|By Mark Ebson||Genre||Rating||Reviews||Updates|
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|Descent, Part 1|
Days went by without incident since the night during which Zuko nearly lost his life. Still, however, he was becoming more paranoid with every passing day. He had gotten rid of all his guards, as he did not know who could or could not be trusted. Of course, this came with a major disadvantage: it meant that his own protection took a huge dent. He still had his friends and uncle, sure, but there was nobody beyond that.
Ursa was a wreck. She feared greatly for the life of her son, and it was taking a toll on her. She was going through nights sleepless, and it was making her physically ill. Zuko even pondered sending her to a safer place for a short while, but she resented the idea. "There is no other place in the world that I could be but here," she said. "Haven't we been apart long enough?"
And so his family remained with him. Without guards, however, the Palace was uncharacteristically empty. It was quite an eerie feeling; ironically, it often made Zuko feel like somebody was there. He constantly looked behind him, as if he would catch someone following him.
Along with paranoia, Zuko was becoming much more reserved. He hadn't left the Palace at all, in fear of somebody trying to kill him. He hadn't talked to any of his friends either, save for one: Katara. She never left him alone; she was even more persistent than his mother, who would at least accept the fact that he didn't want to talk about anything. Katara, however, couldn't bring herself to do that. She had to help him. It was the absolute, most irritating thing to Zuko.
Katara was having a good track record lately with the whole "opening up" thing. After all, she had gotten Toph to open up about missing her parents. Toph, the tough one who attacked Katara over her annoying determination, opened up. It sounded impossible, but Katara made it happen.
And she was going to make it happen with Zuko as well. She had this in mind as she opened the tall doors to the Palace, making her way through the various hallways to the room she knew already that Zuko was in: the Throne Room. He had spent countless hours in there recently, despite having rarely been seen in there when he was first Fire Lord.
Katara could see the doors now, about thirty feet away. She tried to start thinking of what to say to him; how she could convince the Fire Lord to spill his feelings. It was funny, in a way: she had helped defeat the most powerful and dangerous man on the planet, doing what anybody would think impossible, and yet now she was struggling to think of how to get her friend to tell her what was bothering him and how she could help. Somehow, the latter seemed more unlikely.
As Katara opened the doors, she saw Zuko sitting right where she had expected. He looked disconcerted, and rightfully so, considering everything that had happened. But her presence certainly didn't seem to help.
"Get out," were the first words that reached her ears upon opening those doors. "Well," Katara replied, "that certainly isn't a polite way to greet someone. And I think you and I both know the chances of me leaving."
"About the same as me telling you anything, so don't waste your time."
Katara scowled at the reply. "I don't understand why you're so averse to talking. I just want to help you!"
"Maybe it's because there's nothing to talk about, so leave!"
"Yes; there is obviously nothing to talk about. All that's happened in the past few days is that you nearly died, then got rid of every single guard in the Palace, and now you haven't talked to anyone for days! Everything's perfectly normal!"
"I'm not talking to you, so I'd suggest that you go."
"Or what?" Katara had realized that her face was inches away from Zuko now; she had been advancing on him ever so slowly in her anger. They were both glaring furiously into the other's eyes, and remained locked in that position for what seemed like a century before Zuko finally broke the silence.
"Just get out. Now."
Katara growled, her face livid at the response to the help she was trying to give. "You know what, fine! If you don't need to talk to me, then I don't mind! Just stay in here forever by yourself for all I care!" She stormed out of the room, Zuko following her as the two continued to exchange enraged words. Finally, they reached the main entrance to the Palace, and she left. Zuko closed the door and began to walk back toward the Throne Room. Finally, he could have some quiet.
Well, that quiet didn't last too long. A scream came from outside just seconds after he had closed the door.
"She's just still mad," Zuko said to himself. It was nothing to worry about.
Meanwhile, Aang was in his home, meditating on the events that had happened before. Somehow, he was able to absorb energy from a fire attack, and redirect it back at the attackers. Now, he realized this was possible with lightning, but he had no idea it was possible with regular fire. The again, did anyone have an idea? Nobody had told him of this earlier, and it surely would have been helpful the other countless times he had to escape from Firebenders.
Further than that, Aang killed people. Not just a person or two, but a lot of people. Granted, they were trying to kill him and he had no control over what he was doing, but it was something that the child - after all, he was still a child - could not deal with lightly. It meant that he didn't have control over his powers. To Aang, it meant that he still was not ready to handle the responsibility of being Avatar. He had been overwhelmed in the Avatar State that day, and it was something that could not happen again.
"Avatar Roku, I seek your wisdom," was the only noise in a home filled with silence. And right on cue, the previous incarnation of the Avatar made himself visible to Aang. "Aang," he said, "I know why you are calling me, and I have the answers you desire."
"Roku, why? Why did I do that? I thought I could control myself in the Avatar State now. What's wrong with me?"
"There is nothing wrong with you, Aang. I'll admit, this was my own fault - I took control of your by surprise. You had no way of knowing."
"Then what did you make me do? And why couldn't I do it before?"
"Aang, when you learned Energybending, you opened up a wide rang of possibilities that you alone could never see all of. They are so great, that it takes more than one mind to see them all."
"Yes, it was. You see, Aang, when a Firebender creates his fire, not only is energy from the sun important, but his own internal energy is as well. When you were taught Energybending, I saw the connection between the two, and realized that with Energybending, one should be able to manipulate fire. As you can see, I was right - and I think it may have saved your life, and your friends'."
"I could have done that fine on my own! I didn't need your help!"
Although Aang was starting to get irritated, Roku remained calm and didn't show any sign of annoyance. "Aang, you could not have defeated them all without killing some, and I knew you could not do that on your own."
Aang stood up, visibily angry. "Then why kill that many? You didn't have to get all of them! It might have been thirty people that you killed!"
Now Roku began to be vexed by Aang's refusal to listen. "And think how many more would have died, if the Avatar had died right there, on the spot!" Then he disappeared, and Aang was alone again.
Suddenly, Aang realized that he had to talk to Roku again. He may have disagreed with what was done, but...was it wrong? Maybe to him, but not to Roku, and he had to understand that. So he sat down again, meditating for a second time. And this time, it only took a few seconds for something to happen. It's just that Aang didn't expect it.
Suddenly, the darkness created by closing his eyes were filled with an image of the courtyard of the Royal Palace. Katara was in the center, and some men were tying her hands together as she struggled and screamed. But there was nobody around to hear her. No houses were within a distance of the Palace that they could easily see what was going on. Anybody who was home might hear a scream somewhere in the distance, but it was too far off for anyone to want to go and check to see what was happening.
Unless Zuko came outside, nobody would help Katara.
Zuko continued his walk toward the Throne Room after he had heard the scream. He stopped for a moment, but assumed it was Katara venting out her anger at him. After all, he did say a lot to get her angry. The both of them did. They never did seem to get along often.
But Zuko couldn't ignore this second scream. "Calm down, now," he thought to himself, but when Katara was crying, "Zuko, help me!" he couldn't just say she was angry anymore. Something went wrong out there, and he had to help.
No, he couldn't. He couldn't go outside, not with the possibility of what could happen to him. But then, if he didn't, what happened to Katara? Could he really stay inside to keep himself safe at the cost of a dear friend? The very thought of it made Zuko's face contort in disgust; how could he even think such a thing? He had to put Katara first over himself, anyone before himself.
Zuko burst outside through the main doors, but he was met with a sight he didn't quite expect. Katara was not there. Instead, there was Aang, who looked wildly concerned, and he was accompanied by Toph, Sokka, and Suki, all sharing the same facial expression as the Avatar. Zuko realized that he had waited too long. Katara was gone, and it was his fault. Upon seeing Zuko, Aang immediately approached him, trying to figure out what was going on. He knew Katara was at the Palace, so of course Zuko would have a clue as to what happened. "Where is Katara?" he asked. He was hoping more than he had ever hoped before that there was a straight answer.
Zuko looked downward for a second before finally replying. "I heard her screaming after she left, but I didn't get out here quickly enough. Someone must have attacked her."
This was not the answer Aang was hoping for, because now they had a problem on their hands. Katara was missing, and no one had a clue where she was. "How long was she screaming before you got out here?" Aang wanted to know how long it was since she had been taken away, although whoever attacked her couldn't be too far yet.
Zuko didn't quite want to answer this question. The answer was that he didn't bother to help, that he had practically let Katara be attacked as he sat there and waited. "I'd say a good twenty seconds before I got outside."
Aang was expecting an answer between five and ten seconds. Surely Zuko would have run out immediately after thinking Katara could be in danger; why would he have any reason to wait? Something must have gone wrong. "What were you doing when she screamed? That's a little...long to get over here."
Please, just stop the questioning and find her, Zuko thought. He couldn't imagine how Aang would react when he heard that Zuko had actually waited to see if Katara was alright. "I wasn't too far from that door, actually..." Then he paused, knowing that he had something coming for him. And he deserved it, too. "To be honest, I waited to come out here."
Aang's expression immediately changed from worried curiosity to downright fury. "How could you just sit there?" he shouted. "Did you even care that she was out here screaming?" He couldn't believe Zuko. He was furious. He was close to breaking out into a rage, and who knew what he'd do then?
Zuko scrambled to explain himself. "You don't understand!" he began, but Aang had heard enough. Not even giving Zuko a chance to speak, he interrupted, "I don't understand? I think I understand perfectly! I know you've been angry with her lately, but look what you've done now!" And without even thinking, Aang whipped out his staff and sent a blast of air, knocking Zuko straight into the outer wall of the Palace. He could kill him right now, he was so angry. He kept sending wave after wave of air, nearly bashing Zuko's head into the stone wall.
Zuko refused to fight back, not wanting to hurt Aang. Still, he needed to protect himself. All he could do was run from the attacks and plead for the boy to stop - not that the latter seemed to be doing any good. But Aang was in a rage, and he wasn't taking time to aim; instead, he was throwing out one attack after another. It didn't seem like Aang was in his normal state, but Zuko knew that he loved Katara. As far as they knew, Zuko had might as well have killed her.
A good ten seconds later, Suki and Sokka came to Zuko's rescue, grabbing both of Aang's arms from behind and making sure he couldn't move. "Stop it, Aang!" Sokka yelled, with Aang struggling to break free of their grasps. "You're not doing any good right now, because we're just letting whoever attacked Katara get further away. So let's look for some clue as to where they went."
They began searching, but they were immediately interrupted by Toph. "I feel some movement that way" - she pointed toward the northern side of the city - "but I could be wrong. If we're right, they're not far off; maybe only a quarter of a mile." Toph knew she couldn't feel people that far away, though: the only way she could have known was if there was a large mass. And it had to be large.
"It's the only clue we have," Sokka replied. "Let's start moving!" Then they set off, with Toph as their guide; unfortunately, in his haste, Aang had forgotten his glider and couldn't get an aerial view of the city. They had to rely on what Toph could sense.
The five reached a narrow alleyway, which Toph seemed to be certain the unknown attackers traveled down. Everyone was indoors, obviously frightened by the commotion outside. There was no authority anymore to take care of it, no soldier to keep the people safe. The Fire Nation Capital was now a very dangerous place to live in, and everyone was sure to keep themselves away from any possible threat.
They began to run down the alleyway, but Toph yelled for them to stop. "I feel something under the stone," she said. "Like someone hid something under there. But I don't know what it is."
Immediately, Sokka took a coin from his pocket. He threw it downward so that it would bounce on the stone road. It hit once, nothing. Then it bounced further. Nothing happened. But the third time, something definitely did happen. There was an explosion, one that flung the coin a good distance away, and one that could have seriously injured any person who made the wrong move.
It didn't take a detective to figure out that the attackers' route had been planned beforehand. Of course, this changed everything: it meant that the attack on Katara was not some random crime. It meant that there was a motive behind it all. It meant that this was a trap.
"They know we're coming," Zuko said. He looked toward Aang, who didn't look fazed in the least bit.
"Then let's not keep them waiting."
|New Beginnings • What Happened to Ursa • Reunion • Omashu Attacked • Ozai's Followers • Descent, Part 1 • Descent, Part 2|
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