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Ozai's Followers is the fifth chapter of.
Ever since the War ended, Iroh was following a simple lifestyle. He ate, he relaxed, he slept...what more was there? For him, nothing much but tea. Tea, tea, tea. He had opened a second shop in the Fire Nation, where he now resided; the Jasmine Dragon was still open in Ba Sing Se, and his tea was still shipped there year-round. But that was it for him: food, relaxation, tea, and sleep. And that was how he wanted it to be.
So when Iroh was abruptly woken from his slumber, he knew something was up. Then he heard it: fire. Someone was fighting someone. And unfortunately, his nephew was usually involved in those fights. He threw his blankets off them, jumping out of bed and bolting down the hallway. It wasn't a rather long run, which Iroh was infinitely thankful for.
Yes, just as he predicted, the fire was coming from Zuko's room. But Zuko was on his bed, watching and not doing anything. There were ten other men in the room, in two groups of five. They were doing all the fighting, but Iroh wasn't concerned about them – all he knew was that his son – no, his nephew; what was he thinking? – was in danger. That was all that mattered.
The ten who were in combat were too distracted to notice him as he ran in and grabbed Zuko's now-unconscious body, taking it with him as he ran. He tried shaking Zuko awake as he made his way down as many twists and turns as possible, trying to make it as hard as he could for anybody to find them. The hallways were deserted; now everyone had heard the fight break out and wanted to see what was going on.
Finally Iroh tired, and rested for a moment. He had gained a sufficient distance from what he assumed to be Zuko's attackers, and locked himself and his nephew in a room. Zuko would not respond to anything. Immediately, Iroh began fearing that he was dead. Panic swept over his body, but he managed to control it and think rationally. Zuko's body was warm. He was breathing. Iroh checked – yes, his heart was beating. His nephew was fully alive, but something would not allow him to wake up. Iroh just had to wait until he did.
Meanwhile, in Zuko's bedroom the guards who had fought for him were either dead, or ran away to hide. There were 156 guards stationed somewhere in the entire Palace, and 98 were currently with Di Ren. Five of them, however, had managed to sneak into their group as "double agents" of sorts – in the battle, they had slipped into the other side, completely unseen. Nobody did do a very good job of paying attention.
"Search the Palace! The Fire Lord must be found dead!" The guards followed Di Ren's command, scattering throughout the various hallways and searching each room. He, however, knew his plan was falling apart with each passing moment. Some people knew that should not have known, and were sure to let the word out that he had tried to kill the Fire Lord. And now that so many guards were killed in the fiery battle that had just taken place, he could never successfully convince anybody with a positive IQ that Zuko had died peacefully in his sleep.
Di Ren had to run. Where, he didn't know. But he had to abandon the city. Abandon his life, if he wanted to stay alive. Perhaps he could one day take the throne, but now was not the time...it could even take years before it would be possible for him again. Di Ren was a patient man, and his patience could extend for years if it needed to. He could plot and plot all he wanted, but for now...escape was necessary.
He had a hard time accepting this, still. Di Ren was not a coward by any means – to run away when he was in danger was cowardly, yes? He would have no honor to his name anymore; he would have to wait until this night was forgotten if he wanted to even cross the border into the Fire Nation again. But he had to swallow his pride, and flee. Now.
"You shouldn't have gone with the Avatar. You are our little girl." Toph tossed and turned in her sleep. She had been having this dream every night since she last saw her parents. She was immediately jolted awake from her nightmare, deciding to take a walk outside to try and calm herself down.
Toph exited her home, took a few steps, and then froze. Something was on top of her house; she could feel it. It felt like...a person.
"No, you're just stupid," she thought aloud. "You're tired...it's just an animal there. Completely harmless." She walked a few more steps, but then the mysterious figure jumped. That jump was a jump from a person; after the months she had spent with Aang and Co., and all the jumping from Twinkle Toes, she knew what it felt like.
As soon as the figure landed, she sent a rock flying towards whoever this person was. She had no idea how large the rock was, or how badly the person would be hurt, but she probably didn't have too much time before something happened. This person, whom she identified as a man, didn't feel like Aang or any of her other friends – he didn't leave the same pressure on the ground, nor was his shape the same. Thank God. What would have happened if it was someone she knew?
Then something happened that had never crossed her mind. She felt a few more figures move from the other homes, all of them approaching her. One by one, she quickly took out them all. Toph waited, completely motionless. She felt no more people on the rooftops, or anywhere else outside. Wait – one more. There was something near him as well. She sent a rock that way, missing the man but smashing what seemed like a box next to him. A cry of "My cabbages!" promptly followed that.
Now assuming she was alone, Toph went straight to Sokka's house and knocked on his door, loudly enough that it woke up Aang in the next house over. The two boys were worried already...what could Toph, Toph out of all people, possibly need in the middle of the night? If it were Katara, Sokka would be less worried, but Toph...
"I need help. Something's wrong; there were a bunch of guys outside and they attacked me."
Immediately Aang and Sokka rushed over to her house. They looked around it, finding a few men who were lying on the ground, unconscious. All of the men were dressed in the same uniform, the looks of which made it pretty clear that they were Fire Nation.
Sokka stared with concern for another moment, then said, "I think...someone's still out to get us."
They woke Katara and Suki up, and rushed to the Palace. If there was a person to go to about Fire Nation whatever-they-were attacking you, then the Fire Nation ruler would be your guy. But Katara wasn't so certain that it was a good idea. She thought Zuko could be behind all of it. After all, they were supposedly "safe", and that obviously wasn't the case...and they were wearing Fire Nation uniforms of some sort. What if he had been lying to them from the beginning about joining them? What if he was just some power-crazed freak who had this master scheme to ascend to the throne and then kill Aang? No, it couldn't be. He was sincere about it, even Toph said he wasn't lying – then again, his sister Azula could render Toph useless when it came to lie detecting, so that skill could run through the family, and Zuko did have a lot of practice lying...
The closer the five got to the Palace, the more they heard something. And after the past months, they knew this sound very well: fire. Someone was mad at someone, and they were fairly sure Zuko was involved...hopefully on their side.
Now they were running. Suki and Aang were far ahead of the other three, not waiting for them to catch up, or even catch their breaths. The closest to them was Sokka, who was trailing by at least a good twenty feet. Then the fire stopped, and they heard nothing. What happened? Was Zuko alright? It's a terrible thing to be left in the dark.
They still ran, and entered the Palace to find a number of guards searching frantically about. At first they went unnoticed, but soon enough a guard turned his head and saw the Avatar and his friends running around among them, searching as they were for the same person. "It's the Avatar!" he shouted, and then it was all over. They were caught.
The first shot was from the guard who had seen them in the first place. Then all the rest joined in, whipping fireballs at the group. They did a fine job at defending themselves, but with so many guards, fighting back wasn't going to be easy. In a moment of inspiration, Aang used his powerful Airbending to blast a hole through the ceiling, and grabbed Katara, making the leap upwards into the second floor. He jumped back down and grabbed onto Toph and Sokka (who was holding on to Suki), and leapt to safety again with them.
Aang knew that he couldn't keep the guards off for long. Eventually, he would be out of floors to jump through. Then he would be surrounded, with nowhere to go. If he was alone or maybe with just one or two people, then he would use his glider – four people was too much for it to handle. He had to think, and think quickly.
Then Aang noticed some movement in the corner – there were two people there. Both were on the ground. He recognized them...Zuko and Iroh.
"Er...hello? Do you need help?" It was a stupid question, he knew. Of course they needed help. They were under attack from the very people protecting them, and Zuko seemed to be either dead or simply unconscious. Hopefully unconscious – it was an unfortunate position to be in by wishing that for your friend...
Iroh turned and looked at the five. He had noticed them come in, and was ready to attack them, thinking they were what he was still calling "guards" – they weren't really guards anymore, but what other name was there? – but he knew it was the Avatar, and decided not to bother them. They could come to him if they needed to. He would not focus on anything but his nephew for a single moment.
"Yes, but there is no way you can," he finally replied. He then stopped to check Zuko – breathing, yes. Heartbeat, yes. "There are too many of them for us to fight."
Toph then piped up with, "We can take them! They're no match for us."
Iroh shook his head. "No. There are too many of them. Perhaps there is a good chance you could beat them all, but what is the chance that one of you will be hurt? If you are willing to take the risk, then by all means, go, but just remember what you could lose."
They stopped for a moment, forgetting that with every passing moment the guards were advancing on them.
Aang finally broke the momentary silence. "We've risked more already than we possibly could here."
Then Aang unlocked the door, running outside. There were about thirty guards in the hallway, who seemed to have just made it up the stairs. The number of them had strangely dropped, and by a significant amount as well. Aang assumed they had just split up to cover the entire Palace, and that there would be more waiting for him as he kept going.
The front fifteen guards joined in a group attack, one they obviously had planned out already. Five sent out a blast at eye level as strong as they could make, while five others did the same, but underneath them near their feet. And five more joined by blasting towards the ceiling, with the combined fire filling the entire space available. When Di Ren created this technique, he knew it was unstoppable, unblockable.
Or so he thought.
Aang lost sense of what was going on. Everything that was going on, his surroundings, his thoughts; all faded from his mind. It was like being unconscious, yet still awake. He lost control of himself, his body moving on what appeared to be its own accord. The fire began flowing towards him, as if it were all directing itself at the Avatar. But in reality, it was being channeled throughout his body, redirected by him.
The guards saw this happening and began to flee the hallway. A few began down the staircase, but not before Aang blasted all the fire back towards where it came from. This was the same fire that he had absorbed, exactly how it was before he redirected it. It was no stronger, nor had it lost energy; it was simply being guided by his hands.
After the fire had completely left his body, Aang returned to his normal state. He saw the hallway, but not as it appeared a few seconds ago – it was black, completely burnt and charred. There was nobody left attacking him; Aang wasn't sure if he killed them or if they all successfully fled. But he didn't want to think about that. He might not like the answer.
Then he turned around, remembering that his friends were with him as well. They all stood motionless, jaws dropped as close to the floor as they could get. Of course, that wasn't much of a surprise – Aang had just performed in front of them an amazing technique which had never existed before. Anyone who wouldn't have been in awe either wasn't paying attention, or was crazy.
"That...was awesome!" This came from none other than Sokka, who couldn't decide whether he was in love or in shock. After a few seconds of deliberation, he decided it was love. Yes, definitely love. "Where did you learn that?"
But Aang was just as confused as everybody else was. "I...I have no idea. I don't even know what that's called." He scratched his head, trying to think of when he had learned that. He would have remembered it if he had, right? But he couldn't think of one single memory where he had learned that before – oh, the wonders of being the Avatar...
They then proceeded to search the castle for anybody else remaining, but the entire place was deserted. Then they ran into Mai and Ursa at one point, and explained what was happening. Mai showed some concern, which, admittedly, was a big step for her, but Ursa was beside herself. She ran to the room where Zuko was, sobbing and gasping. Zuko simply would not wake up, and she was beginning to doubt that he would at all.
Two and a half hours later, he began to show some sort of activity. He was mumbling something incomprehensible, but it was a major sign that he was going to be okay. Iroh began shaking him violently, trying to wake him up. Still, nothing would work.
Then a half-hour later, Zuko finally regained consciousness. At first everything seemed fuzzy, just as it had when the sedative had gone into effect three hours before. Everybody, especially Ursa, was badgering him with questions, but he wasn't in a right state to answer them. It took a few minutes before he could think and see clearly, and finally was able to tell them the one answer they feared: "I don't know."
"I don't know," meant that they couldn't get names immediately. They had to search, and it was very possible that there weren't any signs as to what had happened. Sokka immediately stood up, having been kneeling over Zuko before, and made his way to Zuko's bedroom. He was a hundred percent sure that something happened there – after all, this had started in the middle of the night. Where else would it take place but a bedroom?
The rest followed him in, and began searching as he did. They looked all around for some clue; anything that could lead them to the culprit behind all this. Obviously the guards were involved, but there had to be someone who was leading them. They needed to find him.
They were stumped. There were no clues; nothing was out of place. But there was one place that nobody looked – the small desk near Zuko's bed. It was the only place left untouched, as nobody thought that something would be left there. Sokka opened the top drawer, ready to rummage through the contents, but some sort of official document was right on top. It had the Fire Lord's official seal on it, which confirmed that this was definitely something important.
"Who is Di Ren?" Sokka asked. Zuko turned to face him.
"Di Ren was the one that burned down Omashu. Why?"
Sokka immediately became concerned, and a little angry. "What is it?" Zuko asked.
"You little –" He couldn't even complete that sentence. "I can't believe you!"
"What, what is it?" Zuko was becoming a little annoyed now. "Tell me!"
"You said here that he would be Fire Lord if you died without a son!" Now everyone else in the room was in shock, although none were as much as Zuko. Aang shot a dirty look at Zuko, wondering what was going through his mind. Zuko snatched the document, reading it over. It was his handwriting, his seal. Everything was written as if it were an official Fire Nation document. Well...it was, as far as anyone knew.
"I didn't write this...this is why something happened tonight. He tried to kill me. He wants to be Fire Lord."
They immediately began a city-wide search for Di Ren, but it was to no avail. By the time they began the search, he was long gone. But he was already planning his return, and he would be back with the worst weapon of all.
|New Beginnings • What Happened to Ursa • Reunion • Omashu Attacked • Ozai's Followers • Descent, Part 1 • Descent, Part 2|
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