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|The Party and the Plea|
After the ceremony, the people of Omashu traveled to house parties across the city to celebrate. Aang and his friends were escorted by Joo Dee to the royal palace.
"Joo Dee, who was that boy behind King Bumi?" asked Katara
"Prince Torek? That was the King's grandson, of course!" replied Joo Dee.
"Grandson?" cried the group simultaneously.
"Wait. Hold up. No way Bumi has a grandson. He doesn't even have kids!" protested Sokka.
"King Bumi's son was killed with his wife during a small Fire Nation raid years ago. It was the first time they had attacked Omashu. They were unsuccessful, but they managed to kill Prince Horeph and his wife. Captain Yung raised their baby Torek."
"Bumi never told me that," said Aang with sorrow.
Back in the palace, Yung also remembered the tragic day that he lost his two best friends.
"The Fire Nation is growing closer!" shouted the predecessor of Yung as captain of Omashu's forces. "Get everyone safe in their houses! I want all catapults manned now! First wave, attack the invaders!"
Yung slipped away to find Prince Horeph and his wife, who at the time lived in a private house, not the palace.
"Yung!" exclaimed the prince. "My father needs me at his side to lead our defense. Stay here and protect Delphandi and Torek at all costs!" Yung agreed and Horeph rushed out. That was the last time Yung ever saw his best friend.
After an hour, Fire Nation troops burst through the door of the house. Delphandi shrieked and ran upstairs with her baby. Yung attacked the Firebenders, but there were too many. They hit him with a powerful fire blast that, although he blocked it with his helmet, knocked him back in to a table. He laid there unconscious. When he came to, he dashed upstairs to find Delphandi dead on the floor. He began to weep until he heard the cry of the baby. Torek had survived.
Team Avatar and Joo Dee had almost reached the palace.
"Captain Yung was very kind to raise Torek," stated Suki.
"Indeed he was. Captain Yung, now General Yung of the Council of Five, would have done anything to protect Torek. He and Horeph were best friends. A lot of people believe he was also in love with Torek's mother Delphandi. She was beautiful from what I hear."
"The group reached the front of the palace. At the base of the stone palace steps were two beautiful statues of badgermoles and a fountain with water gently pouring out of the hands of a sculpted man with a plaque that read the famous Earth King quote, "We can all give a bit out of ourselves to make our surroundings more perfect." The steps were carved from a very fine marble with guards at every landing.
The group finally reached a grand, diamond-studded door with the Earth Kingdom Symbol on it.
"Aang!" shouted a voice from across them room when the group entered the palace.
"Bumi!" exclaimed Aang. "It's great to see you!"
"It's good to see you too, Aang. And you two from the Water Tribe, I believe your father is somewhere around here."
Katara and Sokka's father, Chief Hakoda, was with Chief Arnook and Master Pakku of the Northern Tribe.
"Dad!" cried Katara.
"Grandpakku!" cried Sokka.
"I told you not to call me that," said Pakku irritated, "and don't even think about hugging me."
"Mai! Zuko!" Ty Lee shouted as she embraced her two best friends, "I haven't seen you in months! Nice to see you too, General Iroh."
Other notable guests were Jeong Jeong, Master Piandao, General How, General Sung, General Fong, the Mechanist, the Kyoshi Warriors, Bato, and a new member of the Council of Five named General Stole.
"How wonderful that all my friends from old people camp could come," says Bumi as he lets out his trademarked crazy laugh.
"Aang look," whispered Katara, "It's Bumi's grandson."
"I'm going to say hi," stated Aang.
Torek was a very attractive, well-built boy. He seemed very confident by the way he talked and by his body language.
"Avatar, it is an honor to meet you," said Torek when he saw Aang.
"Nice to meet you to. You don't need to bow."
"I was not going to. The Avatar serves the people and should not be treated as a god."
"Uhh... right. Yeah. Hey, why was the monk anointing you during the ceremony?"
"Blessing, not anointing. He was asking the spirits to give me the courage and wisdom to be a strong leader of this nation."
"But your grandfather is the leader."
"For now, you are technically right. My grandfather is old, Aang. His judgement is questionable."
"What? That's crazy? Bumi is in perfect health!" Aang stopped when he realized he was shouting. People stared at him, then continued with their own conversations.
"Yesterday," replied the prince, "he had his pet, Flopsie, arrested for stealing a ring that he had on his finger the whole time."
"Oh," said Aang upset. "Sorry for shouting."
"That's quite alright," Torek assured. "Now please, enjoy the celebration."
Torek met Katara, Sokka, Suki, Ty lee, and Toph.
"Very nice to meet you," Torek said has he kissed Ty Lee's hand.
"My pleasure," responded Ty Lee in a flirting manner.
Attempting to end the creepy moment between Torek and Ty Lee, Katara spoke."Have you met Zuko?" she asked.
"Yes, I have spoken with the Fire Lord," said the prince although he was clearly distracted by something. "Aang, will you please come with me?"
"Uhh, sure, I guess," replied Aang as he followed Torek out of the room.
They walked down a corridor into a large room. Inside were Bumi, General How, Zuko, Iroh, Joo Dee, General Stole, and Captain Arnook.
"Avatar, thank you for joining us," General How began.
"What is this meeting for?" inquired Aang.
"As you know," continued the general, "the Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation are doing everything we can to rebuild our relationship. However, it is not easy to get every citizen of the Earth Kingdom to forget the past and forgive the Fire Nation. And it's even harder to convince citizens of the Fire Nation that domination of the Earth Kingdom is no longer necessary."
"A group called the Ozai Movement has emerged," cut in Zuko. "These people are dedicated to overthrowing me so that they can continue with the invasions of the Earth Kingdom. At first, there were only a few hundred of them, but their numbers have grown. There are entire squadrons of our army that have joined this movement, high generals and local officials, too. The problem is we don't know who is loyal to me and who isn't yet. They meet in secret. For all I know, my closest advisors could by part of the Ozai Movement. A maid tried to stab me just a few days ago."
It was Torek's turn to speak. "It gets worse. The Earth Kingdom is an enormous piece of land. We don't have records and updates from every single tiny village. A town could be wiped out by a storm, and we might not even know for weeks. Most towns, however, send a report to the capital once a month. At least they did, until the Fire Nation took over. The war has been over for two months and we still aren't getting reports from three villages. We believe this could be because they are still occupied. The townspeople could be heavily guarded, not allowed to leave. We think they maybe are being forced to build weapons, pay taxes, and grow food for members of the Ozai Movement back in the Fire Nation. With food, weapons, and funds coming from these three villages, the movement can grow stronger. General Stole, who leads naval affairs, has ordered our navy to look for any ships that could be bringing these goods to the Fire Nation, and so far, we have heard nothing back. As the protector of balance in the world, Aang, we need your help before the Ozai Movement is too strong."
Aang was puzzled. "Why don't you just check on these towns or send in your army to liberate them?"
"That's what I said!" cried Bumi with a snort and chuckle.
Joo Dee answered. "Because of the size of the Earth Kingdom, we do not know exactly where these small villages are. Our couriers know the way, but of course they haven't returned in months. They've probably been captured. We also don't know whether or not the Firebenders have built bases or towns of their own. We don't know how many of them their are. They could have a fortress right on the way to the villages. We need to gather more information."
"How can you not know where your own villages are?" asked Aang with disbelief.
"Like Joo Dee said, the kingdom is far too big, and we have hundreds of small villages. We haven't had contact with these villages since the war began 100 years ago. You must understand, Avatar," replied Torek.
"Why do you need me?"
"Several reasons," Iroh began. "We need you to contact spirits who might know. Perhaps Avatar Kyoshi knows the details of the situation. We need you for your great power if it turns out that there are large Fire Nation numbers. It must be the Avatar who restores the natural balance of the world."
"Will you help us, Avatar Aang?" questioned General How very directly.
"Yes. I will do whatever I can."
Chief Arnook finally spoke. "I wish my men could be more of use. Most of them are rebuilding the Southern Tribe. However, I can supply a few soldiers for this effort."
"Much appreciated, Chief," responded Torek.
After the meeting, Aang broke the news to his friends. Each of them responded differently. Toph and Sokka were ready for some action, Katara was worried about the villagers, Suki was excited to go on another mission with her warriors, and Ty Lee felt that this was her chance to prove her loyalty to Zuko and Aang.
Later that evening, Toph approached Aang.
"Hey, Twinkletoes, if we're going to fight some Firebenders, you need to work on your Earthbending. Joo Dee told me there was a practice arena downstairs. We're going there now."
"Alright," agreed Aang reluctantly.
As they approached the arena, they heard loud bangs and booms. They entered to see Torek training with some of the guards. First he blocked arrows from all sides, and then he smashed a boulder hurling towards him with his head. He launched one guard that was sneaking up behind him 15 feet in the air. After a slight pause, about four guards pushed a huge wave of Earth towards the prince. When it reached him, he stopped it in its tracks, to Aang and Toph's amazement. He took out the four guards within ten seconds after that. His bending was almost flawless. It reminded Aang of every great Earthbender he had ever seen. It reminded him of Toph, of the Boulder and the Hippo, of the Sandbenders, of General Fong, of Bumi, and of Avatar Kyoshi. With that thought, Aang entered the Spirit World.
It was chaotic, a huge change from its usual, peaceful mode. Rocks and fire flew all around Aang and the figure in front of him. The figure was Kyoshi, who remained calm through the storm of boulders and flames.
"Aang," she called.
"Kyoshi! What is going on?"
"What you see, young Avatar, is a sample of what you will experience in the near future."
Fear ran through Aang has he heard lightning, followed by the distinct scream of Katara...
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