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Chapter 9: Answers
Zuko looked out on Capitol Island, his home, from the airship viewport. With the fleet in tow, he had the ability to beat Yuan Chong to the Fire Nation; he needed time to prepare. He turned when he heard his guests walk up behind him. "I can't thank you guys enough for this; it means a lot."
"Well, we can't let you have all the fun, right?" Ty Lee said with a grin.
Zuko allowed himself a tiny smile. "Even still, you all are making a sacrifice."
Yun was absentmindedly playing with a rock from his pouch as Suki replied, "Let's just hope we can do it..."
Captain Li Teng turned and saluted. "Fire Lord, we are making our descent."
Zuko nodded. "Good. Tell General Shinu and Admiral Chan to begin their preparations."
Yun slipped away from the group and made his way to the brig, and he knew who he was looking for. As he came to the door, the guard nodded and let him pass, and he saw Long Feng sitting in his cell, bruised and bloody.
He looked up at Yun and sneered. "If it isn't the traitor."
Yun gritted his teeth. "You're the traitor, and you're lucky I stopped Haru from killing you. To be honest, I should've killed you back at Lake Laogai, but Ty Lee was in danger."
Long Feng chuckled. "And how is the acrobat doing? Last I saw, she was rather conflicted about fighting me."
The young Earthbender slammed his fist against the metal wall. "She will never be anyone's puppet ever again! She's free of you, and if it weren't for the circumstances, I would kill you right now!"
The former Grand Secretariat raised an eyebrow. "Why have you come?"
Yun put his face inches from Long Feng. "I want information."
Aang steered Appa toward The Fire Nation, just a few hours ahead of Yuan Chong's damaged fleet. He noted that they were passing over the same island where he had gone to school, the place where he had first seen what good the Fire Nation was capable of.
Sokka lay against Appa's saddle, eyes closed. He wriggled to get in a more comfortable sleeping position before jolting up. "Aang!"
The sudden exclamation startled Aang who jerked and woke Momo, who had been resting on his shoulder. "What! What is it? What's wrong?"
Sokka stared at him like he was crazy. "Uh...nothing. I just wanted to see if you could drop me off on Shu Jing before heading to the Capitol."
Aang shook his head to clear it and looked back to make sure he hadn't woken Katara or Toph. "Oh, yeah, sure. Why there?"
"I overheard Master Piandao back before Ba Sing Se. The Order was worried about something, I guess Yuan Chong's attack, and he said he might return and defend Shu Jing. I want to be by his side."
Appa, who himself had begun to doze, was quickly awoken when Momo climbed down his head and rapped on it several times. Aang found his attention divided temporarily, not by Appa, and Sokka waved his hand in front of the Airbender's face. "Hello... earth to Aang..."
"Oh, sorry... yeah, sure, I can drop you off, but we'll have to wake the others."
Yun met with the others as they were all disembarking. "Where've you been?" Mai asked almost second-handedly.
Yun's jaw was set. "We need to meet with Zuko, all of us. It's important."
Minutes later, a servant ushered them into the throne room. They looked around and saw Zuko staring at a painting of his father. The young Fire Lord turned toward them at their approach. "I was told that you had something urgent for me."
Yun nodded. "I spoke with Long Feng, and—."
"You did what?!" Ty Lee's face was a mixture of concern and anger. "Why were you even speaking to him?"
"We needed information, and boy, did I get it."
Zuko ran his hands through his hair. "Let's hear it then."
"Information...heh...." Long Feng began to chuckle. "Why would I tell you anything?"
Yun Zhen grinned. "Because you have nothing left to lose."
The older man glared. "What is that supposed to mean?"
Yun himself began to laugh. "They could care less about you; they despise you. Ri Wu told me himself that he views you as weak, and I'd venture a guess that you're not exactly important enough to keep alive."
Long Feng gritted his teeth. "You know nothing!"
"They will let you die by our hand or kill you themselves, and you know it."
"Your only chance at survival is telling me what you know."
Long Feng glared at Yun for several seconds before sighing. "What do you wish to know?"
Yun's face was mere inches from Long Feng. "Everything. What is Yuan Chong's ultimate goal, and what are his plans for achieving it?"
The prisoner coughed as he attempted to laugh. "His goal: the complete crippling of the Fire Nation. His method: Island by island."
"What does that mean?"
"Think boy! Yuan Chong is obsessed with the Earth Kingdom's superiority, so his logical steps to prove it would be to go through the Fire Nation, island by island, and make sure that they can never recover from the beating. He does not want to control it; he wants to forever make it weak!"
Zuko rubbed his temple. "We need to send defenses to each island, but we may not get there in time."
Aang woke Katara and Toph as they landed in Shu Jing. Sokka made sure he had his boomerang and his sword before disembarking the bison. Piandao walked up, concern etched in his features. "What are you doing here, Sokka?"
The Water Tribe warrior bowed. "I have come to help you defend Shu Jing from invasion."
The old swordmaster nodded. "A worthy aspiration, but I cannot have you endanger yourself for me."Sokka, all joking aside, stared off into the ocean. "If I can't fight here, I'll just fight in the Capitol. My safety is not my concern."
Piandao nodded once more. "Very well. I would be honored to fight alongside my best student."
Aang and Katara each took turns hugging Sokka. "Be safe, and don't do anything stupid." Katara grinned.
Sokka returned the gesture. "No promises."
"Want us to come back and get you?"
Piandao shook his head. "That won't be necessary. Once we are finished here, Sokka and I will meet you at the Capitol."
Toph landed after sliding down Appa's side. "You sound confident..."
Sokka smiled. "C'mon Toph, between two master swordsmen, those Earthbenders'll never know what hit them!"
Aang noticed Toph blush slightly, and that perplexed him. "I'm staying, too."
Katara's brow shot up. "What!?"
Aang echoed her thoughts. "Toph, you can't—ow!" He rubbed his arm where she had just whacked him.
"I can. You guys need an Earthbender, and I'm the best one for the job."
Sokka shrugged. "I guess we've got three masters, then. Yuan Chong's amy won't know what hit them!"
As Aang and Katara flew toward the Capitol, the thought just wouldn't leave Aang alone. Katara noticed his discomfort and put a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "What's bothering you?"
Aang looked at her, his face held and emotion she'd very rarely seen: jealousy. "Hahn..."
She glanced away. "Oh..."
The dam burst. "Why didn't you tell me!? Did I not have a right to know that my girlfriend was offered a marriage proposal?!""Aang, calm down! It wasn't like that! He just spoke to Dad about a political alliance. It's not like anything actually—!"
"I still had a right to know, Katara!" He turned back to face the ocean.
"It's my life! Did you really think I'd even choose him in the first place?"
Aang said nothing, and that gave Katara the answer she sought. "I guess you don't know me as well as you thought..."
"Just focus on flying Appa, Aang. We'll talk when we've both cooled off."
Ty Lee paced the floor in front of Yun. "Why? Why did you even go near him?"
"We needed intel, and he was no threat." Yun desperately wanted her to understand.
"But he is a threat!" She bit her lower lip. "He twists things. What if he gave you the wrong information on purpose?"
He stood and offered her his hands. "Do you really think he could lie to me and get away with it? I knew what I was doing."
Ty Lee sighed. "I know, and what we got was what Zuko needed. But I..." She turned to him, a stern expression on her face the likes of which Yun had never seen from her. "Please...promise me we'll talk before you do something like that again."
Yun frowned. "I can do that, and...I'm sorry. I should've definitely come to you first."
She took hold of his hands and stared into his eyes. "I know you. You're kind and brave; you didn't do this to hurt me. But...I still can't help but feel uneasy. Yun, what he did to me...it terrifies me."
She shook her head. "Please let me finish. I know we've been over it, but it still..." Her chin quivered. "To think I was going to kill you because of what he did is terrifying." She smiled sadly. "I'm free, thanks to you and Mai, but it'll be awhile before I'm not afraid anymore."
Yun pursed his lips and massaged her hands with his thumbs. "I know, and I want you to never have to be afraid of him again. That's one of the reasons I went down there. The faster we end this, the faster he rots in a prison for the rest of his life."
"What were the other reasons?"
He grinned. "Well, I can't deny that taunting him left me personally satisfied."
Ty Lee giggled. "I figured."
"But I also have a request..." He grew serious, and she raised an eyebrow. "Tell Mai what happened at Lake Laogai, please."
Ty Lee pulled away. "I know she's worried about me, but that'll only make her worry more..."
"I won't tell her; I can't be the one to do it." He pulled her in for a kiss. "Just think about it..."
Aang couldn't take the silence, but he didn't know what to say. He was prepared to simply apologize, but when he looked back, an island in the distance had smoke coming from it, or around it.
She turned to see what he was staring at. "Aang, we have to—."
"On it." He replied as he urged Appa to turn around.
- I bet you thought that Hahn thing was just a joke...
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