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Avatar: The Last Airbender
The Last Airbender Book Four: Air
Chapter Thirteen – Family Ties
Fire Nation Royal Palace, Nineteen Years Ago
"Azula!" The harsh voice of her father cut through the air. Instantly freezing the small girl simply continued to clutch the doll tightly in her hands. Without looking up she could hear the soft clatter of his slippers upon the stone floor and could feel the wrath of his cold, disapproving glare bearing down upon her face. The young girl was unable to stop a quiver of fear from shaking her legs.
"Azula why aren't you practicing your firebending with the instructor?" Prince Ozai demanded, repeating her name to emphasize his anger. She finally dared to look up at him. Her father's stern features suddenly made her seem smaller against the bench. His eyes appeared to glow, casting floodlights upon her, missing no detail. When they darted to the doll he let an exhale of breath.
"I see," he breathed. "Your mother's influence is what distracts you and robs you of your training." Sighing he sat down beside Azula. "I will tolerate her interference with Zuko but not with you...no you have far too much potential for it to be wasted by squandering your time with toys." His eyes again shot to the doll. Upon seeing the frightened expression of his daughter, however, the Fire Nation prince's face underwent a calculated change of expression. His visage softened and when he next spoke it was in a gentler tone.
"Azula I'm not angry with you, merely concerned." He cooed softly.
"Really?" She asked him innocently.
"Yes," Ozai mused, his voice escaping like steam. "I only want you to succeed and be the best person you can be. Your mother and uncle would have you waste your time on dolls and playing games like any other ordinary child but you, you Azula are definitely anything but ordinary. You are special. It is in your blood to be efficient and indomitable. And if you stay on the path I've lined out for you, you will become just that. However..." He reached out a hand and snatched away the doll. "If you allow yourself to be distracted and impressed by trivial things such as this why...why then you'll be an even greater disappointment to me than your brother. And I know you don't want to disappoint me." Azula shook her head quickly.
"No daddy, I want you to be proud." She answered in an eager voice. Ozai smiled and nodded.
"I am proud. Now run along and get back to your instructor," he said, rising from the bench; the doll still held tightly in his hand. Azula jumped up and sprinted away down the corridor, leaving her father standing alone on the balcony. Several seconds passed where Ozai stood, simply staring after her. Then he glanced down at the doll and, with a gag of disgust, threw it over the railing.
Fire Nation Royal Palace, Present Day
"Oh you've got to be kidding." Katara spat out. "Azula? That's all we needed in this situation was her. I can't believe it."
"Dear, the baby..." Aang came to his senses and hastily put in. However his wife cut him off with a look.
"No this makes sense, somebody has to be pulling the strings: now we have Azula. We can't trust a word she says! Somehow this must be a trap, though I don't know how she managed to plan it locked away in here." The waterbender sighed heavily and shook her head. The Avatar went over and put his arms around his wife. She looked up at him with sad eyes. "We never catch a break do we?" She asked. He smiled and shook his head, his face suddenly looking much more aged and fatigued.
"But wait a minute," Sokka began. "Isn't your sister you know...completely off her glacier?" The Water Tribe warrior was looking at the Firelord, whose brow was furrowed deep in thought. For some time nobody said anything, then Matora cleared his throat.
"I almost forgot to add that she mentioned she would only talk to you two alone." He put in. "Nobody else is allowed to be present."
"Probably so that Toph can't point out when she lies." Katara muttered.
"Uh-uh," Toph replied, shaking her head as she wiped away the tears that had been falling down her face. She had only just stopped crying. "I've tried before...Azula knows how to control her body so that it doesn't betray her, or at least she used to."
"Maybe she can't anymore?" Mai suggested. Lu Ten pulled at her robe.
"Mommy, are they talking about Auntie Azula? Does this mean she's come home?" He asked innocently. Everyone went quiet. Aang found himself staring at Zuko. At first he couldn't believe it, but then as he thought more, it made sense. Taking Azula back into the Palace must have been a high-risk situation with Lu Ten being so young, too young. If Azula was a threat she could easily harm the boy. Yet warning the infant would run the risk of piquing his childish curiosity of his aunt, yes the best way would be to just simply not tell him.
"He doesn't know?" Suki was asking in disbelief.
"And it will still be that way!" Mai snapped defensively before Zuko could respond. Then in a much softer voice to Lu Ten: "No sweetie, she's still with the doctors, I'm afraid it will be a long time before she can come home. Why don't you go play now, I'm sure all this big people talk is boring you. Go on now..." Mai pushed Lu Ten off and gestured for a servant to come and take him. The Avatar caught the slight but unmistakable appearance of resentment in the child's eyes. Even being so young, he still knew that this was a conversation he wanted to be a part of. The chamber was still until the small boy had departed.
Katara then turned and looked at Aang. "You're not going to meet with her, are you?" The airbender rubbed his head and looked pensive. Katara was probably right; everything he knew about Azula told him not to indulge her, but then would she be counting on that? The Fire Princess was so crafty that it was impossible to be sure that he wasn't playing into her hands. She may be completely counting on them to ignore her, if that was the situation then a meeting was the best way to throw her out of balance...but if she wanted the meeting, what then? Aang cast a look up at Zuko.
"What do you think?" He asked. "She's your sister, you know her better than any of us." The Firelord scoffed but scratched his chin. His eyes wandered about the room, as if searching around physically for an answer. Finally his head lowered and he sighed.
"I don't like how all of this is adding up." He responded flatly. "Katara's right, it's all too convenient. There's no way she should even know we need that information, unless...Matora, how many people outside this room know of the demon attack on Ba Sing Se?"
"None Sire." The Fire Nation general replied in a formal tone. "I told no one of this, for fear of the news spreading and causing a panic amongst the people." Zuko exhaled in gratitude.
"You did the right thing." He commended, before resuming his thoughtful pose. "So barring another messenger hawk, which is possible, there's no way the news would have broken to the public yet. That means she couldn't have overheard the guards or servants talking about it."
"Maybe she has spies in the Palace!" Sokka gasped. He threw a suspicious glance at Mai.
"Don't look at me! I didn't even want her here in the first place." The Firelady shot back. The Water Tribe warrior quickly put up his hands submissively.
"Okay! Okay, I didn't mean anything by it." He chirped. "Just an old habit.... Please don't hurt me!" Sokka ducked behind Suki to avoid Mai's glare. Zuko coughed to restore order.
"This is getting us nowhere." He announced plainly, as if having reached a decision. "Aang, I can tell from your expression we are of the same mind on this: we will speak with Azula. At least then we'll have a bit more to go on." Katara shook her head in disapproval but looked resigned. The Avatar placed his arms about her shoulders. He tried to give her a reassuring look but she didn't return his gaze. Instead she stood abruptly and exited the room. Aang watched her go, stunned. Had she suddenly been crying? He turned back to the crowd gathered about the table. None of their faces gave him comfort. At last he looked up to Zuko.
"All right." He conceded. "Let's get this over with then. We'll have a lot to figure out afterwards."
"Agreed." Zuko responded. He stood and stepped briskly over to the airbender. Together they both stared at the door Katara had just exited through. "I'm sure she's fine." The Firelord whispered under his breath. "This is just...it's a lot to take in." Aang looked at him briefly and nodded silently before returning his vision to the door. There had been tears on Katara's face. How could she have been so upset and he had not even been aware? Around them the others had rose up out of their seats and were making their way over.
"Well, while you two waste time with Firebreath's sister I'm going to go to the training grounds to get some real work done." Toph exclaimed. "Time's coming for fighting, not talking. Anyone else can join me if they want to." She brushed past Aang and Zuko and out the door. Sokka and Suki had a hushed conversation before following her. They both looked extremely distressed as they passed by Aang, their eyes only meeting his for a second. Eventually Mai made her way over as well. She didn't look happy.
"I've got to agree with Katara on this," she said shortly. "I don't know what you think you're going to get from Azula. There's nothing left there anymore. She's an empty, hollow, shell of a woman. And if by some miracle she has retained her identity, well then it only means we have another enemy to worry about."
"We don't know that, people can change." Aang countered. "Look at you and Zuko...you guys used to try and capture me all the time." Mai blushed but didn't avert her eyes.
"Yes I know..." She admitted remorsefully. "But it's not the same. Zuko did it for honor, I did it because I was stupid and I was ordered to. Azula though," Mai's face sharpened, "she was just doing it for the pleasure. She wanted to kill you Aang. She enjoyed hunting you and your group back then. People don't change that much." Her gaze suddenly diverted to the floor. "But if you want to talk to her fine." Abruptly she lifted her face to Zuko and gave her husband a hard glare. "Don't you dare do anything to put our son's life in jeopardy. Promise me that right now Zuko!"
The Firelord looked taken aback. "Mai I would never –" he began.
"Promise me!" She repeated and her eyes blazed. Aang cowered back. He had never once seen her show any kind of emotion on this level. Judging from Zuko's reaction he hadn't seen much of it either.
"I promise," he said quickly. "I'd never do anything to endanger our son, you know that!"
"You allowed her into this palace!" Mai shot back. Aang was growing more and more uncomfortable. This was not something he should be in the middle of. He could see the frustration in Zuko as the Firelord rubbed his temples.
"Mai this is not something I wish to discuss again...especially here." The Avatar watched as his friend's eyes darted briefly toward him. "I welcomed Azula back because Uncle said it was alright to do so. I trust his judgment on the matter as should you." The Firelord sighed again before adding, in a much lighter tone, "Come on, when has he ever been wrong before?" Mai said nothing but seemed to draw back from the argument. Perhaps she was convinced, perhaps she too had remembered that Aang was standing right there between them and did not want him overhearing family matters. Regardless of the reason, the airbender felt himself exhale a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding.
"I do trust him...and you." Mai said, very gently, to her husband. She put up a hand so that it rested on his cheek, on the side of his face that did not bear his scar. Then she drew back, as if at once afraid. "But not her." She added simply before striding briskly from the room.
For a moment the Avatar and the Firelord stood in silence. Aang didn't know quite what to say. It didn't seem like anyone approved of what they were doing yet he could think of no alternate solution. Whether evil, insane, or filled with a genuine insight that could help, Azula was the only lead they had. All of this just seemed so unbelievable, if Ba Sing Se could be destroyed in less than a day than no place was safe from this new threat.
"I don't think our wives are very happy with us right now." Zuko's voice interrupted the airbender's thoughts. He looked up to see his friend smiling at him; obviously this was an attempt to lighten the mood.
"No," Aang agreed, rubbing the back of his neck. "I think we messed up pretty good." There was a low, guttural, sound behind them. Both Aang and Zuko spun around. General Matora lowered his hand from his face; he had simply finished clearing his throat. The Avatar couldn't stop himself from a short chuckle. His last glimpse of Katara's face had made him so absorbed that he had completely forgotten the Fire Nation officer was in the room. Beside him he could see that Zuko had forgotten that fact as well.
However the Firelord recovered his composure quickly and beckoned the general over. Matora came swiftly, stopping directly in front of the pair. "Your orders Sire?" He asked respectfully. Zuko placed a hand upon his chin. It was obvious he was thinking hard.
"Issue a decree," he ordered at last. "One that commands all Fire Nation citizens living in this city to assemble in the plaza at sundown. Say only that the Earth Kingdom has been attacked, there's no need to go into the severity of this just yet. Conclude with the announcement that I will speak to the people of this threat and outline the role the Fire Nation will play in combating it. That is all, remember the less that is said about this right now the better." Matora saluted and bowed.
"By your command." He stated smartly. He started heading away before stopping. "Do you require anything else Sire?" He called over his shoulder. Zuko and Aang both turned their heads to face the aged soldier.
"Yes." Zuko affirmed gradually. "Check on our friends, see to it that they have all that they need..." he stopped for a moment, his eyes casting downward for a couple of seconds before he finished, "and make sure my family is safe. Those are your orders." Matora saluted again and headed off down the corridor.
Standing firm in the center on the Fire Nation Royal Palace training grounds, Toph widened her stance. One of the shots from the last volley had singed her left arm and, while these simulated soldiers could not inflict lethal damage, it still stung quite a bit. The blind earthbender allowed the feeling to flow out from her feet, detecting for even the faintest movement till even the feet of the tiniest insect sounded like a rampaging komodo-rhino. There, the sound of the spark igniting the wood followed simultaneously by both the rush of air from the bolt being released as well as a tremor, indicating which drone had fired the shot.
With lightning speed Toph dropped, so that her body resembled that of a crab's. In the same, fluid motion she brought her arms up in front of her face, causing a pillar of stone to rise up before her. Then, flinging her arms violently back down to her sides she sent the slab hurtling into the drone, intercepting the incoming fire before slamming into the launcher, decommissioning it and removing it from the fight. At the same time she felt the wind as two more bolts were released. The blind earthbender leapt to her right planting the corresponding hand firmly on the ground to retain her sight.
At the same time when her feet had risen off the ground they had taken two long chunks of earth with them. Rolling back to her left while still in midair, Toph cemented her left hand onto the ground, increasing her clarity in vision. She could now tell precisely which two of the targets had fired. It was only a simple matter of waiting for her improvised defense to deflect before two sharp kicks turned her protection to offense, slashing out at the remotes and cleaving them in two. Toph allowed herself a grin that faded quickly. Ce Jian had taught her to use her hands like that.
Not bothering to reload or repair the training program, Toph crossed over to the sidelines, where hard stone ended and soft grass began. She could feel the fading light of the sun's rays upon the back of her neck as she bowed her head and resisted a sob. Ce Jian had been such a good friend to her, more even. Now he was gone. Him and most of the city she had just begun to call home. It simply wasn't fair. The blind earthbender relaxed her muscles and sink even deeper into herself, paying little attention to the two pairs of footsteps that grew louder in her ears.
"Hey Toph...you okay?" It was Sokka's voice that first reached her ears. She shrugged. The other one felt like Suki. Almost as if to confirm this the Kyoshi Warrior opened her mouth to express her own concern.
"Are you sure?" Came the soft, gentle voice. "You're sure you're not...upset over anything." Toph winced, maybe she'd done a bit more damage to the remote fire launchers than she'd intended. "Because you know it's okay to be – to be affected by tragedy." Suki seemed to be having a hard time finding the right words. The blind earthbender merely shrugged again.
"These things happen," she said in the most dismissive tone she could muster. Evidently it must have sounded like she meant it because she heard both Sokka and Suki inhale sharply.
"Toph, don't write this off." Suki's voice was full of worry. The blind earthbender listened as the Kyoshi Warrior came over and sat down beside her, draping her arms reassuringly about her shoulders. "Talk to us. Please." Her voice continued. Toph looked away from the direction of the voice and curled her body up a little tighter. It surprised her to find that she suddenly had the urge to run at that point, to rise and flee at full speed from her friends. She wanted, for a brief moment, to cram herself into the smallest crack in the rock that she could find and disappear forever. A jolting shake of her head toppled such thoughts from her mind...still, for a brief moment they had existed.
"The two of you didn't come out here just to check up on me did you?" Toph shot out suddenly in an attempt to change the subject. She heard the shuffle of feet as Sokka moved closer.
"Actually we came out here to get some combat training against bender simulators in...but it seems like that won't be happening now. Too bad too, now neither of you will get to see the awesome might of Whale Sword in action!" Toph and Suki both snorted.
"Whale Sword? What happened to Boney?" Suki asked wryly. Even without seeing Toph could feel Sokka's moment of mind-blanking hesitation.
"It can have more than one name!" He spat out at last. "As long as it makes dicey-dicey of whatever monsters or demons or whatever it is we're fighting. That's what counts!"
"Whatever you say Boney." Toph commented when he had finished.
"No! Boney is the sword's name! Not mine!" Sokka shouted in distress. This caused both young women to burst out laughing.
"I don't know Sokka, it is a name that suits you." Suki managed between chuckles.
"What? I'm not boney am I? No I'm not! ...I'm not! Suki say I'm not boney!" The two laughed again and Toph found herself suddenly grinning from ear to ear. As her hand absentmindedly stroked the space-earth bracelet that hung around her arm she realized just how glad she was that she had people around her like Sokka and Suki who could always be counted on to help cheer her up.
"Greetings my Lord, Avatar, shall I tell Princess Azula that you two are here to see her?" Azula's guard greeted Aang and Zuko with proper action as the pair neared the door. As they had journeyed through the halls the airbender had been going over in his head how this would potentially play out. He could already see Azula in his mind, no doubt comfortably seated in some chair, waiting for them to arrive. She would be right at ease and would no doubt attempt to take advantage of their mental vulnerability. She would no doubt begin by acting both pleased and surprised that they had agreed to see her. She would use flattery and try and twist their words when they accused her of baiting them. Yes, she would be quick but together they would have to be quicker. He had already discussed some of this on the way over with Zuko, the Firelord had agreed but hadn't sounded as convinced on Azula's manner as Aang was. Still they had prepared best they could and there was nothing left now but the actual conversation.
"Negative. Keep your voice down soldier, we do not want my sister to know we are here before we're actually in the room with her." Zuko whispered authoritatively. The soldier nodded almost immediately.
"Of course Sire." His voice was now barely audible as well. "Do you wish me to withdraw some distance away so that you may see Lady Azula without an audience?" Zuko nodded. The guard bowed and began slowly backing up, being careful not to make any noise as he did so. The Firelord turned to Aang.
"Well, you ready? I will say again that much has changed since you last saw her. Expect the unexpected."
"Expect the unexpected? With your sister that means nothing has changed." Aang responded back dryly. He heard Zuko snort.
"Just keep it in mind." The Firelord replied shortly. And before he the Avatar could say any more, they were inside.
What surprised the airbender most was the blankness of features the room possessed. It was like looking into a void, like being out in a blizzard in the South Pole. Everything was white, the walls, the floor, ceiling, everything. Azula stuck out in stark contrast with the ivory appearance of the room, or rather her dark robe did anyway. Azula herself was paler than Aang had ever seen her before. But that wasn't the most noticeable change. Her eyes no longer held the raging flame that they once did; they simply simmered, as if completely devoid of any strong feeling whatsoever. This was unexpected.
"Hello Zuzu." Azula said simply, her body barely giving any sign that she was aware of visitors. "It is nice to see you today...did you come for a talk? Have I been invited out somewhere? Who is your friend?" Aang stammered. This was really unexpected. Azula didn't recognize him? But she must, and she must know why they were here, it was she who summoned them. This was a new game she was playing. It had to be, although searching her expression Aang had to admit: she was playing it pretty well. Zuko, by contrast, did not seem nearly so shocked as he did. But of course that made sense, he had seen more of her. She was his sister after all. The Firelord stood there, merely smiling in response.
"Hello Azula. This is Avatar Aang. He is a friend. We came because you said you know things about the Demon King...like how he can be stopped. We need your help Azula but we also need to know, how did you know Oguanga had even come to this realm?" His sister blinked at him several times before it appeared to finally click in her head.
"Oguanga? Oh right the Demon King! Yes I did tell the guard to tell you that, I remember Uncle said it would be the only way to get you two to come. I guess it worked. Hello Avatar Aang, you're taller than you used to be...did you know that?" She seemed to switch topics as though the first part of what she had said had been as mundane as describing hanging the laundry out to dry. The airbender simply gaped at her. She noticed quickly and frowned. "What? What is it? Do I have something on my face? Did I spill my dinner again...I do that sometimes. I don't think I'm as graceful as I once was despite Mother's objections to the contrary. You know that sometimes when I've spilled something she and Uncle won't say anything for a full minute because they think it's funny? Where some people get their sense of humor is quite beyond me." Another moment of silence passed.
"Azula..." Zuko began suddenly. "You - you remember who you were? And what do you mean Uncle? Mother?"
"I mean our Uncle and our Mother silly. I hope being Firelord all these years hasn't made you deaf. And of course I remember who I am, who else would I remember being?" Finally Aang found his voice.
"But do you remember me? Do you remember...how things used to be?" Azula looked at him quizzically. Her face was so different, so confused.
"Yes...if by remember you do you mean do I remember hunting and killing you...yes I do." Azula bit her lip and her facial muscles seemed to clench. "I'm sorry about that by the way. It wasn't the right thing to do."
"Azula...Mother and Uncle Iroh are dead." Zuko stated in an incredulous voice, as if he had not heard anything else from her mouth. Azula shifted her puzzled expression from Aang to Zuko.
"I know they are Zuko. They told me they were." She answered back plainly. "They've told me lots of things since they starting coming. Well Mother tells the stories mostly. Uncle usually takes me off for some adventure. Which brings me back a moment...ah right! It was our last adventure; it was what he showed me in our last adventure! He wanted me to tell you two about it because he said it was important!" She looked quite pleased with herself for remembering. However, upon meeting both Aang and Zuko's looks of disbelief her triumph faded. "But I thought I was doing the right thing by remembering," she said at last, sounding incredibly sad. "Uncle told me it was the right thing." Then her resolve seemed to return to her.
"It is the right thing." She continued, her voice growing confident. "I will tell you about the latest adventure I went on with Uncle. It was to the Spirit World, we were going to watch your trial Aang. Uncle wanted to be sure you were found innocent."
"His trial?" Zuko repeated, completely stunned.
"How could you possibly know about that?" Aang asked, stupefied. Azula looked frustrated.
"If you're going to interrupt me I won't tell you! Anyway it was Uncle who knew about it, not me! He's been following you guys pretty closely over the last month. I guess a lot of big Avatar stuff has been happening lately. But I'm getting off topic," She waved a hand in the air as if this was all just trivial knowledge anyway. Aang and Zuko, however, had both sunk to the floor in shock and were simply sitting there, listening.
"It was what happened after the trial that was so important." Azula stated coolly. "You see Avatar Aang, after you left, your demon acquaintance was on his way back to tell Oguanga of your innocence when he was ambushed and killed by two people dressed in cloaks, at least I think they were people. Cloaks made it hard to see. One was a man definitely, I remember that much. The point is that they killed this demon with that sword your Water Tribe friend used to use to try and kill me." Azula finished and looked at the two of them.
"Was...was there anymore?" Aang breathed at last. "Did they say anything? Can you describe the man? How did they manage to kill Shinto?" Azula raised an eyebrow.
"Shinto? Was that its name? As for hearing anything sorry but when I travel with Uncle I can only see the Spirit World, not hear it." Her eyes glazed a bit and she drifted out of focus. After several tense moments she snapped back. "And I think he knew them, Shinto I mean. Judging from how they acted it was in a very familiar manner. Sort of like when one person goes: 'Hello! How are you?' and another responds with 'I am quite well now that I am over the measles which I had last time upon talking with you', that kind of manner." Aang and Zuko exchanged looks.
"Was this er...was this all you wanted to see us about?" Zuko asked uncertainly.
"No." Azula responded shortly. They waited, assuming she would go on. When she didn't Aang inquired her further.
"What else do you have to say?" He asked, finding himself surprised that his tone addressed Azula as if she was a child.
"I like this room." Azula stated plainly. "A person can think in here and white makes so much less dark. Fewer torches are needed that way. Also Uncle wants you to summon the Yuam Suo Zuzu and he also wants you to take me with you when you leave. He says it is my time to return to the world." Aang blinked in surprise but Zuko expressed shock.
"The Yuam Suo," he repeated. "Whatever for?" Azula sighed and rolled her eyes, the explanation was obvious to her.
"Because Dumb-Dumb, you'll need all four nations if you want to beat the demons. Oguanga commands the most powerful army ever in existence. No one nation stands a chance of stopping him." Aang kept blinking. Should he know what a Yuam Suo was? He was about to say something when Zuko cut him off.
"Fine I'll think it over. In the meantime you are not to make any attempt to move from your room until I decide what is to be done." The Firelord's voice was cold and firm. Azula looked taken aback.
"I am a prisoner in my own home?" She accused, though not strongly. Then she lowered her eyes. "So be it. But I am not dangerous...to anyone."
"What about your nephew?" Aang found his mouth moving before he could think to keep it closed. As soon as the question left his lips he regretted it. He could see the glare Zuko shot him. Azula, on the other hand, only expressed surprise.
"Nephew?" She looked at Zuko. "I have a nephew? I did not know I had a nephew."
"Yes Azula...his name is Lu Ten." The Firelord acknowledged.
"Oh..." Azula simply said at last. "Like our cousin. That's a good name, Lu Ten." Zuko nodded before motioning Aang to follow him from the room. As he left, the Avatar cast a glance back over his shoulder. Azula was still standing there, her eyes wide and vacant. He lips repeating one word: "nephew". Her voice sounded sure at first, then it quivered, as if it did not know why it was speaking in the first place, then it stopped and the Fire Nation Princess stood in her room, alone in silence.
"I'm sorry about that." Aang apologized as they walked. "It just sort of slipped out." Zuko waved a hand dismissively.
"It's nothing to worry about. I've told her about Lu Ten several times before. She never remembers him." He admitted. The airbender gave him a look. "I thought it would help her get better, if she knew she was an aunt. I know it was stupid. Mai would kill me if she ever found out." Zuko kept walking. Aang couldn't make out the rest of his words, arguing to himself probably.
"Well what do you think then, should we believe her?" He asked. Zuko halted.
"No.," he said at last. "She's crazy, it's as I thought. There's no way she could be seeing Uncle and Mother. No way. Although I will admit her idea to call the Yuam Suo is a smart suggestion. I don't know...I want to believe she has come back, and that she's changed. But that would just be too good to be true. She's either insane or trying some new way to manipulate us – or both." Aang nodded. Zuko's logic was sound. Still...
"What is a Yuam Suo?" He asked as he kept pace with the Firelord. Zuko turned a skeptical eye to him before speaking.
"You've never heard the term? Hmm, well I suppose you wouldn't. It's not really an Avatar thing. Sort of like an Avatar substitute actually. It's when a leader of one of the four peoples calls the other nations together to talk about world events. Every leader attends; to not do so is considered an act of war. The last one was held a little over a hundred years ago. As you can probably guess my great-grandfather did not make an appearance." Zuko smiled to himself. "It does, however, sound like an appropriate response to a threat as large as the demons." The two rounded a corridor in the hallway. Ahead Aang could see Matora waiting for them. The general bowed as they drew near.
"Sire your people are assembling. They wait for you to meet them." Matora's voice acknowledged in proper military fashion. "If you'll just follow me..."
"One moment please." Zuko responded.
"Of course." Came Matora's reply. The Firelord turned to Aang.
"Do you wish to be present when I outline our strategy, I must admit there are a few things I haven't thought through." The airbender blinked.
"We have a strategy? Wow you're way ahead of me there!" Zuko chuckled.
"I'm going to officially declare war against Oguanga and his demon army. What I haven't decided is where the war is to be fought. Not here, too many civilians."
"And it's not like strong walls stop these things." Aang finished his thought. "Right, so it makes sense to hold the Yuam Suo in a fairly remote area and gather our forces, that way if the demons discover us there won't at least be any civilian casualties."
"My thinking exactly." Zuko affirmed. "But where?" He and Aang thought in silence for a moment. Then the Avatar straightened up.
"The South Pole." He stated firmly.
"What, no there's a settlement there! A peaceful village, it's where you live!" Zuko protested.
"Exactly, it's my home. It may be the demons are going to head there anyway. The settlement is small, we can evacuate and manage the people while the harsh terrain should give us some advantage." The Firelord still looked unsure. Aang placed a hand on his shoulder. "Trust me on this Zuko. The South Pole is the place. We'll make our stand there." The Avatar could tell his friend was still uneasy but had conceded.
"Very well." He agreed at length. "I will send messenger hawks to the other leaders, telling them to gather what armies they have and make for the South Pole."
"Be sure to tell them that if they encounter the demon army on their own that they are not to engage, simply flee. Azula is right; no one army has a chance against these things." Zuko nodded. Aang grinned grimly. "Okay, go make your speech. I have to go tell Katara to get some sleep, we should leave in a few hours."
"So soon?" Zuko asked, puzzled. "Why?" Aang was already jogging away from him. At the Firelord's question he stopped and turned around.
"Because Oguanga thinks I'm guilty. He's come here for me. He might be coming here for me!" And with those words the Avatar sped off down the hallway, leaving Zuko standing where he had been only now visibly distraught.
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