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I know that it has been several days, but this and the next four chapters reveal Book 2.
Chapter 1: Regrouping
Aang awoke in a metal vessel, his midsection wrapped in bandages. No, not again! He got up slowly, breathing carefully to avoid causing pain; he could tell almost immediately that his ribs were cracked or broken in several places. Not only that, he also had to favor his left leg. He opened the door to find Katara sleeping on a mat outside of his room. He smiled; at least they had each other.
He knew that he was on Zuko's airship, but what exactly happened was a mystery. As he entered the common area, everyone, from Zuko to Suki to Mai, smiled at him.
"Nice to see that you're awake, Twinkle Toes. You didn't quite beat your previous sleeping record, though."
Aang rubbed his head. No hair...good. "How long?"
Sokka shrugged. "A couple of hours."
Zuko stood. "We've set a course for General Fong's base. When we get there we can rendezvous with both the Order and the remainder of Kuei's forces."
Aang sat while raising an eyebrow. "The Earth Kingdom Army relocated that quickly?"
Kuei shook his head. "No. Fong's forces are all we have left. My father absorbed the Council of Five and their armies when he took Ba Sing Se."
"This is bad; this is really bad..." Aang put his head in his hands.
Katara came up behind him and gingerly rested her hand on his shoulder. "It's going to be okay. This isn't the end of the world.""I failed again..."
"No! You have done more for this world than you can even imagine, Avatar Aang!" Kuei began. "My father knows your might; he fears you. He can't stand against all of us!"
Aang nodded. "Thanks, I'm assuming we have a plan?"
Sokka beamed. "Yes we do."
Yun quietly slipped away as they discussed the course of action the group would take. He approached Ty Lee's room before being stopped by Mai. "What happened at the lake, Yun? She won't even look me in the eye."
He sighed. "She's been through hell, Mai."
She placed her hands on her hips. "What's wrong with her? What did Long Feng do?"
Yun's eyes narrowed. "When she's ready, she'll tell you herself. I don't want to overstep my bounds."
Mai knew there was more, but she decided not to press the issue. "Fine." She exhaled.
"Please tell me you weren't just waiting here to yell at me."
"Actually, I came here to apologize."
Yun cocked his head. "What?"
"You have done everything you could to save her, and you were prepared to sacrifice yourself for her. I haven't been fair to you."
Yun felt the tension leave his body. "You were just doing what you thought was necessary." He looked toward the door. "Is it okay if I—?"
Mai waved her hand. "Go ahead. Maybe she'll talk to you."
As she walked back to the group, Yun knocked on the door. "Ty Lee, can I come in?"
She opened the door, and he immediately noticed the tear marks on her cheeks. Her heartbeat was erratic, and her eyes were almost vacant. He moved to speak, but she just wrapped her arms tightly around him.
"So," Sokka explained, "We'll place both Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom ground forces at the Pohuai Stronghold and base the naval element at Seedy Merchant's Pier."
Zuko raised a finger. "You do know it has another name, right?"
Sokka held up a hand. "Don't interrupt me, Zuko; I'm planning." He rolled out a map. "We know Yuan Chong's target: the Fire Nation. We also know that the fastest way for him to get there is through the Pohuai Strait. If we cut him off there, we can end the fight before it even starts!" He showed everyone the map, a huge grin on his face.
Mai walked back in and sat next to Zuko. "This is at least marginally interesting..."
Aang stood. "None of this answers the question of how you escaped."
Zuko grinned. "Uncle knew of the impending attack. I don't know how, but he knew. He warned me and the officers yesterday, and we quietly arranged to evacuate before the attack. I had the airship intercept Appa at Lake Laogai, and here we are."
"So now that we have a plan, we simply wait for Yuan Chong to make his move."
How hung from chains in the dungeon beneath the palace, his broken body worn out from the fight.
"It is a tragedy." Yuan Chong limped back and forth in front of him. "Such a great Earthbender, yet you betray your nation. But all is not lost, you can still redeem yourself. We know that the Fire Nation and rogue Earth Kingdom forces are moving against us, but I need to know what they're planning."
"What makes you think I know?"
The Earth King laughed loudly, before coughing stopped him. "You are the head of the Council of Five. You know everything that they plan; you know every contingency." The general stared at him through his one good eye, the other blackened and bruised.
"I will tell you nothing.""I grow tired of your resistance! The Dai Li's brainwashing could not take hold, and you have resisted the beatings. Now I appeal to your duty, your honor." Yuan Chong got up close. "You can be a hero. Just tell me what I wish to know!"
"You say I h-have no honor..." How spat blood into his interrogator's face. "Then I will behave as if I have none."
Yuan Chong's face burned with indignant rage. "THEN YOU WILL ROT!!" He wiped the blood off his face. "I know they are headed to Fong's fortress; all that remains is discovering their ultimate goal."
Iroh sat cross-legged in the catacombs of Ba Sing Se, the other Lotus members in a circle around him. "We know his target. We know his plan. Now I ask you, gentlemen, what do we do?"
Piandao positioned himself next to Iroh's map. "We know that he intends to conquer the Fire Nation, and so far his aspirations haven't reached any farther. I propose that we call the entirety of the Order, with the exception of those who have stake in the Fire Nation," He looked at both Iroh and Jeong Jeong. "To Ba Sing Se to take it from them while the majority of their forces are off in the Fire Nation."
Iroh shook his head. "I do not believe that I should fight in the Fire Nation. I must lead here."
Pathik put a hand on his friend's shoulder. "I will lead the attack here, Iroh; defend your homeland."
Pakku smirked. "It has indeed been a long time since you've shown yourself to the world, Grand Lotus. This should be interesting."
Iroh nodded. "I agree, and I wish you all well in your endeavors, gentlemen."
Ty Lee sat on her bed while Yun occupied a chair near the wall. "Are you going to be okay?" Stupid question, but what else can I say?
"How can I ever be okay after I almost—?"
"But you didn't." He leaned forward. "You fought his influence the entire time."
She looked at him, pain and sorrow the likes of which he'd never seen radiated from her eyes. "He made me want to... I wanted to... I would've killed. I can still feel that voice, that phrase, in my head, Yun." Her gray eyes were unfocused as she stared at the floor.
Yun came over and wrapped his arms around her, with her head nestled under his chin. "No. You wouldn't have. You broke his hold. You, deep down, knew me. You were never going to do it. He won't ever hurt you again; I promise."
"You..." She pulled away and stared into his golden eyes. "You said you loved me."
He nodded. "I did, and I meant it. I...I didn't know that my feelings for you had gotten so strong, but when you were in danger, all I could think about was making sure you were safe."
Ty Lee smiled, but her eyes still held sadness and fear. "I love you, Yun Zhen." I nearly killed him...
"I love you too, Ty Lee."
She remembered seeing the blood running from his nose, and she knew that it was her fault. She had almost killed him, but still...
"I'm sorry, Yun..."
He smiled warmly. "It wasn't your fault. I'm just glad you're safe."
Aang stood apart from the others with Katara. "It's been a day..."
"It has." She replied, smiling. "But we got through it."
"I guess we did, and we know where to go from here." Sokka watched from a distance, happy to see the two of them enjoying themselves. The happy feeling was mitigated by the knowledge of things to come. Suki sat down beside him as he looked over the map.
"We have a lot of work to do."
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