The Return @tubendo
Chapter 17

With his face in the snow, Aang grimaced slightly, knowing that he really wasn't as good as Katara when it came to waterbending; they'd only spent a few days with Master Pakku so far, but her bending had improved greatly, and though he did have a talent for waterbending, she had a lot more dedication to perfecting the forms that the waterbending master was teaching them. She was far more in tune with her element than he was; even if he understood it, and could waterbend quite well, at least for a beginner, according to Pakku, his talent was not enough- he needed to apply himself more.

He sighed, pulling himself up and raising his arms up to bend the snow off of his parka, before he turned around to face his friend, "Okay, maybe a rematch?"

Pakku stood between his two pupils, while the other students looked at them with interest and fear; they obviously knew Katara was a great waterbender in the making, and though they had been set up to spar each other, the Water Tribe girl had been beating most of them, though sometimes, she struggled to keep up with some of the more complex forms they knew.

"A rematch?" the waterbending master almost scoffed, "I mean no offence, but you need to take this more seriously, Avatar." he warned him, "Otherwise, Katara will just throw you to the ground."

He nodded, before his eyes met Katara's, noting that she was already in form and had a small smirk on his face; she was clearly a lot more confident in her waterbending, and he was happy for her. He wasn't very happy about the beating he was likely going to receive at her hands, however. She picked up snow from around herself, quickly phasing the snow into water, turning it two two dual water whips, which she aimed at Aang, who spun himself around, picking up the snow around him which he was able to form into a water shield; he blocked the the water whips, before he cut the water shield in half, raising his left foot to kick one portion out around Katara, who was momentarily distracted by it, before he spun the other part around his body, forming a water whip, which was able to grasp her by the ankle, and pull her off her feet.

"Gotcha!" he grinned, before he realised he had spoken too soon; she had bent the snow underneath her as she fell over, giving her a softer landing, before she bounced back up bending a stream of water around her body.

"You got me?" she raised a brow, her mocking tone a little frustrating; a cocky Katara was both amusingly and frustratingly close in temperament to Azula.

She thrust her left hand forward, the water stream firing out with haste toward Aang, who stepped out of the way, raising more snow up, shattering her attack. That didn't stop her from moving closer, bending the snow underneath him, freezing the Avatar's feet to the ground; his eyes widened, realising that he'd have to both unfreeze his feet, and block against her next attack. He grit his teeth, bending backwards to dodge a water whip she sent his way, his frozen feet actually preventing him from falling flat on his back. Reaching his right hand toward the snow behind him, he bent a snowball right into Katara's face, which she obviously didn't expect. Momentarily disoriented, he reached out beside himself, bending the snow into two tentacles of water which grasped the Water Tribe girl by the wrist, holding her in place.

She glanced down at her hands, after shaking the snow from her face, and narrowed her eyes at him, "Uh, are you going to freeze me in place?" she asked him, the Avatar smirking.

"Nope." he corrected her, before pulling both of his hands toward the ground, which pulled the tentacles down simultaneously; the result was his friend being pulled off her feet and face-planting in the snow.

He unfroze his feet, before pulling himself back up to his full height, listening to Katara grumble as she pulled herself off of the ground.

"Did you really have to do that? Everybody was watching." she commented with a clearly annoyed voice, eyeing the students behind them, as well as Pakku, who seemed very amused by their spar.

"Well, you've thrown my face into the snow three times already. It's only fair I get to do it once." he argued, crossing his arms as she slowly rose back up to her feet.

"Ah yes, 'fair' how Azula uses it." she sighed, not appreciating his rationale, before turning to face the other students, glaring them down, "Anybody else want some?"

Pakku glanced back at his students, looking skeptical of whether they would accept Katara's near taunt, "So everyone is too afraid to spar Pupil Katara?" he asked them, "She's a novice, and yet you're all too timid, hm?" he crossed his arms, making Katara chuckle.

"I won't hurt you." she assured them, "At least not intentionally."

Aang decided that he might as well ask if anyone wanted to go against him; he needed to spar more if he wanted to reach his friend's level. When she was winning five out of six spars, he knew that he needed to improve.

"Well, does anyone want to spar me?" he asked, not getting an immediate response, "I promise I won't airbend." he stressed, the pupils looking amongst themselves, as if they were trying to choose somebody amongst themselves to go against Aang.

One of them stepped forward, named Ujarak, "I'll try and spar him, Master." he addressed Pakku, who just gestured toward Aang.

"Go ahead, Pupil Ujarak." he simply told him, the student immediately taking a waterbending form; given how quickly he picked up a water whip, he was sure that he was going to give Aang a good fight.

Katara stepped out of the way, eyeing Aang with interest as he readied his own stance, creating a water shield from the snow behind him, which he held by his side, ready to bend it anywhere he needed it. He felt a little nervous under her gaze, but tried to focus on Ujarak's movements, watching as the other student began by reaching for Aang's arm with his water whip; he immediately pulled the shield in the way of his water whip, and widened the mass of water in front of him, as the student began to pummel him with a second water whip. He thrust the shield out with both hands, smacking the other student right in the face, which made his water whips break apart in the process. When he fell down on the ground, the young Avatar couldn't help but smirk, proud of his quick Pakku looking at him with a moderately impressed face, before turning to Ujarak.

"Congratulations, Pupil Ujarak, you lasted... what? Ten seconds against the Avatar?" he mocked his student, who rose up with a snarl.

"I'm not done, Master." he stressed with a slight snarl, which made Aang feel a little nervous, Ujarak readying himself into a stance once more, creating a ball of water with what was left of the shield he threw his way.

The student threw the mass of water forward, the young Air Nomad forced to dodge the blob as it went for his head, bending the water back around himself, just as he was taught to, and then moved to bend the water toward his opponent. Ujarak threw his arms back, bending the blob of water in half, splashing the students who were watching behind him; Aang reached back behind him to bend the snow that was surrounding him, phasing it into water, which he used to form a ring around himself. That ring provided him with the ability to create two tentacles of water, which he manipulated like second arms to cut through Ujarak's next attack, a pair of water whips. He then moved forward, allowing his tentacles to reach the other student, and grasp his ankles, pulling him off of his feet as he tried to move into a defensive stance. He grunted as he landed square on his butt, and the other students laughed at his defeat.

Pakku shook his head with disappointment, "Okay, that's enough sparring for now. Seeing that it's midday, I will provide you all with a short period to go eat lunch, before you come back to continue your practice. We will be practising the ice trap... on each other." he warned them, Aang grimacing, already imagining what was going to happen then.

He could already see Katara ensnaring him in a block of ice, and embarrassing him again; of course, when they were practising he was meant to get caught, but it didn't make it any less embarrassing- he was an airbending master, and getting stuck in traps was something he found absurd, given what he had learnt during his airbending training.

"So be quick." he warned them, "Whoever returns last will end up as the subject of my demonstration." he clarified, which was a fancy way of him saying that the tardiest student would be put in an ice trap by Pakku; how he said it suggested he wasn't going to free the student, which meant if they weren't good at phasing water, they would likely be stuck there until a generous student unfroze the trap.

As the students began to disperse to go off and have their lunches, Katara grasped him by the wrist, "You heard him. I am not ending up in that ice trap, Aang."

"Me too." he agreed, before glancing around, "Uh, where will we get lunch?"

"I think there's a stall that sells hot seaweed noodles down by the canal. You want some?" she asked him, the young Air Nomad grinning.

"Would I?" he asked rhetorically, before he began to dash off, pulling her along toward the staircase.

"Woah! Not so fast!" she pleaded with him, Aang giggling.

"Well he said he wanted us to be fast!" he reminded her, the Water Tribe girl's eyes widening as she tried to keep up with his pace; he did slow down a bit once they reached the stairs, Katara sighing with relief, and let go of his wrist, following on after him down the stairs.

"You know, you're really good at waterbending, Katara." he acknowledged, making her smirk.

She obviously liked to get her ego stroked, but he wasn't trying to be a bootlicker; she really was a good waterbender, and he knew she'd be a great master once they stopped learning from Pakku, and had to inevitably return to the Earth Kingdom.

"Well, I think Master Pakku has been a good teacher. He's a bit... well he's mean." she conceded, "But he knows what he's doing, and now that he knows I'm good at waterbending, he seems happy to teach me."

"And all the other students are scared of you." he added, chuckling at the memory of all the other students she had beaten, "You're way better than them, even though you only started learning a few days ago."

"I know." she cocked a smirk, before glancing back her way, "But you're good too, Aang. You're getting into the mindset of waterbending; it's pretty different to what you're usually used to."

"It is." he nodded, "But I get it... I mean, all the meditation and practice we did before we got here helped, but Master Pakku has helped me get more in touch with my waterbending."

"I mean... I was kinda making stuff up as I went along, and basing my meditation off of Azula's firebending meditation, but it worked well enough." she noted, before furrowing a brow, "I wonder how much more accurate my waterbending can get."

"You mean what you can make with your waterbending?" he asked, the Water Tribe girl nodding, "Remember when I made a me out of snow?" he asked her, making her chuckle.

"That was just a snowman, Aang." she clarified, making him slump his shoulders over, a little disappointed in realising it wasn't that impressive, "Though, better than the normal kind."

"Uh, yeah." he made a small smile, "I guess you could make stuff out of ice, like... maybe even a weapon. An ice sword." he grinned at her, raising his hands up, making her giggle.

"Are you sure that would work? Ice is hard, but I'm sure Sokka's boomerang could cut through something like that." she noted, the young Air Nomad narrowing his eyes.

"Huh, that's true." he mumbled, "I guess you really just have to make some really big water whips or something."

"Giant waterbending tentacle monster?" she asked him, reminding him of the trick he had tried the first night they were in the Northern Water Tribe.

"You never know, it might actually be useful if I work on it enough. Maybe it needs more tentacles." he scrunched his lips, Katara pointing ahead of them; he realised that they were near the bottom of the stairs, by the canal, where he could see a few stalls, including the one she had spoken of.

"Oh, is that it?" he asked, the Water Tribe girl nodding.

The pair strode along past some pedestrians, who eyed Aang with interest; even with his hair, he was still rather easy to out as the Avatar with his arrow on his forehead, not to mention he didn't look like he was Water Tribe, with his relatively pale skin and black hair. He tried to ignore their stares, knowing that it made him feel a little nervous, like they were going to start talking to him just because he was the Avatar. He was okay with talking to people, but he knew that he would prefer to just keep his distance, especially when there was really nothing fitting his idea of Avatar duties to do. When people needed help, he'd be there to help them out, but otherwise, he would prefer to just do what he wanted, which was at that moment to enjoy some lunch with Katara; he knew seaweed noodles were good, so he was already looking forward to it, knowing after all the practice they had done, he could use a good meal. He wasn't as food obsessed as Sokka, but he could acknowledge when food was good; he was looking forward to the day when he could get an egg custard tart- he hadn't come across any yet, but he'd get one when he found it, no matter what stupid things Azula said about money.

As the pair approached the stall, his friend cleared her throat to address the owner, "Excuse me, could we get two bowls of seaweed noodles?" she asked him, the man smiling at them.

"Ah, that'd be twelve pieces." he explained, the Water Tribe girl reaching into her pocket, taking out the money he asked for.

Once it was in his hand, he quickly turned to the pot of noodles that he had already hot, waiting to be scooped out; he filled two bowls up with a big spoon, before he handed them each a bowl and a pair of chopsticks. Aang immediately dug into the noodles, slurping some up and grinning at Katara; they were fresh and tasted like vegetables, but were in the shape of noodles- a perfect combination, if you asked him.

"These are great." he told her, before turning to face the man who had sold them the noodles, "Thanks!" he grinned at him with a wave, the man almost laughing at his reaction to the food.

"No problem." he assured him, before the pair turned around and began to walk back along the canal toward the stairs.

Katara turned to face him, slurping up some of her own noodles, "So, uh..." she mumbled, chewing down on food in her mouth, "are you feeling like you're on top of your training?"

"Uh, yeah." he nodded, "I mean, I know you're going better than me, but that's good. You can teach me once we end up leaving this place." he acknowledged, the Water Tribe girl nodding.

"I have a feeling Azula's going to want to go back to the Earth Kingdom quickly. With the whole Dai Li thing." she noted, Aang's eyes widening as he remembered that specific argument she'd made.

They could gain the respect and friendship of the various Earth Kingdom rebels by getting rid of the 'bad guys' running Ba Sing Se, and give the Earth Kingdom an opportunity to run itself. He knew from the monks that Ba Sing Se was not a very nice place, and he could only guess the isolation brought about by a hundred years of war would have only made that worse.

"She knows what she's doing." he simply admitted; he was not well-versed in understanding politics or government, but Azula certainly was, and he could trust her to make the right judgements when it came to that area.

"She's also perfectly fine with betraying her subordinates because she doesn't like them." she added, just to warn him of what they were getting into with the Princes; he knew that she had done, and continued to do some questionable things, but she seemed to do so with the best intentions, "Though, given what Zhao wants to do, I don't blame her at all for doing it."

"That guy just sounds crazy." he mumbled, slurping up more noodles into his mouth.

"A lot of people in the Fire Nation must be crazy like him if they were going around trying to conquer the world." she noted, knowing that Azula's change of views when it came to the other nations was probably the exception and not the norm.

A lot of people in the Fire Nation probably held very flawed views about the other nations, leading them to insane conclusions like it being perfectly justified to try and destroy the other bending arts; they had destroyed the Air Nomads and the Southern Waterbenders, and he was guessing the Northern Waterbenders would go the same way if Zhao had any say in the matter.

"I just hope the Fire Nation can change. That people can see that destroying the other nations is just... well, it's stupid." he put it as simply as he could.

"Yeah, it is." she agreed with him, "If Azula can change, maybe they can all change."

"And maybe the Northern Water Tribe might start teaching girls how to fight with waterbending." he added, knowing that Katara had been an exception, which was frustrating to say the least; he knew it was completely unfair how she'd been treated, and that the only reason Pakku had decided to teach her was his relationship with her grandmother, and not because he actually thought he was wrong.

"I can only hope." she mumbled, "One day, Aang, one day."

The pair continued to eat their lunches as they made their way up the stairs, back toward the training area; Aang tried to keep his pace up not wanting to be the last one there- getting ensnared in Pakku's ice trap would just be an utter embarrassment.

He slurped down some noodles, before he turned his gaze back to Katara, thinking to what they were about to be doing, "This ice trap sounds like it'd be a useful thing."

"Yeah, it does." she nodded, before pursing her lips, raising her hands up to emphasise, "Anybody tries to mess with us when we're around water, and we can just get them stuck in a wall of ice."

"Waterbending is really... uh... I'm trying to think of the word... it can be used for a lot of stuff."

"Versatile?" she asked, Aang nodding; that was what he was thinking of.

"Yeah, yeah, versatile. Water has all these different ways it can be- steam, liquid, ice, and you can bend it to be useful it well... any situation." he acknowledged the merit of the element he was learning; airbending was very useful for evasion and getting around potential opponents, as well as pushing them around and getting them out of the way, unlike waterbending, which one could use to defend, attack and ensnare one's enemies.

"It can be." she nodded, "That's why I want to become a master." she clarified, "With enough training, I'll be able to help out a lot more if we end up in danger- waterbending can be used as long as you have water, and it's everywhere."

"Except the desert." Aang noted a rather obvious place that would put a waterbender at a disadvantage.

"Uh, yeah. Maybe we should avoid deserts if we can." she noted, making him chuckle.

"That's easy. It's not like there's anything in the Si Wong Desert. I've flown past it a few times, but it's just sand and sandbenders." he acknowledged, Katara nodding, slurping up some of her own noodles.

"Well," she mumbled, chewing down on the noodles before she spoke up again, "that's good. I'd prefer to stay in places where we can get water."

The pair continued up along the stairs, and Aang continued to chew down on his noodles; he had already emptied the bowl of its contents by the time they reached the top, where he could see Pakku waiting off in the distance, though not all of the students had returned yet. He sighed with relief, before he glanced down at the bowl in his hands, realising that he didn't know what to do with it."

"What do I do with the bowl?" he asked Katara, who cracked hers it two and took a bite out of it.

"It's dried seaweed. Everything but the chopsticks is seaweed." she clarified, as if it were completely obvious, Aang's eyes widening; he had thought from the texture that the bowl itself was made out of some kind of plant, but he didn't think it'd be seaweed too.

"Huh..." he mumbled, before he did what she had done, and broke off a portion of the bowl, and took a bite; it was a little saltier and tougher than the noodles, but it still tasted good, and he was able to quickly chew down the seaweed bowl.

Aang glanced up ahead toward Pakku, and noted that he was seemingly chiding his other students, some of which seemed to have questions about their next forms; he was just going to watch and learn, not wanting to earn his master's ire for asking a bad question. He also hoped that he would not be amongst those who would be getting ensnared in the ice traps first. He and Katara approached the rest of the students, and their master turned to face them, noting their appearance.

"Oh, lucky for you two, there's still some more to come." he acknowledged, the young Avatar awkwardly smiling at the master, who gestured for them to sit with the other students, most of whom were eating food at that very moment; they must have had some things with them, unlike Aang and Katara.

The pair sat down beside them, and he noticed the idle glares that they received from the other students; they were obviously jealous of Katara's bending ability, and perhaps a little annoyed that she had joined them, especially because she was a girl. Being reminded of the sexist ways of the Northern Water Tribe annoyed Aang, knowing that it was unfair how she had been treated. His attention was drawn toward their master, who was rather impatiently waiting for the other students. He was paced back and forth with his hands behind his back, and turned to look down the stairs after a few moments of eyeing the students present.

"Three left." he grumbled, "They better have some good excuses."

The pair looked at each other, both with nervous looks on their faces; they could only guess what was going to happen to the other students, but the young Air Nomad was sure that it would be a pleasant experience. Soon enough, three students appeared at the top of the staircase, the looks on their faces suggesting that they had just run up the stairs; they paced over toward Master Pakku and his students, the waterbending master stepping forward with his arms crossed.

"Why are you three late?" he questioned them, his tone accusing; his three pupils leaned back in fear, one of them, Tarkik, looking like he was about to run away.

"Uh... Panuk fell in the canal when we were trying to practice some waterbending." one of the students, Kallik explained to his master, who scoffed.

"You wanted to do some practice?" Pakku asked, the three boys looking amongst each other, Tarkik flat out bolting back, not wanting to partake in what was to come next; he didn't have a chance to get away as their master thrust his hands forward, and all three of them were held in place by spires of ice that rose out from the ground.

The spires pushed them up into the air, and the three were left flailing, trying to get themselves out of the traps, which held their limbs in place, and thus, prevented them from bending.

"This, my pupils, is the ice trap." their master gestured toward his three students, "You must move quickly to ensnare your opponent, otherwise, they might be able to escape. Most important is catching their arms; if they can move, they can bend." he acknowledged, making Aang scrunch up his lips; he had learned that equating bending with moving ones arms was a little over simplistic, especially given firebending and airbending could be achieved with ones breathing alone.

"But what if they can bend out of their mouth?" he asked his master, who looked over at him with a slightly offended glance; he obviously didn't want him speaking up, but the Avatar would stick by his point- his ice trap was good, but an airbender could get out of it if they blew hard enough.

"Oh, would you like to give us a demonstration, Aang?" he asked him with a derisive tone, the young Avatar grimacing as he realised everyone's eyes were looking his way.

"U-uh... no, Master." he assured him, Pakku turning around and raising his hands to melt the ice traps, his students falling down to the ground.

Aang winced as he saw them hit the ground, before their master turned back to face them, "Choose a partner. You'll take turns trying this move against each other." he explained, before he stood in form, "It is relatively simple. Focus ahead at a certain point ahead of you, and bend the ice up beneath your target. If you make the spikes too concentrated, you'll just knock your target back, instead of trapping them." he acknowledged, before gesturing his hand up, "You may begin."

The young Avatar turned to face Katara, who narrowed her eyes at him, "Which of us are going first?"

"I'll go first." she decided, "Let's see if you can break yourself out." she cocked a smirk, which unnerved Aang; though he thought bending oneself out of the trap with one's mouth and breathing was possible, he didn't want to try it if it didn't work.

"Uh... okay." he mumbled, before pacing off, moving to find a spot for them to practice.

Once he found a place far away enough from the other students, who had already teamed up and were beginning to practice the technique, he turned around to face Katara, and took a fighting stance; even if he wasn't going to react and let her ensnare him, he ought to at least pretend he was an enemy. She took a deep breath, before she stared him down; he tensed up, and a moment later, she flicked her hands upward, creating pillars of ice which came up from underneath Aang. He gasped out for air as one of the pillars jabbed him in the gut, and another held him in place by holding his back; his arms were held in pace by two pillars each, which she partially melted to allow them to grasp his hands.

The young Air Nomad cringed from the awkward position he had found himself in, and cleared his throat, "Uh, good job, Katara." he congratulated her, before he tilted his head down, trying to gesture to the trap she'd made, "You can let me go now." he requested, the Water Tribe girl's eyes widening as she realised she had just left him there.

"Oh... sorry." she apologised, before waving her hand up, liquefying the trap, which allowed Aang to move, and thus, bend the water away; he flicked his arms around to get the water off, before he turned his gaze toward Katara.

"Okay, so now I'll try it." he narrowed his eyes, taking the stance he'd seen Pakku use earlier; he took a breath before thrusting his arms forward, pushing up pillars of ice around his friend to hold her in place.

To Aang's chagrin, she had actually decided to react, and threw her hands down, which liquefied his pillars, though she ended up slipping over on the water and fell on her butt; she looked a little pained from having fallen over so suddenly, but her attention was drawn by the young Avatar, who approached her with a suspicious glare, pointing at her accusingly.

"Why'd you do that?" he asked her, frustrated that she'd gone against what Pakku had told them; she was meant to just let him try the technique, not fight back like it was a spar.

"Because I could." she cocked a smirk, the young Avatar narrowing his eyes at her.

"Because you could?" he mumbled, "Huh, well, I guess I can do this." he thrust his hand down, liquefying the ice beneath her feet, making her fall into a pool of freezing cold water, before he froze it solid, leaving her there, grunting and groaning as she only had her head and half-frozen arms above the ground, unable to move.

"Hey!" she growled at him, "I can't get out of this!" she shouted at the Avatar, who just raised his hands up; he'd made an ice trap, even if it didn't go with what they'd been shown.

His friend's reaction had caught Pakku's attention; he approached the pair, looking a little amused by the state she had found herself in, "What are you doing, Pupil Aang?" he asked him, the young Avatar gesturing toward Katara.

"Uh, she tried to get out your ice-trap, so I made a different one." he admitted, making the master chuckle.

"Ah..." he turned his gaze toward the Water Tribe girl, raising his hand up to pull her out of the ice, bending the ice up before liquefying it, "I'll say that was a smart move." he conceded, "But Katara, you ought to follow my instructions. This is for both of you to practice, not for you to show off your great waterbending skills."

She looked a little annoyed, but their master's compliment clearly improved her mood, "My great skills?" she raised a brow, "Well, I hope I've improved."

"You have, Katara." he assured her with a smile, looking to be genuinely approving of her progress, "But, you need to treat your fellow pupils as equals. You can't just try and show off when practising just because you can. You want to teach Aang once you leave the North Pole, don't you?" he asked her, the Water Tribe girl nodding, turning to face her friend.

"I'm sorry for trying to dodge your ice trap." she apologised, the young Avatar stepping forward.

"And I'm sorry for sinking you into the ground." he acknowledged his overreaction; he was just a little annoyed, but from the look on Pakku's face, he seemed to approve of his ingenuity.

"I'll have no more of that while we're practising techniques, Aang." he warned him, before smirking, "But, try that during sparring, and we'll see if the students can learn a few things."

"I will, Master." he bowed toward him, the waterbending master turning around, before he sighed, looking at some other students who had left one of their friends trapped.

"Who left Kallik in the ice trap?" he asked the students accusingly, making Katara snicker.

Aang turned back to face her, and made a small smile, "Do you want to try that again?"

"Your trap or his trap?" she asked, the young Avatar, scrunching his lips up.

"I don't want to annoy our master by being a smarter waterbender than him." he joked, before taking form once more, "His trap."

Without any warning, she raised both her hands up, and once more ensnared him in the ice-trap, quite quickly at that; unlike last time, it didn't hurt, and he was simply stuck; he could tolerate getting stuck in that a few more times, as long as he got a chance to trap her back. He twisted his hands, allowing him to melt the water around them, giving him the chance to move them even more, completely eroding the ice trap, bending the ice into water. Katara looked at him with an impressed look, and wasn't ready when he thrust his hands up, ensnaring her the same way she had just done to him; she tried to move herself, but failed, making an awkward smile.

"Good job, Aang."

"Princess Azula, please, let us take your things."

Azula raised a brow, realising that there were servants waiting right in front of her room, ready to take her possessions over to the ship for her; she was a little surprised for a few moments, though she felt like chiding herself, as servants doing her every whim was something she ought to expect- she was Princess Azula, not a Water Tribe peasant.

She gestured into the room, and let out a small smile, glad to be reminded that she wouldn't be doing everything herself, "Go ahead." she simply gestured toward the bag she had packed; it didn't have much inside, and she honestly thought it was a little stupid to have a servant carry it for her, but she was more than happy to walk to the ship without having to worry about it.

"We will have your things brought to your quarters on the ship, your highness." the servant assured her, the Princess nodding, before she stepped out of the room.

She did need to get to the ship, given that was her current priority, as well as ensuring that Ty Lee and her guards got there in a timely manner; it was only about midday, given how strong her inner fire felt, but that was when Zhao had decided they ought to leave to conduct the test flight. They were timing their departure so that the test flight would occur during the polar day, which made some sense; nobody would want to be flying around and landing in the tundra during the middle of the night, even if that would be more stealthy. They might attempt that for their actual operation, where they'd be flying to the Northern Water Tribe's capital, where the spirits were refuted to be located, and where she assumed that her friends were. She paced down the hallway outside of her room, and knocked on Ty Lee's door, knowing that she ought to make sure she was ready; she was quite lazy and tardy in comparison to Azula, who prided herself on her punctuality. The acrobat opened the door a few moments later, and was wearing her new outfit; it was similar in terms of appearance to her usual attire, but with more layers, and no showing skin, designed to better protect her from the cold at the North Pole.

"Hi, Zula." she addressed her, peering her head out the doorway to note the servant carrying her bag, "Oh, are we going now?"

"We are." she confirmed, eyeing into her friend's room, noting she had her bag packed, "Oh, good, you're ready to leave." she noted, Ty Lee smiling.

"That I am." she confirmed, before she picked her bag off of her bed, "We'll be coming back here, right?"

"Eventually. We have things to deal with before we'll be back." she conceded, before stepping back into the hallway, "I need to make sure the guards are ready, and then we'll get on the boat."

"It's a battleship, right?" she asked, the Princess nodding.

"Yes, we'll be using the Admiral's ship." she acknowledged, "And tomorrow morning, we'll set off in the airship to fly to the tundra." she added, her friend stepping out into the hallway, closing the door behind her.

"Yeah, I know. You've told me the plan a few times now." she reminded her, before she tilted her head down the hallway, "Guards?"

She nodded, before she walked on down the hallway, moving to each of the dormitories and opening the doors; she eyed the guards inside, and simply gestured for them to get up and out, which they easily understood. She had already warned everyone the night prior about their departure, so they were already packed and ready to go. Continuing along, she opened more doors, and got the same response; the guards were ready to go, and had been waiting for her order. That was what she would expect of them after all. When she reached the final room, which belonged to the Captain alone, she opened it up, and saw him sitting by his bed, looking through a scroll which she had given him; it was detailing the operation, and thus what he would need to be doing.

"Captain." she addressed him, Renshu rising up to his feet, and he saluted her.

"Your highness. Are we moving out?" he asked her, the Princess nodding.

"That we are." she confirmed, "Get your bags, and get to the ship." she commanded him, Azula glancing back into the hallway, noting that some of the guards were already moving down the hallway, heading toward the exit.

She turned to face Ty Lee, who had followed her, and then the pair began to stride down the hallway; she narrowed her eyes, thinking about what they were getting themselves into, "Are you ready, Ty Lee?"

"For which part?" she asked, a little confused by her general question; she liked to keep things general, not wanting to arouse suspicion about their intentions.

"I think I don't need to answer that question." she warned her, the acrobat nervously turning her gaze ahead.

"I know what we're getting into, Zula. You don't need to remind me." she assured her, the Princess raising a brow.

"What are we going to do all day if we're stuck in a ship?" she asked her friend, who scrunched her lips up.

"They won't have a spa on board, will they?" she asked, the Princess shaking her head.

"The quality of service is not as good as my Royal Barge, sadly." she conceded, the acrobat pouting.

"Oh well." she mumbled, "I finished my book, so I don't have anything to do." she acknowledged, the Princess letting out a light snicker; her friend was obsessed with that book, and now she had nothing else to do.

"Perhaps you ought to get a hobby." she acknowledged, Ty Lee narrowing her eyes at her.

"I do have a hobby. Acrobatics." she reminded her, "It was my job for nearly three years."

"So, did it become a chore?" she asked her, a little curious if after all that time her favourite thing had become mundane.

"Uh, yeah, at times. My sisters didn't help there. We were always competing against each other, even before the circus; everything became a fight and an argument. It could be acrobatics, boys, or just who had to do the cleaning." she acknowledged, making Azula laugh; she and Sokka argued all the time, though she did actually enjoy it, as usually it was about trivial things, which made it even more amusing to see her boyfriend go on a tirade, usually about food, given he loved it so much.

"Sounds like you just don't like arguments." she acknowledged, "They can be fun."

"If that's what you call fun, then you clearly haven't been to a festival." she crossed her arms, the Princess narrowing her eyes.

"Well, I haven't." she conceded, "There's fun wherever you can find amusement, Lee." she suggested, making her friend furrow a brow, obviously interested by her argument; that proved to her that she was making a good point.

"So, what's funny on a ship?" she asked her, the Princess shrugging her shoulders, pushing the doors open, "Sailors acting stupid." she acknowledged, "They tried to avoid doing such things in my presence when I had my own ship, but I caught them from time to time. Playing games, getting drunk, crying about losing games. It was all quite amusing, as long as I was observing and not partaking in it."

"Yeah, you don't seem like the kind of person who would want to get drunk." she conceded, the Princess raising a brow; she hadn't gotten drunk herself, mostly due to a lack of access and time to do so- being drunk was usually a waste of time, and even when it wouldn't have been, she didn't have any alcohol at the South Pole.

"I never said that." she warned her, the acrobat looking at her with surprise.

"So you do want to get drunk?" she asked, the Princess shaking her head.

"I never said that either. Though... I would find it amusing to see others get drunk."

"Do you wanna get Sokka drunk whenever we see him again?"

"Do I?" she rhetorically asked her friend, cocking a smirk, "Oh, it'd be hilarious."

"Last time he got drunk, you didn't react well, Princess." the Captain spoke up behind her, making her realise that he'd been eavesdropping on their conversation.

"He was also in Ba Sing Se, which is probably one of the most dangerous places in the world to act stupid." she acknowledged, "Anywhere else, I'd just laugh at him for acting like an idiot." she clarified her opinion, before she turned to narrow her eyes at him, "Also, stop eavesdropping."

"Apologies, your highness." he bowed down, the Princess turning to her gaze ahead, noting that they were heading for the rear exit of the compound, which would lead them out to the dock.

"So... do you want to get drunk?" Ty Lee asked her, the Princess scoffing.

"No, I do not." she stressed, not wanting to do anything of the likes; she needed to focus on their operation, even if she wasn't going to be doing much until the following morning, when they'd be setting off in the airship.

She followed her guards through the doors, noting the other soldiers present, who bowed towards her in respect; Azula didn't have much care for their deference, and turned her focus toward the long pier ahead of them. At the end of said pier, she could see Zhao's battleship, and on top of it, sat her airship; the engineers had already got it flying, and set it down on the deck of the battleship, where they'd leave it until they needed to fly off to the North Pole. She was quite impressed with how quickly they had constructed the airship, which was a fair bit bigger than the original design; however, it wasn't that large, and had been designed to only house about a dozen people inside, excluding the engineers who would be maintaining the engine of the craft, which was to run on coal instead of firebending, making it more efficient to fly. Heating the large balloon with firebending alone would be exhausting for whoever had to produce the flames. Another knowledgeable difference was that the balloon and gondola had been painted white; a camouflage that would only make sense with there they were going.

"That's a big craft." Ty Lee observed, "And an even bigger ship." she acknowledged, before turning to face her, whispering her next words, "Do we get to use it for ourselves once we're done with Zhao?"

"No." she clarified, "We don't need it. We have Appa, who is far faster than even a massive battleship, despite how useful such a vessel is."

"But we could have a spa installed." she tried to argue with the Princess who groaned, frustrated by her friends rather shortsighted idea.

"So, did you want to be getting a spa when we have to sneak into Ba Sing Se?" she asked her, making her sigh.

"Okay, I see what you mean." she mumbled, "A big ship is a little too noticeable." she acknowledged, the Princess nodding.

"That it is." she confirmed, "That's why we're taking an airship to the North Pole, and not the ship."

"Yeah, they'd notice a big black metal ship coming toward them."

"And sink it." she added, warning Ty Lee of the threat that'd pose to their lives, and the lives of everyone on board, "We can't have them doing that when we need every ship we can get our hands on. That's just a waste of lives and resources"

"I was never going to argue that." she assured her, "Your airship plan is smart." she noted, "It's like a big metal Appa."

"Precisely." she smirked, "I didn't realise until I started riding on that sky-bison that flight is extremely advantageous; it makes you both harder to chase and gives you more stealth advantages."

"Maybe you could..." she began before her eyes widened, "Could you invade the homeland with a fleet of airships?"

"Could I?" she raised a brow, before chuckling, "Well, if I had the factories to produce airships big enough, then perhaps. At the moment, however, I think it's better for smaller operations."

"Like..." she began, before turning her eyes toward Azula, "Okay, I don't mean to give you horrible ideas, but you could defeat Zuko if you flew in on an airship and just landed in the palace with a bunch of elite fighters." she acknowledged, "And before he can call in the army, he's already been overthrown."

"Well, that'd be nice, but I have no idea how I could get the airship close enough to the capital without it being found and shot out of the sky." the Princess conceded, "It doesn't seem that fast, at least from what I saw of that first flight onto the ship." she added, not thinking that it was going to be a very effective weapon against the Fire Navy, which could just as easily shoot it out of the sky with their ranged weaponry.

"Huh..." Ty Lee scratched her chin, "So, it might just get hit by a catapult." she guessed, Azula nodding, before she turned her gaze up the pier they were walking up, noting that the ship they were boarding was still being stocked up with supplies via the lowest and widest plank, which allowed for larger things, such as komodo rhinos, or carts of goods, to be put inside.

"I assume it might be some time before the ship sets off for the North Pole." she noted, before turning to face the Captain, "Will you be training the men later today?"

"I could do that, your highness." he confirmed, "Do we have to book out the deck to use it for training?" he asked her, the Princess scrunching her lips up.

"I wouldn't say so. As long as the crew onboard are aware, I'm sure it won't be much of an issue." she guessed, "And I am Princess Azula. I need only ask, and they'll vacate the deck for you."

"Will you be joining us?" he asked her, the Princess turning her gaze to Ty Lee.

"Will we do some training this afternoon, Ty Lee?"

She narrowed her eyes at her, probably confused why she had deferred authority over the decision to her; she wanted to see what her reaction would be- testing the waters to see if she was still as averse to training as she had been before.

"I guess you want to, and I don't think I'll have anything else to do." she conceded, before turning her gaze toward the ship, "We need to find something to do together."

"Oh, so you want to do an activity?" she asked her friend, who didn't seem to understand her joke; that was the way her boyfriend referred to doing something together, ostensibly for romantic reasons, though any other person would just assume it meant to go and have some fun together.

"An activity, uh, yeah, I guess." she mumbled, "But what do you want to do, Zula?"

"I have no preference. As long as the activity isn't stupid and a complete waste of time, I'll tolerate it." she gave her conditions, the acrobat left there with her mouth slightly agape, thinking over her words for a few moments before she turned back to face the Captain.

"Uh, Captain, what did Azula like to do on the ship before it was sunk?" she asked Renshu, who raised a brow, surprised that she was questioning him.

"Well..." he trailed off, his eyes meeting Azula's, and after that, he gulped, obviously considering what he ought to say, "The Princess mostly stayed to herself. Reading, I believe, looking over things associated with her mission, and any educational material Lo and Li gave her."

"Ah, yes... homework." she rolled her eyes, not having enjoyed doing that; it was intellectually stimulating, at least in some areas, but for the most part, it had been frustrating to do, given that really, without them to watch over and check up on her progress, she had no reason to do it, other than her father suggesting her to- his suggestions usually were threats, so she complied.

"So, nothing fun?" she asked her, the Princess cocking a smirk.

"My firebending training was fun." she argued, "And then it got even better when I got to beat up Sokka instead of my guards." she added, "He was always so unpredictable, so I found him to be a good opponent." she acknowledged, before turning her gaze to Renshu, who seemed a little offended, perhaps, because of what she had suggested; her guards were not bad sparring partners, but they were rather predictable, "You and the men a completely capable, Captain." she stressed, "Although, your forms have gotten sloppier since Yu Dao."

"Oh..." he mumbled, "Sorry about that, Princess. We weren't being whipped into shape."

"I know." she narrowed her eyes at him, "That's changed now. I hope that you can all achieve your peak potential with your firebending, now that I'm here to train you."

"And what about me, Zula? Are you going to make me a better chi-blocker?" she asked her, the Princess trying to hold back a laugh.

"No, you're going to make Sokka a better one, when we see him again. You're far better at it than him, and I know you'd be a good master." she explained, the acrobat smiling brightly, obviously appreciating her words.

"Thanks! I think I could do that." she confirmed, "Though, for now, I'm stuck doing painful workouts with you."

"If they're painful, that means you're testing your limits." she argued, before turning her gaze toward the battleship, which towered before them; she could see her guards already climbing the long staircase up to the deck of the ship, which towered above the pier.

"This ship is huge." Ty Lee almost gasped, "How was this even made?"

"Probably in a shipyard near the capital. The Fire Nation has many ships, and produces them with great speed." she rehearsed a fact she had learned during her education, though it was a rather obvious one that her friend probably understood already.

"I know that, but I mean... that's a lot of steel." she simply observed, gesturing toward the hull.

"And that's why we have steelworks making all the steel our nation could ever need." she told her what she knew, "It's in no short supply."

Ty Lee furrowed a brow, and glanced back over toward the compound for a few moments, "So, is that why you need to conquer the colonies? For all the steel?" she asked, the Princess chuckling at her friend's conclusion; that was quite close to the truth, though it did oversimplify the situation greatly.

"It is part of the reason. I don't have a nation to rule, as you can probably see. An army and a fleet is useful, but it is a means to an end. The Fire Nation is what I seek to rule, and its citizens are who I want to serve." she explained, her friend looking at her blankly.

"Did you just say serve?" she asked her, slightly confused by her phrasing; of course, Azula was not a servant, but the Fire Lord was meant to rule in the interests of their subjects.

"I want to do what is best for the people of the Fire Nation. That's what I am saying." she stressed with a slightly annoyed voice; she thought Ty Lee would get what she meant, but she was too caught up on her wording.

"And I'm guessing that's prosperity and peace." her friend raised a finger toward the Princess, who nodded, agreeing with that assumption.

"Precisely, Ty Lee." she confirmed, before turning her attention up the stairs they had been climbing; they were near the top, and she assumed that Zhao would be waiting for her on the deck of the ship.

Her assumption was confirmed as the last of her guards that were in front of her got out of her way, revealing the Admiral, who was flanked by War Minister Qin, who had come to oversee the operation of the aircraft, and a number of other officers, who she assumed to be his direct subordinates.

"Princess Azula, I welcome you onto my ship." the Admiral bowed toward her, Azula stepping closer and gesturing for him to straighten his posture; once he did that, she eyed him and the men beside him, before turning her gaze up along the deck of the ship, toward the airship, which had been deflated, but still sat ready to be used.

"The pleasure is all mine, Admiral." she acknowledged, "We are ready to enact an operation that will greatly benefit our nation and the war-effort." she acknowledged, her words not a lie in the slightest; it was simply what the men before her believed that meant was different to what she intended.

"That we are, Princess." War Minister Qin spoke up, "The craft is ready, and once we are close enough to the target, we can set off on the test-flight immediately."

"Good." she pursed her lips upward, "Admiral, are we having lunch?"

"Oh, that we are." he acknowledged with a smirk.

Lunch was a relatively informal gathering where he could freely discuss and boast both his achievements and plans, while ignoring all his failings; it would be impolite for even his most critical subordinates to bring those up. She gestured toward the superstructure of the ship, inside of which she assumed she would be going for lunch. She remembered where she had done so with Zhao last time, although that was on another battleship, which she assumed still sitting at the bottom of the bay outside of Yu Dao; she hadn't remembered exactly what happened to his attacking party of ships personally, but Sokka told her that it had not been very pretty. The Admiral and his subordinates paced along toward the doorway, and the Princess turned to face Ty Lee, knowing that she likely wouldn't be attending lunch, as she had to go put her things down in her room, wherever that would be.

"This is where I say goodbye." she acknowledged, "I'll come around to your room after lunch. If you've gotten a tolerable idea by that point, perhaps we'll do something."

Her friend nodded, her glare surprisingly confident, "I'll do that, Zula. I'll find something you'll like." she assured her, before turning to face the Captain.

"Uh, where are we staying?" she asked, Renshu looking back her way, obviously surprised that she was asking him specifically.

"I believe it's on the eighth deck, so down two flights of stairs." he clarified, before gesturing toward Azula's other guards, who were already making their way to the stairs that led down from the centre of the deck, "Just follow them."

"Gotcha." she nodded, before pacing on after the other guards; Azula and the Captain looked at each other for a few moments, both of them silently acknowledging the roles they had to play- they would make sure everything went to plan, and that Zhao did not suspect a thing.

The Princess turned her heels, and followed after the Admiral and the others, making her way through the door that led her into the superstructure of the ship; she made her way along, sailors bowing toward her in respect as she filed in after the rest of the group. Following them through the hallway, she eyed ahead, noting that the Admiral was quietly talking with one of his subordinates, though he wasn't close enough to hear their voices. They filed up the staircase in the centre of the superstructure, the Admiral leading the group up a floor, where she guessed his dining room would be located. When they reached the next floor, she eyed around the hallways, wondering where the Admiral would have his office; she didn't think she'd need to steal anything from him again, but rather, wanted to organise exactly what they'd be doing when they set off to infiltrate the Northern Water Tribe.

As they made their way down a narrow hallway, he noticed a pair of guards standing by a rather ornate doorway; when they approached the two men opened up the doors, revealing a large table which sat in the centre of the room, well lit by sunlight that came through the wide windows. They looked out over the water, toward the other side of the bay, past which she could see some hills in the distance; she was reminded once again that their base was quite isolated, surrounded by wilderness, barring the few villages that remained- she assumed that there might have been more villages that were destroyed because of the war-effort. She moved to sit down at the table, sitting herself down beside the Admiral himself, the rest of the men sitting down on the table with them; there were a few moments of awkward silence before she decided to break it.

"What will we be having for lunch today, Admiral?" she asked Zhao, who cocked a smirk.

"Only the finest roast komodo rhino and spiced pig-chicken rice." he explained, before raising a finger, "With sides of course. Dumplings, spiced buns, and vegetable cakes." he clarified, the Princess nodding; that sounded like a fine lunch, a far cry from the dishes Katara usually made- she wasn't a bad cook, it was just that the Princess preferred Fire Nation cuisine, and a little variety to her food.

"Brilliant." she smiled, before placing her hands on the table, "Was there anything related to our operation that needed to be discussed, Admiral?"

"Everything has gone to plan; our patrol boats haven't encountered any Water Tribe forces around the location we intend to take the test flight." he explained, "Within a day, we will have feet planted on the icy tundra, and with that, proof that it will be possible to reach our goal."

"The Northern Water Tribe Capital will be heavily defended." she observed a simple fact, "Though I am sure the men you picked out for the operation will do quite well. They reacted quite well to the training, and I believe they'll be more than capable of surviving the harsh conditions we will be facing."

"That is good to hear, your highness. We don't know what those savages will throw our way." he acknowledged, "I am comforted by the fact you will be leading this operation."

"And I am confident in my ability. I understand the environment, and who we will be facing." she explained her advantages, though they were half a bluff.

She had never been to the North Pole, and she didn't know what actually trained waterbenders would fight like; Katara could waterbend, but she was a poor substitute for the kind of elite waterbenders she'd be expecting to protect the North Pole, and the location itself could be more treacherous than the South Pole, given the intricate defences they might have in place. Azula, however, was not overly concerned about these problems, given that she was not intending to invade the North Pole and disrupt the spirits; that was what she was making Zhao believe their intentions to be, when it fact, she was offering him up to bargain peace and an alliance with between her and the Northern Water Tribe.

"That's why we ought to be celebrating this great day. We are one step closer to defeating our enemies, and with it, putting you, the rightful Fire Lord, on the throne." Zhao assured her, the Princess pursing her lips.

"We are." she agreed with him; in her eyes, he was completely right in what he had just said, though he misunderstood who Azula's enemies were.

Her opponents were those who would stand in the way of her victory; thus, her opponents were not the Earth Kingdom, or the Water Tribes, or even Zuko. It was those who stood in her way; her brother could be dealt with indirectly, given the whole conspiracy webbed around her father, but the Admiral, she had to deal with him herself, given his power over what had been her loyalist forces. Her father was another threat, even if he was in prison, though at that very moment, it was reasonable that she could sway his supporters to her side. She thought that under the pretence of reuniting the Fire Nation, those loyal to Ozai might see her as a preferable candidate for the throne, even though ultimately, she desired reestablish peace amongst the nations, something they mightn't approve of.

"Ahem, but, we ought to have lunch first." he acknowledged, "Before anybody cracks out the drinks." he joked, the subordinate officers snickering at his words, though Azula and War Minister Qin remained straight-faced; the former didn't care for humour, and the latter probably just didn't like Zhao that much, from what she could tell.

The Admiral raised his hand up, and with that, some servants were called into the room, bringing out some pots of tea, and jugs of water for them to drink; they were placed around the table. She waited for everything to be placed down, before she flipped over the cup in front of her and poured herself some tea; she knew that it would probably distract her from whatever bullshit Zhao was bound to spout while they had lunch together.

Once she had the tea in the cup, she sniffed it, and made a small smile, thinking it actually didn't smell half-bad, though she straightened her expression at once; she did not want to be compared to her Uncle Iroh, who was obsessed with tea- making it and drinking it, and that was before he had left with Zuko on his failed quest to find the Avatar. She almost laughed, remembering that it was her who found him in the end, not her brother, despite all the effort he had put into finding Aang. She wondered what might have happened if he had found him, or if he had been broken out of that iceberg earlier; how things could have gone, before her brother betrayed their father.

"This is fine tea." the Admiral spoke up, "Don't you agree, Princess?"

"It is good." she acknowledged, "You must have the finest tea-leaves around here." she acknowledged, Zhao raising a brow, a little perplexed by her words.

"Well, I wouldn't say the finest. We haven't been able to get any Fire Nation tea, so these colonial imports will have to substitute for the best our country has to offer." he played down his efforts, something that didn't surprise her; he always wanted to seem humble, without actually being so- only the vain would ever act so conceitedly.

Azula knew that she lied frequently, which she would concede was similar in nature to the way the Admiral loved to play people, but she didn't do so to please people and make herself seem more likeable, she did so to ensure victory wherever she saw her goals. She would lie to Zhao not to make him like her, but to make him believe that he himself was victorious; she was stroking his ego, not trying to inflate her own.

She then turned to face the servants who had brought the tea in, "Was this the best tea that could be procured?" she asked them, the servants looking at her nervously.

"Y-yes, your highness." they assured her, the Princess nodding, before turning her gaze back to Zhao.

"What kind of tea is it, Admiral?"

"Ginseng, your highness." he explained, making her purse her lips upward; even the Admiral might understand the humour in the choice of tea- her uncle's favourite tea being served to her by a man who probably thought she was the next Dragon of the West.

"Ironic." she acknowledged, before sipping from the teacup.

"What is?" he asked her, obviously missing the relationship; she decided that she'd simply inform him.

"I will surpass my uncle." she simply acknowledged, "That was something you desired to do yourself, wasn't it Admiral? The North Pole is historically just as formidable as Ba Sing Se." she acknowledged, the Admiral's eyes widening; he nervously looked at her.

Her words were not a veiled threat, but they could be interpreted as such; she wanted to gain glory, well-earned at that, and she knew that in the process, she would upstage the Admiral's own victory, even if he still assumed that she was going to let him conquer the North.

"And what does that make you, your highness?" he asked her, the Princess pursing her lips upward, remembering the graffiti she and Aang had seen; some people believed in her, and she would prove their beliefs right.

"The Blue Dragon, but not yet. I have yet to take what is rightfully mine."

Sokka felt a little nervous about going to a meeting with important individuals from the Northern Water Tribe, but he knew it was necessary; Pakku was not shitting around when he said he wanted to help fix their tribe because of what he had done to his grandmother, and he had assembled a number of people, which consisted of the Chief, a number of elders who had shown interest in his proposal, which the Water tribe warrior had yet to hear, and some intellectual types, business people, entrepreneurs and technical experts. The kind of people that would actually be doing the groundwork in such a situation.

"Master Pakku." Arnook addressed the master waterbender, "I see you have gathered everyone who has interest in your idea."

"Thank you, but it was not really my idea." he conceded, before he gestured toward Sokka, who felt a little confused by it being suggested he was the one who had wanted the North's help rebuilding his tribe; he didn't, honestly, and only really wanted the Northern Water Tribe's help in ensuring that there was peace in a post-war world, where the nations would be in precarious positions, especially in the case of the Earth Kingdom.

"It was your idea." he narrowed his eyes at him, crossing his arms, "I just came here to listen to your proposal."

"And how else do you suppose the Southern Water Tribe will rebuild?" Pakku asked him, obviously a little confused by the seeming lack of power they had; he was rather assuming of what the Southern Water Tribe was capable of.

"Oh... we have our means." he pursed his lips upward; even without Azula's help, he was sure that the warriors were going to dismantle the Southern Raiders and use their resources to benefit the tribe.

"Anyway." the Master rolled his eyes, obviously not appreciating Sokka's retort against his whole idea, before he placed his hands on the table upon which they were sitting, "I believe the Southern Water Tribe could be greatly assisted by our own tribe. With a lack of waterbenders, they lack the same capability to build structures such as walls, igloos and any other structures, like the canals we have here in our city." he explained, "I propose that we send some waterbenders south to help the South rebuild, so they can be reinvigorated as a tribe. We can work together, as we always had, before the war."

Sokka didn't really see issue with what the Master was proposing, and turned his gaze toward the others on the table; one of them, an elder man, raised a brow with interest, "So you want to send people south, to settle there and help return the South back to its former state, or perhaps, even greater."

"Yes, Elder Tulimaq, that is the idea." Pakku assured him, "We will have a great future for our nation, together."

"Together, huh?" Sokka mumbled, "And I assume that together means that we'd have a united government, would that be right, Chief Arnook?" he asked him, the Chief's eyes widening; he obviously hadn't come up with the idea, but as somebody who ruled a nation, or at least a part of one, he ought to know how such a situation would work.

"I- uh, well, I don't know. The Chief here in the North has always held the position of paramount power over the Water Tribes, though, since the Hundred Year War, that has not worked in practice. I am unsure if your fellow tribesmen would be amenable to a combined government, especially given the distance."

"You would be right assuming that. Countless waterbenders and warriors died or have been captured fighting for our tribe. They will not give up the independence they have fought for." he acknowledged, before narrowing his eyes, "though I hold no real grudge against your tribe, if you were to enstate rule over the South, or try to intervene in its affairs, then some people would get very angry. They'd see you like another Fire Nation, except you look the same and act like you're the same."

"We are one people, Sokka." Arnook acknowledged what he must have thought to be a fact, when Sokka knew that it certainly wasn't.

"No, we are not." he retorted, narrowing his eyes at the faces he saw on the table, "Have you lost loved ones to the Fire Nation? Have you gone hungry for weeks on end because there were no adult men to help feed your village? No, you haven't. None of you have, and if you had, maybe you'd consider what you want to do, and why you want to do it."

"We want a greater future for our nation." one of the people spoke up, a woman, "Don't you want to see your tribe be greater than it is?" she asked him.

Sokka was surprised, given the whole waterbending fiasco, that a woman was at the table, though he guessed that it may have had something to do with her knowledge; she was young, or at least a lot younger than the elders and Pakku.

"Oh, I do." he assured her, narrowing her eyes into a cold glare, "But I intend to do it on our own terms. The Southern Water Tribe will not fall after all that has happened to us. That would be... well, I guess it'd be a grievous dishonour to the lives of our kin who have perished."

"We aren't seeking to conquer your tribe, Sokka." Pakku stressed, "I want to... we all want to see it grow."

The Water Tribe teen raised a hand, "Again, I understand that, but I first believe I ought to set out some ground-rules here."

"Such as?" Pakku asked him, obviously a little annoyed that he was taking charge of their discussion.

"The Southern Water Tribe will always remain self-governing. We will not pay taxes to the Northern Water Tribe, nor will we swear allegiance to your Chief." he explained, before turning to face Arnook, "I mean no offence, Chief Arnook."

"None taken." he assured him, before the Water Tribe warrior continued.

"But what motivation can we give our people to invest in your tribe?" one of the people on the table, another elder, spoke up.

"Oh, I don't know, your goodwill as human beings?" he asked him rhetorically, not holding back a snide glare; if they wanted things in return for helping his people then they would not seek out their help- the Southern Water Tribe was not looking for a debt they could never repay, but a future for themselves.

"Well, you want our investment, don't you?" another voice spoke up, Sokka turning to face the source; it was a man, probably about ten years older than himself, who wore spectacles and had a look of sophistication to himself- not in the sense of nobility, but of knowledge and intellect, "Businesses from this tribe could buy land from yours, and build industries in the South. They'd be able to employ people there, and bring more money and trade to the South Pole."

"And who would own all those businesses?" he narrowed his eyes, questioning him; the man looked at him, a little concerned, and tried to think of an answer, but Sokka cut him off, "Who would benefit from the ownership of all those resources?"

"Well, it would be those investors who-" he began to answer, Sokka rising up to the table.

"No." he snarled, "No they wouldn't. You cannot suggest that either. That is just conquest, but of a far more sinister kind. You- you want to take our resources and sell them for your benefit. Not your tribe... you." he pointed at him accusingly, "What's your name?"

"Maliq." he almost whispered, the Water Tribe warrior scoffing.

"Maliq, you do realise that my tribe isn't full of idiots, right?" he asked him rhetorically, "Just because we don't have palaces and fancy canals doesn't mean that we are incapable of seeing swindling when we come across it."

"Swindling? I merely want to try and-"

"Benefit yourself." he finished his sentence, before turning to face Master Pakku, "Some nice supporters your found yourself here, Pakku." he sarcastically acknowledged his efforts, and how little help they had been, "I know you might have good intentions, but please, for the sake of what is good and right, don't let a bunch of uppity shitheads, like this guy ruin what little of a tribe we have left."

The waterbending master was left speechless, and he narrowed his eyes at him, "But Sokka..." he spoke his name with a dark tone, which didn't improve his mood; if he wanted an argument, he'd give him a fight- he was in no mood to deal with his elitist, sexist bullshit that moment, "You're just as bad."

"I'm what?" he scoffed, Arnook raising a hand.

"Master Pakku, there is no need to start an argument." he stressed, Pakku rolling his eyes.

"He told you about the Princess, didn't he? He just wants to do what these people want to, but with the Fire Nation instead?"

"Do you get the concept of charity, old man?!" he snarled, hammering his boomerang down onto the table, "They'll give us reparations for all the heinous crimes they committed. That isn't a debt on their terms but ours, and if they dared to try the kind of shit that some of the people on this table want to, I'd assemble an army of warriors to kick them out of the South Pole." he declared, Arnook standing up.

"Sokka, please." he stressed, placing a hand on his shoulder, "There is no need to shout."

"There is no need for this meeting, but it has been called, hasn't it?" he retorted, narrowing his eyes at those who sat on the table, "You can help my tribe, and I guess, you can try some shady shit. Buy us or try to make us your lessers, but that won't work. I don't want to have to fight that battle, if it was what it came to. And you might say you'd win, because you have waterbenders, but you know what you don't have? The Avatar." he reminded them, "And Aang knows bullshit when he sees it." he assured them, before turning his heels, walking down the through the hall that would lead him out of the Chief's Palace, "Enjoy your meeting." he waved to them sarcastically, before he turned toward the doors.

He approached the guards that were stationed there, and they looked at him with surprise, "You sure know how to argue, kid." one of them acknowledged, making him laugh.

"I know when to call out people." he clarified his actions; he did not come with the intent to argue, but with the intent to make sure the interests of his tribe were represented.

The doors were opened for Sokka, and once they were, he walked out, and began to pace through the courtyard outside. He looked around, and all he saw was ice, moulded into some kind of imitation of a place without it; canals, yards and bridges. He was unsure whether the Northern Water Tribe truly more sophisticated, or just better at imitating the Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation. He didn't care about whether he lived in an igloo or in a fancy palace; what he cared about was whether he and his people were safe, well fed and had long and happy lives. He didn't want his people just to become like the North, who lived the lie, acting as if the war had never really happened.

"What is this place?" he mumbled to himself, "They dress the same and eat the same... but these people aren't my people." he sighed, knowing that he had already held the same beliefs before he had even seen the Northern Water Tribe; he thought he was just being judgemental, and angry that his tribe had suffered while theirs had not, but now he knew that he was right- perhaps he wasn't always right, but Sokka knew he was right about them.

"They treat Katara like she's less because she's a girl, and then they treat us all like we're incapable, like we should be shepherded around like arctic chickens, because we never got the privilege of escaping the Fire Nation's grasp." he grumbled looking up to the sky above him, before he kicked some snow nearby, realising that it wasn't snow, but flat, slippery ice; he then swiftly fell on his butt, and groaned with pain.

"That was stupid of me." he mumbled to himself, before he saw a shadow peering behind him blocking out the light of the sun; he turned around, noting that a girl was standing before him.

He blushed, realising it was the Chief's pretty daughter, Princess Yue; he didn't know why she was there or why she was looking at him with an intrigued look.

"Uh, sorry, did you want me to get up?" he asked her, unsure why she was just standing there.

"I heard what you were saying." she acknowledged, the Water tribe teen cringing.

"Uh, which part?" he asked her, hoping it wasn't the part where he was calling the Northern Water Tribe as alien to himself as the Fire Nation was.

"The part where you called out those... uh, entrepreneurial folks." she acknowledged, the Water Tribe teen rising up to his feet.

"I apologise if I offended you." he conceded, "You are the Chief's daughter, so I guess anything bad I say about the Northern Water Tribe is against you and your family."

She shook her head, "Uh, you didn't offend me." she assured him, "You're actually... well, you're respectable, Sokka." she acknowledged, the Water Tribe teen almost laughing; he didn't know what was very respectable about him going on a rant at a bunch of people who were a fair bit older than himself.

"Respectable, me?" he tried to laugh off her words; her eyes kept focused on him, as if she were inspecting him- not physically, but in the sense that she wanted to understand his intentions.

"You are." she assured him, "You stood up for the interests of your people. You spoke there to serve them, not yourself." she acknowledged, making a small smile, "I just hope that I can do the same for my own people, some day."

"Uh, I assume that you won't be becoming the Chief-tess or something. You guys don't like girls waterbending so I guess-" he began to explain his reasoning, before she spoke up over him.

"I won't." she clarified, "But my husband, Hahn, will."

"Your husband?" he raised a brow, surprised by the fact that girl before him, who couldn't be any older than himself, was married.

"Yes." she nodded, "Hahn and I have been married for a year now. He's... well, he's not chief material, at least not yet. I hope that by the time my father is old and gray, I can help him become more respectable... like yourself."

"Uh, thanks, I guess." he scratched the back of his scalp, finding her suggestions to be a little unnerving; the girl before him did seem to acknowledge him, at least a bit more than the others inside did- perhaps it was because she understood the pressures of duty, and the similarity in their ages, "I didn't see him at the feast the other day."

"My husband?" she raised a brow, Sokka nodding, "Well, he's off on a hunt. I assume you do a lot of that down at the South Pole."

"Uh, that we do." he confirmed, "It's a little better hunting than fishing, because the animals at the South Pole are a lot less slippery than the fish."

She giggled a little, "Fish are slippery." she agreed with him, before she glanced around, "So, your friend, the Avatar, is learning from Master Pakku?"

He nodded, "Yeah, he is." he confirmed, "And my sister too. He made an exception for her because he was a dick to my Gran-Gran when they were young." he explained, making her look at him with surprise.

"Oh, okay." she looked at him with surprise, "I heard Master Pakku got beat by you, but I didn't think it was for your sister."

"No, I don't just beat up grumpy old men to teach them a lesson for the sake of it." he assured her, "I did it for Katara." he stressed, the Princess making a small smile, before he glanced down through the courtyard; he needed an excuse to stop speaking to the girl before him- her being pretty was only half of the story, "Speaking of which, I'm pretty sure she's making lunch."

"Oh, well, I wish you luck with that. Is she a good cook?"

"Not as good as Gran-Gran, but she's good." he acknowledged, "Since you're a Princess, do you do any cooking?"

"Uh, I do." she confirmed, seeming a little confused by his question.

"Oh, okay." he nodded, just noting that as difference between Yue and Azula; the Fire Nation Princess, though having learned to cook, had only started doing so when they got shipwrecked, and even after that, she only started doing it on a regular basis after they left Yu Dao, "Have a nice day, Princess Yue."

"You too, Sokka." she bowed toward him with a smile, the Water Tribe teen turning his heels.

She was so nice to him that he made him uncomfortable, and not in a kind of lascivious way, but because of his relationship with Azula; he couldn't dare think that there were other girls out there, perhaps nicer and with less problems, that he could see treating him kindly. The kinds of girls that he'd want to be in a relationship with; he knew he couldn't think that- despite the Princess's flaws, some more impeding and frustrating than others, he knew he was set on loving her and her alone.

"No matter if you make Ty Lee stupidly beat me up for your stupid reasons..." he mumbled to himself, before turning to eye Yue, who was returning to the doors of the palace, "I love you, Azula."

He realised it was a little weird to be talking to Azula when she really wasn't there; he just wanted to assure himself that he wasn't going to be disloyal- he didn't want to like any other girls, even if they were kind and pretty. He turned his heels, and began to walk down the stairs that led down from the palace, knowing he ought to head back to their igloo. He wasn't just making an excuse about lunch; he really did want to get back and eat it- that would easily distract him from his frustrations over the meeting.

Making his way down the stairs, he eyed out across the city, and saw its massive size; he knew that there might be many people in the Northern Water Tribe who might want to immigrate south, and join the ranks of his tribe, as his grandmother had, but he hadn't really met anyone interested in 'helping' his tribe other than those at the meeting. They were the kind of people he didn't want helping his tribe, knowing that they were doing it for selfish reasons; he could trust Azula, and to a lesser extent, Pakku, to do it for more altruistic reasons, given that they both were indebted to the Southern Water Tribe, or in the waterbending master's case, his grandmother specifically.

The Water Tribesman eyed the people who looked his way; he wondered if they knew who he was, or what they thought of him if they did. He wasn't Sokka to them, he was just the Water Tribe boy who became a Princess's servant, serving her and the Fire Nation; they probably didn't understand why he did it, and perhaps they didn't want to know. He was somebody they could be in awe of, but they didn't want to see that he was right; the Water Tribes were not a perfect utopia, and the North was not the peak of civilisation- they were a mockery of it, and he disdained them for it.

He wished that they were as good and righteous as they made themselves out to be; he wished for a utopia, and all he got was empty, conceited promises. He sighed, knowing that he couldn't do anything of merit, at least not yet. He had to destroy the Southern Raiders, kill Yon Rha, and make sure his mother's death was not for nothing; Katara learning waterbending was only the first step of respecting her memory. He would build a great nation out of the shattered remains of his own, and he would wield his fellow tribesmen as his strength, not the charity of those more fortunate than them. Sokka had no need for fancy-looking bending, or for opulent palaces and extravagant walls; he only wanted full stomachs and complete families for his people.

As he turned down the street that would lead him to the igloo they were staying in, he pulled his parka closer to his neck; maybe he wasn't as used to the cold as he once was after months crossing the world, once again. That idea frustrated him, that he couldn't feel at home in the kind of environment he was born and raised in; he knew the North Pole wasn't his home, but he wanted to feel comfortable. Maybe he never could- maybe their lies were colder than his parka could keep him warm. He eyed the igloo, and he saw Momo jumping around outside, chasing after some kind of rodent; he raised a brow, and let out a little chuckle- the flying-lemur was going to get himself sick if he kept rolling around in the snow.

"Momo! Get out of the snow!" he warned the lemur, who perked his head up, realising that Sokka was back.

He chittered, before scratching his face with one of his hind paws, before he could reach him, Momo raced back off inside the igloo, the Water Tribe warrior shaking his head; maybe he really didn't like him after all the times he'd tried to keep his food from him. He thought that he'd fed him well on their final leg to the North Pole, but now he and the lemur were back to their same old avoidance of each other, keeping each other's food to themselves.

"Well then, you can be that way, Momo." he crossed his arms, before taking a few more steps toward the doorway; he pushed the canvas curtains out of the way, allowing him to walk inside, where he could see Aang and Katara, sitting by the pot of food his sister was cooking.

"Oh, hi Sokka." the young Avatar addressed him first, "You're back earlier than expected? Is the meeting already over?"

His sister eyed him for a few moments, before she sighed, "Oh, you walked out, didn't you?"

"Wow, you know me too well." he snickered, before he approached the pair, pulling his parka off and sitting himself down next to the pot, "Yeah, the meeting... it could have gone better."

"So, were they being stupid or were you getting angry?" Katara asked him, the two propositions not contrary in his eyes, but complementing each other; he chuckled, and her mouth fell slightly ajar, "So it was both."

"Yeah, it was both." he confirmed, "Chief Arnook didn't really try and mediate between us, though I guess he didn't want to act too authoritative in front of some elders. They're the ones who ensure that he remains chief, after all." he clarified that rather irrelevant point, though he thought it was important in explaining why he left to begin with, "And the people there... oh, they were asking for a boomerang to the head- acting like I couldn't see their greed and conceited little grins for what they were. Sokka of the Southern Water Tribe is no idiot." he added, his voice growing more agitated.

"You're not dumb, Sokka." Aang assured him, "You're the smartest one in the group." he argued, the Water Tribe girl raising a brow, turning her eyes to her brother.

"Wait, is that counting or not counting Azula?" she asked him, sounding a little confused; whether she thought Azula was smarter than Sokka wasn't really his concern, though he was a little surprised that their friend might have thought he was the smarter of the pair.

"Well, Azula's smart, but she's... well, she's kinda full of herself." he admitted, "She's not a bad person... definitely compared to what she must have been like before she and Sokka met, but you know, she's not really thinking about whether she's wrong." he added with a nervous voice, obviously not wanting to make the Water Tribe teen think he disliked his girlfriend, "You know what we all need to do, Sokka. That's why you're leading us."

"Uh, thanks, Aang." he made a small smile at him, before turning his eyes to his sister, "So do you think she's smarter than me?"

"Less prone to make stupid decisions." she clarified, the Water Tribe warrior chuckling; he agreed with that wholeheartedly.

"True." he nodded, before sniffing the pot of food between them; it was some kind of seaweed and sea prune stew, "Hmph, lunch smells good."

"Thanks, Sokka." his sister pursed her lips upward, obviously appreciating the compliment on her work, "It's nearly ready, so you came here a pretty good time."

"Good that they pissed me off quickly then. I wouldn't have had been angry, stormed out, and missed out a warm lunch and an insightful chat with Princess Yue."

"Chat?" Katara raised a brow, looking at him skeptically, "You don't mean you were flirting with her, do you, Sokka?"

"Uh, no, if anything, she was flirting with me." he acknowledged, before he covered his mouth, realising that he really shouldn't have said that.

"The Water Tribe Princess was flirting with you?" Aang's eyes widening, "How come you get all the princess's liking you?"

"Two isn't all of them, Aang." he argued, before scrunching his lips up, "Though I haven't heard of any other princesses." he clarified, before shaking his head, realising that he ought to be arguing against the whole idea of Yue flirting with him, "And it wasn't flirting. What I meant to say was that if it was flirting, it was her, not me. I wouldn't ever flirt with a girl. Azula would prevent our future children from existing if she found out about that." he argued, making the young Avatar look at him with a perplexed face.

"What?" he mumbled, Katara placing a hand on his shoulder; he obviously hadn't had 'the talk', yet, so it made sense that he was confused by what he had just said.

"Don't listen to him." she assured him, "He's just joking around."

"That wasn't a joke though." he argued, "Azula would get really angry with me if I flirted with anyone. Especially Ty Lee... though I did when I met her, kind of, but that was just as a joke." he acknowledged, before shaking his head, "I didn't flirt with Yue."

"But she did flirt with you." Katara prodded him; she didn't know what she was talking about, but she obviously wanted to get him flustered.

"N-no! No she didn't." he stressed the point, "She just told me how she thought that I was a respectable representative of my tribe because I was fighting for their interests."

"Yeah, that just sounds like Princess-flirting to me." his sister crossed her arms, making him groan, covering his face to mask his embarrassment.

"Urgh! Why? I shouldn't have mentioned anything!" he lamented, making Aang snicker.

"Yeah, you really shouldn't've." he agreed with him, though he really hadn't asked for his opinion.

"It's okay, Sokka." Katara stressed, "If girls flirt with you, that means that Azula can't be the crazy one in your relationship. You're obviously prince material." she told him, though he could tell from her tone that she was making fun of him and not really thinking he could be suitable for marrying royalty.

"Are you calling me crazy for liking her?" he retorted, a little offended by the suggestion, to which his sister cocked her chin up, smugly winking at Aang, who giggled.

"Yes, yes I am." she declared, making Sokka face-palm.

"Can we just eat lunch instead of you making fun of me?" he requested, the other two looking at each other before nodding.

"Okay, sour-pants, we'll do that." his sister agreed with his idea, picking up a spoon to pour some of the stew into a bowl for him; the Water Tribesman nodded in thanks, and accepted it into his hands.

"You know, your food might be nice, but sometimes, you're pretty mean, Katara." he narrowed his eyes at her, to which she shrugged her shoulders.

"Okay, I guess there's no seconds for you then." she offhandedly decided, making him roll his eyes.

"Why?" he whispered under his breath, "Why did I have you end up with such an annoying sister?"

"You know, usually I'd hit you with a water-whip for saying that, but since you beat up Pakku for me, I'm going to let that slide." she conceded, making him chuckle.

"You know, I was pretty close to repeating that beat-down today. Pakku's just lucky I barely trust him, and want you to continue your training. Otherwise he would have met Mister Boomerang once again for bringing those people to that meeting." he explained his thoughts on the matter of Pakku's 'Southern Reconstruction Project'.

In his mind, it was starting to sound a whole lot more like a 'Southern Colonisation Project', which was pretty much as bad as what Fire Lord Sozin did, except if Sozin was screwing over his own countrymen for 'prosperity' instead of the rest of the world.

"Oh..." Katara cringed, "Was it that bad?"

"I think they just don't know any better." he admitted, "Doesn't make it right, but they're just blinded by their belief in the superiority of their ways."

"So like Azula before you schooled her?" Aang asked him, making him snicker; he guessed it was a little like that, though he was unsure if he could persuade the whole Northern Water Tribe as well as he did a single Fire Nation girl.

"Uh... I guess so." he mumbled, before taking a bite from the stew; it tasted good, and anything that tasted good was a fine distraction from the events of the meeting.

"What are we going to do about them if they decide to go ahead with their plans?" Katara asked him, the Water Tribe warrior chuckling.

"Oh, I'm sure Azula will have some great advice about that." he acknowledged, before narrowing her eyes, "Whenever she shows up."

"I'm sure she won't be that much longer. She knows what she's doing, Sokka." Katara assured him, the Water Tribe warrior sighing; she had known what she was doing at Yu Dao too, but even then, she had failed.

"She's not impervious to failure. You do remember how she ended up in our tribe to begin with, right?" he asked her, Aang clearing his throat.

"If things go bad, we can... we can try and help her out." he assured Sokka, who raised a brow; he was saying he was willing to give up his training to go help Azula, if she really needed it.

"How would we even know?" he came back with the most glaring question; they had no idea of knowing what was going on at Zhao's base.

It wasn't like Azula or Ty Lee were giving them a steady stream of messenger hawks; he had no idea if they'd even reached the base safely, and Sokka was basing everything on a hunch that she had it under control.

"I-" Aang began, before he turned his eyes down, dejected and clearly worried, "We don't." he mumbled, "I guess we just have to hope everything goes okay."

Katara placed a sympathetic hand on his shoulder, although her eyes were on Sokka, knowing the unease he still felt over Azula leaving without him, "That's all we can ever do, Aang."

"She's alright." the Water Tribe warrior spoke up.

"How can you be so sure?" Katara raised a brow, sounding a little bit surprised by his words.

"Azula is the most paranoid person I know. Trust me, she'd jump off of Zhao's ship and swim back to the Earth Kingdom at the first sign of danger."

"Wouldn't she drown from that? She's not a waterbender." Aang observed a rather obvious face; Sokka rolled his eyes, deciding to think of a more accurate idea of what his girlfriend might do to escape danger.

"Urgh, okay, steal a steamer and disable the ship's engine so nobody could come after her, Ty Lee and the guards." he came up with on the spot, making the young Avatar raise a brow with surprise.

"Maybe he really is the mastermind of all this." he mumbled, making the Water tribe teen chuckle; he'd gladly prescribe to such a view of himself.

"I never said I wasn't."

There was one thing that Ty Lee quickly learned as they travelled north, which was that she really did need the thick new clothes she was wearing; it was freezing cold, even on the ship, and inside, only certain rooms were well heated, unless one was around the engine, in which case it was sweltering. The lack of a mild temperature out of a few select areas on the ship hampered her efforts to enjoy herself. However, as she sat on the brand new airship, she knew that space was even more of a problem. She had decided to sit down by the front of the gondola, next to Azula, who was rather impatiently waiting their arrival at their destination; it was only a test flight, so they weren't getting any closer to Sokka, Aang and Katara, but they were, in fact, going to be setting foot on the northern tundra. The Princess had joked that it was the closest thing Ty Lee was going to get to the Water Tribe siblings' home, given the isolation and climate, even if they were on the opposite side of the world from the South Pole.

The Princess was wearing a thick cloak over her armour, which itself had extra padding on underneath to increase her warmth. The gondola itself wasn't very warm, though being so close to the engine of the craft, which was just in the room behind them, meant that it was warm enough that she wasn't shivering or worse, having her fingers fall off. She decided that if she was going to sit in that gondola for another minute, she would need to start talking; talking was the one great distracting tool she had from the cold, and the relatively cramped conditions in the airship.

It was only big enough for about two dozen people, and currently, it had no designated space for sleeping or eating. They had enough supplies to last them the round trip, most of it stored under the deck beneath them, kept away from the heat of the engine to ensure the preservation of any food; that was the purpose, according to Azula, who had guided her through the various aspects of the airship and how it worked. She was rather eager to use it, and had given it a fair comparison to Appa, though she did concede that it would not be as fast as the sky-bison, even if it could store far more things onboard.

"Could have this thing been a little bigger?" she asked the Princess, who scoffed.

"Urgh, I have no need to hear your complaints. You knew what you were getting into." she retorted, her words not wrong, but skewing the facts.

"I didn't come aboard when we had twenty smelly men onboard with us." she argued before cringing, "Sorry. I know it's not your fault." she spoke to the guards nearby, who didn't really seem to care for her words.

"Don't insult my men, Ty Lee." Azula chided her, "That's my job, and mine alone." she raised a finger, before crossing her arms once more, turning her gaze over to the window.

"We have to be getting close now." the acrobat acknowledged; she had evidence to back up her words, too, or at least, the pilot's word.

He had explained that it should only take them six hours to cross between the battleship and the southern shore of the icy landmass; Zhao's ship had supposedly gotten as close as it possibly could without rousing attention from the Water Tribe patrols that would constantly move around the littoral, hiding behind or inside icebergs, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting Fire Nation scout ships.

"The Northern Water Tribe can't be as desolate as the south, even if they are concentrated in terms of population in a single city. They must have settlements spread around." the Princess spoke up, though her tone was low, suggesting she was just speaking to herself.

"What?" she asked her friend, "What does that mean? That we're going to fly into some random village?"

"Maybe not a village, but we could accidentally alert the Northern Water Tribe of both our presence and our new technology." she argued, "This should be a quick stop before we fly back."

"But we have nowhere to sleep. Couldn't we just camp there?" she asked her, the question being a request; she really didn't want to have to sleep on the airship, as unlike on Appa, there were a lot more people, and not much space for them to share.

"Trust me, Ty Lee. You're going to prefer being by the warmth of this craft engine in the air than sleeping out in the ice and snow." the Princess warned her, "The Poles are not a kind place to camp in. I've gone out hunting with Sokka, and without his expertise in surviving in the environment, I would have been afraid for my life." she argued, "I'm more tolerant and prepared now, but that doesn't mean I'm going to go out of my way to camp out there. That's just foolish."

"Well, it's going to smell in here." she crossed her arms, sticking to her argument.

"And what, do you want me to open the windows?"

"But then it'll be cold." she deduced, the Princess scoffing, obviously wanting to hear that answer.

"So what is it, cold or smell?" she asked Ty Lee, who dejectedly slumped her shoulders over.

"Smell." she conceded, before turning her gaze to the window as well, "I just wonder what it's like there."

"At the Northern Capital?" Azula asked her friend, who nodded.

"Yeah. I've heard that... well, they kinda act like the war never even happened there. Nothing's different except Earth Kingdom people never go there anymore."

'Now do you know this?" she furrowed a brow, obviously a little confused how a circus acrobat like herself found out about things in the Northern Water Tribe, far away from where she had travelled.

"Uh, I met a traveller from there once." she explained, "You meet some weird people in the circus, Zula." she added an excuse, trying to not make it sound like she was wilfully associating with people from the other nations; she did want to find out about distant places, and she had a long and interesting conversation with that traveller.

"Well, it's probably just going to be a bigger, more stuck-up version of the Southern Water Tribe. A nice palate cleanser to make me remember how kind those villagers were... well, most of them."

"Did people give you a hard time for... well, being you?" she asked, knowing that her friend was obviously a relatively well known figure; people's preconceptions would have been rather hard to overcome.

"Some of them, but Sokka told them off, and assured them that I wasn't going to hurt anybody, at least not without reason. After I beat the shit out of the- uh, you know who, they were far more approving of me, even those who mistrusted me before." she noted, smirking at the thought of gaining respect from people who probably would have feared or hated her before having met her, given her position as Crown Princess of the Fire Nation.

"So, what do you think these people will think of you?"

"Probably worse, given they're even more ignorant of me. And being a female combative bender, I'd be mocking their traditions if I did end up fighting any of them." she smirked, "Though, if Sokka is any good at scaring people, he'll have already intimidated a master into teaching his sister, thus breaking that stupid sexist tradition they have."

"That's what we're hoping for." Ty Lee nodded, "Katara should learn how to fight. I- well, I think she might need to at some point."

"I would like to see her go off against the Dai Li. Perhaps she'd deal with them better than I did." she smirked, obviously just liking the idea of seeing Katara beat the crap out of people she despised; she'd probably get giddy at the thought of the Water Tribe girl beating her brother, above that.

"You'd like to see Katara beat anybody up, just because she couldn't bend any good a few months ago." she argued, the Princess cocking a smirk.

"You know, you're right, Lee. I really would like to see that girl beat anybody up." she conceded, "But, first thing's first, she's actually got to master her element."

"Well, she's probably doing that right now. She might be kicking somebody's butt as we speak."

"I hope so. I hope it's some sexist pricks, and she's showing them their place." she crossed her arms, "The Water Tribes can learn equality, one tough woman at a time." she argued, the acrobat raising her chin up.

"You made sure Sokka got that, and now he's going to make sure everybody else gets the message." she noted, "Sometimes, you can be a great force for good, without even realising it."

The Princess rolled her eyes, "Urgh, don't go there. You'll start sounding like Katara."

"I'm not talking about hope or anything like that, I'm just talking about what you did. Taught a Water Tribesman chi-blocking, and now look where we are."

"On an airship, looking to be the first Fire Nation people to step foot on the North Pole in over eighty years." she noted a fact that she had remembered her mentioning earlier.

The Fire Nation's last attempted invasion of the North Pole was about eighty years prior, back when Azula's grandfather had just become the Fire Lord. Because it failed, she assumed that was why the dreaded Southern Raiders came into existence some time later; the North couldn't be defeated, so the South was to be annihilated to compensate- that was a disturbing thought, but it sounded like something the old Azula would have agreed with.

"Well, I guess that's a little weird." she mumbled, "But you know what's going to be weirder?"

"I'd prefer if you didn't answer that rhetorical question, Lee." she warned her, the acrobat clearing her throat, realising that she might have just said something that would indicate their intentions to betray Zhao.

"Sorry." she almost whispered, her friend raising a brow, seeming a little annoyed by her muffled response.

"Well, you didn't say anything, did you?" she retorted, Ty Lee nodding.

"Uh, yeah, I didn't." she mumbled, before turning her head up, leaning her head back on the window behind her, "How useful do you think this thing will be after we're done with this mission?"

"Very useful." she declared, "Once I have the resources of the colonies to mass-produce these crafts, the Fire Nation will be mine." she raised a fist; she might have been avoiding to talk about the true intentions she had for the Admiral, but those words were the truth, and Ty Lee could only think about what would happen when her friend inevitably invaded the homeland.

"You think you could make them bigger, and with better heating?"

"I think that could be arranged." Azula confirmed, "We might add in some weapons too. Given the nature of our operation, we won't be needing much offensive capabilities on this craft, but for future missions, perhaps some bombs and positions to firebend from might be useful. Flying in this thing is useful, but the true use of this craft will be to enforce my authority."

"And what if they shoot it out of the sky?" Ty Lee asked her, the Princess chuckling.

"Well, that's why we're going to make lots of them, with weapons on them. It'll be a lot harder to defeat them otherwise." she quipped, making her friend scrunch her lips up; she wasn't skeptical of Azula's strategic genius, but rather she just didn't know how the technology would really work in practice.

"Uh, I guess it's good we're testing this thing out then. You wouldn't want to make a bunch and then get them destroyed."

"Precisely, Ty Lee." she smirked, "That's just one of the reasons we're trying this craft out before we head to the Northern Water Tribe's capital."

She nodded, glad that her friend had come to that conclusion as well; she could trust in the Princess to get the job done, and do it right. She had only grown wiser since they last saw each other, when Ty Lee left the capital at the age of thirteen, three years prior; the Princess had both grown from her experiences with Sokka, but generally just had become smarter as a person. She was no less bold than she had been when she was thirteen, though she was clearly more patient and conserved; she would not go into something with a rapid plan in mind- she would go step by step.

Getting rid of Zhao was just one example of her patience, but her long march to the throne was another; she could have, in theory, gone to the Fire Nation Capital on Appa, armed with the knowledge of her brother's lightning redirection, and challenged him to an Agni Kai once more. Of course, she assumed that Azula had discounted that idea, given that it was quite likely that her brother would arrest her on the spot rather than dare to fight her in another duel. Ty Lee could see that as soon as she heard the story from the Princess; her brother believed himself certain in victory when he'd shot her lightning back at her, and was likely not going to change his mind about arresting her, purely as a precaution to protect his authority, rather than because he maliciously desired to have his sister in prison. Azula wanted the throne, and would do everything in her power to get it.

"I can see it." she spoke up, catching Ty Lee's attention; she turned her gaze back toward the window, and realised that in the distance, she could spot out some white and gray on the horizon, just above the dark blue of the ocean water.

"Well, that's it." she mumbled under her breath, "Is there much we're going to do here?"

"Look around, check for signs of Water Tribe patrols. That kind of thing." Azula clarified, the acrobat nodding along.

"Well, that's... simple, I guess." she spoke with a quiet voice, unsure what to talk about; her thoughts about the Princess both inspired fear and hope- she knew that she would do great things, but that wasn't particularly descriptive of whether they would be good or bad things.

"You seem troubled, Ty Lee." she observed, "Are you getting nervous?"

"Me, nervous?" she tried to play off her words, "I'm never nervous."

"Says the person who gets worried whenever she tries on a new outfit." she retorted, making the acrobat cringe.

"I didn't know if this was going to be very flattering. It's comfy, though." she gestured down to her rather thick coat, pants and boots, which were designed in traditional Fire Nation style, meaning that it had lots of layers of wool and cloth, which substituted for the usual water-proof animal skins that Water Tribe people would use in the cold environment of the poles.

"It looks fine, Lee." she assured her, "If it looked ugly, then I would have told you. The Fire Nation Army wears clothing that both coordinates and is practical. We aren't as blind to aesthetics as a bunch of peasants."

"Wait... are you talking about the Water Tribes or the Earth Kingdom?"

"Both." she clarified, "The former, they have fine clothes, and they are well-fitting and practical, but everyone's wearing the same drab monotone blue. The latter, still drab but without any of the colour, so worse."

"Wow, to think you could critique fashion just as well as warfare." she smugly noted her friend's wide breadth of opinions and knowledge, though she mostly had the former; Azula had to be one of the most opinionated people she knew, though Katara was certainly a close second, despite having known her for far less long- she understood quickly enough why the two of them didn't get along that well.

"I can critique anything I have knowledge on, Ty Lee. Of course, I'm not as well versed in some matters as others, so I'll leave those to them."

"Things like tea?" she furrowed a brow, the Princess laughing, obviously getting that she knew of her uncle's love and curiosity about the subject.

"Uh, yes, that's my uncle's area of expertise... and strategy, firebending, useful proverbs and... I can't really think of anything else he's good at. Perhaps treason." she listed off her uncle's areas of expertise; he seemed to be a rather interesting guy, though Ty Lee hadn't seen him in many years- she hoped that she could, just interested to see if he was as funny and weird as he was when she had last seen him.

"Didn't you say treason was all about perspective once?" she asked her, the Princess scoffing, before she straightened her face; her friend was right, she quickly seemed to realise.

"Uh... well, technically, yes." she confirmed, knowing that her actions against Zuko had technically been treason, at least from the perspective that he was the legitimate Fire Lord who had won a duel against their father, just as from her perspective, he had initially committed treason and to the best of her knowledge at the time, had killed Ozai, and thus, she was the legitimate Fire Lord.

The Fire Nation was ruled by a boy who had committed treason, and had lied about his father's death; of course, Ty Lee didn't really care about what Zuko did, and she believed that the siblings father was a pretty bad guy, and was definitely asking for what came his way. The Prince hadn't deserved the treatment he had received at the hands of his father, and Azula hadn't really treated him fairly, and that was before any of the things about him going to overthrow their father. She didn't dare bring those thoughts up, knowing that she wanted the Princess to trust her; she did not intend to betray her, but instead, wanted to make the siblings reconcile, somehow. She knew that with her friend going after the throne, it was unlikely, but she hoped for it nonetheless.

"Everyone, get ready to land!" the Princess spoke up, commanding the men on the airship, who immediately got to work on preparing their things.

She was essentially ignoring what she and Ty Lee had been discussing, which annoyed her slightly, but it was understandable that she did so; she must have been uncomfortable with thinking she was wrong to go after her brother. It really wasn't an argument about right and wrong, but the Princess would likely drill it down to that to try and make it seem like everything was fine going after Zuko and taking the crown right off of him.

"Ty Lee." she turned her gaze toward the acrobat, who straightened her posture, sure the Princess was going to ask something of her, "We are about to leave the gondola. I recommend you put your gloves on; the ice will be very cold." she warned her, Ty Lee glancing down to her bag, which she had sitting beside her, and pulled out the gloves.

She didn't like wearing them, given that it was a lot harder to do acrobatics without the contact of her fingers on the ground. She didn't expect to be doing any acrobatics at that moment, she guessed she ought to get used to it; she'd probably have beat up Zhao and his men when they went to find the spirits, and it would be cold. They wanted to reach their destination under the cover of darkness, and given the polar night was rather long around that time of the year; that wasn't going to be a challenge timing wise, but rather, it would be very cold, even colder than she assumed it would be out on the tundra at that very moment. Pulling the gloves up, she made sure they tightly fit down past her wrists, before she tightened the bands around the ends, holding them in place.

"Well, is there anything you want to tell me about the North Pole before we step outside?" she asked her friend, knowing that she was knowledgeable when it came to the environment they'd be facing.

"Well, watch your step. Ice isn't as safe as land, especially by the coastlines. It might be hollow, or filled with water underneath." she warned her, the acrobat shivering with fear; she didn't like the thought of falling through a hole in the ice, and unintentionally freezing to death- that sounded like a horrific way to go, though she was sure that people had died that way before.

She glanced back over to the window, watching as they began to approach the coastline; she could see smokestacks off to their left, which suggested that a Water Tribe village, or at the very least, some hunting camp, was nearby. She didn't know what to expect, but she was sure they would want to avoid people if they could help it.

"Maybe there's people nearby." she mumbled, the Princess grimacing as she rose up to her feet.

"We should hope not. I'm not poised to walk into a Water Tribe village at the very moment, given my attire." she acknowledged, "Let alone encounter some stray warriors or hunters."

She narrowed her eyes, realising something rather interesting from her words, "What, are you saying you could make them believe you were one of them?" she asked, skeptical of such a suggestion, "You don't look Water Tribe at all."

"I could trick them, and say that I was adopted in the South by Water Tribe parents. I know enough about their customs and practices that I could play it pretty convincingly." she argued, the acrobat scrunching up her lips.

"Huh, I guess you could." she conceded, before she rose up to her feet as well, moving to approach the rear of the airship, where the boarding ramp was located.

The guards and the men Azula had recruited were already prepped to go outside, wearing their thick cloaks and boots, not to mention their thicker robes, more suited for the climate than the usual ones they wore in the Earth Kingdom. She and Azula filed along with the men, moving toward the boarding ramp, which had yet to drop; the airship was still up in the air, but the pilot was slowly lowering the craft down. If they dropped too fast, they might crash into the ice; given what her friend had just told her about the dangers that lay with traversing it, she was sure that it would be near death sentence if their craft fell into an icy crevasse. When she saw the ground approaching below them, Ty Lee tensed up, and glanced over to the guards who were standing beside her, looking down through the windows just the same.

"Are we moving too fast?" he asked her, the acrobat cringing, before one of his comrades slapped him over the back of the head.

"Don't be a wuss, Liang." he mocked his fellow guard, who cringed back, obviously still worried about their landing; it was going to be a first, in the end- the first airship to land at the North Pole.

She waited patiently, and the crunching noise the metal made as it softly landed on the snow below them was relieving to hear; no cracks or crashes, it seemed, which improved her feelings immensely.

"Ah..." she smiled, turning her eyes to Azula, who seemed more approving that they were finally there.

"Ah, finally, a chance to stretch my legs." she smirked, before whistling, "Get moving! We're not just going to stand around on the airship!"

The guards and soldiers moved closer to the boarding ramp, which was mechanically lowered with the use of two handheld levers; they obviously hadn't had the time to put in an automatic door, which would have just lowered by itself with the push of a button. The wind blew into the airship, and Ty Lee immediately shivered; it had sometimes been cold on top of Appa, but that was nothing compared to what she could feel as she and the others stepped out onto the icy plain. Snow was everywhere, gleaming bright and almost blinding; the sun's relatively low position in the sky was the only thing making the glare anywhere near tolerable, though she still looked down to avoid it.

"This is it." Azula declared, before planting her feet down on the snow, "Ah, that's a little too familiar." she almost whispered, "I can almost hear the crying children."

"Crying children?" Ty Lee raised a brow; that sounded rather disturbing with no context.

"Despite all the shit they go through, the damn Southern Water Tribesmen still find time to keep having babies. And they love to cry." she explained, which was a lot less morbid than she was expected, "I mean, I prefer crying children over sleeping next to a literal engine, which is what we're going to be doing tonight."

"Fun." the acrobat sarcastically commented, before she stepped out onto the snow, feeling the snow, squishy texture under her feet, "Huh, a bit like sand... but not really."

"Yeah, that's what I thought too." she agreed with her, before glancing around, "Well, this is it. We're here."

"And what next, your highness?" The Captain asked his superior, who chuckled.

"Well, we're going to make quite the impression." she acknowledged, before eyeing around. You can all walk around for a bit if you like, given we're going to be stuck in that damn airship for few hours again." she suggested, the guards and the men they had recruited deciding to go along with her words, stepping out onto the snow-covered plains, some of them pacing off, obviously intrigued by the environment they'd found themselves in.

Ty Lee turned to face her friend, wondering what she herself was going to do; the Princess strode forward out onto the icy plain, and she followed after her, glancing around at the few ice formations that dotted the landscape, as well as the hills in the distance, which were indicative of where solid ground began. She scrunched her lips up, wondering where the locals were; she assumed they were nearby, but she couldn't be certain of anything but that there were smokestacks off to their left.

"How far away are we from them?" she asked her friend, who turned her eyes toward her, obviously understanding what she was asking without having to clarify who 'they' were.

"Probably a few days' walk." she explained, gesturing to their right, "That way." she clarified, before sighing, "Don't even think about it." she preempted her, knowing that Ty Lee was considering the possibility of them just upping and leaving their plans behind to join their friends at the Northern Water Tribe.

"We could go, couldn't we?" she asked her, the Princess turning to glare her way.

"If Zhao got this airship, he'd use it for his plans, and without us... well, you know what would happen." she warned her, the acrobat grimacing; they had to stay with Zhao, for his plans were far too dangerous.

Of course, Azula could have tried to work against him in a different way, but for some reason, she decided that trying to earn the Northern Water Tribe's trust and getting rid of her most problematic subordinate at the same time was the right course of action.

"Y-yeah..." she almost whispered, feeling a little nervous about what he might do, or try to do, given that her friend was essentially giving him a free ticket to get to his goal by planning out their operation.

The two Fire Nation teens stood there awkwardly for a few moments, before Ty Lee brought her hands together, rubbing them as she hoped to garner a little more warmth; despite the layers, she was still feeling a little cold, especially by her extremities. Azula shook her head, seemingly annoyed by her action, and sparked a flame in her left hand, which she raised between them.

"Thanks." she smiled at her, the Princess shrugging her shoulders.

"You should have just asked." she chided her, Ty Lee smiling at her, seeing past the tough exterior she liked to put up; she could be nice at times, even if she covered it up with varying levels of hostility.

She and Sokka having their first kiss after sparring actually made a whole lot of sense when she thought about it; all the fighting was a way of expressing closeness while still being visibly hostile. The acrobat chuckled at the thought of it, placing a hand on her shoulder.

"What is it?" she raised a brow, almost seeming concerned by Ty Lee's amusement.

"Oh, I'm just wondering how much sparring used to be a substitute for intimacy between you and your boyfriend." she clarified, making the Princess turn her face away, though she could see her cheeks flushing red.

"That's not why we sparred each other." she retorted, the acrobat furrowing a brow.

"No, it isn't." she agreed with her, "But it's why you kept doing it." she presumed, Azula sighing; she obviously didn't want to talk about her relationship with Sokka, but she really never did seem to- that moment was not better a time than any other.

"Urgh... why do you have to analyse my relationship like it's a precious artefact?"

"Because it is a precious artefact to me." she declared with a smile, the Princess rolling her eyes.

"Oh, really? And who hit on my boyfriend the moment she met him?" she questioned her rhetorically, almost sounding like she was demanding the truth, even if she knew it already.

"Hey, it's not my fault he's a cutie." she defended her actions, Azula shaking her head, though her distant look and blush suggested she thought the same thing.

"Wait." she mumbled, the Princess extinguishing the flame in her hand, gesturing her left hand ahead of them, down across the tundra, "We're being watched."

"You must have great eyesight, Zula." she noted, before turning her eyes to where her friend had pointed, "I can't see anything."

"The sunlight is reflecting off a spyglass... or something else made of metal." she explained, before dropping her hand, "And now I've pointed at them... shit." she mumbled under her breath.

Clearing her throat, Azula spoke up louder so the men could hear here, "Everyone, don't panic!" she warned them, "Water Tribe warriors... I presume, are looking at us. Don't look their way. Just act like nothing's wrong, and everyone, head back into the craft, slowly." she explained, the men nodding along, before continuing to move about, as if nothing were wrong, though a few of them began to move back toward the airship.

After a few moments of silence, Ty Lee turned back to face her friend, "What if they're waterbenders?" she asked her, the Princess grimacing.

"That's exactly what I'm worrying about." she simply told her, before she crossed her arms, "I won't go in until everyone else is back inside. That includes you, Lee."

"But... I can't just let you stand there. What if they attack?" she asked, the Princess raising her chin up.

"That's why it's better me here than a foot-soldier or even one of my guards. I've fought Katara, and even if her waterbending isn't the best, I have a better understanding of that element than anyone else here." she argued, before cocking a smirk, "Not to mention I'm the most powerful firebender alive." she added.

Ty Lee looked back toward where the onlookers had to be, before turning back to face her friend, "okay, I trust you, Zula. But I'll wait for the rest of them to get in." she decided, the Princess turning around to face Renshu, who was standing nearby, obviously waiting for the rest of his guards to go inside the craft before he too joined them.

"Captain, I know you'd prefer to wait, but I need you to tell the pilot to warm up the engine again. We need to be ready to lift up as soon as I'm on that ramp." she ordered him, the Captain nodding.

"I understand, your highness." he acknowledged, before he paced on up the ramp behind them, ready to tell the pilot what needed to be done.

As the others began to make their way onto the ramp, slowly but surely, Azula decided to pace on ahead, which in Ty Lee's eyes wasn't a very good idea, especially given that for all they knew, any the waterbenders amongst the group of scouts would just attack her if she indicated she knew of their presence. She followed after her, and placed a hand on her shoulder, hoping that she wasn't going to do anything extreme; calling her stupid wouldn't be the right word, given that out of all people, she probably had the right skills to beat whoever was watching them.

"Azula, don't go too far ahead. If they really do have waterbenders, they could trap you." she warned her, the Princess nodding.

"Oh, I'm well aware of that. My firebending is hot enough that I can stop them from holding me down for long, unlike yourself. You need to step back, Ty Lee; I don't want to be protecting you from them." she warned her; she dropped her head down, knowing that her friend was just looking out for her.

"I get it." she confirmed, eyeing the remaining soldiers who moved back onto the airship; she then slowly strode back, keeping a keen eye on her friend as she did so.

When she reached the ramp, she looked back to see some of Azula's guards, patiently watching her, just as she herself was; they understood the danger they could be in, and the Princess just standing there wasn't going to make herself any safer. Suddenly, she felt a shaking underneath her; the only thing she could say it reminded her of was earthbending, though she'd only encountered it a few times in her travels.

The ice itself was shaking, and Azula immediately moved into form, turning around to send a massive stream of fire out, melting the ice around their craft, which would likely prevent the waterbenders from easily trapping it, before she turned her attention to the enemy themselves. They sent out waves through the ice, cracking the surface, obviously intending to ensnare her; she was able to avoid that by launching herself up into the air with the help of two jets of blue fire, before she spun around, creating a powerful fire-blast with said jets, which was fired off toward their enemies.

The momentary distraction gave the Princess the time she needed to get to the ramp, and with that, the pilot began to raise the craft up; they immediately began to rise up, and Azula leapt up onto the ramp, Ty Lee moving forward to make sure she didn't slip, helping her up to her feet, as they continued to rise into the air. Her guards sent out fire streams to distract the enemy as they rose up further into the sky, the pair moving back to the top of the ramp, which was slowly levered up by the guards. Once it was up, she turned to face her friend, who had a relieved look on her face, though that expression quickly shifted to one of suspicion.

"They waited until I was alone to attack me." she deduced, before stepping down through the gondola, her friend following after her.

"What does it mean?" she asked, unsure what their opportunistic attack meant.

"That they might have known who I was, already." she acknowledged, the acrobat's eyes widening; there was a few ways that they could have learned about Azula, but one immediately came to mind as being rather plausible.

"You don't think Sokka told them, do you?" she asked her, the Princess chuckling.

"Well, I think he might have warned them. Whether they knew we were coming how we were is another question." she noted, before crossing her arms, "This proves how dangerous our mission will be." she declared, eyeing some of the soldiers who they'd be taking along with them, "You all understand that, don't you?"

They nodded along, and Ty Lee placed a hand on a nearby window, looking back toward the people who had just attacked them, who looked like little more than specks on the snow from the distance they were at.

"Will they be ready?" she asked the Princess, who scoffed at her idea.

"They're a bunch of conservative old fools. They mightn't even believe what those warriors tell them."

Katara was starting to like their new igloo; it was bigger than their one at home, and gave them plenty of space to sleep and sit around. She could comfortably sit in her corner of the room and sew, if she so pleased, though she had been mostly focused on her waterbending as of late. Another thing she'd been considering was what would be happening after they left the North Pole. Pakku wanted to help their tribe, and eventually, she and Sokka would see their father again, along with the other warriors, who had to have sailed north to meet Bumi and his rebels by that point. She knew that those two things were interrelated, given that she'd have to talk with her father about whatever the waterbending master decided upon when he eventually did go south to help them. She didn't know when that would be, but she guessed that as soon as the Northern Water Tribe was able to spare the resources, they'd sent a few ships south; perhaps they could meet up with her father and the other warriors, and work with them for a bit before they actually went to the South Pole itself.

Her thoughts were complicated, though she knew what was likely to be more complicated was whatever Azula intended to pull of with Zhao; she had no idea what the Princess would actually end up doing in practice, other than tricking her subordinate into becoming a prisoner of the Water Tribes, which given what she'd heard about his actions, she was actually looking forward to. He sounded like a terrible person, and was likely deserving of what came his way. She knew, however, that Azula and Sokka were likely going to have some issues when they came back together. Even though she didn't have the most positive view on her brother's girlfriend, she could be sure that her brother wasn't just going to accept her back with wide open arms. He was so worried about her, and what she intended to do, that he'd obviously hold it against her, even if he understood why she was doing what she was.

Sokka was sitting across from her, looking at some scroll he'd picked out from the Chief's library; she hadn't been told what it was, but she guessed it might have something to do with the plans to help the south. He seemed like he was rather concentrated on what he was doing, though his eyes turned up to meet her own. He glanced around the igloo for a few moments, before he sighed.

"So, are you just going to sit there and look at me, Katara?" he asked, "I thought you had some waterbending forms to go work on."

"I was... going to mend your pants." she made up an excuse on the spot; he had complained about it, and she had explicitly said she was annoyed about doing it, so she realised in hindsight that it was a stupid sounding excuse.

"Oh, the pants you said you weren't going to mend." he feigned surprise, obviously being sarcastic in that regard, "I thought you said you weren't gonna do that. Did learning waterbending from Master Pakku somehow make you nicer?" he asked her, before furrowing a brow, realising that his own question made little sense if they both agreed that Pakku was a mean man, even if he was a good master, "Wait, no, that makes no sense. He's a dick."

"Yeah, it doesn't." she nodded, before making a cringed face, knowing that she had to be honest, "Okay, I won't lie, I'm not actually mending your pants."

"Oh." he mumbled, the Water Tribe warrior making a dejected face, "Aw man, I actually have to figure it out." he grumbled, before he picked up his pants, which had torn at the bottom end of the right pant leg.

"I can show you, Sokka, if you'd like." she offered, knowing that if she taught him properly, he'd stop complaining about it and just do it himself.

"Okay." he nodded, making a small smile of appreciation, "Sounds easier for you than mending them every time they tear."

"It will be, if you can learn." she quipped, her brother crossing his arms, annoyed by her suggestion.

"I'm a fast learner, Katara, you know that." he argued, the Water Tribe girl chuckling.

"Well, I'd hope so. You're my brother." she argued, making him roll his eyes.

"Yeah, yeah, waterbending prodigy." he mumbled under his breath as he scooched over toward her, sitting himself across from her with the torn pants in hand, "So, how is this going to work?"

"First you need to get a sinew thread and a needle, but luckily for you, I already have those." she explained, reaching over to her personal bag, and pulled out the sinew and needle, giving her brother both of them.

He looked at them for a few moments, before glancing up at her, "So, uh, how does the thread get into the pants?" he asked Katara, who simply gestured toward the end of the bone needle.

"You need to tie the end of the thread to the needle; that's how you get the thread into the pants." she gave him a simple answer; he nodded, and picked up the thread and needle, tying the former into the latter with a small loop through the hole at the end of the needle.

He then eyed the tear in the seam of the pants, and scrunched his lips up, "So where do I start?"

"So it's easier to cut the thread, I'd say start at the top." she clarified, her brother doing just that.

He pulled the torn seams together, before he narrowed his eyes, reaching his right hand into the pant leg with the needle while he held the seams together with his left hand. He pushed it through the seam, which she could hear as the thread ran through the seams, and Katara smiled at his quick work, and pointed down at the pant leg.

"And now, all you have to do is go back and forth." she clarified, Sokka nodding and beginning to go back and forth, his right hand awkwardly manoeuvring through the inside of the pants.

"Simple enough." he noted, before turning his eyes up to meet her own, "Thanks."

"No problem, Sokka." she assured him, before sitting herself back up against the wall of the igloo; she remained silent for a few moments, watching him work away, before she decided to ask him about what she'd been too nervous to before, "What were you reading?"

"Just a scroll on Northern Water Tribe building techniques. I'm assuming they're going to be using these if they do end up sending people south to rebuild our tribe." he explained, before sighing, "If they do it." he stressed.

"They might feel a little altruistic and charitable." she considered, "Maybe they won't do everything they might have if they'd got to own our entire country, but they might still help. People still might want to leave this place... and given the rules, I can understand why. Then maybe we'll have some new people to help out. Maybe even some waterbenders." she suggested, Sokka making a small smile.

"That'd be helpful... but maybe they'd just bring what they've got down here there. I don't want their stupid culture to ruin our own. Imagine if you had kids and then your new waterbending friends don't want your daughters to learn how to bend for fighting. How do you think that'd make you feel?" he suggested, making her eyes widen; of all the things that could happen to her tribe, that would be the worst.

To have the power of one's bending taken away from them because of their sex would be grossly unfair, especially given that it was their tribe; they allowed it, back when they had more waterbenders, from what she understood, so anyone new shouldn't force their stupid rules on their tribe.

"I won't let that happen, Sokka. I'll make sure of it." she assured her brother, who looked back up at her, stopping his sewing for a moment.

"It's not that simple, Katara. We have no idea how many will come south. They could outnumber us, drown out our voices." he explained, "Some of them might really dislike the way they treat people around here, and really would want to be part of our culture, but others, they might just want a quick coin and a new Northern Water Tribe."

"Those people won't be welcome." she crossed her arms, "I'm sure Dad wouldn't want anybody like that coming to our tribe."

"Dad isn't the head chieftain, at least not yet. Even if he was, those people might just act like any other until there's enough of them in our tribe that they can just force our way." he warned her, narrowing his eyes, "Like, Pakku, for example, might tolerate teaching girls waterbending, if we found any more waterbenders around our tribe, but if there were enough men like him, they'd start to think they were right just because nobody would be there to argue against them."

"So, what, we have to educate any Northerners or how to be nice people?" she asked him, the Water Tribe warrior smirking.

"That's precisely what I'm saying." he nodded, "The problem is, I don't think a lot of them want to learn. When somebody thinks they're right without doubt then it takes a lot to change their opinion."

"You changed Azula's." she suggested, knowing that he had succeeded at doing something that must have seemed absurd to anybody who knew Azula before she had become 'the new Azula'.

"That took a lot of effort and... well, trauma on her behalf." he acknowledged with an uneasy face, "Zuko broke something in her when he won that duel, and no time is going to fix it. Even if... she's better than she was, that doesn't mean it was right for that to happen to her. To anyone."

"Y-yeah." she turned her eyes down; it wasn't right what had happened to her, even if she wasn't the best person in the past.

She hadn't really done that much bad, especially compared to other people in the Fire Nation, which Katara had come to realise over time. She genuinely felt bad for how she had treated the Princess, given how kind she was relative to the people who were running the Fire Nation; even if she wasn't the most altruistic or nice person, she was someone with heart, the same kind that she thought she had, that her brother did, and Aang did, though it took a little to get it out of the young Avatar. They all wanted to do good, for themselves, and for the world; they had different reasons, but they all had that same heart, and that was what assured her that Azula was good, even if she denied it herself.

Sokka cleared his throat, "Uh, I think I'm done." he told his sister, whose eyes turned to examine the pant leg; he had successfully sown it up, and now, all that needed to be done was the thread to be cut, and perhaps the bottom of the pants to be sewn a little tighter.

"Hand it to me. I'll finish it." she requested of him, her brother giving her the pants.

She sewed up the bottom of the seam and the cuff of the pant leg, making sure that the thread wouldn't just get pulled out if he snagged his pants on something; she then pulled out a small bone knife, and cut the thread at the upper end of the sewn seam. Once that was done, she could untie the needle, and take back her thread; the pants were done, and it seemed like her brother had gotten a hang of it. She put her things back in the bag, and Sokka raised his pants up to examine them, smirking at them with a giddy grin.

"Hey, they're good." he commented, before turning back to face her, "Well, thanks, Katara."

"Don't mention it." she assured him, before narrowing her eyes, thinking back to their previous discussion, "Are you looking forward to getting out of here?"

"I might miss sleeping in an igloo, but I won't miss this place. One bit." he stressed, making her chuckle.

"Not even Princess Yue?" she prodded her brother, who turned away, embarrassed by her suggestion.

"I never said I liked her." he stressed, "I'm waiting for my girlfriend to get back so you can stop prodding me about this."

"Nah, then I can just make fun of you for Ty Lee thinking you're cute." she retorted, making him groan with frustration.

"Can I ever win?" he asked her, the Water Tribe girl crossing her arms, thinking of a situation where her brother would certainly be winning.

"If you count Aang mastering the elements as winning, then yes." she decided, Sokka scrunching his lips up.

"You're mean sometimes." he snidely commented, "Can't you be the nice one?"

"I never said I was." she argued, the Water Tribe warrior shaking his head with a disappointed look in his eyes.

"Hypocrite." he simply called her, before he shuffled back over to his old spot, and picked up the scroll he'd been reading.

"Hey, just because I want people to be nice, that doesn't mean that I'm going to be nice all the time." she argued, Sokka nodding.

"Yeah no, I got that, but that doesn't make you not a hypocrite." he argued, the Water Tribe girl narrowing her eyes.

"Okay, grumpy pants." she narrowed her eyes at him, "You stay there and read your scroll. Maybe think of plans for the ice palace you want to build for Azula."

"Wh-what?" he looked at her with a perplexed face, his jaw dropping slightly ajar, "Since when was I doing that?"

"I dunno." she shrugged her shoulders, "You just don't seem big on directly showing your affection. That's an easier way to do it than kissing her."

"And how's building a palace easier than kissing?" he asked her, clearly skeptical of her argument.

"Well, you won't be embarrassed building a palace, would you? You'd feel all high and mighty, Fire Consort Sokka." she suggested, her prodding getting a good reaction; he covered his face, clearly imagining what she'd suggested, though he covered it up with an annoyed voice.

"Please don't call me that. It's weird coming from you." he asked of Katara, who scoffed at his decision; somehow it was okay for Aang to say it, but not her.

"Oh, so it's only acceptable when other people say it?" she asked her brother; he looked at her blankly for a few moments before sighing.

"Uh, well, you're my sister. If you called me anything but Sokka or 'stupid', I'd feel weird. You don't need to call me anything else."

"What do you expect me to call you Sokka when you're Chief of the Southern Water Tribe?" she asked him, making him snicker.

"Oh, yeah, I do. If the Fire Lord himself gets called a nickname that sounds like it was made up by a two year old by his sister, then you can call me by my name. That's way less embarrassing." he argued, making her smirk.

"What was it, Zuzu?" she asked Sokka, who almost cackled at the mention of it.

"Yep, and despite using it, Azula could still scare him shitless." he slapped his thigh, before scrunching up his lips, "Well, at least, I think he was scared. Maybe he was really just that cocky after beating his dad."

"Zuko sounds a bit like his sister." she observed, making her brother cringe.

"Ooh... don't let her hear that." he warned her, raising a finger up to stress, "If you think calling her 'good' is going to piss her off, being compared to Zuko is going to make her go absolutely nuts."

She giggled at his suggestion, and her brother raised a finger to warn her, "I'm not joking, Katara. She's a prideful woman, you know that."

"Yeah, I know." she grinned at him, "But that doesn't mean I wouldn't like to see her reaction."

"Do you have a death-wish or something?" he quipped, the Water Tribe girl shaking her head, smugly raising her chin up as she leaned back onto the wall of the igloo.

"No, no, I don't. Plus, remember I'll be better at waterbending the next time I see her. If she wants to fight me, I'll gladly accept." she declared, her brother rolling his eyes, obviously not approving of her idea.

"Yeah, as I said: death-wish." he simply told her, before he turned around; she was confused why he did so, and he turned back around, eyes narrowed, "Huh, I thought I heard somebody run by."

"Run?" she almost scoffed, "What do they want to slip over and hit their head right into the ice?" she asked, making him snicker.

"Yeah, that's exactly what I was thinking." he agreed, before raising a brow, "Maybe it was Momo. He's been playing around outside lately."

"Wouldn't he be cold?" she asked Sokka, who raised a finger to his chin.

"I think his fur might help with the cold, but you're probably right. This isn't the best environment for a flying lemur." he conceded, before he glanced around, noting that one of the members of trio was missing, "Where did Aang go, anyway?"

"I think he was going to feed and brush Appa." she narrowed her eyes, remembering the young Air Nomad had offhandedly mentioned that before he left, "But I think he just went out to get some food."

"What, does he not like your traditional Water Tribe cooking?" he raised a brow, sounding offended by the suggestion.

"I wouldn't expect him to love it. He's probably used to very different food. I don't know what the Air Nomads ate, but I'd guess it was mostly fruit, pastries and vegetables." she explained her thoughts on the matter; she didn't blame him for his distaste, but unlike Azula, he at least didn't show it openly.

"Oh, well I remember you getting antsy with Azula over her not liking it." he recalled, before smirking, "Ah, yes, hypocrite." he pointed at her, "You just really don't like her."

"It's not my fault she's so snarky about things." she crossed her arms, trying to think that the girl's grating personality was a reasonable excuse for her response.

"Well, that's just part of the package. You get the snarkiness and arrogance, but you also get the good advice." he explained, the Water Tribe girl scrunching her lips up.

"Well... she gave me decent advice about how to meditate and get in sync with my element." she acknowledged the worth of Azula's advice, though it was usually few and far between her snarky comments or complaints.

"She's helpful, Katara." he stressed, "And she helped out around the village every single day. Even if she didn't like it." he added, making her cringe.

"Well, that must have been why she was so willing to let out all that anger sparring with you." she concluded, the Water Tribe warrior narrowing his eyes in thought.

"I am her punching bag." he declared, as if it were an unavoidable fact of life.

"You really shouldn't have to be, Sokka." she assured her brother, who seemed indifferent, shrugging his shoulders and turning his eyes back to the scroll he had in front of him.

"I am, but that's not an issue. I can trust her not to actually hurt me. You know, she could have beaten me up to stop me from following after her and Ty Lee, but instead, she had me chi-blocked. If she really wanted to stop me, she would have just suckerpunched me in the head when-" he cut himself off, raising a hand, "Actually, no, I'm not going to finish that sentence."

"When you..." she began, before her eyes widened, realising what he was talking to; she didn't consider what her brother and Azula had been doing before he got chi-blocked- that made a whole lot more sense, given that she and Aang were away nonpracticing their waterbending, "Ew, Sokka."

"It's only 'ew' because you don't have a boyfriend, Katara." he retorted, raising a hand, "If I was in your position I would think it was gross too."

"So you agree with me?" she asked Sokka, who shook his head.

"No, I don't. I'm saying you don't get it because you don't have a boyfriend." he clarified, "You'd be canoodling all the time." he suggested, which made Katara blush; she had not thought of the possibility of getting a boyfriend, but she really didn't know how that would work- they were always travelling, after all.

"Well... you don't know that." she crossed her arms, refusing to agree with him, which made her brother scoff.

"Ahahaha!" he pointed at her mockingly, "You're just jealous."

"I'm not." she narrowed her eyes at him, "I really can't be jealous of you with her." she added, the Water Tribe warrior grinning at her smugly.

"Oh, really? Not even a little bit?" he prodded her, the Water Tribe girl sighing; she immediately regretted making fun of him about Yue.

"Shut up, Sokka." she growled, making him laugh.

"Serves you right." he crossed his arms, "Now, don't make fun of me because girls give me attention."

"You want some attention?" she asked him, her cold tone making him tense up, raising a hand.

"Please, no snowballs. I simply speak the truth." he argued, the Water Tribe girl's mouth falling ajar as she tried to comprehend what he was saying.

"The truth?" she almost whispered, "Well, if that's what you're going to call it, fine, but I don't think it's true." she crossed her arms.

'That girls don't give me attention, or that you can't get a boyfriend?" he asked her, Katara clenching her fists, annoyed by his suggestion.

"I never said that!" she snarled at him, making the Water Tribe warrior break down laughing, obviously amused by her reaction.

Suddenly she heard the flaps of the igloo being opened, and she looked over to see Aang, who had a perplexed look on his face, "Uh... did I just- uh- walk into something?"

"No, you didn't." she assured him, "Sokka just likes being annoying."

"And you love to scream at me." he smirked, "Well, Aang, she was making fun of me, so I decided to give her a taste of her own medicine." he suggested, the young Avatar nodding, though Katara clearly noticed the unease in his eyes; something had happened outside, when he was off getting food or whatever he had been doing.

"Uh, yeah, okay." he nodded, nervously fumbling around with his hands, before he sat down by their unlit cooking fire, "I've been hearing things."

"Like spirits?" Sokka raised a brow, the young Avatar looking at him with a confused face.

"Wait, what? No!" he raised his hands to assure him, before he looked at the Water Tribe girl, "Am I meant to be able to hear spirits or something?"

"I don't know. That's the kind of question only Azula or some sages could answer for you." she explained, before furrowing a brow, "What did you hear?"

"People are talking about her." he simply told them, the Water tribe warrior pulling himself up, obviously deducing who 'she' was.

"Azula?" he asked, the young Avatar nodding, "Why?"

"I don't know." he admitted, "I heard some things about her being dangerous, and not dead. You know, the usual things people say about her." he clarified, the Water Tribe siblings nodding along.

"Yeah, so, why now?" Sokka asked him, before turning his gaze to Katara, "You don't think Pakku spilled the soup?"

"I don't think he's stupid enough to do that, Sokka. If he did, then he knows you'd go up there and beat his butt again." she assured him; Master Pakku was a smart man- getting into another fight with her brother was something he clearly would want to avoid, and telling his tribe all about how bad Azula was would not be good.

"Well, let's go speak with Chief Arnook, or- I don't know, Pakku, about this." the Water Tribesman decided, rising up to his feet, "We don't really have anything better to do." he acknowledged, "She might have already begun her plans with Zhao."

"That won't be good." Aang grimaced, "If they know, then... maybe they'll try and capture her." he came to the worst possible, but rather reasonable conclusion.

"They could try." Katara noted, climbing up to her own feet, "I doubt they'd succeed. She's a master firebender. They'd need somebody like Pakku to beat her in the first place, let alone capture her." she suggested, her brother grimacing.

"You've seen these people. They might actually try it, if they think it'd help them out."

"Help them lose our trust." Aang argued, "What do they think they'd get out of capturing her? Friendship with Zuko?" he asked them, his question rhetorical, though Katara thought that was actually plausible.

"You know, given his authority, that wouldn't be out of the question, Aang." she warned, making his eyes widen.

"Wh-what?" his jaw dropped, "Why are we staying here then? If she ends up captured then I'm not just a bad Avatar, I'm a bad friend."

"Nobody said you were a bad Avatar, Aang." Sokka assured him, placing a hand on his shoulder; he shrunk back slightly, an uneasy, nervous look in his eyes.

"Does a good Avatar get frozen for a hundred years while the world goes to war?" he asked him, clearly rhetorically, and the Water Tribesman sighed.

"You didn't choose to do that, Aang." he assured him, the young Avatar shaking his head.

"I know that... but I ran away. That's on me." he pointed at his chest, before running his hands through his short black hair, "I don't... I don't want things to get worse. Azula's my friend, and I know she can help us fix the world."

"She will." Katara spoke up, which surprised her brother, "Azula's going to help us, and if the Northern Water Tribe captures her, I'm pretty sure that together, we could break her out of whatever prison they stick her in."

"You're getting ahead of yourself, Katara." her brother warned her, "We have no idea what's going on. Let's just go find out what's happening before we do anything drastic. I want a reason to kick some stuck-up waterbenders in the butt, though I already have a few." he noted, striding toward the opening of their igloo, picking up his parka, throwing it over his torso.

The Water Tribe girl picked up her own, and slung it over her shoulders, running her arms through the sleeves until it snuggly fell over her body; she turned her eyes to Aang, who still looked nervous, "Don't worry." she assured him, stepping closer, "We can make sure she's alright."

He nodded, and followed after her and her brother as they strode out of the igloo; Sokka immediately raised his hands up to his mouth, and called out, "Momo! Get over here! We're going!"

The flying lemur actually heeded his call, and raced over toward them, flying over and landing up on Aang's shoulder; he looked around and the young Avatar chuckled, patting him on the head, "Sorry, buddy, I don't have any food at the moment."

The group then began to make their way up along the path that would take them to the staircase; they needed to get to the Chief's Palace, where they could speak to Aarnook about all the talk of Azula. They needed to get to the bottom of the rumours, because if they didn't they'd be in the dark; the Princess was their friend, and they needed to make sure she was alright. If she wasn't Sokka would set into overdrive, and she was sure that he'd go do something drastic; she imagined something a little bit more extreme than breaking her out of prison. Suddenly, something caught her eye, and she looked up above them; she could see a bird flying across, not that far from the ground, moving south, away from the centre of the city and the Chief's Palace. It didn't make much sense to her, but Sokka immediately turned around, with a nervous look on his face.

"That's a messenger hawk." he noted what exactly they'd seen, Katara stepping forward, not thinking that to be that important an issue- people probably sent out messages all the time, so it didn't make much sense to immediately draw that it had something to do with Azula.

"And?" she asked her brother, who narrowed his eyes at her.

"Messenger hawks are from the Fire Nation, Katara. Why would somebody be using a bird from the Fire Nation in the Northern Water Tribe?" he asked her, the Water Tribe girl narrowing her eyes.

"To communicate with the Fire Nation?" she asked him, unsure exactly what he was trying to point out, "They might have diplomacy now, given that Azula's brother was supposed to be not as big of a fan of the war as the previous few Fire Lords." she suggested, Sokka's gaze turning away.

"Maybe." he mumbled, "But communicating with the Fire Nation probably has to do with Azula. Why else would they talk with them? Why now?"

"I think Sokka's right." Aang nodded, "It has something to do with her."

"Well, let's get to the palace and figure out what's going on." Sokka spoke up, pacing on ahead of them; the other two followed on after him, following him up the staircase.

Katara felt nervous about what they'd just learned; the kind of danger that Azula was putting herself in couldn't be underestimated, and even if they could break her out of a Northern Water Tribe prison without much issue, she knew that would get in the way of their waterbending training. Pakku wouldn't like them breaking his nation's laws, and would be far less likely to tolerate training them; they might become fugitives in that worst-case scenario, though at least, they'd only be fugitives in the North Pole and not the entire world.

Part of the Fire Nation wanted them in prison, and the other half was hostile toward them because of their association with Azula. The Earth Kingdom didn't really exist, and the parts of it that weren't under Fire Nation rule were likely dangerous places to hang around due to bandits and deserters, both of whom might try to capture them for the bounties on Aang and Azula's heads. She knew that adding another place to the list of ones that didn't like them was something none of them wanted to do; if they didn't have a choice, they would do what had to be done. As they made their way up the stairs, she turned her gaze to the young Avatar, who seemed a little nervous about the whole situation; he noticed she was looking his way, and turned his eyes away.

"It's alright, Aang." she assured him, turning her eyes up toward her brother, "You shouldn't worry."

"Aren't you worrying?" he asked her, the Water Tribe girl sighing.

"A little bit, but that can't be helped. We should just wait to see what's going on before we jump to conclusions, Aang." she suggested, his nervous expression softening somewhat.

"Yeah, you're right." he nodded, the two of them turning their gazes upward, eyeing Sokka as he paced up the staircase.

They followed on after him, and Katara felt a sense of sympathy for her brother; he was probably internally panicking about whatever had happened- he wanted the best, but he was preparing for the worst. The trio made their way up the staircase, and she glanced back, seeing the messenger hawk nothing more than a smudge in the distance; it was gone, and there was no way of them knowing what message it was sending, unless they figured out who sent it. The staircase was long, and though she usually found it annoying because she might be late to her waterbending classes with Pakku, but at that very moment, she knew that the frustrating part was the growing anticipation she felt; she didn't know what they'd find out, but she knew there'd have to be something. Messages being sent, people talking about Azula; they weren't just being paranoid. Katara knew they had good reason to think she could catch the Northern Water Tribe's attention; everyone knew about Sokka and her escapade in Yu Dao, or at least, everybody she talked to about her brother with. When they reached the exterior of the palace, they crossed over the small bridge that went over the moat, approaching the front doors of the Chief's Palace, where four guards stood, a little confused by their arrival.

"Is something wrong?" one of them asked them, the Water Tribe warrior stepping forward, clearing his throat.

"Okay, this might sound like a weird question, but does Chief Arnook have a messenger hawk?" he asked them, the guards looking at each other with confused faces.

"Arnook?" one of them asked, shaking their head, "I haven't heard about him having a messenger hawk."

"Did you guys see it?" Aang asked them, "A messenger hawk flew from around just before."

"Uh... yeah, a bird." a guard mumbled, stepping forward with a perplexed face, "So that was a messenger hawk?"

"Yeah, it was." Sokka confirmed, "Can we go speak to the Chief?"

"About it?" the same guard asked, to which he shook his head.

"No, not that. We need to know why everybody's talking about Azula." he clarified, the guards nervously looking amongst each other.

"Oh, so you haven't heard?" one of them asked, Katara snarling, having had enough of their conversation; they needed to get to the bottom of what was going on.

"What is it?!" she demanded of them, "Tell us!"

"She attacked some hunters out west of here. Supposedly she and these Fire Nation soldiers had some flying machine." one of the guards explained, their timid but serious expression telling her that he wasn't beating around the bush- that was what he knew.

A flying machine wasn't out of the question; she had wanted to get to the Northern Water Tribe with the intention of getting Zhao caught, not starting an invasion of the North Pole. Though she hadn't heard of such things, she could guess they were possible to create, given that the Fire Nation had built their massive ships and factories in the first place- if anybody was going to figure it out, it'd be them.

"That's... interesting." her brother mumbled with an intrigued voice before shaking his head, his tone shifting to a more serious, calm one, "Well, we still need to talk with Arnook." her brother spoke up, "And we need to find out where that messenger hawk came from."

"Uh, well, go on in." one of them allowed them, opening up the doors for them, "Just don't scream at anybody again."

"I did that with good reason." he retorted, before stepping into the palace, Katara and Aang going in right after him.

They made their way into the rather expansive throne room, and approached the throne where Chief Arnook ought to be sitting; to their frustration, he didn't seem to be there, though Sokka immediately turned his heels and headed for the closest hallway. The Chief had to be close by, and as they made their way down the hallway, her brother looked like he was listening out for voices. Eventually, they reached what looked like a bedroom door, behind which they could hear something; Katara was sure there were two voices in there, but they were muffled. He knocked on the door, and a few moments later it was opened; they were surprised to see that it wasn't the Chief, but his daughter, Yue, who had an uneasy, confused look on her face.

"What..." she mumbled, glancing around, "What are you all doing here?"

"We need to speak with your father." the Water Tribe teen simply told her, his stern voice stressing the urgency they had; she nodded, and glanced back into her bedroom.

The Water Tribe girl leaned a little closer, and realised that Arnook was in her bedroom, though obviously he was a little confused to see them; they must have been having a private conversation before Sokka interrupted them.

"What's the meaning of this?" he asked them, "I understand you are the Avatar, Aang, but I'd prefer a little notice when you want to speak with me. I have things to do." he explained with a serious, matter of fact tone.

"No, we know that, Chief Arnook, but we heard rumours about Azula, and we had to come see you." he explained, the Chief's eyes widening.

"Oh, yes, that." he mumbled, his change in tone suggesting that he didn't feel very good about the news, "She attacked some hunters from a village near here." he clarified, crossing his arms as he stepped past his daughter, "I believe that is not what you intended when you said she would be stopping this 'Admiral Zhao'." he noted, Sokka cringing at his words.

"Maybe she didn't actually attack them." he suggested, "You know, the hunters could have attacked her first. I don't know why she would have shown up in the middle of nowhere. That has nothing to do with her plans." he explained, the Chief raising a brow, looking at the Water Tribe warrior skeptically, all while his daughter stood them awkwardly observing the conversation.

"And what are her plans, Sokka?" he asked him, "I haven't seen anything to suggest she isn't planning to harm our tribe."

"She's trying to do the opposite." Aang assured him, "Sokka, tell him."

"We-" he began, before cringing, "I can't unsay it, Aang."

"No, Sokka, we need the Chief's trust. Tell him what you know." she requested, knowing it was easier to do that than continue to lie; they could not keep Azula's plans, or more actually Zhao's plans, a secret any longer.

"Admiral Zhao wants to get rid of waterbending." he put it bluntly, the Chief looking at him with a skeptical face.

"Sorry, what?" Arnook asked him, "Get rid of waterbending?"

"He wants to kill the Moon Spirit, and remove its influence from the world." he explained, narrowing his eyes in thought, "And I assume that will get rid of the moon, which waterbenders rely on for their bending." he noted, the Chief stepping back, looking at them with confused faces.

"How... how can he even understand how to achieve such a thing? Does he know where the Moon Spirit even is?" he asked him, the Water Tribe teen cringing.

"He does." he confirmed, "I do too. The spirit pond, around the back of this palace. It was a pain to find, but last week, I found them. The Moon and Ocean spirits live in the form of two fish, swimming in that pond."

Arnook's eyes widened, turning to face his daughter, 'That's why... oh." he mumbled, Yue stepping forward.

"The Moon Spirit gave me life." she explained, "I was... well, there were complications with my birth, and my father took me to the pond to ask the spirits to save me. I believe... if what you're saying is true, the Moon Spirit is the reason I'm alive." she explained, "It was in there, and that's why my hair turned white."

"Oh, so it's not..." Sokka mumbled, before shaking his head, "The point is, Zhao knows they're there, and Azula's going to take him there."

"That's insanely dangerous." the Chief argued, "I can't let her do that."

"No, no, you see, because you know where she's going to take him, you can have as many warriors as you want ready to pounce on him. He'll be your prisoner, and the knowledge of the spirits will lay safe with us."

"I see." he narrowed his eyes, "Do you know how long it will be until they arrive?" he asked the warrior, who turned his eyes down, looking unsure of himself.

"Well, if Azula's just come by on that aircraft, which is how she intends to reach the oasis, then she'll be here soon. Maybe tomorrow. I'm unsure. You'll just have to have your warriors ready." he explained, the Chief nodding.

"Of course." he agreed, "I'll have to speak with the head of our military forces. We cannot let him succeed." he stressed, Aang stepping forward.

"If you really want an assurance, I can go wait there for them." he suggested, "I know that I might not be that good at fighting, but in case he tricks us, I think I'll be able to protect the spirits. I have my Avatar State... I don't know if it will activate, but if it does, that'll definitely stop him." he assured the Chief, who made a small smile.

"Thank you, young Avatar." he bowed toward him, "I'm sorry for getting... so antsy." he acknowledged, "I know you are trying to stop this menace and allow us to bring him to justice. If we remain careful and have a watchful eye on the skies, we will be ready for their arrival."

"That we will." Sokka spoke up, before clearing his throat, "Just one question, Chief Arnook."

"Uh, what is it?"

"Who owns a messenger hawk around here?" he asked him, the Chief narrowing his eyes.

"A messenger hawk?" he mumbled, "I believe Master Pakku has a bird. I was just speaking to him actually, before I came to see Yue."

Sokka's eyes widened, and he placed a hand on his shoulder, "Chief, I don't mean to be forward, but could you tell us what you were talking about with him?"

"Uh, we discussed the Princess actually, and the danger she might pose." he clarified, the Water Tribe warrior turning his gaze to meet that of his sister; he spoke up, still addressing Arnook while he looked her way.

"And what was his angle on it? Does he want her... captured?" he asked him, Katara's eyes widening as she realised what her brother was suggesting; it might be possible that like Bumi, Pakku was a member of the Order of the White Lotus, the organisation who had tried to have Azula captured in the first place, all those months prior.

"Captured?" the Chief raised a brow, "No, he was talking about how she posed a threat to the peace our tribe has with the Fire Nation... not Zhao, of course, just more generally."

"Oh... yeah. This smells of Iroh." he deduced, "Where is he?" he asked, Arnook gesturing down the hallway.

"He left not long before you must have arrived." he explained, "I don't know how you could have missed him."

"Well, Pakku isn't just as stubborn as a rock, he's also a snitch." Sokka deduced, "If we come back to the north coast of the Earth Kingdom and some of Zuko's forces are standing there waiting for us, I won't be surprised." he acknowledged, before he strode on down the hallway; he took a few steps before turning to face Katara and Aang, "What are you two waiting for? We need to get to your 'waterbending lesson'."

She awkwardly nodded at her brothers words, knowing that he likely intended to interrogate Pakku, which made sense, but might have been a bit of an overreaction; if the waterbending master was simply seeking to inform the Order of the White Lotus what Azula was doing, then it wasn't really that bad. Of course, it wasn't good for them, given that if they wanted to capture the Princess still, it would give them an advantage to achieve that goal; it was not something she hoped would happen, and her knowledge, albeit secondarily via the recountings by both her brother and his girlfriend, suggested that the Order mightn't desire that anymore. Her brother's story and Iroh's lack of intervention in their escape all those months ago suggested the organisation mightn't actually want to capture her.

Her brother led them along down the hallway, and she turned to face Aang; he understood what Sokka would do if they didn't intervene, though he didn't seem very inclined to stop him. Resigning their master to another beating was not in their interests, but then again, he was asking for it by doing what he had; Azula was their friend, and she was certain he understood that she didn't have malicious intentions, even if it looked like that at first glance. She was going to get rid of the greatest threat to his tribe, and she knew that he must know about that, given that Chief Arnook and he seemed to talk regularly.

When they reached the front door of the palace, the guards turned back to face them, "Oh, did you find out what you were looking for?" one of them asked, Sokka shaking his head with frustration.

"Uh, yeah, I need to go scream at somebody." he recalled the warning he had been given; her brother was more emotional and antsy than usual, and she could understand it probably had to do with underlying fears about Azula's situation, and now, they were addressing those fears directly- he was going to start throwing punches, if he had reason.

Aang looked her way with a cringed expression, "Should we... try and get him to calm down?" he asked her, the Water Tribe girl eyeing her brother, who continued to walk along into the courtyard, heading toward Master Pakku, who was standing by, practising his waterbending by a pond in the distance.

"Just let him cool off. It's better he get angry for a... good reason, than just going crazy with all those feelings stuck inside of him."

"You say it like he's gonna explode like that engine on the Southern Raider ship." he acknowledged with a nervous voice, making her chuckle.

"Well, figuratively, yeah, that's what I'm saying." she confirmed, before turning her attention to her brother, who whistled to get Pakku's attention; the waterbending master, who had been doing a for, moved to toss the water back into the pond he had been bending the water from, turning his gaze to the Water Tribe boy who approached him.

"You're not here to fight me again, are you?" he asked him, almost amused by the suggestion; he obviously didn't realise how aware they were about the Order of the White Lotus, though there was a chance he didn't belong to the organisation.

"Nope." he shook his head, "Just one question, Master Pakku, were you ever going to tell us you were part of the Order of the White Lotus?" he asked him, the waterbending master's eyes widening as his form tensed up; Katara cringed, realising that her hope had been for nothing.

He definitely either knew about the organisation, or was part of it; those two things must usually be mutually inclusive, given it was some kind of secret organisation to begin with.

"How do you know-" he began, before his eyes widened, "Oh shit." he mumbled, Sokka immediately drawing out his boomerang.

"You've got five seconds to tell me what you sent on that messenger hawk or Katara and Aang are going to freeze your sorry butt." he demanded, pointing at the master accusingly.

He scoffed at the Water Tribe warrior's attempt at coercing him, but as his two pupils took form, he realised that weren't joking around; they needed to be ready for whatever was coming their way, whether it be the Dai Li, the Order of the White Lotus, or Zuko himself.

"You've got to be-" he began, the anger growing in his voice, before he raised a hand to his forehead, "Fine! I'll tell you!" he submitted to his demand.

"Good." the Water Tribe teen cocked a smirk, raising his left hand, on which he had three raised fingers, "I'm still counting." he warned him, dropping one of the fingers down.

"I informed the Order that she was posing a danger to my tribe, and that she had arrived at the North Pole properly." he explained, the waterbending master dropping his hands down to indicate his passivity, "I didn't intend to have them go after her, if that's what you thought."

"That's exactly what I thought, old man." Sokka snarled, "Don't play around with me. I know you don't trust her, and yeah, you have a pretty good reason not to, but also, she's literally friends with the Avatar. You know, the guy Fire Lord Sozin wanted dead?" he gestured back to Aang, who awkwardly scratched the back of his scalp.

"And how can you trust her intentions?" he asked him, his eyes narrowing at him suspiciously, "I know you think the best of her... of course you would, blinded by love." he noted, the Water Tribe warrior's hands tensing.

His sister only had a few moments to realise how much Pakku had just pissed him off before he threw his boomerang right into his chest; the waterbending master had tried to pull out a water stream to knock him over, but it was sent off in the wrong direction as he lost his balance and was flung down to the ground. The hit was obviously made with no intention to chi-block; it was just Sokka trying to hurt him, and the cry of pain he made suggested he did just that.

"Sokka!" Katara cried out, thinking that he might have seriously wounded her waterbending master, "Why would you do that?"

"Because he's an arsehole, Katara." he snarled, the Water Tribe girl moving over to her master, kneeling over beside him, seeing as he painfully clenched at his chest; he looked at her with a cringed face and groaned, telling her that it hurt a lot more than the kind of hit Sokka's boomerang usually made.

"That flew faster than I expected." he almost whispered, before raising his hand to the pond beside him, "Take the water."

"What do you mean?" she looked at him with confusion, Pakku grasping her left hand, and making her gesture it toward the pond; she picked up a small blob of water and carried it over toward her, and he pointed to his chest.

"Pupil Katara, here's your latest lesson... heal me." he simply requested, making her raise a brow.

"I thought you didn't teach healing." she narrowed her eyes at him, remembering the sexist system that had caused her brother's first fight with the waterbending master.

"I don't, but you'll figure it out." he simply told her; she took a deep breath, and looked back towards her brother, who was turned away, still clearly infuriated by the master's comment, while Aang looked on with a concerned face.

The master groaned as he pulled at the end of his parka, pulling it off so she could see his chest; though she couldn't see his skin; she could see from the way he moved that his chest was clearly hurt. Maybe Sokka had broken some of his ribs, but she couldn't be sure. She placed the blob of water over the top of Master Pakku's tunic, and flattened it out, the water making contact with the fabric, seeping through the layers; he shivered, and tensed his face up.

"Just kept a hold of it. I want to be healed, not have a wet tunic." he warned her, "Now, move your hands, circularly, and focus on my chi-paths." he explained the next step; she nodded, and slowly moved her hands around his covered chest.

She could feel an unusual tingling in her hands as she motioned them around, and he groaned slightly, but nodded, to assure her that it was alright to continue; her waterbending wasn't just affecting the water in her hands, but must have been affecting his body as well. She moved her hands around, and the water began to glow, which was a surprising turn of events; it must have been normal, because Pakku didn't seem surprised in the slightest, and slowly but surely, the water did what it was supposed to. He gestured toward the pond, and she threw the water back in, the waterbending master cringing with pain.

Sokka turned around, eyeing him with suspicion, "I don't think I have to tell you what I think." he warned him, "She's not a threat to your tribe, as long as you are friendly toward us." he added, the master cringing; he was obviously annoyed, and in pain, but he made an effort not to snarkily comment in return.

"And what if I still think otherwise?" he asked him, the Water Tribe warrior stepping closer, kneeling over to pick up his boomerang.

"Oh, you would best keep those thoughts in your head and not act on them." he warned him forebodingly; Katara realised that he was literally imitating his girlfriend, though it seemed to work, as the master nodded, though he didn't seem any less annoyed.

"The Fire Nation Princess will come here, and if she threatens our tribe, we will kick you out." he warned him, "That's in our interests, and I'm sure you can understand that."

"I do." he confirmed, turning his gaze to his sister, "Do you still want this man to come to our tribe?"

She looked back at her master; he was a dickhead, she knew that for certain, but he had a good heart. Funnily enough, he was a bit like Azula in that regard, although the relationship between the two of them was quite different.

"I trust you, Master Pakku, but please... don't do something that would create needless conflict. I mistrusted that girl for a whole six months." she admitted honestly, "And I was wrong to do that. She's not as bad as you think she is."

"Yeah, Katara was a bit of a bitch about it." her brother honestly admitted, and she shot him a glare; she took a deep breath, frustrated by his offensive words, but she knew he was right.

She had misjudged Azula to begin with, and it had cost them six months that they could have spent getting to know each other. She really wasn't that bad, in the end, and she had wished that could have been the case instead of what had actually happened.

"Urgh." she rolled her eyes, before rising to her feet, "Did you send it to her uncle?"

"He will receive the message in due course." he clarified, narrowing his eyes at her, "Grand Lotus Iroh is not a bad man. I heard that he let your brother and Azula escape all those months ago." he acknowledged, "He must have done it for a reason, though I doubt he could have predicted she'd find the Avatar." he turned his gaze to Aang, "Do you trust her, Aang?"

"I do." he confirmed, "She's not... that nice, but she knows what she's doing, and she wants to change the world... for the better."

"So did Fire Lord Sozin." he retorted, the Water Tribe warrior shaking his head with frustration.

"Well, Fire Lord Sozin was both a genocidal maniac and an idiot." he retorted, "I know she's much smarter and less inclined to murder as that man was."

"She tried to kill her brother with a lightning bolt, didn't she?" the master asked him, Sokka turning away; Katara turned her gaze to her master, unsure what to say to that.

"Azula thought he killed her father." she told him what she knew to be true, "And she was probably feeling conflicted." she added, the waterbending master raising a brow with confusion.

"Why?" he asked, Katara making a small smile; there was at least one good thing that had come out of that whole situation in Yu Dao.

"Because she'd fallen in love." she argued, her master's eyes turning away; he looked a little pained in his expression, and she had a feeling that it wasn't because of his injuries, he picked up his parka and climbed back up to his feet.

"I can't trust her myself." he admitted honestly, "But I trust you all... even Sokka. You're a straightforward man." he conceded, with a slightly annoyed voice; a lot less annoyed than she would have expected, given what her brother had done, "I don't want any more war and conflict, especially it coming here. She'll get rid of Zhao, and that's good."

"I feel like there's a 'but' at the end of that." Sokka turned around, looking at him with a suspicious glare.

"I have a single request." he asked them, Aang stepping forward, now obviously finding himself relevant.

"What do we need to do, Master?" he asked him, as if he were simply asking about a new waterbending form; the topic suggested that it would be a far more serious request, the kind that would affect the future of the world.

"If you can... persuade her against fighting Zuko again. If there's anything I know, it's that the only ones who win from needless conflict are the ruthless."

"Ozai." the young Avatar spoke the name of the man they had known so little about, other than the fact he was clearly a bad man, with bad intentions for the world, "We'll stop him getting back into power, Master. I think even Azula and Zuko can agree on that."

"I sure hope so." he admitted with a nervous tone, "I don't think you'd like to see the outcome if they don't."

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