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|Siege of Gaoling|
Book One: Choices
Katara rushed to the window, panicked. She could see throngs of Gaoling soldiers outside running to the gates of the city, where dark smoke was starting to rise. Quickly Katara turned to Toph.
"Where are the others?" Katara asked.
"Sokka and Zuko went outside to fight." Toph answered, "And Suki went to help gather the villagers away from the armies."
What!?" Katara cried, "And why didn't you wake me sooner?"
"I'm sorry, sheesh. But c'mon, we got some firebender butts to kick!" Toph said, and Katara smiled.
Sokka and Zuko knocked out the closest firebenders with a brilliant boomerang and fire combo, and quickly climbed over them to reach the next group of firebenders.
"We have to knock out the trebuchets!" Zuko yelled, "Or else they'll overrun the gates!"
"Then stop talking and start kicking more firebender butt!" Sokka laughed, and knocked a soldier over the head with the butt of his sword. Zuko shook his head, and hit the firebender attacking him with the flat of one of his twin dao swords.
Soon, they had reached the closest trebuchet, and Zuko and Sokka disarmed and knocked out the guards. They started to break the trebuchet into pieces, but before they could finish, a blast of air sent them sprawling away.
"What the hell?" Sokka groaned, but he saw Zuko look ahead, and looking in the same direction, saw Aang grin at them with a sadistic smile.
"Wonderful to see you again" Aang sneered.
Suki was helping keep the citizens in order as they flooded into the Bei Fong estate. The guards and more recently Katara were both a big help, but the citizens were still milling around restlessly. Suki's eyes often wondered to the far-off gates of the city, where her boyfriend Sokka was helping the local militia fight off the Firebenders for as long as possible. Usually it would be Sokka that would constantly worry about Suki, but today it was Suki who was worrying about Sokka. Never, in the three years after that fateful Battle of Wulong Forest, had Aang gotten this close to capturing the team. It worried her how Aang somehow was able to sneak up on them when he hadn't in three years. She had a bad feeling he had simply been toying with them. But why catch them now, she had no idea.
Suki's train of thought was broken when Katara asked, "Why are we gathering the villagers here anyway?"
"I don't know." Suki answered, "Toph said we find out soon, after she bashed some heads."
"Bashed some heads?"
Suki shrugged, "It's Toph. What do you expect?"
Suddenly, both girls heard a giant explosion, and looked at each other nervously. Getting the guards to help calm the citizens, who had panicked at the sound, they looked over the wall of the large estate. They saw the last of a rain of bricks falling where the gates were. Dark smoke filled the air there, and they could barely make out dark shapes and the clashing of weapons. A guard came up to them.
"Lady Toph wishes to meet with the both of you." the guard said, and Suki and Katara, nodding, followed him to the gates, where Toph was waiting. Her clothes were full of soot, and tiny pieces of mortar, brick, and other rubble stuck in her hair.
"We have to hold the gates...or what remains of them." Toph said grimly, "Before the army gets fully through."
"How did they destroy the gates!?" Katara asked, "I thought Sokka and Zuko were supposed to destroy the trebuchets!"
"They were." Toph answered, "But...Aang found them."
Aang shot icicles at Sokka, but he deflected them off his sword as he charged Aang. Zuko also attacked, blasting a blazing flame at Aang. Aang shot a rock Sokka direction, and sent a gale of wind Zuko's way, not missing a beat, laughing the whole time.
"This is how you've improved? I'm surprised Zuko. I thought you were stronger." Aang mocked, and sent a wave of water at Sokka, who was struggling to get to his feet again. Zuko flung a ball of fire at the wave, and they were all covered in white mist. Zuko helped Sokka up and they were about to when Aang cried "I see you!" and huge gales of air catapulted them into the trees. Aang laughed again.
"Oh, Zuko did you hear?" Aang gloated, "Azula escaped from that mental place Ozai put her in. Apparently she's searching for you. I hope you have a good family reunion." Aang smiled cruelly.
"She...escaped?" Zuko murmured, trying to get Sokka and himself to their feet.
"Yes, I just told you that." Aang replied, rolling his eyes, "She-"
Aang didn't get to finish his sentence, as a large rock crashed into him, sending him flying a few feet.
"That's what I call Earthbending!" Toph yelled, Suki and Katara rushing behind her.
"Don't leave us like that!" Suki complained, "C'mon, we got to help Sokka and Zuko!"
"I don't think so!" Aang roared, and a searing fire raged at them from Aang direction.
"Split up!" Toph yelled, and they all leaped different directions just as the fireball flew past where they had just been standing.
Katara whipped water Aang's way, Toph sent a pillar of rock at Aang, and Suki ran to aid Sokka and Zuko. Aang blasted Toph's pillar to pieces with his own pillar of stone, and evaporated Katara's water with immense heat, creating even more mist. Katara shot water upwards and froze it, attempting to trap Aang with in the ice, but Aang blew air below him and jumped over the ice. When he landed, however; he disappeared into the ground. "Aang?" Katara called.
"I trapped him in the ground!" Toph called from a few feet away, "It'll give us enough time to run!"
"Are you sure?" Katara called back, as she looked at the cracks coming from where Aang was trapped. He wasn't going to stay there forever.
"Well let's get going then!" Toph replied, and they both ran to the grove of trees where Suki was helping Sokka and Zuko.
Suki had helped Sokka to his feet and was trying to pull Zuko out of a bramble of branches when Toph and Katara arrived. They all helped Zuko out of the branches, and they all ran back inside the city, running towards the estate. While they were running, Sokka asked Toph "Why are we running to your house anyway? What's there?"
Toph smiled, "You'll see in a minute."
Soon, they had reached the gates of the Bei Fong estate. Toph quickly had the guard open the gates, and they all went inside to speak to Toph's parents.
"Mom, Dad! The gates have been breached!" Toph said breathlessly as they stepped into the room. The two parents grimly nodded.
"Open the hatch Toph" her father said, "and start leading to people inside. Time is not on our side."
Toph nodded, and headed out, to where a large stone seal of a flying boar was set into the ground. Quickly, she moved her hands over the stone, and the stone obediently followed her hand, revealing a large cavern within. As if this was a signal, the guards started shepherding the citizens into the dank cave.
"Toph...what is this?" Sokka asked incredulously.
"The reason why my family is here" Toph answered, a small smile on her face, "When my family moved to Gaoling from Ba Sing Se, they found this cavern under the home that they made. It goes right through the mountains. It was hidden so that in case of a siege like this, the people had a place to hide, or flee like now. I've only been in it once, when I ran away when I was little. This is where I met the badgermoles."
"Amazing." Zuko muttered.
"Yes, I know." Toph said with a smile from ear from ear, but it disappeared as the ground under their feet started to tremble slightly, like right before an earthquake hits.
"Aang's almost out!" Toph exclaimed anxiously, and they began to herd the citizens into the hole more rapidly. Finally, only Toph, Katara, Suki, Sokka, Zuko, and Toph's parents were above ground.
"C'mon," Toph motioned to her parents, "get into the cave!"
Toph's father looked at his wife "Go ahead Poppy," he whispered, "I'll talk to her."
"Talk to me about what?" Toph demanded.
Toph's father glanced back and forth between his wife and Toph, as if trying to remember what they looked like.
"Toph," her father started, "I need to give you something." He pulled an ornate rapier out of the sheath slung across his back. It was a beautiful blade, the steel shining with silver, as a picture of a flying boar had been forged on the tempered metal itself . The hand-guard was elaborate and golden, forming two wings as if in flight.
"T-that's the Bei Fong Rapier!" Toph spluttered, "it's only supposed to be handed down-"
"When the oldest member of the family is on their death bed." Toph's dad answered, "Yes, I know."
"But you're not going to die!" Toph protested, "Your coming with Mom, me, and the rest of us!"
Her father shook his head, and pulled a broadsword from another sheath hanging on his waist. "No, I must fight with the others."
Toph glared angrily at her father, and yelled "No! You don't know how to fight! You can't fight!"
"I must Toph." her father insisted, "Without a leader they will fall like weeds to a tornado. Their morale will crumble."
"Then let the captain do that! It's his job!" Toph argued, "Not yours! This week I actually found out what's it's like to have an actual father who cares! I'm not losing you, not even if I have to drag you!"
"Listen to me!" Toph's father cried, kneeling and looking face to face with Toph, "I have loved the last week we had. I truly felt like I was your father. I have always had your best interests at heart! Now I know you have it. I'm proud of you Toph, proud of who you are and who you've become. I would want nothing more than to go with you and you mother. But if I do not lead, Aang will catch us, and we are all as good as dead. I long ago swore to protect you to my last breath, and I will not fail you now. I have failed you...too many times already."
Toph was silent for a minute, then pulled her father into a tight embrace. She whispered something in his ear. He seemed surprised, but he smiled warmly and whispered something back. Toph smiled, though tears smeared her face, and motioned everyone to climb down the ladder. Toph was last, closing the seal above them so that the tunnel they were climbing down was covered in total darkness. As they clambered down the ladder, Katara whispered to Toph "What did you whisper to your father?"
Toph was silent for a long time. She was silent for so long, Katara thought she might have offended her, but finally Toph answered.
"I told him I loved him, for the first and probably the last time in my life."
Toph pushed her way through the throngs of people wandering in the torchlight cave. She raised herself on a small pillar and cried, "Everyone, here!" catching everyone's attention.
"I am going to lead you through the caves. Follow only my torch! You can get lost!" Toph cried, and with a sea of nodding heads, Toph had Zuko light a great torch, and holding it high Toph led the way into the dank caves. Water dripped from the stalagmites above, making an echo throughout the caverns. Spiders and other bugs crawled around, but Toph was able to evade the bulk of them in the caverns.
Soon, Toph could feel the tunnels slanting upwards, and the people could see a faint light and the tunnel starting to end. With increased vigor they trudged on through the caves, as the light grew more and more. Finally, the mouth of the cave was in sight, and the crowd nearly trampled each other as they ran outside, thankfully breathing in fresh air after hours of the dusty cavern air.
Everyone was surprised to find themselves on a steep plateau, one side facing the mountains, on the other side a great plain, where the tell-tale signs of a town could be seen. Through the mountains, they could see the faint outline of Gaoling.
Suddenly, they felt the ground tremble and shake. People fell to their feet, holding their heads and covering their ears in fear. Even from there, they could hear Aang roar in frustration.
"WHERE ARE THEY?!"
Katara and company watched in terror as the city was engulfed in a flickering orange light. Toph only shed a tear as Zuko told her what they could see. Gaoling had been destroyed, by the fire Aang had set on the city.
Toph choked back sobs as she raised herself on an earthen pillar and called everyone's attention. She had the saddest look on her face, but she spoke in the bravest voice she could muster.
"Our home...has been compromised. For now, we must travel to the town on the plains, Ti-nou, to have some food and a roof over our heads."
"How did the city fall?" one man asked from the crowd. Toph looked like she was about to die, but she answered him anyway.
"Gaoling...has been burned to the ground, along...along with anyone that stayed." Toph lowered herself, and the people soon wandered off to make camps or talk about their lost home.
Toph had walked only two steps when she broke down and starting crying. Katara and the other rushed over to her, and Suki hugged her tight. Toph could only mumble only one word.
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