Toph thought there was one glaringly obvious benefit of being blind, beyond the fact she didn't need to see everyone's faces, staring at her or not, and that was that she couldn't be blinded; the flames that surrounded her at that moment were so hot that she could only guess how bright they would be. Not that she had ever seen anything bright in her life, but like any other rebel she was fighting alongside, she had felt fire, and this fire, it was painfully hot. So much so that touching her feet on the ground would make her feet ache, which didn't help her seismic sense, which unlike her other senses, did require some concentration to wield. She could sense her comrades around her, all using their bending best to defend against the efforts the enemy were putting up against them; she had thought the fight was going to be won in a heartbeat when they immediately scared the enemy off, but had been sorely disappointed in the end. By the time they were half-way through the campsite, their defensive efforts were actually becoming a problem, as it seemed enough men who could throw fire out of their hands could eventually stop their formidable element, and perhaps even overwhelm it. She kept up a wall of rock in front of her, punching forward as quickly as she could to send out boulders at the firebenders who were attacking her; she was disadvantaged by the simple fact that they were far enough away and her feet hurt enough that she couldn't sense their locations precisely.
"Crush 'em!" she heard one of the other rebels call out, Toph following his words, along with the other earthbenders, thrusting her hands forward to rip the ground out in the form of three pillars, pushing them forward and hurling them toward the enemy.
Their combined efforts seemed to work, as the heat of the flames was dimmed for a moment, allowing Toph to move forward and regain her bearings; she sensed around, taking note that the soldiers weren't just fighting them from the front, but were being attacked from behind, given how they were standing. She couldn't see the attacker, but that didn't concern her as she reached her arms forward, grasping the earth in front of her and raising it up to form a new defensive shield for her and her comrades. Stepping forward, she cringed from the heat of the dirt beneath her feet, something that was relieved by her ripping the soil apart with her bending, forming solid shoes of rock to protect her feet. She felt the heat of flames above her once more, but that didn't deter Toph, who sensed beyond her defences to target the soldiers who were attacking her. Pulling her hand down, she sunk their legs down into the ground, hearing their fearful cries in the distance; she smirked, knowing that she was once again in the position of power, forming smaller pillars with a flick of her wrist, whacking each of the firebenders in the chest to knock them out.
"Wh-what is that?!" she heard one of the rebels beside her cry out with fear, Toph trying to sense ahead to find what they were referring to, to no avail; she could hear the sound of the wind, which wasn't unusual, though she did realise that there hadn't been much wind until they started fighting.
"Everybody, get back!" she heard the familiar voice of Yung commanding them; she still had no idea what was happening, but followed his words, stepping back slowly, still feeling the heat of the ground through her stone boots.
She sensed the Fire Nation soldiers frantically moving in front of her, and noted that the warmth of the flames that had been annoying her had faded to nothing; she deduced that they must have been attacking whatever everyone was so afraid of. Toph suddenly felt the ground underneath her shaking, making her sense around, trying to find the source of the movement; purely by the unusual motions, she figured it was earthbending, but it was more powerful than anything any single person in their fighting force could muster, even considering herself.
"That's the Avatar!" she heard another rebel call out, Toph still trying to sense around, unable to find Aang, if that was really what was causing the shaking she felt.
She realised that he must be in the air, which would explain all the wind that she felt whipping through the air, though that didn't explain the fact she could feel earthbending; to the best of her knowledge, he hadn't even learned waterbending, let alone her own element. Sensing ahead, she gasped with surprise as she saw him achieve what she herself had failed to, and ensnared all of the firebenders, by sinking them down into the ground, all at once. She was unable to comprehend how he could do it, and quickly enough, the wind began to die down, Toph only hearing out the mixture of cries of fear from their enemy and cheers of joy from her fellow rebels.
"We won!" one of them cried out, "The Avatar did it!"
Toph smirked, just as glad as anyone else that they had beaten their enemies, but was still confused as to how Aang had even achieved what he had; she sensed around, taking note that there were still a few stragglers running off in the opposite direction.
Pointing where she sensed the enemies, she called on her comrades, "There's still a few of them trying to run!"
She raced forward as fast as her feet could take her, dispelling of the defences she had initially made to protect herself from their opponents, before she raced toward them, still all ensnared by the Avatar's powerful earthbending attack. She sensed them trying to attack her, and to defend herself, she grasped out at the dirt and debris around them, dragging them in, as to swamp the trapped Fire Nation soldiers, who could do nothing but try and keep their heads out of the dirt. Toph charged forward, sensing someone's feet touching the ground ahead of her, taking note that it was Aang; she could sense his heart beat, and she realised how weak it was. She barely knew him, but she knew to be worried about him if he had somehow mustered the energy to do the bending feats just witnessed.
"Aang, are you alright?" she asked him, the young Avatar groaning as she approached him, slumping down to the ground.
She raced over toward him, grasping him by the shoulders to stop him falling down flat on his face; he mumbled something, though she wasn't able to understand it, simply trying to keep him upright while he came to his senses.
"Urgh... did we win?" he mumbled, making her snort with amusement.
"Oh, we won alright." she assured him, "Whatever you just did then, that stopped them. Though, some are trying to run away." she explained the young Avatar, groaning slightly before making an affirmative nod.
"You better... go get them." he acknowledged, the earthbender clenching her right fist as she helped Aang lie on the ground, sensing around to check how the trapped soldiers were faring; they didn't seem to be focused on Aang, but rather towards the other rebels who were quickly approaching, ready to knock them out and take them captive.
"Aang!" she heard Katara's voice cry out, fearful in her tone, her footsteps light as she sprinted over toward them, "Are you hurt?"
"N-no..." he mumbled, his head turning to face the Water Tribe girl, "The others... getting away." he pointed in the direction that Toph had been heading before she ran into him.
"You heard him!" she heard the voice of Saila pipe up, "We need to deal with them before they have a chance to regroup." she declared, essentially ordering them, although the earthbender was unsure if her command applied to her specifically.
"That was my idea." she retorted, before thrusting her fist forward to create a pillar, firing it toward the withdrawing soldiers, whose footsteps became more panicked when they noticed the hunk of earth being thrown their way.
"You do that." she heard Sokka's voice, sounding pained and exasperated, "We'll keep Aang safe for now."
"I will." Saila declared confidently, before she charged forward, Toph following behind her, not giving another second to think about whether Aang was alright; she had to focus on fighting the enemy, which was her job, not to coddle a twelve-year-old with extreme powers.
As they raced after the Fire Nation soldiers, she sensed over the other girl's form, noticing that she was wearing the Fire Nation armour that they had spoken about, which made it rather odd, given that the only thing that distinguished her from the other soldiers was her heartbeat. She also took note of the fact she lacked a weapon, which confused her- non-benders would need weapons to beat firebenders, seeing how dangerous they were in close-quarters.
"Are you planning to beat these guys with your fists?" she quipped, the other girl grumbling with annoyance as she readied a fighting stance.
"Are you really that dim?" she retorted, making her raise a brow, actually unsure what she was referring to; it was as she was meant to have known her secret tactic, which she did not, but given her previous statements about strategy, she guessed it would be pretty complex.
"Don't let the ash-makers get away!" she heard one of the rebels call out behind her, sensing a rock being pulled out of the ground, and heard it fly past her toward the enemy.
She sensed the boulder striking one soldier right off his feet, throwing him into the remains of a tent. By that point the enemy soldiers had already turned around, taking defensive stances, or at least the closest thing that a firebender could get to a defensive stance. The non-bending soldiers, those wielding jian swords and spears, were still running, obviously not feeling confident enough to face off a group of earthbenders and one exceptionally confident non-bender. Toph took her own stance, thrusting her hand forward to destabilise the ground beneath her enemy's feet; she succeeded in breaking their root, something that would make them a lot easier to knock down with boulders or pillars, but was surprised to see the Saila didn't stand by her, continuing to charge forward at the enemy. She wanted to try and warn her, but instead, sensed her quick moves to block their attempts to firebend at her, before she knocked a number of them down with quick punches and kicks. The only thing Toph got a chance to do was bend the enemy soldiers in place once they hit the ground, to ensure that they didn't get away; when she got over to the other girl, she couldn't help but ask.
"Okay, where'd you learn to do that?" she asked Saila, who glanced back her way, before taking a stance, seeing that there were more soldiers ready to fight them.
"Somewhere." she told her tersely, before she ducked downward, Toph copying her to ensure that she missed what she guessed was a fire stream flying over their heads.
She thrust her hands out to strike the firebender in front of her off of his feet by hitting him in the abdomen with a boulder, before she turned her hands inward to pull the ground from underneath the feet of the other soldiers surrounding them. Suddenly she felt Saila stepping in front of her, blocking what seemed to be another attack; she realised at that moment, as the heat dissipated from the air, that there was reason Saila was so good at fighting, and why she could dissipate flames- Princess Azula wasn't dead, she was the girl standing right in front of her.
"W-wait-" she began to question her, before she was cut off by the sounds of her fellow rebels making war cries as they charged forward, their haphazard use of earthbending warding off their enemies, forcing them to flee.
Toph sensed around and pulled her hands down to ensnare those that had already been knocked down, before she turned her eyes to face the other girl, almost completely certain she'd figured out who she really was.
"You're Azula, aren't you?" she asked her, the girl's head turning to face her, before she raised her chin.
"Your little lie detector trick won't work on me." she warned her, before leaning forward, "So, you'll just have to keep that little idea to yourself."
She chuckled, realising that even if she hadn't had to lie, the implications of her words proved Toph's assumption correct, "I'll take that as a yes."
"Watch out, Blind Bandit." she warned her, before turning around to look toward their fleeing opponents, "You might be a great earthbender, but do you know who you're talking about?"
"Somebody who was supposed to be Fire Lord." she simply retorted, giving her the best of her knowledge about the person she assumed her to be.
"Not the answer I was looking for." she conceded, before turning around and gesturing to one of the trapped soldiers, "But I could use your help."
"Why should I?" she argued, knowing that if she really was the Princess, then she couldn't trust her.
"I want to interrogate them, idiot." she clarified with a snarky voice, "I'm here to make sure your little city's safe."
"I was going to do that anyway." she quipped in return, raising her left hand up to pull one of the soldiers up from the ground.
"Argh!" he cried out with terror as he tried to move himself around, to no avail.
Toph raised a finger to hush him as she approached, "Shut up, I just want some answers." she demanded, the soldier's heart rate rising in pace.
"A-a-answers to what?" he stammered fearfully, the earthbender sensing the girl beside her, and decided to test whether she was Azula or Saila.
"Have you seen any wanted posters lately?" she asked, the soldier remaining silent for a moment, Toph clenching her fists to tighten the rock binds she had over him, which made him cry out, his heartbeat rising once more.
"Argh! Yes! Yes, I have!" he assured her, his heartbeat telling her that he was being truthful.
She then pointed to the face of the girl beside her, "Is this face on one of them?"
The soldier's heartbeat lulled for a moment, before it picked up dramatically, the soldier squirming with fear, "Oh fuck!" he cried out, "That's Princess Azula! Please, your majesty! Don't kill me!"
"Oh, you're smarter than I thought, dirt-eater." Azula congratulated her with a mocking clap, glancing around, "I wonder how many people heard that?"
"A few." she smirked, "Now, you're found out, what are you going to do?"
"Fight you, if you want me imprisoned." she simply responded, Toph raising a finger to her chin.
"Well, I haven't decided on that yet." she admitted, before stepping closer to the other girl, pointing toward her, "So, what are you going to do, your highness?"
"Pretend this conversation never happened." she retorted with a cold, commanding tone, leaning down closer toward Toph, who guessed she was staring her down, "You best choose your next actions wisely. Do you know what I can do?"
"Not really." she acknowledged honestly, before stepping back, "I'll keep my mouth shut... for the moment."
"It seems you do have at least half a brain in there." she pointed her on the forehead, making her clench her fists; she certainly didn't like getting poked at, and shook the ground beneath Azula on purpose.
"I'm no pushover." she warned her, before gesturing in the direction of Aang and the others, "Do you want to make sure the others are alright, or are you going to go after your fellow patriots?" she quipped at the other girl, whose heartbeat increased, before she began to pace in the direction.
"I need to make sure my boyfriend's alright." she snarled at her, Toph making quick strides behind her, immediately thinking of something to quip back at her.
"So, did you brainwash him into following you around like a dog or something?" she asked her with a mocking tone, betraying the fact she was genuinely interested how the former Crown Princess of the Fire Nation could have fallen for a Water Tribesman.
"No. He brainwashed me into betraying my country." she retorted, and as with everything she said, her heartbeat told her nothing; just taking her words at face value, they made sense, but given how confident and cocky she seemed, it seemed to be too simple an explanation.
She pursed her lips upward, keeping her pace behind the Fire Nation Princess, "And why'd you agree to that?"
"Personal ambition." she told her nonchalantly, something that was far more believable an explanation than her boyfriend brainwashing her.
"Ah yeah, that'd do it." she noted, scrunching her lips up as she tried to think of something else to ask; she wasn't used to a more conventional interrogation method, though her questioning wasn't exactly forceful- she didn't know what the other girl would do to her if she really pushed her, "Why help the Avatar?"
"Did you mishear me, or are you deaf as well as blind?" the Princess snarkily responded, making her raise a finger at her, appreciative of her mocking responses, even if they were somewhat offensive.
"Oh, I'd really like to have a proper argument with you... but right now, I just wanna figure out..." she began to trail off, before gesturing her hands towards the form of her body as she sensed it, "this whole thing."
"Me." she corrected her, "I am an interesting person, I won't deny that, but my story, I'm not at liberty to tell it."
"Hmph..." she crossed her arms, realising that she was taking the wrong method, "What'd you do to Sokka when you found out he nearly got kidnapped when he was drunk?"
"Berated him and forced him to read a bunch of boring documents to my benefit." she recalled, before she turned her head toward the earthbender, "You asked that on purpose. Who told you about that anyway?"
"Katara." she gave her the truth, which made the other girl cackle, before she face-palmed.
"Oh... she's really been pushing it, hasn't she?" she mumbled to herself, a rhetorical question Toph decided to not try and answer, knowing that her tone suggested a greater animosity between the two.
"Hey, did you deal with the runners?" she heard Katara ask out, making Toph realise that the group was right ahead of them; she smirked, realising that it would give her an opportunity to understand more about Azula before she ultimately decided what to do with her knowledge of her identity.
"They weren't too much trouble. Some non-benders ran off... but I doubt they'll pose much of a threat with no supplies." the Princess acknowledged, before she gestured down to her boyfriend, who was sitting beside Aang; Toph realised that he must have been injured in the fighting, knowing that he would have probably gone with his girlfriend instead of sitting by the passed out Avatar.
After a few moments of silence, she sensed the Water Tribe boy's eyes turning to her, "What were you getting so smug about?"
"Oh, nothing much." she lied, knowing that he didn't have the same kind of ability as her, "Is the Avatar alright? I couldn't see what he was doing... but it seemed intense."
"He activated the Avatar State." the Water Tribe girl answered, "I think he was being attacked by a lot of firebenders, and got scared."
"So it's like magical rage?" she asked her, both Katara and her brother snickering at her description.
"You know what, that's not a bad way of putting it." he commended her, before his tone became more serious, "Something to do with his past lives. It means he can fight with the power of the Avatar Spirit, whatever that's supposed to mean."
"Something something spirits?" she quipped in response, glancing toward the Princess, "You don't happen to have a better explanation, do you?"
"No. He said it. The power of the Avatar Spirit." she explained with an unenthusiastic tone; this didn't surprise Toph, though it immediately caught her boyfriend's attention.
"Uh... okay, somebody pissed you off." he admitted, before narrowing his eyes at Toph, "What'd you say? Did you make fun of her?"
"I haven't got a nickname for her... yet." she acknowledged with a smirk, the Princess shaking her head with an exasperated sigh.
"Oh no..." he mumbled, his heartbeat rising, before he began to climb to his feet, grunting with pain as he stretched his torso, "The lie detector worked a little too well... didn't it?"
"You could say that." Azula acknowledged nonchalantly, her boyfriend remaining silent for a moment, his heartbeat steadily rising, while his sister glanced around with confusion.
"What are you guys talking about? The lie detector?" she mumbled with a confused tone, before she addressed Toph, "What'd you do?"
"Scare your brother, at least that's right now." she acknowledged, before Sokka sighed, his hand rising to cover his face.
"Give me one reason to not chi-block you right now." he warned her with a surprisingly intimidating and cold voice, actually creeping her out a little more than Azula, given that she could feel from his heartbeat that he was becoming calmer.
"Because I can be fair about this. I'm not the kind of person to hate-" she began, before Sokka's left hand jumped forward, jabbing her in the shoulder; as her arm fell limp, she snarled slightly, realising that he had just blocked her chi, "What was-" she once again spoke, raising her voice, before Sokka's finger tugged on her chin, pulling her head up to face his own, which wasn't really necessary, given that she couldn't see.
"Shut the fuck up." he told her with a demanding voice, "Do you know what you're doing? Huh?!" he snarled at her, Katara standing up behind him, obviously concerned about his behaviour; when she moved to address her brother, he pointed his left hand toward her, "No. Don't you start either." he demanded of her.
"I haven't done anything." Toph quipped, making Azula snort, crossing her arms as she shook her head.
"Oh, you have." she suggested, her warning being about her boyfriend's reaction; even if he was a non-bender, she didn't think he was a complete push-over, given his refuted abilities.
"I am going to make this very clear." he released his grip of her chin, before holding his hand in front of her face, "I want to keep my friends safe... and more than that, I want to keep my girlfriend safe, from both the Fire Nation and the Earth Kingdom. If you put her in danger by blabbering, people are going to die." he told her with a dead serious voice; she felt his heartbeat, and she gulped, realising that he wasn't lying- there was nothing in his heartbeat to suggest he wasn't telling her the cold truth.
"Are you... are you going to kill somebody?" she asked him, now concerned that he was actually suggesting he would kill them to keep his girlfriend safe.
"Of course not. I'm no murderer..." he assured her with a serious tone, before he almost laughed, but relented, gesturing to Azula, "but my girlfriend here, she'd probably kill half the people here to keep us safe, and Aang, you just saw what he did. Do you think he'll choose your rebels, or his friend?"
Toph remained dead silent for a few moments, considering his words, before she pursed her lips up, thinking that he had given her good reason to follow his demands, "To think you'd make a better argument than she did... count me impressed, Sokka."
The Water Tribe teen leaned away from her, his cold expression not faltering, as he turned to look at his sister, "Are you going to argue in our favour?"
"I don't want to fight." Katara simply told them, before stepping closer to Toph, "Do you really want to put all these peoples lives at stake just for that single truth?"
She shook her head, turning to face Azula, "I'm sorry for saying what I did, I didn't realise you were... so worried." she admitted, before her eyes widened, remembering all the raised heartbeats she had realised were associated with the name 'Saila', "So, this is what you were all panicking about?"
"Obviously." Azula sighed, before clearing her throat, "Not that I panic. I'd never panic. I just consider the potential scenarios that I might find myself in."
"I'll keep quiet for now. But trust me, people are going to find out, sooner or later." she warned her with as serious a tone she could muster, "They always do."
"What is that supposed to mean?" Sokka questioned her, obviously suspicious of what she intended to do.
"I've been in a similar situation before." she simply told him, before she gestured toward Azula, "Not as dangerous as this one, but still serious." she told them, remembering back to when she had had to lie about her own identity.
Lying about her identity was something that Toph had grown strangely comfortable with back in Gaoling, seeing that her parents would have had a fit if they had seen what she did at the Earth Rumble. She just wanted to spend her spare time beating the crap out of less capable earthbenders, and when the Fire Nation shut it all down, she was forced to make more drastic measures, taking it upon herself to sneak out during the middle of night to work on her bending. It was the most sensible option, seeing that she had the advantage of her seismic sense to get in and out of her home undetected. Eventually, she had slipped up, and her father forced her to stay in her room for a whole week, outside of their family meals. She didn't stand for it, and that was the impetus for her leaving home and going off on her own; she hadn't originally intended to join King Bumi's rebels, but that was what happened in the end, with her skills being well applied in for a cause she could believe in.
"Oh, so you're a skilled liar and a skilled lie detector." Azula raised a finger to her chin with a humoured, somewhat condescending tone.
"I'm good at what I do." she crossed her arms, not holding back a smug grin; her cocky expression faltered when she remembered what she ought not to do, and she cleared her throat to catch the attention of the group, "I won't mention anything, not yet, but I'm warning you... these people aren't stupid. They're going to catch on sooner or later."
"That's an outcome we're prepared to face." the Princess assured her, before Katara shook her head, responding with a dismayed voice.
"You're prepared. I'm pretty sure Sokka and Aang can't do anything at the moment."
Her brother's head tilted up, his heartbeat rising up as he growled with an indignant tone, "Hey, I'm perfectly capable of fighting." he declared, pulling his boomerang out of its sleeve and standing in form, "If somebody wants a piece of me, they can come and get some."
"Oh, so you want to spar?" Toph pursed her lips upward, the Water Tribe teen stopping in his tracks as his form faltered.
"Uh... I need breakfast... and probably some bandages on my chest." he excused himself, making her snicker; she was torn whether to settle on the belief he was all talk or not, given that his prior threats had seemed very real.
"Okay, okay, I see who's the talker in the group now." she stated her deductions aloud, which seemed to annoy the Water Tribe boy, who raised a finger toward her accusingly.
"Don't even try it." he snarled at her, before turning to his girlfriend, "Can we go back to Appa? Aang could rest on the saddle instead of down here... surrounded by all these knocked out soldiers." he gestured around, Toph noting that the soldiers Aang had ensnared had all been knocked out by that point, their bodies lying about, though she could clearly tell they were alive, given the large number of beating hearts she felt.
"You can do that." Azula noted with a shrug, making Katara glance over her way.
She asked her, sounding slightly worried, "What are you going to do?"
"If these prisoners end up in the hands of the other Fire Nation, I want to be sure I get a little message to Zuzu." she explained, making Toph raise a brow, guessing that the nickname she had just used referred to the current Fire Lord, of all people.
"Fire Lord Zuzu?" she joked, making the Princess snicker, patting Toph on the shoulder.
"If anyone called him that to his face, I'm pretty sure he'd try to kill them." she warned her, the earthbender smirking slightly.
"Is that your message?" she asked her, intrigued whether that was her actual intention, "Are you just going to make fun of him, and announce you're alive?"
The Princess's head turned back to glance her way, the words falling off her tongue so naturally, she was sure she had said them before, to the very brother she spoke of.
"I'm going to remind Zuzu of his place."
Looking upon a line of chained up Fire Nation soldiers, Azula was rather amused by their condition; she realised that the Earth Kingdom rebels hadn't actually brought any chains with them, and deduced they had used some in the stores of the Fire Nation camp they had just destroyed. She did not feel distraught for the fate of her fellow countrymen, knowing that they had willingly decided to go against their most logical choice, which would be to support her brother, even if that in and of itself was against her own self-interest. She didn't feel in the mood to berate the enemy for being disloyal to her brother, knowing that it would benefit her in the long run to have as many people dissatisfied with her brother as possible, as when she was to finally make her move to defeat him, she would need as many supporters as possible. Not that she wanted the support of the specific men before her, but rather, to inform the rest of the Fire Nation, loyal to Zuko or not, of her intentions. She knew that the prisoners before her probably wouldn't be held by Bumi's rebels for long, knowing that her brother's forces would take the opportunity to exchange the soldiers for Earth Kingdom ones, seeing that it bolstered the less threatening of their two rivals, that being those in support of her father, and those in support restoring the Earth Kingdom's sovereignty.
The rebels constantly eyed her, which made sense, given her Fire Nation armour, which was a disguise, rather than a method to insinuate her identity; she didn't want them to know who she was, even if she thought it would be best for her enemies to do so. She stepped closer to the Fire nation soldiers, some of which had been gagged, probably to prevent them from breathing fire, something that she knew was a versatile skill the soldiers might have picked up. They looked at her with confusion, and she simply glanced along at their faces, looking for someone that she might recognise from her little investigation into the encampment less than an hour, before any of the fighting had begun.
She pursed her lips upward she spotted someone she indeed did recognise, that being General Zhang himself; she wondered whether he was cowardly enough to be captured, though the bruise he had on his face suggested he had not been a coward, but rather a clumsy idiot. His eyes widened as they met her own, and she pulled the gag off of his mouth at once, wanting to get some more intelligence out of him.
"Wh-what... I thought..." he mumbled, his eyes darting around, obviously confused by why she was before him, especially when she had appeared before him earlier that day, impersonating a Fire Nation soldier.
"Oh, if you didn't realise, I tricked you." she smirked at him, leaning in closer, "And I thought a General of all people would have better memory than that."
"P-Princess Azula." he muttered her actual name, to which she raised her chin, thinking that she ought to get some more respect from someone who actually knew who she was.
"Crown Princess Azula." she corrected him, "No matter who you think ought to be Fire Lord, by the way." she stressed, acknowledging the fact that if one considered either her brother or father as the ruler of the Fire Nation, she was still the heir of both, given her brother was still technically banished under her father's rulings.
"What are... why are you here?"
"To earn favour for my allies, the Southern Water Tribe." she told him the honest truth, making the General's jaw drop, before he broke down laughing; he obviously thought it was hilarious that she was working with the nation that was commonly believed by those in the Fire Nation to be the weakest and most pitiful of those remaining.
She pulled her finger under his chin, forcing it upward and making him bite down on his own tongue, which made the General cry out with pain, "Now, now, there's no need to mock me, General, unless you'd rather die here and now."
Zhang's eyes widened with fear as he tried to hold in the pain he felt from biting his own tongue; with one eye closed, he snarled slightly at her, "Why?"
"Because my brother nearly killed me. My allies betrayed me, and those that didn't squandered their strength." she explained the fact of the matter, "I had no choice, and I did what I could with my circumstances... it seems you squandered your own."
"Wh-what do you mean?" he snarled slightly at her, his eyes looking up at her as his head slumped down.
"You could have taken your men and sworn allegiance to my brother. Why didn't you, might I ask?"
"Because he wants to destroy our nation. He's a coward and a pacifistic weakling." he declared confidently, making Azula snicker.
"Ah, so we agree on something." she acknowledged, smugly smirking at him as she looked down at his pitiful condition.
The General twisted his neck slightly, groaning with pain before looking up at him, "But why would you attack me? Don't we want the same thing?"
"No." she shook her head, kneeling down in front of the General, "You desire to keep your power, which comes from the fact you need to lead an army somewhere and kill some people. That would be fine, if it were necessary." she acknowledged, "You seek to destroy the Earth Kingdom, who will keep resisting you, and everyone like you, until they start winning. And then you'll run back to the homeland, and be executed for treason." she warned him, the Princess raising a brow in thought, "Though, I guess that wasn't your intention, was it?"
"We're going to win." he declared with dagger eyes, "Whether you are with us or not doesn't change that."
"Oh, it really does, actually." she warned him, raising her finger toward his face, as if she were about to burn him with a blowtorch of hot blue flames, though nothing came out of her finger but a light warmth, enough to make him visibly uncomfortable, "You're relying on the belief my father will become Fire Lord again. Now, I don't believe he couldn't regain support, that's not an issue... it's rather who'd he'd have to kill to get there that's the problem."
"Oh, I'm not worried about Zuzu." she smirked, "Did you so quickly forget who ought to be sitting on the throne right now, if it weren't for the death of Prince Lu Ten?"
"The Dragon of the West..." he mumbled the title of her uncle, before he narrowed his eyes, "That old man, he was once the best of us... now he's as much a traitor as your brother."
"Oh, he's more than that. He's one who masterminded it all." she furthered his own claim, "I recommend you worry about him... probably as much as you might worry about me once you're in prison."
"I'm going to get my men out. Whatever it takes." he declared confidently, "I believe in them, and I believe we can bring glory to our nation."
"Oh, well, all it takes is a little patience." she suggested, before rising up to her feet, "You'll likely be traded for some Earth Kingdom prisoners in Omashu. When you get there, I'd like you to give a message to the Governor."
"That traitor? He got his position from the Fire Lord himself, yet he remains loyal to your bastard brother." he snarled, making her smirk, remembering the fact that Mai's father was once one of her father's most loyal supporters, but had changed his mind when he received the opportunity to become the Fire Lord's father-in-law.
"He's a fool, no doubt, but we're not here to trade jabs at incompetent members of the Fire Nation government." she realigned the conversation, leaning down toward him, "I want you to tell him to write a message to the Fire Lord, from me."
"A message? What, you want to ask him for forgiveness so you can be as much of a traitor as him?"
"Are you mocking me?" she asked him, her hand grasping his cheek and becoming covered with flames, small enough that the nearby rebels guarding the captive soldiers couldn't see; he cried out with pain before she flung his head to the side, the General groaning with pain.
"Now, now, don't cry. I want you to remember this message. It's important."
"Tell the Fire Lord that his love of mercy is his greatest weakness." she declared, the General looking up at her with one eye open, his left cheek twitching after she singed it, "Oh, and to go fuck himself."
"S-s-seriously?" he mumbled at her with a tone of disbelief, before she shook her finger at him chidingly.
"I am not one for jokes. I do think he ought to fuck himself." she stressed, before glancing around at his fellow soldiers, before her eyes turned back to him, "Good luck with the assassination attempt and all that, I'm sure you and the other loyalists will need it."
"H-how'd you..." he almost gasped, though his voice was so quiet and raspy that she couldn't call it so.
"You still fell for it." she smirked at him, seeing that he had just confirmed her otherwise unproven assumptions, "Thanks for the intelligence, though I'm not going to try and stop you... honestly, that's your issue. I'm concerned with greater things." she declared confidently, the General looking up at her with despising eyes.
"Helping your savage friends build something better than a shitty house made of ice?" he mocked her, something that enticed her to hit him again, though she didn't fall for it; keeping her cool was something she needed to do if she wanted to maintain any kind of visage of authority.
"They're called igloos." she clarified his rather ignorant insult, "And no, that comes after I take every man who swore allegiance to me back under my command and burn Pohuai Fortress to the ground."
"General Shinu?" he asked her, obviously already knowing about what he had done; he double crossed her after she had failed in her Agni Kai, which had essentially forced her to agree to Sokka's proposition, even if she had desired to continue fighting.
"That man's double-crossing is something I will not forgive... but I will accept his walled monstrosity as a suitable sacrifice to appease my taste for revenge." she acknowledged, before turning her eyes back down to General Zhang, "If it's any consolation, there's nothing personal about this. You're simply in my way." she admitted, cracking her knuckles as she thought of burning Pohuai Fortress to the ground just to spite the General, "But, that issue, that is very personal."
She then turned her heels, beginning to walk away, considering that she had gotten enough out of the General; there was certainly an assassination plot against her brother brewing, though she didn't exactly care to stop it- she knew that the more chaos that came his way, the better a chance she'd have of eventually instating herself as Fire Lord, and achieving her dreams for both her nation and the world. She wasn't Aang, or really anything like him, but she at least had a similar goal; they both wanted peace, a future for the world where the needless suffering that occured because of ignorance and lies could be snuffed out. She would truly spread prosperity, in the way she guessed her ancestor might have originally envisaged it, and make that future real for those who had known nothing but grief and poverty, both inside the Fire Nation and outside of it.
"They're going... they're going to kill you." the General's voice rose up, her eyes turning back to him momentarily.
"Oh, they can try... they've tried before." she told him, unsure if the General had any comprehension of what she had had to deal with on her trip to Ba Sing Se, which had ultimately ended with an Agni Kai against her traitor brother.
She didn't incite much of a response from him, and she turned around, momentarily looking at the Earth Kingdom rebels who were guarding the prisoners; their eyes darted away from her, and she felt a sense of unease, knowing there were many possible things that could have been running through their heads. If they had overheard her identity being mentioned, they likely wouldn't do anything yet, probably out of fear; if there was anything she was advantaged by, it was six months of propaganda-filled wanted posters filtering throughout the Earth Kingdom, which probably talked her up as the most dangerous firebender alive- she still hadn't gotten her hands on one, and had every intention of getting one from Bumi before they moved on from New Omashu.
Pacing away from the makeshift prison, she began to make her way through what remained of the division's encampment, which had been torn to pieces by the earthbenders' impressive abilities; she didn't exactly admire the skill, but now that she had seen it used for something other than simplistic fighting or attempting to overthrow the Fire Nation government of Ba Sing Se, she could admit that the bending art was respectable in its pure power and strength. Even as a master firebender she couldn't hope to match up to the pure power that the earthbenders wielded; they were being able to manipulate their environment, although their bending art obviously lacked the same level of precision and lethality as her own. Of course, one could crush another with earthbending or drown them in earth, but Azula could kill someone with lightning-bending or vaporise their defences with a few well-aimed and sufficiently charged fireballs. She knew that if she had to actually face off against the rebels, she would be in a lot of trouble, though she knew that using her firebending to fly and quickly flee would the most practical option; fire-bending powered flight was extremely exhausting, and she had only ever applied it in her training, rather than in a combat situation, but she guessed that she could use it for a short period to flee, if need be.
She shook her head, knowing that she shouldn't ought to concern herself with something that unlikely, knowing that getting back to Aang, Katara and Sokka was her main priority; she had to check if the Avatar had recovered, knowing that his use of the Avatar State, however effective, must have been extremely strenuous for his body, and thus weakened him for the moment. That was not in her favour, especially if the unlikely did come to bare, and she was forced to fight the people who were meant to be their allies. She glanced around the remains of the campsite, checking if there was anyone following or spying on her; she didn't desire to be paranoid, but she knew she ought to be careful. She had already spoken too much about things that incriminated herself, and even if she did so to ensure that she gained as much knowledge as possible about the intentions of the anti-Zuko forces that she assumed were rampant across the Earth Kingdom. When she finally caught sight of Appa, who was resting beside a tent she assumed Katara had propped up, she made a small smile, although it quickly faded as she tried to maintain her serious composure; if she wanted to entice the rebels to not turn on her, she at the very least wanted to seem intimidating. As she approached, her boyfriend rose up, rather unexpectedly, from the top of Appa's saddle, where he had been laying down shirtless; she took note that his chest was covered with a bandage over the burn he had received in the fight.
"Oh, hi." he smiled at her, before he narrowed his eyes at her, his expression flipping to one that she could describe as his 'strategy' face, "So, were you... sending your message?"
She nodded, remembering back to what she had said to Zhang, "I did." she confirmed, before cocking a smirk, "I believe it consisted of: my brother is a fool for giving people mercy." she began, her boyfriend nodding along, scratching at his short goatee with thought.
"I mean, he kinda is... though that's a good thing for us." he noted, the Princess cringing; her father being alive, no matter how she felt about him, was not exactly helpful to her cause to become the Fire Lord, though her brother's merciful bent had been what had saved her from her own lightning-bending back at Yu Dao.
"Not exactly." she disagreed, "There's a little issue called the line of succession. As long as my father is in a position to reclaim the throne, it makes it a lot harder for my claim to seem legitimate over his own." she clarified, the Water Tribe teen making a begrudged glare, shaking his head with disappointment.
"Yeah, that is a problem." he noted, before his expression became more curious rather than frustrated, "So, was there anything else you told them to tell him?"
"Oh, yes." she held back a laugh, making her face as stern as possible as she repeated her own words, "And that he ought to go fuck himself."
"Hmph." Sokka mumbled, scrunching his lips as their eyes locked, not even laughing, which surprised her, "But wouldn't he be getting it on all the time with that Mai girl?"
She snorted, realising he raised a very good point, "That is true... but that makes it all the more insulting."
"Fair enough." he agreed with her sentiment, smiling back at her brightly, "All's well if we get to laugh at him."
She turned her head toward the tent that had been propped up beside Appa, "Is he in there?"
"Yeah, he's still passed out, I think." Sokka noted with a slight grimace, "I don't know how long he'll be out for. Katara's getting... well, Katara over it."
"I can understand why." she simply stated her thoughts, before clearing her throat, "I'll... go check on him."
Her boyfriend nodded at her, lying back down as she approached the tent, pushing the canvas out of the way; she made sight of Katara sitting down beside Aang, who was lying soundly asleep on top of a sleeping roll. The Water Tribe girl's eyes darted up to meet her own, seemingly surprised that she had shown up.
She decided to speak before the Princess, "What did you end up doing?" her voice suggesting she was worried about what she might have done while away from the group.
"I scared a captured Fire Nation General." she stated nonchalantly before she knelt down beside the young Avatar.
"For any particular reason?" the other girl raised a brow at her skeptically, making her shake her head.
"No, not really, I just wanted to figure out what the scope of the coalition against my brother was... and I did."
The Water Tribe girl cleared her throat, obviously unnerved by such a serious topic, "Is it bad?"
"For him or for me?" she quipped in return, the Water Tribe girl sighing, glancing down toward the Avatar that lay between them; he looked to be peacefully sleeping, though she guessed that having a bunch of dead people possess him at once would be a rather traumatic experience.
"Is he... okay? I don't really know much about what the Avatar State might do to his body." she asked her, trying her best to not seem overly worried about Aang.
She wasn't that concerned, given that after he had gone into the Avatar State at the Southern Air Temple, he had recovered quite quickly, although in that situation, he had not exerted the bending prowess of his past lives. That didn't mean, however, that she wasn't thinking about the gravity Aang would hold with the rebels, and how important it was for him personally to gain their respect and admiration; if he was to achieve what he was destined to, he would need as much of that as he could find, and she guessed admiration for the Avatar would be short supply from one of the remaining three nations, seeing that from a young age, Fire Nation citizens were taught of the threat the Avatar posed to the progress of their nation and the things they had already achieved.
"I don't really know. He mumbled a few things earlier, but then he went back to sleep." Katara relayed her knowledge, before her eyes moved up to meet her own, "Do you think this is going to make a difference?"
"You mean fighting these Fire Nation forces?" she asked her, the Water Tribe girl nodding in confirmation, "Not really, at least in terms of the war effort. It's a statement. We want the world to see that Aang is back, and he's real. That he's not just any airbender, he's the Avatar."
"He's the only airbender." she replied an obvious fact, looking down at him solemnly, "Will he be the last one?"
"If he doesn't have any children, then most likely, yes." she stated her own belief, before chuckling, "Though, he's only twelve. I doubt he's even thinking about that."
"No, he probably isn't." the other girl agreed with her, "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine. It's Sokka and Aang we should be worrying about. Your brother's chest got burnt badly, and the bandages might stop the bleeding, but we'll need to get some medicine for him if we want to keep the wound uninfected."
"Medicine, huh?" she raised a brow, before her expression brightened, "Wait, you're a firebender, right? You would have had something to cover burns you got when you trained." she deduced, Azula nodding with a slight smirk, realising what she was getting on.
"There might be some burn ointment in this camp, but I'm pretty sure it could have been destroyed when the earthbenders ripped up the campsite." she noted, Katara's expression faltering.
"Oh..." her tone became sombre, "Well, I guess I could at least look. I'm sure Sokka would appreciate that."
"And our allies." she added, "They're probably burned as well, though maybe not as bad as what happened to Sokka."
"That's a good way to earn their respect and trust." Katara noted, her eyes meeting those of the Princess, "You think that'll stop Toph from saying anything?"
"I think Sokka scared her enough." she reminded her, "Which, I must say, I was impressed by. She's a hard girl to intimidate."
"What, were you trying to intimidate her earlier?" she asked her with an amused tone.
"More or less." she acknowledged, before glancing over toward the opening in the canvas, "I should go look for that medicine."
"No." Katara spoke up, "I'll do it. You can stay with Sokka, I'm sure he'd prefer your company over mine."
"That's... true." she noted, although by the slight shift in Katara's expression, she realised she might have offended her; she was the one to bring it up, so Azula didn't feel much guilt.
She was about to say something else when the canvas was suddenly opened up, Sokka's face peering in, "Uh, we've got a problem."
"What kind of problem?" Azula prodded him, annoyed by his vague wording.
"A Yung and a bunch of men waiting outside this tent kind of problem." he clarified, making Katara grimace at her; she sighed with frustration, before rising to her feet.
"I guess we'll have to deal with the truth now." she simply acknowledged, before narrowing her eyes at her boyfriend, "Did Toph show up with them?"
"Nope. She's not here. I would have boomeranged her in the head if she had come with a suspiciously uneasy group of earthbending soldiers." he retorted, which made his sister snort with amusement, though her expression became shocked as she realised her brother wasn't joking.
"Sokka, you do realise she's a master earthbender, right? I'm pretty sure that wouldn't end well."
"It's not about the ends, it's about proving a point." he raised a finger to her, making Azula chuckle, patting him on the shoulder.
"As is our entire reason for being here." she reminded him, the Water Tribe teen silently nodding, before she stepped out through the canvas.
She eyed the new arrivals waiting outside, which consisted of five soldiers, whom she could tell from their attire to be earthbenders, led by Yung, who was the commander of the rebel fighting force. He stared her down, and she did the same, and for a few moments, all that stood between them was a little raised dust and dead silence.
He decided to speak first, his expression showing that he wasn't happy, though not necessarily angry, "I think you know why I'm here."
"I only have one question." she raised a finger, glancing momentarily back toward her boyfriend, who was standing behind her with a clearly worried look on his face, "Did Toph tell you, or was this a case of people overhearing things?"
"The latter." he confirmed her suspicions; she was sure the blind earthbender wasn't dull enough in the head to earn her ire, even if she hadn't seen her bending abilities on display.
"I'm glad that she's no snitch." she observed, smirking slightly, "Perhaps a future addition to my team." she raised a finger to her chin in thought.
"Your team?" he asked her, stepping closer, now with a slightly more concerned look on his face, "I'm not the kind of guy to be political, but what exactly is the daughter of the man who conquered our country doing leading a team of Water Tribesmen and the fucking Avatar?" he told her, his voice rising at the last part; she tried to hold back her amusement at his reaction, maintaining her suave and serious composure.
"It's a long story, but I know that everyone here isn't exactly into talking and more into throwing rocks, so I'll make it simple for you." she told them, placing her left hand on her hip while she raised her other one into the air to gesture, "I seek to ensure that peace comes to this country, and the world as a whole, and more than that, I want to make sure that I properly repay the Southern Water Tribe for their generosity."
His expression twitched somewhat from her insulting description of their character, but Yung maintained his own composure, simply repeating her own words as question, "Repay them?" he raised a brow at her, sounding slightly confused as to her actual intentions.
She gestured back toward Sokka casually, "My boyfriend here and his village have housed me for the past six months, which is why everyone keeps thinking I'm dead... which I am not." she stressed that same point once more, annoyed that had to keep telling people that she was definitely alive.
"No, I got that." he assured her, before clearing his throat, "So, I think you realise that this is a problem."
"A problem that can be solved." she retorted, before chuckling, "If I didn't think this problem could be solved, I would have fled the moment that little shit found out about my identity."
"What, so you want us to trust you?" he asked her, almost disbelieving that she'd suggest that; her boyfriend stepped forward, puffing his chest up as his cleared his throat.
"Ahem, you don't have to trust her. You have to trust Aang." he argued, pointing to Yung and the other soldiers, "Do you think he'd be friends with the Fire Nation Princess if she's as 'evil' as you think she is?"
"I mean... he does have a good point, Yung." one of the soldiers spoke with a rather loud whisper to his superior, which annoyed the leader, making him face-palm; whether he was embarrassed or just annoyed by the situation as a whole, she couldn't discern, but his next words proved enough to her about his feelings.
"Do you know who you are, woman?" he growled at her, "We ought to send you to your brother in chains for what it's worth."
"You could do that, that's true." she raised a hand to object, keeping her tone calm and steady, "But I propose another choice."
"What?" he narrowed his eyes at her, which suggested he mightn't even believe her; however, that didn't mean she wasn't going to tell him what she wanted to do.
"We have one desire in common, and even if you don't believe me, I want to bring peace to the Earth Kingdom." she declared, stating no lies; she could lie to Yung, but that would just work out worse in the long term, so she thought it would be easier to just straight up tell him her intentions.
"Wait, A-" Sokka began to speak up, forcing her to raise a hand to shut him up.
"Peace? What kind of idea of peace do you have?"
"Peace requires order... but I've seen enough of what your country used to be to know that it needs a new order. I want to make sure something gets done, something you and... well... probably every commoner in the Earth Kingdom could agree to." she acknowledged, Yung and his men looking at each other with understandable confusion.
"Okay... now I'm just confused. What would we all agree to... that you of all people want to do." he asked her, sounding genuinely concerned they could actually have some common ground.
"Overthrowing the Dai Li, the Earth King and every other moron who thinks that Ba Sing Se is the centre of the fucking universe." she explained, earning a few surprised glances from the soldiers; she then pulled a devious smirk, remembering something she had read in Ba Sing Se that fit quite well with describing her intentions.
"Or to phrase it a little better, I want Aang to fix all the absolutely terrible decisions made by Avatar Kyoshi."
Aang's eyelids fluttered for a few moments as he realised he was conscious once again; he was relieved that he was lying in a tent, which suggested whatever happened when he went into the Avatar state didn't end absolutely terribly. He was dreading to hear what had happened, but he felt reassured in seeing Katara by his side that everything was okay. Her blank expression brightened as she saw that he was awake and she placed a hand on his forehead, which he guessed was so she could feel his temperature.
"Are you okay, Aang?" she asked her, her soothing voice making him want to smile, but he relented, still concerned about what had happened before he passed out.
"Did I hurt anyone?" he asked her with a skittish voice; he wanted to sound confident in himself, but he was honestly terrified by what he could have done to those Fire Nation soldiers he had been fighting.
"I mean... you weren't the one doing the hurting." she assured him, "You trapped the soldiers with earthbending."
"I was earthbending?" his eyes widened, thinking back to the fact that he only could consciously bend air, but in fact, with the Avatar State, he could probably already use all four elements.
"Yep." she nodded, her expression becoming more surprised, "It was... cool. I was afraid for a bit, but I realised that you only activated your powers to stop them from fighting, and not to... well, you know."
"Yeah." he rubbed the back of his scalp nervously, not wanting to think about the idea of him actually killing Fire Nation soldiers, "Are you okay?" he asked her, scanning along her figure to note that she had some bandages covering her palms.
"I'm a little bruised in some places, but I'm okay." she assured him with a caring smile, showing him her right hand, "I accidentally got my palms burnt at one point, but it wasn't that bad. Sokka's the one who actually got hurt."
Aang's eyes widened with fear, "S-Sokka? Is he okay?" he glanced around the small tent he was lying in, realising that her brother wasn't with them.
"He's recovering." she explained the situation rather simply, before gesturing toward the opening in the canvas, "He's outside right now with Azula talking with Yung and some rebels... I think they're talking about her."
"Oh... oh no." he mumbled, Aang glancing around for his staff, "Do we need to fight? Do we need to get on Appa?" he asked her with a panicked voice, Katara placing a hand on his bare chest, hushing him with a finger on her lips.
"Don't panic." she stressed, "They're dealing with it... but you might need to help."
"I'm the Avatar." he narrowed his eyes at her, grasping his tunic, which had been lying beside him; as he shook the dust off of it, he spoke once more, "I need to make sure there's peace. Even if it's just between her and these rebels."
"I know you do." she smiled at her confidently, before rising up slightly, "Your staff is on Appa. He's sitting right next to us. I didn't want to put the tent far away in case we needed to leave quickly."
He nodded with a nervous expression, "I get why." he mumbled, before he pulled his tunic back over his chest, rising up to his feet, "Was it Toph?"
"Maybe." she whispered, sounding completely clueless to whether he was right or not, "She did figure it out... but Sokka scared her off."
"Sokka? I thought Azula was the one who was good at scaring people." he noted, making the Water Tribe girl giggle.
"She is, but Sokka... well, let's just say he's a very protective boyfriend." she tried to explain herself, Aang nodding; it would make sense that if he cared for her, that he'd want to keep her safe.
That was what people who loved each other did for each other, and the thought of that made him ache with sorrow, remembering how he had abandoned Monk Gyatso, and that he had died without knowing what had happened to him.
"That's good." he tried to smile at her, but straightened his expression, wanting to be as serious as possible when going to speak with the rebels, "I'll... I'll go talk to them now."
"I'll come too." she placed a hand on his shoulder reassuringly; even if he hadn't said anything, it was as if she understood what he might have been feeling.
His emotions were a muddle at that moment, and he wanted to straighten them out; he had to make sure their Fire Nation friend was safe, because he owed her that at the very least. As he parted the canvas, he set his eyes on Yung and his rebels, in front of which stood the other two of their group, who he heard speaking as he walked toward them.
"So, do you understand?" the Princess asked the leader of the rebel force, whose attention was immediately drawn toward the dazed Air Nomad, which made Azula and Sokka both turn around, the latter grinning at the sight of the Avatar.
"Aang, you're okay!" he beamed at him, "Are you feeling better?"
"Uh, yeah, I'm okay." he assured him with a slightly nervous thumbs up; the Princess kept her eyes on him for a moment, and they silently understood each other- she needed his help, and he would give it.
He stepped closer, standing beside her as he looked at Yung, "Sorry, I just woke up. What have you guys been talking about?" he inquired, the soldier clearing his throat, his eyes scanning across both Sokka and Azula for a moment before returning to him.
"The Princess was just arguing as to why we ought to trust her." he explained, before narrowing his eyes at the young Avatar, "Did you know about this whole Dai Li thing?"
He raised a brow with confusion, "What Dai Li thing?"
"We're going to kick their arses again. Wanna join in?" Sokka asked him, the young Avatar scrunching his lips up.
"If that's gonna help the people of the Earth Kingdom... then yeah, I will." he agreed, the Princess smirking confidently, gesturing to Yung with gusto.
"Well, that settles it then. You heard it. We're going to do it, and are you going to stop me?"
Yung crossed his arms, glaring her down for a few moments, before he sighed, "I... I don't think I will."
"We won't." one of the other rebels spoke up, "Those guys have been asking for it for a long time."
"I'm glad we could come to a consensus on something." the Princess smiled at them, before turning to Aang, "Well, I guess you didn't need to bargain, Aang."
"I was going to bargain?"
"You're a pretty important guy." Sokka raised a finger toward him, "If need be, you can demand they treat Azula with respect, otherwise, we can just leave."
"Well... uh... could you treat Azula with respect?" he asked Yung awkwardly, the soldier bowing without any question.
"I can, if only to ensure there is no ill will between us."
"Bumi already knew, by the way." he raised a finger, making the soldier's eyes widen with shock.
"Wh-what? The King knew and said nothing?"
"Well, he probably guessed you guys would freak out." Aang concluded, crossing his arms, "He's a smart guy."
"That's not far from the truth." Yung admitted with a grimace, before he glanced toward the Princess, "So... were you bluffing or are you actually going to do it?"
"I wasn't bluffing." she narrowed her eyes at him, Aang still surprised that she had actually wanted to go overthrow the Dai Li again, given what had happened last time; he didn't know much, but he knew enough, and with that, he guessed that it was an experience neither she or Sokka wanted to relive.
"We can't do much until I've mastered earthbending." he conceded, before raising a hand, "But I will... I have to do something. The Earth Kingdom needs to become whole again."
"I am glad you think that way, Avatar." Yung bowed to him with respect, before he narrowed his eyes at both him and Azula, "So, what are you going to do about the Fire Nation?"
"That depends on what happens with these rebels." the Princess sighed with an annoyed voice, "It isn't just this division of soldiers, there's rebels all across the Earth Kingdom, and others silently waiting in the homeland to strike against my brother."
"The Fire Lord." Yung stated the connection between the two, stressing the importance she had in the whole conflict the Fire Nation was having with itself and the wider world, "Is he going to come after you?"
"Maybe. I doubt he'd do it himself... but there'll be people who want the bounty on my head." she explained her own opinion, before Sokka stepped forward.
"But we're gonna make sure that doesn't happen." he stressed, glancing back toward Aang, "Isn't that right?"
"Yeah, it is." he agreed, making as confident a smile he could, which made Azula's expression lighten from the slight snarl she had had prior, "We're going to fix the world together."
"Well, good luck and all, but I'm unsure everyone's going to feel the same way." Yung warned him, "Especially about you." he gestured to the Princess, who shrugged her shoulders, raising her hand up dismissively.
"You think I care?" she scoffed, before turning around, Sokka placing a hand on her shoulder to comfort, without saying a word; Katara stepped forward to stand beside Aang, looking at the soldiers with a worried look.
"I'm not so sure we should stay here any longer, Aang." she suggested, Azula raising a hand.
"No, we need to stay a little longer." she argued, the Water Tribe girl looking at her with confusion.
"Why?" she asked her, sounding annoyed enough that the Princess caught on; she obviously didn't approve of her second-guessing her, given the conversation she had just had.
"I need to find that burn ointment for Sokka." she simply told her with a cold, serious expression, before glancing toward the soldiers, "If that's alright?" she asked them, though Aang couldn't tell if she was being sarcastic or not.
"I won't stop you from raiding their supplies." Yung simply told her, before looking at his comrades, "I think we'll go now. I'm confident that you're not going to pose a threat to us."
"Yeah, no shit." Sokka snarled at them, before he tried to follow after Azula, who placed her palm on his chest.
"Stop, you can rest with Aang and Katara. I won't be long." she stressed, the Water Tribe boy almost pouting as his girlfriend strode away.
Katara placed a hand on his shoulder, "Don't worry." she whispered to him, before he turned around, Aang trying to give him an affirmative smile.
"Did you want to eat or something?" he asked him, the Water Tribe boy shaking his head.
"I already had breakfast." he simply told him, before sighing, "I'm just going to rest on Appa's saddle."
He nodded, grimacing slightly at his down mood; Sokka was usually the most confident and chirpy of the group, but that morning, he seemed to be completely out of it. First, he was worried about Azula when she went to the camp alone, and now he was all down, and probably just as worried, even if he wasn't showing it.
The young Air Nomad turned to face the other Water Tribe teen, who was looking at her brother with an uneasy look, "I guess we'll just eat our breakfast alone then."
"What did we have to eat?" he asked her, his voice rising a little, at least looking forward to having something to eat after his exhausting use of the Avatar State.
"Rice crackers." she acknowledged with a sombre tone, "Yeah, I know it's not the most enticing thing to eat."
"It's okay." he assured her, "Anything that fills my stomach." he patted his belly jokingly, making her giggle, before he began to pace over toward the tent; she stopped him by tapping him on the shoulder, Aang raising a brow with slight confusion.
"What is it?" he asked her innocently, unsure what she wanted.
"The food's in Appa's saddle bag." she clarified, Aang's mouth widening for a moment as he realised his slight mistake; he thought for a moment that she wanted him to go get it, but Sokka's voice called out from above.
"The food bag? Here!" he addressed them, the Water Tribe girl turning around to catch the bag as it was thrown down to them.
"Thanks, Sokka." she smiled at him before turning back to face the tent, Aang noticed that Momo was sitting on the ground in front of them, eagerly looking at the bag.
"Now, now, Momo. You can't have too much, okay?" he warned the flying lemur, who chittered for a moment, before Aang reached into the bag, pulling out a few nuts, "Have some of these." he told him with a bright smile, the lemur grabbing the small parcel of food as soon as it was within his reach.
Katara giggled at the sight of their little friend gnawing on the nuts, before he ran off to eat them; the young Avatar continued walking over to the tent, pulling the canvas out of the way and sitting himself down on the sleeping roll inside. The Water Tribe girl sat down beside him, reaching into the bag and pulling out two rice crackers each for them, handing him some, which he accepted with a bright grin; he took a bite, finding the bland, dry taste not to be to his liking, though he chewed it down, knowing that it would give him the energy he needed to recover.
"This is dry." he simply observed, Katara nodding with a slight grimace, sticking her tongue out.
"Urgh... yep." she agreed, before taking another bite, "But it doesn't taste too bad."
"Better than eating meat." he piped up, before taking another bite.
Her eyes narrowed in thought, "I think Sokka would like to argue against that."
"Hmph, that's a dumb argument to have." he raised his chin up, confident that he'd never give up vegetarianism.
"Exactly." she agreed with a small smile, before taking another bite, grimacing once more, "But- uh- we could all agree that we need to find something a little nicer to eat while we're travelling to the North Pole."
"Maybe I should ask Bumi for some coins." he mumbled, the Water Tribe girl's eyes widening before she nodded.
"I mean, you should. Dad didn't give us that much, and even if Sokka and I can hunt and fish, that's something we're used to doing in the South Pole."
"He and Azula survived in a forest though, didn't they?"
"For three days. Not for a few weeks." she argued, before shaking her head, "The point is, we should ask for some money. I'm sure he'd understand why we need it."
"I hope we get there quickly." he admitted with a slight grimace, thinking back to what he already knew had happened in the world while he had been frozen, "We need to learn waterbending... I need to learn all the elements."
"I think it'll take a while." she admitted, before smiling, "Luckily, you don't have a time limit. You could take a few years, but that wouldn't be the end of the world."
"But if the Hundred Year War starts again, then I'll have to do it quicker." he admitted with an uneasy glance her way; he knew from Azula what he'd have to do in such a situation, and he wasn't looking forward to it- he'd have to fight the Fire Nation, and not just a single division, but the entire country, as well as her brother.
"Let's just not think about that." she suggested, "You're only twelve. You shouldn't have to be thinking about fighting the Fire Nation for real."
"No... I should." he admitted honestly, remembering that the mindset Katara was talking about was the one that caused him to flee the Southern Air Temple, which might have inadvertently doomed his fellow Air Nomads; despite that, he wasn't going to presume that he could have actually defeated the invading Fire Nation forces, especially if Sozin's Comet was as powerful as Azula claimed it was.
"Aang, I'm sure we'll be okay. We're all looking out for each other, and that means that we'll keep each other safe from whatever comes our way." she placed a hand on his shoulder, reassuring him that their group was something that couldn't just be broken apart; they were going to do what they had to fix the world, even if they didn't all agree what that would entail.
"Yeah." he mumbled, before taking a bite from his second rice-cracker; as he chewed it down, he thought back to what Azula had told him back at the Air Sanctuary.
"I need to find my past lives. If I'm going to be the Avatar, I need to learn from them." he concluded, the Water Tribe girl nodding.
"Of course. Didn't Azula say something about a temple dedicated to Avatar Roku? Maybe we should try and find it?" she suggested, Aang smiling at her.
"I'd like to do that... but I don't know if it'll be safe. I think it's in the Fire Nation." he explained, Katara's lips pursing downward into a small pout.
"Well, we should at least try. That would help you a lot... to have somebody to guide you."
"Y-yeah, it would." he smiled at her, thinking about his relationship with Monk Gyatso and how much he missed him; it always made him want to cry, but he knew there was no point in doing so.
He turned away, not wanting to get all pouty in front of her; he wanted to be a strong Avatar, not a weak one. He wasn't someone like Azula who thought that pacifism was weak, but he certainly knew that becoming overwhelmed by his feelings would be dangerous. He knew the first time he had activated the Avatar State, back at the Southern Air Temple, it had been precisely because of that.
"Are you okay, Aang?" she asked him, the young Avatar taking another bite from his rice-cracker.
After he chewed the piece of cracker down, he glanced back toward her, giving her a reassuring nod, "I'm okay." he tried to smile, "I just hope everything goes alright. I don't want what happened today to happen again."
"I understand. The Avatar State is something powerful, but maybe... maybe you'll find a way to control it."
"But I have no idea how to." he mumbled, the Water Tribe girl placing a hand on his shoulder reassuringly.
"Well, that's just something else we'll have to figure out. But we'll do it together." she smiled at him, the young Avatar mirroring her with his own small smile, appreciative of the care she gave to him; he glanced back toward the canvas opening, thinking back to the other person he thought might need some help.
"Is Sokka going to be okay? He seemed really worried about Azula today."
"I think he's really like that all the time, and today is just when he showed it." she conceded, her expression becoming more sombre, "He knows the danger that she's in, and he doesn't like it."
"Maybe we should try and avoid people from now on. So, she'll be safe... so we can all be safe." he suggested, the Water Tribe girl shaking her head.
"We can't avoid people entirely. You're the one who's going to save the world, so, you'll have to deal with a lot of people." she explained, the young Avatar sighing.
"I feel like that's gonna be boring and annoying." he pouted, making her chuckle, pointing to him with a humoured grin.
"Oh, it might be, but that's what we have to do." she acknowledged, the young Avatar making a small smile in return.
"Yeah, but we're going to do it together." he told her, knowing that he had the reassurance of having friends by his side while he had to do his duties as the Avatar.
"That's right, Aang." she agreed with him, taking a bite from her own rice-cracker, before she swallowed it, giving him a reassuring look, "There's nothing to worry about while we're got each other's backs."
He nodded, before lying back on the sleeping roll, "I wonder who we're going to meet next... where we're going to go." he mumbled, Katara raising a brow with interest.
"I don't know." she admitted her own thoughts, before smiling at him, "But if you want to go try and talk to Avatar Roku, we can do that."
"I don't know where this island is. Maybe Azula can give us some directions on the map." he noted, the Water Tribe girl nodding.
"I bet she can when she gets back." she raised a finger, Aang pouting slightly.
"Oh, yeah, she went to go get Sokka some medicine." he reminded himself, "Maybe we should go hang out with him. He could use the company."
"I think that's a great idea." she smiled at him, rising to her feet, taking another bite from her rice cracker, "Maybe that'll stop him being such a downer."
"I sure hope it does." he grinned at her, before he pulled himself back up to stand up; he followed her out of the tent, the Water Tribe girl's attention drawn away from Appa, where Sokka was sitting.
It wasn't until he got out of the tent that he realised that there was somebody, or rather, two people pacing toward their tent; Jet was walking toward them with a serious glare on his face, being tailed by Toph, who had a far more worried look on her face.
"Stop being an idiot!" she demanded of the Freedom Fighter, "You think you can make anything happen by trying to piss them off!"
He glanced back toward the blind earthbender with a scowl, drawing out his hook swords, "Fuck off, Toph. You don't scare me." he declared, Toph sighing with frustration, before she turned her head their way.
"Sorry about him. He's just an arsehole." she admitted, before taking an earthbending stance, "Do you want me to knock him out?"
Katara stepped forward, raising a hand to suggest her to stop, "No, Toph." she disagreed, "Are you here for Azula, Jet?" she addressed the fuming Freedom Fighter, who snarled at her, pointing his hook sword toward her, although he was a fair distance away, so it didn't worry Aang yet.
"No. I'm here to speak to Sokka." he demanded, before he glanced around, "Where is he? Where did he go?"
"It's not like we'd tell you." Aang argued, "You look like you're ready to start slicing him up."
"That's exactly what I thought, Twinkletoes." the frustrated earthbender agreed, making him roll his eyes at her nickname, though his attention was quickly shifted to the Freedom Fighter, who approached him with a determined look.
"Don't shit around. I want to hear it from him. Why he betrayed everything he ought to be." he declared, Katara raising a brow at him, clearly offended, although she didn't look ready to punch the arrogant teenager in the face just yet.
"My brother didn't betray our tribe, Jet." she stressed to him with a serious, commanding tone, "Just because you don't like her doesn't mean that makes my brother a bad person."
"Do you know what he was doing in Ba Sing Se?" he retorted, "Do you?"
"Of course I do." she rolled her eyes, placing her hands on her hips, "You do realise I've heard the whole story. Your whole plot to overthrow the Fire Nation... the Dai Li trying to murder you... yeah, Sokka didn't leave out any details." she explained before looking at him accusingly, with the most angry expression Aang had seen yet far on her face; unlike her little spats with Azula, she was genuinely offended by the Freedom Fighters words, "You think you know him? Why he did what he did?"
"Do you?" he quipped in return, the Water Tribe girl's eyes darting away from him.
"I don't agree with all of it... but he did what he thought was right." she explained, her voice growing more confident as she went along.
The aggrieved teen's eyes darted up, which told them he had gotten distracted; Aang glanced back to take note of Sokka standing tall on Appa's saddle, still only wearing his pants and boots, with a bandage strapped across his torso. He could see the look in Sokka's eyes, and unlike Jet, who was filled with a blind rage, he was certainly concentrated, the cold look in his eyes far more serious than he had ever seen him before.
"How about you let him speak for himself?" the Freedom Fighter argued, before Toph stepped closer to him, pointing him accusingly.
"You're going to regret this." she warned him, "You better walk away while you still can." she told him with a serious tone, before she turned her heels, suggesting that she had given up trying to dissuade him from his efforts.
Her words seemed to have little effect on Jet, who turned back to look at Sokka, "Well, come on! Tell me!" he demanded, pointing his sword toward him.
"Please, stop." Aang requested of him, the Freedom Fighter glancing his way with a snarl, "You aren't going to feel any better fighting Sokka."
"No, I will." he declared, before turning to face the Water Tribe teen once more, "Are you mute now? Is that it?!" he asked him, his voice rising to shout.
Sokka's silence did not break, and he climbed down from Appa's saddle, unarmed and walking with a casual stride toward the Freedom Fighter; Katara raised her hand toward Sokka, as if to dissuade him from getting any closer, but he put his own hand up. She didn't speak, and Aang didn't either; they both understood the conflict was between Jet and Sokka, and could be resolved by them alone.
Staring the clearly angry Freedom Fighter down, Sokka felt a sense of frustration; he didn't want to have to deal with someone like Jet, not when he was so concerned about Azula's safety. He knew, however, that he had to deal with him, and even though he'd prefer to do so with his words, he knew he would end up doing so with his fists. He settled on a combination of the two, and waited for Jet's inevitable prodding words, which came quickly enough, given how impatient he was.
"Don't you have anything to say?! Huh?!" he asked him once more, the Water Tribesman raising his right hand up to warn him.
"Shut the fuck up." he told him with quiet, but commanding voice.
"Sorry, what?" the Freedom Fighter tilted his head mockingly, as if he wanted him to scream at him.
Sokka stepped a little closer, clearing his throat, "Shut the fuck up, Jet."
"Oh, so now you're speaking." the other boy cocked a smirk, pointing one of his hook swords toward him, "Why'd you do it... huh? Was the desire of fucking a Fire Nation wench a little too much for you?" he asked him, the Water Tribe teen trying not to laugh at his words; he was obviously trying to rile him up, but he could barely take his words seriously.
"How exactly is she responsible for every little bad thing the Fire Nation has done?" he retorted, which only further infuriated the Freedom Fighter, who slashed his blades into the dirt beneath their feet, spraying it up into the air.
"You're a coward! She's a monster, just like the rest of them!" he shouted at him, the Water Tribe teen sighing, raising his hand to his forehead.
"Come on, do you really believe that... like I know you're traumatised from something, but that's a bad excuse to call her evil. She didn't do any of that." he simply deduced, Katara and Aang's expressions becoming clearly uneased by his words; he was being blunt, but bluntness seemed to be the best tool to use against the aggrieved Freedom Fighter.
"Y-you..." he snarled, before screaming out in anger, charging toward him with his swords behind him, ready to swing them right at the unarmed Water Tribe warrior, "You bastard!" he shouted at him, swinging his blades down at Sokka, who somersaulted out of the way before kicking Jet in the lower back, not even trying to chi-block him yet; he grunted with pain and Sokka shook his head with disappointment.
"Sorry, what? I'm a bastard? I'm pretty sure my mother and father were married." he mocked his words, the Freedom Fighter flaring his teeth as he looked back his way; he swung one of his hook swords around, Sokka leaning back to dodge the end of the blade, before he dodged a jab.
His opponent continued to send a flurry of swings and jabs his way, each of them easy enough to dodge, as he kept pulling his arms too far back when he readied his attacks; that indicated that he was actually trying to hit him, though Sokka was pretty sure he wasn't going to get hit, even if his chest still hurt, and ached worse than before because of all the moving he was doing.
"You know, maybe you should talk to somebody about all this anger. Looks like a serious issue." Sokka suggested, which made the Freedom Fighter scream at him, lunging forward to stab him; he jumped backward, before he stepped to the side, grasping Jet's right arm to stop him from swinging it at him.
His eyes widened with fear for an instant, before his expression turned back to a snarl, pulling his arm down to wring it free; the Water Tribe teen simply let go, before jabbing him in the shoulder, paralysing his arm instantly. He dropped his sword, stepping back with fear, obviously not realising the skill he wielded.
"Oh, sorry, were you going to use that arm?" he mocked him, the Freedom Fighter snarling at him, charging forward with his left-hand blade, swinging it right at the Water Tribesman's head.
He fell back to the ground, Jet missing as he lunged forward; Sokka immediately kicked his left leg up, striking the Freedom Fighter right in the abdomen, winding him profusely. He began coughing, gasping for air as he stumbled to the side.
"Why are you such a snake?" he growled at the Water Tribe boy, who slowly rose back to his feet, watching his opponent try to recover.
"I'm a human being, thank you." he corrected him, "And why don't you think the Fire Nation aren't also human beings? Last time I checked, they weren't covered with scales and literally poisonous." he suggested; he heard Aang snickering at his joke, though Jet's attention obviously wasn't on his mockery.
"They're all the same. She corrupted you! She made you a slave!" he accused, making Sokka cackle; Jet was so wrong he couldn't help but laugh at him, knowing that he was so far from being a slave it was absurd to even suggest it.
"A slave?" he repeated his insult back to him, "Huh, since when was having friends slavery?"
"Yeah, that's not a thing." Aang backed him up, even Katara nodding along, although she was obviously worried about them fighting.
The Freedom Fighter readied his sword once more, "You're blind. You don't even see how she's manipulating you!" he declared, the Water Tribe teen rolling his eyes.
"Wow, that's some pretty great manipulation she did. What, coming with me to the South Pole instead of going to fight and kill her brother for the throne?" he mocked his attempt to paint Azula as some kind of mastermind; she was certainly the smartest person he knew, but that didn't mean that every single action she took was with malicious intent.
Jet charged at him in fury, his stance all over the place as he tried to swing his blade down at Sokka's shoulder; the Water Tribe warrior was more than ready for his attack, weaving to the side before chi blocking him by jabbing him in the lower back, paralysing his legs.
"What did Toph say about not being able to walk?" he pursed his lips into a smirk, the Freedom Fighter grunting as he fell face first on the ground, only just realising that his legs couldn't hold his weight up.
Sokka knelt down beside him, appreciating his flustered expression, which quickly shifted to one of anger once again, "Fuck you." he growled under his breath, the Water Tribe teen rising back up and taking a step back, not wanting the Freedom Fighter to grab his legs and throw him to the ground.
"Now, do you understand where you stuffed up, Jet?" he mockingly questioned him, the Freedom Fighter struggling to pull himself off of the ground with only one hand; he rolled himself over, lying on his back, staring the Water Tribesman down with dagger eyes.
"Do you?" he retorted, as if to suggest that his mistakes were in any way relevant to their fight; he had certainly made some along the way, but he had always done what he thought was right by the world and the people he cared for.
"You're an idiot." he rolled his eyes, raising his hands into the air, "You're getting so angry about me doing something. What, would you prefer me to have stayed at the South Pole while the Dai Li murdered you and your friends?"
"They weren't going to do that." he argued, raising himself to a seated position, trying to keep his eyes on Sokka, "We beat them."
"What, you beat one, two guys?" he retorted, "You were the one who took my advice. And look, you're alive and well, instead of being captured and brainwashed by the Dai Li." he gestured to Jet, who snarled, his eyes darting away; that suggested that he was right, and that was what he wanted to see- he knew the Freedom Fighter was just acting like a fool, he just didn't know it.
"Shut up." he demanded, before grasping the hilt of his left-hand blade, "You act all high and mighty, but you don't even know the consequences of what you've done."
"Oh, I know what I've done. I saved a girl's life. I saved Ba Sing Se from tearing itself apart. Yeah, it wasn't all me, but I didn't stand idly by." he declared, stepping closer, pointing at him accusingly, "Azula's trying to fix the world, and you blame her for being born in the Fire Nation. She didn't choose that, but she chose us over them." he told him, his voice becoming darker, which obviously intimidated the Freedom Fighter.
"I- how can you trust them? You know what they've done." he asked him, now sounding more confused than angry.
"Because I believe the best of people... and sometimes, when you do that hard enough, they think a little better of themselves." he declared his thoughts on the matter, knowing that without his belief in Azula, he was unsure she could have taken the leaps she had to move out of her father's shadow.
He sighed, feeling that he was starting to grow uneasy and worry about her once again; so, he turned his heels, glancing toward Aang and Katara, "You two take care of him, and if he thinks about coming after me, please, for his own safety, knock him out. I'd prefer him unconscious than Azula killing him."
"Uh... okay." his sister accepted his request, the young Avatar simply nodding along, uneasily looking at the sight of Jet.
"Also..." Sokka turned back around to face the downed Freedom Fighter, "You should go apologise to Toph when you can move your legs again." he suggested, the Freedom Fighter's eyes turning away, though he couldn't tell if it was in shame or because he was too disappointed to meet him in the eye.
"Where are you going?" his sister asked him, the Water Tribe teen turning his eyes away, not wanting to show how much fear he was feeling; even if he was expressing his own confidence in both himself and Azula to Jet, that didn't mean he wasn't scared shitless about her safety.
"I need to speak with her." he simply told her, before raising a hand to stress, "Alone."
"Okay." Katara nodded, before she turned to face the paralysed teen, "Don't you dare try anything, or you're going to wish I could waterbend better." she narrowed her eyes at him; Sokka raised his chin up, almost wanting to applaud his sister for her intimidation, but decided to leave her be, pacing off in the direction his girlfriend had taken to go find him some burn ointment.
Despite the fact he didn't want to deal with the Freedom Fighter alone, he didn't want her to be around when he was having his rant, knowing that she would have gotten offended, and perhaps started a fight, the kind that would end badly for them, especially in the long run. They needed their allies, that was sure, not just for Aang, but for his tribe; that didn't mean, however, that they ought to put themselves in danger- he was prepared to take Azula by the hand, pack up the tent himself and fly on Appa out of there with no assistance if that was what it took. No matter what Yung had said to them, that didn't change that they were in danger; not everyone would agree with his practical minded conclusions, Jet being a clear example of that, albeit an extreme one.
He kept his pace up, not looking back to check if Jet was still down; that wasn't his concern, and he could trust Katara and Aang to handle that. His eyes darted around, checking the few tents that still resembled of being just that; most of them were damaged beyond repair, reminding him of what had happened to his own tent back when they had been attacked on the road to Yu Dao a few months prior. He thought back to that fight, and how exhausted he had been, which was quite contrastive to his experience that morning; though he had gotten himself burned badly, he was still fully conscious and capable of fighting, though he was in a fair amount of pain. He hadn't been worrying about Azula, or the other people he had been travelling with, unlike his current self, who was pacing around the ruins of a Fire Nation encampment, hoping that nobody had confronted his girlfriend while she was alone. He didn't want her to put herself in danger, even if she was fully capable of defending herself; none of them could face off a dozen earthbenders at once, not without an earthbender on their own side.
He took note of a few rebel soldiers, who were walking together; they looked at him for a moment, but didn't seem suspicious of him in the slightest, and their rather calm expressions suggested that they weren't worried. That was the best sign he could receive; if people were getting angry and worried about Azula's presence, they sure weren't showing it. He also knew that some mightn't have been informed yet, which made sense, but he knew that word would spread fast, especially given that everyone was gathering back together after the fight, having captured a large number of prisoners and searched the camp from top to bottom.
They walked past with no issue, and Sokka turned his attention forward, realising that he had reached the northern end of the campsite, which was for the most part unscathed from the damage the rest had received from the earthbenders ripping the ground apart. A few tents were ripped apart by boulders, but other than that, it seemed like any other kind of encampment. He glanced around, hearing the sound of rustling; he assumed some people were sneaking about, stealing what supplies they could from the undamaged tents, which made good sense to Sokka. He wouldn't even call it stealing, seeing that the Fire Nation were their enemies, and the supplies would likely just go to waste if the rebels just left them sitting there after they withdrew back to New Omashu.
He glanced into one of the tents, the soldier inside looking back at him with surprise, "Uh, is somethin' wrong?" he asked him, the Water Tribesman shaking his head and leaving him be, continuing forward into the campsite; he took note of a larger tent, inside of which he could see a few boxes and beyond which, he could hear more rustling noises.
As he approached, he sighed with relief as he realised it was Azula inside, distinguished by her Fire Nation armour, and the makeshift bandana of blue fabric she had been wearing. She turned around, obviously hearing his footsteps, and her face immediately shifted to a frown.
"What did I tell you? You need to rest." she told him with a disgruntled voice, before he raised his own hand.
"I'm sorry." he simply apologised, "I was... but, then somebody paid us a visit."
"Oh, let me guess: Jet?" she raised a brow at him, the Water Tribe teen nodding, before he made an exasperated sigh.
"Yeah. He yammering on about all my 'misdeeds' or whatever, so I chi-blocked him and cracked a few jokes." he explained simply, the Princess raising her chin up, her smirk approving, rather than the usual mocking kind she would give him.
"I'd expect no less from Sokka of the Southern Water Tribe." she declared, before crossing her arms, "But why'd you have to come all the way over here to find me? Did Katara decide we're going to leave already?"
"No." he shook his head, "I did."
"You? Are you really afraid of Jet of all people."
"Of course not. He can't bend, and he's angry- angry people are a lot easier to beat than calm ones." he explained before narrowing his eyes into a more serious glare, "I am afraid of you getting crushed by a bunch of earthbenders, however."
"They could try." she scoffed, Sokka face-palming with frustration.
"Yeah, they damn well could!" he growled, gesturing into the tent, "Let's get that burn ointment, and then we're leaving. I want to get the rest of our things from New Omashu, and then I want to leave these rebels behind us."
"I couldn't agree more." she smirked at him once more, waving her hand toward the tent, "Come on, you have a pretty keen eye, don't you?"
"I guess I do." he agreed with her with an aloof shrug of his shoulders, pacing forward to step into the storage tent, glancing around at the numerous boxes that littered it, stacked nearly as tall as him; the pure number of boxes frustrated him, suggesting that it might take them a little longer than he would have hoped.
He knelt over, looking at the writing he could see on the crates, which only consisted of a few small markings; they didn't tell him much, only stating the fragility or danger of the boxes. He could see a few warnings about combustible contents, suggesting that some of the boxes were explosives, and then could see a few others stating that they had fragile contents. Sokka grasped one of the boxes that lay on the top of the stack that had 'fragile' marked on it, and cracked it open by jamming the top edge onto the corner of another box. He pulled the wooden lid off, glancing inside to see a set of cups, plates and bowls, which amused him.
"Ah, a tea set." he mumbled, trying to imagine the soldiers cracking open the box and using its contents to have some tea and snacks.
He placed the box to the side, pulling out another fragile box, and shook it lightly to try and discern its contents; it made a sound he would usually associate with ceramics or glass, Sokka guessing that the box had a similar kind of contents to the one he had just opened. He sighed, taking out another box, shaking it and hearing a similar sound.
"How many plates and cups does an army need?" he mumbled, his girlfriend answering his rhetorical question.
"Oh, well, they probably aren't for being used. They might try and sell them to get more supplies. They might have stolen them from somewhere." she suggested, the Water Tribe teen sighing, before he returned back to examining each fragile box, one by one, sure that one of them would contain the ointment.
"Aha!" he heard Azula's voice rise up, almost sounding chirpy, "I found it." she assured him.
He turned his head around to face her, taking note of the box she was holding in her hand; glancing inside, he saw a few small glass jars of a green paste.
"That's it?" he asked her, the Princess nodding at him, clearly in a better mood than he was.
"Indeed. It's made with herbs, I think." she explained, before pulling one of them out, throwing it toward Sokka; he gasped, reaching forward to grab it in both his hands.
He sighed with relief as he opened it, narrowing his eyes at his girlfriend, "Ddi you really need to throw it?"
"No, but you need to be as alert as possible if you want to become a better fighter."
"I'm pretty alert." he claimed with as confident a tone he could muster, before dipping his fingers into the jar, putting a bit of the paste on his fingers, "So... what do I do?" he asked her, Azula rolling her eyes, placing the box down on the ground in front of her before walking over to him.
She grabbed the jar out of his hand, and placed her own fingers into it, "I'll show you, but after this, I expect you to do it yourself." she warned him, Sokka nodding to reassure her; he wasn't completely incompetent, and if anything, he was sure he could learn how to properly apply it with one observation.
He unwound the bandages he had covering his chest, which protected his still raw burn from the elements; it felt sensitive to the touch of the dust that was being whipped up into the air, which wasn't surprising after all the earthbending the rebels had done in destroying the encampment. He didn't think that the injury was any worse than the burns he had received from Azula when they sparred after first arriving in Ba Sing Se, though that time he had had access to burn ointment immediately after, though the aches were enough to drive him to drink himself to a stupor. When her fingers touched the burn, covered with the ointment, he shuddered, realising how cold the paste was, despite the fact she was always so warm. She chuckled at his reaction, but didn't relent to spread it over the wound, her fingers moving lightly, not unlike as if she were painting something onto his chest. She grasped the unwound bandage, which he had flung over his shoulder, and slowly wrapped it back over the burn, winding it around his torso as she did so.
"Simple enough, wasn't it?" she raised one her eyebrows at him, the Water Tribe warrior blushing as he realised how close she was to his face; to his disappointment, she didn't kiss him, simply leaning back before she glanced back the direction they had come, "So, are you still eager to get out of here?"
He narrowed his eyes at her, confused as to why she thought he might have changed his mind, "What's that supposed to..." he trailed off, his mouth agape as he realised what she was suggesting, "I- uh- appreciate the offer... but I do really want to get as far away from here as quickly as I can."
"Oh, you're no fun." she pursed her lips upward into a playful smirk, tapping his right shoulder, which wasn't covered by a bandage, "Who would have thought there'd be a day where you'd be more responsible than I, Princess Azula of the Fire Nation?"
"Uh, that day's long past. Remember when you attacked those soldiers the day after you nearly died?" he questioned her, the Princess's lips scrunching up as he stared her down.
"I was protecting us." she argued, the Water Tribesman shrugging his shoulders.
"I'm pretty sure I could have chi-blocked them." he noted, before he raised a finger, "Not that I was going to. I wanted to get that boat into the water as quickly as possible."
"Of course, preserving your injured girlfriend over actually having a spine." she mocked him, making him sigh loudly, leaning back on a stack of crates.
"Sheesh, I don't know how I fell for you if you're always so mean." he suggested, making her chuckle.
"Oh, I don't know. Maybe it's because I'm the prettiest and smartest girl you've ever met." she flicked her bangs up cockily, the Water Tribesman failing to hold a straight face.
"Okay, you got me." he raised his hands up to signal defeat, "You definitely are the prettiest and smartest girl I've ever met."
"How dare you declare defeat? What has become of your fighting spirit?" she pointed at him accusingly; Sokka was genuinely unsure whether she was joking or whether she truly wanted him to argue his own reason.
"Uh... well, I also liked you because you're really good at insults. I thought I was good, but then... well, I certainly learned a lot."
"What, that picking apart someone's reasons and place in the world is far more effective than calling them names?" she raised her index finger to her chin.
"Are you going to chide me for wanting to agree with you again?" he asked her, the Princess remaining silent for a few moments before she shook her head, the smugness not falling from her face.
"I'll let it slide, savage." she simply told him, before she leaned over, picking up the box of burn ointment, "I have a feeling we'll be needing more of this." she smirked slightly as she raised the box up.
He grimaced, realising the implication of her tone, "You say that like it's a good thing."
"Beating my enemies is a good thing." Azula declared without a speck of doubt in her voice; Sokka, however, didn't think she was exactly sound in her argument.
"But we'd only need the burn ointment if somebody's getting burned... which means we wouldn't be winning."
"I never said anything about winning unscathed." she retorted, trying to sure up her own words, "What, would you rather me not bring it along?"
"No, no." he raised his hands to stress, "I know we'll need it... it's just that can't possibly be a good thing."
"We're getting things done, Sokka." she declared, before raising a finger to her lips, "Speaking of getting things done, I realise that we might benefit from having more good fighters by our side."
"What, do you want to recruit Toph or something?" he raised his left eyebrow, his skeptical tone not making his girlfriend any less sure of herself.
She shook her head, "No, that will come later. She can still do things here with her abilities." before she grinned at him, "I have somebody else in mind."
He looked at her with confusion, unsure exactly who she was referring to, "Uh, who?"
"Well, it's someone I've been meaning to see for quite a while now. I ought to thank her for giving me the knowledge to make you the most skilled non-bending fighter alive."
"I wouldn't go as far to claim that." he raised a hand, not feeling anywhere near cocky enough to claim he was the most skilled fighter in the world, "Maybe in my village, but even then, there's warriors just as good as me." he explained his reasoning, before he mumbled, realising that he had completely ignored her clues; the skill that he wielded, chi-blocking, had been taught to him by Azula, though she had learned the basics herself from her friend, Ty Lee, whom she hadn't seen for years, "Ty Lee."
"That's her name." she nodded, before crossing her arms, "Though, I'm having second thoughts. Knowing her, she's going to start hitting on you the moment she sees you."
He pursed his lips upward, realising that such a scenario would give him a golden opportunity to scare Ty Lee, "Wanna prank her?"
"Oh, I'm listening." she smirked at him, the Water Tribe teen clearing his throat as he stepped forward.
"Let's head back to Appa, and I'll tell you along the way." he suggested, the Princess glancing momentarily at the box in her arms before shrugging, her giddy expression not fading.
"You better not disappoint me. I haven't seen her in nearly three years, and if you're going to joke around, it better be worth it." she warned him, though her expression was playful enough to tell him that she wasn't really that worried.
"The look on her face... oh, it will be priceless."
She blinked twice, hearing the familiar sound of her name on her brother's tongue, her head rising up from Appa's saddle; she glanced around, taking note that the sky had shifted colour from a light blue to an darker hue, the horizon painted a blood orange colour, which reflected off the clouds that lay on the western horizon. Katara was sure she had just fallen asleep for a short nap, though the sudden change in colours suggested she might slept for longer than she had intended to; she took note of Aang sitting by the front of the saddle, while Sokka sat in front of her, his eyes staring into her own, the light on the horizon shimmering into his blue irises.
"Katara, are you alright?" he asked her, the Water Tribe girl shaking her head; she glanced to her right, taking note of Azula, who was curled up by the edge of the saddle, though whether she was asleep or not, she couldn't tell.
"Y-yeah, I'm fine." she assured her brother, who gestured ahead of them.
"We're about to arrive back in New Omashu. We can get the rest of our stuff, and then we'll get moving."
"Shouldn't we just stay the night?" she mumbled, Aang glancing back her way, a grimace on his face.
"Azula might be in danger if we do. Even if Bumi is okay with her, all the people in the city, they might be just as bad as Jet." he told her, the Water Tribe girl grimacing as she thought back to the Freedom Fighter's verbal and physical attacks on her brother.
"I hope they aren't. He was just acting crazy." she acknowledged, hearing Azula scoff a moment later, confirming that she was awake.
"Says the person who spited me for six whole months." she growled with an annoyed voice, Sokka raising a hand to try and appease her.
"Now, now, nobody's spiting anybody now. We're all friends." he assured her, the Princess flaring her nostrils slightly, snidely glaring the Water Tribe girl's way before she turned around once more.
Though she didn't want to apologise, she knew that she ought to for the greater good of ensuring harmony on the small confines of Appa's saddle, "I didn't mean to offend you, Azula."
"No, you didn't... that doesn't make you not a hypocrite, though." she raised a finger at her, the Water Tribe girl sighing, realising that there was a lot of commonality between her and Jet.
Both of them had lost family to the Fire Nation, and like him, she didn't trust them in the slightest- she could only trust the Princess because of the good things she had seen her do, both for her brother and for the Southern Water Tribe as a whole.
"Come on, do you really have to argue, right now? We're meant to be getting our game faces on." Sokka argued with a frustrated voice, Katara raising a finger to stop her brother.
"N-no, no, she has a point." she admitted, which made Azula smirk cockily; though she wanted to punch the shit-eating grin off of her face, she knew that the Princess was well and truly in the right, "I've been just like Jet... I'm probably still like him. I don't like the Fire Nation, and I don't think I ever will, but... I trust you, Azula."
"Oh, thank you, I'm really touched by those sweet words." she sarcastically replied, the Water Tribe girl rolling her eyes.
"I'm being serious. Can you not be an arse for just one second?" she growled, the Princess shaking her head.
"Your apology is pending. We'll see how it pans out in future. If you continue to be a suspicious arsehole to Fire Nation people in general, then I'm not accepting your apology. Not a chance." she warned her, before raising a finger to her chin, "Though, we'll soon find out if you're being genuine."
"What, because we're going to find your Ty Lee friend... so you can trick her?" she raised a brow, unsure in her words; she remembered how Sokka and Azula had returned giggling about their intentions, which they kept purposefully vague, just to keep up the suspense, it seemed.
"Well, not just that." Sokka clarified, "We're going to recruit her."
"What, just like that?" she snapped her finger, "Get somebody to come help us train Aang." she asked him with a tone of disbelief; she couldn't see how anyone would just pack up and join them at a whim.
"Ty Lee's the kind of girl always scratching for adventure. That's why she left the capital in the first place." Azula explained, pursing her lips upward, "She will come around."
"How can you be so sure?" she narrowed her eyes at the Princess, who simply shrugged her shoulders, her confident smirk unfazed.
"I know her." she stressed, before glancing over the side of the saddle, "When are we going to drop down, Aang?" she asked the boy leading the flying bison along, who raised a hand over his brow as he glanced around.
"Huh... now that you mention it, I don't really know. All these mountains look the same." he admitted, before gesturing ahead of them to smokestacks in the distance, "But that's definitely Old Omashu over there, which means that the mountain New Omashu's under should be right here."
"There's the creek," Sokka gestured to their left, "where we camped out a few days ago." before he pointed to their right, "Drop right now! Before some Fire Nation patrols spot us!" he warned the young Avatar with a panicked rise in his voice, making Katara chuckle.
"What exactly are they going to do, huh?" she asked him rhetorically, "Oh no, there's a big ball of fur in the sky. The Commander's never gonna believe us!" she imitated what she best guessed a FIre Nation soldier might sound like, earning a snort from Azula.
"Pfft, that's nowhere near close. They would report the location and trajectory, and that's about it. It's not like they could figure out Appa's a sky-bison from this far away anyway."
Aang glanced back to face the Princess with a skeptical look, "Don't Fire Nation soldiers know about that kind of stuff? I thought the Air Nomads were your enemies." her asked her, to which she shook her head, seeming rather uncaring about the threat.
"All the other Air Nomads have been gone for a hundred years. Appa's what you would find in history books, not in training manuals." she explained, before pointing ahead of them, toward the mountain slope, "The bottom entrance was just down here."
"Yeah, it was." Aang nodded, "I remember now." he mumbled, before his voice rose to a chirpy shout, "Slow down, buddy!" he told him, the sky-bison groaning as he quickly decelerated.
Momo chittered with fear as he grabbed onto Sokka's leg, as if he were about to be flung off the sky-bison; their descent was rather rough, and Katara had to grasp the saddle to make sure she didn't get flung to the side and into Azula, who certainly wouldn't have appreciated her head-butting her in the shoulder. When the sky-bison touched down on the ground, she was forced forward, raising her hands to stop herself from head-butting the saddle.
"That was a little rough." she mumbled, Aang giving her a cringed smile.
"Oh, sorry guys, I thought if Sokka was so worried, we should get down quicker." he acknowledged, the aforementioned Water Tribesman growling with offence.
"Hey, I never said to try and throw us off the saddle, Aang!" he pointed at him accusingly, "I'd rather be spotted by the Fire Nation than fall to my death."
"I agree with Sokka. Maybe try and be a little more careful. We're not all airbenders." Katara added, realising that falling off Appa's saddle was something that was quite likely, especially if they ever had to do evasive maneuvers up in the sky.
"That's true." Azula agreed, before pursing her lips upward into a smirk, "though, I'm pretty sure I can fly with my firebending, so I wasn't worried."
"You can what?!" Aang turned to look at her with a fearful look, "Is that normal?"
"Uh..." she raised a finger to her chin; whether she was actually unsure of herself, or simply didn't want Aang to worry, she took her time to respond, "I would say it's rare, but given enough training and good enough stamina, any firebender could achieve it."
"That's just one more thing we might have to worry about." Sokka conceded, rising up from the saddle as he glanced over in the direction of the 'entrance' to New Omashu, which was really just a pile of rocks that could be opened up at will to reveal the tunnels into the depths of the underground city, "Luckily for us, we have the greatest firebender alive with us, so I wouldn't worry about some soldiers trying to firebend fly after her." he gestured toward his girlfriend, who smugly raised her chin, obviously liking his comments on her skill.
"Oh, I'm looking forward to it."
The Water Tribe girl raised a brow, realising what she was saying, "You want to fight a bunch of firebenders mid-air?"
"I don't want to, I will." she declared confidently, Katara grimacing, shaking her head with disappointment.
"Was she always looking for danger?" she asked her brother, who raised a hand up to gesture that she was half-correct.
"Well, I think it's more the other way around. Danger's attracted to us like flies are to rotting meat."
Rising up to her feet, Azula crossed her arms, looking toward her boyfriend with a cocky smirk, "And just like rotting meat, we'll poison anyone who gets a taste of us."
"That's a... did you just make that up?" Aang looked at her with interest, the Princess nodding.
"I did." she confirmed, before her eyes darted down to Sokka's leg, which Katara just noticed Momo was grasping onto for dear life, "Uh, Sokka, you've got a lemur on your leg."
"Momo." he sighed, "If you want me to carry you, you've got to find a better place to sit."
The flying lemur chittered, before letting go of his leg, jumping into the air and gliding away from the saddle; he began circling around the entrance, which suddenly opened up. Katara guessed that Appa's landing was loud enough that the guards inside probably realised they were back. When the dust cleared, she could see three earthbenders, all standing in formation with rocks floating in front of them, ready to attack; their stances fell as they realised that they were looking at the Avatar and his friends.
"Oh... it's just you guys." one of them mumbled, dropping his rock down, which shattered into dust and rubble, "We thought the Fire Nation had just come scouting around again."
"No, no, don't worry. We took care of them." Sokka raised a hand toward them, the soldiers looking at each other with understandable surprise.
"Wait... seriously?" one of them spoke up, obviously skeptical that they had already done what they had set out to do, that being to stop the Fire Nation from reaching New Omashu.
"Yep." Aang grinned at them, "We won. So... we're back. We'd like to get our things, and I'd like to go see Bumi. We're going to the North Pole." he told them, which Katara thought was a pretty good lie, or at the very least, an omission of the truth.
They were trying to get ahead of the news of Azula's identity, and they weren't heading for the North Pole immediately, but rather going on a detour to find Azula's childhood friend, who she claimed was in a travelling circus somewhere in the western Earth Kingdom.
"Oh... uh... you mean the King?" one of them asked, probably not used to someone referring to his leader so casually.
"Uh, yeah... sorry, old habits." the young Air Nomad scratched the back of his scalp, the soldiers nodding before moving out of the way.
"Go right ahead. Just make sure your... uh... big friend here fits." one of the soldiers advised, Aang nodding along.
"Oh, we had that problem last time. I'll just keep him in the main tunnels." he assured him, before whipping Appa's reins, "Come on buddy. I know you don't like caves, but we've got to go get our stuff."
As the sky-bison began to slowly walk into the tunnel, Momo landed back on the saddle, shaking the dust off of his fur; Azula cringed, covering her face, as did Katara, Sokka chuckling at their misfortune. When both of them shot him a cold glare at the same time, his lips straightened into a flat line, his eyes nervously darting away from their own.
He glanced back down the length of the dimly lit tunnel, making a sigh of relief, "Thanks, Appa." he patted his fur from the edge of the saddle, "I'm not walking all the way to that apartment to get a few bags of food and some clothes." Sokka commented, as if to assure the group he was planning on doing nothing but idling on Appa's saddle while they travelled through the tunnels.
"So, nobody's going to do any walking?" Katara asked them, everyone nodding.
"I'd rather not." Azula argued, before stretching her legs out, "I think I sprained my ankle when we were fighting."
"That's a Sokka-level excuse right there." she narrowed her eyes at the Princess, who sighed.
"Hmph, I guess I'll need to think of a better way of lying." she noted, the Water Tribe girl frowning as she crossed her arms.
"There's no need to lie." she grumbled under her breath.
"Unless it's about her you know what." Aang raised a finger to remind her, "Then lying's a good thing."
"But making stupid excuses not to exercise is bad." she argued, her brother narrowing her eyes at her.
"Yeah, like we didn't get enough exercise whooping some Fire Nation butts earlier today."
"You do raise a good argument, Katara. Exercise will ensure we're better prepared for fighting in the future." Azula acknowledged, much to her surprise, "But we're not exercising when it's nearly nightfall and most of us are injured and tired."
"Uh... thanks again." she mumbled, remembering back to the vicious fighting she had partook in, "You saved me and Sokka this morning." she repeated the fact outloud, wanting to at least acknowledge the valiant effort of the Fire Nation Princess, especially given the conflict she had probably felt over fighting her own people.
"I did my duty. I'd expect you to do the same." she simply acknowledged, dismissing her words with little care; the Water Tribe girl didn't press it, appreciating what she did more than she was annoyed by her denial of ever doing anything good or kind.
"Yeah..." she mumbled, turning her eyes toward the front of the saddle; the dimly lit tunnel made her feel uneasy, though she knew that it was safe.
The tunnel reminded her of what she had seen that morning, and she knew she would probably never forget it; Katara hadn't feared earthbending, not until she witnessed what they were truly capable of. Until then she had only heard stories from her father and brother; now that she had really seen what earthbending could do, she was more shocked that the Great War had gone the way it had. She knew that the Fire Nation must have been rich and crazy enough to attack the rest of the world and actually win, but the idea of someone, perhaps thousands of people, facing off what those Fire Nation soldiers had sent a chill down her spine.
She didn't usually sympathise with them, but at that moment, she realised that they were just as doomed as anyone else; it was just their insane ideas that kept them fighting. Someone like Azula was not born, she was made, and the country that made it was something that was still alive and kicking. She didn't know much about Fire Lord Zuko, but she hoped, from the bottom of her heart, that he was actually a kind and aspiring leader who might take the Fire Nation away from the insanity it had put itself in; she didn't trust them, not yet, but she could at least hope they could become better.
"If only." she mumbled under her breath, which caught her brother's attention.
"What?" he asked her, obviously missing what she said.
She shook her head, glancing back toward Momo, who was still scratching the dust off of his fur, "It's nothing." she simply told him, before petting the flying lemur, who grasped at her hand preemptively; she chuckled before letting go, allowing him to return back to his self-cleaning.
"Can he walk any quicker?" Sokka addressed Aang, who turned back their way, shaking his head.
"Not really. Appa's got six legs, but that doesn't make him fast on land." he acknowledged, his voice sounding his own frustration on the matter; he obviously wanted to see his friend one last time and get out, just as the rest of them did.
"What is fast on land? Are ostrich-horses any better than good old Appa?" he asked the Air Nomad, who narrowed his eyes, shaking his head.
"You couldn't carry anything on an ostrich-horse." he argued, "They're nice guys, just not that good for travelling."
"Ever used one?" Azula asked him, the Air Nomad shaking his head.
"Um, no. Once I met some traders who took them, and I realised how slow it was for non-airbenders to travel." he explained himself, the Princess raising a brow tih interest.
"Well, things have changed now. Steamships mean you can cross the world in a month." she smirked, before raising a brow, "I wonder if War Minister Qin ended up getting any more inventions that might help with that."
"Oh, something from that Mechanist guy? The one Aang had a freak out about?" Sokka asked with an amused tone, his girlfriend cocking her chin up.
"Yes. Building weapons for the Fire Nation and defiling an Air Temple. That ought to get Aang right into his Avatar State." she joked, the Avatar crossing his arms.
"They really shouldn't be doing that. If we ever go there, I'm going to tell them why they should respect the Air Temples. They're sacred places." Aang declared, before she cleared her throat.
"Well, I mean, everyone might be able to get the speed of transportation only the Air Nomads were allowed, because of all those inventions that man's been making." she suggested, the Avatar's expression shifting slightly, not as worried as he was before.
"I guess that's... nice. I'm sure that would help those poor merchants." he noted, the Princess nodding; seeing Aang and Azula agreeing over something was rather eerie for Katara, given how different their world-views were.
"Indeed it would." she agreed, before lying back down on the saddle, "Wake me up when we get to the apartment."
"Napping sounds like a good idea, but I've got a better one." Sokka argued, making his sister skeptically raise a brow.
"Oh, this ought to be good." she sarcastically quipped, earning a few giggles from everyone except her brother, who shot her a snarl, though it quickly shifted to a smirk.
"Yes, it will be." he assured her, as if her words weren't sarcasm, which they pretty clearly were, given how Azula had nearly laughed a few moments earlier, "How about we play a game?"
"A game?" Aang raised a brow, grinning at him, "I love games. What kind of game? Pai Sho? What no... we don't have a board."
"If you had one I would have burnt it." Azula growled, making Katara laugh.
"A bit of an overreaction?" she asked her, the Princess sighing as she rubbed her fingers on her nose bridge.
"Think of the most nostalgic memory you have. Think of how it makes you feel." she asked her, before raising her fingers away from her face, "That damn game gives me the exact opposite feeling."
"Good. We're talking about emotions already." Sokka clapsed his hands together, "That's pretty close to my idea."
"I'm not looking for a shoulder to cry on." Azula snarled at her boyfriend, crossing her arms and turning away.
"You didn't even let me explain it. You get to make people feel uncomfortable! How about that?"
Azula remained silent for a moment, before she cleared her throat, turning her head slightly, "I'm listening." she responded with a quiet tone, to mask the obvious enthusiasm she had; Katara rolled her eyes, obviously disappointed that the Fire Nation Princess could derive pleasure from making other people feel uncomfortable.
"We each ask a question to the others on the saddle, and you have to put your hand up if your answer is yes." he simply explained his idea, Aang looking at him with confusion.
"That's not really a game. You just wanna hear everyone's secrets." he deduced, making the other teen scrunch up his lips; from his reaction, it seemed that the Avatar had guessed correctly, though that didn't seem to change Sokka's intentions.
"I'm pretty sure that I know everyone's secrets... other than yours. I'll get to them soon enough." he declared as he stared down the young Air Nomad, which understandably made him nervous.
"Uh... okay." he mumbled, before looking at Katara, "Does this idea sound good to you?"
"Oh, I guess. If I can make Azula feel uncomfortable maybe she'll regret wanting to play." she suggested with a smirk, the Princess hammering her hand down onto the saddle with a devious look in her eyes.
"Oh, you're on, snowbender." she grinned, the Water Tribe girl trying her best to ignore her insult.
"Who's going first, then?" Aang asked, the Water Tribesman gesturing toward him.
"Go ahead, Aang." he smiled at him, though Katara immediately knew that Sokka was just trying to get him feeling even more nervous; she wanted to chide her brother, though she relented, knowing that she was more curious about what Aang had to ask.
"Hmph..." he raised a finger to his chin, making an exaggerated 'thinking pose'; she tried not to laugh, and patiently awaited his question, which came quickly enough, "Have... have you ever stolen somebody else's food?"
Sokka put his hand up immediately, which didn't surprise her, but Azula only raised her hand up slightly, before turning to face Katara, "Now, Katara, if I've stolen, you've stolen."
"What do you mean?" she narrowed her eyes at her, the Princess rolling her eyes at her as if she was supremely ignorant.
"Uh, the Southern Raiders, dummy. Remember when you and the tribesmen ransacked their kitchen, and you made me that subpar spicy komodo rhino rice?"
"Subpar?" she almost gasped, offended that Azula would say something so damning after she had given the meal to her as a gift.
"Hey, it wasn't your fault. Navy pre-packaged rations are never good." she directed the blame away from the Water Tribe girl, which relieved her somewhat; she realised however, that Azula was right- even if the Southern Raiders were practically evil incarnate, she still stole from them.
She raised her hand up, "Yeah... okay, I've done it." before she turned to face her brother, "So who did you steal from?"
"Uh... Pohuai Fortress. That was after Azula and I escaped Yu Dao." he clarified, making her cringe slightly.
"Surely that's not really stealing." she suggested, Azula raising a finger.
"If we stole, he stole." she simply assured her, before turning her eyes to Aang, "So, Mister Pacifistic Avatar, have you done it?"
"Uh... well, this one time I was in the Fire Nation with my friend Kuzon. We really wanted to get some fire flakes, but we didn't have any money... I hadn't tried them before, so I used my airbending to snatch some while he haggled with the guy at the stall." he explained, making Azula shake her head.
"Did you like them, at least?" she asked him, as if she knew how he was going to answer.
Aang shrugged his shoulders with a cringed smile, "Too spicy."
"Weakling." she snidely remarked, before glancing around, "So, am I next?"
"If you want to." Sokka shrugged his shoulders, "I'm afraid of your question."
"You should be." she smirked at her boyfriend, before glancing Katara's way, "Did you ever see something you really," raising her finger to stress, "and I mean really, shouldn't have?"
Katara's jaw dropped, realising that her brother was right to be afraid; both of them looked at each other, and it seemed from the look in his eye, that he definitely knew that was a really bad question to ask. She knew there was one thing that she wished she hadn't seen; she didn't see her mother die, and she was glad she hadn't, but she'd seen the next worse thing. She watched as she sacrificed herself for her own sake, and it sickened her to think of it; at the time, she hadn't understood it well enough, but as time went on, she realised what her mother had done, and it only made her feel more hate toward the Southern Raiders. The fact they had been willing to kill an unarmed woman just because she claimed she was the last waterbender was disgusting, and stretched her notions of what cruelty people were even capable of. She raised her hand, but took note that Aang had his own hand up; Sokka was the only one who didn't, but obviously he was more worried about her own feelings than whatever things he might have seen.
"I don't even need to ask you." Azula raised her chin, before narrowing her eyes at her boyfriend, "So... is that why? Because you didn't even get a chance to stop it from happening?"
"Y-yeah... pretty much." he nodded with a grimace; Katara's eyes widened, realising what Azula was actually saying.
The whole reason Sokka had gone to fight the Fire Nation, and had even met his future girlfriend in the first place, was because he wanted to make up for the fact he couldn't save their mother, who he hadn't even gotten to say goodbye to. Katara had, at the very least, shared that poignant moment with her, even if she hadn't understood it at the time; she had that, while her brother had nothing, only a funeral and a father who left to fight those responsible, as well as a duty to protect his people when he didn't know if he even could.
"What about you?" Azula turned to Aang, whose eyes turned down with shame.
"Monk Gyatso..." he mumbled, "He was trying to argue... I think he was trying to tell them why I ought to stay at the Southern Air temple. But I missed most of the conversation- they were going to split us apart, and... that's why I left. That's why... everything happened. The war. The Southern Raiders. Azula and her brother nearly killing each other. Because I was afraid of a few old guys." he almost began to sob, though he stopped himself; he was obviously too frustrated with himself to cry about it.
Sokka placed a hand on his shoulder, "Maybe I should have got the next question instead of Azula."
"Yeah, no shit, Sokka." Katara growled at her brother, thinking that his idea had only caused them anguish so far.
"Well, Aang, I wouldn't attribute my sibling rivalry completely to your disappearance and the war... it certainly helped, but that wasn't what started it." she argued, before narrowing her eyes, Katara turning to face her, realising there might be something that she wanted to say.
"Then what did you see?" she dared to ask, the Princess chuckling.
"Oh, I too saw an old man bickering with another man, though he certainly wasn't as old as him." she vaguely worded her experience, smirking slightly, "I realise now... that was what probably set it all off."
"You and Zuko?" Aang raised a brow at her, obviously intrigued by what she was saying.
"No, not that specifically." she admitted, "My father became the Fire Lord. He was never meant to be the Fire Lord, my Uncle Iroh was, as the eldest son."
"How'd he manage to ou-" Sokka began to ask, before his jaw dropped, obviously realising something, "He killed your grandfather?!" he deduced, the Princess shaking her head.
"Good guess, but no. My father obviously benefited from his death, but I think there was a far more amusing reason."
"I have a feeling this isn't Sokka's kind of amusing." Katara commented, which made the Princess smirk.
"You like irony, don't you?" she asked of her boyfriend, who shrugged his shoulders.
"I mean, yeah... it can be funny." he acknowledged, Azula clapping her hands together.
"You see, my father wanted to become Crown Prince, because he had heirs and my Uncle Iroh didn't. His son had just died in battle against the Fire Nation, and my Aunt... I have no idea how long she'd been dead for. Since before I was born." she explained, making the Water Tribe girl feel a pang of sympathy for the supposedly hated 'Uncle Iroh' that the Princess seemed to despise, "So, he asked my grandfather, Fire Lord Azulon. He really liked Uncle for some reason- love, respect- I don't really know, but he didn't like the younger brother trying to usurp his birthright. So he demanded that my father kill Zuko, to make him feel the experience of losing a firstborn child."
"Sorry... what the fuck?" Katara mumbled with utter shock, her brother clearing his throat.
"This is the guy who created the Southern Raiders... remember?" he clarified, as if his words would lessen the horror of what Azula had said.
"No, I already guessed that..." she acknowledged, before she snarled, already feeling a reasonable amount of hatred toward Azula's deceased grandfather, "But seriously? How could anyone order his son to kill his grandson?"
"I don't think he expected my father to go through with it. If he wanted to become Crown Prince, he'd have to do it, and I'm pretty sure... I'm pretty sure he was going to go through with it." she admitted, her small, but noticeable grimace suggesting that she disagreed with the idea.
"Your family just went from fucked up to absolutely insane." Sokka observed, his sister shaking her head, feeling sick from what she had just heard.
"I- I understand." she simply mumbled, Azula shooting her a surprised glance.
"You understand what? Why did my grandfather do what he did?"
"Fuck no." she turned away with disgust, before sighing, "I know why you're... well, why you are who you are."
"Where was the funny part in all of this?" Sokka asked his girlfriend with a grimace, the Princess raising a finger.
"You see... my father didn't kill my brother, and the next day, my grandfather had supposedly passed away in his sleep, though not after declaring my father his heir." she explained, Katara raising a brow.
"You said your father didn't kill him." she remembered how she had prefaced her entire story, "Then what happened?"
"Father probably forged some documents, and Mother, she probably killed the Fire Lord." she explained, before smirking, "She overheard me making fun of Zuko about the whole demand to kill him, so she must have taken matters into her own hands."
"So, your mother killed the Fire Lord?" Sokka raised a brow, "Damn, if you didn't hate her so much, I'd probably try and go thank her for the good work." he conceded, before clearing his throat, "I mean no offence."
"Oh, my grandfather was an old fool." she shook her head, "And honestly, he was probably going to die sooner or later, and Father would have still tried to take the throne. So, she actually prevented a civil war."
"And caused one." he corrected her, the Princess sighing.
"Urgh, I don't think... actually, no, anyone with half a brain probably could have realised Zuko was going to turn against our father. I just didn't expect him to win." she conceded, before narrowing her eyes, "That's the funny part actually. Mother, in trying to protect her 'precious Zuzu', ended up making my father Fire Lord... who then proceeded to burn and banish my brother for speaking out of turn."
"So, you're saying the funny bit was Zuko was doomed no matter what?" Katara raised a brow, the Princess nodding, to which she snarled, finding herself sickened by the other girl's sorry excuse for a joke, "Yeah, that's not funny, at all."
"Unlike you, I find fate to be amusing when it's not fucking with me." she crossed her arms, before glancing forward, "Oh, we're actually nearly in the city proper. Look." she gestured ahead of them; the Water Tribe girl turned her head to notice the 'gates' of the city, which were less gates and more so a few pillars and some earthbending guards blocking entrance to the city.
"Well, ain't that perfect timing." Sokka beamed at them, "I was not looking forward to another round of depressing or disturbing tales."
"Me too." Aang agreed, turning around to face the guards that they were approaching, "Hey! Can you let us through?!" he called out to them, the guards glancing at each other for a moment before they took earthbending forms, shifting the pillars into the ground, giving Appa a clear path into the city.
"Now, straight to the apartment, where we can get our crap and get right out of here." the Water Tribe warrior sighed with relief, before laying back slightly on the saddle, "So, uh, I am sorry for making you guys do that. I think it got a little too... out there."
"I think Azula's a little too honest." Katara simply stated, the Princess scoffing at her words, giving her a mocking look of surprise.
"Too honest? I'm the most skilled liar I know and you're grumpy that I was actually being honest?" she asked her; she considered making a counter-argument, but she realised that Azula was in the right.
Even if she didn't want to hear it, what she had just been told was something she had had to live through; she acknowledged that finding it amusing was probably her way of dealing with it.
"No... I prefer honesty." she conceded, before turning back toward Aang, "I'm sorry that you had to listen to all that. You're still a kid."
He shook his head, "Um..." he mumbled before his eyes turned to Azula, "How old were you when this happened?"
"Nine." she told him, his eyes widening with shock, before he nodded, looking genuinely saddened in realisation of what she had experienced at such a young age.
"I'm sorry." he turned his eyes down, the Princess shrugging her shoulders.
"You have nothing to be sorry about. I'm the one with the, as Sokka put it, 'insane family'." she simply noted the fact of the matter, which unnerved Katara; she knew that the other girl wasn't giving her true feelings on the matter.
"I mean I'm sorry your family is so bad." the Avatar corrected himself, "Nobody should have a family that bad."
"They exist." she shrugged her shoulders, before her eyes widened slightly, her expression showing a small sense of relief, "Not like I've had to deal with them lately, anyway."
"I am also happy that Zuko hasn't tried hunting us down yet." Sokka added his own opinion, earning a chuckle from the Princess.
"Now, now, that'd really be funny. If Zuko was going after me, while I'm with the Avatar, then he'd be doing his old quest- serving our father's bidding, all while he's in jail."
"That would be kinda funny." he conceded, before turning to face his sister, "Come on, even you can agree that it's funny."
"I don't want the Fire Lord coming after us." she argued, before narrowing her eyes at him, "Even if he's working with these White Lotus guys, that doesn't mean that he's going to be friendly toward Aang."
"Good point." Azula nodded, "Uncle's the one who's part of that organisation, but I have a feeling Zuko won't be serving their bidding... which may or may not help us."
"So what, you don't want to face a Zuko who's actually a half-competent and free-thinking Fire Lord?" Sokka prodded her with a humoured voice.
"That's my worst nightmare." she simply sighed, before looking at the Water Tribe girl, "That wasn't a joke, by the way."
"Yeah... after all you've said about him, I'm not surprised." she acknowledged, the Princess narrowing her eyes at her for a moment, before she almost chuckled, though she relented.
"I am also not surprised you despised me as much as you did after what happened to your mother." she noted, Katara cringing at the thought of what she was saying; it was true, in a way, as her own hatred of the Fire Nation had gone straight onto her presumptions of Azula- it didn't help that the Princess was a very argumentative and, at least at face value, amoral person.
Aang cleared his throat, catching all of their attention, the young Air Nomad gesturing down a tunnel to their left, "The apartment's just down there."
"Brilliant." the Princess rose up from her casual position, immediately vaulting over the side of the saddle and landing on the ground; after a small cloud of dust spurt up from her impact, she brushed her tunic down to get rid of the dirt, "Well, are you all going to sit there or are we getting our things?" she asked him, the young Air Nomad gesturing down along the main tunnel, which led to Bumi's throne room.
"I want to go see Bumi before we leave." he explained, Katara rising up, deciding that her brother could be afforded some alone time with his girlfriend.
"How about I go with you to see Bumi, and then when we come back, we'll get the last of our things from the apartment?" she suggested to the young Avatar, who nodded along intently.
"That's a great idea!" he grinned, before turning to face Azula, "Is that okay?"
"It's fine." she crossed her arms, before tilting her chin upward, staring her boyfriend down, "Come on, Sokka, you're not lazing about any more." she demanded of him.
The Water Tribe warrior made an exasperated sigh, before pulling himself off of Appa's saddle, "Yep, yep, let's go." he agreed to her rather blunt commands, before turning his eyes up to meet those of his sister, "Will you two be alright?"
"Yeah, we'll be fine." she assured him; suddenly, however, she heard the sound of chittering behind her, Momo jumping past and landing on Sokka's shoulder, "Oh, it looks like somebody wants to come with."
"He just wants to steal the food we're going to pack." he narrowed his eyes accusingly at the lemur, who poked his cheek without any care for his words, "I'll be watching you."
"Come on, Katara." Aang gestured to her with a wave, picking his staff up as he jumped off of Appa, "We can walk to the throne room, it isn't too far."
"Oh course. I'm not hurt or anything." she acknowledged, knowing that she didn't have much of an excuse to refuse walking; it would probably take them longer to ride Appa anyway, given the distance was so short and they could pace leisurely faster than the sky-bison without the fear of exhaustion.
Rising up from the saddle, she walked over to the side Aang had climbed down, and proceeded to make her way down Appa's side, clinging onto his fur as she did so to soften her drop. She patted the sky-bison for a moment, before turning to face the young Air Nomad.
"Let's go." she simply told him, and he didn't need to respond, simply nodding before he proceeded to pace alongside her.
When they got far enough away from the sky-bison, and thus, the other two, the young Avatar turned to face her with an uneasy look, "Um... so, that was a weird game." he admitted, making Katara sigh, knowing that they had all experienced bad things, and shining a light on them didn't necessarily make any of them feel better about their pasts.
"I don't know why Azula said what she did." she honestly admitted, turning to face the young Air Nomad, unsure if he could even understand why the Princess was so unusual, "It's always like there's something behind what she's actually telling us, and I don't know... I don't know what she wants us to see."
"She's afraid." Aang simply noted, "Maybe of her dad. Maybe of Zuko. Maybe there's a lot of things she's afraid of."
"I think you're right." she nodded, grimacing in thought of what might have been going through the Princess's head when Toph figured out her identity, "Sokka's trying to get angry for her, I think... she wants to act all aloof and cool, but that's just as much a lie as the name Saila."
"She really likes to lie." he observed, before grimacing, obviously uneased by the consequences of that fact, "We might not even really know what she wants."
"I don't think even Sokka does." she admitted; as horrible as it was to consider, she guessed that Azula had made a life out of lying to Sokka, though what she hadn't told him, she didn't know, "But she said... that." Katara acknowledged, "That was less lying and more pretending to act like she was okay with her father's willingness to murder her brother."
The young Avatar made a curt nod, though his expression was clearly unnerved by the thought of Azula's horrible family, before his eyes turned ahead, and his expression brightened, "See, we're nearly there." he gestured ahead of them to the doors of the throne room, which she could see in the distance.
"What are we going to tell Bumi?" she asked him, the Air Nomad's eyes narrowing.
"I don't think I could get away with lying to Bumi. He's really smart, y'know?" he asked her rhetorically, the Water Tribe girl nodding along.
"Well then, I guess we'll tell him what actually happened. We won, and then, we ran away." she quite simply summarised the events that occured.
"And I used the Avatar State." he added, making her eyes widen, realising that after Azula's disturbing revelations, she had completely forgotten about Aang's exhaustive use of his powers.
"Are you okay? You passed out for a good while after you used it." she asked him, genuinely afraid that the use of the Avatar State had taken a toll on him physically; at the Southern Air Temple, he hadn't used it for very long, and he didn't exert much of his strength.
"I think... I think I'm okay. I just have some... weird memories." he explained himself, sounding nervous as his eyes darted down toward the ground.
"What kind of weird memories? Like from your past lives?" she asked, the young Avatar nodding.
"I think it was. I saw a dragon." his expression brightened up, "It was beautiful."
"Oh..." her expression became blank as she considered his reaction, "So, did this dragon tell you anything?"
"Not really. But it coiled around me, like it was hugging me." he acknowledged, his eyes narrowing in thought, "Everything around us was red, and it was almost like I could feel fire. Maybe it was the firebenders who were attacking me." he conceded, the Water Tribe girl shaking her head.
"Uh... I don't think it was. I watched- you completely snuffed out their firebending as soon as you activated the Avatar State." she acknowledged, the Avatar looking at her nervously.
"Do you think this memory... or vision... is it supposed to mean something?" he asked her; Katara didn't know how to respond, let alone understand what Aang had experienced.
"Maybe you ask Azula about it when we get back. She might have a better understanding of that than I do." she conceded, the young Avatar raising a brow.
"Hmph, maybe Bumi might have some ideas. I have a feeling he might know something about the spirits." he explained his own idea, which immediately intrigued her; she hadn't seen or heard anything to suggest the old king had an affinity for the spiritual.
"What makes you say that?"
"Instincts." he simply told her, making her giggle.
"Don't rely on them too much." she warned, raising her finger towards him,
"That's what Sokka does, and look at him. He got a chest full of flames this morning."
"Okay, got it." he gave her a thumbs up, "You guys can give me good advice." he acknowledged, making her raise a brow.
"Uh, that wasn't-" she began to correct him that her words were ajoke, though she was cut off by Aang speeding up his pace, walking toward the guards who were stationed in front of the doors of the throne room.
"Good evening! I'm here to see the King! Is he here?" he loudly asked them guards, who looked at each other momentarily before giving him an affirmative nod each.
"He is having his dinner at the moment, but I assume this is important, Avatar." one of the guards acknowledged, the Water Tribe girl taking the opportunity to butt it.
"We've just come back from the battle with a report. The Fire Nation army looking for this city has been dealt with... thoroughly." she added the last bit to stress the beating the enemy had received.
"Well, that's great news to hear." one of the guards admitted, his expression brightening, "The King ought to hear about this at once." he acknowledged, before he moved his hands to open the door behind them, pushing it wide open with his comrade.
Before them, Bumi was revealed, sitting at the end of a stone table, eating a rather quaint meal as he sat, wearing his rather interesting looking regal robes, which were coloured a bright purple.
"Aang! Katara!" he addressed them with a bright smile, raising his hands up from his utensils and into the air, "You're back sooner than expected."
"Oh, yeah, that's what's good about having a sky-bison." Aang acknowledged, striding forward to greet his friend properly, with a hug that was; the old king, despite his age, took the effort to get out of his seat and move to greet the young Avatar.
Katara smiled at their warm embrace, glad that the young Avatar still had someone from his old life that could tether him back to what he thought was otherwise lost. Once their hug broke, the King of Omashu looked at him with a slightly interested look.
"Aang, I can tell when something's wrong." he observed, his eyes darting up to Katara, "Did everything go alright? Did somebody get hurt?"
"Well, Sokka did get burned, but that wasn't the problem." Aang corrected his friend.
He raised a brow, obviously confused as to what exactly had happened, "Aang, what happened?"
"Toph happened." Katara simply put it, "She's a little too observant, that blind girl." she acknowledged, the king snorting, obviously amused by the turn of events.
"The Princess?" he asked them both, the pair nodding along with the same grimace; they both understood Azula's knack of anger and vengeance, and although the young Avatar hadn't been awake to see it, he could guess well enough what their friend's reaction had been to her true identity being revealed.
"Well then, I can only guess how she reacted." he mumbled, making a cringed expression, "Not well."
"Yeah, not well." the Water Tribe girl confirmed, "She didn't attack anyone and set the entire campsite into an inferno, luckily enough for us."
"We had to leave quickly though, because everyone found out, and one of the rebels... uh, Jet's his name, he attacked Sokka." Aang furthered, Katara clearing her throat so she could finish his sentence.
"He attacked Sokka because of his relationship with Azula."
"He doesn't sound like the best judge of character." Bumi observed, the other two nodding in agreement.
"He did get over it once his legs started working again and he went back to his friends." the young Avatar clarified, "I thought I was going to have to use this staff for something other than airbending." he added with a grimace, noting the fact he was willing to deal with Jet rather violently to ensure that he didn't try and harm Sokka.
Katara knew that her friend wouldn't lightly say that, and she appreciated his resolve on the matter, even if she didn't acknowledge it verbally, knowing that discussing the matter of Azula was a little bit more pressing.
Bumi gave Aang a bittersweet smile, "So, you're leaving then?" he asked him, the young Avatar nodding, "That is fine. You have a destiny to fulfil." he conceded, placing a hand on his shoulder, "You will do great things. You have good friends, and you have been a good friend to them, from what I've heard and seen."
Though he remained silent for a moment, smiling in appreciation of his friend's words, before his expression become more serious, "Could I ask you something?"
"Of course." the King of Omashu grinned at him, "Is there something you wanted to do before you left?"
"Uh... not exactly. I had a vision earlier today... when I was in the Avatar State." he explained himself, Bumi's expression shifting instantly, away from one of giddy amusement to one more befitting of his position, a narrowed eye glare of interest; Katara was reminded by the fact that he wasn't just an old friend of Aang's, but an experienced and wise leader.
"I see." he raised a finger to his beard, "What did you see?"
"A dragon." he simply told him, "It was coiling around me... everything was hot. I don't know what it was trying to tell me." he explained himself, the King straightening his posture, looking out distantly in thought.
"A dragon? What did it look like?" he asked, the young Avatar scrunching his face up.
"Uh... just a normal, red dragon. It was big, but it didn't seem threatening." he added, Bumi nodding along, before he chuckled.
"Well, well, I don't know much about dragons... I've never seen one, actually. I know that the Fire Nation have been hunting them down for decades now, and that they're supposedly extinct." he explained his thought on the matter, "What I don't know... is whether this vision was a memory from a past life, or a metaphorical warning."
"A metaphor?" Katara raised a brow with interest, "Do you mean the dragon is... somebody? Like a real person?"
"It's possible. I'm unsure if Avatars can glimpse into the future, but I have heard of your past lives being able to sense things... things that people wouldn't ordinarily sense, because of your connection to the spirits." he explained, before sighing, "I wish I could tell you more Aang, but I don't know much about the spirits. I know they're powerful, and you are the one person in the world who should be having... unusual experiences with them."
"Hmmm... a lot of weird stuff has happened to me. Like getting stuck in that iceberg for a hundred years." the young Avatar acknowledged, before giving his friend an uneasy smile, "Thanks, Bumi. I really hope you and your people are safe here."
"We will be." he assured him, before his eyes turned to Katara, "And I'm sure you and your friends will be alright."
"Yeah, we will be." she agreed with him, placing a reassuring hand on Aang's shoulder, "We're going to learn waterbending, then maybe we'll come back."
"Oh yeah, we will." Aang smiled, before raising a brow, moving closer to Bumi, "Is it alright if Toph teaches me earthbending? I know you might want to... but she's really good at what she does."
"I agree with you." he smiled, "Unlike me, she can leave and help you on your journey. I can trust the Blind Bandit to keep you safe."
"I don't know how we're going to deal with both her and Azula stuck together. That just sounds like it's going to end badly." Katara acknowledged, the King of Omashu snorting, grinning at them both.
"Oh, don't worry about those two. I think they're a little more similar than you might think."
"Crazy good benders who don't care what other people think." Aang acknowledged, the Water Tribe girl scrunching her lips.
"That's a trend." she conceded, before she narrowed her eyes, "I wonder what your waterbending master will be like."
"Those Northern Water Tribe fellows aren't as... independently minded as some of us around here." the King conceded, before glancing around, "Hmph, did the other two go off to your apartment?"
"Uh, yeah." Aang nodded, Bumi giggling.
"Ah, young love." he commented, before turning to eye them both, "I'm sure the Princess isn't as bad as she had been bad out to be."
"Yeah, she isn't bad." Katara agreed, almost shocked that she could defend Azula; compared to the things Jet had said about her, she knew that the Princess wasn't evil, or even really that bad of a person.
Aang looked at her with surprise, "So, you like her now?"
"Uh, like her? I guess." she mumbled, before smiling at him, realising there was a better way to phrase her feelings; those feelings had changed since she had seen her in action, and seen how she acted, both toward herself and their enemies.
"I think I understand her."