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|New and Improved!|
May 15, 2012
Previously in Air
Katara, Aang and Zuko are traveling as actors with the infamous playwright Puon-Tim and his theater troupe, currently on tour in the Earth Kingdom with the 'new and improved' version of his play The Boy in the Iceberg. The dark feeling in the back of Aang's mind is steadily growing stronger, and rumors of Fire Nation soldiers causing trouble in Earth Kingdom ports have reached Kuei's ears.
Chapter Eighteen: New and Improved!
Zuko knew it wouldn't work the moment he read his first line.
"Woe is me, how my soul is tortured?!"
Aang and Katara giggled.
Zuko went on, "...doomed to sail these endless seas until I find the Avatar, to appease the burning desire of my tyrant father. Cursed are such power-hungry men who possess such insatiable appetites!" Zuko stared at the script in horror. "This is ridiculous!"
Aang and Katara howled with laughter. "It's golden!"
"It's embarrassing!" Zuko insisted.
Katara attempted to stifle a giggle. "Maybe it gets better," she suggested.
Zuko scanned ahead. "Now is my time to act," he read, "I shall spy from within, and bring them down from the inside."
Aang raised an eyebrow. "When did you say that?" he asked.
"He says it in Ba Sing Se," Zuko said, "When he pretends to side with Azula to take over the city."
Katara raised an incredulous eyebrow. "Pretends?"
Zuko nodded. "Pretends. It's the only way he can sneak back into the Fire Nation. After all, he has to learn their plans so he and the Avatar can retaliate and overthrow them."
"So he can what?!" Aang cried.
Zuko backtracked through the script. "Apparently," he explained, "When you and Uncle came to rescue Katara and me from the Crystal Catacombs we made a secret pact to overthrow the Fire Nation." He glanced at Katara. "You hate me, by the way, and tried to knife me while we were trapped."
Katara looked miffed. "Maybe you made a pass at me," she said, sticking her chin out.
Zuko chuckled. After the war, the heroic tale of how the banished Prince teamed up with the Avatar spread like wildfire. The wildfire itself produced its own erratic flames from every corner of the world. The most heated –fueled by Puon-Tim's first grossly inaccurate play, as Zuko recalled– was a ridiculous notion that he and Katara were secretly and passionately in love and would one day run off together. He shuddered at the thought.
Aang winced. "Well, I suppose it's a little inaccurate..."
"A little inaccurate?" Zuko cried. "Aang! He made me the good guy! Not even the confused bad guy who turns into a good guy; he made me a good guy from the very beginning!"
"Well, you became a good guy–" Aang tried.
"That's not the point!" Zuko shouted. He tossed the scroll into a heap of props and buried his face in his hands.
Aang and Katara exchanged looks of concern.
"What is the point, Zuko?" Katara asked gently.
Zuko sighed. "It doesn't show a single mistake I made," he said quietly. "I learned from those mistakes."
They both understood.
Zuko gave a wry laugh. "I think this is worse than the part where I died."
Katara dug out the scroll and tossed it back at him. "Okay, so the script sucks. But maybe Puon-Tim has no idea how inaccurate it is!"
Zuko shot her a withering look. "Given his last play, I doubt it. He did nothing but flaunt my mistakes then."
"Well..." Katara wracked her brain for a different positive aspect, but none seemed to be forthcoming. She scowled impatiently. "Maybe you're just hard to please!"
Zuko snorted. "Hard to please?" He caught up the script and began to unroll it once more. "Oh, then you're going to love this part." He skimmed ahead toward the end of the scroll. "Here," he pointed out a line of directions and pushed the parchment at Katara.
Katara sighed, but she craned her neck and began to read aloud. The more she read, the shriller her voice became. "Even after taking a lightning strike to protect Katara, Zuko fights desperately, knowing she is weak and helpless, and stands no chance against his crazed sister!?!" She seized the scroll and scanned the lines again. "WHAT?!"
Zuko nodded. "And at this point, you still pretty much hate me. It's only because I –how did he word it?– gallantly fight to near death to protect you that you even consider trusting me."
"Stands no chance?!" Katara repeated, fighting her way to her feet. "Weak and helpless?!"
Aang winced. "I would hate to Puon-Tim right now."
"Selfish, arrogant–" Katara stormed, forging a path through the prop junk as she ranted and pulling at her hair in fury. "–pompous, insecure..."
Momo, startled by her temper, slunk deep into his hat, only his large ears peeking over.
"You know," Aang said thoughtfully, pointedly ignoring his wife's raving. "Maybe you could just tell Puon-Tim."
Zuko turned to Aang, raising a skeptical eyebrow. "What? That I was there and know how it really happened?"
Aang shrugged. "Just say you heard the stories and you know that's not how it was. Better yet, tell him it doesn't feel right. He seems to adore you as his 'Zuko'; maybe he'll rewrite the script for you."
Zuko considered it. It actually wasn't a bad idea.
"NO!" Puon-Tim barked.
"The script is perfect! Nothing changes!"
"It's inaccurate," Zuko cried.
"It's a play!" Puon-Tim retorted hotly. "No one cares!"
Zuko's eyes flashed. "I care!" he bellowed back.
"Well I don't!" And with that final riposte, Puon-Tim abruptly turned his back on Zuko, ending the conversation.
The playwright, red-faced and spluttering, stormed to the back of a wagon. He flung the door open and was greeted by a chorus of raucous squawks. He shrieked in surprised. His face a mask of terror, he pounced on the door, slammed it closed and barred it with his body. "Who brought the possum-chickens?!"
Katara and Aang watched as the actress versions of themselves crowed in delight and slapped high-fives.
"Ahhhh," the actor Toph whined. "Next time tell me you guy's are pulling a prank! I want in!"
"Okay," Aang whispered in Katara's ear, "That's just weird."
The Tumultuous Traveling Theatre Troupe had stopped for the night. A huge pot of stew had been boiled and they were seated around the campfire, eating and listening to the playwright's howls of rage and despair.
Zuko stormed over and sat beside Aang, fuming. "It didn't work," he growled finally.
"Really?" Aang said cheerfully. "I thought you had him on the gripping edge of reason!"
Zuko scowled at him.
Aang pressed his lips tight together. Not the best time for sarcasm, perhaps. "Sorry."
The actor formerly known as Prince Zuko had been targeting his replacement with murderous glares all night, but Zuko was too upset to notice, which seemed to irk the understudy even more.
"I'm sorry, Zuko," Aang said, genuinely disappointed, "You'll just have to live with it. At least until we reach Gaoling."
The Traveling Troupe was headed for Toph's hometown, in a round about way. Evidently, Puon-Tim had planned out the route with only a bare understanding of the Earth Kingdom's layout and no help of a map. Since they were this far out, the three decided they would try to learn what happened to Toph. For now, staying hidden in the midst of the Tumultuous Troupe was their best traveling option.
Zuko ground his teeth. "I don't know how this is going to work."
"Great," Katara muttered, "Here comes the chauvinist pig now." She ground her teeth, glaring murderously as Puon-Tim approached. "I have half a mind to show him just how 'weak and helpless' I really am..."
Out of the corner of his eye, Aang noticed the remainder of the stew begin to shift in small waves, rising up in the pot. He gently laid a hand over Katara's clenched fist, checking her rage.
"Maybe he's changed his mind?" Aang ventured unhopefully.
The playwright grinned broadly as he stopped before Zuko. He held his hands out of sight, tucked secretively behind his back.
"I know you're upset about the script," he cajoled in a voice so sweet it made Zuko's teeth ache. "But I've got something that will make you feel better."
"A new one?" Zuko growled sarcastically.
A frown tempted Puon-Tim's features, but apparently he decided he was in too good a mood. "No, no," he said, grin stretching even farther up his doughy cheeks. He triumphantly pulled hands out. "This!"
With a flourish, he revealed a half-faced mask of pale skin. A bright red scar was painted around the eye.
At the sight of this treasured prop, a cry of despair burst from the actor formerly known as Prince Zuko.
Zuko turned to his friends in dismay, but Aang and Katara hurriedly shoveled in spoonfuls of stew. They weren't going to get involved in this.
"In case you haven't noticed," Zuko said coldly. "I already have a scar." He pointed to the disfigured flesh on the left side of his face still visible despite the paste.
Puon-Tim eyed it with misgivings. "Everyone has noticed that scar," he assured. "But..." He glanced around surreptitiously to make certain no one was watching before he leaned down to explain in a loud stage whisper that was audible to the entire camp: "It's on the wrong side!"
Zuko's eyes blazed. Aang and Katara spluttered with laughter.
Puon-Tim misunderstood. "Don't worry." He patted Zuko comfortingly on the shoulder. "That scar of yours is nothing a little make-up won't cover." He scrutinized it more closely, a frown tugging at his lips. "...at least, from a distance."
Puon-Tim handed Zuko the mask and ambled off to bark orders at his stage hands.
Zuko buried his head in his hands. "I hate him," he muttered. "I really hate him."
Roku's customary solemnity deepened in a confused –even disturbed?– frown.
"I'm sorry, Aang," he said finally. "I have never felt anything like this...feeling you've described."
The same frown spread to Aang's features. "Never?" he repeated, surprised.
Roku raised an eyebrow. "I experienced a great many things in my lifetime, Aang; but I did not experience everything." His eyes drifted upward as he delved back into his memories. Slowly, he shook his head. "The closest thing I recall is the feeling of disunity, such as when Sozin first established a colony in the Earth Kingdom."
Aang knew that sensation. It had been an ever-present incursion at the back of his mind during the War; one of the first things he experienced when he awoke from his catatonic slumber in the iceberg. It was a horrible thing to wake to, but it was also different from what he felt now.
"What about the other Avatars?" Aang asked. "Have they ever mentioned anything like it?"
Roku shook his head again. "No, but I did not often summon my past lives simply to chat. Like you, I only ever called upon them for necessary information. I suggest you do so now. Kyoshi, perhaps. She of all the Avatars lived through a great many and varied trials."
Aang slowly nodded, but he was distracted by his own thoughts. "Roku..." He hesitated.
The Fire Avatar waited patiently, the blue tinge of his spectral form shimmering.
"Last night," Aang began, "I had this dream, that I was in the Spirit World."
Roku cocked his head, his eyes confused.
"Only I wasn't me," Aang went on. "I think I was another Avatar, an Air Nomad like me, and he was getting ready to fight something. Some kind of spirit. I've never had an experience in the Spirit World that wasn't some kind of journey or omen. Do you think that's what it was? A warning, maybe?"
Roku firmly shook his head. "I don't think so. The Avatar's duty is to defend the harmony of the mortal world, not to battle any evils in the Spirit World. Aside from Kuruk, no Avatar has ever challenged a spirit but for the sake of this world. It is true that the Avatar's dreams –especially involving the spirit realm– are often more than they seem. But there is also the part of you that is purely mortal; it, too, has dreams, and they are merely the hopes and fears of your humanity leaking through to your subconscious. You were probably searching for the answer to this mystery even in your sleep. That is all."
Aang frowned. The dream had felt so real. He had forgotten that he was Aang; he actually thought he was Haku. "But–"
"Aang," Roku said gently. "There is another reason. If your dream had truly been a revelation of some kind, your spirit would have shifted to the Spirit World while you slept. That is something that I, and every one of your past lives, would have felt. After you were struck by lightning, you remember your journey for the fireflies?"
Aang suppressed a shudder at the recollection. He nodded.
"Did you think it was mere coincidence that you stumbled into so many of your reincarnations? We knew you were there, that you were lost, and it is our duty to guide you when we can. I have felt nothing of your presence cross over to the Spirit World in a long while." He smiled reassuringly. "It was just a dream, Aang."
Everything Roku said made sense. Every time Aang had passed into the Spirit World, someone had shown up to guide or direct him. Slowly, Aang nodded. "I have been on edge lately," he admitted. "You're probably right."
"You should consult with others, Aang," Roku suggested. "They may be of more help than I."
Aang nodded again. "I will. Thanks, Roku."
"One more thing, Aang." Roku's face suddenly darkened. "About the Prince...I wish you good fortune in your search. I wish I could help you find him."
Aang blinked, baffled. "Um, me too."
Roku bowed his head one last time and his essence swirled together in a cloud of blue fog, seeping back into the carved flames on the talisman in Aang's string of beads.
Inhaling deeply, Aang opened his eyes. Around him, it was as if no time had passed during the consultation.
The Troupe had arrived in Oscree at midday. Puon-Tim found them an empty corner near the hectic market –three side streets and an alley over, at least– then bustled off to post posters and play up the show's popularity.
While the stage hands worked to set up their poor excuse of a stage, the actors had begun to practice. The actor-Sokka, actor-Toph and actresses Aang and Katara had wandered off to rehearse together. The actor depicting Iroh attempted to approach Zuko for a little combined practice. Unfortunately, Zuko had been unsuccessfully trying to spit out a particularly hard line to swallow and at that moment tossed his script aside with a bellow of rage. People steered clear of him after that.
Aang gazed over the pockets of bustling activity without really seeing them. He ran the beads between his fingers. He should probably try Kyoshi next, but he felt suddenly drained. Maybe a break isn't such a bad idea, he thought, slipping the beads back around his neck and tucking them safely beneath his tunic.
"It looks like he's having trouble remembering his lines."
Aang turned in surprise at the amused comment. A man stood behind him, watching Zuko wrestle with his part. The first thing that caught Aang's attention was the man's left leg –more specifically, the lack thereof. Aang quickly shifted his gaze to the man's face and realized he could not be more than a few years older than himself.
"He's more having trouble relating to the character," Aang told him.
The man grinned. He wore a neatly trimmed goatee and a headband bearing the Earth Kingdom insignia. His muscles were hard and toned but his smile was easy. He leaned heavily on two gnarled sticks, shaped into odd crutches. His clothes were worn and dirty, but then, out here, so was everyone else's. Unlike in Gaoling or the upper circles of Ba Sing Se, hard work was valued far more than money.
"Who's he supposed to be?" the man asked.
"Firelord Zuko," Aang replied, "Before the war ended."
The man shrugged. "I suppose that would be a pretty hard part to master."
Aang smirked. "Especially the way it's written."
The man juggled his crutches to execute the formal bow of greeting, one fist pressed into the palm of the other at chest-height. "The name's Sensu," he said.
Aang returned the gesture. "I'm..." He suddenly floundered for a name, realizing he'd never actually decided on an alias. "Bonzoo Pippenpeddlopsokopolis," he blurted. "The, uh, third." Wow, how did I remember that one?
Sensu raised an eyebrow. "I really hope that's a joke."
Aang grinned sheepishly. "It was my parents' idea of one," he quickly explained.
Sensu shrugged. "Pleased to meet you, Bonzoo. Who do you play in this glorious reenactment?"
Aang sighed dejectedly. "Nobody. And I wouldn't call it 'glorious' until you actually see it. You might want to call it something different after that."
"Would you like to sit down?"
Sensu and Aang perched on the wagon's steps, watching the actors as they rehearsed.
"Is that a woman playing the Avatar?" Sensu asked after a moment.
"More than." Aang nodded, relieved. Finally, somebody understood!
"Are you going to watch the performance?" Aang asked.
Sensu shook his head. "I'm only visiting. I came in from a smaller village with my father to get some supplies. We'll be gone by night." He grinned. "I'm disappointed for missing it, though," he said. "You make it sound so tempting."
The door to the wagon creaked open. Katara peered out. "Is that crazy director still here?" she whispered.
"No," Aang said. "Come on out."
As she stepped into the open, Momo launched out of the wagon behind her. Instinctively, the lemur scurried over to inspect the newcomer.
Aang made the introductions. "This is Sensu. Sensu, my wife-"
"Selia," Katara quickly supplied. She didn't want to be stuck with another crazy cover name, compliments of her husband. "And the little guy is Momo." She smiled. "You aren't with the Troupe, are you?"
"No." Sensu laughed as Momo pawed at his knotted, empty left pant leg. "Just a curious bystander." He patted the lemur's head, and Momo took it as an open invitation. He hopped into Sensu's lap and waited expectantly for the scratching that none could resist giving him.
"I'm still getting used to the faces around here," Katara explained. "We're new to the Troupe ourselves."
"And what do you do?" Sensu asked. "Surely your beauty has acquired you the roll of the leading lady." He winked at Aang. "You certainly were lucky when you met her."
"I think so," Aang replied.
Katara laughed. "I like him," she told Aang. "And thankfully I will not be playing Katara. Puon-Tim said I can play Joo Dee." She rolled her eyes. "He was trying to get me to play Azula. And let me tell you, being told you're perfect for the role of a crazy homicidal sociopath isn't my idea of a compliment."
"I don't think I'd like that either," Sensu agreed with a laugh. "You don't seem much for the role."
"Not to mention it would have been awkward," said a new voice. They turned to see Zuko, with the ghost of a smile on his face. The script was nowhere to be seen.
A young woman slipped out from behind the wagon, making them all jump. "I have to agree with Zuko."
Zuko felt a sudden jolt of panic, but it quickly subsided.
The woman smiled at them. "That really would have been awkward. Especially since I'm the one playing Azula."
Zuko couldn't take his eyes from her face. "Could've fooled me," he muttered.
Her hair was styled the way Azula always wore hers, and her lips were plump and pronounced by red lipstick. Her eyes were sly, but there was laughter in them, too. On first glance, she really could have been Azula.
"Don't worry about me," Katara assured the actress. "I have no desire to play a major role."
"Oh, I know." The actress flicked back one lock of hair in a disturbingly Azula-like manner. Then her face broke into a pleasant grin. "It's that scum Puon-Tim; he's never satisfied with what's he got." She appraised Katara all the same, as if measuring the competition. "I'm Tre Lin, by the way. Welcome to the Troupe."
"Selia," Katara replied tightly, though her friendly smile never wavered. "This is Li, Sensu and my husband Bonzoo."
Zuko coughed violently; Aang fought to keep a straight face.
Tre Lin's attention turned to Zuko. "So you're our new banished Prince," she mused, circling him. "I'll admit, you look much better than the last one." Her eyes glittered. "Maybe you and I should rehearse together sometime."
Tre Lin giggled. "Don't worry," she said with a wink. "I'm not really crazy."
As she wandered off, Zuko shuddered.
"I agree," Aang muttered. "That was more than disturbing."
"Uh-oh." Katara sat down beside Aang. "Here comes trouble."
Puon-Tim had reappeared and apparently his trip to the market had been successful. He raced toward the Troupe, his face flushed with excitement. "All right!" he cried. "The whole city is ready for tonight's performance. Rehearsal time!"
Zuko paled. "Tonight?"
Puon-Tim sighed dramatically. "Yes, tonight. We are a theatre troupe. Performing is what we do. Now take your place for dress rehearsal!"
Katara and Zuko hurried to the backstage area.
"What about me?" Aang asked.
Puon-Tim smiled. "It occurs to me that I have the perfect role for you."
"Really?" Had the crazy playwright actually come to his senses?
"You shall be my cabbage merchant!"
"And you!" Puon-Tim pointed accusingly at Sensu. "No outsiders are allowed to see the play unless they pay!"
Sensu smiled. "Bonzoo was kind enough to offer me a seat to rest a moment."
Puon-Tim's face twisted for a disdainful comment, but just then he spotted Sensu's missing leg. His expression froze, and quickly hurried to rearrange itself. The playwright oozed civility. "Except you, of course. Rest as long as you like! Enjoy the rehearsal!" He hesitated. "Just keep in mind it's nothing like the real thing."
"When do I go back stage?" Aang asked.
"Oh, you won't be needed in Costume until the Southern Air Temple."
"And my lines?"
"Quite easy," Puon-Tim said with a slick smile. "When the Avatar knocks over your cart you scream, 'MY CABBAGES!!!'"
As Puon-Tim walked away, Aang rubbed a finger in his ear, his head ringing frantically.
Sensu winced. "That's the director, huh?"
"Yep," Aang said dismally. "The playwright, too."
Sensu winced again. "Gee, I sure am sorry to be missing this play..." He rolled his eyes.
"You look good," Katara said, trying not to snicker.
"I look like an idiot," Zuko replied. He was wearing the exuberant Fire Nation uniform costume they'd seen before on Ember Island. The shoulder spikes were so long Zuko thought he might lose his balance. And the mask. Zuko groaned. He didn't even want to think about the mask!
"Did you memorize any lines?"
"Of this rubbish?" Zuko sighed. "I'll get by."
From audience seating, Puon-Tim's shrill shout interrupted them. "Cue Prince Zuko!"
"Well, here goes nothing."
With a sigh, Zuko made his way across the stage, which was supposed to be dark.
"Action!" Puon-Tim cried.
Zuko took a deep breath and struck a melodramatic pose. He was certain he heard Katara burst into laughter. "I must capture the Avatar!"
From his view at the prop wagon, Aang winced and slapped his forehead.
"CUT!" Puon-Tim shouted. "That's not the line!"
"But it's accurate," Zuko insisted.
"But it's not the script!"
"The script is flawed!" Zuko cried. "This character is nothing like Zuko! You make him out to be some kind of shining prince! He wasn't! It doesn't do him justice. Don't you care about that?"
Puon-Tim took a deep breath. "What I care about is keeping my skin," he seethed, "And if I portrayed the Firelord accurately, I would lose it, or at the very least get it thrown into the Boiling Rock!"
Zuko blinked. "...what?"
"Don't be an idiot!" Puon-Tim barked. "Throughout most of this story, the Firelord made the wrong choices. It makes him look bad! And if I make him look bad, he won't be pleased!"
"That's not true," Zuko said. His voice had grown quiet, horrified even.
"What could he possibly gain by letting people know all his mistakes?!" Puon-Tim exploded. He began pacing again, beet-red and infuriated.
The possum-chickens followed his every move. Someone, disobeying direct orders, had let them loose. All in all, Puon-Tim was not in a good mood.
"It could encourage people," Zuko said. "By showing them that, even if you've made mistakes, it shouldn't stop you from doing the right thing when you get the chance."
Puon-Tim tried for a different approach. "That's a very good point," he assured, "Very noble. But unfortunately, I doubt the Firelord would be so generous."
Zuko's temper snapped. "I'm telling you, you've got it wrong!"
Puon-Tim glowered. He struggled up onto the tiny stage, stomped across it, and bellowed in Zuko's face. "And I'm telling you I don't care! We're performing tonight, and your lines had better come from that script, or so help me I'll chain you up and drag you back to those soldiers in Omashu!"
Zuko and Puon-Tim glared at each other, locked in visual combat.
"Whoa," Sensu said, awed by the heat of their conflict over something so...thespian. He turned to Aang. "What was he supposed to say?"
Aang sighed. "Something about being a tortured soul and answering to the whims of a tyrannical father."
"I've only heard stories," Sensu said slowly, "but I'm pretty sure that's not how it goes."
"It's not," Aang said.
"I suppose that explains why he was having such trouble with his part," Sensu realized. He frowned. "Only...why does he care so much?"
"Uh..." Aang hesitated, fishing for a good excuse. "He just hates it when people twist history."
"I understand that." Sensu turned his eyes to the sky thoughtfully; he caught sight of the late afternoon sun. "I'd better get going." He eased Momo out of his lap, struggling to stand. Momo chittered and spread his wings, hovering beside Sensu. "My father's probably wondering where I got off to."
"I'll walk you back to the market," Aang said. "Those two will probably be arguing for awhile."
Sensu grinned. "You coming, too?" he asked Momo. In reply, the flying lemur alighted on his shoulder.
"So how close is your village?" Aang asked. "Did you come from Gaoling?"
"No, Gaoling's pretty far. We're just up the mountain, a farming village mostly. It's not much," he said, "But it's home."
Aang nodded. He was picturing himself and Katara and Momo aboard Appa, gliding through the skies. "I know what you mean."
As they made their way to the market, Sensu caught Aang looking at his missing leg.
Aang reddened. "Sorry," he said. "I didn't mean to stare."
Sensu shrugged easily. "Hey, it's a missing limb. Staring is a natural reaction."
Aang hesitated. "Has it been long?"
Again, Sensu shrugged, but this time Aang sensed the ghost of a weight there. Not wanting to make his new friend uncomfortable, Aang quickly changed the subject, but there was a distance in Sensu's gaze that showed he was millions of miles away.
They were just outside the market when Sensu paused.
"You look like you get around," he said suddenly, scratching Momo's ear. "Do you think the rumors are true, about the Fire Nation?"
Aang frowned. "What rumors?"
Sensu looked surprised. "You haven't heard? People say Fire Nation soldiers have been attacking Earth Kingdom ports. Well, starting fights in ports. But everyone's thinking 'attacks'."
Aang paled. "No," he whispered. "That's...that's impossible!"
"I hope so," Sensu agreed. He continued walking. "I was hoping we could go quite a bit longer without another war." He sighed, glancing into the buzzing market. So many people, so many lives...He turned back to Aang with a smile. "It was nice to meet you, Bonzoo."
Aang felt slightly guilty at the alias. "It was nice to meet you, too, Sensu."
"Good luck with your play."
"I think it's going to need it."
Sensu patted Momo one last time before scooting the creature off his shoulder. "Goodbye, Momo."
Momo chittered sadly, but relinquished his shoulder for Aang's.
With one last wave, Sensu slowly waded into the market crowd.
Aang trudged back to the Traveling Troupe's camp, frowning darkly. He absently scratched under Momo's chin.
Fire Nation soldiers, attacking?
"You are actually going to follow the script, aren't you?" Katara asked.
The three friends were waiting for the play, fiddling with their ill-suited costumes. "Because I think Puon-Tim really would drag us back to Omashu and hand us off to Fong's guards," she went on. "Just out of spite."
"I wouldn't put it past him," Zuko said dryly. "I just thought I'd see how far I could get with him. But if he won't change the script, I can't make him. I'll play the stupid part." He sighed. "It doesn't really matter anyway."
Katara wasn't entirely convinced of that. The only reason he'd backed off was so they could stay with the Troupe. She knew he was shocked that Puon-Tim actually thought the Firelord would throw someone in the Boiling Rock just because the truth of his past made him look bad.
Aang was surprisingly quiet. He debated telling Zuko what he'd heard about the Fire Nation soldiers starting fights. But at the moment, there was nothing the Firelord could do about. It would only give him more to worry about –as if the unknown fate of his kidnapped son wasn't enough.
"Worried about getting your lines just right?" Zuko teased half-heartedly.
Aang had three lines: My cabbages!, My cabbages! Somebody arrest those meddling kids!, and My cabbages! ...Oh, man! This place is worse than Omashu!
Aang forced a grin. "Yeah," he said. "That's all."
Tre Lin stared into her small mirror. It was hard to examine her face all at once, but she could check her lips, hair and eye shadow separately.
"Check, check, check," she murmured. "Perfect on all counts."
She smiled into the mirror, but it quickly fell into a frown. It still wasn't right! Her smile lacked something, a certain coldness. When her lips twisted into a smile, they were far too warm, too big. She scowled. She was supposed to be playing a maniacal, cruel genius, not a cuddly rabbaroo!
There was a knock at her door.
"Come in," Tre Lin called crossly.
The door creaked open and a young woman slipped through, dressed in patched and faded clothes with a tattered straw hat pulled over her eyes. Her long brown hair was loose, gnarled and tangled with straw.
"I hope I'm not interrupting anything," she said gently, "But I just had to meet you." She smiled.
Tre Lin shivered. Now that was a smile...She tried to smile back. "Another adoring fan, I suppose?"
"Oh yes." The woman giggled but it was not a happy sound. "Adoring."
Cold needles pricked Tre Lin's spine. "What would you like?" she asked uneasily.
"Well." The woman raised her head, boring her brown eyes into Tre Lin's green ones. "I wonder if you could do me a favor."
- This is, and shall forever remain, one of my very favorite chapters. It was not only an opportunity to explore some high-strung emotions, but also to resurrect every joke -running or otherwise- I could manage. I hope it makes you chuckle. :)
- When toying with the idea of having my own kind of 'Ember Island Players' chapter, my initial inspiration was a single thought: What could possibly be worse than Puon-Tim skewing the story to intentionally put the Gaang in a bad light? I think I found the answer.
- Oh, look. Another Zutara prod. *feigns innocence* How did that get there?
- The actor formerly known as Prince...Zuko, you're probably moaning, what with your uncanny knowledge of 80's pop culture, You actually went there?
- Oh, yes. Yes I did. And I'm proud of it, baby!
- "I hate him...I really hate him." -This is another of my infamously obscure quotes, from a favorite movie, Undercover Blues. *scurries for eerie green lantern* Repeat after me...I will watch Undercover Blues...I will find it hilarious...
- Even though the idea of Aang's beads providing a stronger/quicker link to his past lives is not in the show, I found Gene Yang's imagery to be beautiful and rather brilliant.
- Roku! Until just a short time ago, Roku made no appearance and it made me very sad that he would never appear. But, thanks to the recent 'intensification' of Aang's subplot, Roku has finally found his rightful place in my story. *squee!*
- Note Roku's concern about Roh-Roh. I don't know if Aang ever learns that his past life is Zuko's maternal great-grandfather -which is totally awesome- but Roku knows. At least, in my story he does.
- Triple bonus points and a pineapple to everyone who recognized the new character without looking! XD
- There's Momo! I've been looking everywhere for him.
- Poor Zuzu...everyone's scared of him...
- Yes, I must confess I took an extreme liberty here. I hope I will not lose any of my wonderful, devoted readers (heretofore to be known as 'my freaky darlings', unless I forget or find it much less humorous tomorrow) for stepping dangerously far over the line of Creative License and into the dark confines of the Sacrilegious. Yes, I added a new quote to the cabbage merchant's small queue of lines, and yes, it is a veiled reference to Scooby-Doo. Please forgive my presumptuous nature, my freaky darlings, but it was a temptation I could not resist.
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