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Chapter 23: Escalation
Suki, Toph, and Mai had their hands full; it was as if every agent had chosen that moment to attack. Toph could feel each Dai Li agent and their intentions, and she responded accordingly. One of them slid toward her, but she sent two small patches of earth to trip him up. She then attacked another, using her space earth bracelet to wrap around an agent's neck. Unfamiliar with the new form, the man struggled until a fist sized rock to the head knocked him unconscious.
Mai made use of her stilettos to pin agents to the wall, while at the same time taking them out of the fight with precisely thrown pebbles to the temple. An agent launched his rock gloves, fist closed, at her to bring her down, but she whipped out her sai and threw it. It broke through the rock glove and penetrated the man's right shoulder. Mai smiled and launched her newest weapon, the bolo, from her wrist launcher. The bolo, a dart with a small metal ball instead of a point, smacked the pained agent in the forehead, removing him as a threat. The knife thrower walked up nonchalantly and pulled the sai from the man, allowing his unconscious body to drop.
Suki made use of her fan and katana, blinding one agent while back-kicking another. She knocked a set of rock gloves off course with her blade and closed her fan, making it the ideal weapon to bludgeon her hapless opponent. "We really need to get out of here!" She cried as she kicked one of them between the legs.
"I'm working on it!" Toph replied. As a group of Dai Li closed in on her, she very quickly encased herself in a suit of earth armor, simultaneously launching several of them into the ceiling. The last man standing around her found his arm pinned to the wall by a shackle made from Toph's bracelet. Unfortunately for him, he did not even have time to register the incoming rock. Toph, recognizing that she had a moment's calm, reached deep into the earth. She could feel exactly where Yun was, and his heart rate was accelerated. He was in trouble.
As Ty Lee ran toward him, Yun Zhen backed away. "Ty Lee, wait!" But she ignored him jumped to his right, running across the rock wall. She kicked off and landed behind him, but he sensed her intentions and used the earth to redirect her strikes.
His cries fell on deaf ears. She continued to strike at his limbs in order to immobilize him, but he was able to dodge each attempted punch. He decided to switch tactics.
"Please, Ty Lee, don't do this!" He cried as he slid toward Long Feng. Two Dai Li agents landed in front of him and blocked his path. Yun unsheathed his sword and ducked under the first agent, running his blade across the man's midsection. The other, however, opted to go airborne and launched himself above Yun's return stroke. Yun, anticipating the maneuver, slid up the wall and kicked off, intercepting him in midair. The agent fell to the ground with a massive gash in his stomach, while Yun continued his attack by adding a downward stroke aimed at Ty Lee. He realized at the last second what he was about to do, though, and cut off his attack. This left him open, and Yun felt his breath leave in short gasps as Ty Lee paralyzed his limbs.
He could hear Long Feng clapping as he closed his eyes and tried to regulate his breathing. "Excellent, Ty Lee, now finish him."
Confusion came over Yun as he discovered that he could feel his limbs again, but he soon realized that her strikes hadn't been designed to take him out for long. She's still there! Somewhere in the back of her mind, she doesn't want this. He was brought back to the grim reality when he felt a strike at the base of his skull.
"Augh!" He screamed as pain shot through his head. Blood dripped from his nose as the pain in his head intensified. No...not now! The pain grew immense, and he groaned under its weight. She's going to kill me. He expected another strike to come, and it terrified him. Yun's body shook as his some life returned to his limbs, and he dared glance up at the girl he come to care about.
Aang, Sokka, and Katara were welcomed by the Earth King, but he looked distant. "What brings you here, young Avatar?"
Sokka stepped forward, all immaturity removed from his expression. "Earth King Kuei, we believe that the Dai Li may attempt another coup. They took one of our friends, and we think they might be after you as well."
Kuei exhaled. "I don't believe they would, seeing that my father won't allow them to touch me."
Aang raised an eyebrow. "Your father? I thought that he was dead."
"Just the opposite; we were all fooled. All those years, he was preparing to strike back at the Fire Nation." Kuei stood and scratched behind Bosco's ear, a gesture more suited to calming his nerves than making the bear happy. "I can see the pieces falling into place. Long Feng and the Dai Li hid everything from me! And now my father is in the city with a small portion of his army, ready to take his throne back."
"Indeed I am." All four were surprised to see an older man in an ornate suit of armor, with another in an officer's uniform by his side. "Do not fear, Avatar Aang; I know of you. I also know that Ba Sing Se is mine again!"
Yun was afraid. He didn't want to die; he didn't want to leave Ty Lee to be used by Long Feng. He looked up to see Ty Lee staring down at him with a blank expression. She winced, something he had not expected. "I know you, don't I?" Her voice was low and devoid of emotion.
Ty Lee, you do! Please...
Long Feng's eyes widened. "That does not matter! KILL HIM!"
"Of course." She replied, but as she raised her hand to strike, Yun spoke.
"Please...I don't want to lose you." Tears rolled down his cheeks. "I've lost too many people already. Please, Ty Lee, you have to snap out of it!"
Long Feng laughed. "She will never remember what transpired between the two of you! She is my puppet, nothing more!"
But as he spoke, a spark flashed through Ty Lee's mind. Remember... She did remember; she knew him. What was his name?
"Ty Lee, focus!" Long Feng barked. "What is oblivion?"
The spark was gone, washed away by the strength of the post hypnotic suggestion. "A sweet escape..."
Yun said three words he knew he should have said by the fountain, the words he had not had the courage to say. The words he hadn't really understood until that moment. "I love you." He wanted her to remember some part of him no matter what happened.
The spark reignited, becoming a tiny flicker of a flame within her mind. Her gray eyes flickered again, and her pupils shrank slightly. "How... how can you say that? We don't even know each other." Don't know...who is he?
Yun stood shakily and reached his hand out toward her. "I know you. I know that you're one of seven identical sisters. I know that, to feel unique, you ran off to join the circus. I know that you betrayed Azula to save the life of your friend. And I know that no matter what you may think, you do matter. You matter to me, to Mai, to all of us." His chin quivered. "Please, come back."
The flame grew. She remembered the Jasmine Dragon, the Kyoshi Day Feast, the journey to the Fire Nation, the fountain, and... The kiss. Yun!
A sweet escape. The words screamed in her brain. "No..."
She gritted her teeth and stared intently at Yun's outstretched hand. "No..."
A sweet escape.
"No..." She collapsed to her knees and cried out with all of her might. "Yun!"
As she realized the severity of what she had been about to do, her shoulders heaved as she sobbed.
Yun dropped to the floor wrapped his arms around her and held her close. "It's okay, it's going to be okay."
Thank the spirits...
"ENOUGH!" Long Feng screamed as he took a fighting stance. "This ends now!!" He lifted a large slab of earth and launched it toward them.
Aang lifted his staff in attack position. "You created the mess with the colonies!"
Yuan Chong chuckled. "I did that and so much more. Even now, Ba Sing Se's Inner Wall falls to my forces. Even now, I have the power to defeat you, but it does not have to be this way." He glanced at Kuei. "Each of you has battled the Fire Nation spectacularly, and you won the War. However, you did not punish them enough! They need to know what the people of this world felt." He extended his hand. "Join me in finishing this war, all of you! The Fire Nation will know our might!"
Kuei shook his head. "I told you before to stand down. I will only say it this last time!"
Aang, Katara, and Sokka each prepared for a fight. "We stand with King Kuei and Fire Lord Zuko; stand down!" Aang ordered.
The old Earthbender closed his eyes. "I respect your position as Avatar." He raised a massive rock from the ground and fired it at Aang. "But it will not preclude my position as Earth King!" He waved Ri Wu away as Aang broke his projectile apart. "Go prepare the troops at the Inner Wall. I can handle them."
Ri Wu bowed. "Of course, sire."
Aang looked at Kuei. "Katara and Sokka will get you out of here while I deal with him."
Katara shook her head. "No! I am staying by your side. Sokka can take Kuei."
Aang nodded, knowing that was a battle he would not win. "Go, get him out of here, warn the Council of Five."
"We will prepare to counterattack." Kuei said as he and Sokka exited the throne room.
Aang turned back around to see a large pillar sliding toward him.
Yun gritted his teeth as he placed himself between Ty Lee and the attack.
"No more!" The monster would never hurt Ty Lee again.
He could see, through his connection with the earth, the weakest point in the rock that was coming toward him, and he struck that. The stone crumbled, but Yun wasn't finished. He used the pieces to create new gauntlets; the stone fragments rolled over his forearms and formed new gauntlets. With renewed fervor, Yun shoved his hands toward the earth and twisted. Long Feng's eyes widened as his feet were submerged.
As the head of the Dai Li pulled himself out, he failed to realize Yun's distraction. The teenager launched the fingertips from his gauntlet; they were not spikes, however, but blunt. Each one struck a specific pressure point.
As Yun rocketed toward him with his earth shoes, Long Feng attempted to raise another slab but found that he could not. His expression moved from determination to horror as he realized what the young Earthbender's intentions were. Yun launched his left boot off, slamming it into Long Feng's ribcage. Long Feng felt three ribs give completely on his right side.
"Augh!" The pain forced the air from his lungs.
As he backed away, Yun launched the other boot at his left knee. A resounding pop accompanied the man's groan as he collapsed to his knees. Yun was not finished. He brought down his gloved fists repeatedly on his opponent. The young man cried out in rage as he hammered his stone-covered fists against the Grand Secretariat's face again and again. Blood and teeth fell to the floor as his assault came to its end. Long Feng attempted a weak haymaker with his remaining strength, but Yun blocked as he sent an uppercut into his already broken ribs.
No cry could come from his mouth, only air as Yun broke his cheekbone with another punch. He then sharpened the claws on his gauntlet and punctured his chest while at the same time slamming him into the ground.
Yun grimaced as he contemplated lengthening the claws into spikes when he realized something. More agents were coming.
"Ty Lee..." He turned and ran over to her, leaving Long Feng beaten to near death on the floor.
Aang pushed himself over the rock with a concentrated air blast, but his staff was knocked away by a flurry of smaller rocks. He pushed through them all only to see another boulder flying toward him; he simply crashed through it. As he landed in front of the former Earth King, he sent dual fire blasts at his opponent. However, the old man simply put up a thick rock wall to block the flames.
Before Aang could react, Yuan Chong lifted a small pillar into his abdomen and followed by reaching through the barrier, grabbing Aang's arm, and flinging him into the wall. He launched another boulder at Aang, but the Avatar broke it apart before it struck.
Aang was breathing heavily as Katara looked on, concern growing as she watched the exchange. I need to find some way to help Aang.
Aang glared at Yuan Chong as he launched a forward fire blast while curving another around the side when his opponent raised the rock shield. The initial attack failed, but the second blasted the 51st Earth King into the wall. Katara held out water from her water skin to use.
Aang nodded and took the water, forming a thin, concentrated blade. He swung it as his foe was getting to his feet. Yuan Chong raised an earth shield to block, but the water cut straight through it and bit into his shoulder. "Ah..." Yuan Chong grinned. "That's the way to fight!"
He stood waiting for Aang to make a move.
I can't beat him like this; I have to do something. Aang's next thought scared him, but he had to try. He concentrated, and his tattoos and eyes temporarily glowed.
"So now I get to see the fabled Avatar Sta—oof!" Yuan Chong was cut short when a massive pillar split from the ground, striking him in the chest. He slid along the floor but was finally able to gain purchase and stand. "Well played."
Aang continued his assault, launching the largest fire blast Katara had ever seen. The old king tried to block, but it ripped through his defenses as if they were nothing. Aang's foe was knocked through the palace wall by the blast, and he fell down the steps.
"I will not lose today." Yuan Chong growled.
As Aang rocketed out, intent on finishing the fight, the old man saw his opportunity. Katara was standing at the top of the stairs. He encased her feet in rock and sent a boulder her direction.
The young Avatar turned, being still in control, and rushed to save his girlfriend. As he stopped the boulder, Yuan Chong slammed him into the wall with another one he had already had in place.
Katara's eyes widened. "Aang, no!"
Fifteen Dai Li surrounded Yun and Ty Lee as more came and carried Long Feng away.
"Kill them!" His rescuers said as they opened a hole in the wall that they could retreat through.
Yun glanced around at the sheer number of agents. He couldn't take all of them and protect Ty Lee. She shivered in his arms, saying one word over and over as her pupils fluttered between normalcy and their dilated state.
As the Dai Li readied themselves to attack, Yun saw only one option, and it probably wouldn't hold them for more than a few seconds. Still, he felt footsteps running toward them, familiar steps. If he could buy time, he would. Yun prepared to throw a wall between them and Ty Lee, knowing he would likely die. At least she'll have a chance. but as they fired pieces of their rock gloves, the two were completely covered by a cone of earth.
"We've got your back!" Toph yelled as the three of them began picking the Dai Li apart.
Sooner than I thought...
Yun gently lowered Ty Lee to the floor. "Wait here. We'll keep you safe; I promise." He exited the cone and attacked the nearest Dai Li agent with fervor.
Aang pushed the boulder off of him, but he was in terrible pain. Katara rushed over to him. "Aang! Please be okay!"
Yuan Chong staggered to his feet, wounded from the severity of Aang's attacks. He turned to an approaching Ri Wu. "Finish the fight at the Inner Wall; I'll deal with them." He chopped downward, sending two spikes out of the earth at Aang and Katara, but the spikes stopped short.
"What!" He turned to see General How.
The head of the Council of Five glanced at Katara. "Go. Now."
Katara nodded and helped Aang to his feet as Kuei ran toward them. The 52nd Earth King put his arm under Aang's right side and helped Katara carry Aang.
Yuan Chong stroked his beard. "Because of your courage, I will allow them to live, but you..." He completely dislodged both earth gauntlets and threw them at How. "Your fate is mine to decide!"
Sokka and Appa landed in the courtyard at the top of the steps where Katara and Kuei waited with an unconscious Aang. "Hop on. We have to leave now!"
Katara and Kuei lifted Aang onto Appa. They both followed suit, and within seconds, they were off to Lake Laogai. "We have to pick the others up." Sokka said.
"What about Zuko and Dad?" Katara asked as she healed Aang's simpler wounds.
Sokka closed his eyes. "We can only hope they got out."
As they neared the lake, Kuei looked back and saw smoke rising. "I never thought that the Earth Kingdom could fall at all, but it has. Twice in my reign."
- This ends Book One, I don't think I'll have more than two, though
- The ending is similar to The Crossroads of Destiny
For the collective works of the author, go here.