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The trek north was quite good for the team. They had stopped at one point, this time in a northern forest of the Earth Kingdom. They can easily tell that they were further north simply because the trees showed signs of autumn, despite it being the very beginning of spring still. All the trees showing nice colours of orange, yellow, red and brown - usual autumn colours. The group decided to walk for a while, as Appa rested from his flying. Ty Lee was definitely enjoying herself in her usual way.
"Wow, Ty Lee, you sure are giddy, aren't you?" Sokka said after a bit.
"How can I not Sokka? I'm on an adventure with the Avatar for Pete's sake. It's so exciting!" Ty Lee beamed.
"Now calm down, it's not all excitement. So far, whatever excitement came around was done and over with. Besides, we're not looking for trouble."
"Yeah, I guess you're right." Ty Lee calmed down but it was just for a little bit. It did feel giddy just being with the Avatar at all...but Ty Lee oddly stopped suddenly, as she heard something out of the ordinary.
"Everything okay?" Katara asked. Ty Lee quickly shushed her as she tried to listen. They were quiet...but then they heard it. Marching Fire Nation soldiers!
"Uh oh. Soldiers!" Katara gasped. They found a spot to hide, but Ty Lee didn't budge.
"Ty Lee, in here, come on!" Sokka said, trying to get her to move.
"I'll be fine. I'm a Fire Nation acrobat remember? Watch," Ty Lee said, calming herself as the group approached her. One of them instructed the others to stop and Ty Lee immediately recognised him...Fire Prince Zuko!
"Hello. Mind if I talk to you?"
"Oh. Oh yes of course!" Ty Lee said, kind of stuttering, acting shocked that Zuko was there. Lucky for the three other people, they were just out of sight.
"I've been told about a missing acrobat that the Avatar had taken. Know anything about it?"
"Who says what now?"
"A few days ago, the ringmaster at a travelling circus reported to me that he saw the Avatar make off with his prized acrobat. We've been told they were still travelling north and here you are. His missing acrobat...So where is he?"
"He? Define 'he' please."
"You know who. The Avatar. Where is he? If what he claims is true, he should be here with you," Zuko explained. Ty Lee tried to calm down, but this was becoming all too worrying. Then she remembered her old poster and quickly pulled it out to show them.
"Is this who you're looking for?" Ty Lee asked. Zuko wasn't in any mood for games so, both to get rid of it and to scare her, he burned the poster out of her hands!
"Don't play around. Tell me right now, or it will NOT be pretty. He's around here. All you have to do is talk." Ty Lee was getting rather scared now, unsure what to do. It got even more worrying when Zuko caught her glancing at where the others were...Zuko got an idea.
"Very well. Take aim," Zuko ordered. The soldiers were unsure until Zuko gave them a blink with his bad eye. They all got ready, aiming their fire right towards her. Ty Lee simply froze in utter shock. She had thought Zuko wouldn't resort to such tactics on his own nation. The three hiding were getting anxious too, Aang the most. One of the guards got so close to firing at her, that Aang couldn't take it. Blindly, he charged forward and blasted the guards away, exposing himself. Zuko immediately confronted Aang.
"Nice of you to join us. Time for a rematch," Zuko said, getting some fire blades ready to go.
"I don't want to fight, Fire Prince Zuko. But if that's all it's going to be..." After that, the fight began.
The deadly battle was mostly off of Zuko's fire, with Aang trying to blow him away and fight like that. Katara, Sokka, and Ty Lee all just watched, the guards keeping them back (Sokka and Katara were exposed about the same time as Aang). The fire from Zuko threatened to burn down the trees surrounding them and the fire blasts were nearly at the treetops. One dragon breath shot into the sky, for all to see.
"Why don't you fight, Avatar?"
"I'm an airbender, Zuko. I don't fight," Aang said. Zuko sighed, smoke going out his mouth as he turned to him.
"Why not? It's not even a fair match if the fighting is one-sided," Zuko groaned. He never liked an unfair fight, even if it was him that had an advantage.
"Look. I don't want to fight, it's against my beliefs. Just back down and this fight can end," Aang said, trying to avoid any bloodshed. Zuko just snorted.
"I'm the Fire Prince of the Fire Nation. I didn't make it there by backing down from a fight." Aang knew now this wasn't going to end until one of them lost, and lost hard. Zuko got another larger blast ready, but as all of this was going on, Aang's friends were noticing something...the trees had eyes. There was something up there observing the fight...enter the opposition.
Just as Zuko was about to attack once more, his fireball in his hands suddenly went out, skewered with a shot arrow! That cued other shapes to jump down from the trees, immediately attacking the Fire Nation soldiers! There was hardly any time to react as most of the soldiers keeping the three at bay were knocked to the ground. There were four different combatants that entered this brawl. All of them turned to Zuko.
"Get them!" Zuko ordered. The guards charged at them, but they were outmatched. It was quick, yet painful as in just under a minute, the soldiers were all down, cut and hurting. Zuko stood there in shock by what he saw. The guards were cut up and bleeding, one even got a deep gash in his shoulder from one of the rebels cutting in with a heel kick! Zuko could see he was clearly outmatched. Sure he was the Fire Prince, but he was not stupid.
"Consider this a warning. Next time we meet, it won't be easy," Zuko said. After that, he had no choice but to flee. Some of the guards who could helped the other wounded up, got away, before they were attacked too. Katara, Sokka, Ty Lee and Aang all got defensive as the others turned to them.
"Calm down. We're on your side," One of them, supposedly the leader, said. They put away their weapons but Team Avatar wasn't too sure.
"Well. Thanks for that."
"Anytime. You all okay, or did the Fire Nation hurt you?"
"We're just fine Mister...?" Ty Lee tried getting a name but didn't have a clue.
"I'm Jet. Leader of the Freedom Fighters. You must be the Avatar, right?" Jet asked Aang.
"Yes. But how did you-"
"I've heard the talk from the trees. Indeed you're the Avatar, an airbender yourself." Sokka looked through the crowd behind him, only four others. One a very young kid, one a large brute, one headband kid, and a quiet archer.
"Is this all there is in the group?" Sokka asked.
"Oh them? No, but they're my closest friends. This is Pipsqueak, The Duke, Longshot, and Smellerbee," Jet introduced.
"Pleased to meet you all, and thank you for-" Katara was cut off when Ty Lee went on saying, "That was incredible! You're all awesome!"
"Okay, okay, no need for that," Smellerbee said, knowing that they were just doing their job.
"You all seemed a bit lost too. Care to stay with us for a while? Might help," The Duke added in.
"No thanks. We're pretty much good, so now if you- (hears his stomach growl)...well maybe just a little bit."
Later on, they followed the Freedom Fighters back to their base. What struck as incredible is where it was located. Usually a place of stay would be on the ground, but Jet and the Freedom Fighters actually lived up in the trees! A whole village up in the trees. Funny thing though, all of the people there were just kids, many of which were about Aang's age to Sokka's age.
"This is incredible! I've never seen a village in the trees before," Katara complimented as they walked along.
"Glad you're impressed. It took us close to forever to create this. Since we have no benders here to help us," Pipsqueak explained.
"I can imagine. But how come all of your members are kids? Don't you have any adults here?" Sokka asked, a bit curious on the fact.
"We're our own boss. All our members are orphans, mostly thanks to the Fire Nation. We look after each-other and make sure the Fire Nation doesn't try to conquer our home," Smellerbee explained.
"How long has this been here?"
"About a few years, last I counted. It's going good so far," Jet said, looking around at the other children playing and talking to each other. He had that look that said he was proud of this.
Meanwhile, in a nearby camp, Zuko and the wounded were trying to recover from the fight with the Freedom Fighters. Most of the Fire Nation soldiers probably had some deep scars from this, although they had armour on.
"How are you holding up?" Zuko asked one of the more wounded soldiers. This one in particular had two cuts to his legs and one on his chest.
"I'm not sure. I don't want to leave you, if that's what you're thinking."
"Actually it was. I understand that you don't want to go and you don't have to, but you need your rest." Zuko, although a prince, wasn't as cold-hearted as he first appeared to be. As they were trying to recover, suddenly Zuko looked up and saw a bird. A hawk that landed nearby. It had a note it carried and Zuko took it...what it said made him shutter in shock.
"What does it say?" one of the guards asked.
"...It's from the Firelord...He had sent a assassin in to capture the Avatar for me..."
"Who is it?"
"Someone named Raiu. If the Firelord allowed him to do this, then we can just rest for a while until he gets here. We'll have to wait for the Avatar..."
The tour was a bit short-lived as they decided to stay for the night, courtesy of Jet himself. They indeed had a good feast for them, much more than any of them had thought of. Fruit, meat, all the works. There was even a boar served. Aang didn't feel comfortable with the carnivores, but didn't show it. At one point though, Jet got everyone's attention.
"Freedom Fighters! I'm happy to announce that today, not only have we driven out a high-ranking Fire Nation class. But also we've single-handed driven out the Fire Prince himself!" After that was announced, the crowd around was cheering for this victory.
"An extra toast for The Duke for riding a soldier like a hog monkey." The Duke did some reenacting as the crowd cheered for that. Katara, Sokka, Aang and Ty Lee were cheering as well. Jet then got up on the table.
"This is one to remember! The Fire Nation thinks that they don't have to worry about some kids hiding in the trees. But they're dead wrong! If we can drive out the Prince, they don't stand a chance!" The entire crowd was in an uproar of cheering soon after that and Jet sat back down.
"You sure are happy about the victory, are you?" Katara asked.
"Why wouldn't I be? It's what they deserve for what they've done," Jet said with a smirk. The last part got her confused and she ended up asking him another question.
"What did the Fire Nation do to you?" Jet turned away, his smirk gone. All he did was sigh.
"It's the whole reason I'm here. The whole reason all the Freedom Fighters are here. The Fire Nation has ruined our lives...it's as simple as that." Jet didn't have much enthusiasm in his voice when he said that. Aang though got up and began to walk off suddenly.
"Where are you going?" Ty Lee asked.
"I already know where this is going. You're going to start talking about what the Fire Nation has done. And I don't want to hear it. I'll come back later." After that, Aang left, leaving the others at the table.
Aang found a quieter area, not much light except for the moon. While here, suddenly he ended up thinking over what happened so far. From the South Pole, to the volcano, and to here. He looked up at the moon, imagining his mother in its reflection.
"Well, Mom. I'm doing well so far. I hope I can repay you soon..." He thought aloud. His debt to his mother was to bring peace to the world and as far as he knew, that meant stopping this war. As the night went on for what seemed like forever, a new feeling suddenly blew by him...something was watching him. He simply knew it. He looked around for a bit, trying to figure it out. Then he caught a glance of something in the trees...he only managed to scream before he was caught from the tree! Lucky for him, the others heard him loud and clear and were running over fast...but Aang was gone by the time they showed up. As if Aang had never even been there.
"Oh Raava, where is he?! AANG!" Ty Lee called. Nothing. Longshot directed their attention to the wood floor. Right at the edge, there was clearly evidence of claw marks, signs of an ambush by a predator. These claw marks though looked black, like scorched marks. Smellerbee examined these claw marks too.
"Doesn't look good."
"You know what took him?" Katara asked.
"Kind of. Nothing normal though. (Looks down to the forest floor) Come on."
Not too far away, the Fire Nation camp was still recovering from earlier. It wasn't as bad, but they were still in rough shape. Zuko was staring off to the night until he heard rustling in the brush. He got his fire armed, but as soon as it revealed itself, Zuko was left surprised. Aang was in the jaws of some yellow saber tooth! Aang was dropped off right in front of Zuko.
"You sent this thing after me?!" Aang gasped.
"I didn't send it! But regardless, you're still here," Zuko sighed. Before he could grab him though, the saber tooth pushed him away.
"Not. Yet." Zuko was surprised hearing this beast speak, but oddly not as much.
"Have you read that letter? Who do you think I am?" The saber grabbed that letter the messenger hawk gave them. Aang tried running, but the cat already pinned him again before he got the chance. Zuko looked over the letter again, trying to make sense of it...the answer was staring at him straight in the face.
"So you're that Raiu sent in?"
"Got it. And also I'm expecting some 'respect'."
"Since I AM the one who caught the air monkey, I should be the one to bring him in. Don't you agree?" Raiu asked. Zuko didn't expect this, not saying in this note at all.
"You're not going anywhere, Raiu."
The yellow saber tooth suddenly saw Ty Lee standing there, determined. The cat smirked and lifted a paw off Aang.
"And who might this be?"
"Not important. May you hand over Aang please?"
"Oh. So you know this kid, eh? By the looks of it, you two are liking each other?"
"Boy, you are smart. Mind if you-"
"I do mind handing over the Avatar. If ya willing to fight ALL of us, then I'll reconsider. Deal?" Raiu suddenly proposed. Ty Lee looked at it like it was nuts. But simply nodded with a confident smile.
"...that's it? No retaliation?" Ty Lee simply ran over to Aang. Raiu charged at her as well with lightning speed. But at the last second, Ty Lee jumped over it, jabbing its back. Next thing everyone know, Raiu was on the ground, unable to move. Ty Lee bolted to the other soldiers and did the same thing to them. In just a minute, everyone but Aang was on the ground.
"Whoa...How... How did you do that?"
"I'll tell you later. Come on, let's hurry back before they get up." Ty Lee grabbed his hand and pulled him along. Aang was rather confused and impressed by this, but he didn't ask any questions and they went on back.
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