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Homecoming is the fourteenth chapter of the AU fanfiction story.
The next day, Kuzon is ambushed by a young Azulon and Azulon's friends Lo and Li. Taro tries to fight them off, but must flee to avoid having the existence of the Air Nomads discovered. Kuzon is captured and returned to the Fire Nation to face trial for his betrayal at the Air Temple.
The next day the airbenders were passing around a small mountain range north of Omashu. They camped on a ridge. There was a forested valley on one side of the road and mountain range and field of tall grass on the other. Jangbu and some others left to find or buy dinner somewhere. Kuzon went down into the valley to collect some water.
Suddenly he heard a shrill whistling sound. He spun around with the wooden bucket in his hand just in time for an arrow to lodge itself in the bucket's side. He dodged another arrow as three teenagers on rhinos rode up to him through the trees. They were Fire Nation. With a burst of flame, he flicked away a third arrow as a boy and girl moved in on him with fire blasts of their own. Kuzon threw the bucket at the archer. There was no time to draw his sword. The boy produced fire daggers from his fists while the girl took a deep stance and shot lightning at Kuzon. He couldn't dodge the bolts of lightning and the ferocious swipes of the boy with daggers. Meanwhile, the archer, dressed in an elite royal guard uniform identical to the other girl's, leapt from her rhino and began shooting lightning of her own. Kuzon couldn't close up his defense, and the boy with daggers got in close enough to bring one down into Kuzon's back. Quite literally, Kuzon felt a red hot knife in his shoulder. Howling, he fell onto one knee.
As he fell, he noticed the boy wore special insignia on his armor. It was very similar to the mark that had been on the armor he once wore. The armor he had worn that one night, long ago.
Suddenly Taro appeared and barreled into one of the girls. He unleashed a wave of air at her, knocking her into a tree. The boy turned and slashed wildly at Taro with his fire daggers. Taro dodged all the blows fairly easily, but he neglected the girl he had crashed into. She was not unconscious, and needed only to raise herself to a kneeling position to fire a lightning bolt at Taro. Taro caught the boy by the wrist and twisted it in front of the boy as he noticed, from the corner of his eye, the lightning-bender rise up onto a knee. As he held the boy's arm he simultaneously shot a blast of air at the female lightning-bender. The kneeling girl dodged the air just as a blue flame struck Taro's hip. Taking advantage of the opening, the boy with daggers chopped his free hand onto Taro's forearm, freeing his other hand.
Kuzon was up, though he could hardly stand. Before the girl Taro had hit could fire again, Kuzon blasted her with a fireball, but it only grazed her. He shot another at the other girl, who dodged it. At that moment, Kuzon realized in passing that the girls were identical twins.
The boy noticed Kuzon fighting behind him, but he knew not to be distracted. Taro had stumbled when his wrist was chopped, and leaned against a tree. Before he could raise himself to his full height, the boy punched him in the face, knocking him to the ground. "Taro! Get away!" Kuzon yelled, as the second girl leapt forward and unleashed a small arc of flame in Kuzon's direction, making him stumble.
"Forget it!" Taro yelled, knocking the legs of the boy with the ornate armor out from under him with a blast of air.
"They're Fire Nation! You won't die for me too! GO!" As Kuzon said this, the first girl sprinted over and held his arms in a lock behind his back. One of the tenets of the airbender warrior faction was that the secrecy of the order was paramount. It was more important than any member's life. Taro knew that if these three teenagers were from the Fire Nation there was probably a whole unit of soldiers not far away. He had to go back and warn the others to get out of the area. Reluctantly, he took off, zigzagging through the trees with leaps powered by airbending.
The second girl turned to give chase, but the boy with the fancy armor said, "Let him go. Lo, Li, I need you both to make sure my uncle doesn't escape. Don't worry," the boy said, "he is prize enough."
Li, the one who was not holding Kuzon, produced some chains and shackled him. Then they threw him on the rhino and rode off. They all looked to be between seventeen and nineteen. They rode through the valley and through a mountain pass. After a while the boy in the ornate armor spoke up. It was his rhino on which Kuzon rode. "Well, Uncle, it seems you've missed quite a bit back home, you being gone all these years. First and foremost, my birth," he said with pomp. One of the twins laughed. The boy twisted around in his saddle, trying to talk to Kuzon over his shoulder. "I'm your nephew, Azulon." The jokingly pompous tone he had used just before was not far from his real voice. The few things he had already said oozed with overbearing and an elitist attitude.
"We should do some catching up," he joked. "Maybe I should introduce you to my boyhood friends? They also happen to be the elite team I assembled to track down the Avatar. They're both very gifted combatants. Lo and Li graduated at the top of their class from the Imperial Fire Academy for Girls, and they're some of the finest members of the Imperial Guard." Kuzon looked at the twins, who both smiled devilishly at him.
"My father's age prevents him from searching for the Avatar himself. However, he passed the task on to me, and that's what I've been doing for the past year. Just between you and me, I doubt I'll ever find him, but you're so infamous in the Fire Nation that I'm sure my father will be satisfied with you."
"If you're going to kill me, skip the speech and just do it," Kuzon said. After what had happened to Khalama, he really began to stop caring if he lived or died.
"We're delivering you to my father and then you're going to be executed," Azulon said in a stony voice.
They proceeded onward. As Kuzon suspected, they eventually ended up at an entire ship full of soldiers and firebenders that was anchored on a large river. Kuzon's sword was taken. He was loaded on board in the prison hold, and the ship took off for the Fire Nation.
When they landed, Kuzon was hastily escorted to a new building Sozin had commissioned, the Hall of Justice. It was used for holding political prisoners, with a public courtyard for executions. Sozin usually presided over the executions, and he didn't want to have to go far. The people did love a good execution.
One of Azulon's lieutenants threw Kuzon, the man who would have been his duke or general, into a cell with some bread and water. Almost from the very moment Khalama had died, he had been stricken with melancholy. He slid down the far wall of the cell into a seated position and rolled his head back to look at the ceiling, resigning himself to his fate. He had given up his entire life to undo Sozin's mistakes. He had no family and no home. The Fire Nation he had grown up in was gone, stripped of its honor and heart by his own brother. Sozin's expansionist military dictatorship had taken its place. And what had he given it up for? People were dying everywhere, which devastated their relatives, caused families to break up, created disaffected orphans, rising poverty in the other nations...so much suffering. "Even trying to fight it, I manage to get someone killed," Kuzon said to himself. He was tired. He lifted his bowl of water to his mouth and sipped it, wishing it were strong rice wine.
"Idiot!" Sozin's angry cry of censure mingled with the resounding sound of a slap to his son's face in the cavernous throne room. "Don't you ever think?"
Azulon lowered his head, lifting Kuzon's sword as a trophy for his father. "Father, he's an infamous criminal. I thought—"
"Do you realize the position you've put me in?" Sozin bellowed, snatching Kuzon's sword away. "How do you expect to succeed me if you can't discern such obvious political consequences?" Azulon lifted his eyes to his father, but said nothing. Sozin realized his son had still not grasped the problem he had caused and became even more frustrated. "All right, I'll explain slowly, you simpleton," Sozin barked. "When word gets out that my brother the traitor has been apprehended, I will have two choices: I can execute him, thereby making him a martyr for the enemy and any rebels protesting my rule. Alternatively, I can merely exile him, but that would demonstrate that the Firelord is weak enough to ignore his own laws for the sake of familial sentimentality!"
Azulon quaked in fear. "W-what will you do, father?"
Sozin turned and stalked toward the steps at the side of his dais. "I'll just have to pick one, won't I?" he yelled. He kicked a brass pot at the edge of the step at his son. "Now get out of my sight!" he roared, climbing the steps and collapsing into the throne with his head in his hands. Azulon hurried out, chased by the clanking of the pot.
Sozin had really already made his choice. He had to execute Kuzon. He ruled through fear. In over twenty-seven years of rule he had never shown mercy. That was how he kept control. The people were loyal to him not through their own desire, but through fear of the consequences for being otherwise. His rule was iron-clad, and not one breach could be tolerated. The penalty for treason was death. Period. He had to be a strong ruler.
But most upsetting of all, he had always told himself that if Kuzon ever returned, he would not even hesitate to have him executed. He thought he had purged himself of these weak, arbitrary feelings of compassion. He could never let such a flaw be known.
It's unbelievable! How did things turn out this way, that I have to kill my own brother?
The veil of flame before the throne flared up to the room's full height.
Sozin placed the sword in a scabbard and hung it on the wall of the throne room with several other heirlooms of the royal family, and stared at it for a while.
For the collective works of the author, go here.
|Enemies and Traitors chapters|
|Prologues - Brothers - Responsibilities - Necessities - Resources - The Avatar - Opportunities - Preparations - Betrayals - Changing Plans - Scars - Counting Losses - Exiles - Ghosts - Homecoming - The Traitor and the Firelord - Escapes - The Last Chance - Legacies|