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Calm Toph on Appa's saddle
The Champion
Chapter information
Series

Footsteps in the Dark

Book

1

Chapter

1

Written by

MetalArmor

Editor(s)

MetalArmor

Chronology
Last chapter

Toph's Memories (Prologue)

Next chapter

I'm Not Weak

Plot

At Earth Rumble VI, Toph meets a sissy-seeming boy around her age who promptly beats her in the ring. Though she walks away in anger, he shows up again and befriends her and gives her a promise of freedom that she never thought she would experience. In good time, he pulls her out of her cozy life-style as an upper class rich girl and in to The War ravaging the entire world along with his other friends.

Story

"Now, the moment you've all been waiting for. The Boulder," Toph overheard Xin Fu announcing, "versus your champion ...The Blind Bandit!" Then the crowd went wild with excitement at seeing the star of the arena. Toph let Xin Fu's lady assistants take back her cape (which had been put on for the solely theatrical purpose of making her character seem smaller than she really was in the minds of the audience) as well her belt, which they returned to Xin Fu in case someone actually managed to beat her (which was highly unlikely).


Toph waited for her new opponent to began speaking, taking that chance to estimate the skills of her large, meaty opponent and how she might take him out of action. Her opponent said, " The Boulder feels conflicted about fighting a young blind girl," and as far as Toph could initially interpret his emotions from the vibrations he was sending through the ground towards, he appeared to really be surprised about her appearance and was confused as to whether fighting her fell with the rules of good sportsmanship. Newbie, she thought derogatorily as he was talking, I should feel bad about fighting you. In line with her thoughts, she then poked fun at the idea of there being any reason for The Boulder to not fight her, by pointing at him and saying in a mocking tone, "Sounds to me like you're scared, Boulder."

After a few moments where Toph could feel he had been taken aback by her comment, The Boulder parried her jibe, saying, " The Boulder's over his conflicted feelings, and now he's ready to bury you in a rock-a-lanche!", apparently making an overly dramatic gesture to accompany his words, as far as Toph's feet could tell from the sudden shifting of his weight. After briefly wondering why her opponent kept saying his own name, she pointed back at him and taunted the inferior Earthbender again, " Whenever you're ready ... The Pebble." and then laughed dramatically at her own comment so the audience could hear that as well. I love this part of the game, she thought to herself as she did so.

Her opponent shouted, informing her that "It was on," and then bellowed out a battle cry and took a step forward. Toph moved forward and opened her arms, developing her counter-attack to take out her opponent before he had yet done anything truly important against her. As he struck his foot against the ground again, Toph then unleashed a display of her own Earthbending prowess, swinging her right foot into the ground to create a raised trail of earth which headed at enormous speed towards the Boulder, and which deftly moved underneath his now-raised foot, tripping him up. While her opponent was then forced to do the splits in the most painful way, Toph created three rock pillars which shot diagonally out of the ground to smash themselves against the Boulder's body, knocking him out of the ring. She waited for the audience's reaction to assure herself that her opponent had not pulled some sneaky move and was truly out of action, then she smiled. When Xin Fu announces her win and continuing title, she triumphantly raised her hand into the air.

Soon afterwards the promoter jumped to the floor of the arena, and announced, "To make things a little more interesting, I'm offering up this sack of gold pieces to anyone who can defeat," then apparently paused to gesture to her, from the feel of his body's vibrations, " The Blind Bandit!" When there was a complete failure to take up Xin Fu on his bet, he went on, "What...? No one dares to face her?..." only to be interrupted by a high-pitched boyish sounding voice saying, " I will!" Xin Fu seemed a bit anxious to Toph when he first heard that until he apparently turned his head and saw her opponent, at which point he just seemed disgusted. Following up on this, Toph decided to make fun of the boy (who appeared to be around her age), asking if the crowed wanted to see two little girls fighting each other. The boy, however, didn't seem to care much, as all he did was shift his body in such a way that gave Toph the impression he had raised his hands in a surrendering gesture and told her that he wasn't there to fight, but to talk to her.

She heard a bit of booing in the background, but decided to wait until her new opponent showed his intentions by his next movements. When he stepped towards her, she stomped the ground, causing the ground underneath his feet to launch itself upwards. Strangely, all that happened was that her opponent somehow ended up perfectly balanced on his feet behind her. Out of irritation, she told him he was light on his feet and taunted him by naming his character "The Fancy Dancer". While he took his time reacting to this, she repeated her earlier move, which resulted in his disappearing from her view for a few moments. Confused, she asked herself where he went, turning herself around trying to locate him, until she felt the vibrations of his landing behind her. He called out to her, but she simply reacted to his sissy way of fighting by aiming a boulder directly at him, sure that now she had taken out her rather-annoying opponent. But much to her surprise, she was suddenly caught by a gust of air and was blown out of the arena on her back.

Toph quickly picked up her bruised body, and head for the exit of the arena, extremely upset. Her opponent continued being weird, saying that he needed her help to learn Earthbending. Hardly in the mood to humor his weird behavior, she told him to mind his own business. To avoid any further interaction with the new champion, she stomp the ground to open a passage in the rock wall of the arena, and then closed it after she went in. She heard his voice calling faintly in the background, but was too angry to care much about it.

Great, she thought to herself as she made her way back home. I can't believe I lost again! I was supposed to be the best there is! The crushing of her lifelong dream - proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was not in any way less of a person simply because she was blind - made her feel like crying, and she barely managed to stop herself by biting down her lip and picking up her feet. She ran so fast that the vibrations of the objects around her blurred together, keeping away from the beaten path to make sure no one would notice her. Since when are any of the fans that good at fighting? Who was that boy, anyway?!! She hoped she would never have to meet him again.

She managed to get home and to change back into her fancy clothes before her parents found her. Though they were initially worried because she had been gone so long, she informed them that she had simply been outside their mansion, enjoying herself. That's true enough, she thought, at least until he showed up. "I haven't had any trouble," she said, apologizing for worrying them. Her mother, Poppy Beifong, then asked her daughter if she needed anything, saying she looked upset. Now what do I say? Toph thought, It's not like I can tell her. Attempting to cover up her emotions, she claimed that she was just tired and needed sleep. Her mother seemed unsure, and was in the middle of asking her husband to get their servants to make a large and exquisite dinner for their daughter to cheer her up, when Toph intervened, saying she really just needed sleep. After asking their daughter whether she needed any help preparing for bed (which she refused), they told her good night and exited the room. Toph changed into her pajamas by herself, blew out the lights, and went to bed. She lay in bed by herself for several hours before she fell asleep, fighting the fierce urge to cry about the turn of the day's events, finally comforting herself enough with the thought that she would train harder in the future- and would then be able to beat the boy if she ever met him again - to allow herself to go to sleep.

Toph's mother woke her up the next day, telling her breakfast was being prepared at the moment and that she should be down in half an hour. She had the women servants she had with her help Toph find a fresh dress for the day, and left the room once she was satisfied she had done so. Once she was out of the room, Toph ordered the servants to leave the room, telling them she was quite capable of dressing herself. After a few minutes of hesitation, they listened to her orders, and Toph came down to the dining table when she had prepared herself. After telling her good morning, her father, Lao Beifong, informed her that her Master was coming over later that day, and then asked if she had had any problems with Yu's training. She kindly told him that she had not, not mentioning the fact that she had surpassed her supposed Master's level of skill a long time before. They ate in silence for the rest of the meal, and after thirty minutes her parents left for the living room to relax while they digested their food. The servants asked if Toph would like them to lead her into the room to sit with them, but she sharply rejected their offer, saying that she needed to be active and outdoors after her long rest the day before. The servants decided to ask her parents first; the two of them, sedated and lazy from the long meal, decided to be lenient at the moment and told them that they should allow their daughter to do as she wanted.

After she had wandered the grounds for a while, she sensed from their footsteps that three people had just climbed over the wall to her parent's estate. They attempted to hide behind a small tree, but she quickly Earthbended a hill beneath their feet, causing them to be thrown into the air and then land in the bushes (except for one of the boys, whose body smacked directly against the ground). She then recognized that one of the boys was the one who had previously beaten her, so she, still quite annoyed by that fact, asked him what he was doing at her parent's estate and gave him the nickname "twinkle toes" (alluding to the name "The Fancy Dancer" that she had earlier given his fighting character).

The boy, who remained mysteriously impervious to her insults, asked how she knew it was him. Yeah, like I'd forget what your footsteps sound like. she thought, irritated. The other boy did sense the insult and whined about the first boy's answering to it. The girl in the group then taunted the boy back, saying that his bag matched the belt - the belt Toph had so recently lost. Annoyed about where the conversation was going, she asked the group how they had been able to find her; she had, after all, told her name to almost no one after she had become the Blind Bandit. With what sounded to Toph's ears like a gust of wind, the weird boy raised himself to his feet, and began trying to explain, "Well, a crazy king told me I had to find an Earthbender who listens to the earth. And then I had a vision in a magic swamp and - " Who does he think he's kidding with that crazy story?

Toph thought, and raised one of her eyebrows to convey that message to the other three children. Before the crazy kid could finish his story, the girl stop him and said, "What Aang is trying to say is, he's the Avatar, and if he doesn't master Earthbending soon he won't be able to defeat the Fire Lord."

Not really knowing whether the girl was telling the truth or not, and having become quite irritated at this intrusion into her comfy lifestyle, Toph countered their rudeness by sticking her open hand in the girl's face, and told them that this was not her problem and if they didn't leave she would call the guards on them. This didn't have the expected effect on the group and the other boy (who seemed to be the oldest one of the group) began informing her that it was her duty to help them win The War by teaching the weird kid Earthbending. Now she was really annoyed - Who do these intruders think they are? - and so she faked panic and began calling for the estate's guards.

This scared the other kids away from her, the guards just missing them. She rearranged her hair to give off this impression that it had come loose in her panic, and answer their questions by claiming she had thought she heard strangers and had been scared by the thought. The guards reproached her, saying that she shouldn't have been wandering around without supervision. She ignored that comment, which she usually would have resented, simply glad that the group of kids had left her alone again. The guards took her back inside, and informed her father of what had "happened", and then were promptly dismissed by him. After all of the servants were sent out of the living room, Lao told his daughter that Master Yu would be there soon and asked her to be on her best behavior out of respect for her famous Master. She replied that she would and they sat down until a servant informed them that he had arrived. Poppy went out to greet him and then held open the curtain at the entrance to the room and asked him to come in and to sit down.

Toph and her mother were properly silent while Master Yu and her father talked about her lessons. Master Yu informed Lao that she was doing well, and tried to calm his worries by telling there had not as of yet been any complications. "I'm pleased to hear that Toph's private lessons are going well, but I want to be sure that she's not trying anything too dangerous." Lao replied to this attempt, still unsure as to his fragile daughter's safety.

"Absolutely not. I'm keeping her at the beginner's level. Basic moves and breathing exercises only," replied Master Yu. Toph prevented herself from showing her annoyance at this fact by reminding herself that she would fight in the next Earth Rumble, where hopefully the strange kid would be present for her to slaughter Earthbender-style. Her father, who (Toph judged by the tone of his voice), was finally sure that his blind daughter was not doing anything beyond her quite-limited abilities, said this was very good, only to be interrupted right afterwards by a servant coming into the room, informing him that he had more guests.

"Who thinks they are so important that they come to my house unannounced?!" Lao said, seeming quite angry at the presumption of their new guest. "Uh.. the Avatar, sir," said the servant. Toph raised her head at the repetition of that word, and became upset at hearing this. Of all the people I don't want to see! she thought, blowing her hair out of her face in a small display of anger.

The Avatar and the rest of his group were let inside the living room, and her father welcomed him, his tone of voice telling Toph that he had (unfortunately) put all annoyance about the presence of his new guest aside in favor of the boy's highly regarded status. Poppy expressed her family's pleasure at meeting him, and then Lao asked who the other two members of his group were, in a voice which told Toph he did not entirely approve of their apparent lack of aristocratic status. Aang replied that their names were Sokka and Katara (pointing at them, Toph guessed from their audience's following comprehension) and that they were from another (friendly) nationality called the Southern Water Tribe. Katara informed Toph's parents that they had been following the Avatar around ever since she had accidentally freed him from an iceberg, acting as his bodyguards against the hostile forces of the Fire Nation. Poppy exclaimed, "An iceberg? What was the Avatar doing in an iceberg?" to which the Avatar simply stated that it was a long story and didn't explain further. After a moment's silence, Poppy spoke up again and asked Aang whether he and his friends were hungry. Aang tried to reply first in a polite manner, but the boy called Sokka said loudly, "Food?!! Of course!" Toph could feel the girl named Katara shaking her head immediately afterwards, probably, she thought, out of embarrassment.

After a couple of uncomfortable minutes where no one said anything, a servant came back into the living room and informed them that the large dinner (which they had already been preparing in honor of Master Yu) was ready. Aang, his friends, Master Yu, and the Beifongs walked to the dining table, where they sat in silence for the servants to bring in their soup. Lao told the servant who served Toph her food to blow on it because he thought it was too hot for her too eat safely, but before the servant could do so the Avatar said that he would did it instead. Toph couldn't tell what he did next, but apparently her parents and her supposed master thought it was amazing, as they clapped right after he did it, her mother exclaiming, "Oh my!" softly.

Once all the clapping stopped, Poppy spoke up again, saying, "Avatar Aang, it's an honor to have you visit us." Then Lao asked a question that Toph could tell had been on her mind since the Avatar had arrived (in spite of the affected nonchalant way he said it), "In your opinion, how much longer do you think the War will last?" "I'd like to defeat the Fire Lord by the end of summer. But I can't do that without finding an Earthbending teacher first." Aang answered, in a such way that Toph knew he was referring to her. Don't you ruin this for me, Toph thought, but kept quiet, figuring some one else would be brought up since her parents would never understand who was referring to unless he plainly stated it.

Lao tried to help by pointing out the presence of someone who he considered to be a great Earthbender, saying, "Well, Master Yu is the finest teacher in the land. He's been teaching Toph since she was little." "Then she must be a great Earthbender! Probably good enough to teach someone else." Aang started. Oh, no you don't! Toph thought, Earthbending the ground with her feet in such a way that Aang jumped out of his seat in pain. Toph knew that people were looking at her, but just smiled and kept eating to draw attention away from herself. Master Yu "corrected" Aang, saying in a condescending tone, "Toph is still learning the basics."

"Yes," her father agreed, "and sadly because of her blindness, I don't think she'll ever become a true master."

Aang, obviously not understanding Toph's situation, started saying, "Oh, I'm sure she's better than you think...", but before he could say anything else she Earthbended his chair closer to the table, so that his face landed in his soup bowl. Serves you right for trying to reveal my secret, she thought, ignoring the fact that people were looking at her again and continuing to act as if she was not connected to Aang's mishap in any way. Suddenly, Aang sneezed, making the food on the table go everywhere, including on Toph's face. This upset Toph a little bit, and she yelled at him, "What's your problem?!" Aang said the same words right back at her, from the feel of the vibrations coming from his body every bit as angry as she was. Before anything more happened, Poppy intervened, saying, "Well, should we move to the living room for dessert, then?" as if things like this happened at their house every day.

They moved over to the living room, and ate desert there. Toph finished her food first, and so missed the conversation which started right as she left, which from the sound of it was about Aang's many previous journeys. Toph took advantage of her alone time to change into her more comfortable pajamas without servants trying to assist her. As she did so, she thought over her recent dinner table spat, and decided that she at least ought to explain the situation to Aang before she blew up at him again. So she walked over to the guest bedroom her parents had provided the Avatar and his friends, after she thought enough time had passed for her parents to be done talking to the group.

When she appeared outside his door, Aang totally freaked out, yelling and shifting into a fighting stance. "Relax!" Toph said, attempting to calm him down enough to talk the whole uncomfortable situation over. "Look, I'm sorry about dinner. Let's call a truce, okay?" Aang shifted into a more relaxed stance, and she motioned for him to follow her outside so that she could get some fresh air while they talked. Before he followed her out the door, he asked his friends whether they wanted to talk with Toph with him, to which Katara replied that she and her brother were too tired from their long day to do much of anything, and that they were okay with him going off with her alone (which Toph preferred anyways, as she didn't want to have to explain herself more than once).

Toph balancing

Toph explaining her situation to Aang

They walked outside across the grounds of her parent's estate in silence. Toph could tell from the hushed nature of her walking companion that he was waiting for her to speak first, but she took her time, thinking of how to put her complicated situation into words. When they came to a bridge, Toph jumped up on the guard rail and began walking on it (like she had done so many times before when her parents weren't watching) as Aang walked along the bridge below, and began to speak. "Even though I was born blind, I've never had a problem seeing," she said, jumping deftly off the rail back onto the ground as she did so. "I see with Earthbending. It's kind of like seeing with my feet." she explained, feeling good about finally opening up about her life to some one who was willing to listen. "I feel the vibrations in the earth and I can see where everything is. You. That tree. Even those ants," she said, pointing out various thing in the range of her seismic sense from the spot where she was standing. From the feel of the vibrations he then gave off, he was looking around to find the ants she mentioned, but soon gave up and commented on how amazing her abilities were.

While she appreciated his praise, this then reminded her of how her parents refused to see her for who she really was, so she talked about her frustration, saying, " "My parents don't understand. They've always treated me like I was helpless."

"Is that why you became 'the Blind Bandit'?" he asked her, to which she simply sadly but solemnly replied "yeah", remembering how the whole set of circumstance which lead her to become the champion of the area had been set off by her parent's seemingly-purposeful suppression of her freedom to be herself. "Then why stay here when you're not happy?" Aang asked, somehow grasping the basic nature of her situation from her reply. "They're my parents. Where else am I supposed to go?" she asked back, thinking that she owed her parents at least some loyalty for at least trying to help her, and also that she was unsure whether she really was ready to break with the place she had known her whole life. "You...could...come with us." Aang said, trying to offer her the help she wanted.

"Yeah. You guys get to go wherever you want. No one telling you what to do. That's the life." she responded, feeling a surge of joy at the possibility of experiencing such freedom, but then resigned herself to staying at her home with her parents. So she simply stated," It's just not my life." Immediately after she finished saying this, Toph felt loud vibrations in the distance. She knelt down and put her hand on the ground so that she could "see" it clearer. When she figured out what it was, she exclaimed, "We're being ambushed!" She got up quickly, grabbed Aang's hand to guide him away from their unseen enemy, and started running. But Toph was trapped before they could really put any distance between them and their adversaries, a metal cage dropping on her and preventing her from having the access to the ground that she needed for Earthbending. A heavy weight clattered against the top of her cage, and a voice that sounded familiar - The Hippo! What is he doing here?!! she thought with amazement - registered the joy of the person who had made that earlier sound, along with his continued stomping.

By the total lack of any intervention, Toph guessed that Aang had been captured at the same time she had. The Hippo soon got off, and a voice that she recognized as Xin Fu's started talking, saying, "I think you kids owe us some money!" he said. What the heck is he talking about? she wondered, but didn't say anything, as he hardly sounded like he wished to discuss the issue with her. Someone picked up Toph's cage, carried it for a while, and then placed it down. Toph wasn't sure, but guessed that it had been placed in a large wagon along with Aang's cage, judging by the bumpy movements sent through the cage. After about forty-five minutes, the wagon came to a stop, and her cage was picked up again. The person carried her for a while, finally setting her down in a place which smelled like the Earth Rumble VI arena, only for her cage to be hoisted into the air.

After she was up in the air for a few minutes, her captors began talking about the ransom they would get from her parents, Xin Fu explaining to the others with him how it was justified by the cheating of their two captives. In reaction to her former promoters gloating, she angrily said, "You think you're so tough?! Why don't you come up here so I can smack that grin off your face?!" She attempted to point in the general direction of her captors as she said this. Xin Fu curtly replied that he was not smiling. Suddenly, Toph heard a familiar voice, the voice of her father, crying out her name. Then she heard the voice of the older boy from Aang's group ordering Xin Fu saying, "Here's your money. Now let them go!" he said. Hearing a slight stomp and then a pushing sound below, which she assumed was her parent's group passing the ransom over to Xin Fu's, Toph then felt her cage being brought down and then the bottom opening up to let her drop on the ground again. Able to "see" again, Toph ran over to her mother and father, relieved to be out of that situation.

Her father grabbed her hand to guide her, and then she, her parents, and her "Master" (who had apparently come with them) walked out the arena to head back home. In the background, Toph could here the girl asking why they had not released Aang, to which Xin Fu replied, "I think the Fire Nation will pay a hefty price for the Avatar. Now, get out of my ring!" said Xin Fu. She wasn't able to make out what else was said in the arena until Katara called out, saying, "Toph, there's too many of them! We need an Earthbender! We need you!" she said. Toph was undecided whether she listen to Katara and save the boy she has so recently befriended, or whether she shouldn't take the risk of upsetting her father by revealing the true extent of her Earthbending powers. But before Toph could decide, Lao spoke. "My daughter is blind! She is blind and tiny and helpless and fragile! She cannot help you!" With that statement, Toph became angry, and, no longer caring what her father thought, pulled her hand away from his and said shortly, "Yes! I can!"

Toph, Katara, and Sokka

Toph shows she is not afraid to take on a whole team of Earth Rumble fighters... by herself

Toph ran back out to the ring, and closed off the arena's opposite exit with Earthbending . "Let him go!" she said. "I've beat you all before and I'll do it again!" Then one of her former opponents started talking. "The Boulder takes issue with that comment!" he said. By the vibrations that followed the Boulder's bravado, Aang's cage had been thrown on the ground, making him groan. Sokka and Katara started to move towards them, but Toph stopped them, knowing she didn't really need their help. "Wait!" she said, her former captors running towards her while the Avatar's friends waited. "They're mine!" Toph said, planning to get back at her captors by herself and intending for them to free Aang while she fought. She felt that the two were shocked at this piece of theatrics, probably thinking it was dangerous, but didn't care. Dad, if you're watching, this is what I've always been made of.

With that thought, Toph stomped her foot on the ground, and began to slowly raise her arms, expending great effort as she did so. She waited until her opponents were close enough and then stomped the ground again, causing the ground to explode in front of them, throwing them backward in a cloud of debris. Waiting for them to land, Toph then slowly entered the dust cloud. Of all her opponents, she picked out Fire Nation Man first, having a special spot in her heart for the person against whom she had scored her first victory. In any case, she knew he was easy to take out. She felt him anxiously shift his martial arts positions so that he would prepared when she found him, so she decided to make him panic more by clearing away the dust right in front of him. She felt his surprise at seeing her, and then felt him shift into an attacking stance. She smiled, knowing she was definitely ready for any attack he could dish out. She easily stepped out of the way of the stream of sand he sent at her, at the same time causing a series of rocks to bulge out of the ground in a line aimed right at him, knocking him out of the ring.

She then shifted her attention to a person who had an odd and easy-to-detect vibration pattern because he was walking on all fours. She Earthbended a tiny pebble at his head, smiling as she did so. Her new opponent jumped into the air with two rocks in his hands, and launched both of them together at her. Already knowing what he was going to do, she simply caught them with her hands and threw them behind her in one motion. Before he could even fall back on the ground, she shot a pillar of rock into his stomach, bouncing him across the arena to another pillar she created when he got there. She juggled him for a while, until he was close enough to the edge for her to easily toss him out of the arena. Just as she did this, she felt vibration coming up through the ground as another one of her opponents tried to sneak-attack her from underneath. She grabbed the rock he through at her and through it right back at him with such force that he was pushed back through his tunnel and out of the ring.

She turned her attention to The Boulder, who from the feel of it was desperately looking around for his hidden opponent. Toph laughed inwardly, thinking, And he thought I was weak! Still unseen by her adversary, she quickly raised the ground underneath his feet into a hill, tossing him through the air so that he landed next to the spot where the Hippo was creating massive vibrations. As he got up, she showed herself to the two of them, feeling that she had now stepped onto the large stone circle in the middle of the arena. While the two tried to frighten Toph with their meat-headed bravado, she overheard a noise in the distance, and instinctively wiggled her ear back slightly to catch the noise better. Now able to plan her next move, she jerked her hands back and forth, and made the stone circle turn so that her unknown opponent smashed into The Boulder and The Hippo. She then threw the three limp bodies out of the ring with a parting Earthbending blow.

Now alone on the arena floor with her former promoter, Toph blew away the dust cloud so as to not give Xin Fu any unnecessary help. He cracked his neck and shifted into a fighting stance. Toph emphasized the lack of concern she had in fighting him by spitting on the floor, and began circling him, as he did the same to her. She faced him, and placed her feet in such a way that she got the best view of him, as she could tell he was doing the same to her. He then began quickly kicking rocks at her, but she managed to raise two sheets of rock to shield her from the blows just in time. After the last rock bounced off her shield, she launched one of the sheets at her final opponent. He launched himself into the air in order to avoid it, and she was temporarily unable to see him. A few seconds later she caught the vibrations of his hand delving into the earth, followed soon afterwards by rocks that he flung at her face. She stepped aside as if she hardly cared about what was going on, letting the rocks pass by her face, and then took advantage of the fact that he was off-balance and aimed a returning blow, throwing him into the pit below the ring.

She felt a body hit the ground in the background: the older boy's, who had apparently just fainted. She felt Katara and the now-freed Aang run up to her. A small smile grew on her face at the well-fought battle when they thanked her for helping them and praised her bending abilities, only for her lips to return to forming a straight line when her father approached her. They walked back home (her parents not having ridden a carriage in the apparent rush to get to the arena to save her) in complete silence. Toph knew that everyone was probably brooding on the recent events, but didn't think it would be smart for her speak up and possibly anger her parents.

Once they were back home, Toph decided to that she should come out and confront her parents. "Dad," she started, trying to be respectful of her father's feelings, " I know it's probably hard for you to see me this way. But the obedient little helpless blind girl that you think I am just isn't me." She came out and said what she had been keeping from her parents for a long time. "I love fighting. I love being an Earthbender and I'm really, really good at it!" She understood she hadn't been quite straightforward with her parent, so she apologized, "I know I've kept my life secret from you, but you were keeping me secret from the whole world." She thought about her recent confidant in Aang, and how she had realized how much she was missing in her life. "You were doing it to protect me, but I'm twelve years old and I've never had a real friend." She hoped against hope that her father wouldn't reject her because of how she really was, so she implored him, "So now that you see who I really am, I hope it doesn't change the way you feel about me."

Her father immediately replied, "Of course it doesn't change the way I feel about you, Toph. It's made me realize something."

"It has?" Toph asked, barely allowing herself to hope that he finally understood her and the freedom she wished to have to be herself, that she didn't want to be continually cooped up just because she was blind. "Yes. I've let you have far too much freedom! From now on you will be cared for and guarded twenty-four hours a day!"

"But Dad!" she cried out. How can he not notice I don't need protection! "We're doing this for your own good, Toph," said her mother, agreeing with her father that Toph now required protection more than ever so that she wouldn't hurt herself. Her father then ordered the Avatar and his friends out, saying they were no longer welcome. Toph could tell from what she knew of her father that he thought they had in some way acted as a bad influence on her.

Toph cries

Toph crying at her friends leaving and at the thought of forever being treated as a fragile child

As Aang was escorted out, he said, "I'm sorry Toph," said Aang. "I'm sorry, too. Good-bye, Aang." she replied sadly, with a tear running down her face at the loss of the only friend she had ever had, at the oppressive nature of the situation which had forced him out. After the Avatar had left their house, Lao ordered, "Now, Toph, I want you to go to your room!" Toph would have resisted, but was too sad to work up the strength to do this, and (after her mother repeated the command in a more gentle voice) finally decided to simply obey him and went to her room. Guards followed her and stood at the entry way to her room, until they were satisfied by seeing her resting in bed, her eyes closed. With her feet on the bed, she could only hear them leave, but once they had done so an idea struck her. Silently placing her feet on the ground to check whether there were any guards nearby (there weren't), she found where she had stashed away her fighting uniform and changed into it. Taking a few supplies that she thought might be needed, she then climbed out of her window and ran as fast as she could towards the largest vibrations she could find in the estate's grounds (which she had learned came from a giant flying creature owned by Aang). "Toph!" she heard Aang's voice say from somewhere around the monster he called Appa. He was apparently surprised to see her. "What are you doing here?!" he asked. "My dad changed his mind," Toph said, saying what she wished had really happened. "He said I was free to travel the world."

"Well, we better get out of here, before your dad changes his mind again." Sokka said, apparently deciding to humor her in what he seemed to know was a lie. "Good idea!" she replied, getting his basic point.

"You're going to make a great teacher, Toph!" said Aang. Ignoring the praise (though she thought it was well-deserved), she thought of a way to get back at him for beating him earlier (a wound which still smarted). So she lead him on by making him think she was going to teach him right there and then, saying, "Speaking of which, I want to show you something." "Okay!" Aang said, then he jumped off of his giant animal. Just as he landed, Toph Earthbended a rock beneath him, making him fly up into the tree. "Now we're even," she said, finally satisfied with herself, and then remembered that one of the Avatar's friends still had the championship belt in their possession, and asked for it back. Abruptly, something was dropped on her head, making her fall over and cry "Ow!" from the pain. The older boy apologized, and Toph made a mental note of keeping herself aware of how clumsy that boy was. Soon afterwards, Aang fell out of the tree. After taking a few seconds to recover from their pain, the two twelve-year olds got up and Aang jumped back on his giant fuzzball. Since she wanted to get going before her parents realized what happened, Toph simply accepted Sokka and Katara's decision to help her climb aboard the creature with out any resistance, and with a "Yip-yip!" from Aang, their ride flew off into the night. Toph grasped the handle-bar of the creature's saddle so that she could feel secure when the animal was off of the ground. As they continued flying, Toph Beifong slowly drifted off to sleep, happy to have gained the freedom that she had always wanted and the friends that she never dreamed she would have.

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