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|Shien Kai, Pt. 1- Family Ties|
This is the first chapter in the four part finale.
Chapter 12: Shien Kai, Pt. 1- Family Ties
Zuko sat on his throne looking on in despair as his officers debated uselessly. The enemy was coming to their front doorstep, and these men couldn't agree on how to go about stopping it.
At last, when the cacophony became too much, Zuko held up his hand. "Enough."
The men looked at him, waiting for their answer. "I have one idea that may save us from a lot of bloodshed, but I need your full cooperation."
"After what I've seen," General Shinu began, "You have mine."
The other officers nodded their assent as well, and Zuko smiled.
Ursa sat down in the banquet hall of the palace, a building that she'd never thought she'd see again. Iroh, Jeong Jeong, and Zuko's friends all waited with her for him to get done with his meeting and join them, but none of them could even venture a guess, with the exception of Iroh, as to how tense she really was.
She once more glanced at Iroh, who smiled and nodded almost imperceptibly, almost. Just when the tension in the room, for no one had spoken, was at its height, Zuko walked in, looking a tad more than a little embarrassed.
"I'm so sorry that all of you had to wait for me."
"Think nothing of it, Fire Lord Zuko." Iroh held up a hand. "We have used this time to enjoy each other's company."
"Well," Zuko nervously rubbed the back of his head, "I know that....well...the...." He sighed, regulated his breathing, and began again. "We have each given much, and the time is coming when we'll need to give more. But for now..." His look of apprehension morphed into a reluctant smile. "We can sit back and enjoy this time together."
Yun raised his hand. "Fire Lord? Before we start the storytelling and what-not, I'd like to say something."
"Of course, Yun. You're welcome to say anything you like."
The young Earthbender smiled. "My heritage is nothing new to me, but you guys didn't know who I really was until just recently." His hands trembled. There would be no turning back. "When Zuko showed me the scrolls containing my inheritance, I debated whether or not to take it, and by doing so taking my place as a Fire Nation citizen. I've made my choice." He could feel the collective tension in the earth. Now or never. "I am a Fire Nation citizen." He bowed Fire Nation style. "I will serve at the honor of my Fire Lord."
He felt it, and it tore him to the core. He didn't think his sense was acute enough to pick it up, but it was. He felt, in that moment, Ty Lee's heart break.
Zuko smiled and nodded at Yun's revelation before turning to Ursa. "I think the most pressing matter, besides the current war, is the circumstances of my mother's banishment."
The Fire Lord's mother smiled. "I suppose this does require explanation." She sipped her tea. "After I...er...arranged for Azulon's early retirement, your father banished me." She winced as Zuko slammed his fist on the table.
"No...Zuko, he banished me in order to save me. Perhaps his last good act..." Tears came to her eyes as she remembered.
Ozai glanced at Ursa as she walked into the room. "It is done." She glared at him. "You will not kill Zuko."
The Crown Prince shook his head. "No. Zuko will live." His gaze softened. "You will have to go away, forever." His face became cold and impassive once more. "Ursa, never set foot in the Fire Nation again. You have one hour to pack."
A single tear rolled down her cheek as she kissed him. "Be kind to Zuko; show him the love you neglected to give him in the past."
He whirled away. "Just go..."
"My father," Zuko spat. "Was incapable of a 'good act'! He scarred and banished me for speaking out of turn!"
Iroh put a steadying hand on the young ruler's shoulder. "It was not always so..."
Ursa nodded. "But regardless, I turned to someone that your uncle introduced to me. Iroh knew of Ozai's ambitions and took it upon himself to ensure that, should things get out of hand, the three of us would have a way to safety."
Zuko hardly noticed the stares coming from the impromptu audience as they watched the exchange. "The Order..."
It was Iroh's turn to nod. "I had a system in place that enabled Ursa to quickly and quietly escape the Fire Nation, and it was made confidential so that my brother could not later send assassins."
"But where did you go?"
Ursa sighed. "The Order had me sent to the safest place in the Earth Kingdom: Ba Sing Se."
Pathik sat cross-legged in the catacombs, waiting for Pakku to return. He inhaled and exhaled slowly as he readied himself to once again see war, something he had not seen in a very long time.
Several members of the Order sat with him, and he knew that Ba Sing Se would need saving for a second time. It was time for the Impenetrable City to finally be truly free.
Zuko nearly jumped out of his chair. "What!? Were you in Ba Sing Se this whole time?"
"Even after the Fire Nation took it over?"
Tears formed at the edge of his eyes. "And you knew I was there!" It wasn't a question.
Again she nodded. "It was not hard to realize that the owner of the Jasmine Dragon was Iroh, and I knew that you were traveling with him."
Anger morphed his features, but it masked something. "And you couldn't even let me know you were there, you were alive?!" His voice cracked slightly, and she understood. That 'something' was pain.
"Oh, Zuko..." She stood and wrapped her arms around him. "I wanted nothing more than to tell you the truth, to reveal myself, but I could not."
Iroh gave an affirming nod. "She is right. With her position and ours, it could have put us all at risk."
"I know, Mom." Zuko said as tears streamed down his face; he didn't care if anyone was watching. "But I can't help it. If you had been there, I wouldn't have gotten so lost."
She looked him straight in the eyes. "Zuko, you found your own way, and it is far better than anything I would have envisioned for you. You made your destiny, and I am here now. The past is the past; now we move forward."
The young Fire Lord smiled as he wiped his tears.
Yuan Chong sighed, half of his forces had gone to the attacks on the major islands, but that still left him with almost four thousand men to take the Capitol. His sneer disappeared; correction: destroy the Capitol."Sire, we are almost to the Great Gates of Azulon!" General Yung bowed, obviously nervous. "How are we going to bypass them?"
The Earth King grinned as they neared and the net rose. "Like this." He signaled to the other ships. "Follow my lead!" He lifted a massive rock and launched it not toward the net, but toward the dragon on the left. It crashed into the statue's face, and the stream of fire ceased as the head fell into the ocean.
Ri Wu grinned as he imitated his king's move, crushing the other head. "Finish it!" He yelled as Firebenders on water skimmers came out from the base to meet them.
As Zuko enjoyed the company of his friends and family, the quiet was broken by General Shinu. "Fire Lord Zuko, the Great Gates of Azulon have been breached!"
Zuko stood, shedding his cumbersome robes to reveal his warrior's attire, sans armor. But he was careful to set the box he'd hidden within his sleeves down carefully. Its contents could not be damaged. "Get the Yu Yan Archers and the 5th into position, now! And move all available domestic forces into their path. We can't let them touch the city."
"The 5th and the Yu Yan are already in place, and we have begun air evacuations. We did so the minute we discovered them in Fire Nation waters."
Zuko nodded. "Good." He turned to his friends. "I guess our time of relative peace has come to an end."
"Captain Li Teng and General Mung have already mustered their forces and have formed a barrier, but the men are looking to see their Fire Lord."
Zuko grabbed his Dao swords. "And they will." He looked at Ursa. "Go to the bunker, Mom, where it's safe."
She shook her head. "I will stay in the palace; I am not helpless."
Zuko shot her a half-smile. "I never said you were."
Yun grabbed his sword and ran toward his room; it was time to unveil his project. Suki, Mai, and Haru each prepared in their own way while Ty Lee followed Yun.
Pathik stood with one hundred of the Order's best, waiting at the steps of the Earth King's palace. "Today, the War ends for good." He motioned them up the steps as hundreds of the Royal Earthbender Guards went down to meet them.
The first soldier to reach him went down quivering after two well-placed strikes; it had begun in earnest.
Yun entered his room and immediately pulled out the container housing his latest project, a breastplate that was made entirely of earth. "Time to see if this'll hold up."
He felt Ty Lee enter the room, but he said nothing. It was her turn to speak. "We'll never see each other after this."
That statement surprised him. "What are you talking about?"
He grew pale as he felt her emotions run wild. "You know I can't abandon my duty as a Kyoshi Warrior, but you put yourself on a path that conflicted with it anyway!"
"I know, Ty Lee, I know." He turned and embraced her so quickly that she did not have time to react. "Listen, this isn't the end, but right now, we have to make sure that things can return to normal." He brought her forehead up and kissed it. "Please...we will talk. But now is not the time."
She began to tear up. "I know....I just...want us to both be happy. Is that too much to ask?"
Zuko exited the palace grounds with an entourage of Imperial Firebenders in tow. As they made their way to the front line, he couldn't help but notice that some families had not evacuated. He stopped a servant that was walking toward a small, out-of-the-way alcove.
"Why haven't these people evacuated? They should be as far away as possible."
The man shook his head and smiled. "Oh, no. We know that victory will be the Fire Nation's this day. We are in no danger."
Zuko's eyes widened. "How? How do you know this?"
The servant gestured toward the alcove. "The spirit of many faces has come in my master's dreams and the dreams of several other families. It has promised our safety."
Realization dawned on Zuko. "And that is a shrine."
"Fire Lord, we really must get to the front!" General Shu motioned him over.
As he approached the general, he felt his blood run cold as he realized that he had forgotten two very important things: his father and sister. He had to act quickly; he turned to his Imperial Firebenders. "I want you to split into two groups, one to protect my father and one to protect Azula. Defend them as you would me. Go!"
"Are you sure that's wise, Fire Lord Zuko? You may need them." Shu cautioned as they went to carry out their assignments.
Zuko nodded. "Family is family, regardless. Besides, if my plan works, they won't be needed anyway."
"What if it doesn't?"
Zuko grinned. "Let's not focus on the negative, general."
Yun was impressed; his armor fit better than he had hoped. As he and Ty Lee exited the palace, he recognized one of the smaller houses farther away from the Fire Lord's home. His resolve hardened as he knew what he was defending: his home. No one was going to take it away.
Both young warriors gasped, though, when they saw the sheer number of men Yuan Chong had brought. Ships lined the port, and men and tanks poured out by the hundreds.
The haunting melody from his childhood came forward as he, now a soldier, stood to defend his home. His father had sung it to him every night when he was little, and it was common enough. Now, however, he realized he had taken on the mantle of the brave soldier.
Ty Lee squeezed his hand, and he shot her a reassuring smile. "We'll get through this."
"I'm not worried about the fight; I'm worried about what comes after, for us."
Yun winced inwardly, careful not to show his pain. "We'll cross that bridge when we get there. I'm not going to just forget you, Ty Lee. I meant what I said...about loving you."
She smiled sadly. "So did I. Let's just get through this."
Katara held on for dear life as Appa flew them at breakneck speed toward the Capitol. The Fire Nation would need all the help it could get. Still, they were not in synch; harmony eluded them.
"Aang, we need to talk."
He closed his eyes as Appa slowed. "I know. I'm sorry, Katara, I shouldn't have overreacted."
She slid up next to him as best she could. "And I should've told you about Hahn..."
Aang shook his head. "No. That was your business, not mine. And this whole incident has shown me something: I am still not mature, as much as I have to handle."
"No, Katara, please listen. Even if you had told me about Hahn, I still would have overreacted. I love you, but I can't allow my immaturity to destroy our relationship...that's why I want to wait."
Her eyes widened. "What do you mean?"
He sighed. "Marrying age is sixteen for a Water Tribe woman, but I know that neither of us will be ready."
His young, beautiful Waterbender nodded. "So we wait."
He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. "You'd wait?"
She wrapped her arms around him. "Aang, I love you enough to wait a lifetime."
The young Airbender felt the heat rise to his cheeks. "Thank you, Katara..."
Their moment of quiet was over almost as soon as it had begun; both of their jaws dropped as they saw the forces amassing at the edge of the Capitol.
Zuko made his way to the front and stood opposite Yuan Chong. The Earth King had a triumphant smile on his face. "Today is the day that the Fire Nation falls!"
Zuko took a step forward. "No. There will be no more bloodshed."
The Earth King removed his cape. "Your people have so much to answer for, Fire Lord Zuko, as do you!"
"The War is over!"
Yuan Chong stomped the ground, causing it to shake. "No! The end will come when the Fire Nation has fallen!"Both looked up briefly as Appa flew overhead, landing behind Zuko's line. Aang stepped out of the crowd. "This ends now, Yuan Chong!"
Zuko held up a hand. "And I will end it, my way..."
Aang took a step back. "Your way? But—!"
"No 'buts', this is my fight."
Yuan Chong laughed. "And what exactly is your way, Zuko?"
The young Fire Lord grinned. "I challenge you to a Shien Kai!"
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