess that explains the disguises."

"You heard those sailors, aiding me is an act punishable by life imprisonment." she spoke with a stern but quiet voice as she raised a finger toward the young Air Nomad, who cringed back with fear, readjusting his bandana.

"Okay... well, at least we've got Appa." his expression brightened up, before his voice dropped to a near whisper, "We can get away from anyone that tries to capture you."

"That's what we're trying to avoid, Aang." she added, "We're looking for people that are going to be hard to find, and it doesn't become any easier if we're running from every settlement we visit."

He simply nodded, before he pointed ahead of them toward a street-market, which seemed to have just opened up for the lunch hour, "We can start right now." he suggested, the Princess simply striding forward, agreeing with him without having to say a thing.

As they approached the stalls, she was able to hear people's conversations, though none of them were awfully interesting; she heard a few things about a bridge collapse, and something else about a local's farm being burnt down, supposedly by thieves. Though those things were information, they didn't exactly tell her anything about the military situation; the commoners had to know something, even if they weren't directly involved in the military. She glanced to her right, taking note that Aang was walking on ahead; she decided she wasn't going to let him out of sight, and continued to pace along, a little faster, so she could catch up with him. She continued to eavesdrop as she made her way along, hearing a few new titbits of gossip; some earthbenders supposedly rioting and being sent to prison a few days earlier, and a military group moving through the town in the past week. The last bit intrigued her somewhat, but the two individuals discussing the matter only touched on it briefly, which meant she didn't have much hope of listening to them any longer. Continuing along, she could see that Aang's attention had been drawn by something, and he looked back toward her, gesturing for her to come closer with the tilt of his head. She sighed, deciding to increase her pace further, and thus, lost track of the conversations she could hear around her; she just hoped whatever the Avatar had to show her was helpful in their efforts.

"What is it?" she asked of him, his right hand simply pointing to a nearby alleyway that parted through the block to their left.

Stepping a little closer, past a stall, she was able to make out some graffiti on the walls that lined the alleyway; she scanned around, taking note of a few bits of graffiti, mostly just names tagged or obscene insults to individuals, but one stood out amongst the rest. It was a bit of painted text, that stood out in bold against the more simplistic carvings and markings.

"'The blue dragon lives'." she read it aloud, her eyes widening as she realised what the graffiti was referring to, or rather whom; it spoke of her, giving her a rather impressive epithet.

It made sense, of course, given her blue firebending, but the relation she felt to her uncle's own title, the Dragon of the West, certainly amused her.

"Well, well, I'm impressed. People really do still think about me. I'd say I was flattered, but I am the Crown Princess of the Fire Nation." she pointed her thumb to her chest smugly, the Avatar raising a finger to hush her.

She realised she might have spoken slightly too loud and cringed upon looking behind her; nobody seemed to be paying attention to them, so she made a sigh of relief before turning to face Aang, who had a worried look on his face.

"I should have spoken a little quieter." she conceded, her friend looking toward the market stalls with an uneasy look on his face.

"Uh... so are we going to keep looking?"

"Listening." she clarified, "We need to listen. If we hear anyone speaking about something that sounds anything like that," she pointed her finger toward the graffiti, "then we'll be one step closer. We can find new supporters or old ones; they both give me the same thing in the end."

"But you'd prefer to find that army that just," he raised his hands up to gesture as if it had just blown up and dissipated into the air, "disappeared."

"They didn't disappear. They simply got away from my brother... from what I can tell. Assuming Sokka's message worked." she conceded, the Avatar raising a brow.

"His message?" he asked her, the Princess stepping closer as she moved back toward the main street, "When did he send a message?"

"That was when he snuck into Pohuai." she clarified, "Originally, he was just going to get some food, but when he found out our former ally was going to turn against my forces and trap them, he sent a message to warn them."

He nodded along as they made their way back out onto the street, turning to head back in the direction of the town centre, "Well, how do you know they got it?" he asked her, the Princess shrugging her shoulders.

"I don't." she conceded, "Let's just keep listening, maybe we'll hear something actually half-useful." she directed, turning around and continuing to walk along at a slow pace, pretending to browse the stalls, when in fact, she was just listening into the conversations of those who were actually browsing.

She heard much the same she had heard the first time; a bridge collapse kept coming up, and she decided to ignore any mention of it and move on. She didn't know how something like that could be worth so much talk, until she considered the fact that everything came overland, and a bridge becoming inaccessible meant supplies couldn't reach the village. That made her furrow a brow, considering whether rebel forces could have had something to do with it, viewing such a move as an underhanded way to weaken the local Fire Nation forces by limiting their supply lines.

She shook her head, knowing that she was overthinking it, and paid attention once more to the conversations she could hear; then she heard something she'd expected to hear- somebody talking about her, or more specifically, her escapade with the Fire Sages. She instinctively touched her bruised shoulder, remembering how much it had hurt when she had first been hit; she paid closer attention, actually trying to distinguish what they were saying.

"And now the Fire Sages are off in some prison." she heard one of them, a young man speak with a cautious, almost fearful voice, "The Fire Navy declared them traitors."

"Huh... they can do that?" the other person asked, a slightly older man, the first nodding along, Azula turning her eyes away to make sure they didn't realise she was listening.

"Yeah, you know the Princess is wanted for treason, right?" the first man argued, his voice dropping to a whisper; Azula could hear her young friend gasp behind her, and noted that he covered his mouth, obviously not expecting to hear what he had.

"Didn't she just do an Agni Kai to contest the throne? I forgot the part where she committed treason." the older man argued, the other raising a finger up to hush him.

"Don't say that too loud. You could get accused of shit. You know what they did to the last people who declared loyalty to Ozai in public? They were executed." he warned his friend with an almost panicked whisper, the other man cringing with fear; Azula turned to eye him for a moment, and he didn't realise that he was looking at the very woman he spoke of.

"Executed?" she mumbled under her breath, continuing along, letting the men have their conversation, "Now, we're getting somewhere."

Aang increased his pace, walking up beside her, looking at her with an uneasy eye, "Did he just say somebody got executed for supporting your dad?"

"You heard correctly." she confirmed, keeping her eyes ahead of herself as she kept her focus on listening out for any more interesting conversations.

She didn't hear many more interesting things after that, only hearing a few mentions of random, more trivial gossip, like how some man had been arrested for running around the streets naked, or that somebody was supposedly followed by a spirit when walking through the nearby woodland. None of these interested her, at least not in the sense that they'd get her anywhere closer to her supporters. Azula came to a halt as they reached the end of the street market, finding themselves at the public square, in the centre of which stood a currently unused stage, probably for travelling troupes and the local government whenever they had an announcement to make. She took note of a few benches that sat by the side of the square, looking inward, away from the various businesses, mostly workshops and eateries, that lined the outer edge of the square. She walked over to the bench, sitting down, hoping that if she remained there for a bit, somebody might walk by with a useful conversation.

"Aang, here." she simply gestured to the seat, the young Avatar's expression turning to one of surprise.

As he sat down beside her, he looked at her with interest, "Oh, are we waiting for the others already?"

"No. I just realised it's easier to sit here and listen to people as they walk by than walk around ourselves." she clarified, Aang nodding, before he glanced around the square.

"Do they have festivals here?" he asked her, seemingly out of the blue.

"Festivals?" she raised a brow, not remembering the last time she'd actually witnessed one, "Perhaps." she guessed, turning her head slightly to the left so she could eye the pedestrians as they came by nobody seemed to stand out as being shady or secretive, and she guessed that if there were rebels in the town, they'd conceal themselves with ordinary clothes.

She didn't even need to find them, only evidence of where they were, more specifically than her current, six-month out of date intelligence, alongside the small amount of information she was able to gather from General Zhang's documents. He did have information on her father's public supporters, that being parts of the military in open revolt, as well as the general structure of her brother's forces and where their strengths were found, and in converse, their weaknesses. That was the extent, however, of what she could find. Nothing about her allies, and nothing about what had happened to them. Zhao was alive, and that was all she was riding on at that point; if he was, then he must still have support, whether from his naval forces alone, or from her former supporters as well.

"I'd like to see a festival." he admitted, "It's been a while since I've had some actual fun." he added, more quietly than the first bit, obviously not wanting to annoy her; he knew that she wasn't the kind of person concerned with fun, though that didn't mean that she didn't find certain things enjoyable, she just wasn't going out of her way to go do things that would be clearly dangerous for both her own safety and the safety of their group.

"There's no need to complain, Aang." she chided him, "We're staying safe. Once you're in the Northern Water Tribe, maybe... but until then, we're staying on task. Got it?"

"Y-yeah." he gulped, giving her a curt nod before he turned his eyes away from her, looking over to the other side of the square.

She turned her focus back to listening behind her, making sure she was paying as much attention as possible to those who were conversing amongst each other; once again, she didn't find anything interesting. A few more mentions of the bridge collapse, and some other things such as a musical performance by the local school. Azula rolled her eyes, really not caring for most of the things they talked about, and decided that she'd try Aang's tactic of looking rather than hearing.

Glancing over to the other side of the square, she watched as people walked around it, taking note of their dress and general appearances. The population of the town seemed to be slightly in favour of the Earth Kingdom inhabitants, though everyone's clothing was rather similar. Drab, brown and gray, sometimes with a little more colour, especially in the case of the more wealthier looking individuals. Nobody looked out of the ordinary, which was frustrating; she was certain the town could not be as mundane as it first looked, given what she had already heard and seen. People were fearful to speak of her, and somebody was drawing graffiti in her name; people knew of her, and she was sure that some people might have favoured her over her brother. But even then, she was more interested in finding those who she already knew had sworn themselves to her, even if it had been before the events of an Agni Kai duel.

She wasn't even considering trying to find those who were in Ba Sing Se, knowing that the Dai Li had either retaken the city, or had brainwashed whoever she had put in charge so it wouldn't even make a difference. Either way, she would need to find her supporters, or try her luck with gathering new ones, which would seem a lot harder when there were already two contenders to the throne; even if her father was in prison, he was alive, and thus, she was not the rightful Fire Lord in the eyes of those that considered him, even if some might believe she was able to rule her nation. Aang tapped her on the shoulder, the Princess glancing toward him, slightly annoyed that he'd taken her away from her focus on the appearances of the people she could see walking by.

"What is it?" she asked, the Avatar simply gesturing toward a few individuals who were wearing drab cloaks, very similar, almost suspiciously so, to those Katara and Aang had worn in the town they had found Ty Lee; they all looked to be young men, none of them older than thirty, and all of them looked a little worse for wear.

She would say they were soldiers, but calling them that wouldn't make sense, given that they were in a town under her brother's rule; they had to be rebels, of some kind, though whether if they were her father's kind, supporters of the Earth Kingdom, or perhaps remnants of her own army, she had no idea.

"They look like Bumi's guys... kinda." the Air Nomad boy acknowledged, the Princess giving him an affirmative nod, watching as the group of men walked by; she waited intently to hear their conversation, and the first thing she heard already sounded suspicious.

"You'd think there'd be more guards." one of them noted, Azula clenching her fist, almost excited by what she had heard.

"This isn't Yu Dao or something. We're in the sticks." another quipped in return, the Princess turning her eyes toward Aang, who was obviously thinking the same thing she was.

"Nevermind the guards. Where's the tavern?" one of them joked, making her feel a little less confident in her assumptions; she still held them close, knowing that if she was right, the people she just saw were probably some kind of rebels, perhaps even the kind that would be supportive of her.

She didn't know whether she ought to get up and follow them, but she was interrupted by the sound of her boyfriend's voice, "Guys!" he called out to them, giving a wave, "You won't believe what I found out." he told them, the Princess rolling her eyes.

"No, I'm pretty sure I will." she quipped in return, Sokka cringing slightly, before he stepped closer, standing in front of them.

"Well... I heard these two guys in the tavern. They're Earth Kingdom farmers who've come in to trade or something like that. They were talking with some other people at the tavern about these refugees that have been helping about in their village."

"So?" she raised a hand, to gesture for him to continue, confused why he had stopped speaking.

"So, they think that they're not refugees. At least not the Earth Kingdom type. They think they're Fire Nation, and that they're trying to get away from the colonies because they're rebels."

"Well..." the Princess raised a finger to her chin, "That does correlate with something Aang and I just saw."

"Oh, you guys saw something."

"Suspicious looking guys. Maybe rebels." Aang clarified, gesturing in the way they had gone, "They went that way. Did you want to follow them, Azula?" he asked her, guessing what she might have had in mind.

"Actually, no, I just want to know something first." she conceded, turning to face her boyfriend, "Do you know where these farmers came from?"

"Uh, a village called Hungu." he clarified, "I don't know exactly where it is, but I'd assume it's within a day's walk of here."

"Hmph." she raised a finger to her chin, "Well, we ought to find where this village is, and then we can head off to it."

"Wait, like right now?" Aang asked her, the Princess tilting her head slightly.

"I promised Ty Lee we'd get some komodo rhino for lunch... so maybe not."

"Do we have the money for that?" Sokka asked her, making her shoot him an annoyed glare; he was the one who was usually eager to buy things, so she felt offended that he'd suggest that she was being a spendthrift.

"Excuse me?" she asked him in return, the Water Tribesman clearing his throat.

"Sorry." he mumbled, the Princess waving off his apology.

"I'm the one who's been watching over the budget, so you ought to trust me when it comes to spending." she argued, rather calmly, not wanting to get actually angry with him; she wasn't angry, but he did tend to annoy her, and it was just one of those times.

"Yeah, I think getting one lunch can't be that bad. We still have money left, right?" Aang asked her, to which she smiled.

"Yes, we do. I made sure that we didn't spend much after you and Katara got those disguises... but that investment seems to have paid off. Nobody's looking at you twice."

"Huh, I guess you're right." he patted down his vest, "I look like any Fire Nation twelve year old."

"I'm pretty sure most twelve year olds don't wear headbands, unless they're part of some youth gang." she suggested, not knowing much about such things, only remembering that she had been warned about it at the Academy by her teachers, who told her that delinquency was a great dishonour to oneself and one's family.

"I mean, we're a pretty cool gang, if I say so myself." Sokka sat down beside her with a smug look on his face.

"Where are the other two?" Aang asked Sokka, who shrugged his shoulders.

"Probably still looking around. They'll be here quickly enough." he acknowledged, "So... these guys you saw? They looked like rebels?" he returned them to their previous conversation topic.

"Yes." Azula nodded, "I doubt anyone would wear such drab attire on purpose if they were just travelling to town." she acknowledged, "The cloaks were what made it look really out of place. They were big and clunky, like they were trying to cover their own whole body below their heads."

Her boyfriend raised a finger to his chin, "Yeah, sounds suspicious." he agreed with her, "Did you hear them speak?"

"They said something about going to a tavern." Aang spoke up, the Princess thinking there was one more important thing to add.

"And that there was a lack of guards." she clarified, the Water Tribesman raising his eyebrows up.

"Well, well, it sounds like they could be investigated a little more." he suggested, "Should we go look for them?"

"Perhaps." she conceded, "But, I know that we shouldn't leave without the others knowing where we're going."

"I can wait here, if you like, and then when Katara and Ty Lee get here, we can meet you at the tavern." Aang suggested, the Princess raising a finger, realising there was one flaw in their plan.

"We don't know what tavern they're going to." she noted, "I think we should remain here for the time being. Just, wait, and listen for what the people of this town might have to say."

"I never thought eavesdropping was your style, Azula." Sokka whispered to her.

She pursed one side of her lips upward, acknowledging he had a point, "Oh, you're right, Sokka, but sometimes I need to do things differently, for our safety."

"Following bad people and beating them up when they're at their most vulnerable." he acknowledged, the Princess smirking, remembering their escapade in Ba Sing Se quite fondly, in hindsight.

"That sounds creepy." Aang noted, making him snicker.

"Hey, it's not that weird. They're bad people. We're just the bringers of justice." he assured him, "The Dai Li... they're as dirty my socks right now." he made a rather disgusting comparison, the Princess turning her head away from him, making a face of disgust; the young Avatar seemed to agree with her sentiment.

"Maybe you should wash them." he suggested, the Water Tribesman shrugging his shoulders.

"Maybe you should wash your hair." he quipped in return, Azula relenting to laugh; she knew her boyfriend really did know how to dish out quips when he wanted to.

"My..." he touched his scalp, running his fingers through his very short black hair, "My hair's fine, right?" he asked, the Princess raising a finger.

"I think what Sokka was trying to say is that when you have hair, it is a good habit to regularly wash it, otherwise it will look and smell disgusting." she rephrased his words, the young Avatar nodding.

"Uh, huh." he mumbled, "Well, it doesn't look bad, does it?"

"Good and bad isn't the issue." she shook her head, "I don't care what your hair looks like. As long as it covers what's underneath, it serves its purpose."

"But... does it?" he asked her once more, making her roll her eyes.

He didn't seem to get that she didn't care; she might have been concerned about her own appearance, but she didn't exactly give any interest to his own.

"Did you not listen to a word I just said?" she groaned, Aang turning to face Sokka.

"Does it?" he asked him instead, as Azula didn't care to respond.

"It's fine. It'll look a little less scruffy when it's longer... I wouldn't worry about it." he assured him, the Air Nomad scratching at the back of his scalp.

He turned to face ahead of them, "Uh, okay then." he mumbled, sounding a little nervous; if Aang was nervous about his hair, then he sure hadn't experienced that much stress lately.

Azula was still on the fence whether to judge that as a good sign or not; complacency was the greatest enemy of any good strategist, after all. They had learned some things, and now all they had to do was sit and wait around for the others, something that sounded like an utter waste of time.

"We're getting lunch, right?" her boyfriend spoke up.

"No, not until I've found the village you told me about." the Princess clarified, making him lick his lips, intently glancing off into the distance.

"Well, now I'm really eager to get that map."

"Is food the only thing you think about?" Aang asked him, his tone giving the suggestion he had the same opinion on the matter as Azula did; food was good and all, but Sokka's intent obsession on filling his stomach was at the point of being absurd.

"Yep. And that isn't changing any time soon." he argued, the Avatar furrowing a brow.

"You mean until you eat lunch." he corrected him.

Sokka, just for a moment, looked like he was about to grumble at the twelve year old for being a smartarse, but instead of doing that, he sighed, giving a conceding nod as his shoulders slumped over.

"Uh... yeah, that's what I meant."

"So what do you eat in the Southern Water Tribe, again?"

Katara turned her head around, realising that Ty Lee had begun talking to her; she was trying to focus in on any idle chit-chat she could hear as they made their way down a busy street, which was lined with various stores and workshops. She had gathered up a few rumours, but nothing much of note, at least that would help Azula find her former supporters. She knew that the acrobat was just trying to make small-talk with her, and instead of giving her a snappy answer to shut her up, like she might have if she had anything better to do, the Water Tribe girl decided to entertain her question instead.

"Well, uh, there's many different kinds of food. Fish, seals, penguins, sea-prunes, seaweed, sometimes squids or other rarer sea creatures, and rarely wolves or polar bear dogs."

"Polar bear dogs?" she asked her, surprised by the mention, her expression becoming almost worried, "Are they like actual dogs? You wouldn't eat something if they're cute, right?"

"I mean, seals can be cute, but that doesn't mean we won't eat them. I'm not as into the whole hunting and killing thing as Sokka, but we eat what we can, when we can." she explained, making the acrobat pout slightly, obviously not liking the idea of eating something if it was cute.

"That's... sad. I wouldn't ever eat anything like a dog. They're just too nice."

"Polar bear dogs are not nice." she stressed, "I know stories of hunters getting mauled or worse by them. Some people explain disappeared hunters by saying polar bear dogs or wolves ate them."

"Eck." Ty Lee cringed back, making a face of disgust, "So, not cute?"

"Yeah, not cute." she nodded, before glancing back ahead, "Should we start going back toward the town square or whatever it was called. I'm sure the others are already finishing up."

"But we didn't find anything." she lamented, her shoulders slumping down as she glanced back, gesturing behind them, "All I heard about was some naked guy and a bridge. That's not what we're looking for."

"I know." she admitted, "But we can't be sure if the others did either. This whole town mightn't have anything."

"Other than a place to get a tasty Fire Nation meal." the acrobat added, making her chuckle.

"That's what Sokka would say." she rolled her eyes, the acrobat striding a little closer, walking alongside her.

"Well, he's not an idiot. He knows where we'd best get food." she argued, the Water Tribe girl trying not to laugh.

"My brother isn't an idiot. But he sure does and says idiotic things from time to time."

"Don't we all?" she grinned at her, Katara scrunching her lips as she considered her words.

"I don't think my thoughts are idiotic..." she mumbled, before her eyes widened, realising what she was implying, "Hey! I know what I'm doing!" she argued, Ty Lee raising her hands up to block Katara's snarl, as if she were about to punch her.

"I never said you didn't... but everyone makes mistakes... even Azula, and she's the greatest Princess ever." she raised a finger, her thoughtful look making the other girl feel a little skeptical; she didn't know how anyone could say something so highly of Azula, even if she was her best friend.

"You really think that?" she asked her, the acrobat looking at her with an enthused grin.

"I know that. But nobody's perfect, but what I can say for sure, is that she's even better than what she used to be." she added, her tone still happy, though her expression faltered somewhat; something told her that Azula mightn't have been a good person by any measure before her time with Sokka, unless her goodness was measured by her abilities to deceive, bend fire and strategise.

"Yeah... I guessed that." she mumbled, before she decided she'd ask what she'd been wanting to know of her; she didn't know Ty Lee that much, but she could say that she was an acquaintance by that point, somebody that she found trustworthy enough to ask the rather personal question she had in mind, "Can I ask... what was she like?"

"You mean before?" she asked her, the Water Tribe girl giving her a curt nod to confirm, "Well, I mean, she was a lot less happy. Like, she used to get happy about learning a new firebending form, or when she excelled in a test at school, but usually, she was just... bleh." she explained, Katara unable to hold back a giggle at that specific description.

"Just bleh?" she asked, the other girl nodding, almost grimacing as she did so, before her expression brightened.

"She was confident, and cool and always ready to outclass everyone, but she wasn't like me. And I had my own problems at home."

"I'm sure your problems weren't like hers." she conceded, having heard only fragments about Azula's childhood, but she could understand from those that her childhood had been anything but sweet and happy.

"They weren't. But having six sisters who look and act pretty similarly to you is really annoying after fourteen years." she acknowledged, the Water Tribe girl raising a brow at that specific mention of her age.

"Was that when you left for the circus?" she asked, realising that was when she must have gone.

"Yep. That was nearly three years ago." she conceded, "That was the last time I had seen Azula."

"Did you miss her?" she asked, the acrobat nodding, her eyes filled with a look she hadn't seen before- it was regret, or a similar kind of pain.

"Yeah... but I knew she had her own things to do. I didn't worry that much, but when I heard about the shipwreck, I was worried, and when i heard about Yu Dao, my sisters had to stop me from going north to go find her. I didn't want her to be hurt, and alone. But I know she wasn't, 'cause she had Sokka."

"I know that." she nodded, "But Azula, back when you still saw her- did she ever care? I mean like how she does for Sokka." she clarified, the other girl's eyes narrowing.

"She cared about Mai and I. No matter what she might tell you... I know she did. We were her best friends- we told each other everything... well, mostly me and Azula, Mai was pretty quiet."

"Like what?" she asked, the acrobat making a puzzled look.

"You want gossip from like four years ago?" she asked in clarification, the Water Tribe girl shrugging her shoulders; she just wanted to understand the enigma that was Princess Azula, and if that was what she could get from Ty Lee, she'd take it.

"Uh... yeah, I guess." she confirmed, the acrobat placing a hand on her shoulder, her expression shifting from one of interest to enthusiasm.

"So, when we were at school, we were the top girls. Everyone respected us, because we had Azula, and she was the Princess. When she actually became Crown Princess, that was because-" she began, the Water Trbe girl raising a hand.

"You don't need to defame the Fire Lord in public." she warned her, her eyes widening for a moment as her jaw dropped.

"Oh, yeah, that's a thing." she noted, before shaking her head, returning back to her story, "So, anyway, when she was formally made her father's heir, Azula demanded that every single student bow to her in respect whenever they came across her, and all the girls had to comply." she explained, making Katara giggle- that certainly sounded like Azula.

"That's Azula for you." she smiled, the other girl's lips widening into a grin, obviously finding her story quite amusing.

"Yeah, that's right. well, the gossip part was that Azula had found out some girls didn't want to bow to her. So she found them at lunch time, and oh... it was hilarious. They were on the pavement, hands to the ground. She didn't have to say much either. I didn't see it myself, but I saw the aftermath- those girls were afraid of her for the rest of the school year."

"Yeah... that's not surprising." she conceded, knowing that the description she had given of the Princess, though amusing, was suggesting that her behaviours of power-play were even worse; she could see how a girl like that got to the point of basically forcing her brother to be her servant, though a well treated servant at that.

Katara realised that they had gotten to the end of the street, meaning that they only had to turn left, and they would be heading right toward the town square, "This way, right?"

The acrobat gave her an affirmative nod, and took the lead, increasing her pace, "I'm sure they're waiting for us."

"I'm sure Aang's feeling uncomfortable... somehow." she guessed; the Princess had a knack for making situations awkward, whether through saying something disturbing, or acting so cold and serious that it scared everyone talking with her.

Following after Ty Lee, she made her way down the street, eyeing the people she walked by; they didn't take a second look at her, suggesting that her disguise had paid off well- she looked like any other Fire Nation girl, even if she was swarthy. She had seen a few FIre Nation colonials in the towns they had already visited that were of a similar complexion to her, so she realised that it might be relatively easy to play herself off as being from the colonies. She didn't see anyone who looked overly suspicious, either; in thinking about her own watchful gaze, she realised she was acting a little hypocritically, being disguised as a colonial when in fact she was Water Tribe, looking for people that were disguised as civilians that might actually be rebel fighters. Glancing ahead, she realised that they were quickly approaching the town square, and kept her eyes focused on it, trying to spot out her friends, if they were indeed waiting for them; before she could find them, Ty Lee pointed out to their left, and she took note of Sokka, Azula and Aang, all sitting on a bench by the edge of the square.

"There they are." she simply acknowledged, striding across the square toward them; they immediately took note of the pair, and the young Avatar giddily waved at them.

When they got close enough, Aang got up from his seat, and looked at them with an eager expression, "Did you guys find anything?"

"Uh... not really." Katara conceded, "Did you?"

"Well... yes. But Sokka got a real good lead." he gestured to her brother, who glanced up, looking out with an indifferent expression on his face before he realised he was being talked to.

"Oh, uh, yeah, I did. There's a village where, according to some people I overheard, there might be some refugees, refugees that they think have fled because they don't support Zuko."

"Whether that's my people or will take an investigation to discern." Azula added, "But we need to find out where the village is. It's called Hungu, and I assume that it's nearby, but without a map, we'd just be blindly flying around on Appa."

"What about lunch, though?" Ty Lee asked, Sokka raising a hand toward her.

"Exactly, what about lunch?"

"After we get the map." Azula chided them both, who pouted with disappointment; Katara giggled at their reactions, but turned to face Aang, feeling a little concerned, given how she had acted in past, how the Princess had treated him.

"Now, Aang, did she make you feel uncomfortable while we were gone?" she asked him, his eyes widening with surprise.

"What?" the referred individual growled, obviously offended by the suggestion she was going to make him feel uncomfortable, "I did not do such a thing."

"Uh, no, she didn't." Aang almost laughed, scratching the back of his scalp, "Some random guys did, though."

"How?" Ty Lee raised a brow, "Were they acting all inappropriate in public?" she asked, Katara looking at her with amusement; she guessed she was thinking of the story about the man who had run around naked.

"You mean if they were naked?"

"N-no!" Aang almost squealed, shocked by such a suggestion, which proved that the acrobat's guess was far off, "They just were talking about how some people got executed for supporting Azula's dad."

The Water Tribe girl's jaw dropped, as she tried to think of a response, "Well, that's not a complete surprise." she acknowledged.

"They were all trying to kill each other at sea. They must do it on land too." Sokka deduced, his sister wincing at the comment.

"That's not our issue." Azula spoke up, "We're looking for this village." she refocused their conversation, standing up as she turned to face Sokka, "Are we going to go find that map?"

"I want lunch, so yes, let's go." he told her as he stood up, turning his heels and immediately beginning to walk to their left, toward the street that led off in that direction.

"Uh, Sokka, do you know where you're going?" Aang asked him, the Water Tribesman raising one of his eyebrows as he came to a halt, obviously realising that he did not know where to find a map; Katara wanted to laugh at his twitching eyebrow as he tried to restrain his annoyance.

"You don't know where we have to go, do you, Aang?" he retorted with a cold voice; she could tell that he wasn't that angry, but he wanted to make sure

"Uh... no." he acknowledged, the young Avatar turning to face Azula, "Do you?"

"I can make an educated guess." she argued, gesturing in the direction SOkka had been walking, "We need to find some kind of general store. The kind that would be tending to the need of travellers. Travellers need maps, don't they?"

"Maybe some people just walk around with no plan of where they're going." Ty Lee suggested, Aang chuckling.

"Yeah, that's called being a nomad." he clarified, reminding them that he was indeed one of those people.

Aang did have possession of a map, though not a very detailed one, as it showed the entire world, meaning that it had the constraint of not being able to describe every single thing they might find across the wide expanse of the Earth Kingdom. Katara didn't understand them very well, not having had a need for them until she had hopped on Appa's saddle and flown away from her home for the very first time. She didn't need a map in the South Pole, only travelling where she knew she could get home from.

"I call that wasting time." Azula narrowed her eyes at the Avatar, before striding forward, following after her boyfriend, "Let's go."

Ty Lee tugged on her arm, suggesting for her to follow; she was intending to do just that, and made her way behind the Princess, striding alongside the acrobat and the youngest member of their group, who seemed to be slightly offended by her words.

"Being a nomad isn't that bad." he mumbled, "I get to see cool places, and cool things." he argued, though quietly, his words seemingly addressed to nobody.

"Some people just like a solid grounding." Ty Lee conceded, "I agree with you Aang. Being free to go where you want when you want is something that is great for some- other people just want somewhere where they can feel safe and comfortable."

"Like a warm igloo." Katara smiled, thinking back to her home.

She realised that she did miss it, even if she liked the experiences she had had so far; perhaps not all of them, but she'd certainly had some fun, something she didn't think would be possible, at first.

"Your igloo was pretty warm." Aang conceded, before turning to face her, his expression a little more serious than before, "Do you like travelling?"

"I mean, it's a little straining at times, but all these new places- it has its benefits." she admitted, Ty Lee intervening to give her own opinion as she stepped between the two of them.

"I love travelling!" she exclaimed, "I especially like the part where we get to fly on Appa. He's so nice, and soaring above the clouds... it's the coolest thing, honestly." she admitted, the Water Tribe girl chuckling at her wide grin.

She too had found it to be an amazing experience at first, but even something like flying up in the sky could become mundane and boring. After their first long flight across from the Southern Air Temple to Kyoshi Island, she decided that she preferred to sleep while they were on Appa, and if not, preoccupy herself with things like sewing up clothes.

"Well, at least you're not afraid of it." Aang conceded, "Some people who've flown on Appa haven't wanted to do it again."

"How could they?" she gasped, shocked by the suggestion, "I can't believe somebody wouldn't think it was great. Like come on, you're flying all the way up there." she gestured to the sky above them, Katara raising a finger to her lips.

"A little quieter. I know nobody probably gets what we're talking about, but if we talk about flying too much, we might get the wrong attention." she warned the acrobat, who cringed slightly, making a curt nod after she considered her actions.

"Sorry guys." she apologised, "I just can't believe someone wouldn't like flying on Appa."

"Motion sickness, I think. Some people's stomachs just can't take it." he noted, the other girl nodding along.

"Uh-huh, that makes sense, actually." she conceded, before turning her eyes ahead for a moment, glancing to Sokka and Azula, who were walking alongside each other, though they didn't seem to be talking at that very moment.

"Are you still obsessed with their relationship?" Katara joked, making the acrobat laugh off her words.

"Of course not... it's just gossip, Katara." she reminded her of what they had been talking about not too long before that.

"Ah, yes, gossip." she raised a finger to her chin, smirking approvingly; Ty Lee wanted to know everything about her friend's love-life, and seeing that she could simply observe it from a short distance, it wasn't very hard for her to achieve her aims, though she would admit, it did come off as a little stalkerish.

"I wonder what excuse they'll use to get away from us." she raised a finger to her chin, making Katara giggle; she knew that her brother did have a romantic side, and though he didn't try to show it in front of them, he certainly wanted to make time for his girlfriend.

It wasn't that hard when they were stuck together all the time, but that didn't mean they wouldn't want to have more private time to themselves. Standing a few strides ahead of them wasn't exactly private for Sokka and Azula, and she knew that; she thought they ought to deserve a little time to themselves, though she knew that somebody would say something if one or both of them wanted the other three of them to scatter off.

She sighed, knowing that her brother was almost lucky in a way; no matter her opinion of Azula, she knew that they cared for each other, even if she openly mocked him. It was clearly playful, and she did it with them all, because it was her way of being friendly without actually trying to be nice; a counterintuitive method, but a way nonetheless. She knew that she would want something like that for herself some day, but until she found the right person, or perhaps, the right person found her, she would remain by her lonesome, at least in the most personal sense. She still expected to be stuck with her friends, and she had a feeling that their little group would only get larger, given Aang's dead set intentions to have Toph be his master. She chuckled at the thought of seeing the snarky earthbender again, knowing that she would be a more amusing member to join the group; as snarky as the Princess, but far less cold and serious- the kind of person that she could probably get along with.

Ty Lee tapped on her shoulder, snapping Katara out of her idle glancing, turning to face the acrobat for a moment, who gestured ahead, indicating that Sokka and Azula had made a left turn; the three of them followed after the couple, turning around the corner, finding them standing outside of a store, talking to each other quietly. They both stopped talking as soon as the acrobat approached, the Princess turning to face her with a rather indifferent look on her face.

"This store looks promising. We're going to head inside. You don't have to, if you just wanted to loiter instead." she suggested, Aang shaking his head as he stepped forward.

"Nah, there might be something else useful inside. We could find something even better than a map."

"What's better than a map?" Sokka raised a brow with interest, the Avatar becoming nervous as he realised all the attention was on him.

"Oh, uh, information?" he told them with an uncertain voice, the Princess raising her chin, seemingly proud of his response.

"You're right, though I doubt we'll find anything here. Good thinking, though." she commended him, before stepping inside, pushing the door open; Sokka and Aang both followed after her, leaving Ty Lee and Katara standing outside.

"You going in?" she asked the acrobat, who nodded.

"Uh, yeah, I don't have anything better to do. Plus, lunch comes after we find a map." she added, making her chuckle; maybe it was just because she wasn't as hungry as the rest of them, having eaten a good amount of poor tasting but filling rice before they had set off to the town.

Following her inside, Katara stepped through the doorway, which rang out a little bell as the door was pushed open, obviously to tell whoever ran the store that there were customers inside. She glanced down the aisle she could see ahead of her, noting that Aang was idly looking at some merchandise while the couple had already gone further into the store, intent on finding a map. She made her way down another aisle, deciding that she'd help in the efforts to find a map, if only to make sure her brother didn't complain about food any longer- that was something she was sure she would quickly stop tolerating now that they were all back together.

Scanning along the shelves, she saw various items, such as bags of basic dried foods, as well as boxes full of what she assumed were camping supplies, though they were nothing like the ones she used; the Water Tribe liked to keep things simple, while the Fire Nation, with all their industrial power, decided to use it to make things like wooden boxes for spark rocks and kindling. She understood the function, but it just didn't make sense to put so much effort into its presentation. She tried to ignore the weirdness of Fire Nation design, and instead focus on finding what they had set out to. She couldn't see any maps, at least not from where she was standing. Heaps of random supplies, and even some paper, which she assumed was used by people to write letters or journals. Not that Katara had even considered anything like that. It wasn't like they had an abundance of paper at the South Pole, anyway, so she had the complete opposite of an incentive to do such a thing.

"Where is it?" she heard her brother grumbling in the distance, "They can't just be walking around the wilderness blind."

"That's why roads exist, idiot." she heard Azula chide him, making her giggle; even Katara could admit that she did have good points, at times.

The Water Tribe girl returned her focus to looking alongside the shelves, deciding to kneel down to get a better look at the lower shelves; she came across a stamped scroll with Fire Nation insignia- if that wasn't official stuff, she didn't know what would be. Pulling it out, she glanced at what looked to be freshly printed scroll, though it was clearly locked by design, probably to stop thefts; though she couldn't be sure it was a map, she could ask either Azula or Sokka, who would have a better idea in that regard.

Standing up, she flinched back as she realised that the Princess was stnading right in front of her, "Ah!" she almost squealed, silencing herself before she embarrassed herself further.

"So, you found something. I have a feeling you're the more observant sibling." she suggested, making her boyfriend look at her with a betrayed look.

"A-Azula..." he mumbled her name, crossing his arms, "I can't believe you some times."

"Yeah, me either." Katara agreed with him, rising up to stand once more, handing Azula the scroll, as she had her hand out, waiting to receive it.

She scanned it for a few moments, before tilting her head upward, looking in the direction of the counter, "I'm sure the woman at the counter can tell us if this is a local map or not. I'm sure it was commissioned by the Fire Nation Army, given the insignia, so I have a feeling that this is the kind of thing we're looking for."

"Oh, did Katara find it?" she heard Ty Lee ask out, the Princess nodding as she stepped closer to her friend.

"I think so. I'll have it checked, and then we can purchase it."

"And then... lunch." Sokka licked his lips, "Komodo rhino... no, fried and spicy komodo rhino." he specified his desired meal.

"I could go for that." the acrobat grinned, even Azula tilting her head to consider the offer.

"I concur." she agreed, her boyfriend's jaw dropping with surprise.

"Sorry... did you just agree with me?" he asked her, almost looking like he was about to laugh; it wasn't often that the two of them agreed on the matter of food- Fire Nation cuisine seemed to be the one thing they could both agree upon.

"I'm not eating week old reheated rice for the third day in a row." she quipped, before gesturing for them to follow, "Now, come on." she told them, the three of them following after the Princess as she approached the counter.

She cleared her throat, catching the attention of the woman who had been sitting by the counter, idly looking at a piece of paper, "Oh..." she mumbled her eyes focusing on the rolled up document Azula held in her hand, "Did you want to purchase that?"

"I want to know what it is." she asked, the clerk raising a brow, before she chuckled.

"It's a map, obviously." she rolle dher eyes, obviously thinking the Princess's question to be stupid, seeing that it was self-evident what she was holding in her hands; Katara thought for a moment that she might have gotten annoyed and quipped back at the clerk, but she simply placed the rolled up map on the counter.

"Does it show the local area?"

"It's a regional map of the northern colonies." she clarified, before giving her an affirmative gesture toward the map, "Yes. It shows everything around here. Is there somewhere you're trying to get to, girl?"

"Oh, nowhere in particular. I'd rather just stay on the right roads. That's all." she lied, the clerk glancing along, taking note of the rest of them; the Water Tribe girl turned away, not wanting to be stared at, especially given the woman was Fire Nation, and certainly rude.

"You kids get here by yourselves?" she asked her, the Princess raising a brow, looking rather skeptical of her question.

"How much does it cost?" she simply asked her, refuting her question by flat out ignoring it.

"Sixty five ban." she told her, the Princess looking at her idly, with a slight glare, for a few moments, silently telling Katara that she was not happy with the price.

"Fine." she conceded to the price, picking a few silver coins out her pocket, "How'd you get the maps, anyway?"

"Bought them from the town barracks. They're for the Fire Nation Army, but they're willing to sell to Fire Nation civilians for travel purposes." she explained, before raising a brow, "You're all Fire Nation, right?"

Azula cleared her throat, obviously thinking what would be the right response, before Ty Lee interceded, pointing first to herself, "Homeland," to her friend, "homeland," then back to the two Water Tribe siblings, "colonies," then finally back around toward Aang, who wasn't visible at that moment, probably still glancing about the shelves, "And our other friend, he's from the homeland too."

"Uh... okay then." the clerk mumbled, obviously surprised by her forward response; Katara was simply glad that she could bullshit so effectively- the cheeriness that she always had on her face was very good for disguising blatant lies, it seemed.

The Princess placed the currency on the counter, and in return, the clerk pulled out a small, blunt knife, flicking it through the stamp that closed the map into its roll. She then pushed the map forward, which unrolled it, revealing it in all its detailed glory to Katara; though she didn't really understand it at first, she could clearly recognise the shapes of the coastlines that were in common with the larger scale map Aang owned. As soon as it was revealed, Azula rolled it back up, and raised her left hand upward, gesturing toward Sokka, without even looking his way; he stepped over, and took the map into his hands, sliding it into the bag he had slung around his shoulder.

"Is that all you'll be getting today?" the lady asked them once more, the Princess shooting her a contemptuous glare.

"That's all." she told her with a seemingly indifferent voice, but her expression showed clearly that the woman had annoyed her.

She turned to face Ty Lee and Katara, before tilting her head toward the door, telling them that they were going to leave; with that, she followed after the Princess and her brother, who led them to the door, which made a ringing noise once more as they opened it. Aang paced up behind them, obviously just having realised that they were about to leave, eagerly smiling at the group.

"So you got the map?" he asked, the Water Tribe girl giving him an affirmative nod.

"Yeah, and now we're going for lunch." she confirmed, the Avatar licking his lips.

"So, Fire Nation food?" he asked, Ty Lee turning around to face him with a grin.

"That's right. The best food in the world."

"That's arguable." the Water Tribe girl added, Azula turning around to face her as she made her way out of the door.

"It is indeed arguable that is the best. Spices. Fine meats. Crisp texture and soft, chewy insides." she listed off the things she thought were good about Fire Nation cuisine.

"And varying degrees of setting your tongue on fire." Sokka added, making Aang and Katara both snicker, agreeing with the sentiment; she had tried the meal she had procured for Azula back when they had taken down the Southern Raiders together, and she didn't approve of the strong, spicy flavour, though it seemed that her brother did, even if he was presently making a joke of said flavour.

"Do you want me to actually set your tongue on fire so you can make a reasoned comparison?" the Princess offered, raising her finger toward her boyfriend, which might have had a blue torch on the end of it, had they not been in public.

"Uh... no thanks." he refused her absurd offer, pacing along down the street, "Where are we gonna eat, anyway?"

"You were at a tavern just before." Azula argued, gesturing around them, "Where was that?"

"Uh, back that way." he gestured in the opposite direction to which they were heading, "I thought you were going to try something a little more fancy."

"We're trying to save money, not have a meal rightfully fit for mine and Aang's positions." she argued, Ty Lee snickering, obviously taking her words as a joke.

"That's a good one, Zula." she pointed at her friend approvingly.

"That wasn't a joke." she narrowed her eyes, the acrobat shrugging her shoulders.

"Still funny." she added, the Princess rolling her eyes before she began to pace in the direction Sokka had pointed.

"Let's go to this tavern. If it's really just crappy peasant food then we'll go somewhere nicer, I promise, on my honour as a Princess."

"Hmmm... what can you tolerate?" Sokka made a puzzled face, before smirking, "Quite a lot- you ate Water Tribe food for six months straight."

"And hated every minute of it." she snarled, before raising a finger, "Though, your grandmother was a good cook. Better than Katara."

"Hey!" she growled, "I didn't mean to stuff up the komodo rhino."

"I wasn't talking about that. That was old navy rations, not your cooking." she clarified, making her narrow her eyes, her offence not lessened by the Princess's addition of information.

"Shut up." she demanded calmly of her, before she turned her eyes away, not wanting to have to look at her as she derided her cooking abilities; she was the one who worked all the time to try and make sure they were fed, and to be insulted just made her wish there was some water nearby so she could show the Princess how she'd perfected the water whip.

"Azula, that was a little mean." Ty Lee commented, coming to Katara's side, which surprised her somewhat.

"I was complimenting her grandmother's cooking, not insulting her." she argued, the Water Tribe girl crossing her arms; she was certainly insulting her, and her second comment proved it.

"Spirits please, don't fight right now." Sokka asked of them, his voice sounding genuinely afraid, though he tried to cover it up with a stern look, "If you really want, we can go find some field where you two can spar... but please, Katara, don't throw a snowball at her- that'll just get the wrong attention."

"I agree with Sokka." Aang added, "This is not a good place to argue." he glanced around them, nervously looking at pedestrians who were walking behind them.

"Wait, Aang, where's Momo?" he asked, seeming out of the blue, the young Avatar's expression shifting to one one confusion.

"huh, now that you mention it, he wasn't on Appa's saddle. Maybe he went off to look for some snacks."

"If he's been eating all our other food... I'm going to have a fit."

"That'd be fun to watch." Katara admitted, "Though you really love complaining after you get angry, so maybe not."

"Everybody's loving the insults today." Ty Lee observed, "I think you're all in dire need of some good lunch."

"Hear, hear." Sokka raised a hand to agree with her, before he pointed it ahead of them, down the length of the street, toward an intersection in the relatively narrow street they were walking down, "I think we take a right turn here and it'll be up ahead."

Her brother's assumption was correct, and as they turned around the corner, she was able to make sight of the tavern, which stood out as a free standing building of exceptional size, amongst the rest of the buildings on the street. As they made their way toward it, she turned her focus to it's entrance, where she could see a board of wanted posters; Azula's expression had clearly shifted upon seeing them, obviously knowing that her face would be among them. Katara's suspicion was confirmed as she neared the doors of the tavern, noting that the couple had come to a halt to gaze at the wanted posters. Azula's face was there, and her bounty was written right there for all to see: the Fire Lord would endow a personal thanks and fulfil the wishes of any person who is able to return his sister to him, alive, as well as a lot of ban- twenty thousand to be exact. Katara guessed that was a lot of money, though she really didn't have any way to qualify that assumption. If her clothes were three hundred and fifty ban, then twenty thousand had to be quite a lot.

"Wow, okay, that's a lot of money." Ty Lee mumbled, the Princess rolling her eyes.

"You're obviously not acquainted with the Fire Nation Treasury." she joked, Sokka raising a brow.

"Huh, good point. How much money is that... I mean out of all the money he has?"

"Barely anything." Azula simply told him, before pointing down to some smaller text by the bottom of the document, "I think that was what you were looking for, Sokka."

Leaning down to look at what she had gestured to, Sokka murmured under his breath for a few seconds before his expression turned to one of excitement, "Finally! I have done something noteworthy! Literally!" he gestured to the document, "She is accompanied by a Water Tribesman of lanky build, swarthy complexion, who is alsoto be captured on site, accused of the crime of aiding and abetting the enemies of the Fire Nation, and assaulting the Fire Lord." he read it outloud, grinning as he turned around to face them, "Did you hear that? I'm on a wanted poster."

"I don't think that's a good thing." Aang conceded, making the cocky Water Tribe warrior shake his head, stepping forward to place a hand on his shoulder.

"Oh that's where you're wrong. I'll be able to use it to mock the Fire Nation once Azula becomes Fire Lord. From wanted criminal to the Fire Lord's most trusted advisor." he declared confidently, pointing toward his chest, his girlfriend immediately whacking him right in his face with her knuckles; he grunted in pain as he stumbled back, landing on the board of wanted posters.

"Ow! What was that for?" he growled at her with a muffled voice as he covered his now bleeding nose.

"If you spoke any louder we would have had a mob on us you fucking moron. Did you learn nothing from Fuchang?" she held back a shout, snarling at him with a frustrated glare, "Please, just shut up." she demanded, Sokka slumping down on the board, as he realised how much he had annoyed his girlfriend.

"I agree." Aang nodded, "That was a really bad idea."

"As do I," Katara added, before looking at her brother with a disappointed look, "but you already knew that."

"Yeah, I did." he mumbled, with a disenchanted and clearly pained voice, glancing toward the Princess as she walked into the tavern, pushing its front doors open as she strode inside.

She approached her brother, eyeing him for a moment, before tilting her head toward the doorway, waiting for him while Aang and Ty Lee walked inside, "Come on, Sokka. I'm sure she's not that angry."

"I really act like an idiot sometimes." he mumbled, before he let go of his nose, turning to face her, "Sometimes I just wish I'd shut up."

"I do too." she agreed with him, which obviously offended him, though he just laughed her words off.

"Ha, ha." he made a monotonous laugh, "Very funny."

She reached an arm out toward him, "Come on, don't be so thick-headed. I'm sure Azula will forgive you soon enough, especially if you let her beat you up this afternoon."

"I thought you wanted to fight her?" he raised a brow, making the Water Tribe girl scoff; though she'd like to test her skills, she doubted she could stand a chance against the agile and tact Princess.

"I'm not that cocky." she crossed her arms, "But, I'll watch. One day, I want to be able to beat her."

"That's going to be a funny day." he made a light snicker, which suggested she'd gotten him in a little better mood; he accepted her hand, and she helped him back up to his full height, "But is there anyway you could beat lightning-bending?"

"We'll just have to wait and see."

Looking up toward the clouds above them, Aang couldn't help smile at how pretty they were; the scattering of the late afternoon sun through the clouds was something he found to be rather entrancing as he lay on Appa's saddle. He wasn't concerning himself with where they were flying, or what they might find when they arrived, but rather just taking a moment to appreciate the calm world they had for themselves up on top of his sky-bison. There were full stomachs abound, and there was no shouting to be heard. A little earlier in the day, before they had gone flying, the group had done some sparring, out in the woods, nearby the town they had visited; Azula had clearly come out on top, though he wasn't surprised by that in the slightest. His and Katara's waterbending had improved greatly since they first began learning, and they were both capable of using all of the basic forms with increasing speed and precision; chi blocking was just as dangerous as before, and Aang found that the only way to stop it was to evade.

His bending style had never been very offensive based, so he found it challenging to go off against Ty Lee and Sokka, the former's acrobatics and the latter's mastery of a multitude of weapons making them both dangerous opponents. He could beat them both, though by beat, he could only really knock them down or throw them around a little bit, not actually incapacitate them or anything of the likes. Going against Katara was even harder, as it was much harder to evade water whips; even if he could bend the element himself, her rapid movements were hard to predict, let alone find a chance to bend her water. He didn't even consider Azula, who he couldn't face head on, due to the overwhelming strength she wielded; her acrobatic skills meant it was harder to push her away or knock her down with airbending, and he found the only effective tactic to be to use his staff as a means of dispersing her attacks, and waterbending shields when possible.

His thoughts about bending stopped when he saw Ty Lee's head peer over his own, "Aang." she addressed him, the young Avatar's eyes widening, raising a hand to cover the sun's rays as to get a better look of her expression.

He realised that she had an eager smile on her face, "Uh, yeah, did something happen?" he asked her, the acrobat gesturing ahead of him, the young Avatar raising his head up from the saddle.

Though he had to cover his face from the sun as he faced it nearly head on, he was able to see what she was pointing to; ahead of them, in the distance, lay a village, presumably Hungu. It sprawled over a few small hills, by the side of a river, and was surrounded by even more mountainous hinterland, the peaks of said mountains interspersed with patches of snow that brightly reflected the afternoon sun's rays. He made a small smile, realising that they were about to arrive in the village; whether they would find what Azula was looking for was still unknown, but the fact they had arrived was good enough news for him. He grasped the bandana, which he had tied around one of the handles on Appa's saddle, and put it back around his forehead. Turning to face his friends, he noticed that they were all rather tired, and that made sense; sparring tired people out, and they had done so for a few hours. He wasn't that tired, given he had been resting on the saddle ever since they got up into the air; Katara yawned, and idly glanced in the direction of the village.

"Huh... so are we going to drop Appa down?" she asked him, the Avatar's eyebrows rising up, remembering the fact that they had to get his sky-bison out of sight.

They didn't want the villagers to realise that they were who they were; even if there weren't bounties for him out yet, Aang had a feeling after his escapade with the Fire Navy, he certainly would be getting some posters up sooner rather than later. Azula raised her head up from the saddle, and glanced over the same way the Water Tribe girl had and gestured downward.

"Are you deaf? We need to get down." she chided him, the Avatar raising his hands up to assure them that he was listening, before he turned himself around picking up Appa's reins and pulling them downward, indicating for the sky-bison to drop down toward the ground.

"Come on buddy, just down to the ground and then you can rest for the rest of the day." he told his friend, who groaned positively, obviously liking the sound of resting even more.

They had flown only twice that day, once in the early morning to reach the town they had visited for lunch and finding intelligence, and then later in the afternoon, the flight that was just coming to an end. Flying bison could stay in the air for days at a time, but he knew that would unnecessarily strain Appa out; he didn't want to be mean to his bison, who deserved all the rest he could get. He reminded himself that he ought to treat him to some more food and maybe a little clean when they next visited a nice flowing river. The village they were moving toward did have a small stream running through it, but that was about it, and it certainly wasn't big enough to clean a massive, six-legged creature with. As they moved down into the lightly wooded area just below the village, he aimed Appa to land by a rock formation where they could take cover and set up camp; the sky-bison settled his feet down on the light, fluffy green grass, and immediately took a bite from it, before he settled himself down.

Patting him on the neck, he turned to face his friends, "See, we're good. Now we can set up camp and go look at his village."

"Oh, we weren't just going to camp and do that tomorrow?" Sokka raised a brow, having been half-asleep until they began their descent.

"No." his girlfriend simply refuted his question, "We need to check what's here. Because if it's just nothing, I'd rather we leave at daybreak tomorrow, so we can visit some more of the villages and towns on this map." she raised the map up in her hand, "We're still heading in the direction of the North Pole, but we can't waste anymore time. We already spent the afternoon sparring, when we could have been flying."

"But you said you wanted to spar, Zula." Ty Lee argued, the Princess rolling her eyes.

"I did. That doesn't mean we can do something like that everyday. Training our bending and other skills, perhaps for a short period in the afternoons and mornings, but other than that, we need to keep moving." she argued, before turning her gaze to Aang, "You agree with me, don't you?"

"I mean... I don't know if I'm the best judge." he conceded, "I'm twelve, remember?"

"I don't think I could forget." she sighed, before rising up from the saddle, "Well, what is it then? Are we going to set up and check out this village, or do it in the opposite order?"

"Tents are easier to set up when you're awake." Sokka declared, pulling himself up, "Let's just get it done. Then I can rest while you wander off and do your investigating."

"But I thought you said you loved investigating." Aang prodded him, the Water Tribesman sighing.

"Why do you have to use my own arguments against me?" he sighed, before he grasped the edge of the saddle, jumping down to the ground; he fell into a crouched position, rising up and stretching out his arms and legs.

As he turned back to face them, he gestured to be given a bag, Katara reaching over to pick up one of the tent bags and throwing it down into her brother's arms; he grunted as he received it, and Aang decided he ought to help on the matter of setting up their camp. He climbed over to the back of the saddle and picked up the bag that contained all of their cooking equipment and jumped down with it in his arms, using his airbending to soften his fall. He paced over to the centre of the small clearing they had landed in and placed the bag down, realising they'd probably need to make a campfire as well, if they were to be cooking some of their food for dinner. They certainly had enough rice and dried food, like nuts and jerky to eat for dinner, though he guessed it wouldn't be the nicest meal to eat.

He turned back around and saw Azula picking up another tent bag, taking it into her arms as she began to climb down via Appa's tail; he glanced over to see that Ty Lee had picked up two sleeping rolls, and he raised a hand, gesturing for her to hand him one. She cocked a smirk, throwing one of the bags over-arm right at him; Aang lifted his hands up in front of his face, using his airbending grab hold of the bag, which he shot up into the air above him before he allowed it to drop down into his hands. Looking back toward the saddle, he took note that both Ty Lee and Katara were climbing down with bags in hand, suggesting that they had gotten all of the bags off of the saddle, or at least those that would be of use to them. He turned around and noticed that Sokka was setting up one of the tents, or more accurately, taking out its parts from the bag he had taken. The young Avatar approached him with a smile, offering his help without a word.

He acknowledged his presence with a cock of his chin, "Aang." he simply addressed him, before he pulled out the rolled up mat from the bag, "Could you just quickly get all those pins into the ground?" he requested, Aang giving him an affirmative smile as he approached, kneeling down beside the bag, out of which he pulled the bone pins that would be used to hold the canvas in place.

Taking the pins into his hands, he began by jamming each of them into the soil, digging through the grass that lay across the surface; once each was deep enough, he moved along to the next, all while Sokka propped up the frame of the tent. Once he had pulled out the canvas and dusted it off, Aang had already gotten the pins in place, and the Water Tribesman indicated toward the end he wasn't holding for him to pick up. Taking it into his hands, the pair moved the canvas over the frame, before both of them knelt down, pulling the canvas over the center pole in the process. As he knelt over, the young Avatar tied the pins to the canvas, tightening the canvas and holding it in place. After rising back to his feet, he glanced over toward the others, who were preparing the other tent.

"Do we need to get some sticks for a campfire?" he asked out, Katara glancing back his way, shaking her head.

"Not yet. We won't need the fire until we start cooking." she noted, the young Avatar turning to face Sokka.

"So, we're going to the village?" he asked him, the Water Tribesman shrugging his shoulders.

"I guess." he mumbled, "We better be quick, though. Once we have dinner, I'm going to sleep. That sparring really tired me out." he added, trying to justify his laziness; the sun was still above the horizon, so Aang couldn't see why he'd want to already go to bed.

He turned around, pacing over to the other tent, which Azula and Katara had just finished propping up, while Ty Lee had placed down everyone's bedding in between the two tents, along with their bag of food and cookery. The acrobat turned to face him, obviously having the same idea in mind as he did.

"So, we're going to check out the village?" she asked him, the Avatar smiling, glad that she was a little more enthusiastic about it.

Even though he wasn't as determined as the Princess was on finding her supporters, he knew that doing so would help them out greatly, ensuring that they had some more friends. Fire Nation ones were actually going to be very useful in the long run, considering that to establish peace, he needed a bit more support to his efforts than the Southern Water Tribe and a powerful, but small group of Earth Kingdom rebels.

"Yeah, and then we can see if these rumours are true." he added, knowing that there was still a chance they'd taken a false lead.

"They're most likely true." the Princess spoke up as she finished putting the canvas in place, "As I said, a whole army can't disappear."

"Yeah, I got that." Aang nodded, before turning to face Katara, who was just checking out the tent, to ensure it was properly set up, "So, are you coming too, Katara?"

"Uh, yeah." she nodded, dusting herself off, before stepping forward, "Luckily I didn't change out of my disguise." she noted, "Are you all ready to go?" she asked the others, Azula instinctively raising a hand to her bangs, which she had readjusted after they left the town; Aang was amused that she had so much attachment to that specific part of her hairstyle, and she sighed as she pulled her tresses out, pulling the bangs back with the rest of her hair into a low bun.

She stepped closer to him and gestured up in the direction of the village, "Let's go." she confirmed that she was indeed ready to go, before she turned to face Sokka, "That includes you, lazybum." she added, making him pout exaggeratedly at her.

"Aw... come on." he grumbled, before rising back up to his feet, "This better not take too long."

"The village can't be that big. We'll just say we're travelling through, and we want to see if there's any places to get supplies. Start conversations, and hopefully, these people won't be too suspicious and will tell us what we want to know."

"How do you know they're going to talk about your missing army?" the Water Tribe girl asked her, understandably skeptical that they'd get exactly what they wanted to find just by small talk.

"If I know anything about small villages like this one, it's that the locals will talk about the most interesting things. And I'm pretty sure the most interesting thing is going to be a number of Fire Nation 'refugees' showing up." she argued, before she turned her heels making her way ahead of the group and aiming right toward the nearby stream, "The path will be this way."

Aang followed after her without question, knowing that she would be the best when it came to directions, and the fact she had the map slung around her back. Katara and Ty Lee followed right after him, and Sokka slowly trudging behind last.

Momo made a chitter and followed after them, climbing onto Katara's shoulder, reaching for the bag she had slung around her shoulder, "Momo, there's no food in here. Sorry." she apologised to the flying lemur, who made a light growl before he took flight, gliding over toward Azula; the Princess ducked to avoid the lemur landing on her head, and he dropped to the ground ahead of her.

He sniffed at the ground before glancing back their way; maybe he had found traces of some food or something, though Aang couldn't be sure. The lemur took flight once more, now flying through the woods, alongside the stream, in the direction of the village which they were walking to. The group continued along, making their way onto the path that Azula had been gesturing to, though it clearly wasn't the most well travelled one he'd seen on the journey so far. The young Air Nomad could see the tracks distinctive of an ostrich-horse, but that was all he could make out, other than the lack of grass, to distinguish the path from the woods around it.

"So, do you think we might be able to get some more money around here?" Ty Lee asked the girl who was leading the group, the Princess turning to face her with a skeptical look.

"You mean doing manual labour?" she asked her, the acrobat shrugging her shoulders.

"I mean, maybe. I don't know what kinds of work we could do around here. Anything to make sure we don't run out of money, that's all I'm thinking." she suggested, the Princess shrugging her shoulders.

"I, for one, don't want to be working on some dirt poor Earth Kingdom farm for a few days just to get back a few coins. Even if they gave us free food, it's money that we need to get by with if we're still heading north."

"I don't know, some free food sounds nice." Aang admitted, "The last time we got that was New Omashu."

"Wait, you guys have been getting free food?" the acrobat gasped, before she pouted, "Aw, I really missed out on that?"

"Uh, well, we'll be getting more free food at the Northern Water Tribe." he admitted, "Because I'm the Avatar and all."

"I'm unsure if that's how that works." Katara conceded, "But, you do have a point. People like to give you free stuff."

"Maybe we should just go into every town we visit and ask for free food." Sokka suggested, his girlfriend turning around to point at him.

"That'd be begging, Sokka."

"Says the person who literally got free crap her whole life." he argued, the Princess rolling her eyes, obviously not wanting to partake in that specific argument.

"Even if I did, I'm not going to stoop as low to beg for food from people."

"But you're not willing to work either." Katara argued, "So, which one will it be?"

"I am willing to work." she clarified, "Just not doing that. Maybe I could do some bounty hunting or something. That's more my kind of work." she argued, making Sokka scrunch his lips up.

"I mean you would be good at that." he conceded, before cringing, "It doesn't help you're a fugitive yourself."

"Well, I can always register under a fake name." she suggested, before Aang decided to intervene, thinking they were going down a proverbial path that wasn't really leading anywhere.

"I think we should just stick to working in villages or helping people out. I'm sure they'll be willing to help us out in return."

"You're so naive." the Princess rolled her eyes, before raising a finger to her chin, "Though Sokka did get us free lodging by carrying jugs of water across a village, so your point has some merit."

"I think this is a pretty stupid thing to argue about." Katara spoke up, "Let's just focus on the whole looking for your people part." she suggested to Azula, who crossed her arms as she looked back ahead.

"I wasn't arguing." she simply told her; Aang tilted his head in thought, quite skeptical of that claim.

"Well, what are we going to look for?" he asked the Princess, wanting a more specific kind of thing to be searching for when they talked to the locals.

"Any mention of Fire Nation arrivals, especially if they're not explicitly colonists." she clarified, "And the civil war. If rebels have come through or fighting has occurred nearby, then we must be getting close."

"Seems simple enough." Ty Lee nodded, before smirking, "I hope there's some cute boys in this village."

"Of course you do." the Princess rolled her eyes, "Just keep the flirting to a minimum. I'd prefer if we actually find information from the locals instead of... other things." her voice dropped to a mumble, the acrobat giggling at her friend's reaction.

"Ah, don't worry, Zula. I was just kidding!" she reassured her, before turning to face Katara, "But you never know, right?" she elbowed her, making the Water Tribe girl blush, covering her face with her left hand.

"Uh... yeah." she mumbled, Aang turning back to face Sokka.

"Do you get what's going on?" he whispered to him, the Water Tribesman simply rolling his eyes.

"Girls." he simply told him, "Doing girly things."

"What was that?" his sister asked him, sounding offended by his description.

"Nothing." he raised a hand up, turning his face away as the Avatar turned his attention back ahead of them, looking toward the edge of the village which they were quickly approaching.

The village seemed to be cut out of the woods, cleared land giving way to pens which housed various livestock and small gardens that had various vegetables and herbs growing in them. As they approached the actual centre of the village, the villagers glanced their way, obviously surprised by new arrivals; Aang guessed that the village was mostly isolated from the rest of the world, even if it was theoretically under Fire Nation occupation. Azula turned back to face the rest of them with a serious look on her face.

"I want each of you to go check around the village, and ask around where we can get things like rice and dried food. And then... find out what you can. We'll meet back here before sundown, and then we can make dinner." she gave them a rather simple set of directions, each of them nodding along, confirming that they understood what she wanted them to do.

"You mean then I can." Katara clarified, the Princess raising a finger.

"If you want to be our cook, then feel free." she simply told her, before striding along down one of the diverging paths that led through the village.

Aang glanced around and decided to head in the opposite direction, making his way toward a more built-up part of the village; he guessed that wherever there were businesses, people would be meeting up, and that would give him people to talk to. He continued along in that direction, and realised quickly enough that Katara was following after him; he didn't know if she just had the same idea as he did, or whether she just wanted the company. He didn't want to question her, feeling a little too embarrassed to say anything, just glancing back her way and giving her a curt wave. She smiled in return, and he returned his focus back towards heading into the village. Of all things, Aang could talk to random people- that was his speciality; he could talk to Fire Nation soldiers that he had fought, so he was pretty sure he could talk to some random villagers and elicit some kind of response.

As he approached the part of the village which seemed to house the most things, he noticed that the number of people out on the path was increasing; maybe they were socialising after a long day's work. He didn't really know, but he did intend to find out; he glanced about, looking for a store to buy some more supplies, knowing that even if he didn't have the money, it was a valid excuse to talk to the villagers.

"Excuse me, do you know where to buy travelling supplies in this village?" he heard Katara ask out from behind him, a few villagers idly looking their way; he felt nervous with all their eyes on them, and one of them, a middle aged man with sun-tanned skin and a trim goatee, stepped forward.

"You talking to us, kid?" he asked him; he didn't sound very antagonistic, rather just suspicious, which made sense, since they were some random travellers who had shown up in their village, dressed as if they were Fire Nation.

"Uh, no that was my friend." he gestured to Katara, who nodded as she stepped up beside him, "But if you do know where to buy stuff, that'd really help us out."

"Where are you two from, anyway?"

"The colonies." the Water Tribe girl immediately responded; it was better to stick to the same lie than make a new one up, "We're going north." she clarified.

The villagers looked at them with surprised expressions, "So you're not colonists?"

"Uh... no." Aang shook his head, "We're just going through."

"I thought you'd be here to meet with the other ash-makers." one of them spoke up, "They'll take to your kind a little nicely." she argued, making aang's eyes widen momentarily; any mention of Fire Nation people was good news, when otherwise it mightn't have been, given their rather odd situation.

"Hey, just because we're from the colonies doesn't mean we're firebenders." the Water Tribe girl snarled back at his comment, obviously trying to play up their new 'roles'.

"Then what are you?" another villager asked, stepping a little closer to him.

"Uh... orphans." Aang lied, even if in his case, it was certainly true.

"What's your name kid?"

"Kuzon." he lied, knowing that was the first Fire Nation name that came to his head.

"Sounds Fire Nation." another villager snarled, "You really think you want to talk to us, kid?" he scoffed at the suggestion that Fire Nation people would want to interact with them.

"I'm not going to hurt anybody. I just want to buy some rice and other things."

"Yeah, so we don't, you know, starve?" Katara added, "And we never said we have a problem with you. I think you're confusing us for the Fire Nation Army."

"Hmph..." the man with the goatee crossed his arms, before gesturing his head toward a nearby building, "That store sells that kind of basic supply. I'm sure if you spoke to one of the landholders, they might be willing to give you some of their produce in exchange for work. If you're willing to get your hands dirty." he explained, the young Avatar shaking his head.

"We still have a little coin to spare. But thank you for the advice." he gave him a little bow of respect, making him snort, before he and the other villagers broke down laughing.

"Did he just bow to you, Deng?" he asked the man, who raised a hand to his face.

"There's no need for that here." he assured him, "Just go on, kid. You're gonna weird people out with the bowing."

"I don't think I've ever seen any ash-makers bow before. I thought they were too cocky for that."

"Respect for your elders is something we take very seriously." he raised a finger up, "I know you must be wise after all your years."

"Wise is probably not the right choice of word, kid." one of the villagers added with a snicker, making Deng look back at her with offence.

"Come on, I know what I'm doing. I gave the kid advice instead of being a dick."

Aang tried to hold back a laugh, Katara stepping forward and grasping him by the shoulder, speaking up before he had the chance, "Thanks for your advice. We'll go check the store now."

"Uh, I don't think it's open until tomorrow, actually." Deng added, the Water Tribe girl cringing, tilting her head back as she made a disappointed look; as her face couldn't be seen by the villagers, she let out a small smirk that only Aang saw.

He realised that if they couldn't get what they needed, they could still talk to the villagers, and thus find out what they wanted to know; she turned her heels and looked back at the villagers, returning to a frustrated look.

"Aw, well that's a pain. I guess we'll have to just wait until morning." she conceded, "You said there were other Fire Nation people here. I didn't see any when we were walking in."

"Oh, there's a few metalworkers that came out from Huangcha a few years ago." one of them, an older woman, explained, "They live down the street, that way. They're friendly, but they keep to themselves."

"Don't forget those refugee fellows." Deng raised a finger, "There's a few people... a bit like you, though they're older. Don't know why they came here. But they offered to work on the farms and none of them have given us any trouble."

"What kind of people?" Aang asked, making a nervous face on purpose, "Like... rebels?"

The villagers gave each other a few odd looks, "Rebels have been about these parts. The civil war hasn't been very kind for our part of the country, but luckily, our village isn't that rich, so they didn't attack us." one of the villagers, an elder man added, making an uneasy face, "These men, they're probably just like you. Leaving because nobody wants them. I haven't seen a weapon on one of them- they're not soldiers."

"No weapons... that's good." Aang sighed with relief, though he realised that meant something else; they were most likely firebenders then, and must have been good at hiding their element, even if they weren't soldiers.

If they were coming to live in an Earth Kingdom village, they must have had a way to defend themselves from any people that gave them strife.

"You don't have any, do you?" one of the villagers narrowed their eyes at him, pointing accusingly toward the young Avatar's outfit, which he realised probably could disguise a dagger or two; not that he knew how to use those, but looking like he was part of a youth gang seemed to have its drawbacks.

"Uh... no, sir." he assured him, emptying his pockets, "Just a few coppers." he told him reassuringly, the man waving his hand, obviously doubting that he was any kind of threat.

"What's with the headband, anyway?" Deng asked him, "It looks a little weird."

"Oh, I have a bad scar on my forehead." he lied, "I get really conscious about it, so I cover it up." he explained, the villagers cringing, obviously feeling a little sympathy for his fake story.

'Who did that to you?"

"Uh... somebody." he mumbled, not able to think of an answer.

"He doesn't like to talk about his childhood, that's all." Katara tried to cover him, the villagers looking away with grimaces, near looks of disgust on their face.

He looked toward her, unsure why her words had made them so uneasy, "Uh, K-" he began to ask her, before she grasped him by the shoulder, turning him around.

"Sorry for inconveniencing you. We'll be on our way." she apologised, pulling Aang along, though he didn't resist for any longer than a second, knowing that she had good reason to leave, even if he didn't understand it.

He turned to face her and decided he just had to ask, "Why did they get all weird?"

"Because they think that one of your parents or something did that. Or maybe whoever made you an orphan did." she clarified, the young Avatar grimacing as he imagined the thoughts that might have been going through their minds.

"I am an orphan, though." he mumbled, the Water Tribe girl placing a sympathetic hand on his shoulder; Monk Gyatso still weighed heavily on him, not even considering the fact that his actual parents must have been killed by the Fire Nation as well, whoever they were.

"I know. But, at least you've got us." she made a small smile, "We're gonna look after you. We promised."

"I know you did." he made a small smile, appreciative that she was thinking about his own pain, despite how far it was from his mind- as far as he could keep it away, that was.

"I'm sure the others have talked around as well. We should go find them, and then we can make dinner." she suggested, the young Avatar scrunching his lips, unsure exactly what constituted dinner for that evening.

"So, rice and some random vegetables?" he asked her, making her giggle.

"I did buy some from the market earlier today. We better eat them quickly, before they go bad."

"There's three of us, then we have Sokka and Momo. We'll eat them before them go bad." he assured her, knowing that they were more than capable of chowing through whatever she'd bought within the span of a single dinner, especially if his flying-lemur was feeling a little greedy.

He saw said lemur sitting on the road ahead of them, trying to bite into some kind of nut; Aang didn't know what he was doing, so he decided to approach and get a better look. Momo screeched with frustration, whacking the nut into the ground, successfully breaking it into a few pieces, allowing him to bite into it.

"Speaking of Momo." Katara gestured toward him, before kneeling down in front of him, "What have you got there?"

The lemur didn't respond, simply chewing down on the shards of nut; Aang patted him on the bag and gestured for him to climb up, which he did, scaling up Aang's left leg and arm before he perched himself on his shoulder.

"Seems like it's tasty. Maybe you can find some more in the forest." he suggested, the lemur piquing his head up, glancing around, probably looking for some more nuts.

He leapt off of his shoulder, and glided off in the direction of the woods, the edge of which was quite close to the path that ran through the village; he could still see him as the little lemur searched around for some more food, though the young Avatar turned his attention back ahead of them as he remembered what they were doing.

"So, where are the others?"

"Probably off talking to people for information," Katara acknowledged, before she giggled, "or in Ty Lee's case, flirtation."

He raised a brow, remembering who had been the most unenthusiastic about "What about Sokka?"

"Probably looking for some meat to buy." she conceded, the Avatar narrowing his eyes.

"But can't he just go hunting?" he asked, thinking that was a more straightforward way for him to get the meat he loved to eat, as well not spend any of the money that Azula had chided them about using.

"Sokka's the laziest person I know. If he can avoid hunting, he'll pay for meat."

"What wouldn't he pay for?" he suggestively asked her, wondering what more amusing jabs at her brother he could get out of Katara.

"Somebody to protect Azula. He'd declare, no matter what, he could do that himself." she noted, speaking with authority he could trust; if anybody knew what Sokka would do or not, it'd be his sister, who'd been stuck with him her entire life.

"I don't think she'd like that." he noted, knowing Azula was not one to like being protected, or treated in any way lesser than her station as Crown Princess of the Fire Nation.

"She wouldn't. But he's stubborn like that." she noted with a shrug of her shoulders, Aang making a small smile as he realised something about the couple.

"Well, at least they're stubborn together."

Sokka had decided that if he were to keep up the act of looking for supplies, he ought to look for something he'd actually want to buy, even if in the end, he didn't get anything. There were two reasonable options there: a new weapon, or some meat for dinner. Seeing that the former was far too dear in value to buy, even with the decent sum of coins they had, he decided that the latter was a more reasonable choice. He also realised that looking to buy a weapon of all things when dressed as a Fire Nation colonial didn't make a whole lot of sense, given they were in a village of rather timid Earth Kingdom people. He had interacted with only a few of them, having gotten the directions to the butchers, which was unknown whether to be open at that late time. He guessed maybe some people might go out late to buy some meat for their dinners, though he realised people wouldn't be regularly exchanging money in a place where they didn't just farm for a living, but farmed to feed themselves.

He sighed, knowing that he might soon reach a dead end, but decided he'd go anyway. It was a way to spend some time before Azula inevitably came and dragged him back to camp once she too was hungry and tired. Given all the sparring they had done, he guessed that would happen sooner or later. Making his way along the path, he tried to avoid eye contact with any locals he came across, knowing that agitating them was the worst possible idea. He hadn't brought his weapons, barring his boomerang, which was underneath the cloak he was wearing over his shoulders, given that he didn't want to show it off. He loved his boomerang, but being preemptively jumped by a bunch of fearful Earth Kingdom peasants had to be the worst way he could end up in a fight. He'd prefer the next fight he had to be against some evil, nasty Fire Nation rebels who were ravaging the countryside and oppressing the locals, though he knew, given their past experiences, he mightn't get much of a choice in the matter.

When he made sight of what he thought was the butchers, he looked around for signs of activity. The front door of the building was still open, and it's chimney was billowing out smoke; what a butcher needed a fireplace for was beyond him, seeing that, despite his love for it, he knew little about how other cultures preserved meat. Ice and sea salt was the way to go for a Water Tribe hunter, but everywhere else, where they had no ice and limited access to salt, they must have done it a little differently. Stepping closer, he decided to just approach, knock on the doorway and hope that somebody greeted him; having a conversation about meat was probably the easiest thing for him to talk about. It got him away from touchy topics like the war and the Fire nation itself, though he just hoped that he could get some information about the Fire Nation a little indirectly. Confronting people about things was not the best way to go back, knowing that from experience with Katara and Azula. The former loved to agitate the latter, more than she did to him, and even if she came from a good place, she really did rile her up by making her question her own actions and moral compass, something that the Princess vocally despised.

So, he knocked on the doorway, not wanting to peer in and be rude; he waited for a response, and seeing that he didn't get one, he decided to glance inside. He could see a middle-aged Earth Kingdom man with an intimidatingly large knife, cutting at a thick bit of meat, slicing strips from it. In the corner of the room was a younger man, probably similar in age to Sokka himself, who immediately turned around, surprised by his sudden appearance.

"Oh, uh, sorry, I don't think i know you. Did you come to pick up some meat?" he asked, the Water Tribesman shaking his head.

"Uh, no, I wanted to see if I could buy some meat. My friends and I are passing through town, and we need some supplies."

"You want some salted meat, boy?" the elder butcher asked of him, placing his knife down on the bench; his leather gloves were covered with blood, which in any other context, would be rather disturbing to see.

"I love salted meat." he simply responded, the younger butcher grinning.

"Ah, who doesn't." he commented, before stepping closer, "Uh, how many people are you feeding?"

"Uh... well, I don't have that much money. I'm trying just to get a few rations." he lied, knowing that they had enough money to buy a decent amount of salted meat if they really wanted to, but Azula demanded that if he was capable that he had to hunt.

Setting up traps and sneaking around forests after small game wasn't something that he necessarily disliked, but it was straining and a lot less enjoyable than other things he could be doing. He preferred sparring or spending time with his girlfriend, either having intellectual or more personal debates; the latter almost always devolved into each of them arguing via anecdote why one of them was better at something than the other. Not that it wasn't fun, he just didn't like Azula grilling him for things she had no part in, like all the times he'd done something incompetent while hunting or fishing with Katara.

"Okay, a few rations it is." the younger butcher acknowledged, before gesturing for him to come over to a bench, where he could see bundles of jerky and other salted meats.

Sokka approached, licking his lips at the sight of the meat, but tried not to salivate, wanting to make conversation, as was his original intent. He wanted to find out about those Fire Nation 'refugees' in the village. If the farmers hadn't been joking around, he had a lead. A vague lead, but it was a start. He knew that finding Azula's supporters was the first step in actually getting her to the throne, something that seemed so far away after they'd been forced to flee from the Fire Navy at Crescent Island.

"What kind of meat do you and your friends like?"

"Uh, you wouldn't happen to have some komodo rhino, would you?" he asked, knowing that Azula and Ty Lee would appreciate to eat some more, even if they'd only had some at lunch; some jerky would last them longer and satiate the acrobats desire to dance into every colonial town they visited, intent on getting food that would continue to bite into their budget.

He realised a few moments after he'd utter his request, the boy had stiffened up, seemingly unnerved by his mention of that meat- perhaps because it was only Fire Nation people that ate it.

"Komodo rhino?" he mumbled, before shaking his head, "Sorry, no. We don't have any of those around here."

"Umm... pig-chicken? Or pig-cow?" he asked, thinking of those creatures off the top of his head as being made into jerky.

"Ah, we have both of those." the younger butcher nodded, his tone a little more enthusiastic, "Do you have a preference?"

"Uh, not really. I'm not an expert on all meats, though I wish I could be." he noted, raising a brow in thought, "What do you think is better?"

"Pig-cow's a little more flavourful, but if you want something palatable for anybody's taste buds, pig-chicken's better." he explained, the Water Tribesman raising a finger.

"I'll take some pig-cow jerky, then." he decided, before picking out a few coins from his pocket, "How much will this buy?"

The butcher looked at the coins in his hand, and cringed slightly as he counted them, "Uh... that'd be two bundles. Not much. It won't last you until the next village."

"We have other food." he raised a hand to stress, "I just needed some meat as well. If I don't get enough, I just get in a crappy mood."

The other teen snickered, nodding along as he accepted the coins into his hand, "Uh, yeah, me too. Is that all you need?"

"Well, that's all my money." he conceded, the young butcher giving him an affirmative grin.

"Okay, well then, enjoy your evening." he gave him the two bundles of jerky, before he tilted his head, "Oh, Yi. Are you here to get some meat for dinner?" he spoke to somebody behind him; the Water Tribesman turned around to leave the butcher's, realising that the person who had just entered was Fire Nation, or at least he assumed he was from his appearance- grey clothes, sharp golden eyes and near black hair.

The man, whose name he understood to be Yi, looked at Sokka with a rather disinterested look, before his eyes widened, looking at him nervously for a few moments, before he approached the younger butcher.

"Uh, yes, I am." he told him, Sokka raising a brow; the man before him seemed somewhat familiar, just from his voice, not his appearance, but he couldn't put it down where he had seen him before.

He stepped out of the butcher, deciding to wait for Yi to collect whatever he had to go buy before he asked him; if he had something to do with Azula, then he was exactly who he wanted to meet. He put the jerky into his bag, glad that he had got some extra snacks, just in case he was in need of food while they were up in the sky on Appa's saddle. He guessed that would be something they'd be doing a lot until they finally reached the North Pole, which was at least now closer to them than his home, but still some distance away. He turned his attention back to Yi, the thoughts of how they might have met crossing his mind; perhaps he was one of the various officers that had come to that meeting in Ba Sing Se, commanding a part of the army that had come west. That would explain why he was in Hungu. The butcher had spoken to him like he was with others, which suggested that maybe he was with a group of other survivors of the army, which may have battled with Zuko's forces before dispersing. He could have even been part of Zhao's forces, perhaps fleeing Yu Dao after their fleet had been sunk in the harbour outside the city.

He heard a little bit of speaking inside, before Yi stepped out of the butcher, closing the door behind him, turning to face him, "So, how the fuck did you get here, snow savage?"

"Sorry?" he asked him, realising that he was being referred to by an insult that sounded a little too personal, "I think I know you from somewhere. I just don't know where."

"Oh, well." Yi raised a finger to his chin, "You knocked me out on the deck of a ship that soon after sunk to the bottom of the Eastern Sea, and then I had to listen to you and Renshu argue for a week straight, and that was after you fucked off around in Ba Sing Se- I was actually the one who found you wandering about near the market." he recounted, Sokka's eyes widening; though he didn't recognise him personally by name, the man before him was certainly one of Azula's guards, as he had told him things that only one of them would know.

"Ah, Yi!" he gestured to him with open arms, "Sorry, I wasn't very good with your names."

"I didn't give it to you." he crossed his arms, "So, maybe you could answer my question." he suggested, the Water Tribesman nervously rubbing the back of his scalp, realising he'd have to condense a lot.

"Oh, yeah." he mumbled, unsure how to phrase it quickly, "Uh, so Azula is definitely not dead, if you were wondering that."

The guard rolled his eyes, crossing his arms, "I've heard the news. General Zhang got his arse handed to him by the Avatar... and Princess Azula. I'm more wondering what happened between there and you know, the somebody getting shot with lightning."

"Shit." he mumbled, realising there was a big gap he had to fill, "Well to sum it up, the Avatar has a sky-bison, and that makes it really easy for us to cross the world. I mean, that's compared to a shitty little fishing boat."

"Oh, so that's how you two got out of Yu Dao. We got some intel a few weeks later about a break-in at Pohuai Fortress the day after the battle, and I have a feeling that it was you two." he clarified, the Water Tribesman nodding.

"Yep." he confirmed, "Well, it was just me. The Princess was out of commission at the time. That's who was shot with lightning."

"The Fire Lord can generate lightning?" he looked at him with genuine surprise, "I mean, Fire Lord Ozai is very skilled at generating lightning, according to the other guards, and her highness is also good at it."

"He didn't. He redirected her lightning back at her. It nearly killed her."

"Oh." Yi's eyes widened, "That's fucking insane."

"I know. I think Iroh taught him the technique."

He crossed his arms, nodding along with a clearly uneased face, "The Dragon of the West is a crazy bastard. I'm not surprised he was the one to make up a technique like that." he conceded, before narrowing his eyes, "How did you two end up with the Avatar of all people? That's either great or terrible luck."

"Great luck." he chose one of the options he'd been given, "She broke him out an iceberg he'd been stuck in for a hundred years."

Yi's eyes widened, and he raised a finger to scratch his chin, thoughtfully looking off into the distance, "So, Zuko had no chance of actually finding him?"

"It was extremely unlikely." he conceded, "Possible, but he'd already given up after five years. It might have taken him another five to find Aang."

"That's his name?" he asked, Sokka tilting his head downward to confirm, "So is he really twelve?"

"In appearance and mind, yes. Technically, he's a hundred and fourteen." he clarified, the guard's jaw dropping.

"Well, that has to be the weirdest turn of events possible." he tried to treat what he'd been told at face value; Sokka knew it was pretty much unbelievable, given that the Avatar had been missing for a hundred years, "And she's helping him now?"

"They're helping each other. If everything goes to plan, together they'll pacify the Earth Kingdom, and then, she will be able to take her rightful place as Fire Lord." he explained, Yi scrunching up his lips.

"Well, this is going to be a hell of story for the men." he admitted, Sokka tensing up as he realised that he hadn't even considered what had happened to the other guards, though he guessed that they might have been okay.

"So, is everyone okay? I didn't see what happened to you guys when I made a run for it in Yu Dao."

"We got roughed up a little, but the Yuyan Archers saved our arses. They even shot the Fire Lord." he admitted, before sighing, "But these past few months haven't been good on us."

"Did you try and link up with the rest of Azula's army?"

"We did. Most of them have been under Zhao's command, and the rest flat out defected or returned to their former command posts in the east." he explained, before glancing up the hillside, "We didn't stay with Zhao for long, and Renshu was able to get us an excusable posting here. To watch over the village and report on loyalist and rebel activities in the area; the Admiral wasn't happy, 'cause he wanted us to go search for the Princess, but we told him that she had to be safe, and that it would be better for us to just go undercover."

"Sorry, but who's Renshu?"

"Oh, the Captain. We just call him by his first-name now, seeing that we're not really guards anymore." he explained, making him chuckle, realising he'd never learnt his first name.

"Oh, yeah, he has a name, like any other human being." he conceded, amused that he had once thought otherwise.

"I think he'll want to see you. And the Princess at that. He's the one who's been in contact with Zhao, so I think he'll have the best intel to give her." he explained, the Water Tribesman gesturing down toward the centre of the village.

"If you want, we can go see her right now. That'll save me having to try and find where-ever you live." he conceded, not wanting to waste any time, seeing that he'd actually found one of Azula's supporters, let alone one of her personal guards.

Yi scrunched his lips, before giving the Water Tribesman an affirmative smile, "I'm sure the Princess is going to be surprised to see us."

"I wouldn't say surprised. We were looking for you guys. Or anybody really. Anyone who came west." he explained, the guard scratching his chin.

"Well, yeah, I can understand why." he admitted, not going into detail; they both knew the dire situation the Princess was in.

She was a fugitive to the Fire Nation, ruled by her brother, a mere pretender to her father's supporters, and an enemy of the Earth Kingdom, purely by association of herself with Ozai, though her rather intimidating public image did not help for that. She was woman who crushed the Dai Li's uprising in Ba Sing Se, and whose forces nearly destroyed Yu Dao; he guessed that they would be spinning Zhao's actions as her responsibility, if only to make her look worse in the eyes of the common people, to turn them against her if she did try to gather support once again.

He gestured down the way he'd come, "So, are we going to go?" he asked, Yi giving him a curt nod.

The guard followed as soon as Sokka began to make his way back toward the woman he was thinking of; Azula would be in a good mood to find out her men were okay, though he guessed whatever news the Captain had for her would not be asking of a smile. Even if Zhao was still alive and kicking, which meant he still had forces that could be used for their cause, that in and of itself caused problems; they'd have to deal with the Admiral, who he presumed was still intent on killing the Moon Spirit.

"So, what's the Avatar like?" the guard spoke up, probably just wanting to make conversation.

"Uh, well, think of a twelve year old, and then imagine if said twelve year old had the liberty to go anywhere he wanted in the world. No parents or anything." he explained Aang in the most succinct way he could.

Though it was unusual to simply argue that his circumstances made him a the free-thinking, fun-loving Air Nomad he was, he knew that deep down, he was a good kid, who might have always had it in him to be a great Avatar, even if he himself was doubtful of it.

"Okay, yeah, so he's not very mature, I'd guess." he mumbled, raising a brow in thought, "Why'd the Princess decide to go along with him, anyway?"

"He's the one way she can get what she wants. If it was just us coming back to the Earth Kingdom with nothing but our little boat and our wits, we probably wouldn't have lasted very long. Even if we had gotten all the way here, there's little chance we could deal with the whole Zhao problem ourselves."

"Oh, so you think he's a problem too." Yi noted, holding back a laugh, "That's what Renshu's been saying for these past few months too."

"The Captain isn't an idiot. He can see through that man's bullshit faster than I can see through Azula's." he argued, the guard's eyes narrowing at him, almost concerned by the way he was speaking about her.

"Uh, are you really comfortable saying stuff like that? What if I told her you said that?"

"She wouldn't be surprised." he argued, not thinking she'd be phased by learning that, "I just say things how I see them, and with Azula, she loves to cover up every bit of emotion she can."

"So..." the guard mumbled, "Are you..."

"Yeah." he simply answered his question, knowing what it was before he even muttered it; he then cleared his throat, "But don't talk about it." he warned him.

"I won't." Yi assured him, "I know that's a quick way to an early death when it comes to her highness." he noted, his voice as nervous as he'd expect.

Azula had always been a secretive person, and her relationship with him was no different; she didn't want the wrong people to find out about it, as it would clearly compromise her authority- people like Zhao, that was. Sokka turned his attention back down the road the two of them were pacing down, taking note of Aang and Katara, who were along a crossroads, obviously looking for them. He guessed that they might have learned something from the locals, though he doubted it compared to his discovery. Aang tapped his sister's shoulder and gestured to the Water Tribe teen, who waved to them; both of their faces became understandably confused as they saw the man he was walking beside.

"That's him." he gestured idly ahead toward the pair, Yi looking at Aang with surprise.

"Huh, that's the Avatar. He just looks like a normal kid."

"Well, that means his disguise works." he noted, "I'm sure Azula will be happy to hear that." he mumbled, realising that her intentions had succeeded.

Katara approached first, obviously confused about what he was doing with a seemingly random ethnic Fire Nation man, "Sokka, who's this?"

"His name is Yi, and he's one Azula's guards." he explained, her eyes widening with utter shock; she obviously hadn't expected that turn of events.

"Wait, seriously?" she almost gasped, before her expression became more serious.

"Uh, yes." the guard placed a hand on his chest, "The rest of the Princess's guard are living here in this village."

"Oh, well, that's really good luck." Aang grinned, "And I thought what we found out was helpful. I mean it was, actually." he conceded, gesturing toward Yi, "They don't know you're soldiers."

"We're not soldiers." he clarified, Katara clearing her throat, gathering the attention of those present.

"Yi, I'd just like to know one little thing, seeing that unlike Azula, you'd have no reason to lie to me." she admitted, the way she prefaced her question making Sokka gulp, already worried what she might ask, "Were you and your men going to kill my father and the other warriors if they hadn't sunk your boat?"

His eyes widened, and he turned to Sokka, slightly surprised by what he was being asked, "Uh... well, we hadn't been told to use lethal force, so no. We would have wanted to interrogate them to find out what they were doing attacking our ship. We figured it out eventually, though."

"By beating the shit out of Long Feng." she noted, already having heard the story.

"Well that was Sokka... I'm guessing you're his sister?" he asked, sounding a little unsure of himself, though he had certainly guessed correctly.

"Yes." she confirmed, before she turned around, "I don't know where Ty Lee and Azula are." she conceded, her eyes momentarily turning to meet her brother's, "I assume you wanted Yi to meet her?"

"So he can direct her to their house." he clarified, "I'm sure that the Captain will want to speak with her. He's been getting all the intelligence reports from what's left of Azula's supporters."

"So, they actually exist?"

"Yeah, but most of them are under you know who's command." he simply acknowledged, his sister rolling her eyes.

"Of course they are."

"So, I'm guessing you really told her everything that happened when you were with her highness." Yi noted, before shaking his head, "So, we need to find her."

"Yes." Sokka nodded in agreement, "Let's just go down the road. She's just looking for information, like me."

"So you weren't just buying jerky... again?" he asked, the Water Tribesman chuckling, remembering that the guards must have picked up on his habits.

"Uh, of course not. I don't just joke around. I'm a warrior."

"So she really took the disguise thing to the next level, I'm guessing." he mumbled as they began to walk back down the road, Aang looking back at him with a nervous look.

"Uh, yeah." he confirmed, "I'm usually bald."

"I know what an Air Nomad's supposed to look like." he clarified, proving that he wasn't ignorant of such matters; he was guarding the Fire Nation Royal Family, so it made a lot of sense that he did so.

They all made their way along the road, and Katara glanced towards Sokka for a moment, eyeing his bag; she pursed her lips upward, before turning away, looking back in the direction they were all walking in.

He raised a brow, confused why she would be laughing by merely looking at him, "What's so funny?"

"You did go buy some meat. I guessed right." she explained, making his jaw drop slightly as she considered what she just said.

"Huh, so you predicted what I'd do. You've got some good instincts, Katara." he conceded, his sister rolling her eyes.

"No, I just know you far too well." she argued, before she gestured ahead of them, "They went this way. They can't be far." she explained, Sokka taking note of Yi clasping his palms together, and looking downward, as if he was nervous.

"Are you worried about something?"

"We gave up." he conceded, the raw honesty on his tongue surprising, "We should have gone south and looked for her, but we didn't."

"I don't blame you. That would have been dangerous. We could have gone looking for you and the other guards, but we didn't because it was just insanely dangerous. If we'd gone out this way and made one mistake, the Fire Nation Army might have come down on whatever village we were staying in and captured us. I know she's tough, but even Azula couldn't beat a whole army."

"She'd argue against that claim." Katara snickered, obviously agreeing with him.

"Well, yeah, of course she would. She has her dignity and pride as a firebending master to protect."

"Huh, so the Princess is the Avatar's firebending master." Yi mumbled, realising what her role was in relation to Aang, before he snickered, "Well, I guess that might annoy the Fire Lord."

"Yeah, she's said that a few times." the Avatar himself acknowledged, before he made a small smile, "She's a really good bender."

"Oh, I know." he nodded, "Us guards got our arses handed to us on a daily basis by the Princess." he called back the sparring that they did regularly, back when they had a whole ship deck to use, and before that, the massive courtyard of the Earth King's former palace, "Has she been kicking your arse for the past nine months?" he asked Sokka, who covered his face with embarrassment; now that he was with someone who had regularly faced off against Azula, he found himself far more self-conscious about the fact he couldn't win against her.

"Uh..." he mumbled, looking toward Yi, unsure what to say; his dignity was on the line, and as much as he'd prefer to be honest, he couldn't bring himself to say it.

Katara decided to make that choice for him, grinning as she raised a finger to stress, "Yes, yes she has." she assured him, making the guard look toward the Water Tribe warrior, understanding why he was cringing so badly.

"Urgh." he grumbled, pulling both his hands over his face, "I'm incompetent."

"I heard you knocked out the Fire Lord." Yi commented, placing an affirmative hand on his shoulder, "That's something to be proud of, even if you're the Princess's punching bag."

"It was a surprise attack. Surprise attacks don't really count." he conceded, knowing that in a fair fight, back when he barely had any skill in chi-blocking, with only his club and boomerang to defend himself, he would have been screwed; Zuko was obviously not of the same calibre as his sister, but he was very close, and his bending was indisputably powerful- the kind that made a lot more sense, given the revelation that both he and Azula were direct descendants of Avatar Roku.

"There they are." Aang gestured ahead, toward Ty Lee and Azula, the former eagerly chatting to a villager while the other idly stood behind her, arms crossed with a slight frown.

The group began to approach them, and the Princess turned to face them, her expression immediately shifting to one of confusion as she made sight of Yi; she tapped Ty Lee on the shoulder to get her attention. Sokka strode ahead, deciding that he'd explain who he had found, though it seemed she already understood what was going on, as she spoke up first.

"Ah... so you found somebody of use to us." she acknowledged, eyeing the guard for a few moments as she scratched her chin, "You're one of my guards, aren't you?"

"Uh, yes, your highness." he clarified, before bowing, his head down in shame, "I am sorry that we could not serve our duties by your side."

"I don't need your apologies." she retorted, "What's your name?"

"Yi." he clarified, the Princess nodding, before turning to face Sokka.

"Where'd you find him?"

"The butcher." he told her, the Princess's expression shifting from one of intrigue to amusement.

"Of course you did." she held back a laugh, turning back to face Ty Lee, "Ty, it looks like we won't need to look around any longer."

"Did you want to see the other guards?" Sokka asked her, the Princess looking at him like he was an idiot.

"What do you think, savage?" she quipped; her tone was suggesting exactly what he guessed would happen.

She was to play down her association with Sokka for the sake of ensuring she retained her authority over the guards; he'd told Yi, but he was only one guard, and he certainly seemed afraid enough of the Princess that he wouldn't say a word.

"Where are they?" she asked her guard, who gestured up the hill.

"We're staying in some old stables that we're renting off some farmers. I'm sorry if the accommodation isn't to your liking."

"We already have a camp set up downhill from here." she clarified, "I do want to see my men before I retire for the day."

"Uh, do you need us?" Aang asked her, the Princess narrowing her eyes at him, before they crossed over all of the group.

"Yes. All of you should be there. It's better that we get the introductions out of the way." she explained, before she looked back to Yi, her expression more stern; whenever she pulled that face, Sokka knew that she was obviously going to say something more dark and serious than her usual mockery and commands, "How many dead?"

"Dead, your highness?" Yi's eyes widened, "Uh, nobody died." he reassured her, "The Yuyan Archers saved us from defeat by the IMperial Guards." he explained, making her raise her chin up.

"Did they try to kill you?" she asked, obviously assuming since they were under Shinu's command that they might have turned on the guards once they learnt of their new allegiances.

"They never got the chance. We ran off by ourselves, moving to a rendezvous point with Zhao's forces." he explained, before gesturing down the road, "I think it'd be better if Renshu- I mean, the Captain explained it all to you."

"Oh, so you're calling each other by your first names now." she concluded, making a smug face as she crossed her arms, "Did rank suddenly disappear?"

"We're fugitives, your highness. Our ranks were only recognised by Zhao's men, and we're no longer with them."

"As in you defected?" she raised a brow, sounding indifferent in her voice, which surprised Sokka.

"No. We simply did not seek to partake in his war effort. Our duty was to you, your highness."

"You assumed correctly. I did not want you working for him, no matter his rank." she admitted, before she began to pace ahead, walking past the four of them, "Let's go see them, then."

"Wait, but what about dinner?" Ty Lee asked, the Princess rolling her eyes.

"Dinner can wait. I need to make sure my men are ready to do their duties." she explained, Sokka raising a brow, realising that she hadn't actually said what she wanted to use her guards for specifically.

"What can they do for you?"

"Oh, do what they didn't do in the first place." she conceded, "Kiss Zhao's toes, and hopefully he won't see my moves coming."

"Does everybody hate this guy or something?" Aang raised a brow, Yi turning to ace him with a slight grimace.

"Hate is the wrong word. Ever since- uh- Zuko, burnt his face, he's had a few screws loose in his head."

"More like he decided to give up any pretense of being an honourable soldier." Azula spoke up, now sounding a little more agitated; as a relatively stoic person, when she spoke with spite, Sokka could tell that she truly despised the man- outbursts of anger were reserved for chiding him, not pieces of shit like Zhao.

"The Admiral will soon regret his actions in Yu Dao far more than he already does."

Looking at a barn full of fully grown men, all kneeling before a girl, who if Ty Lee didn't know, might just assume to be a teenage commoner, she couldn't help but feel a little amused by the surrealness of it. She was Princess Azula, but at the same time, she was not. The time she had spent away from the palace had not lessened her gravitas, nor her sense of authority; she was looking for men to lead, not to simply be the Avatar's counsel, as great a position that might be. She watched as they, one by one rose back up to their feet as the Princess gestured for them to do so.

"I apologise that I took so long to get here, but I didn't believe it would be wise to remain in the Earth Kingdom." she conceded, her tone sounding genuinely apologetic, even if it still held the seriousness that she seemingly gave off naturally, as if it were part of her very being.

It wasn't the same as the stoicness of Mai, but she found it to be a parallel; she couldn't help but be serious, commanding and confident, because that was how she had been raised.

"You need not apologise to us, your highness. Your life was in danger." one of them addressed her, the man in front of the group, who she assumed to be the aforementioned Captain that the Princess had mentioned before they arrived- the leader of her guards, and somebody that she seemed to respect.

"The danger is still all around me. Bounty hunters might be on my trail at this very moment. I don't know if you have heard, but I made a scene at Crescent Island two weeks ago." she explained, the guards looking amongst themselves, confused by her words; news obviously didn't travel as fast as Appa.

"Crescent Island?" the Captain raised a brow, "That's the temple-" he began, before turning his eyes to Aang, "of the Avatar."

"The Fire Sages were surprisingly cooperative." she admitted, before turning to face Aang, "But what was more important was that he understood the role he has to plan in the coming months."

"Months?" one of her guards spoke up, "Your highness, do you intend to take the throne by the year's end?"

"If I can, yes." she nodded in confirmation, "But this is a three-way race, and I know that you swore your oaths to my father, so I can understand if you feel uncomfortable going against him."

"The Fire Lord was dead to the world for three whole months." the Captain explained, "By the time word got out, your brother was the one in the position of near victory."

"I know that." she admitted with a tense voice, "My father was the man who made me the Princess I am today, but now I have reached a crossroads. He stands in the way of my own victory, and I cannot tolerate that."

"It isn't treason." one of the guards spoke up, "Technically, he's not the Fire Lord anymore, so any action you take is merely dishonouring him."

"I don't expect to fight an Agni Kai with him anytime soon, so I'm not worrying about that." she argued, before gesturing to a table that looked to sit the whole group of guards, "I would like you all to sit now." she clarified, turning her eyes to the Captain, "The Captain has yet to explain exactly how you found yourselves in these circumstances."

Ty Lee stepped forward, along with Sokka, to stand behind the Princess, who stood by the head of the table, standing in front of an empty seat while she waited for the guards to take their own. When the group was all seated, she then took her own, and the acrobat placed her hands behind her, unsure what to do while she just stood there.

"Please, don't fail to regale all the details. It has been many months since I left you by that sparring ground." she admitted, the Captain clearing his throat.

"When your brother declared his victory, he claimed that he had you imprisoned in the infirmary of the barracks." he explained, before narrowing his sharp golden eyes, "But he lied. When fighting broke out, we were intent on releasing you from captivity, but the guards were unable to find you. We fled into the city, believing that you must have escaped with Sokka... which I assume you did."

"I was unconscious at the time, but, yes, that is what happened." she nodded, before gesturing for him to continue.

"The guards were injured from the fight, but we still searched. By nightfall, we hadn't found you, and the men were forced to hide from the guards, which further frustrated our efforts." he explained, before sighing, "It was when Zhao started his bombardment that we were forced to withdraw, as the guards began to mobilise. If we'd been found then, I doubt they would have given us mercy."

"Then you fled the city. Were you able to recover our supplies?"

"Some. We didn't have our komodo rhinos anymore, so we were forced to travel on foot back toward Pohuai." he explained, before scratching on his chin, "That's where we thought you would have gone."

"We did. But Shinu had already betrayed me by the time we arrived."

"We only learnt of his treachery after we met up with a few survivors of Zhao's attack on Yu Dao. We travelled south, past the stronghold, aiming to regroup with the forces you sent westward. We found them, but the pretender's men had already attacked them."

"How much of the force remained?"

"Enough to attack the colonies, if they had the stomach for it." he clarified, before sighing, his expression becoming pained, "We waited a month for you to return, but when it became apparent that you weren't going to appear, the men lost hope. The army moved north, regrouping with Zhao's fleet by their home port on the north coast of the Earth Kingdom."

"And how was our beloved Admiral after his 'great victory'?" she asked him, the Captain raising his chin haughtily; like Yi, the guard she had only had a brief chance to talk to, he seemed to dislike the Admiral.

"He believed that he had a chance to beat Zuko. And he had the army reorganised. They resisted, and when word of Ozai's survival reached us, some of the army defected and headed south to join with the other rebels that wanted to restore him to the throne." he explained, Ty Lee's eyes turning down to her friend, unsure how she'd react to that.

"I'm not surprised." she simply spoke up, "My father, while I was gone, was the only other choice for the throne."

"Some did not lose hope, or maybe they simply thought we were safer in numbers." he admitted, "The army remained, and continues to hold the areas of the Earth Kingdom north of us here."

"How'd you guys get here then?" Sokka asked, before making a smug look, "Didn't want to be Admiral Sideburns personal guards?"

The Captain rolled his eyes, obviously not amused by the Water Tribesman's comments; she knew from what Azula had already told her that the two of them had a history.

"We remained with Zhao for a while longer... but he remained focused on his whole invasion of the North Pole. Nothing happened. A few skirmishes with Zuko's forces, but eventually, I decided that it would be unsafe for us to remain with him, especially if his subordinates got fed up and decided to kill him. They haven't done so yet, but it might still happen. Instead of guarding him and his highest ranking lackeys, we instead moved here to serve undercover."

"And have you found anything of note?"

"We have reported on both loyalist and rebel operations in the area, as well as what Earth Kingdom resistance remains in these areas." he explained, his expression becoming more exasperated and annoyed, "The situation is ever-evolving, and I doubt that anyone will have absolute control here for a while. Is that what you wanted to know, your highness?"

"Yes." she nodded, "Well, I think you did good for yourselves. Instead of serving as Zhao's lackeys, you remained here, undercover, where you could await my return."

"We did not lose hope." one of the guards spoke up, "We knew you weren't dead, and when we heard about New Omashu, we had a party."

"Oh, you got drunk in celebration? I'm flattered, truly." she pulled a smug grin, the Captain raising a hand.

"We did not get too intoxicated, I assure you. But that was a good day for us." he admitted, before he placed both his hands down on the table, looking across it toward the Princess with a serious face, "Your highness, I don't mean to intrude, I must ask, what are your intentions now that you've found us?"

"The same as they already were." she raised her chin up, "The Avatar needs to go to the Northern Water Tribe to learn waterbending, and I need my army back."

"As in, the men under Zhao's command?" he asked, the Princess giving him an affirmative nod.

"Precisely. That was my intention upon leaving the South Pole. It's only now that those men and their strength is within my grasp." she clarified, the guards nodding along.

"So you want us to help you ingratiate with him?" the Captain asked her, Azula scratching her chin.

"Well, that's a way of putting it." she admitted, her eyes darting to behind her shoulder; although she didn't look her boyfriend in the eye, she was obviously wondering what he was thinking.

Ty Lee dared to turn her eyes, spotting the grimace on his face; Sokka didn't seem as worried about Azula's intentions, but that didn't mean that he liked them. He obviously wanted them to remain on their original goal, to reach the North Pole, where Aang would be able to learn waterbending from the best master they could find. Going to play politics, dangerous politics at that, with Zhao, obviously wasn't what he had in mind; Ty Lee wasn't overly fussed on the matter, trusting Azula's judgement. She knew that she would only ever try something if she thought herself to be completely capable of handling it.

"Well then, I guess I didn't need to ask you to deal with him then." the Captain admitted, making the Princess chuckle.

"Oh, were you?"

"He nearly got us killed." he spoke with a spiteful voice, "And his fuck-ups have led to this situation to begin with. I bet his fleet could have stopped Zuko from reaching Yu Dao, but he just wanted to play king-maker."

Sokka leaned back, raising one of his crossed arms to his cheek, "Huh, now that you mention it, he definitely could have stopped him if he had that blockade set up."

"To think my brother could have simply drowned at sea nine months ago." Azula sighed; the way she spoke so lightly of her brother's potential death was disturbing to Ty Lee, but she knew that her anger was reasonably placed, if not a little harsh- he had done the wrong thing, but from what she had heard, he had had the right reasons to do so, "There's no point thinking about the possibilities, the only thing that can happen now is justice."

"Justice." Sokka mumbled, "Well, seeing that the Northern Water Tribe won't be experiencing the same pain my tribe as, I don't really think this is justice."

"Sorry, what?" she heard Aang asked out, obviously confused by the Water Tribesman's words.

"I mean, you're going to give them Zhao on a silver platter, right?" he asked Azula, who looked at him, nearly surprised by how forward he was being.

"What did you say, Captain?" she offhandedly spoke to her subordinate, "Ingratiate myself? I certainly will."

"You're not suggesting you're going to let a Fire Nation invasion fail on purpose, are you?" the Captain asked her, his voice giving off the concern he felt for his fellow soldiers; Ty Lee felt a momentary tinge of sympathy for those who they might harm in realising Azula's aspirations, even if she thought they were for the greater good- peace was good, she knew that, even if it was something she had never truly known.

"Of course not." Azula raised a hand up to stress, "I wouldn't dare let a good fleet go to waste. Sokka, could you indulge my guards on exactly what you learnt all those months ago?"

He cleared his throat, placing his hand down on the table, "Admiral Zhao has been planning for I don't know how long, to kill the Moon Spirit.

"Sorry, come again?" one of the guards looked at him, believing his words to be a joke, "How can a spirit even be killed?"

"The Moon Spirit has a physical form at the North Pole, in a special lake, along with the Ocean Spirit." he explained, the looks on the guards' faces shifting from confusion to fear.

"Why would he kill the Moon Spirit?" another asked, "What does that even do?"

"Supposedly, it would stop all waterbenders from bending, and probably a lot more worse things that I can't even comprehend." Sokka admitted, before turning to face Azula, "And I assume that you want to lead him right to the spirits."

"Well, he'll believe me. He still thinks I'm the Princess he once knew, even if I still wouldn't agree with his plan back then." she admitted, before clasping her hands together, "We will go to the North Pole, and assist Zhao with his plan, which may involve some kind of secret operation. I do not know what technology the Admiral has access to, but I understand that his resources mean it may be possible for a small team to move in and kill the moon spirit before escaping."

"And you want the Water Tribe to actually capture him?" the Captain presumed, to which the Princess nodded.

"Precisely. He doesn't believe that I would betray him, and when I offer him the chance to make the move, he will accept it. If there's one thing he wants more than anything, it's to see that dream be achieved. That's what he kept demanding an invasion of the North Pole from my father, for years, even before he became an Admiral." she explained, the guards' faces shifting from surprise to clear impression.

"That's... that's a plan." the Captain mumbled, looking down into his hands before he turned his eyes up to her, "When are we leaving?"

"As soon as you're all able to." she simply explained, "But I will give you the liberty to relax for tonight. I have an empty stomach, and I was promised dinner." she admitted, making Sokka snicker; that was obviously what was on his mind- dinner, as well as getting a good night's sleep, "Don't you start." she warned him, before rising up to her feet, "Well, that's it. I know you must all be surprised to see me, after all this time, but I assure you, we will see brighter days, and I will repay you for your patience."

"You need not, your highness." the Captain raised a hand to stress, "We will do our duty, and that is a reward in and of itself."

"As well as the royal accommodation." one of the guards added, jokingly, making the others snicker, though they held back their laughter, obviously self-conscious while the Princess was on the table.

"You will." she stressed, before rising up, out of her seat, "Now, if you may excuse me, my friends will start grumbling if we don't return to our camp soon. Tomorrow we will bring our things here." she explained, before turning to Aang, "Do you think Appa could fit in here?" she gestured to the rather large doors of the barn, to which he nodded.

"Uh, yeah, I think so." he nodded, before stepping closer, 'So is that it? You're going to go trick this Zhao guy?"

"Yes, that is the plan." she nodded, before sighing, "But knowing our luck, the plan will likely have to change."

"Hopefully not." Ty Lee admitted, before making a small smile, truly thinking they had the chance to avoid the kind of mistakes they had made in the past, "We can always hope."

"Hey." Sokka pointed at her accusingly, gaining Azula's attention, "That's Katara's line." he then joked, surprisingly enough, making his sister turn to face him with a frown.

"Shut up." she growled at him before she turned her heels, "I'm heading back to the camp. We really do need to start cooking dinner."

"Oh, I'm coming with, don't worry." her brother grinned, making her groan with frustration.

"I was talking to everyone, not just you." she chidded him, before she began to pace back toward the entrance of the barn, the two boys following right after her.

Ty Lee remained by her friend's side, watching as she turned to finally farewell her men, even if it was only for the evening, "Thank you. I apologise for their behaviour- none of them are very well attuned to our formalities." she admitted, the Captain raising a brow skeptically.

"That's clear enough. The Water Tribesman didn't learn any manners while you were gone?" he asked, the Princess raising a finger to her chin.

"Not that I know of. He did, however, become an excellent chi-blocker." she explained, making her guards raise their brows with surprise; chi-blocking was not an easy skill to pick up, but supposedly, Sokka had worked very hard on his training for the past few months, and from no knowledge whatsoever, he built up a repertoire the acrobat could compare to her own, "What do you think, Ty Lee? You sparred against him earlier today."

"He's as fast as me, but he's not as flexible. So I just jump out of the way." she explained her own tactics, before she realised that wasn't the answer Azula was looking for, "I mean, he's very good. Just not as good as me."

"Of course he's not. You've been honing your skills for years, while he's only had a few months." she conceded, before turning to face her guards, "I wonder how you will all shape up against him."

"We did not forget our training, your highness." Yi spoke up, "Renshu had us work every day on our forms."

"Good, good." she smirked, appreciative of the effort that had obviously been going on despite her absence, "I haven't fought against a good firebender in a long time. I hope you do not disappoint tomorrow morning."

"We will not fail you." the Captain assured her, rising from his seat, after which the rest of the guards did the same.

"I don't doubt your word." she acknowledged, before she turned to Ty Lee, "I think we ought to catch up with the others."

"Oh, yeah." her eyes widened, remembering that Katara, Sokka and Aang had already left the barn, and were likely on their way back toward the campsite, "Well, let's go then." she suggested, before turning to wave to the guards, awkwardly smiling at them, "Uh, enjoy your night."

"Uh, thanks." one of the guards mumbled in response, with an equal amount of awkwardness; she didn't know how to address them, and from what she could tell, neither did they to her- she was a noblewoman of high standing, and Azula's best friend, or at least one of them.

She turned her heels, and was quickly followed by her friend, who readjusted her hair slightly, moving any stray hairs out of her face before she returned to follow the acrobat. She pushed the ajar barn door open, glancing outside, taking note that the sun had yet to set, though it was already quite low in the sky; it would be dark soon enough, so they had a lucky timing for when they decided to leave.

When she closed the door behind herself, the Princess let out a deep breath, "Why does the Water Tribe savage always have to be the one in my way when it comes to good plans?" she asked him, proving that she had the same presumptions that Ty Lee did; Sokka didn't approve of her plan, no matter how effective it would be getting rid of the threat.

"Well, it's a little... questionable, but I don't think it's a bad idea. You won't have to worry about Zhao if he's in some Water Tribe prison." she acknowledged, the Princess nodding along as she strode ahead, walking beside her down the path as they headed back toward the village proper.

"That won't change his mind." she conceded, "I don't think it'd be wise for him to come along in the first place."

The acrobat's eyes widened as she realised what Azula had just said, "Wait, you don't want him to go with you? After all the time you've spent together?"

"He has a point. It's dangerous. I'm a Princess, so there's a lot less of a chance I'd be thrown into the Northern Sea for betraying Zhao. Sokka on the other hand, he may drown for my sake. I don't want him to do that."

"I..." Ty Lee mumbled, realising what Azula was saying; the dangers involved with her plan were fatal.

"I still want to help you. You're going to need some company."

"I'll have my guards." she argued, before sighing, "But they're a bunch of bores. I'd be honoured if you joined me... but I do warn you. If things go sideways, you mightn't get out in one piece."

"I knew that when I left the circus." she reached out to her friend, placing a hand on her shoulder, "I will go with you. I know why you don't want to let Sokka go... and I think it's kinda sweet. You don't want him to get hurt."

"He can take care of himself." she leaned away, forcing Ty Lee to let go, "But even a Water Tribe warrior who's mastered chi-blocking can't fight off a whole ship of soldiers." she admitted with a grimace.

"I'm sure he'll understand." Ty Lee gave her a reassuring smile, even though she was actually unsure whether Sokka would understand; he was a caring and protective boyfriend, the latter meaning that he would probably not approve of Azula going through with her plan, let alone not letting him come along.

"I don't think he will." she admitted, letting out a sigh, "What happened in Yu Dao..." she began, before she idly looked out to the horizon, "It made him lose a bit of that fighting spirit. Perhaps it was because he thought I had died. I don't know what he thinks about it, but it can't be very good."

"He's still tough, Zula. Didn't you see him when we were at Crescent Island?"

"And he nearly broke down upon seeing me get injured. As thankful as I am to his assistance, I know that he is preoccupied with my safety. That clouds his judgement." she crossed her arms, the acrobat pouting.

"But... isn't that a good thing? That means he cares." she explained, the Princess taking a deep breath.

Of all the things that could make her break the serious, stoic face she had built up, it was love; that was both heartening and sad- she had never had it before, not in the way that Sokka had given it to her, and that made her crumble away, or more so, the facade she had built up crumbled.

"I know he cares." she mumbled, her voice quiet and solemn, in stark contrast from the serious, almost chiding voice she had been speaking with only moments earlier, "He can't jeopardise my plans because of his feelings and worries." she spoke more clearly.

"But Zula, what about your feelings? I know you don't want him to get hurt."

"Of course I don't want him to get hurt." she spoke up, glancing down the road, where she could see Aang, Sokka and Katara in the distance; she gestured in the direction of her boyfriend, "He's going to put himself in danger because of me, and I can't let him do that." she declared, sounding more confident that before, "Not after Yu Dao. Not after what he did." she added with an almost worried look.

For Azula, looking worried was not looking calm, and that meant she snarled slightly, but she could tell that her friend wasn't angry with the Water Tribesman; she wanted him to be safe, just like how he wanted her to be safe all the same.

"He'll be safe with Aang and Katara. They need to get to the North Pole, anyway." she explained, the Princess nodding along.

"That's true." she agreed, "Those two need to master waterbending, and though I know there may be some resistance from their conservative culture, it is necessary that both of them do so. Katara needs to master waterbending so she can continue to train Aang, who needs to learn it like he has to all the other elements."

"What do you think will happen if they don't train Katara?"

"Sokka's going to beat the crap out of some waterbenders with chi-blocking." she stated, as if it were a matter of fact; knowing Sokka as well as she did, Ty Lee trusted her judgement on that matter.

"That'd be funny to watch." she grinned, before her smile faltered, "Too bad we won't get to watch."

"Oh, who knows?" she shrugged her shoulders, before raising a finger to her chin, "Maybe Zhao will be able to get us to the North Pole really quickly. He might have some new technology from War Minister Qin, who probably didn't remain with Zuko. That man makes war machines for a living, so he's going to want to support people who want to perpetuate our conflicts with the rest of the world." she theorised, the acrobat scratching at her chin.

"Hmmm... what kind of new technology?"

"I heard about some kind of flying craft that was being worked on, but this was over a year ago. It might already be in use, and we just haven't seen it." she considered, "Though I would have thought General Zhang's reports might have mentioned it."

"That's something you can ask Zhao. Maybe if you come up with a good idea, he might let you lead his little plan to take out those spirits, so you can cross him even easier." she suggested, the Princess smirking.

"Well, that's what I'm hoping for." she conceded, before she turned her eyes ahead; they were already walking through the centre of the town again, and soon enough, they'd be on the path back down toward Appa and their campsite.

She glanced up toward the evening sky, seeing how it had shifted to an orange hue; Ty Lee smiled, appreciative of the beauty of the world, which was something always around her, ready to be seen. Azula looked at her like she was doing something unusual, obviously confused by her enamoured state.

"What is it? Is there something in the sky?" she asked her, glancing up above her, "I can't see anything other than a few clouds."

"It's pretty, that's all." she simply told her friend, who shrugged her shoulder.

"I don't know how you derive aesthetic pleasure out of something so bland. All it is the sky."

"The sky can be pretty, even if it's there all the time." she acknowledged, "See how the orange and blue go together." she gestured up, making the Princess chuckle, "What's so funny?"

"That's the colour of my fire when I'm ill." she acknowledged, making Ty Lee raise a brow.

"Huh, so your fire can go colours other than blue. I never would have known." she conceded, the Princess looking at her with confusion.

"Well, it was orange before it was blue. Remember?" she raised her hands up, leaning forward slightly, as if to suggest she was really that forgetful.

"I do. I just thought it was stuck blue."

"As did I." she admitted, before turning her eyes away, "But then I found my greatest weakness."

It didn't take a genius to figure out she was referring to Sokka, although Ty Lee was sure he would be offended if he found out he was being referred to as such.

"It's not a weakness to have love, Azula."

"According to Fire Lord Ozai, who was once the most powerful firebender alive, it is a weakness, at least in terms of one's firebending ability." she argued, the acrobat furrowing a brow, now interested in considering that Sokka made her bending change colour.

"So when did you make this orange-blue fire?"

"A few times." she admitted, "Whenever I'd think about him too much. Never in combat."

"Hmph." she furrowed a brow, unsure how to judge what she had been given.

She was no expert on firebending, but knowing what she did about auras, she was sure that one's aura could influence how their bending came out. Azula's aura was always so confident, and her bending was blue, but she couldn't be sure those two were correlating or it was just that it seemed like that.

"That's interesting." she commented, before raising a finger up, "Have you ever firebent... uh... you know when?" she asked her friend the most personal thing she possibly could; Azula looked at her with confusion for a few moments before her cheeks flushed red, obviously embarrassed by such a thought.

"Of course not. That'd be extremely dangerous." she argued, crossing her arms, "I don't know why you'd think I'd do that." she tried to speak seriously, though her red cheeks suggested she was thinking differently.

"Well, I didn't know. People get emotional, they bend. That's a thing, right?" she asked her friend, who nodded in confirmation.

"Yes, that is. That's why anger is best for firebending. You channel your frustrations into your bending, and you become far more powerful than you might have been otherwise." she clarified, turning away from cover her face.

"And how do you power your firebending?"

"Hate." she told her, almost snappily; that suggested that she was simplifying things- the new Azula, despite being still quite spiteful toward her brother and uncle, didn't seem to be as hateful as her past self.

"Really?" she asked her, the Princess narrowing her eyes at her.

"Yes. That's it." she told her with a stern voice, suggesting that Ty Lee stop her prodding; as much as she wanted to understand her friend, she knew that it would be unwise to aggravate her.

"Okay." she mumbled, turning her eyes ahead, taking note that they were already in the woods again, making their way down the path, alongside the small creek that ran through the village.

As the pair made their way back toward the camp, she could see that the others were already gathering around what was to be their campfire, though it seemed to lack sticks or kindling to actually start a fire as of yet.

"Maybe we should get some sticks." she suggested, the Princess gesturing to the right side of the path, where there was some fallen debris from the tree.

"There they are. Pick them up." she commanded her, making Ty Lee raise a brow with confusion.

"You're not going to help?"

"Urgh." she grumbled, conceding her hypocrisy, "Fine." she agreed to her proposition, striding over before scooping up a few long sticks, bundling them under her right arm.

The acrobat did the same, picking up some twigs and larger sticks, bundling them up and holding them in both hands; she strode right over to the other three, who were cutting up the vegetables.

"Oh, thanks." the Water Tribe girl thanked them, before she gestured toward the nearby creek, "I'm just going to get some water. Could you guys set up the fire?" she addressed Aang and Sokka, who nodded.

"Got it." the young Avatar smiled, turning around to glance around the edge of the clearing, "We need more sticks." he concluded, the Princess gesturing in the direction he was looking.

"Then go get some. I'll prepare some of the meat separately." she explained, Sokka raising a brow with interest.

"How are you going to do that?" he asked her, the Princess looking back at him like he was an idiot.

Sparking a small flame in her right hand, she rolled her eyes, "With my firebending, obviously."

"But didn't you say you hate using your bending to cook?" he asked her, obviously confused why she had changed her mind.

"I want my dinner quickly so I can go to bed, Sokka." she stressed, her boyfriend looking at her with slight confusion.

"Uh-huh." he nodded, his eyes narrowing at her for a few moments before he reached into the bag, pulling out some salted meat, "So you just want to heat this up?"

"Yes." she growled, reaching her arm forward, her palm open to receive the meat into her hand.

"Why are you in such a bad mood?" he asked her as he handed the salted meat over, the Princess side-eyeing her friend.

"Oh no reason." she lied, before letting her flame covered hand cross over the meat, "You're just annoying, that's all."

"If I'm so annoying, why aren't you angry with me all the time?" he asked her, Azula's expression idly looking at the meat in her hand for a few moments as she heated it up.

"Because you're useful." she spoke with a calmer voice, before gesturing to the woods, "Now go get some more sticks for the fire."

He stood up, cleared his throat, and proceeded to bow exaggeratedly in her direction, "Of course, your majesty." he addressed her with a low, serious sounding voice.

"I don't appreciate the sarcasm." Azula narrowed at her, making him cock a smirk.

"You're the one who thinks it's sarcasm." he pointed at her, before he moved his arms out, as if he were trying to gauge the size of something, "How big a bundle?"

"We want the campfire going throughout the night, so the campsite's warm and the animals stay away." she explained, before idling flicking her hand in the direction Aang had walked off to retrieve some sticks, "Figure it out yourself."

"Okay, I'll take that as a lot." he concluded, turning his heels and walking over to do what was requested of him.

Ty Lee coughed, garnering her friends attention; she looked at her with a serious glare, "What?"

"You're really playing hard to get." she simply told her friend, who let out a rare Azula smile.

"Don't tell him that. He'll just get lazy."

"A Princess needs to be treated like a Princess." she agreed with her, before she reached over to glance into the food bag, "So, rice, vegetables and that bit of meat? It's a little bland."

"What did you want? A feast of duck, spiced rice and soup?" she asked her, as if that were going to be possible; of course, it wasn't, but that didn't mean Ty Lee would just start liking the bland food they were always eating.

"I mean, that doesn't sound too bad." she raised a finger to her chin, the Princess smirking as she raised a brow.

"Let's just hope Zhao still knows how to treat his guests."

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