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|Battle at Hokusai Point|
Avatar: The Last Airbender
The Last Airbender Book Four: Air
Chapter Seventeen – Battle at Hokusai Point
Emiko was more than distraught as she made her way back to the tent she shared with her master, Monk Quanfar. Why did it seem that at every turn her world, which had once seemed so sharp and crisp, was now fizzing in and out of focus. The lessons Quanfar had drilled into her skull just didn't add up against the reality of this new world she was in. She knew he was still right about everything of course; he had to be. Yet there was also now a foreign pain in her gut about what they were doing. She had to know why.
The surface world and its people were the enemy. They had collectively wronged the Air Nomad people so severely in an act that was unforgivable. Even Aang was at fault, as much as that hurt her to think. The Avatar seemed like such a kind and caring man, it was hard to believe that the blame for the genocide of their people rested so much on his shoulders. Her master would quell her fears; his logic and wisdom pierced any dilemma. Quanfar had always guided her properly in the past; there was no reason to think he wouldn't be up to the task now. So why did that feeling remain ?
She threw a compulsive cautious glance behind her as she entered her tent. Years of training had taught her well to always be alert when not in familiar territory, no matter how friendly it may appear. Inside was almost as cold as the outside was but it was refreshingly dark. Monk Quanfar had purposely lined their walls with a dark canvas cloth to block out most of the sunlight. She liked it better this way. It reminded her of home.
"Ah my apprentice, greetings and good wind to you this victorious day." Monk Quanfar greeted her from the darkness. "You will be most pleased when you hear the results of the Yuam Suo I think, my dear Emiko." The Air Nomad woman stepped steadily to her mat, which was positioned before the larger one of her mentor. Presently she could make out the silhouette and vague details of the aged monk. With respect she knelt before him.
"What is this great news you speak of my master?" She asked in a disciplined, monotone voice. She raised her head to Quanfar's and fixed it in a stare. The old man grinned and laughed.
"We shall wipe away our enemies even easier than we believed. Through my suggestion I have divided their forces. Right now their most powerful benders, including the Order of the White Lotus, are assembling to travel to Hokusai Point in an attempt to secretly gather information on the approaching demon army." Quanfar hissed in satisfaction. Emiko felt the pain in her stomach increase.
"But, correct my impertinence if I speak out of turn master, won't the demons be able to sense their bending ability long before they are within sight of Hokusai?"
"Correct Emiko. They will sense the foolish benders lying in wait and crush them without effort." Monk Quanfar looked immensely pleased with himself. "With the Order gone the morale will plummet. I wouldn't be surprised if a few of the more cowardly nations attempt to flee. The Fire Nation in particular will – oh I almost forgot the best part of it all!" He leaned forward. "That barbarian Zuko's general has agreed to take an additional brigade of volunteers and accompany the Order to Hokusai. They will all be like koala-sheep heading to a slaughter."
Emiko lowered her face. "I see..." she whispered, and there was something in her voice that surprised her. Her master noticed too for he tilted his head and narrowed his eyes.
"Something wrong, my learned pupil?" There was the faintest of warning in the hiss; it made the Air Nomad flinch.
"No master." She responded quickly. "I just have been feeling...unusual in my resolve lately but have no fear, I know what needs to be done."
"Oh ?" Monk Quanfar leaned forward. "And what is it precisely that has caused this development ?"
"It is difficult to say," Emiko began. "I know the surface nations are our enemy yet I find that they do not...feel so." She lowered herself further to insure she was still conveying the proper measure of respect. "From what I have seen the Avatar and his friends appear to be good people, is it possible that they have already served proper penance ? The Firelord and his wife in particular have been especially kind to me." Glancing up she saw her master's lips disappear in a line. "I understand what they've done to us master I just –"
"Understand, understand ? You obviously do not understand !" Monk Quanfar rose in a repressed rage. "They are the spawn of murderers and butchers Emiko ! The blood of our people streaks their lineages the deepest shade of crimson and yet they would seek to move on, to simply forget us like any other extinct species of the past !" He was pacing about the tent now; Emiko did her best to shrink into a ball. She was always terrified when her master expressed such anger. Around her the air began to whip faster and faster. What had been the faintest breeze suddenly felt sharp enough to cut skin and for a moment the Air Nomad feared that the monk would go too far and expose their cover. But Monk Quanfar was, as ever, a master of himself and at the breaking point the winds subsided. Presently he sighed and placed a hand gently on her back.
"Do not be frightened Emiko, I am not angry at you...you were not there. You do not remember the panic and fear as I do. My mentor's face as he lead me and a group of our temple's children to a hidden spot where Oguanga waited to take us to safety. The elders had to remain to be slaughtered. The Fire Nation needed to believe they had succeeded. I remember meeting the demon king for the first time and asking him why my people could not be saved – and I know I have told you his reply many times by now Emiko."
"Because it is the duty of the Avatar." She answered in a docile voice.
"Exactly." Quanfar replied, his voice livid with disgust. "Even the demons, with all their great power, did not save us. Yes we survived and I am grateful to King Oguanga for teaching me the art of Airbending but even so, you and I are the last two true Airbenders left alive Emiko. Out of an entire nation, we alone carry that precious art."
"But the Avatar –" Emiko began.
"The Avatar is not one of us!" Her master snapped harshly. He spat on the floor. "Married to the Water Tribe, friend to the Fire Nation? He is no Air Nomad. He does not deserve to be spared from the great slaughter that will once more equalize the nations. The last time there was genocide Emiko, our nation and our nation alone paid the price, now it is the others' turn. When this is over the world will finally see balance and you and I can stop lying to our people." Emiko nodded silently. That was another thing that was bothering her.
She knew her people would never understand the necessity of the extreme measures they were taking, but she wished she didn't have to hide it from them. Destroying An Liao had been especially difficult for her to do. She still recalled vividly the wild look that had appeared in her master's eyes and they sent torrents of wind into the ceiling to bring the tremors that had made it seem an Earthbender attack. It had not been her proudest moment.
"Be strong Emiko." Her master resumed his seat in front of her. "You need only keep silent for another day, then we will have justice."
Outside Hakoda's home Toph and Suki sat impatiently waiting for their friends to emerge from the Yuam Suo. The meeting had ended over an hour ago and so far the only one Suki had seen and Toph felt leave the building was Monk Quanfar. Shortly before then Aang and Azula had been lead in; something which caused Mai, who had up until that point been waiting along with them, to leave in disgust. Now the two were seated anxiously on a mat, drinking warm herbal tea to pass the time.
"Here they come!" The Kyoshi Warrior said suddenly. The blind earthbender dug her feet into the ground in an attempt to get a better picture. Possibly it was the snow obscuring her sense but she could only detect three people. In her head she could make out Aang, Matora and Pakku only exiting the building. The others were still detected to be in the main hall. Presently the Airbender and the Fire Nation general were having a discussion while the old Waterbender surprisingly appeared to be making his way straight for them.
"Master Pakku," Suki bowed in greeting to the bending master. Toph felt the slight shift in his weight as he nodded back to them. "What have you decided, and why is Sokka not with you?"
Pakku smiled. "Ah yes, Sokka, I haven't had time to congratulate either of you yet on the announcement. Kanna only told me about it this morning. I look forward to the ceremony," he hesitated a moment. "Although I can understand the reasons for not putting a date to it yet." Toph felt the heat coming off Suki's blush and resisted the urge to turn away.
"Thank you Master." The Kyoshi Warrior replied. "But what about Sokka and the others? And the Yuam Suo, what happened ?" The blind Earthbender heard the sigh and felt the old man gesture to the mat they had been using.
"May I have some tea with you ?" He asked, his voice suddenly sounding exhausted. They both instantly nodded and moved aside to make room. "Thank you." Pakku's joints creaked with his age as he lowered himself down. "Please sit with me. It's your tea after all."
"Pakku what's wrong?" Toph asked, lowering herself down. "What exactly happened at the Yuam Suo?"
"More like what didn't happen." He grumbled in reply. "I thought we could put aside everything and come together as one people. You'd think with the level of threat we're facing everyone would realize we're all in the same canoe."
"Yeah but really, what did you expect from Quanfar? He hasn't been diplomatic at all since coming to the surface." Suki put in.
"It wasn't just Quanfar." Pakku corrected. "You think the Air Nomads are the only ones who still bear a grudge against the Fire Nation? There are plenty in both the Earth Kingdom and amongst the Water Tribes who fan the old hatreds," he sipped his tea, "and some of Zuko's advisors appeared insulted to share the same room with us." The Waterbending master laughed bitterly. "I don't envy him, not with those people...and that sister of his." There was a semi-awkward silence where the old master allowed the air to whistle out in a long slow exhale.
"The council has decided that the Order of the White Lotus be sent out to ascertain the full extent of the demon threat. General Matora will lead a volunteer escort of fighters incase things take a turn for the worse. We leave within the hour." Toph sensed Suki rise next to her.
"Understood." The Kyoshi Warrior acknowledged. "I will prepare my things."
"No." Pakku's voice sliced the air like a sword. It was almost as if he put his whole weight into that word. When he spoke again, however, his voice was gentler. "You should stay Suki. Keep the people calm; maintain our presence while we are away. This is an important task. I need someone with a face that is familiar and approachable. The people know you, you will bring them comfort."
"You can't just brush me to the side like this!" Suki protested quickly. "I've earned my place in the Order, I should be along side all of you! Especially in a situation like this! No, no I will not stay! Just because –"
"Please." The Waterbending master cut in suddenly and Toph was shocked at the anxiety present in the normally so controlled voice. "I know how this must sound but believe me when I say I am not shutting you out. Do this for me Suki. I need to know that, no matter how things go out there tonight, that the Order of the White Lotus has a future. Please, be that future." The last words were stressed. The air was still. Toph could tell that the Kyoshi Warrior really didn't know what to say. "Please." Pakku managed last time. Then he rose and began to walk away. "That is my command to you Mistress Suki of the White Lotus, would you kindly follow it."
"Yes Master Pakku." Suki responded quietly from the mat.
"This doesn't sound good." Toph put in gravely. Now the others were exiting the house while Matora could be felt a little farther down the road giving a speech on an ice block. It was obvious he was calling for volunteers. The blind Earthbender could tell that Suki was looking over that was as well because it caused the Kyoshi Warrior to send soft exhales across Toph's face. "See any promising recruits?"
"Mainly Fire Nation soldiers." The Kyoshi Warrior observed. "From General Matora's own regiment probably. A few Water Tribe fishermen too I think. A couple from the Earth Kingdom including one..." Her voice trailed off.
"Including one...what?" Toph inquired. She was frustrated by the silence that greeted her. Finally Suki replied:
"Hard to say, a convict maybe. He's wearing Earth Kingdom colors but he's got the criminal look to him."
"Oh that's specific." The blind Earthbender stated sarcastically.
"I'm sorry." Toph could hear Suki scratching her head. "Well he's tattooed, heavily armed and looks like he hasn't really been living the high life recently. Everyone around him is kind of allowing a wide berth." The blind Earthbender nodded her head and made a mental note to look into it further later if she had the time. Right now she could feel Zuko walking toward them. What surprised her even more was that the Firelord appeared to be allowing his sister to walk freely alongside him. She could feel Suki tense up beside her.
"Hey, how's it going? You guys mind if I have some of your tea?" He sounded exhausted in her ears. Sliding her hand over she scooped up her cup and handed it to him. The snow shifted as the Firelord gave a grateful nod and drank deeply. Beside him Azula cocked her head.
"Must save room, Uncle's making roast duck later Zuzu." Toph listened to Zuko's sigh.
"So Hokusai Point huh." Suki commented, her voice containing a slight edge to it.
"Yeah. Not my idea," the Firelord shook his head. "I think it's much too large a gamble to be splitting up our forces so soon before their arrival. It almost feels like we're walking into a trap."
"Maybe we are." The Kyoshi Warrior's voice was clearly directed toward Azula this time. Toph heard muffled crunching as the Fire Nation Princess started hopping in the snow.
"It is an odd rabbit in the snare who looks to the trees and cries 'foul'." Came the dizzy reply.
"Uh huh, keep up your act then." Suki persisted. "Personally, I'm not buying it."
"I'm going to take her back to her doctor." Zuko put in before Toph could speak. "You guys didn't see Mai around here did you? I thought she was waiting for me."
"Yeah she was but...she decided to go check on Lu Ten a little while ago." Toph said in a voice that she hoped would hide the truth.
"Oh." The Firelord responded in a tone that shown it hadn't. "I see... well I should be getting back to them then after – " But he didn't finish, he didn't need to. Handing the tea back to Toph Zuko sighed again and started heading off in the direction of Azula's tent.
Several paces on as they walked Zuko chanced a sideways glance at his sister, who was almost leisurely skipping through the snow. Everyone they passed drew back slightly with eyes opened wide in alarm. They proceeded by a group of fishermen who all spat on the ground and did a semicircle, as if to ward off some unseen curse. Parents herded children into their tents and whispers crowded his ears. Everyone and no one pointed at them as they walked by. He bit his lip in annoyance. He knew Azula had to be aware of it too, crazy or not, he would never believe that she had been stricken so ignorant.
"Can't you walk like a civil human being?" He scolded. She looked at him and her skipping became a trot.
"Sorry Zuzu; was trying to only step on the stones." The Firelord darted his gaze downward briefly at the snow that densely carpeted their feet.
"Right." He replied shortly. "Just walk normally from now on. You can play your games later."
"Oh I never stop playing games." She teased and Zuko halted abruptly in his tracks. Everyone around them took a unanimous step back as if in some fearful anticipation. Azula herself carried on several paces ahead before turning to look back at her brother. "What's wrong dumb-dumb? Did you fall through the ice? I bet the water's cold under there."
Then in a flash he was on her, his body pinned on top of hers, one hand clasped around her throat while the other was drawn back, consumed in flames. She flailed in the snow beneath him.
"What's your game Azula?" He shouted. "Are you crazy, has your mind finally lost it? Because I've known you a long time and you never, ever did anything without a plan! I know you're up to something! I know it!" He tightened his grip a little. "You can't be allowed to keep doing this, you're too much of a risk! I'd take it myself but my wife – she knows you too well too Azula! And our son, if you ever even think of hurting our son I'll kill you! I swear I will!"
"Zuzu!" Azula squeaked, snow falling across her face, only to be quickly melted by her brother's flame. "Zuzu please, you're hurting me!"
"Zuko! That's enough!" A loud, clear, crisp voice cut the air. It shot through the Firelord so fast that his fire instantly went out and he released the grip he had on his sister's throat.
"Uncle?" The Firelord straightened up, looking around wildly. He took several paces in one direction before changing and starting in another. A crowd had gathered during their little episode and it was so thick he could barely make out half the faces in it. "Uncle?" He called again, a little louder than before.
"Zuzu..." He heard the whisper and looked at the ground beside him, where his sister still lay in the snow. His sister, his little sister, and there were tears running down her face. "I'm sorry... I didn't know I did something wrong." She trembled, and he suddenly felt sick.
"You were gone a long time...the meeting I presume?" Mai greeted him in her usual indifferent voice. Zuko nodded as he looked for the nearest and most comfortable place to lie down. He was so tired and every muscle in his body seemed to ache. As much as he wanted to though, he knew he couldn't sleep, he couldn't even stay.
"I just came to tell you that there has been a development. They're sending some people out to Hokusai Point. They want a better look at this demon threat."
"Can't they wait until tomorrow?" She asked, her voice dripping with sarcasm. Her arms were crossed as she regarded her husband. "Who's going?"
"Matora." Zuko stated, glancing around now for something to eat, just something to keep his energy up. "He's taking some volunteers. Oh and of course most of the Order of the White Lotus, because that makes sense." He could almost taste the bitterness in his voice.
"What are they thinking?" His wife ran her hands across her face. "Of all the stupid, imbecilic things to do – and so close before they arrive! A million things could go wrong!" She walked away suddenly, vanishing temporarily into the kitchen area of their rather large tent. When she re-emerged she was carrying an apple in her hand. "Here." She said shortly. "Now stop looking around like you're going to pass out!"
"Thanks." The Firelord allowed himself his first real chuckle of the day before biting into the fruit. Mai smiled briefly in return before her eyes narrowed again.
"I heard Azula was there." She said as casually as she could. Zuko turned away, trying to pretend like he was busy. "Why?"
"They wanted to ask her some questions. As usual a waste of time, I doubt she even knows where she is half the time." He replied quickly before adding: "Do we have any three-pear wine? I'd like to bring some to Matora before he leaves."
"Do you really believe that?" His wife asked sharply.
"Believe what...about the wine?" He feigned ignorance ; Mai was not fooled.
"Your sister idiot. What do you really think about her?" There was a stillness then as husband and wife regarded each other.
"I don't know." The Firelord said at last.
"You don't know?" Mai repeated, there was anger in her voice. "You've put her in close proximity with us, with our friends, with our son! Almost all of our information about the demons comes from her and you don't know? Don't you think you might want to decide, she's dangerous Zuko, it was only ten years ago that she nearly killed both of us. Why are you taking such a risk right now? The slightest thing could determine if we all live or die and you've seen fit to bring her along! What is going through your head?" All through that she had tried to keep her voice level and for the most part succeeded, but she was bubbling over Zuko realized. This had been building for a long time.
"I don't think she's dangerous...at least not consciously dangerous." He said at length and then hesitated. He really didn't want her to push it. Beads of sweat formed across his brow.
"And how would you know that?" She pushed. The Firelord winced. Reflexively all of his muscles tensed.
"Because I've told her about Lu Ten and – and she hasn't done anything to him." He held his eyes shut for a moment before glancing at his wife. It was not a pleasant sight. Mai was livid, what color she had had drained away. Her skin was taut with rage and flames simmered in her eyes. Her mouth had almost completely disappeared into a thin line.
"You..." she began, it was like she was fumbling words in anger. "How could you?" She screamed sharply. "OUR SON ZUKO! OUR OWN SON! You used him as some kind of sick test!" A knife whipped into her hand from within her robes, Mai had never stopped wearing concealed weaponry. "I'm glad I've been overprotective now, it was really bothering me before but – but you! At least one of us loves him!"
"That's not fair!" The Firelord barked in response. He took a step forward.
"Don't you come near me!" Mai snarled. "You stay away – away from me, and away from him!" She was pacing back and forth now. "This is the worst thing you've ever done Zuko... I could stand it if you'd risked yourself, or even me but our child? He's just a baby Zuko!"
"I am not a baby!" Came a small, shrill voice to their left. Zuko turned in horror to see Lu Ten standing there, a small soldier toy in one of his hands, a sleepy look on his face. The infant had obviously been woken by the argument. In a flash the blade was gone from Mai's hand.
"No you're not, mommy just meant – " She started but Lu Ten was already over by his father.
"You never let me do anything fun!" He squealed. "Daddy treats me like a grown-up! I'm a warrior like him! I'm going to be the best Firebender in the world some day! But you won't let me! I hate you!" And with that he clutched at his father's side. "And stop yelling at Daddy!"
Mai just stared, her mouth hanging open. Tears falling freely down her face. She looked at her son, then up at Zuko, then back down to the boy. The Firelord himself had also been struck dumb by Lu Ten's outburst. But he had to say something and fast.
"Lu Ten, you apologize to your mother this – "
"No..." Mai whispered suddenly, surprising Zuko. "No, he doesn't have to I'm – I'm going to go." And with that she left the tent.
Zuko started to call after her but she was already outside. "Stay here!" He ordered Lu Ten before rushing out into the wintry tundra. She was moving quickly; already there were a good several yards between her and the tent. "Mai!" He called, running. "Mai please stop!" She did. Zuko came to a rest beside her. "Mai I am so sorry – "
"Don't." She cut him off. Then she turned to look at him and the Firelord was confronted with an extremely rare sight. She had no armor on, no shroud of indifference that she liked to maintain. Instead she looked angry and scared and upset all at the same time. Thankfully though, Zuko also spotted affection in there. "I love you." She said as if in confirmation. "But all this that just happened... I need to get away from it and I'm not just talking about going over to Katara's. I need to clear my head. I'm going with Matora."
"Mai you can't!" Zuko blurted. "Do you have any idea how dangerous that's going to be? A thousand things could happen. I can't lose you, no, no I won't allow it."
"You can't stop me." She replied simply. "I'm not helpless Zuko, I know how to fend for myself. And I'll come back with a clear head." She kissed him gently on the lips. "Wait for me tonight. We'll talk when I get back."
Zuko said nothing. He had tears of his own now. A solitary drop trickled along the ragged edges of the scarred side of his face. His wife wiped it away with a finger. Then she turned and was about to leave when he stopped her again. They stared at one another for a very long moment. "I love you too." He stated sincerely. She smiled, and was gone.
Hours later found Zuko sitting by himself on a hill overlooking the massive encampment. He had left Lu Ten in the care of his servants. The child had still been confused and excited and in his present state the Firelord hadn't been able to calm him. Despite his outburst Lu Ten was quite alarmed when his mother didn't return. It didn't take long before the boy had broken down into tears and Zuko... he just couldn't handle it right now.
He buried his face in his hands. So far the only person who had come up here to check on him had been Aang. The Avatar had listened sympathetically when Zuko had recounted the tale to him. But at the end there was nothing to be said and both of them had known that. His friend had merely said to take his time up here and that he would make sure Lu Ten was looked after.
Zuko picked up a clump of snow and sizzled it into water; letting it then trickle off his hand and into a little pool he had been forming. He could see the evening sky in its reflection; already the first stars were beginning to sparkle as bright dots against the growing darkness. They should be heading back around now, the Firelord thought to himself. Soon Mai would be in his arms and he would put everything that had happened between them right. He had to, this was all his fault.
"You are too hard on yourself." Came a gravely voice from behind him.
"Hello Uncle." Zuko acknowledged as the old apparition took a seat in the snow next to him.
"I know you are deep in thought right now," Iroh acknowledged before adding: "but did you have to pick so cold a spot to sit? Why not brood next to a fire where it is warm? And you could get some tea for your nerves as well. I'd recommend jasmine." Zuko laughed. His uncle turned to him and blinked. "Is something funny?"
The Firelord continued laughing. Then he turned to Iroh. "You're not here." He stated bluntly. "I must be losing my mind, guess it runs in the family."
"Why am I not here?" His uncle asked. "I'm talking, you can see me. I'm here enough to feel how cold this snow is!" He chuckled then before his face grew serious. "I am well aware that I have passed on Zuko but that does not mean I am not here and you most certainly are not going crazy." The Firelord felt a hand, warmer than he'd expected, placed upon his shoulder. "It is alright. Everything will be all right. But you have things to do, now is not the time for sitting in the snow." Zuko looked at him quizzically. "I believe Mai and the others are walking into a trap."
"Stop it!" The Firelord said aloud. "You're just a subconscious manifestation of my fears... they will be fine, Mai said they would be fine." But he couldn't sound convinced and his uncle leaned in toward him.
"Listen to me Zuko. When I was alive I traveled the Spirit World, you know that. In my journeys I never met the demons but I heard tales of their power. It is said that every demon has the ability to sense the bending potential within a living creature. The Order are some of the most powerful benders in the world, the demons will know they're there. You have to move if you want a chance to save any of them." The Firelord felt his blood run cold.
"You're sure of this?" He asked earnestly, completely forgetting he was talking to a ghost.
"Yes." His uncle nodded. "I tried to convey the message to you earlier but your sister...her mind is not as strong as it used to be." Zuko's eyes bulged and like a shot he was up and on his feet.
"I've got to go." He said breathlessly to no one and tore off down the hill. As he raced through camp he nearly bolted head on into Emiko. The young Air Nomad was carrying some type of soup in her hand. She looked startled and jumped back but managed to hang on to her food, only spilling a small portion.
"Firelord Zuko!" She blurted out in surprise.
"Please forgive me." He replied breathlessly. "But I have to get to Aang's. We need to go out after the reconnaissance party, they're in terrible danger!" He started to run again.
"Wait!" Emiko called suddenly behind him. "I'm coming with you!" Together the two of them sprinted through camp and out across the tundra. A few moments journey brought the pair to the Avatar's home. Zuko was a little amazed they had gotten there so quickly, it was almost as if the breeze had helped them along. Running up to the door the Firelord could see that Sokka, Toph and Suki were all inside talking to the airbender and his wife. However all conversation ceased as Zuko hurled the door open and rushed inside to tell them what had happened.
Mai coughed sharply and clutched at her side. Withdrawing her hand and glancing at it she could see it was streaked crimson with blood. All around her on the jagged peaks of Hokusai Point the demons swarmed. And all around her were the bodies of the team she had came here with, some were moving, most were not. She rolled backward suddenly as a fire bolt sliced into the spot where she'd been lying. One of the demons snarled and shot another one but again she dodged, this time sending an array of stilettos back toward her attacker.
The demon rammed its gauntlets together in front of its face, using them as armor. The darts hit and splintered away harmlessly. Then the demon slashed its arms apart in a violent semicircle, causing a mound of earth to erupt under Mai's body, tossing it into the air. She landed hard against the rocks and scrabbled to her feet, whipping a knife into each hand. These were her last two; she'd been saving them for her final stand. It looked like this was going to be it.
A plethora of thoughts suddenly flooded her head. What surprised her was how calm she stayed. She was sad that this was how it was going to end, that she would never see Zuko again or hug him or be held by him or even simply share another moment with him. She would miss her friends and family and hoped that they would have better luck than she had in surviving this ordeal. She had only one regret and that was not apologizing to Lu Ten for how she'd been raising him. She still could not believe how like her own mother she had been, a real disaster. But her parent's conditioning had paid off. She was calm now, calm and confided as she had always been and that's how she wanted to end it.
Three demons advanced upon her. In unison they kicked then punched then kicked again, with each motion closing the distance. The moves also generated scorching fireballs that she dodged as best she could, although one singed the cut on her side causing her to gasp and stumble. Her head fell forward and a demon caught it in his hand. This was it, this was the end, she was going to die.
"?ratavA eht si erehW" The demon barked, it's strange language making no sense in her mind. Perhaps they wanted her to beg? As far as she knew she was the only prisoner they had had a chance to humiliate before executing. Well, if they wanted her to grovel that was one thing she would not give them. Resolutely she held her emotionless face and simply stared straight ahead. "?ratavA eht si erehW" The demon repeated again, sounding exasperated. Then it seemed to sigh and look to one of its fellows standing next to it.
".agnaugO ot troper ot evah eW .reh lliK" The other said, eliciting a nod from the third. Mai closed her eyes. She wondered what the afterlife would be like, if there even would be one. She hoped there was. She would like to see Zuko and Lu Ten there eventually. Lu Ten's young face danced in her mind. This would be a good final image she decided. Let it end now.
Shoosh! Mai's eyes snapped open. Her head had been realized, her three captors retreating while frantically calling for help. In between them Zuko twirled and sliced through the air, both of his dao blades encased in flames. With a fury she had never seen he scattered the demons as more and more came it him. Jumping back her husband crossed the two swords in front of his face before releasing a sweeping breath of fire that scattered all before him.
A demon came at him from the side, slicing low kicks, shooting up slabs of rock before shooting them at Zuko. The Firelord somersaulted over the incoming attacks before twirling in the air and firing a whirl of fire back with his feet. The demon screamed and clutched at its face, which had instantly been lit ablaze. More and more kept coming but Zuko was not alone. Toph was heaving walls of rock around, herding the demons closer together before she simply sunk them into the island. It didn't put them down permanently but it was enough to slow the attack.
Mai felt two pairs of hands grab her. Looking to her left and right she could see Sokka and Suki pulling her back while off in the background she saw an Air Nomad girl pulling other bodies onto Appa. The large flying bison was bellowing angrily and swatting at any demons that got too close with his tail.
Mai felt herself losing consciousness and struggled to hang on. Everything was happening so fast around her. The demons clearly had not expected the fury of two such strong benders but Toph and Zuko were now being pushed back. They would be in trouble very soon unless –
The demons stopped. Every one of them halted in their tracks, heads upturned to the sky, eyes wide with fear. Mai squinted, was it just her mind or had the sun come out? Everything was getting so bright and the ground... could it be trembling? The demons were wailing now, in a tone previously unheard by her ears. In the fight against the Order the demons had certainly made their share of cries but none like this. These were filled with terror. Mai struggled and lifted her head up and gasped.
Aang hovered in the sky, his body aglow, his face contorted with rage. Throwing back his head he screeched a roar that sounded in Mai's ears hauntingly familiar. Then the Avatar began twirling his hands and from the sky tornados materialized from thin air and descended upon the hapless demons. Lightning streaked the sky and tentacles of water shot up, ripping members of the invading army from where they stood and hurling them from off the peaks.
Mai's back collided with Appa's saddle then and she saw no more.
Zuko chanced a glance back toward the bison and he saw Sokka and Suki put his wife in before scrambling back out to find more survivors. He also looked up at Aang. The Avatar terrified even him, but now was their chance. The demons were in disarray and he and Toph had to use this time as best they could.
"How are you holding up?" He called to the blind earthbender.
"Oh you know," Toph replied. She ducked as a demon slashed at her with a tendril of water. Spinning she brought her arms to her sides and took a very precise set of steps, sending slanted slabs of rock out at her opponent. "I'm hanging in there. You?"
"I've missed doing this!" Zuko cried, trying to add to the demons terror. He spun around and as he did so shot tendrils of fire out beneath his feet. The spire lifted him into the air and it appeared and it he was standing upon a twister of flames. As he continued to spin he bombarded the surrounding demons with attacks. They drew back before returning fire and he couldn't hold for long. All around them the island was shaking more severely now. Aang howled again and this time there came from far off a reply. A deeper, more ancient noise that cried back, causing the Avatar to redirect his focus. The demons all heard it too and they looked immensely relieved which to the Firelord meant two things: they were in trouble, and they were about to meet the demon king.
"Time to go!" Sokka called from behind him.
"No!" Zuko responded. "There must be others! We can't leave anyone!"
"Did you hear that?" Suki called. "Something's coming Zuko, it's too dangerous here, we need to leave now!" And as she spoke those words a dazzling orb of fire shot over the island and struck Aang. Looking up the Firelord watched as the airbender fell to earth, but did not lose his glow. They were right; it was time to leave.
Emiko rushed over to the fallen Avatar. He was panting and visibly hurt but it did not appear severely. He was only on his hands and knees for a second before he straightened up, looking angrily in the direction of the attack. Several nearby demons shot attacks at him but he knocked them away almost, it appeared, absentmindedly. The Air Nomad felt herself becoming frightened. This was not the Aang she knew. This was a being of power, unspeakable power. Then she looked out at the ocean and heard herself gasp.
A tsunami, more monstrous in size than anything she had ever seen, was rushing toward the island. The water was ripped up and foaming, with a hunger that gave it a bestial quality. As the wave drew closer a figure was visible running atop it. A massive demon in gleaming onyx armor was running with inhuman speed over the surging waters, heading right toward them.
Zuko and Toph brushed past her and leapt into Appa's saddle. "Come on, we need to get out of here!" The blind earthbender called. Her voice sounded unusually shrill with alarm. Emiko needed no further encouragement. She turned and clambered aboard. She was expecting the bison to take off but then she saw: Aang! The Avatar was standing his ground, more than that; he seemed to be reaching downward, as if attempting to pull up some heavy weight. The island was shuddering drastically now.
"Aang let's go!" Sokka called. "We have to get out of here!"
"Aang please!" Toph reiterated.
Just then an enormous part of Hokusai Point broke away and lifted into the air. Emiko gasped. So that's what he had been doing, unthinkable to believe one person had so much power! It humbled her with fear. But even so, Oguanga had more. The great wave was almost upon them now.
"Aang think of your wife! You're about to be a father!" She called out suddenly. A visible ripple went through the Avatar's body. In a flash he had hurled the chunk of mountain into the face of the tsunami and was on Appa's neck.
"Yip-yip!" He shouted and the bison was off, shooting like an arrow into the sky. Far below they all watched as Oguanga effortlessly skirted Aang's attack and continued his own. The wave encapsulated the whole island and everything beneath them was lost to the ocean. However the demon king did not seem intent on pursuing them so Emiko allowed herself to sigh deeply and relax as the massive bison carried them back to the South Pole.
When Mai awoke she was lying in a bed, completely covered in blankets. Outside revealed it to be night, with the moon raised high in a starry sky. The room she was in was empty, save for a few skins that decorated the walls and one chair that was currently occupied.
"Zuko!" She exclaimed happily. Her husband, who had been slouching sleepily in his chair, suddenly straightened up and looked at her.
"Mai!" He exclaimed, and that was all he could exclaim and for right now, that was all that was needed.
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