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Chapter 22: Lake Laogai
The Dai Li agents approached Yun Zhen, but he was barely coherent as he clutched his head.
They're taking her! I have to get up!
As he stood shakily, one of the agents fired their rock gloves, intent on subduing him. "No," He growled, "You won't take her!" He pointed both hands forward, two fingers extended, and absorbed the rock gloves, making them a part of his gauntlet.
Once that was done, he weakened the earth beneath them. As the two agents sunk into the ground, Yun staggered forward. He could barely feel Long Feng; if he did not move quickly, Ty Lee would be lost. He paralyzed the first agent as the man removed himself from the earth, but the second was able to escape from his prison and readied himself for an attack.
Yun sunk his feet into the rock, covering them. He then kicked off his 'shoe', sending it into the agent's right hand and pinning it to the tunnel ceiling. Before the agent could free himself, Yun battered his pressure points, completely blocking his chi.
Yun proceeded to suspend his other arm, leaving him to hang by his limbs. He tried to feel the earth, but Long Feng and Ty Lee were both out of his range. He turned to the imprisoned man. "You're going to tell me where they went."
The Dai Li agent laughed before grimacing, pained by his lack of proper chi flow. "Like I'm going to cross him for you. Good luck, kid..."
Yun extended the earth on his gauntlet to form claws. "Where did he take her! You have ten seconds to tell me, or I end this!"
The man sneered. "You won't kill me; it's not in you. You don't have what it takes."
The two stared at each other, but Yun knew he was right. "Ah!" He slammed the spikes into the ground and stormed out of the tunnel.
"Well, what do you know? I was right." The agent said as Yun turned.
The remark caused the young man to whirl around and bring his gloved fist into the agent's face. As his head drooped, Yun gritted his teeth.
Not if I have anything to say about it.
"Thank you for meeting with me in private, King Kuei." Zuko said as he sat in the Earth King's private study.
Kuei smiled sadly. "It is a pity that we can't meet face to face under... better circumstances." He sat at his desk and folded his hands. "I have reviewed the matter you posed to me, and what I have found will not bode well for any of us if it is true."
"Why? What did you find?" Zuko leaned forward.
"Apparently, the force that attacked your colonies and took Omashu are being led by Ri Wu. He was a general on the Council of Five during the Siege of Ba Sing Se. He constitutes a major threat because of his following among the troops and his Earthbending prowess."
Zuko ran a hand through his hair. "But how is one man such a problem?"
Kuei slid a scroll toward Zuko. "This, Fire Lord, details his defection and all who followed him. You'll notice that many high ranking officers and infantry alike went with him. I believe Long Feng knew and sought to hide that above all else. I believe they are working together."
Zuko read through the document's contents, but one entry made him raise an eyebrow. "He killed his superior officer?"Kuei nodded. "Just before his defection, yes. The official records, no doubt manipulated, state that he was killed in action."
"Why did he do that? There was no reason for it."
"The real records painted a picture for me to better understand what really went on when I was being manipulated. If you knew that his superior officer, General Lee, surrendered the Outer Wall to your uncle..."
"Then Ri Wu, hating the Fire Nation like I assume he does, would have felt betrayed and acted in anger."
Kuei stood. "Exactly. That is what I am trying to show you, Fire Lord Zuko. Ri Wu, with his army and equipment, has the power to become a major threat to the peace we are trying to achieve." He grabbed another scroll from the shelf and handed that to Zuko, as well. "This is an estimate of his forces from our most recent reports."
Zuko read through it, becoming increasingly dismayed. "Are these numbers accurate?"
Kuei shrugged. "That is an estimate based on several sightings."
One-thousand troops, that's insane for someone who defected! "And I see they have captured Fire Nation naval vessels and Terra Tanks. No wonder they've been able to take our colonies!"
Kuei paced. "That is why we needed to talk. How are we going to proceed, Fire Lord Zuko?"
"I don't know."
Ty Lee opened her eyes, unsure of where she was. "What... what happened?" Her head felt heavy, but she suddenly remembered. "Yun!" She should've snapped to attention, then, but something pushed a fog through her mind.
"Now, now, we can't have you going to sleep just yet." Long Feng stepped into the light of a lantern on a circular mechanism. "You were with the Fire Nation princess, therefore you know the Fire Lord. You will be of great use to us."
"Where... where am I?"
The lantern began spinning, and she couldn't stop staring. "That is not important; just focus on my voice."
"Your voice..." Ty Lee shook her head, trying to clear it. "What's wrong with me?"
Long Feng continued speaking in a soft voice. "Just a little something to help you concentrate. Now, there is a simple matter I would like to discuss: oblivion."
Ty Lee knew something was wrong, but she couldn't place it. "Oblivion?" Her vision dimmed until only the lantern remained.
"Yes. Some tend to view it as an escape. From the rigors of life. But there is more than one kind of oblivion. There is also an oblivion of the mind, a sweet escape."
"A sweet escape..." Ty Lee repeated; she didn't know why. What...Suki...Mai...what's happening...
"Yes, exactly..." Long Feng smiled, a gentle expression, but Ty Lee wasn't focused on much beyond the lantern. "I want you to feel that happiness, as well. As long as you follow my every order, you too can find it."
"...Your every order..." The voice and the lantern were all she could process. Everything else faded to nothing.
"Now I ask you, what is oblivion?"
She frowned. "Oblivion...? No...I..."
"What is oblivion?"
Ty Lee smiled as her eyes darkened. "A sweet escape..."
Kuei sat on his throne. The World Meeting would continue, and he was sure now of his role. "I will keep this world from plunging into darkness."
"An admirable aspiration, to be sure."
Kuei's eyes widened when he heard the voice. "Who's there? Show yourself!"
Yuan Chong stepped out of the shadows. "Now, don't tell me that you've forgotten your own father. I've only been gone for twenty-one years."
"Dad? You're alive?" Kuei beamed. "It's been years! What..." He inclined his head. "...how?"
"I am alive. I've come to restore us to greatness."
"What are you talking about?"
The former Earth King folded his hands behind his back. "The War revealed our weaknesses, and I intend to fix them. You have already begun enabling the Earth Kingdom to flourish, despite Long Feng's meddling. For that I am proud."
Kuei suddenly felt uneasy. "What are you doing here?"
Yuan Chong put a hand on his son's shoulder. "I want you by my side when we show the world, especially the Fire Nation, the Earth Kingdom's might!"
Yun staggered into the Outer Courtyard of the palace, still weak from his attack. Everyone was lounging around, not a care in the world, but they stopped what they had been doing to stare at Yun.
"Where have you been?" Sokka asked.
Mai glared at him. "Where's Ty Lee?"
Yun panted as he answered. "She and I were attacked by the Dai Li; I couldn't save her..." Everyone's eyes widened.
Mai whipped out one of her daggers, eyes filled with rage. "You what?! You let her get captured?"
Yun attempted to stand up straight as she got in his face. "I tried to save her, but I couldn't. So, yes, it is my fault." He glanced at each of them. "But I'm going after her. I'll be getting my sword and armor; if anyone wants to come and help instead of just yelling and making threats," He stared defiantly at Mai, "I could use the help."
Suki got up. "I'm in; Ty Lee is one of us. It's the least I can do."
Toph grinned. "I haven't kicked Dai Li butt in forever! Count me in."
Yun smiled. Now I might actually have a chance. "Then let's go."
"Wait!" Mai put a hand on Yun's shoulder to stop him.
The Earthbender frowned. "Are you gonna yell at me some more, or—?"
"I'm coming because Ty Lee is my friend. I'm still mad at you!"
Yun nodded. "Fair enough." He looked at Aang, Katara, Sokka, and the other Kyoshi Warriors. "What will you do?"
Aang spoke up. "If the Dai Li are back, the Earth King will need protection. We can handle anything they throw at us."
Yun nodded. "I need to know where the Dai Li might base their operation."
Toph frowned. "That's easy. They would probably go someplace familiar."
Suki scrunched her eyebrows. "Where?"
Aang's eyes narrowed. "Lake Laogai."
Kuei backed away from Yuan Chong. "You're behind the attacks... it was you..."
The 51st Earth King nodded. "It was. The Fire Nation had no right to our land; they still don't. I intend to show them the error of their ways."
"By igniting another war..."
"No." Kuei shook his head. "I will not allow the world to go through that again!"
Yuan Chong laughed. "Do not be naïve! War is inevitable."
"You're wrong. As a citizen of the Earth Kingdom, you answer to me! I am ordering you to stop this aggression, now!"
The older man's eyes lit up with fury. "HOW DARE YOU!! I am your father and your king. You obey me!"
"Wrong again. You gave up your throne when you declared yourself dead."
Yuan Chong seethed. "It is only because you are my son that you still stand. If you will not stand by me, I give you one warning: Stay out of my way!"
"I remember you being a good father once." Kuei sat on his throne. "But I will oppose your lunacy now."
"Then you will fail. My forces are already taking the city. When they arrive, I will take my throne back. Until then, goodbye, Earth King Kuei.
Yun and the others stood at the edge of the lake. He grimaced; there was a massive labyrinth below their feet.
"Yep, they definitely did some remodeling..." Toph said as she felt below. She stomped her feet and brought up a secret entrance.
"Let's go." Yun said.
As soon as they entered, they were ambushed by Dai Li agents. "Long Feng has ordered the capture of the knife thrower and the blind one; kill the others!"
Yun unsheathed his sword and submerged his feet in earth; he felt the rocks forming around his legs. Two Dai Li agents attempted to strike him with the rock fists as he brought his feet out of the ground, but he slid around them while at the same time cutting them down with his sword.
"I'm going to find Ty Lee!" He said as another agent fell to his blade.
"We'll hold them!" Suki replied. "Just go!"
Yun barreled down the stone corridor, taking out anyone in his path. He could feel him, almost as if it was an invitation. That might've been true if he hadn't encountered and defeated several Dai Li along the way. He came to a large room with massive tunnels stemming off, disguised as sewage pipes. Long Feng stood at the center with Ty Lee, who was dressed in a green uniform suited for combat, practicing acrobatics. She moved gracefully enough, but those same movements were off, stilted. Her heartbeat was calm and steady, not at all what he expected.
Something's wrong. "Ty Lee...?"She looked at him and righted herself. Her gray eyes flickered. "...Yun?"
Long Feng shot her a disapproving look. "Now, Ty Lee, we do not converse with traitors. Remember what I told you."
Her demeanor changed, and her body stiffened. "I remember."
Yun stepped toward them as his heart began to pound. "Ty Lee, I'm here; please, let's go."
Long Feng sneered. "What is oblivion, Ty Lee?"
Her eyes went completely blank, and she smiled. "A sweet escape..."
Long Feng's grin widened. "Kill him."
Yun was suddenly filled with despair. Oh, spirits, no!
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