|More from Minnichi||Romance/Angst/Action||PG-13||Very Positive|
|Chapter 17 - Fire and Earth (SHiE)|
November 29, 2012, Avatar Wiki and Fanfiction.net
Summary of the Last Chapter
Azula makes her move and announces to the Dai Li how they're going to overthrow the Earth King. Yuhan takes note of how quickly the organization seems to like her as a leader, and realizes that Riya won't ever be helped if the coup succeeds. Acting only on his feelings for Riya, he tries to find a way to warn Ba Sing Se ahead of time. Yuhan discovers that Long Feng has actually ordered her, as a Joo Dee, to commit suicide if he ever tries to betray the organization.
Yuhan shot forth from his dull sheets with a jolt, his chest heaving, his eyes leaking. A second later, however, he slumped over on his elbows. His face grew dim as he let out a wistful sigh. It was the same as usual.
For sleeping was a nightmare, always. To stay awake was a luxury. The second he lost consciousness every night, the Peace Orator would see everything that plagued his entire life...and worse. There were times when a haggard, bone-thin old man would appear. He would say nothing, but begin to laugh instead. The manic sound would only grow worse as Yuhan stared back with hollow eyes, having finally lost what he'd taken from others for so many years. He'd stand there limply in the face of his judgment, as the old man's vengeful promise rang truer than ever through the air: "You'll pay for everything..."
Also as always, however, sleep contained the last traces of happiness. Because, for a fleeting moment...he would see her again. The meeting was anything but joyful, and an average person wouldn't have even associated it with happiness – but she was there. Standing just beyond his grasp, Riya was always there. Her soft eyes would gaze into his in silence, her smooth hair seeming to wisp away into the air as it flowed down her back. He would stare back, choking to find the right words as his vision blurred, his lower lip trembling. The broken, insufficient apology would linger in the air, and he always faltered in the face of her flawless presence.
Then...she would smile. It wrung his entire chest, from the very center to the edges of his lungs, as her hazel eyes glistened. Her lips would curve up ever so gently, with all the tender love that he knew he didn't deserve. It was the same, last smile she'd ever given him, the one that had vanished before the glow of the yellow lantern. And his eyes would begin to leak.
...And then of course, she would keep smiling. It would slowly begin stretching wider and wider as he stared back, her eyelids cracking open as her pupils dilated. A blink later, and Riya was gone again. As always, Yuhan was lurched back into excruciating consciousness as soon as Joo Dee, grinning dementedly, would begin to laugh. But even as he swiped fiercely across his eyes with a hand, his chest heaving, part of him longed to return to horrifying sleep just to see her smile again.
It was the same as usual.
Yuhan emerged slowly from his dorm, shaking off the last remnants of the scarring images from his nightmare. Gazing down the endless, dim green passage ahead, he let out a slow breath as his fingers habitually curled around the little band of leather strips circling his wrist. After tracing over the smooth, symbolic discs for a few seconds, he finally strode forward.
Like always, it seemed like he barely had enough energy to start the day. The nightmares were starting to become dangerous, especially after his revelation that Joo Dee had become her own obstacle to recovery. He had to make sure to maintain a firm grip on reality, and sometimes the only thing keeping his mind from deteriorating was the faint vision of Riya's smile, coupled with the fact that he alone had any chance of bringing it back. Clinging even tighter to his bracelet, however, Yuhan wearily pondered if trying was even an option anymore. Of course, there was no way in all of Koh's Realm that he could allow her to keep living like this, a mindless puppet that danced for Long Feng's amusement...but the painful truth was that things couldn't possibly be worse right now.
The city was already falling at this very moment. The entire organization, like Yuhan, happened to be stalking through the dark passageways of headquarters. Azula had called them all to a meeting, where the first group would be assigned to accompany her for the start of the plan. Each assigned section of the organization would be in charge of retrieving a special prisoner - and this first division would tackle the two Fire Nation royals, General Iroh and Prince Zuko.
"You, you, you....anddd you." With a dismissive flick of her wrist, Azula finished her selection as she pointed to Hiroshu, the last member to accompany her. He and Yuhan had unfortunately been standing in the section of the crowd that the princess broke off to become her personal group of soldiers. Avoiding her eyes, Yuhan had to resist sighing in front of her as he lined up with the rest of his team. He was in no mood to be anywhere near "Mushi" at the moment, much less try to capture him. Even if the old man's words had affected him once, Yuhan still felt slightly betrayed that his acquaintance had turned out to be a ruthless Fire Nation general... Actually, he didn't even know what to think of Iroh at the moment. If he was who he was, then why had he randomly encouraged Yuhan not to give up on Riya? The puzzled agent couldn't think of any ulterior motive from the gesture that would possibly benefit the old brewer. And surely an Outer Wall-demolishing Fire Nation general would have a less - er - caring demeanor than that? Well...then again, Azula had mentioned something about treachery...but then again, the princess seemed like someone who often lied, so...
"Whatcha thinking about?"
Yuhan faced his patrol partner with a jolt as they marched slowly behind the princess along with the rest of their group. Hiroshu seemed to be checking on him as usual, just to make sure he wasn't starting to wallow in his misery over Riya. It was thoughtful of him, but unnecessary at the moment. Yuhan shrugged rather irritably. "Nothing."
Hiroshu didn't believe him of course, but he only rolled his eyes in response and decided to drop the subject. Good. Yuhan wasn't in the mood for any pestering. Actually, he didn't feel like talking to anyone in general. His strange, irritable state of mind was mixed somewhere between bitterness and anxiety; the former because he was currently being forced to help the Dai Li overthrow Ba Sing Se, and the latter because he was still about to face two terrifyingly powerful Firebenders, regardless of his confusion over any motives.
"They've arrived, princess."
Lifting his face to see under his hat, Yuhan observed a young messenger in the distance bowing to Azula. Though the group had barely taken two steps towards the exit of headquarters, the boy had run all the way down here just to confirm the news. Azula hardly seemed to acknowledge his presence, only smirking ever so slightly in response. "Perfect." Without further ado, she proceeded to stride past the messenger, causing the crowd of dark green behind her to shuffle along. Well, this must have meant that her brother and uncle had taken the bait she'd sent their way, something about serving tea to the Earth King, if Yuhan recalled correctly... With a sudden throb shooting through his head, however, he decided it was best not to strain his sleep-deprived mind by musing over it. Spirits, he was going to lose track of all the schemes going on at this rate.... He was tired of it all.
The weary agent faintly wondered how it was even possible that he'd been so dedicated to the organization back then. Even during his better days, it seemed like he was forever stuck someplace he didn't really want to be, following someone's orders word for word with the alternative of a traumatizing penalty... Yuhan sighed as he tried to ignore the fact that he was still being followed somewhere in the distance by a quiet young woman, dressed neatly in yellow. Thinking too deeply about it would just remind him of other horrible things, such as how she could become collateral damage to any future battles if her spying brought her too close, or how Long Feng could always instill another terrible condition to Yuhan's loyalty without his knowing, which could all very well lead to some awful and heartbreaking discovery of...of... With another reflexive grab of his bracelet, the young agent forced the paranoia from his body with a shudder, snapping his eyes shut for a second and fiercely reminding himself to keep it together. How much longer could he take all of this?
When would it ever end?
"What's taking so long...?"
Their voices were growing too close for his liking. Yuhan glumly took note of the brightness approaching from the spacious, decorated lounge ahead. It was the only lit area in King Kuei's luxurious Tea Palace at the moment.
Strange how he and his group had arrived here so fast with Azula. Hadn't all those mundane errands for Long Feng always taken years to complete, when traveling from headquarters to the Upper Ring? This trip had covered the same distance in what seemed like minutes; he must have truly been dreading the confrontation, then.
"Maybe the Earth King overslept." Well, Iroh was definitely there. The name still sounded foreign in Yuhan's mind, and he had to force himself not to revert to "Mushi" again out of habit.
Step by step, each agent finally marched his way into the lounge. Yuhan began to make a mental list of every other place in the world he would rather be at the moment, as the two Firebenders came into plain view. They were kneeling before a polished table on the floor, in the middle of an elegant golden carpet. A few feet ahead was the array of silk green drapes that framed the large, embellished chair in which the Earth King would supposedly sit soon.
No matter what he'd heard about them, Yuhan was unable to see anyone other than Mushi and Li as he followed the line of agents approaching the little table. They were dressed in their fine Upper Ring outfits, poised to serve high-quality tea like they'd always done. "Dangerous Firebenders" simply refused to register in his mind...which wasn't a good thing if he was supposed to be prepared for attack.
"Something's not right..." murmured the Fire Nation prince, glancing apprehensively towards his uncle. He'd picked up the obvious signs of the trap, now that all of the agents surrounded the table in a perfect circle. Time seemed to freeze for a split second, in which the Fire Nation fugitives and Dai Li agents observed each another in complete silence, though the latter kept their gazes low beneath the shadowy brims of their hats.
"It's tea time!" Azula's condescending voice effectively cut through the silence with its terrifying authority, as always. She'd waited to enter the room last, as if to worsen the impact of her family members' discovery of the trap. Yuhan couldn't help noticing how she positioned herself a little too comfortably before the chair that had been meant for King Kuei.
Prince Zuko sprang to his feet immediately, the glaring red scar on his face intensifying his angered reaction. "Azula!" he exclaimed, with such hostility that one may have questioned whether or not he was really her older brother. True, there was a striking similarity in their physical appearances – but that was about it.
"Have you met the Dai Li?" the princess merely asked, her chillingly calm voice contrasting sharply with that of her brother's. "They're Earthbenders, but they have a killer instinct that's so Firebender. I just love it." The surrounding agents fell strangely silent – well, more silent than they already were.
Seriously, was he the only one picking up on the flagrant, carefully planned appeals to their egos? Yuhan had noticed for quite a while now that the little compliments were growing frequent, and he wouldn't have been surprised if Azula had convinced over half the Dai Li by now that they were more than welcome to join the Fire Nation, where they would be loved and glorified by all. The way they completely bought into it was annoying, infuriating even. But then again...he was most likely the only member in the organization who really had a problem against it.
Iroh was the next to respond. His calm demeanor was less cold than Azula's, yet somehow equally dangerous. There was just something unsettling in the way he slowly took into his fingers one of the steaming cups of tea from the table. Raising the expensive, porcelain brim towards his lips, he faced the princess with a little more indication of family than Zuko, almost as if he were simply addressing a young and delightful niece. "Did I ever tell you how I got the nickname 'the Dragon of the West?'" he mused.
Though the words didn't seem to match his Earth Kingdom-oriented appearance, there was no mistaking the surety in his tone, which had taken on a strange quality that Yuhan had never heard before. So Mushi really was the infamous General Iroh of the Fire Nation. The young agent braced himself.
Azula looked ready to roll her eyes as she gave a nonchalant wave of her hand. "I'm not interested in a lengthy anecdote, Uncle."
Iroh's golden irises glinted strangely for a briefest moment. "It's more of a demonstration, really..." He began to take a long, deep sip of tea from the steaming cup in his hand.
It all registered a little too late. The world around Yuhan exploded almost instantly into a brilliant flash of oranges and yellows, and his arms involuntarily flailed to shield his face as he hunched over in the midst of the burning-hot air. As his vision shot towards the ground, he could make out the sea of flames dancing crazily about the circle of agents, who were all reacting similarly to the sudden assault. It was only when the direction of the blast had shifted away from him that he could trace the attack to Iroh, who was actually spouting the flames from his mouth – very much indeed like a dragon.
By the time the fazed group of agents regained their composure, the two Fire Nation fugitives were already well on their way out of the room. The agents standing closest to them, however, were quick to react. They charged after Iroh and Zuko, immediately firing all of the bullet-like pieces of their gloves to potentially slow them as the rest of the group quickly followed. Everything around Yuhan became a great, chaotic mess of dark green uniforms and shattering noises as his fellow agents frantically tried to pin down their prisoners. One noise, however, suddenly boomed above the rest with frightening volume. It was an earsplitting, high-pitched series of crackles, almost like...no, it was lightning.
When Yuhan and the rest of his team staggered into the hallway that the two fugitives had fled down, the aftermath of that final noise was showing conspicuously in the huge, gaping hole lying ahead. It was so wide that the entire scenery outside, sky and all, could be seen plainly beyond its smoking border. Yuhan involuntarily swallowed. The rumors about the sheer power of royal Firebenders did no justice; it was even more overwhelming in real life. It was most terrifying, however, because it began to trigger the worst of his paranoia. Joo Dee couldn't have been standing close by, could she? Could she...?
No – stop it. Focus. FOCUS!
Yuhan gritted his teeth as he wrenched his attention back towards reality, where the angry figure of Prince Zuko was standing in plain view. Iroh was nowhere in sight, but seeing as his nephew was positioned conspicuously before the gaping hole in the wall, the old man must have escaped first.
Azula stood before the crowd of agents ahead, who were all quickly arranging themselves into an organized array in preparation for attack. Yuhan was able to get a spot a good distance away from the two royals, but close enough to still be able to make out their faces. He hoped that he wouldn't actually have to take part in the offense. There were more than enough agents ahead of him to take care of it, anyhow. Despite being skilled at Firebending, Zuko just didn't seem like the type to be able to catch the group off guard as his uncle had; he was always far too angry to think that rationally. Even now, his pale face was contorted in a horrible scowl as he faced his sister, and it was apparent that he'd stayed behind without looking realistically at the circumstances.
His sister seemed to have expected this, judging from her amused, always-patronizing tone. "You're so dramatic," she remarked, standing comfortably before her personal army of emerald-robed soldiers. "What, are you going to challenge me to an Agni Kai?" A fire duel. Yuhan had heard of those before...along with some of their gruesome outcomes. For some reason, the thought made him feel more thankful for being an Earthbender.
"Yes! I challenge you!" Zuko shouted, appearing even more peeved at the princess's continual disregard of him.
In just one, smug smile, Azula sent back countless vibes of mockery and disrespect before she even opened her mouth to speak. It was almost amazing, in a twisted way. "No thanks," she replied with a little shrug, which only seemed to worsen the effect. Indeed, only the Fire Nation would produce siblings like these. Yuhan had never seen anything like it.
Zuko didn't seem too keen on accepting her answer. Yuhan couldn't see much between the mass of agents standing in front of him, but a bright blaze soon lit up the room ahead, indicating that the Fire Nation prince had begun to attack. The agent saw his arms lifting high into the air before thrusting forward in one, massive push, followed by an almost explosive noise as the orange and yellow energy flared in Azula's direction.
She didn't move a muscle. Instead, two agents nearby immediately sprang into action. In a swift blur of dark green, they leapt before the princess and gave a synchronized shove of their arms. A thick, perfectly rectangular slab cut itself from the ground below and rose to shield Azula just as her brother's blast of flames crashed and dispersed against it. A few seconds later, and at least three pairs of gloves had been fired at Zuko. Virtually all of his limbs were pinned uselessly to the ground as he yelled in rage. It was all over very quickly.
Azula casually made her way back between the agents, passing Yuhan by a couple of feet as she strode. Her back turned, she pointed aimlessly at various agents to deliver a few, dismissive instructions. "You and you, go drop my brother off with the Water Tribe peasant in the Crystal Catacombs." Hiroshu gave a very subtle sigh shortly after her finger pointed in his direction, glancing at Yuhan for a moment before making his way towards Zuko. "You and you, follow me back to headquarters." The next pair of agents broke from the crowd to line up behind the princess. "The rest of you can go find my uncle," she finished plainly.
As Azula and the two chosen pairs of agents left the scene, the remaining crowd immediately began leaping from the massive hole in the wall, towards the ground below. Yuhan trailed behind them with much less zeal.
This was strangely the most peaceful time period of his day. Yuhan strolled about the Upper Ring with no real direction in mind. His instructions were to find Iroh, who could technically be anywhere; it wasn't as if Joo Dee could tell whether or not he was actually trying. Instead, the agent found himself examining the exquisite scenery around him with much more interest than he should, stopping a few times to observe a magnificent fountain of water or a perfectly trimmed array of rosebushes. Though he felt pity for Hiroshu, he was actually glad to have some time to himself. No patrol partner meant that no one would be constantly questioning his sanity...and even if Hiroshu was his closest friend, he was still a loyal member of the Dai Li. He would've started lecturing Yuhan's behavior if he were here.
Right as the tired agent allowed himself to relax, however, the peace instantly came to a halt when he heard a speedy pair of footsteps approaching from behind. Yuhan slowly turned around, only to see that Tao was running frantically towards him, his emerald robes flapping through the air. On another day, the Peace Orator would've been more concerned about what was bothering the new recruit, but right now he only felt irritation towards his unwanted company.
"Yuhan!" Tao huffed as he came to a stop next to the tired agent. "I-I'm glad to find you here..."
Yuhan tried to reply as civilly as possible. "Hey, Tao! Good to see you, too. Is something up?"
"Um...not really," the new recruit replied sheepishly. His dark brown eyes grew downcast. "It's just... I feel like I'll screw up something else if I'm around the other agents." Yuhan raised a brow. "And you're – well, you always seem to do everything right! So I thought it might help me if I searched for General Iroh with someone...like you. If that's okay..."
Despite everything, the Peace Orator couldn't help feeling a sudden twinge of pity. Tao had indeed suffered a good number of screw-ups in recent times. No one knew exactly how he'd butchered Long Feng's instructions a few weeks ago, but he'd staggered away from the Cultural Minister's office with a huge gash in his face; the stitched scar was still prominent on his right cheek. And to make things worse, Azula had basically called him out as the weak one during her terrifying speech the other day, practically leaving him with a death threat. It was understandable if Tao was a little terrified of losing face now. Yuhan felt his irritation slowly dying down. "'Course it's okay!" he replied with a slight smile. "But let's just hope that I don't have to cover for you. Better for us to stay off the crazy princess's bad side, right?"
Yuhan's laugh was so empty that he was sure anyone could tell he hated his organization, but it somehow worked on Tao. The new recruit immediately brightened as he nodded quickly. "Thanks," he sighed in relief. "I don't know what I'd do without all your help... You've always been really friendly – I appreciate it." Yuhan shrugged lightly as he brushed the statement aside with a hand. "And you've always been so good with the organization, too..." Tao went on wistfully. It looked like he had tried to smile, but he was too down about his situation to go through with it.
The famed Peace Orator very slowly looked over at the new recruit, his sullen face bearing the slightest hint of skepticism. "It's not all that great, you know. Doing everything 'right.'" His eyes were overshadowed by the brim of his hat as Tao gazed back questioningly. "You do better, so Long Feng expects better. And when you do worse...he'll also do worse to you." It was all Yuhan could do not to think of Riya at that moment, lest Tao – or worse, Joo Dee – see him lose it completely in public and spew out all his hate towards the Cultural Minister.
Nonetheless, Tao could sense the darkened mood, and he grew quiet. "I hadn't thought of it that way," he said softly.
"Well – in the end I'm not really different from you," mused the Peace Orator. "Don't mess up, and nothing bad happens. We all have it the same."
"Yeah..." agreed the new recruit. "But – I just wish I could learn to mess up as rarely as you."
Yuhan laughed for real this time. One mess-up on his part had been enough to throw his entire world into turmoil. "Nah, trust me...you're fine." He couldn't keep the slightly sour edge from hardening his voice, but thankfully Tao didn't notice. "You really don't have to worry," he continued. "Instead of being a traumatizing punishment-target like me, the best thing is honestly for you not to draw attention to yourself. Learn from the other agents to work efficiently, and stay in a group where you won't stick out. But don't hesitate if you're asked to do something. Just be confident. You'll be as good an agent as any."
Tao seemed puzzled by the unconventional advice, as most agents strived to win Long Feng's favor. Since he'd always looked up to Yuhan, however, the words did appear to have some impact. "Okay. Thanks..." The new recruit didn't seem to have anything else to say, and the two walked for a few moments in silence.
A new thought suddenly occurred to Yuhan. The chances were slim, but still... "Speaking of staying close to the other agents," he began, "maybe it's actually a better idea for us to try sticking around them right now." He went on before Tao could protest. "Azula didn't send such a big group after Iroh for no reason... If we were to run into him by any chance, two of us might not be enough to –"
General Iroh himself didn't allow him to finish the sentence. Perfectly on cue, a terrifying streak of light stabbed right between the two startled agents, causing them to leap away in opposite directions. It split open the ground with a blinding explosion, accompanying a thousand high-pitched crackles that seemed to rattle the entire world.
Yuhan and Tao continued to reel away from the deadly lightning as its remaining branches clawed out threateningly from the ground, both of them too alarmed to notice Iroh jumping down from the polished roof of the house nearby. The Firebender landed swiftly a few feet in front of them, causing Tao to give a loud yelp of terror. Yuhan was quicker to regain his composure, however, and it seemed like he was the only agent to register that Iroh was about to burn them to a crisp if they didn't act soon. The Fire Nation general had already shot both arms towards them to release another overwhelming burst of flame. The energy seemed to come to life in his very hands – the most well-known and feared characteristic of Firebenders – as if materializing from thin air before shooting forth with alarming speed. Yuhan forced his body to react, protecting both himself and a petrified Tao as he threw his fists above his head.
Shortly after rising from the ground, the earthen wall exploded as soon as it met the flames, sending heavy fragments whizzing in all directions. Yuhan and Tao found themselves shielding their faces from what had been their own form of protection.
Iroh continued to shoot endless waves of fire in their direction, with each shove of his arms accompanied by a step forward as they frantically dodged. He was beginning to draw closer and closer to them at an unsettling rate, which only seemed to frighten Tao even more. Flailing his arms, the new recruit was desperately throwing up little barriers of stone with each blast, and each of them barely held long enough for the flames not to boil his face before exploding into thousands of tiny earth fragments.
On the other hand, Yuhan dived low to avoid the flames, rolling over on the ground as another massive wave of them seared the air a few inches above his head. When he'd flipped right side-up again, he followed the momentum to swing his fist hard against the earth below. With a deep rumble, the impact followed all the way through to Iroh's feet, and the sharp force sent the general's body flying high into the air.
Even as he soared above the earth however, Iroh seemed to regain control of himself instantly, turning his body through the air to continue shooting at the agents below. A shower of raging fireballs rained down upon the ground, with each burst produced by his alternating punches. Yuhan jumped wildly here and there to dodge them as each dug its own crater in the earth. Several feet away, Tao raised a sort of dome out of the ground with a terrified wave of his arms, which he took cover beneath in the midst of the ear-splitting explosions.
How Iroh could produce so many flames in such a short time, Yuhan had no idea. Having been occupied by his panicked dodging, he didn't even realize that the general had landed on the ground again until he suddenly found himself face to face with the blazing golden irises. In that briefest second, Iroh's eyes widened ever so slightly as the recognition of his acquaintance dawned over his aged face, his raised hand paused in mid-attack. However, Yuhan's own eyes quickly snapped out of their terror in response, and time lurched onward again as he flung his fist forward. The stone shape of his hand barely missed by a few millimeters as the general twisted his face to the side, and Yuhan took the chance to run.
He had to get back to Tao before the new recruit ended up getting himself killed a few moments. Spiraling his arms about his body, Yuhan immediately sank deep below as the ground quickly loosened apart. Inside the earth, he could faintly sense the weight of the two figures above and twisted himself towards the lighter one, or Tao, as he swiftly controlled the current around him. However, he soon noticed with a jolt that the heavier figure was quickly closing the distance between the two, and decided to change directions instead.
The Peace Orator reemerged in a flurry of earth a few feet behind Iroh's back. He was supposed to launch a sort of surprise attack – until he became distracted by the fact that the old man had somehow managed to tie up Tao in his own chains already. The new recruit had apparently tried to utilize his handcuffs on the general...which Yuhan could see led to the worst of backfires. Lying helplessly on the ground, Tao was rendered useless as Iroh quickly sensed Yuhan's presence and turned around.
It was the strangest of pauses, as the two old acquaintances faced each other once more. For some reason, Iroh didn't attack. And for some reason, neither did Yuhan. The latter had begun to realize something, while the former seemed to know what it was. It was now clear to Yuhan that Iroh had meant to take a captive this entire time; he could've easily killed either one of them with his ambush of lightning at the start of the battle, after all. Looking at the situation more closely, it was pretty clear why he'd need a prisoner, too: only the Dai Li would know where his captured nephew was stowed away. But there was something else that came with the circumstances. A prisoner taken from the Dai Li meant a leakage of information to someone who wasn't supposed to receive it. And any leakage of information, regardless of the recipient, was a good thing for the city right now. Perhaps it would even reveal Azula's coup. Perhaps...the Dai Li could be stopped early.
Right as the last thought dawned over Yuhan's face, Iroh suddenly gave the subtlest of smiles, his golden eyes twinkling as his hand slowly raised to prepare another flame. The unspoken message clicked immediately; both of them knew that in order for a prisoner to be taken successfully without drawing the attention of the whole organization, said prisoner's comrade had to have failed to help – and then fail to tell the rest of the Dai Li about it.
Yuhan pushed off against the ground as hard as he could, while an enormous explosion of fire simultaneously shot right at his face. What Tao witnessed was a terrible impact, having hit hard enough to send his fellow agent's body flying straight over a tiled roof ahead and out of sight. "Yuhan!" he cried out despairingly.
It was long enough now, he believed. With his eyes shut, Yuhan had been lying there for several dragging minutes, motionless on the ground where he'd landed. Because, no matter how stupid and staged this was...Joo Dee had to see his actions as loyalty. She was around here somewhere, he knew.
He slowly sat up, wincing horribly in artificial pain as he rubbed his head. Now to think of the kind of statement that would keep her from doing anything crazy... Yuhan looked around with dazed eyes, as if he had no idea where he was. "What...happened?" he wondered out loud, his sluggish voice extremely exaggerated. There. Now she could plainly see that he'd been knocked out cold enough to forget about the whole incident, and that he couldn't help it if no one knew about Tao's capture.
Yep, that ought to have done it. Yuhan staggered to his feet and pretended to limp away from the scene, almost feeling for the first time that Riya was somewhere nice and safe.
It wasn't long before every agent of the Dai Li was summoned back to headquarters. The coup still had to go on, after all, with or without Iroh imprisoned.
Yuhan was at the face of Ba Sing Se's downfall as he rejoined a disgruntled Hiroshu with the rest of his organization. With her two imposter companions lined up beside her, Princess Azula was beginning to send away the divided portions of the crowd, with each sharp hand signal indicating another team of Council of Five-captors.
It was the beginning of the end – the end being the moment in which Joo Dee would be sealed to her fate forever. Yet, there was only one thing the heartbroken Peace Orator focused on at the moment: Iroh was on his side.
There was no mistaking it. After seeing that all-knowing smile, Yuhan was positive that Iroh's actions weren't meant only to save his nephew. He also wanted to save Ba Sing Se. Well – anyone else would have incredulously questioned whether or not Yuhan was just imagining this, since it was just a smile after all. But a good Peace Orator was a good Peace Orator, and this time he was just going to trust his instincts about people. And Iroh was on his side.
The young agent felt strangely relieved that he was no longer the only one fighting to stop Azula's plan. Somewhere out there, someone else was trying. The same person who'd convinced him never to give up himself. Yuhan almost smiled for the first time in what felt like years. His motivation to try felt renewed again. Guess I'll just have to keep taking your advice then, huh?
"You lot!" Azula commanded, bringing his thoughts to a screeching halt as she pointed sharply at his team. "Head out to the Royal Palace and retrieve General How."
...Well, first he'd just have to figure out how in the world he was supposed to try right now.
For those of you waiting on reviews that stalk my activity instead of confronting me about my delays (I know how it works :P), I wasn't putting them off for this chapter. A long road trip and a day with no internet led to this, in which period I couldn't read any of my scheduled fanons. Just letting ya know ;)
- The author doesn't know why the later chapters are getting shorter. Probably because she's too sleep-deprived to write 10k-word ones these days!
- Expect more action scenes in the near future. Lots of 'em.
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