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Book One: Deceit
January 5, 2011
"Liv!" Kya gushed. "You look so pretty!"
Liv turned her neck briefly to shoot a scathing glance at Kya, but the waterbender could not take her too seriously while only half of her face was covered with makeup. Giggling, she collapsed into a plushy rocking chair.
"I don't know why you bother," Rohan said tonelessly, not taking his eyes off the book that his eyes had been glued to. "Makeup will not help."
Kya watched as Liv jumped to her feet, grabbed a brush off of her dresser, and launched it at Rohan's face. Rohan raised his book just in time to avoid being hit, and the hairbrush bounced harmlessly off of the back cover, landing with a thud on the wood floor. A few feet away from them, Gyatso was perched on a small wooden table, swinging his legs over the side like an excited child.
Gyatso. Kya winced inwardly, turning her head to the side. She had worked up the courage to tell her brother – half-brother – the truth about her birth, and the result had been this...awkwardness between them. Kya hated the thought that she might have ruined her relationship with Gyatso, but she knew that she would have felt guilty about not telling him.
"It's a shame Cyrene's off in Ba Sing Se with her parents," Gyatso remarked absent-mindedly. "It's all boring here without her."
"You would be bored without that freakish pretzel ninja," Liv replied sarcastically.
"Technically," Rohan put in, "Cyrene is a contortionist who has been trained in the arts of chi-blocking and archery. Although it is a temptingly amusing concept, there is no such thing as a pretzel ninja."
"Do you have to take the fun out of everything?" Liv said disparagingly.
Kya smiled, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear. It was all good fun, she knew. No one's feelings were hurt by the insensitive banter. In fact, it was unlike her to refrain from joining in on her friends' antics, but she was not feeling particularly social now. Besides, she did not want to end up letting anything slip that would hint to Rohan's perceptive ears what had been going through her mind lately.
"Dude, I am so psyched for this party," Gyatso said excitedly. "I am going to rock the dance floor!"
He was trying deliberately to meet her eyes – to reassure her that everything was alright. Kya appreciated her brother's concern. One of her favorite things about Gyatso was that, even when he was upset with her, he was almost motherly in the way that he endeavored to protect her from everything that threatened to hurt her. And Gyatso knew her well enough to know that she was hurting.
She wondered why he didn't know that this was not that kind of party.
"Sure, you do that," Liv told him, her voice dripping with dry humor. "At least one of us will have fun."
"It is a joyous occasion," Rohan stated, though Kya could not detect a sign of joy in him.
"It's stupid, if you ask me. I mean, it's just the twenty-fifth anniversary of the end of the war. It's not like anyone cares."
"And why would people not care?"
"Because I said so!"
Giggling, Kya leaned back against the wall. They were expected at the feast at any moment now, but she wished that she could remain in this moment with her friends. She had no wish to see her mother – she still shook with fury every time she laid eyes on Katara – and being near Zuko right now would just be uncomfortable.
And yet, she was obligated to attend the celebration. It seemed as though nothing was within her control anymore.
In an outdoor pavilion...
Kya yawned, propping her head up on her hand as she gazed around the long table. She was seated in one of the palace's outdoor pavilions, accompanied by her friends and several people with whom she was not well-acquainted. They were the former generals of Fire Lord Ozai, but had sworn their loyalty to Zuko when he had taken power. Zuko had invited them as a gesture of friendship, but now it seemed that he and the rest of Team Avatar were beginning to regret it.
One of the older men was just finishing the incredibly long speech he had been making, and Kya noticed Zuko tapping his fingers impatiently on the table. He looked as though he wanted to say something, but his father's retired officials had been pretty much dominating the feast so far.
Kya was not sure that she minded. She was not exactly thrilled by the concept of hearing Zuko speak just now.
"...and so I thank you, Fire Lord Zuko," the general concluded, "for allowing us the opportunity to share in the glory of this momentous anniversary."
He took his seat once again, and Zuko's gold eyes lit up with anticipation. The Fire Lord placed his hands firmly on the table and began to slowly push himself up...
"Thank you for that fascinating history lesson," yet another general said, standing abruptly. "If I may, Fire Lord?"
"Of course," Zuko muttered.
Kya giggled. She could not remember the last time Zuko had looked so annoyed.
Then Zuko shot a glance in her direction, and her laughter came to a screeching halt. When he saw her eyes on him, he turned away immediately, a faint flush spreading over his cheeks. Kya narrowed her eyes and frowned. That confirmed her suspicions – Katara must have told him that she knew the truth.
Beside her, Liv let out a not-so-inconspicuous sigh of exasperation. She looked utterly bored, and it could not have been more obvious that she wanted to be somewhere else. Kya noticed that she shot continuous looks at Rohan, who was sitting beside her with his hands folded neatly on the table, carefully absorbing every word that was spoken.
"La da la da da da la la da di da di wooooo..."
Kya kicked Gyatso under the table, giving him a disapproving glare. Her brother was singing some kind of devilish chant under his breath while stacking his dumplings one on top of the other with his chopsticks. Although this celebration was, admittedly, one of the least exciting events she had ever attended, that kind of odd behavior was just rude.
"Thank you," the general finished gracefully.
Zuko shot up like a bullet, cutting off the white-bearded man who had looked as though he had wanted to say something. All eyes were immediately on him. All, Kya realized, except for Katara's. Her mother seemed determined not to so much as acknowledge Zuko's existence.
"Thank you," Zuko said sharply, "to everyone who has contributed to the past hour and a half of reminiscence. Now, if there are no objections, I would like to begin the feast."
"Okay!" Gyatso called down the table.
There was a moment of silence in which all eyes were turned on him. Gyatso grinned, as though oblivious to the fact that everyone was staring at him. The slight flush on Zuko's face grew a bit deeper.
"Uh... Great, just bring the food," Zuko said quickly, sliding back down into his seat.
The waiters who had been standing off to the side began to approach the table, bearing trays filled with all sorts of delicious foods. Kya felt her mouth water as she eyed the delicacies. Now she remembered why she had agreed to come to this "party".
"Ugh," Liv complained quietly as the meal commenced. "Why the hell did Dad think this was a good idea? I mean, seriously. This guys don't even like us, and I'll bet no one actually wants to be here."
"On the contrary," Rohan disagreed flatly. "I found General Bae's synopsis of the outcomes of the war to be quite interesting. He included certain aspects that are not covered in the typical school curriculum."
"You would know, stupid smarty pants," Liv muttered.
In his spare time, Rohan was an assistant teacher for his mother, Suki. It made sense that he would have the entire curriculum memorized, Kya decided.
Her thoughts were interrupted when she noticed the look on Liv's face. Her sister's amber eyes were narrowed, and she appeared to be looking at something in the distance with great interest. What...?
Kya turned around and instantly understood. A great ball of fire had risen over the edge of the volcano and was falling from the sky at an incredible speed. That was so strange. Why would anyone be shooting flames off so close to the city?
Why was it coming towards them!?
"HOLY SHEEP!" Gyatso yelled. "It's gonna SMASH us!"
Everyone was on their feet in a split second, and the quiet celebration had descended into a sort of panic. They were all staring wide-eyed at the approaching projectile, as though they had absolutely no idea what to do.
"What's the matter with you people!?" Toph demanded.
She lifted her hands and rose a wall of stone in front of them seconds before the fireball entered their range. Kya winced when she heard it slam against the rock and disintegrate. If not for Toph's quick thinking, those flames would have eaten up the little gathering.
Kya felt a prickle of unease in the back of her mind, and she tried to shake it off. Then, everything that transpired in the next few moments happened so quickly that she barely had time to register it.
She felt her arms being wrenched behind her back, and her wrists impacted in a painful collision. Then she was dragged backwards and slammed against the stony floor, her head bouncing off of the concrete. Tears welled up in her eyes and stars burst within her vision, and she struggled to regain focus.
Kya struggled to sit up, blinking back the moisture from her eyes as she quickly surveyed the scene that had unfolded before her. What was happening made absolutely no sense. Zuko appeared to be charging toward...the waiters? He was poised for an attack, and his eyes were alight with fury. Were the waiters the ones who had attacked them?
What was more, it seemed that the former generals had joined in the fight. But, to Kya's horror, they were not on the side of their hosts. Two of them were sending flames in Katara's direction, and the waterbender barely had time to deflect them before whipping around to face more intruders.
What's going on!?
Kya attempted to stand up, but found that her arms would not cooperate with her. With a little effort, she twisted her neck to look over her shoulder. Her hands were cuffed behind her back with some kind of stony glove, restricting any movement of her arms. Kya realized with dread that she was going to have to fight out of this situation, and she would have to do it without her hands.
'I need to get to water,' she thought determinedly. As long as I can bend, I can get out of this. There's gotta be water around here somewhere...
Her eyes fell on the water glasses that had been left abandoned on the table. Pushing herself to her feet, Kya made a mad dash for her only source of liquid, ducking to avoid the attacks of the other participants in the battle. A few of the generals attempted to thwart her, but she managed to use her small size to keep out of their way. However, as it became more apparent that she was vulnerable, more and more of the attackers began to come after her. For the first time, Kya considered the fact that she might not make it.
Two of the "waiters" came up on either side of her, performing complex movements that Kya had often witnessed Toph do. She could see now that they were not typical men. They were bending the earth and using it as a weapon against the Fire Lord and his companions. Kya panicked when she realized that she had very little experience fighting against earthbenders.
That was the moment that her life changed.
In fact, she did not remember much of what happened in those short seconds. She began to feel very light-headed, but not at all weak. Rather, Kya felt stronger than she ever had before. A wave of power was crashing over her, but she was not fully conscious of its strength. For a moment, its sheer intensity blinded her.
When the strange energy had begun to ebb and she was aware of her surroundings once more, everything was changed for good.
Her arms were extended in front of her, as though poised for attack. Kya cocked her head to the side in confusion. She did not recall being freed from her bonds.
The men who had been about to attack her were sprawled out across the ground, staring at her with nothing short of shock in their expressions. Kya took a cautious step back, but they did not move. Behind them, several more of the waiters and generals had stopped to gape at her. Even Toph and Sokka seemed stunned by what had happened. What had she done?
She did not have much more time to contemplate, because the attackers seemed to change targets completely in that moment. Whereas their assault had seemed to be focused on Zuko beforehand, they now turned to her with something akin to fear in their eyes. Kya felt her heart pound in her chest as she prepared to fight them off.
Kya never had the chance to strike. A huge jet of water suddenly exploded between her and her adversaries, separating them. Kya blinked in amazement as the stream consumed her opponents. When it cleared, she observed in surprise, they had sunk halfway into the ground. There was only one person who could have pulled off a move like that.
"What are you waiting for, giggle girl!?" Toph shouted. "Get out of here!"
A firm hand grasped Kya's arm, and she looked up to see Katara standing beside her. Her mother's expression was fierce and left no room for argument. It was clear that she wanted Kya to follow her.
Toward the edge of the pavilion, one of the stone tiles had been moved out of the way - probably Toph's work, Kya decided. Katara dragged her toward the opening, and Kya peered in to see a staircase winding underground. A secret tunnel?
They rushed into the tunnel, with Toph following behind them. Every so often, the earthbender would raise a wall of rock behind them in the hopes of buying them some time before the intruders caught up. Kya glanced wildly between the two older women. What was happening?
"What's going on?" she asked aloud. "Who are these people? Why did they come after me like that? What did I do?"
"Didn't you feel it?" Katara replied. "The power? That isn't typical of a normal bender, Kya."
"But what does that mean?" Kya questioned frantically. "What do I have to do with those people?"
"They're Dai Li agents," Toph answered swiftly. "We thought they'd been disbanded, but it looks like a few of them must have regrouped. They're coming after you because..."
"You're the Avatar."
Kya glanced in astonishment at Katara, shocked into silence by her mother's abrupt words. Katara did not so much as look at her, almost as though she could not bear to. Kya narrowed her eyes, shaking her head. Was that how it was going to be? Would Katara never be able to look at her again because she was the...
She was the Avatar!
"Wait, what!?" Kya demanded. "What do you mean I'm the Avatar!? I can't hold the balance of the world in my hands. I can barely balance on my feet!"
Toph opened her mouth to respond but was cut off by a muffled shattering noise. Kya looked over her shoulder. That sound could only have been one of the earth walls falling. Did that mean that the Dai Li agents had caught up to them already?
Katara paused suddenly. Kya halted beside her, struggling to catch her breath. She could see a strange sort of resignation in her mother's eyes. It seemed as though Katara knew that they could not avoid a fight.
"Listen to me," Katara said firmly. "You need to get through the rest of the tunnel on your own. Find Fufu, and get yourself and your friends out of here. Don't worry about anything else, but make sure that they don't catch you."
"No!" Kya shot back immediately. "I'm not going to leave you and Toph down here! I can help you fight them!"
Another of the rock walls came crashing down, this one much closer than the last. Katara gazed at her for a long moment before turning to Toph. The earthbender nodded slightly and turned on Kya.
"Sorry about this, giggle girl," she murmured.
Kya felt her feet being moved backward before she understood what was happening. She glanced up in horror at Katara and Toph, who were suddenly much farther away from her than before. Kya caught her mother's blue eyes and saw that they were filled to the brim with emotion. What was that feeling?
Then the rock wall rose between them, sealing all three of them into their fates.
There was nothing else to do. As they sounds of their attackers grew closer, Kya turned and fled down the rest of the tunnel, blinking back tears that threatened to slide down her cheeks. She was not sure why they were there – after all, Katara and Toph could easily fend off a few Dai Li agents.
They have to be able to,' she whispered to herself. They just have to."
It was not long before she reached another staircase, quite similar to the one that she had descended just minutes ago. Trying not to think too much about what she was doing, Kya ran up the stairs and, upon finding a handle, yanked on it.
She was standing in the middle of her backyard. Gazing around in surprise, Kya saw that Fufu was sitting in the grass, waiting for her. The orca-tiger was shifting nervously, as though the noise of the battle had frightened her. Her green eyes shone with silent trepidation.
"Come on, Fufu," Kya murmured. "We've gotta go find the others."
Kya rushed into Fufu's shelter and grabbed all of the items that she thought they would need for a journey – her water skin, Gyatso's glider, and her saddlebag. She noticed that the saddlebag was not where she had last left it, but she did not waste time thinking about it. Right now, all that mattered was getting her friends away from the danger.
Scrambling onto Fufu's back, Kya urged her into a run. The two of them took off through the city, heading back in the direction of the Royal Palace. To Kya's horror, she saw that more attackers were pouring in over the sides of the crater. From the looks of it, this attack was much more serious and organized than it had first appeared. The entire city had erupted into chaos, with both strangers and Fire Nation guards alike turning against their leaders. No one seemed to know who to trust anymore.
By now, the battle had spread throughout the palace grounds, as though the area of the courtyard could no longer contain the madness. Kya charged blindly through the crowd, using her bending water to knock people out of her way as she passed. Fufu swung her massive tail behind her, sending anyone who tried to come after them flying. Kya could only hope that they were only hitting the enemies.
Kya spotted Rohan first. He had someone managed to get a hold of his sword and shield and was putting them both to good use. It seemed that the strength of ten men was in his arm as he parried his opponents' blows and cut into their defenses. Kya's eyes lit up when she saw the progress that he alone was making. Surely that meant that the tide was turned in their favor!
"Rohan!" she called frantically.
He turned at the sound of her voice, and Kya saw the glint of determination in his gray eyes. The look softened as he gazed at her, as though he could sense her fear. And, Kya reflected, he probably could. Rohan seemed to know everything.
"Come on!" Kya urged him, getting as close as she could without putting herself and Fufu in range of the attack. "We need to find the others and get out of here!"
Rohan did not hesitate. The wave of attackers surrounding him was beginning to ebb, and he knocked the last few away with his shield before sprinting over to Fufu and jumping onto her back in a single bound. As soon as he was seated, Fufu took off into the fray once again.
Kya's eyes scanned the crowd anxiously for her half-siblings, her heart pounding in her chest when she did not find them immediately. It seemed to take an age to search the entire palace, but Kya was all the more relieved when she finally spotted them, fighting together amidst a group of soldiers. The atmosphere was filled with confusion as people attempted to discern who the enemy was, and Kya witnessed many incidents of people who seemed to know each other turning against one another in the heat of the confrontation.
"Kya!" Gyatso shouted in relief when he saw her. Then, turning to Liv, he gave her arm a quick tug. "Liv, let's go."
"No!" Liv screamed in frustration. "I'm not leaving, goddamn it! No, get your hands off of me, Gyatso!"
Kya felt her heart break for her sister. The Fire Nation princess was obviously desperate not to leave her home in such a disaster, and her amber eyes were filled with actual tears as she struggled against Gyatso. The airbender was unable to maintain his hold on her, and he backed away reluctantly as Fufu approached.
Liv turned to face their foes, but Rohan leaned over from his place on Fufu's back and wrapped one powerful arm around her waist. She yelled in protest as he lifted her into the air, situating her onto Fufu in front of him as Gyatso scrambled up from behind. Kya bit her lip miserably at the utter disorder of their situation, but she knew that there was only one thing to do.
"Let's go, Fufu," she whispered brokenly.
Kya barely noticed as they rushed back through the palace and out into the chaos of the city once again. The scenery flew by her in a blur of color, but Kya could not bear to watch it pass. Hot tears burned her eyes as Fufu climbed up the side of the crater, doing her best to avoid the smaller confrontations going on outside. It was not until they made it to the top of the crater that Kya finally began to take notice of their surroundings once more.
Fufu came to a halt, and Kya felt her gaze drawn down to the city that had been her home for fifteen years. Screams of terror were rising into the night as the people she knew and loved fought for their lives against their foes. How could this have happened? It was supposed to be a celebration...
That was when it really struck her. The people she loved were all down there, gathered for what should have been a pleasant evening. They were engaged in a fierce confrontation, with no guarantee of safety. Any one of them could easily be captured or killed. The very thought of it was enough to make Kya tremble with horror.
She wanted with all her heart to return and help her loved ones. Something within her whispered that it was her duty to restore the peace that should have existed in the city that night. And now, knowing what she knew about her true identity, how could they expect her to just get up and leave? How could she...?
Silent tears were pouring down Liv's face as she leaned against Rohan. Her face was empty and void of expression, as though she could not bring herself to believe what was happening. Gyatso was resting one hand on her shoulder, his blue gaze turned sadly down to the wild conflict. Only Rohan seemed totally calm as he held out a hand to Kya, a wordless offer in his strong eyes.
Kya handed him the reins, her arms falling limply to the side as Gyatso pulled her back and Rohan moved forward to direct Fufu away from the danger. Kya took Liv's hand as they made their way down the other side of the crater together. The Palace City vanished from sight within a few seconds, and Kya could not help but feel as though she was leaving it behind for good.
The last thread of normalcy was truly gone from her life now. Nothing could ever be the same again.
- This is by far the longest chapter written or planned for . (So far!)
- "Holy Sheep!" was a phrase created by the Accountless Co-Writer once during Halloween, when a little kid stole candy from the bowl outside her house.
For the collective works of the author, go here.