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Chapter 14: Opening Act
The somber expressions of his friends and family as Zuko exited the airship did nothing to assuage his own sorrow. Lu Ten and Fiora stood ready to meet him, but as they embraced their father, his response was...rigid.
"Zuko, I'm glad you're here." Aang put a hand on his best friend's shoulder as the Fire Lord released his children.
"Aang...I'm...I'm sorry. I came—."
Yun and Ty Lee followed the Avatar out to meet the Fire Lord. "Aang, Gareth wants us to move soon, before Iran can get out of the city. I tried to tell him, but—."
The Air Nomad smiled sadly, dark circles becoming more evident under his eyes. "I understand the urgency, Yun, but I wanted to wait for Zuko."
The Fire Lord grimaced. "And now that I'm here?"
"Now..." Aang almost smiled once more. "...now we take the fight to the Equalists. We stop their rampage. And we avenge my daughter."
"Kyani, I expect you to keep order." Sokka sheathed his meteorite blade and hugged his son. "We will be back, but you are to make sure that no one follows us. This is our fight now."
"No one follows..." He looked away. "Got it."
He smiled. "Good, we'll take care of it."
"Hey, Sokka, get your head out of the clouds and let's go! Twinkle Toes, Gareth, and the others are already on the airship!"
The swordmaster nodded. "Alright, I'm coming."
Kyani backed away as the airship began readying for takeoff, and Tenzin stood against the wall, arms folded.
"I can't do this, Kyani..."
He shrugged. "Well...I gave them my word we wouldn't follow."
Tenzin snorted. "Yeah...thanks for that."
"It's just too bad that they are going to the wrong place."
The Airbender's eyes widened. "What?! What are you saying?"
"You remember what Pema said, don't you?"
Tenzin glanced away. Pema...she defended Sora and the rest of us...
"You remember the base under City Hall, right?" Kyani prodded.
It dawned on him now, and Tenzin grinned. "You sly dog, Kyani..."
The airship was closing in on the Warehouse District, and Toph bore both her rage and grief in stoic silence, something she wouldn't have done twenty years ago. Zuko, meanwhile, wore his royal armor and a frown.
"Fire Lord, could I speak with you for a second?" Yun came up alongside him. "Candidly?"
"Sure, Yun, have at it."
"Very well...I think you've been neglecting your children."
Zuko sighed. "Is now really the time for this, Captain?"
"Yes." The Earthbender narrowed his eyes. "Your children ache for affection and guidance, and they feel like your duties as of late have conflicted with what is best for them. They need their father."
"Uncle asked you to say that, didn't he? Sounds like him."
Yun shook his head and smiled. "I appreciate the comparison, but no. Lu Ten came to me, of all people, to ask for advice. I saw in him in pain, a pain that could only come from someone who wants what he feels cannot be obtained. Prove him wrong."
Zuko narrowed his eyes. "Don't you think that you're overstepping your bounds, Captain?"
Yun smirked. "I know I am, because that is the only way you're going to listen."
"Well, well...how the traitor has fallen." Solf Koruhagi sneered. "You deserve this."
Pema gritted her teeth. "And you deserve whatever darkness awaits you in the Spirit World."
"Why, Solf? I tried so hard to keep you from doing this; you were like my brother."
The Equalist smirked. "I did it because I had the power, for once in my life. I don't care so much about equality; I just wanted the opportunity to test my abilities."
Tears came to her eyes. "On a helpless girl! What does that get you?!"
He smiled, a sociopathic gesture that did nothing but unnerve Pema. "I killed her...because I could."
Aang had been meditating the entire ride, attempting not only to calm himself, but to also wrap his mind around the fact that Sora was dead. Neither one was happening.
Oh, Katara, how I wish you were here with me... She would get the message soon, and they would need each other.
"Avatar...I don't mean to interrupt, but—."
Aang stood. "We're close, aren't we, Gareth?"
"Yes..." The Firebender turned away.
"You have family?"
His response was the same. "Yes..."
The Airbender moved to the window. "Be good to her, Gareth, because you never know when they could be taken away."
"Why do you think I have been fighting? These Equalists do not differentiate; I did not want her to be a casualty. I am sorry...I tried to stop them."
"That is what we are here for now. They won't get away this time!"
"Look alive, people, we're approaching the theatre. We'll hover low and hit them before they can react." Toph made sure her armor was properly adjusted as she gave her decree.
Aang looked around at all the faces that were here. Yun, Ty Lee, Gareth, Sokka, Toph, Zuko...they were all here for him and his family.
His smile was not one of happiness, but of triumph. They could not lose.
They would not lose.
"We're coming too." Lu Ten and San both wore determined expressions. "She was our friend; she deserved far better."
Tenzin nodded. "Good. I was hoping you two would be in."
"What about me? Chikyuu asked, ready to move.
"And me as well?" Fiora tensed. "I...I hope you don't expect me to go with you...I loved Sora, but I have to take care of the Governor-General's grandson."
Kyani narrowed his eyes. "I had forgotten about him. Where is he?"
Fiora inclined her head. "He's in the other room sleeping."
"Good." That's one less worry. "You stay here and keep watch...you too, Chikyuu."
"What?! Why? I wanna fight!"
Tenzin shook his head. "Sorry, Chief...not gonna happen."
Rage lit up in her eyes. "Why not?!"
"Because..." The swordsman strapped his shotos to his sides. "There is no redemption where we're going, and I will not have you carrying that burden."
"The door would be metal..." Aang said resignedly. "The one subset I could never learn..."
Toph grinned. "Then step aside. It's time for the Blind Bandit to make a returning appearance!"
The thin metal sole of her shoes slid away, and the blind Earthbender could once again feel the earth beneath her feet and see the weak points in the metal. She put two fingers from each hand into the opening and pried the door apart, eventually gaining the leverage needed to rip it from its hinges.
Gareth's eyes were wide with anticipation. "Let's do this!"
They entered the theatre, each prepared for anything...or so they thought.
The main auditorium lay before them, but no seats remained. There were only Equalists, dozens of them.
"It was a trap." Zuko stated. "Rather stupid..."
"What is?" An anti-bender occupied the stage; his upper body was fitted with a large electrical mechanism and his arms with metal gloves. He held in his hands two shortened electrified staffs. "The mere fact that you walked into it, as Kiryu Iran predicted?"
The Fire Lord grinned. "That you would think it could work."
He chuckled. "We shall see."
The army rushed at them, and the battle began.
Gareth was in awe. His allies ripped through these seasoned warriors as if they were toddlers!
When the battle began, the Avatar had turned to him and said four words. "Let us handle this."
"Gareth," Sokka cautioned. "Stay out of our way."
The horde of Equalists, easily sixty strong, charged forward...into the waiting arms of defeat. Right at the outset, Aang's eyes glowed temporarily, and a huge blast of wind knocked every single Equalist back, opening them up to his allies.
Sokka tore through the chi blockers with little effort, cutting a path with his meteorite blade. A path for what, he could not say. I know only this: my niece is dead...and that Kiryu Iran still walks free.
A few of the anti-benders trained in the art of swordsmanship made a desperate attempt at matching him.
Not for long.
They failed. They died.
Toph could sense her opponents and counter their moves before they'd even been fully realized. Earthen constructs—walls, pillars, and simple rocks—flew about with such precision that no foe could even get close to the Chief of police.
Unfortunately, the large, armored man with the electrified staves was gunning for her.
Damn this metal armor!
Yun and Ty Lee, meanwhile, stood back to back, ducking and weaving around their enemies and each other in perfect synch. Equalists dropped, some unmoving and others quivering; their assault broken by the three-pronged attack.
The Firebender looked on with awe. Such artistry! They've made battle into an art form, and it's not even over yet!
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