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Chapter 1: Decisions
Drip. Drip. Drip. Blood trickled down the steps as Usha's voice rang out. "I will simply watch, Avatar Aang, as your heart is rent in two!"
Sweat covered the Avatar as he awoke with a start. Light crept in through the blinds on his window, and he remembered that he was still in Republic City. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and put a robe over his shoulders. Damn nightmares. Damn Usha. He would never admit it to his children, but he was terrified. Visions like the one the veiled woman had supposedly experienced, and the nightmares plaguing him now, were not to be trifled with.
Tenzin and Sora wouldn't understand that, though, not yet. That simple fact made Aang's job all the more difficult. As he walked down the steps into the main hub on his way to the banquet hall, he pondered how best to handle the situation. Iroh, Sokka, Toph, Yun Zhen, Ty Lee, and the children all sat at the table while the servants brought out breakfast. Aang sighed. Who knew how they'd react?
"Morning, Dad!" Sora beamed, either completely oblivious to last night's ordeal or just trying to cheer him up with her disposition. The Avatar smiled back at her; oblivious she was not. The nightmare a distant memory, at least for now, Aang now focused on the business of the day.
"Good morning, all." He glanced at everyone and noticed an anomaly. "Where's Tenzin?"
Iroh sipped his cup of jasmine tea. "He is eating breakfast with Teela." The statement appeared to be offhand, but the look that he gave Aang said otherwise.
"Oh...well, then I'll go get him. I have something that I'd like to discuss with both of you."
Her perky behavior drooped slightly. "Oh, okay..."
"Y'know, Teela, you're not very complicated." Tenzin forcibly shoved his noodles down his throat, true hunger eluding him.
Teela gave an inquisitive grunt in response.
"Trust me; it's a compliment." Tenzin looked at his Sky Bison friend. "I don't have to lie to you, we can trust each other, and you accept me."
A long groan followed his statement.
"Well, yes, you do reserve the right to tell me when I'm wrong." He narrowed his eyes as he ingested more noodles. "And you use that right liberally."
"Appa does the same thing; believe me." Aang walked toward his son. "Come to the Banquet Hall. I have something that I'd like to discuss with everyone present."
Tenzin nodded as he stood. Teela grunted once more, and he smiled and scratched behind her ear. "I'll take you out later, girl, I promise."
"What?!!" Tenzin and Sora both shouted simultaneously.
"You heard me." Aang folded his arms. "I'm going back to the North Pole, and you are both coming with me."
Sora simply responded by scowling and looking away, but Tenzin would have none of it. "You can't do this! We're having the time of our lives; you can't take that away!"
Aang narrowed his eyes. "You're lying to me, Tenzin. And even if you weren't, I'm still in charge. You will do what I say, when I say it."
The young Airbender's nostrils flared, and he found himself struggling to contain his emotions. The air pressure in the room began to constrict, and Aang realized what was happening.
"Tenzin..." He used his own Airbending abilities to counteract his son's uncontrollable bending. "Calm down. Let's discuss this rationally."
The pressure began to loosen, and everyone else present breathed a sigh of relief. "You're afraid of Usha." Tenzin stated. "You think she'll come back, so you want us with you."
Aang nodded. "I wouldn't put it past her."
"We can handle ourselves, Dad. Besides, we have two Grand Lotuses here. Go to the North Pole and confront Usha, but let us stay here. Please...stop treating us like children."
The Avatar stroked his beard before turning to the Dragon of the West and his brother-in-law. "Are you two staying here already? I don't want to inconvenience you."
Iroh smiled. "Sokka has other matters to attend to, but I shall be staying in Republic City, as will Mrs. Bei Fong."
"I'll be staying as well." Yun Zhen leaned forward. "I was recently tasked by Fire Lord Zuko to make the tower into an embassy of sorts for the Fire Nation."
Ty Lee raised an eyebrow. "When did this happen?"
Yun flashed a sheepish smile. "Yesterday afternoon. I didn't want to ruin the celebration with all this political jargon."
"Well then," She shot him a smile that held a slight amount of resentment behind it. "We can talk about this later. I'm staying too."
The Fire Nation Captain knew better than to argue, and Aang simply nodded. "I do feel better knowing that they won't be here by themselves." He turned to his children. "We'll talk specifics later, and I expect you to honor my decision."
Gareth folded his arms and rested his foot on the circular table. "That's the conclusion you've come up with? That is what you believe is best?"
Sun Loc nodded. "Our spies witnessed the Avatar's son and a friend entering the warehouse. A major contingent of Equalists is stationed there."
Gareth shook his head. "And you want us to attack them outright? That would be insane! What possible reason would we have to take on a portion of the Equalists there?" He stared at each one of the four people sitting at the table.
Tao leaned forward. "My connections on the police force have allowed me to determine that Solf Koruhagi, the second-in-command, is among the warehouse group."
The Firebender closed his eyes and exhaled. Here was an opportunity to finally draw the Equalists out of hiding. He opened his eyes, rage and desire burning within his pupils. "Do it. I'll lead this time."
Appa groaned a farewell as Aang readied his saddle. "You will both listen to your elders as you would me, and if you feel like something is off, do not hesitate to get help." He sighed. "I know you are more than capable of handling yourselves, but the Spirit World is something that cannot be taken lightly."
Sora and Tenzin both nodded. "Don't worry, Dad; we'll be fine." Tenzin petted Appa's forehead. "We're the children of the Avatar and the most powerful Waterbender on the planet. We'll be fine."
Aang smiled and shook his head. "So naive..." He hopped into Appa's saddle. "I trust you both; it's other people I don't trust. I love you both, so much." He turned away. "Yip, yip!"
Appa flew off toward the Northern Water Tribe, and Tenzin turned to Sora. "Well, that was...almost bad."
"I can't believe he actually let us stay." She replied.
Tenzin shrugged. "Neither can I."
Sora looked at her twin. "That outburst back there...is there something wrong?"
His eyes narrowed. "No."
"She's locked herself in her room, sir."
Solf Koruhagi glanced at the man before him. "Does anyone know why?"
He quickly whipped his head back and forth. "No. She's not speaking to anyone."
Solf nodded. "I'll speak to her. Thank you for letting me know."
He made his way to her room, all the while wondering what caused the change in attitude. When he reached her door, he knocked twice.
"Come in." Pema replied in a hurried voice.
"Is something wrong, Kitsune? There have been reports that you are not quite yourself."
She smiled. He'd never shown this level of compassion before. "No...nothing's wrong. I just need a little time to myself."
He gave a terse nod in response. "Good. It will not do to have anything getting in the way of your mission."
"Oh..." Her shoulders sagged slightly. "I see."
"I suspect an attack by the Brotherhood at our next target, so we have to find out how they are getting their intel and stop it."
"Yes, of course."
"One last thing," He said as he twirled a shikkar in his right hand. "Did you ever hear back from those two boys?"
Her eyes widened involuntarily before she regained control of her expression. "N-no. I—I don't think they were up for it."
Koruhagi sighed. "I suppose some aren't. Very well, I will inform you when we have our next objective."
She bowed hesitantly. "Yes, sir."
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