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|Masks: Part one|
So I was watching the episode 'The Blue Spirit' and when Zuko was subduing a firebender he met in the hallway, he used a bucket of water to douse the flame and quickly sweep the man's feet our from under him. However, since I first saw the episode, I always thought Zuko had somehow created airblasts from his swords, since the bucket came out of literally nowhere, and disappeared right after that scene. Re-watching it, the bucket still took me by surprise, though I could see a little more of the water's physics.
Enjoy the story!
He Who Wears Masks
Zuko grimaced behind his mask, crouching and leaping back in a flurry of blades and shifting black cloth. Spears lunged toward him with deadly intent, knocked aside moments later by the shining curved steel he wielded. This was ridiculous, freeing the Avatar after his nation captured it. It shouldn't matter who finally managed the deed, as long as their nation was safe. As long as the Avatar was restrained, it could not turn the land and water against them again. He had seen the boy taken into Pohuai stronghold by the Yu Yan archers. He should have felt triumph, but this dread curling in his gut could not be ignored. He was the one who needed to capture the Avatar. It was his duty, his mission, and the only way to restore his honor.
The Prince swept forward, knocking aside another spear as it tried to place itself between his ribs. His steel skimmed along the shaft, a quick twist cutting into the wood and splintering it into uselessness. He heard the shifting of armor behind him and jerked to the side, whipping his arm out to slash at the man behind him. Close quarters fighting wasn't his preferred method of combat, but he was thankful his Uncle had drilled it into him. Another spearhead removed from its shaft, the shocked look of the soldier curling his mouth into a small smirk before slipping back down into a frown.
He was surrounded, the urge to use his firebending stronger than ever. He barely restrained himself, twisting out of the way from another spear strike and blocking a second with a whirl of blades. It wouldn't do to lose the Avatar's trust before he had a chance to strike.
Barely visible through his mask's eye, he spotted a flash of yellow and turned to see the Avatar lunging down with a stolen spear, wind twisting toward him.
Honestly? He had made it this far, sneaking into this 'impenetrable' fortress and taking down the soldiers patrolling. They had snuck out together, and Zuko had hoped that would inspire at least a little loyalty toward the person who helped. Apparently not. What would nomads know about honor.
Feeling betrayed, he backed away from the first blast, jumping over the second. Swords at the ready, he ran through any tactics he could use against the child that didn't involve fire that would give him away or incapacitation that would leave them both at the mercy of Pohuai's soldiers. They needed to escape!
The boy's grey eyes narrowed, his slight body whirling around.
Zuko could feel wind twisting around his legs and his mind screamed at him to dodge somehow, but before he could move, he was launched airborn. Wind whistled past his mask and his stomach dropped out from the sudden ascension, and the urge to flail was squashed without mercy. Either this was a ridiculously dangerous way to fling him onto the wall, or a roundabout way of killing him.
His eyes widened behind his mask as he approached the wall too quickly for his liking. With a quick twist, he hit the walkway and rolled to his feet, wincing at the jolt of pain from his jarred shoulder. Thankfully alive, mostly in one piece. Spirits, he was glad the boy had good aim.
Hearing the quick-paced march of guards on either side, he jumped into a backwards roll, leaping up in a wide-footed stance to confront them. His head whipped back and forth, mind whirling with this new situation. Three on either side, all spears, full armor. Only one of them looked young enough to be a new recruit, and another's stance left his left side wide open. Zuko's breaths were quick and sharp, adrenaline still shooting through his body from the quick ascension and the rushing of this upcoming battle.
The sound of a staff whistling through air was the only warning he received before slim legs wrapped around his torso from behind, lifting him into the air. His shoulder throbbed, but he straightened himself into a stiff board, knowing it would be better than a dead-weight to carry. They passed over soldiers scurrying about, a few of them pausing to yell and point out their position in the air.
The Avatar made sounds of stress and Zuko barely caught the glint of moonlight off an arrowhead in time to swipe it in half with his sword.
That shot had seemed to be the signal for other projectiles, and suddenly the air was full of arrows and spears. He twisted around, using swords and legs to push their deadly paths away from the two of them. From the yelp of the boy carrying him, his thrashing wasn't helping their flight.
The Avatar yelled all the way down from the sky, and didn't remember to release him until after they hit the ground. Zuko felt his breath whoosh out of his lungs when the boy crashed down onto him, both of their bodies bouncing up into a tumble that left him stunned for a precious moment. He tilted his head up, trying to assess their new position while sucking in air. The boy didn't seem harmed from the fall (Probably from his human landing pad) and scurried to grab the staff that had flown out of his grasp. Zuko pushed himself onto his hands and knees, chest still heaving, and prepared to come to the other's aid as two men burst from a lower level and charged toward the Avatar. He felt the stones quiver under his palms and looked backwards to see two more men running toward their position.
The Avatar's staff had been kicked off the wall, the boy was falling into a defensive stance and avoiding the quick slashes of a sword the guard aimed at him. The Prince darted forward, hooking his arms under the man and levering him to the side and off the wall, his gut twisting with the knowledge that these walls were too high to survive a fall.
He had just killed one of his people.
This was not what he wanted when he had begun the infiltration. It was too late to think of that now, the hopeful dream that they would have escaped without being spotted.
He turned to face two guards, trying his hardest to push away the guilt threatening to turn his arms to lead. He slipped through the two of them, blades slicing with the intent to disarm them. Anything was better than such a disgraceful death as falling.
The sound of wind filled his ears again
His heart clenched as the two men were flung off the wall, their yells fading along with their flailing arms into the shadows. As much as he disliked it, he tried to focus on the fact that this was a battle. Airbender or not, fighting on top of walls had the risk of casualties such as this.
Taking a moment to breathe deeply, he noticed men running toward the wall, flexible ladders in their arms. Of course they'd be prepared for these types of instances.
Hardening his heart, he dealt with the first to appear with a decisive kick to the chest, swinging his dao toward the next man, only to be blocked.
These were his men. His people. He was a prince. He was supposed to protect these men, not attack them. Confronted with the red and black armor, he couldn't help but remember the letters their commanders would have to send in the morning. The new widows and fatherless children.
He saw the entire ladder full of men pushed downward, their bodies tumbling away. The Avatar was suddenly rushing at him, confusion setting into Zuko's expression when a commandeered ladder was shoved into his arms. A vaguely formed thought left him thankful for the mask obscuring his face. He really was far too expressive.
The boy suddenly leaped off the wall, calling behind him, "Jump on my back."
Not taking the time to think through all the miserable ways this stunt could end, he raced forward and pushed himself off the edge, feet barely hooking onto the ladder rungs, his body wobbling with the added weight of a ladder in his arms. The world tilted around him and adrenaline jolted through his body once again. The Avatar's arms moved furiously, pushing the ladder down and then hooking around a level and pushing his weight onto it.
They shifted upward with the spring of the ladder, the boy's frantic voice calling out again,
"Give me the next one!" Zuko placed it in his hands, readying for the next switch.
Wild laughter threatened to bubble past his throat. This was absolutely insane! Using bendable ladders like giant stilts that circus performers used. He had to admire the boy's extraordinary luck, if not his daring audacity. His own arms were wrapped loosely around the smaller boy's shoulders, more to orient himself than any protection against falling.
Sudden light flared up beneath them, a firebender having blasted up the ladder. It was a good tactic, he thought absently, feeling the Avatar prepare to lunge from the burning ladder. He tightened his arms.
The boy scrambled forward, leaping toward the edge of the wall. Zuko could feel the air parting around them, boying them up just enough to gain a few extra feet. They approached stone and Zuko recalled their earlier tumble, not liking the idea of their positions being reversed.
They slammed into the side of the wall and Zuko could feel his larger frame crush the smaller one. Small hands scrabbled weakly at the ledge and fell away. Zuko's leg hooked around the boy's waist, one arm grasping the tattered orange cloak, his fingers clinging to the stone's edge.
His muscles strained, gloves sliding. He slipped. His breath caught as they tumbled down toward the ground, curling the Avatar over his body to take the blow on his back. With an elbow to the rib, the boy's arm whipped out and a small cushion of air made the fall seem inconsequential. No wonder he didn't seem to care about sending people flying off tall buildings, if all his landings were this gentle.
Zuko shoved the boy off him, leaping up to prepare for another battle. His swords were drawn, body crouched low to start or avoid a blow. Teeth clenched when he realized the soldiers were unarmed, and that he would have to fight firebenders now, without the element of surprise. He heard the boy shifting slightly behind him, groaning.
The Prince lunged forward in a flurry of blades, pumping Chi into his movements as much as he could without actually producing his own flames. The soldiers punched forward, aiming at him directly and without producing a fire shield, he wasn't sure if he would be able to deflect them completely. Nevertheless, he spun his swords, feeling the force of his dao's created wind force their flames to deflect away from himself. With a spark of inspiration, he heated his own swords, using them as paths for heat, rather than as weapons to strike.
A hot blade would bend, after all. He didn't want to ruin these dao so soon.
Dodging a flame whip, he whirled toward a trio, using the blades and their coating of chi-heated air to push aside a fireball, ducking under another. He swiped them together, pushing his energy outward into a shimmering wave of hot air, the wind from his blades combining with his bending that was just short of actual fire.
The men were blown backwards, crying out from the scalding air that swept into their armor and probably burned any exposed skin. Like marching in a desert, he imagined.
Whirling around, Zuko ducked under another flame blast and punched upward, his gloved knuckles slamming into the jaw of another soldier. He could feel the teeth snap together and the man's head fly backward from the force. Zuko watched him only long enough to make sure the man was down for the count. The Prince stood again, feet planted wide in preparation for the start of a whirling blade attack. There was only one man remaining, charging toward him with flames swirling around a pulled back fist.
Behind the man, the Avatar was half-crouched, grey eyes wide and shocked, as if the rug had been swept out from under his feet. The boy was watching him with that expression, not even paying attention to his surroundings anymore.
Turning back to the firebender in time to dart to the side and leap upward, the Prince planted a solid kick to the side of the soldier's helmet, landing in a crouch and watching the man stumble to his knees. A group of firebenders advanced, bigger than the last. Zuko attempted the trick with hot air once more, his Dao flashing in the moonlight, dust kicked up from the blast. The Soldiers reacted quickly, however, drawing up a shield of flame that dispersed his feeble wind before punching forward together.
Zuko crouched down, ready to give away the secret of his firebending to protect his life, until he felt a hand touch his shoulder and the rush of wind filled his ears. His gold eyes opened to the sight of the Avatar crouching in front of him in a twisted stance, wind ripping apart the blasts and creating a circle of fire just beyond its ability to harm them. The ground was beginning to char, heat starting to become unbearable.
From beyond the firestorm, he heard Zhao's obnoxious voice call out.
"Hold your fire!"
The fire ceased, and the boy's whirlwind dispersed, smoke curling up from the heated earth.
"The Avatar must be taken alive."
Through his mask, Zuko could see the smug look on the man's face, confident they could get no further. The final sentence gave him pause, though. Alive? That was good. That was exploitable.
With a quick movement, the Prince moved his blades around the boy's neck, ignoring the sharp gasp and facing Zhao directly. He knew the Blue Spirit mask had a fearsome grin. Hopefully it would get the message across.
For a long moment, they were locked in a stare down, the Admiral's brown eyes locked with his shadowed ones. With a frown, Zhao practically growled his next order.
"Open the gate."
One of the generals spoke up, questioning his order. Zuko held his position, ignoring the throbbing in his shoulder.
"Let them out. Now!"
The door creaked open behind him, and he stepped backwards, trying not to nick the Avatar's neck with his blades. He still wasn't entirely sure why the boy hadn't started glowing and tossing around elements like candy, but he was thankful for that fact. Enough of his people had been killed today, in fair battle if not gracefully. He didn't need to add to the death toll with supernatural powers from the Spirit World.
The boy's breath was coming in pants, close to panic. They stepped out of the shadow of the gates and into the moonlight, Zuko refusing to turn his back on the fortress. He was risking enough as it was, that there would not be guards outside waiting for them. He didn't need his back peppered with arrows and spears as well.
He heard a voice from inside the wall but did not falter in backing away. Minutes passed, arms trembling from the control needed to hold his blades at the boy's neck for so long without actually hurting him. They reached the crossroads and he chanced a glance backward to check how far away the woods were from their position.
His mind whirled. Would they be able to make a break for it? Had he broken the Avatar's trust too far, and the boy would try to escape immediately... How would he be able to gain it back?
He eyed the fort, watching figures moving in the firelight, yet not attempting to pursue.
His eyes caught the gleam of an arrowhead in the moonlight and he dropped his swords, ducking down and dragging the boy with him.
The shaft quivered from where it hit the ground and he quickly sheathed his swords, grabbing the stunned boy around the forearm and yanking him toward the forest. The kid yelled, but ran alongside him for a moment before overtaking him and dragging the prince behind him.
Once again, Zuko felt the odd feeling of air pushing on his back while simultaneously pulling him forward, legs struggling to keep up with the speed. He felt like he was running down a steep slope, yet he was sure they were on a slight incline.
Another zip of an arrow flew by his head, tossed to the side by winds swirling around the two of them. They reached the forest and the Avatar slowed down marginally, allowing Zuko to dodge and weave through trees at a more realistic pace.
TO BE CONTINUED...
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