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The Pain of Learning, Part 1: Night


Lee panted as he carried Toph down the halls of Home Base. Toph had been rendered unconscious by Des' torture. Des would shatter his victim's bones one by one until they either passed out or gave up the information he wanted. If his victim passed out Des would stop his torture and reform the bones so he could start over. If the victim gave Des all of the information they had, Des would "mercifully" end the torture by crushing the victim's skull. Lee was very familiar with the procedure. He'd seen his former master perform it many times during his training. He'd suffered it himself even more times, either as punishment or as a part of his training.

Lee looked down at Toph's face as her head rested on his shoulder. He hated himself for allowing her to go through the torture, but if he'd interfered before she passed out then she would have to run through the base with several broken bones. That was something he doubted either of them wanted to go through.

Lee headed in the direction he assumed Toph's friends were, based on the sounds of battle. But as he raced down the hall a fireball struck him dead center in the back. Toph fell from Lee's arms as he dropped to the ground. Smoke rose from Lee's burnt back as Gao 's insidious laughter echoed through the halls. Lee started crawling towards Toph as Gao walked up to him and rolled him over onto his back.

"I thought you loved that girl." Gao said as he grabbed Lee by his shirt collar and started punching him repeatedly in the face. "So why did you make her suffer that torture? That's a pretty weird thing to make a loved one go through." Gao stopped punching Lee when he saw Toph begin to stir. He looked from Toph to Lee and back to Toph before he punched Lee one final time. With that he turned to Toph and walked over to her. "Sorry girlie but I can't have you getting in my way."

Gao raised his arm and fire began to swirl around it. "Good bye girlie!" Gao yelled as he brought his arm down. The attack never reached Toph. Moments before Gao raised his arm Lee moved. He didn't think, there wasn't time, his body just moved on its own, positioning himself between Toph and Gao. Gao's fiery hand and cruel smile were the last things he ever saw.

A Brief Rematch

10 Minutes Earlier

Aang, Katara, and Zuko ran through the halls of the Home Base, navigating their way through without running into any assassins, thanks to Tengu and Ursa's distraction.

"Hmm it's been awhile since you three graced these hallowed halls, hasn't it?" Lu Ming's voice called from down a hallway. The group turned just as Lu Ming sent a large blast of air at them. Aang blocked the blast with an air shield as Zuko sent a ball of white fire at the ancient assassin. Before the blazing ball could reach him however it was put out by a torrent of water. The three turned to the direction the water came from as Lian emerged from the shadows.

"Lian." Katara almost growled at the sight of the blonde waterbender.

"Glad to see you remember me." Lian said as she bent water from her pouch, formed it into several icicles and launched them at the three. Katara almost laughed as she waved her hand and melted the projectiles back into water.

Before the assassins could launch another attack Aang's eyes and tattoos flashed in a shining light for a split second before Aang pushed the two assassins with a mighty air blast that even knocked Lu Ming off his feet. The two assassins were flung to the wall at the end of the hallway. While they were dazed Aang shot his hands in the air before quickly pulling them down, bringing down a wall of earth from the ceiling.

"Was the Avatar State really necessary for doing that?" Zuko asked as they started toward the prison cells.

"No but it's been awhile since I've used it so I figured what the hey." Aang replied causing both Zuko and Katara to roll their eyes.

Meanwhile on the other side of the wall Lian angrily tried cutting through the wall with her water whips.

"Damn it!" she yelled finally slamming her fist against the wall. "We were so close!"

"Patience Lian." Lu Ming said wiping the dust off his robes. "All things come to those who patiently wait."

"You have no idea how creepy you sound right now." Lian remarked.


"Well Nikki, what's it going to be?" Ursa asked. She and Tengu had come across Nikki as they fought their way to Toph's cell. Ursa had stopped Tengu from killing the girl on sight. Since then the two had tried to convince her to leave the Black Lotus.

"Trust me kid you'll want to get now while you have chance." Tengu said while he pulled up one of his pant legs to his calf. "Before you're branded." He showed her his old tattoo.

Nikki stared at the two as they waited for her to choose.

Go with them Nikki. Leave while you have the opportunity. Nero's voice told her. Please Nikki.

Nikki closed her eyes before she answered, both Ursa and her father. "I can't leave until I avenge my father. And the only way I'll get the opportunity is if I stay here and let them train me." Tengu was one second from striking her down right there, but Ursa held her hand up, stopping him in his tracks.

"You seek revenge on Fire Lord Zuko then?" Ursa asked rhetorically. Nikki nodded anyway. "Then kill me."

Both Nikki and Tengu immediately looked at Ursa, surprised by the woman's offer. "Ursa, what are you doing?" Tengu asked as Ursa stepped toward Nikki.

"Zuko killed your father. I'm his mother. Can you think of any better pay back than taking a mother from the one who took away your father?" Ursa asked spreading her arms.

"Ursa?" Tengu asked again.

"Tengu, I want you to leave our young friend alone no matter what she decides." Ursa said looking at the uncertainty in Nikki's eyes. "You are not to harm her at all. Do you understand?"

"Yes Ursa." Tengu nodded before he turned and headed down a hallway. He knew Nikki would never make an honest choice with him standing there.

"So Nikki what's it going to be?"


Toph's screams of pain reached Lee before he reached her cell. Lee had to force himself not to burst into the chamber once he reached it. Quietly he peeked through the barred window in the door, just as Des shattered Toph's left shin. Toph's scream of pain pierced Lee's heart like a dagger, it was all he could do not to enter the chamber and attack his former master.

"That had to hurt, didn't it Girlie?" Gao's voice asked. Lee's blood ran cold at the sound of the psycho's voice. Lee waited for Des to try and get any information out of her. No questions came, Des just continued to shatter Toph's bones one by one.

He's not trying to get any information from her. Lee realized as Des shattered the bones in Toph's forearms. He's doing this for fun. Ironically this was the best news Lee's received all day. Des would do this until it bored him, and judging by the amount of profanities flying from Toph's mouth in between her screams of pain, he wasn't going to get bored any time soon. Unfortunately every one of Toph's screams tore Lee's heart from his chest and ripped it to ribbons.

"Just hang in there Toph." Lee whispered as Toph's screams grew fainter and fainter. "It'll be over soon." Finally the screams stopped.

"Aww, is she dead already?" Gao asked sitting up from his seat.

"No she just passed out." Des answered, "Took her awhile though."

"So now what?" Gao asked.

"Now I mend the bones I've broken." Des answered as he began the process. "Then we wait for her to regain consciousness and start over."

"Humph and people say I'm a sadistic bastard." Gao laughed.

Meanwhile outside the room Lee was preparing himself for the moment to strike. He had to attack the moment Des finished. Too soon and Toph wouldn't be fully healed, too late and Des wouldn't be distracted anymore. Several minutes passed as Des mended each of Toph's shattered bones.

"You mind if I have a go at her?" Gao asked as he moved right between Des and the door. "There's something I've been dying to try." Des had finished mending Toph's bones.

He never got the chance as Lee shot his arms forward, bending a pillar of earth from the wall behind him into the door. The door flew off its hinges and slammed into Des and Gao, pinning them both to the wall.

"That hurt." Gao grunted as Lee rushed into the room. Lee ignored the protests from both Gao and Des as he cut Toph down. He caught her before she hit the ground and raced out of the room.

"Alright let's see if we can find your friends." Lee whispered to the unconscious Toph before he sprinted down the hall.


Present Time

Lee rolled on the ground clutching at his burned eyes. The world was dark and the only thing Lee could hear was Gao's laughter.

"Man that had to hurt!" Gao yelled as Lee slowly brought his hands away from his eyes and started blindly reaching for nothing. "Maybe I should push you out of your misery." Gao muttered to himself as fire enveloped his hand. "Good bye." Gao pulled his flaming fist back but stopped before he ended Lee's life. "On second thought, I've got something else in mind." Gao said turning his gaze towards Toph. "It'll be much more satisfying to make you listen to her dying screams, with you being powerless to stop me."

Before Gao could pull his fist back however a blaze of white fire engulfed him and sent his charred body flying down the hall. The assassin quickly hopped to his feet and glared at his three new combatants.

"You won't be listening to anyone's screams but your own." Zuko said as Aang and Katara ran to check on Toph. Gao looked back and forth between the three newcomers and his prey before deciding to run for it. "How is she?" Zuko asked once Gao was gone.

"She's going to be very sore when she wakes up, but otherwise she's okay." Katara informed them. The three heard a low moan behind them. The three turned to see Lee crawling in their direction. Aang and Zuko walked over to the wounded assassin and pulled him to his feet.

"What did you do to her?" Aang asked him as Zuko pulled his head back showing a large burn going across both of his eyes.

"He didn't do anything to her." Ursa's voice called from behind the group. The three turned to see Ursa and Tengu. "It was probably Des."

"Mother?" Zuko gasped letting Lee go.

"Tengu?" Aang asked also letting go of Lee, letting him drop to his knees. "Where've you been?"

"Keeping the base busy for you." Tengu replied as he moved toward Lee. Tengu shot a glance at Ursa who simply nodded. Tengu then grabbed Lee, who'd passed out by now, and slung him over his shoulder.

"What are you doing?" Katara asked as Tengu started down the hall.

"Taking him with us." Tengu responded as Ursa moved to pick Toph off the ground.

"Why? He's an assassin." Zuko pointed out.

"So was I." Tengu countered.

"Zuko, he's not the enemy." Ursa said, "He risked his life to save Toph. Why do you think Gao was going to kill Toph first"

"Because he's insane and just wanted to." Zuko guessed.

"No, because he wanted Lee to suffer. Lee's in love with Toph and Gao thought the worst thing he could to him was make him listen to her die." Ursa said. "Imagine if you were forced to listen to Mai be slowly killed while you were powerless to stop it." Zuko flinched at his mother's words, he remembered ten years earlier when Nero had told him that Mai had been killed by the Black Lotus. It had been a lie but Zuko hadn't known at the time and he had almost fallen apart.

"Fine." Zuko conceded, "We'll take him with us."

Final Stand

At that moment they all heard the sound of footsteps approaching.

"Here they come." Tengu said leaning Lee against one of the walls. "A lot of them." Tengu pulled out his sansetsukon. "You guys go on ahead. I'll hold them..." Tengu was cut off however as he felt a sharp prick in his back. He turned his head to see Ursa pulling one of her daggers out of his flesh. His body went numb as he dropped to his knees. "Neurotoxin from a Shirshu tongue?"

Ursa nodded slowly as she caught Tengu as he fell. "I'll hold them off," she said as she called Aang over to take Tengu.

"What?" Zuko asked grabbing Ursa's shoulder. "What do you mean?"

"Zuko. Someone has to stall them while you escape." Ursa explained as she drew one of her poisoned daggers.

"But why you?" Zuko asked taking his mother by both her shoulders.

"Because all of you are too important Zuko." Ursa said. "The four nations need you." Ursa cradled her son's face in her hands. "Now you need to go. You're running out of time."

"Zuko." Tengu managed to say. "It wouldn't be the first time she's sacrificed everything for you."

"Don't worry honey. I'll see you again really soon." Ursa promised.

"I'll come back for you." Zuko said before taking Lee and leaving with the others. Before they were even 10 feet away everyone knew that those last two promises wouldn't be kept.

Once they were gone Ursa turned and waited. She didn't have to wait long. Within minutes Ursa found herself staring down Lu Ming, Lian, and the remaining assassins she and Tengu didn't kill.

"What's wrong Ursa?" Lu Ming taunted, "Develop a sudden fear of the outside world?"

"No I just finally had enough of running from you Lu Ming." Ursa responded, "I'm finally ready to face my fate."

"So be it." Lu Ming said forming a sphere of air in his palm, "But before you die there's something I've been curious about."

"I'll humor you." Ursa said, "What do you want to know?"

"How did you manage to sabotage Nero ten years ago?" Lu Ming asked. Lu Ming, along with the rest of the order wasn't aware that Nero had betrayed them ten years ago.

"Sabotage?" Ursa repeated mockingly. "I have no idea what you're talking about. That whole fiasco ten years ago was Nero's idea."

"What?" Lu Ming asked, eyes widening with rage.

"Nero planned everything that happened to him during his hunt." Ursa explained, her smile widening as the realization sunk in on Lu Ming and Lian. Ursa only wished Nikki was there to listen. "He planned everything that happened ten years ago. He planned for you and your Black Lotus to get into a war that you couldn't win. And all this time you thought he'd died for you and your order."

Lu Ming was furious as he lifted his hand and sent a blade of wind flying towards Ursa, as she threw one of her daggers at him. The poisoned blade buried itself in Lu Ming's shoulder as his air blade gashed across Ursa's stomach.

"Lian." Lu Ming called out as he hit the floor. Almost immediately the waterbender was pulling out the dagger and bending out the poisoned blood. Meanwhile Ursa ran as fast as her wounded body could, blood seeping from her stomach. With any luck she might be able to make to the others before she bled out.

Flight From Ember Island

Once Aang and his group had reached the surface they all laid the people they were carrying on the ground. Aang then took out his bison whistle and blew into it with all of the air in his lungs. Appa would be there soon, along with some unexpected company.

"Hi Dad, hi Mom!" Sora's voice called.

"Sora?" both Aang and Katara said simultaneously.

"Kids?" Zuko asked. The group looked around until they saw a large golden dragon swoop down from the sky and land. At that moment Lu Ten and Ursa II hopped off Spyro's back and ran to their father, while Sora jumped with her airbending over to her parents.

"What are you doing here?" Zuko asked

"We thought we'd help." Lu Ten shrugged.

"A lot of good that seemed to do." Ursa II commented. Before Zuko respond Appa circled above them.

"We'll discuss it later." Zuko said as Appa landed near them. Aang and Katara quickly placed Lee, Toph and Tengu in the saddle. "Just get back on Spyro and hurry back to the camp." The children nodded before they walked back to the dragon. As they got into the saddle a large fist punched through the ground. The group all turned as Des climbed out of the ground.

"You didn't think you'd leave without saying goodbye did you?" Des asked. Zuko was about to jump out of Appa's saddle when Aang held him back. Appa and Spyro took flight as Des was bending a large boulder out of the ground. He was about to throw it before he heard someone approaching him from behind. Des spun around just in time to grab Ursa's wrist as she slashed at him. Before Ursa could grab another dagger with her free hand Des wrapped his other hand around her neck and squeezed.

"Mother!" Zuko yelled from Appa's saddle.

Ursa managed to look up at her son. A small smile escaped her lips as Des lightened his squeeze.

"What do you have to smile about?" Des asked pulling Ursa closer.

"See you in hell." Ursa said as she pulled her cloak open, revealing several bombs strapped to her body, the short fuses lit. A second later the bombs exploded.

"MOTHER!!!" Zuko screamed as Appa and Spyro flew away from Ember Island.

See more

For the collective works of the author, go here.

Wanted chapters
Book One: Black Fire
Targeted - Duel at the Tea House - Reunion - Rematch - Pursuit - Trials of the Black Lotus - Tracking the Assassin - Final Encounter Part One: Rebirthing - Final Encounter Part Two: Truths
Book Two: Red Water
Thanks for the Memories - The new Assassin - Breaking Barriers - The Masked Ones - The North Pole - A Change of Plans - Gathering the Army - The War of the Lotuses: Dying Moon - The War of the Lotuses: Warrior of the Moon - The War of the Lotuses: Tears of Blood
Book Three: White Earth
A Different Kind of War - Children of Heroes - Return of the Dragon - Hostage - Recon Trouble - New Duties - Lineage Part One: The Apple Doesn't Fall Far - Lineage Part Two: From The Tree - Lies - Forbidden Love - Captured - Betrayals
Book Four: Heavy Air
Punishment - Vendetta - Origins Part 1: The Lady of Death - Origins Part 2: The Orphaned Contract - Rescue - Sacrifice - The Pain of Learning, Part 1: Night - The Pain of Learning, Part 2: Day - Blind Ambition - The Airbending Slicer - Prepare - Payback - The Master and Apprentice - Decisions - The Enemy of My Enemy - End Game - Epilogue: All is Well
v - e - d

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