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Better to Have Loved and Lost is the eighth chapter in MightyBrit's fanon, . It is the longest chapter to date because it sets up Toph's storyline for Book 2 and the Book 1 finale.
|Better to Have Loved and Lost|
The Prison under Lake Laogai
Zuko gripped the bars of the cage so tightly that his knuckles were turning red. Inside it, the man retreated away from him.
"Looks like I pushed the right buttons, didn't I, Fire Lord?" said Pantu with an evil grin reaching across his face.
"What have you done? Tell me!" screamed Zuko. He was so angry now that flames were flickering between his fingers and heat was spreading throughout the metal bars that made up the cage.
"Zuko!" cried Toph. "The cage! Stop!"
"Tell me!" screamed Zuko again. Pantu was laughing from within his cell. The heat from Zuko's hands had spread throughout the metal now and setting fire to the wooden parts of the cage. Within moments, the cage was ablaze and Pantu was laughing wildly from within. It soon failed entirely from the heat and the flames, and the entire thing crashed to the ground.
Zuko marched towards him, but Aang and Toph held him back. Pantu kept laughing in the middle of the burning wreckage; his hands and feet were still clamped by metal preventing him from running away. "Don't worry, Zuko. I'm sure Zhao is taking good care of her."
The Fire Lord growled, but Toph grabbed him by the arms and forcibly dragged him out of the cell. She pulled him into the stone corridor with her iron grip and made an earth wall shoot up to block off the cell again, leaving Aang and Pantu inside with no way out.
Aang made a simple hand gesture and the fires in the room began to ease and become calm. With another quick gesture and a gust of wind shot from his hand and extinguished them all. He looked straight at Pantu with sadness in his eyes. "Why are you doing this?" he said.
"The war was fought for a reason, Avatar," he snarled. "We were going to spread our glorious culture throughout this world. We were going to share our wealth, our technology, our whole perfect society with all of you and then Zuko," he sneered when he said the Fire Lord's name, "and you ruined it all by overthrowing our Phoenix King. But, the will of Sozin lives on through us. We will overthrow the Fire Lord. We will share our culture with this world. And you can't stop us, Avatar."
Aang was upset and angry, but he was mostly sad that people in the world still thought this way, but his thoughts quickly turned to Diyi. "Where's the little girl you stole? Which one of you learned to bend smoke?" he said.
Pantu was done talking now. He stayed silent.
"Where's Zuko's mother?"
Again, Pantu remained silent.
Aang sighed. "I thought I was done with war. I thought I could live the rest of my life in peace..." He bashed his foot against the ground and the earth from the floor bend into a spherical prison around Pantu with a tiny hole in the top so he could still breathe. "You've ruined everything," Aang said, the anger only just present in his voice. "I will find her. You won't stop me."
"It begins, Avatar!" screamed Pantu from within his cell. "It begins!"
The North Pole
Sokka was running through the streets of the North Pole. Liang was lagging behind him, still exhausted from bending the water onto the fires. Still, Sokka ran down every street as fast as he could, glancing down every lane, but there was no sight of Shaoshang. It was like he'd vanished into thin air. Desperate to find Yue, he charged into the royal palace where Arnook lived, throwing the doors open as he went. Suki had a concerned look on her face as she spoke with Chief Arnook and Wuoyan, who was soaking wet from head to toe. All their heads turned as he entered.
"Oh, thank the spirits," said Suki, breathing a long sigh of relief that her husband was all right.
Wuoyan ran up to him, dripping water all over the floor. "Look, boss, there's a man in the city. 'E's Fire Nation..."
Sokka interrupted him. He spoke very quickly. "I know. He took Yue."
"What?" said a shocked Arnook.
"How is that possible?" said Suki. "She's a spirit. Wouldn't she be all ghosty?"
"No, there's a breach in the world..." started Sokka.
"What does that mean? Is my daughter alright?" cried Arnook, throwing his hands in the air in frustration at the same time as Suki said something else and Wuoyan said something unintelligible as well.
"Listen!" yelled Sokka and everyone went silent. "Everyone, even the spirits, has a body and a soul. Most of the time when spirits come to our world using their freaky spirit magic, only their souls cross over, so they're all ghosty. But Yue came through a hole in the gap between our worlds, so she could warn me, but she brought her whole self here – her body AND her soul."
"So, right now, she's flesh and blood like us," said Suki.
"Which means ol' pointy-tooth can hurt 'er," added Wuoyan.
"It means she can die," said Sokka, his voice darkening. "Like Tui did."
Arnook's eyes widened. "All of waterbending would be wiped out."
Suki gasped. "But that means... Katara..."
Sokka shot her a worried glance before talking again. "Chief, I need every single one of your men scouring every inch of this city. We have to find this guy, like, yesterday."
"Don't bother," came Liang's voice from the door. "I already found him." All four people in the room looked at him in confusion and ran towards him. "The only problem is how do we get up there?" the young boy said, looking upwards at the massive Fire Nation airship that was cruising over the great city walls. It was at least twice the size of the airships the Fire Nation had used in the war and it had dozens of long rope ladders dangling from below it. Firebenders hung on to the lower rungs of the ladders, shooting down the shards of ice and streams of water that the waterbending guards of the North Pole below threw at it with blasts of fire. Liang thought it looked like someone had taken a Fire Nation ship like Sokka had and stuck a humongous balloon at the top of it to allow it to fly.
"We're under attack!" cried Arnook.
"No," said Sokka. "Zhao's not stupid. He knows he can't conquer the North Pole with just one airship. This is just his way to get Yue out of the city. Look, his firebenders aren't attacking, they're just stopping your waterbenders from damaging the balloon."
"How are we going to get up there Sokka?" asked Suki concerned.
"I don't know. I wish Appa were here."
There were a couple moments of quiet where the sounds of the battle near the airship were the only ones that reached their ears. Then, Wuoyan's eyes widened and he looked at Sokka with urgency. "We surf," he said.
"What?" asked Liang, confused.
"We surf!" yelled Wuoyan with excitement to Liang. "Like the boat an' the Unagi! The waterbenders make a giant wave an' we ride a raft up to the skyship!"
"Oh, yeah, that's going to work," said Liang sarcastically, but Sokka had grabbed Wuoyan's shoulder and a smile was creeping to his face.
"Yeah...Yeah... I like it Wu," the swordsmaster said.
"Cool, but don't call me Wu."
Sokka ignored him. "It would have to be a small raft. Just the four of us."
"Do I have to?" asked Liang with a sigh.
"I'll go round up the waterbenders," said Suki, running outside.
"You can use one of the canal canoes, they're stored out back," added Arnook.
Sokka smiled with excitement. "Alright, let's do this," he said, as he started running with Arnook towards where the boats were kept with Wuoyan and Liang following. He clapped his newest student on the back. "Great thinking, Wu!"
"Dammit, stop callin' me Wu!" he growled back, but everyone ignored him and started preparing the raft.
Underneath Lake Laogai
Aang lowered the wall with earthbending and exited the cell. In the corridor, Toph sat against the wall, rubbing the back of her head. Aang ran to her and helped her up. "You okay? Where's Zuko?" asked Aang, concern hitting his voice instantly.
Toph was obviously frustrated. "He threw me off and ran out. What's going on? I thought his mother was dead."
Aang frowned as they started towards the exit of the prison. "No, his mother was exiled when he was a kid... He looked for her, for a while, but he gave up a few years ago. I assumed he discovered the worst. I never asked."
They exited the prison and Aang desperately looked around for his friend. Toph's unique form of sight has better luck though. "He's running towards the city."
"Iroh's shop?" wondered Aang.
"No. That's in the upper ring; he's heading towards one of the lower rings."
"You lead, I'll follow," said Aang, and the two of them chased after their distressed friend into the walled city. They ran quickly, dashing through the main gates and through the streets of the lower ring. It was very different to the upper ring where Aang normally stayed; the houses were small and the people made their livings with little stalls selling various goods. They passed all kinds of different stores – fish, raw meat, fresh fruit and cabbages – as they pushed past the people dashing down the street.
Aang was running full pace, but Toph stopped him by grabbing him on the shoulder as they went past a narrow alleyway by a small bakery. Down the alleyway, Zuko sat on a small bench with a look of desperate relief on his face. Quietly, Aang went at sat next to him; Toph stood close by.
Zuko looked quickly at his friends. "Sorry," he muttered, before he turned back to the small window in the bakery. Inside, carrying a large tray full of flour, was a middle-aged woman with long black hair and golden eyes. Her older face wrinkled as she laughed loudly at someone Aang couldn't see through the window.
"Zuko, is that?" said Aang in shock. "Is that your mother?"
The Fire Lord nodded; his eyes were watering.
"She's alive? Why didn't you say anything? Why aren't you in there?" Aang said, excited and concerned at the same time. He started to get up and go inside.
"She doesn't remember," said Zuko, looking at his mother, not his friends.
"She doesn't remember."
"Not at all?"
"Not my father. Not Azula. Not me. Not even her own name – she's been calling herself Mishi," said Zuko, finally turning to make eye contact with his friends.
Aang put a hand on his friend's shoulder in concern.
"After my mother was banished, she was on a boat getting out of the Fire Nation when it was attacked by raiders," Zuko began. "No doubt on the order of my father, but she survived and tried to swim ashore to one of the Fire Nation colonies. She was about to drown, when a baker who was watching from the shore pulled her out. He saved her life."
"But the trauma made her lose her memory," guessed Aang.
"Every second of it," Zuko confirmed. "Eventually, she married the baker and moved to Ba Sing Se. She's been here for twelve years. I was living in the same city as her and didn't even know it."
"How did you find all this out?"
"I didn't. Mai did."
"So, why haven't you..."
"Told her? Aang, look at her!" Zuko stood up, exasperated. "She's happy! She's laughing! Why would I drag her back into my life? So she could trade a happy marriage here for assassination attempts in a divided nation? I'm not doing that to my mother! She's been through enough!"
"You haven't even said hello to her?"
He was silent for a moment. "No," he said, turning away.
"Not even once, Zuko?"
"No," he said quietly as he slumped down again. Aang realized there was nothing he could say right now that would make Zuko feel better, so neither of them said anything at all.
Suddenly, Zuko wiped his eyes and sat upright. "They never knew where she was, did they? I've led them right to her."
Aang nodded sadly. "The Cult's resourceful. Zhao's probably got a spy or two in here somewhere."
Zuko sunk his head into his hands, then cursed loudly into them. It made Aang wince. "Okay. Well, I'll take her back to the Fire Nation, I'll post guards."
"What about the assassination attempts? You said yourself..."
"What else can I do Aang?" said Zuko, angry again. "I can't just leave her here for Zhao to come and find her!"
"Well, there's got to be another way!"
"What do you suggest Aang? It's easy for you, Katara can easily defend herself! But if they come after my mother, she doesn't stand a chance! So, what do you suggest I do?" yelled Zuko, annoyed.
"Zuko," said Aang, sounding confused. "Toph's inside."
Zuko head spun quickly. Sure enough, through the window, Toph was inside, chatting animatedly to Ursa and her husband. Both had huge smiles on their faces and the man was laughing excitedly and hugging his wife. Zuko was panicking. His eyes were wide with apprehension as he tried to figure out what to do next. Aang and him dashed around to the front door.
Toph came out with a big smile on her face. Zuko muttered angrily at her, but Toph didn't seem to care and he quickly silenced himself as his mother came out the door with the biggest smile on her face. For a moment, he was taken back to his childhood when that smile was for him, but as her new husband followed her out of the small bakery.
"And here's the guys that made it happen!" said Toph excitedly. Zuko and Aang didn't know what to do and just smiled awkwardly. Aang managed to raise his hand and mumble something.
"I was just telling Kao and Mishi here that the Earth King has asked them to be his private bakers," said Toph, trying to make Zuko and Aang understand.
"He has?" asked Aang since Zuko was still as a sheet.
"Yes, at the recommendation of the Avatar and the Fire Lord."
"That's really... great... news?" finished Aang, slowly feeling his way. Toph made a face at him behind the bakers' backs that made Aang pay more attention.
Kao, the baker, came up and shook Aang and Zuko's hands. "Thank you so much. You have no idea what this means. I mean, the upper ring! A beautiful house! It's just what my wife deserves."
"Not just the upper ring, you'll be right next to the royal palace," said Toph. She looked poignantly at Zuko. "Right next door to me in fact."
Suddenly, it all made sense to Aang and he smiled widely and started to play along. "Well, you make the greatest bread in the world," he said as Ursa come to hug him in thanks.
Then, Ursa hugged Zuko and he went white as a sheet. Aang could see the tears welling up in his eyes and the breath rush from his lungs. Ursa pulled back and asked: "Are you alright?"
"Yeah," Zuko said so quietly that it was almost a whisper.
Aang stepped up to break up the awkward moment. "Any chance I can get some bread now?"
"Of course," she said. "Come on inside." Aang followed the couple inside and left a stunned Zuko with Toph.
"I know you're probably fuming right now hothead, but don't," said Toph, pointing her finger at him. "But if the Cult is going to come after her, she'll need a bodyguard and I happen to be one of the best there is. She'll be right next door to me and I can keep her completely safe."
"I know. Just don't do that to me again."
"You got it."
"Is the Earth King going to be okay with this?"
"No worries, he owes me at least one. I hope that their bread is at least somewhat good though."
"Thanks, Toph," Zuko mumbled.
"You got it, hothead," said Toph, punching him hard on the arm to which Zuko shot her a glare worthy of his title as Fire Lord.
"Miss Bei Fong!" came a voice from down the street shouting. It was a messenger from the palace, holding a small note. "We received a message from a Fire Nation ambassador. I was asked to deliver it straight to the Fire Lord."
"Then why are looking at her?" questioned Zuko. "Give it to me!" He took the note impatiently and read quickly. He looked up, confused. "It's a report from my ambassador returning from the Northern Water Tribe. He said he met Sokka on the way home."
"Sokka? Like 'check out my space sword' Sokka?"
"Something about him having an urgent mission to the North Pole."
"Sounds like you need to go to the North Pole," Toph said, but she felt his heart beat faster and she could tell he was looking towards the bakery one more time. "Go, Zuko. I will not let anything happen to her. I absolutely, one hundred and fifty percent, promise."
Outside the Northern Water Tribe Palace
Sokka, in his full armor including his wolf helmet, climbed into the small canoe that they were going to use to surf up to the deck of the skyship. It sat on a canal, facing the massive skyship that hung above the city. Shaoshang must have already boarded the ship by one of the ladders, as it was beginning to turn and head back towards the open ocean. Suki was already at the very back of the boat as she was going to control the rudder. Wuoyan had changed out of his sopping wet clothes and into some clothes that Arnook had given him.
"I look ridic'lous in blue," he moaned as he climbed into the canoe in front of Sokka and he tugged at the traditional Water Tribe robes he now wore.
"I think it suits you," said Suki. "Besides, you not being in red will stop Sokka from throwing stuff at you when a fight breaks out."
"She makes a good point. It kind of became instinct in the good ol' days," Sokka joked, but Wuoyan turned away darkly and didn't answer.
Liang climbed into the very front.
"You ready to do this, Liang?" asked Sokka.
"No. I still haven't had any training," Liang said.
"Arnook's guys showed you the basics, and besides, they're making the wave, you're just helping Suki stay on course."
Liang nodded and prepared himself. "Hey, what's with the waterskins?"
Sokka smiled as he indicated two large waterskins that he's slung across his back. "They're for holding water, Liang."
"I know what they're for, but why do you have them?"
Sokka tapped his nose. "Secret," he said before turning to the waterbenders behind him. "Okay. Let's do this. Everyone hold on tight!" he yelled. The waterbenders behind him swung their arms and the water in the canal began to swell. The snow all around began to melt and added to the torrent of water that built up underneath the little canoe as it rose higher and higher above the frozen city.
Every waterbender below focused for a moment, then let out a grunt of effort as they thrust their fists forward. The massive wall of water shot forwards, engulfing the city in water and sending the tiny canoe towards the skyship at blinding speed.
Sokka and Wuoyan were laughing like mad men in the little boat; Wuoyan even thrust his hands in the air. Suki concentrated on the rudder work and kept the boat heading in the right direction. Liang, concentrating hard, kept the water currents underneath them at bay, preventing them from sending them other than where they wanted to go.
The wave peaked as it came close to the skyship and then crashed into the side. The firebenders hanging from the ladders underneath shook wildly and some lost their grip entirely and plummeted towards the ground. "Here we go!" Sokka yelled as the little canoe crashed onto the deck of the skyship and slid across the metal floor, breaking off little pieces of wood from the bottom of the canoe and sending them flying.
Below them, the wave was about to crash violently down into the city, but the army of waterbenders gestured and the water stopped before it got there and gently floated back into the canal and the ocean.
Up on deck, Sokka and Suki reacted like lightning. The moment the canoe slid to a halt, they were out of it with their weapons drawn.
"Water Tribe! Get them!" yelled an armored cultist from nearby, pointing at them, but as soon as he finished he was hit hard in the face by a thrown war fan. Dozens of troops from all around started to emerge and charge at the little boat. They were wearing the traditional armor of the Fire Nation army, but they all brandished the seared mark on their forearms that identified them as a member of the Cult. Various cultists were equipped with swords, poleaxes, and other weapons.
"You go and find Yue," Suki said to Sokka. "We can handle these guys."
"You sure?" he asked.
Suki smiled. "They don't stand a chance," she said before running at the oncoming cultists. When she was about to run into one, she flipped right over him and whacked him hard on the back of the head in mid air with her closed fan. The cultist fell flat on his face as Suki landed perfectly and engaged another two cultists. Within moments, they were downed too and she moved on to her next foe.
"Quite a girl ya got there," said Wuoyan from beside Sokka.
The swordsmaster glared at him. "You get your own."
Wuoyan chuckled. "Ya got it, boss," he muttered as he drew his knives and charged to help at the cultists to help Suki out. As he charged, the air began to crackle and distort around him and before long, he was nothing but a strange, shining blur that attacked the enemy soldiers.
Sokka looked at Liang. "Keep yourself safe, there's some water in the bottom of the boat, so bend it if you need to."
Liang stood up and the water floated up and began to swirl around his hand in little streams. "Don't worry. I think I'm actually getting the hang of all this."
Sokka nodded, then ran off, towards the main part of the skyship. There was a large indoor cabin in the middle like on a boat, where Sokka guessed the commanders of the ship had their quarters. Sure enough, two burly men with large poleaxes guarded the entrance. Sokka grasped his sword tightly and ran towards them. One swung his poleaxe, but Sokka easily dodged it and sliced off the axe-head with his sword. He darted forward, brought the hilt of his sword down hard on the head of the guy that attacked him, knocking him out, then thrust out the blade and stabbed the other guard through the gut.
He withdrew his blade and ran into the lavishly decorated corridor beyond. "Hold on, Yue. I'm coming."
In the Hull of the Cult's Skyship
Shaoshang pulled himself off the ladder and into the hull of the skyship through a trapdoor. Yue was still hung over his back, still unconscious, but her eyes were flitting because she was slowly coming around.
"Admiral Zhao is waiting for you, sir," said a soldier who helped Shaoshang through the trapdoor, then bolted it behind him. "He's in his quarters at the top of..."
"I know where it is," snapped Shaoshang, baring his pointed teeth. He walked briskly through the metal corridors, up and out of the hold and towards the commander's cabin. The two guards let him by in an instant and into the corridor beyond. He walked past the Fire Nation flags adorning the walls and the portraits of Fire Lords Sozin, Azulon and Ozai, and into the door at the very end that was flanked by burning torches.
He knocked on the door and entered when he heard the response. The quarters were lavishly decorated with several flags and weapons lining the wall. Zhao was inside, dressed in formal Fire Nation robes, staring into a flickering fire.
"Put her on the bed, Shaoshang."
"She's beginning to come around, sir," Shaoshang told his commander, throwing Yue down on the bed.
"Good. Now, get out."
Shaoshang retreated out of the room and closed the door behind him. Zhao went to the side of the bed and brushed a lock of Yue's long white hair off of her face. With a sneer on his face, he took a pair of heavy metal shackles and clamped them over Yue's hands.
Suddenly, the whole skyship shook as a giant wave collided into the side of it. Zhao steadied himself, looked around the room and scowled. He opened the door and yelled to the guards. "Attack on sight!" The guards nodded and Zhao slammed the door shut again.
After a few moments, Yue recovered and briefly struggled against her shackles. "My friends will come for me," she said calmly.
"They won't get far," said Zhao, turning around and sneering at the imprisoned moon spirit.
"When are you going to throw off this whole façade, Zhao?" asked Yue defiantly. "We both know you didn't found this Cult for the Fire Nation's sake."
Zhao simply smiled evilly. "I have a question. If the Avatar isn't listening to you, who do think will rescue you?"
There was a clang of metal on metal and both Yue and Zhao spun quickly to see a jet-black blade protrude from the side of the door. It made a long gash downwards, slicing through both hinges and they clattered to the ground. There was another thud from the other side and the entire door fell forward with a clang sending a small cloud of dust into the air.
On the other side, Sokka stood with a look of determination under his wolf helmet. He spun his sword with a flourish. "Woops, sorry. Is this room taken?"
This is the longest chapter thus far at eight and a half pages on Microsoft Word. For those who are curious, Child of Destiny is now 49 pages and 22826 words long according to Microsoft Word.
The main reason for the length of this chapter is the explanation of Ursa's disappearance. Originally, this was a full-on flashback, but it was getting too long, so it was made into more simple exposition. MightyBrit decided on giving Ursa amnesia because so many other great fanon authors have explored Ursa's disappearance, but he hadn't yet read a story where Zuko had found his mother but was unable to reunite properly with her. He thought amnesia was an interesting and believable way of doing this. It also leads to great internal conflict for Zuko. Ursa will be featured more extensively during Toph's story in Book 2, which this chapter sets the reader up for.
The name Ursa uses after her memory loss is Mishi, the romanized Chinese word for 'lost'.
This chapter also sets the stage for the Book 1 finale (which is really a two-parter despite not being marked with parts) by setting up an inevitable battle between Zhao and Sokka. It also briefly foreshadows Wuoyan's backstory and Zhao's true motives.
There's a talk page and some comments right underneath. Why don't you give me some reception?
For the collective works of the author, go here.
|Child of Destiny Chapters|
Book 1: Fear
The First Airbender - Stolen - Sharks and Sea Serpents - Asylum Seeker - The Swordmaster of Kyoshi Island - Cold Snap - Due North - Better to Have Loved and Lost - Wrath of the Blackened Blade - Water's Fall
Book 2: Anger