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|The Coronation and the Coup, Part Four|
January 15, 2013
Previously in Air
Ursa successfully foiled Azula's attempted assassination of Kuei, his wife was revealed as the General, and the Gaang continues to keep the Guild at bay. Onward!
Chapter Fifty-Four: The Princess and the Monster
Zuko dropped his tray and turned about. There was no doubt that was his daughter's voice. As the crowd surged in panic, Zuko stubbornly planted his feet. He took in the courtyard, fighting against the tide that tugged and pushed him. Where was she? His eyes darted upward.
There! On the balcony, a small figure leaned over the rail.
A hand reached out from behind to grab her.
Zuko lunged forward, shoving between the panicked people. "Get out of the way!" he cried. But his words were lost in their own frightened screams.
If he couldn't get through the crowd, perhaps he could bypass it altogether. Gritting his teeth, Zuko relaxed, allowing himself to be swept away, at least for a few paces. Through a gap in the flailing limbs, he spotted the white cloth. He turned sharply, bowling over several people as he leapt for the banquet table. Once his feet thudded onto the tabletop, a clear white path through the panic and pandemonium lay before him.
Zuko didn't hesitate.
Mai lunged for the balcony. Her daughter, where was she? Had she escaped?
Down below, Aang dove at Kuei as a flash of lightning passed over their heads.
Kuzarr cursed. So much for claiming the Earth Kingdom with one fell swoop. Curse that child! How had she managed to escape? He'd set two Dai Li to guard her, and one of his own men besides. She must have been rescued.
An involuntary chill crept up Kuzarr's spine. Had it been Zuko? There was no doubt his assassin had failed to dispose of the Firelord; she'd decided to play games with him, curse her. But it couldn't be Zuko. How would he know?
Whoever the rescuer, Kuzarr decided to cut his losses and move on. He may have lost this battle, but he was determined to leave while he still retained control of the Fire Nation. There would be little anyone could do once he was back on the Firelord's throne. He reached for Mai's shoulder.
Mai shuddered at his touch. She glared at him, eyes glinting as dangerous as the sun gleaming off the blade of a stiletto knife. "Wrong move."
Kuzarr scowled. This woman was almost more trouble than she was worth. But with her by his side, no one could deny that he was the true Firelord. And with Mai as a hostage, Zuko would be doubly at his mercy. He could not afford to lose her. Lips curling, he raised his hand to strike.
What did not cross Kuzarr's mind was that he no longer had leverage on Mai. If Ursa truly had been rescued, there was nothing to stop the Firelady from wreaking vengeance.
Kuzarr's hand flew at her cheek but Mai blocked it with ease. She caught his wrist and twisted, forcing his arm him behind his back, level with his shoulder blade. He cried out, equal parts surprise and pain.
Mai felt him tremble, powerless in her grasp. She couldn't resist a gibe. "Do I look pathetic now, Kuzarr?" she asked with a dark smile.
The stones under Mai's feet rumbled. She danced away, propelling Kuzarr into his lackeys. He stumbled, smacking into one of the soldiers, and they tumbled in a heap.
A second soldier skirted around the pair. Rock gloves vaulted from his hands toward her. Mai grasped her sai. She ducked the stone gauntlets, and sliced through them as they passed overhead. With her free hand she plucked a handful of darts from her waistband and flung them at the disguised Dai Li, pinning his arm to the wall.
The Dai Li grunted. Kuzarr and the soldier struggled to untangle themselves.
Eyes burning, Mai watched them. Her fingers tightened around her sai. She wanted to hurt them. For betraying Zuko's trust and taking her captive, she wanted to break Kuzarr's bones and let him writhe in agony.
For touching her children, she wanted to shove him off the balcony and watch him fall.
But Ursa needed her.
Kuzarr would just have to wait. Without a word, Mai leapt onto the railing and launched herself into the air.
Azula spotted the Princess, too. She glared at the small figure, growling in frustration.
It would have been the perfect shot! But that brat made her miss.
She would pay dearly for it.
Ursa couldn't breathe. She watched Aang shove Kuei unceremoniously to the ground, as lightning swept over their heads.
Her breath came back in a sudden rush. Relieved, she laughed. She'd actually done it. She'd saved the Earth King!
"Child!" Someone grabbed her arm.
Alarmed, Ursa tried to wrench away, but the fingers clamped firm around her wrist. "Stop it! Let go!" she cried. Panic gripped her. She dug in her heels, twisting away. She wouldn't be taken, not again.
Her would-be captor grunted in exasperation.
"Get down!" Poppy cried, yanking the girl back with one last heave as the bolt of lightning shot toward them.
But she wasn't quite quick enough.
Azula couldn't tell if the lightning struck true. There was only one way to know for sure but of course she didn't have the time. She glowered up at the Fire Nation balcony. Her order was to attack and vanish as quickly as she'd appeared.
She hated being ordered.
And, she realized as she weaved spurts of fire between her fingers, she really did want to make the girl suffer.
After all, who was he to tell her what to do? As much as he liked to preen, she knew the truth. He was nothing. He just didn't know it yet.
Her lips twisted in a feral grin. "Ready or not."
Peasants scattered out of her way, terrified of the hungry flames licking toward them.
Zuko didn't see the lightning, but he felt the electricity as it passed. The air crackled and the hairs along his arm tingled. He clung to the bottom rung of the balcony rail, his legs dangling in open air. Why would the assassin strike up here? Zuko was afraid he knew. Heart pounding in his ears, he hauled himself over the rail and the flying-boar banner it sported.
The floor of the balcony was twisted up into a mound of tangled stones and tiles. A defense? Zuko dropped onto the mangled floor.
The instant his feet touched the stone, it jerked upward. Zuko was flung back. He twisted in midair, alighting back on the railing. "Who's there?" he demanded, fire exploding in his palm.
Under him, the rail shuddered. Zuko tensed to spring.
"Stop, it's okay!"
Zuko's heart leapt. The cry was muffled by the blockade, but the voice sent relief flooding through him. "Ursa!" He sprang from the railing, the flame sputtering out. "Are you okay? Are you hurt?"
The barrier trembled. A crack appeared, racing along the stone shell before pulling apart. Crouched behind it were five people. His eyes were drawn instantly to the hulking figures of Hippo and The Boulder, who was grumbling about not knowing who to attack and who to protect. Despite their rich garments, Lao and Poppy Bei Fong were unimpressive by comparison. And lying on the ground, protected by the bodies of the others, her head cradled in the woman's lap, was his daughter.
"Ursa..." Zuko's breath caught on the lump in his throat. He felt faint. He fought back a wave of nausea and stumbled to his daughter's side. He reached out to touch her. "You're hurt."
"I'm fine," Ursa insisted. She smiled up at him, but she winced. "It almost missed me."
"...almost missed?" A sound escaped him, not so much a laugh as an emotional outburst. The lightning may have 'almost missed', but it certainly struck her. The upper sleeve of her right arm was burnt and rent. He leaned down and gently pushed the cloth aside to examine it. The skin beneath burned bright red, but it wasn't torn. A glancing blow.
Zuko heaved a shuddering breath. "You'll be fine." He stroked her cheek. "It will heal up in no time."
Ursa smiled at him. "I know." She glanced at Poppy Bei Fong. "She saved me."
Poppy's hair frizzed in all directions. The shock had not quite ebbed from her eyes. "I wasn't quick enough. I-I'm so sorry."
Ursa took Poppy's hand with her uninjured one. "It was my fault," she insisted.
Zuko shook his head in wonder. Only Ursa would take the blame for being struck by lightning.
Ursa turned back to her father. "The king's all right, isn't he?" Her eyebrows knit together. "How did you get here so fast? Did you know Mother and I were here?" Her eyes flashed and she started up. "Is Roh-Roh okay?"
"Don't move!" cried Zuko, Loa and Poppy at once.
Cowed, Ursa settled back.
Zuko smiled at her. "Your brother's fine. He's safe. He's with Uncle and–"
"With Uncle, you say?"
Energy crackled behind him. The air hummed with the power of lightning.
"How convenient. That old fool certainly won't put up much of a fight."
He didn't have to look around to know it was Azula. The horror on Ursa's face told him that. Her eyes widened with surprise –and disgust.
He rose and turned to face his sister, planting himself between her and his daughter.
Azula crouched on the balcony railing, lightning lacing her fingers together. It seemed the only thing that had changed about her was the lack of theater make-up. Her face still evoked the appearance of calm, but the madness danced in her eyes.
"What are you doing here, Azula?"
Behind him, Ursa couldn't help a sharp gasp. Zuko flinched.
Azula cocked her head to one side, her face for a moment the mask of angelic sweetness she'd often worn as a child. "What does it look like I'm doing, dum-dum?" She cackled, and the illusion of innocence shattered. "I'm here to conquer Ba Sing Se in the name of the Fire Nation."
Zuko knew he had to choose his words carefully. Azula was living in her own fabricated reality. It was probably the only way she could process the new world around her. Perhaps, if he could just show her... "I thought you'd already done that."
Azula flicked her loose, tattered bangs out of her eyes. "That's exactly what I told him," she complained, "But he insisted that I do it again to keep these Earth pests in their place. They have to remember who's superior." She sighed. "Tiresome, really."
Zuko frowned. As casually as he could manage, he asked, "Who told you to?"
Azula clamped her lips tight, frowning. Something prickled at the back of her mind.
"Was it Kuzarr?" Zuko pressed.
Her eyes flashed angrily. How could she forget? She wasn't supposed to talk about him.
To cover her slip up, she turned back to her brother with a sly smile. "Have you made your decision yet, Zuzu?"
Zuko's brow furrowed in confusion. "What decision?"
Azula rolled her eyes in exasperation. "Are you going to wallow here in the Earth Kingdom in disgrace or return home as a hero?"
Zuko swallowed. "I–"
"But really," Azula cut him off with a tired sigh, turning to examine her finger nails as the lightning danced over them, "We both know that you're just going to switch sides and betray us all in the end, so why bother? Let's get this over with right now!"
She launched off the railing straight for him. Ursa screamed. Zuko summoned flames and moved to block an attack, but it never came. Glittering in the sun, four small knives sliced through the air, stabbing at the stone around Azula's feet.
Azula shied away, flinching as a blade cut into her shoe. She whirled, spitting flames. Her eyes grew huge with hatred. "You!"
Mai had already retrieved another handful of knives. Balanced on the next balcony, she stood poised to throw them, but her body froze. She stared at Azula in shock.
"Fool!" Azula raged. "You don't betray me, not yet. That comes later. For now," she seethed, lightning crackling around her clenched fist, "You're still supposed to be my friend!"
She lashed out.
Mai dodged. Zuko lunged forward. But it was The Boulder who came to the rescue. He stomped hard and the section of balcony beneath Azula rocketed into the air. Her furious shriek streamed out behind her like the tail of a comet.
The Boulder glanced at the others. "Was The Boulder correct in assuming it was prudent to dispose of the scary mad woman?" he asked, his voice dripping sarcasm.
No one answered. Ursa was too confused to speak, and the Bei Fongs were polite enough to stay out of business that obviously had nothing to do with them.
Mai leapt nimbly to the balcony rail. Both her eyes and Zuko's were fixed on the form of Azula as she tumbled onto the roof and, without looking back, scampered away over the tiles.
"Azula..." Mai stammered. "How did she...? What was she...?"
Zuko caught his wife's hand and pulled her down, into his embrace. She turned to look at him, but her eyes were dazed.
"I don't know," Zuko admitted. He gently took her face in his hands. "But we'll worry about it later. She's gone for now and won't be coming back. What's important now is that we're all safe. We're together again, Mai."
The glazed look slowly began to melt from Mai's eyes. She balled his robe in her fists. "You're late."
A flood of joy washed over Zuko. He grinned. "Sorry."
Mai frowned. "Where's Roh-Roh?"
"Safe," Zuko assured her. "He's with my Uncle."
"And Ursa...?" Mai suddenly looked round, as if remembering what had brought her bounding across five balconies in the first place.
When she spotted Ursa lying on the stone, a sob choked back Mai's cry of horror.
"It's not serious," Zuko said quickly, guiding her over. "She'll heal quickly."
Mai fell on Ursa. Shedding silent tears, she hugged her daughter close.
"I'm sorry." Ursa began to cry herself, guilty over her mother's tears. She knew her mother was crying because the tears began to run through her hair. "I heard them talking about the assassination and I knew I had to do something–"
"Shh," Mai whispered. She stroked Ursa's hair and rocked the girl in her arms. "Shh."
"Everything will be okay," Zuko said, almost as if to reassure himself. "We're safe now."
As if simply to challenge these words, the door of the balcony crashed open. The Boulder, spying yet another obvious enemy, moved quickly to incapacitate the threat.
The attacker was quicker. Before the wrestler could even complete his form, he found himself the victim of a classic wrestling move. A muscular arm caught his neck in a vice grip while a body pinned him against the wall. A second arm stabbed at his exposed side.
The Boulder couldn't believe it. He was beat before the fight even began. He tried to squirm, but he couldn't even wriggle his pinky.
"Don't move, scum," the attacker snarled. "Where's the Princess?"
The Boulder tried to answer. He did. But his face was squashed so hard against the stone wall his lips didn't have room to part.
The bodyguard's head whipped round. "Princess!" she cried when she spotted the girl in the sea of faces. She frowned when she registered two more familiar faces staring back at her. "Your Majesties...?" Her gaze darted back to the helpless man in her clutches.
"It's alright, Yuki," Zuko said. "You can let him up; he's a friend."
Yuki scowled. She backed away with reluctance.
The Boulder jerked away, rubbing at the sore spots and the bare skin that had been imprinted with the pattern of the wall. He took a moment to compose himself but finally mustered enough will to congratulate his opponent on the impressive victory. "It is not often someone manages to best The Boulder," he declared. "And even though you did have such an advantage of surprise..." He finally turned and when he caught sight of Yuki, his jaw dropped. "A woman?!"
Hippo chortled but Yuki nailed The Boulder with a withering glare.
The Boulder unwisely chose to ignore this. "Impossible! The Boulder cannot be defeated by a mere woman!"
Lao Bei Fong coughed to hide his laughter. "One would think you would be accustomed to such defeat by now," he said, not quite under his breath.
The Boulder looked hurt. Certainly, he'd never in his life won a fight against Toph, but that was different. At least she was a bender and it wasn't as if he alone lost against the blind woman. The whole world over recognized her as a genius in the art of earthbending and even he had to admit a grudging admiration. But this woman standing before him wasn't even a bender! Her only advantage appeared to be her muscles. And even if they were impressive –and possibly even as large and toned as his own– they were still only muscles.
"If you don't want to be beat by a mere woman," Yuki told him with a grin of steel, "You should try providing a challenge."
The Boulder puffed himself up to retort in true manly fashion but Yuki, having finished with him, turned away. The Boulder quickly deflated. He glared at the still-snickering Hippo. "This will never be mentioned again."
Ursa smiled up at her bodyguard. "How did you find me?"
Yuki's jaw clenched as her eyes flickered over the Princess's wound. "When I heard your shout, I knew you'd get into trouble. I grabbed a servant and got him to tell me how to get to the balcony."
Zuko smirked. He could imagine how Yuki might convince someone to spill information.
Yuki turned to the Firelord. "Your majesty, that lightning..." She hesitated. She had been informed of his earlier encounters with Azula; the safety of the royal family was her business and it certainly pertained to her. Yuki glanced at the Princess before asking. "Was it her, your majesty?"
Zuko nodded. "She's already gone."
Mai looked up at him. "Who let her out, Zuko?" she whispered.
Zuko's frown deepened. "Kuzarr." He shook his head. "Nothing else makes sense. He was the one who wanted Kuei assassinated. And Azula's been following me, too, trying to distract me." His face darkened. "She knew about Roh-Roh."
Yuki cracked her knuckles. "And where is Kuzarr? Found a hole to hide in, no doubt."
"That's a good question." Zuko turned to his wife.
Mai's eyes flashed. "I don't know where he is. But I know where he's going."
Zuko was here. Kuzarr had no doubt about that. He ran faster.
The small handful of Loyal soldiers and disguised Dai Li ran just behind Kuzarr, prepared to deal with any pursuers. As of yet, no one followed them. They were nearing the stables. One of the carriages had been 'commandeered' and prepared, in the unlikely case of failure. Kuzarr snorted. It was a good thing he had planned for every outcome. They just might get out of this without much loss.
But Zuko was supposed to be dead. That was one thing he hadn't counted on. Why should he? Azula had always been the best and her orders were direct. The fool! Why hadn't she killed him?
Thinking about the former princess sent a chill up Kuzarr's spine. He wouldn't be the one demanding an answer from Azula; he would let someone else have that pleasure.
Still, even with Zuko alive, if Kuzarr could make it to the Fire Nation before him, he could keep the throne in the right hands. The hands of someone who knew the true worth of the Fire Nation.
The Loyal could still emerge victorious.
Three figures waited by the carriage, but Kuzarr already knew who it was.
The soldier whom Ursa had dubbed 'Spikes' swallowed hard as Kuzarr caught up to them. "The, uh..." Spikes began, his face heating under the skull mask. He glanced at his two Dai Li companions, but they made no effort to finish the report. "The Princess escaped," he finished miserably.
Kuzarr impaled the soldier with a withering look. "No, really?"
Something hissed past Kuzarr's ear. Before the sound could register, a long blade sliced through the shoulder of his robe. It nicked his flesh, pinning him against the side of the carriage by his sleeve.
"Leaving already, Kuzarr? The party wasn't that bad."
Kuzarr jerked toward the speaker.
A Dai Li moved in the same instant, shooting a chunk of rock at the attacker.
Mai didn't even flinch as the missile hurtled toward her. She knew it wouldn't find its mark.
A sword sheathed in flame shot out, batting the rock away.
Zuko fell back beside Mai. His gaze fell over the traitor and that familiar chill raced up Kuzarr's spine, tenfold. But the Firelord's gaze was cold; it was Mai who watched him with burning eyes. For the first time, Kuzarr caught himself wondering whose anger would be the fiercest.
The soldiers started forward. But not, Mai noted with interest, the Dai Li. They made no move to free or protect their leader. They merely waited.
Mai was not unduly worried about fighting three soldiers, but her focus remained on Kuzarr. She simply raised her hand to stop the soldiers, displaying the three small knives aimed for the Fire Nation traitor.
The Loyal ground to a grudging halt.
Kuzarr struggled violently to free himself, but the sturdy knife was buried deep. He screamed in rage and the sound filled Mai with a warm glow of satisfaction. She had scooped up the carving knife on her way through the kitchen. She thought it might better serve Kuzarr than the roast possum-chicken for which it was meant.
"You're not getting out of here," Zuko assured him. His eyes narrowed, his words clipped with the anger he so closely guarded. "I'll see to it personally."
"Things are already in motion," Kuzarr spat. "Even if you kill me, there's no stopping it. There's nothing anyone can do." He glared at Zuko. "Not even you."
Mai smirked. "Isn't that what you said about your assassination plot? The one my eight-year-old daughter just foiled?"
The soldiers glanced uncertainly at their leader. Kuzarr could keep his head in the tensest of situations, but...prodding was the one thing that could make him snap. To their surprise, instead of growing enraged, the comment seemed to calm Kuzarr.
He released the knife handle and leveled his gaze at the Fire royals. "You may have won this battle," he said, "But there is still the war."
Fear crept through Mai's entire being. It didn't show on her face, or in her eyes, but it was there. If this had been merely a battle, then what was the war?
Kuzarr glanced at the Dai Li. "Take them."
This time, the Dai Li surged forward without hesitation.
Someone was taking careful aim at Kuei. It was only the dozenth time in five minutes. Haru jerked the earth under the attacker's feet and, as he toppled unsteadily back, thrust him aside.
"The wife?" Sokka contemplated, nimbly dodging a sword thrust and in the same movement twisting around to catch hold of his opponent's arm. "Really?"
Suki had just enough time to be offended by this as she warded off a chunk of flying rock. "What, you don't think a woman is capable of forming a secret rebel organization, toppling another country through subterfuge and planning a coup without anyone discovering her identity?"
Sokka winced. One would think after all these years he would learn when to keep his mouth shut. "That's not what I meant at all! It just surprises me, because, you know, I've, uh, met her. She never struck me as the crazy tyrannical overlord type. She seemed nice and I always thought she had genuine feelings for Kuei."
"Nice save," Suki said with a wink.
"That's just it," Haru explained. "She does have feelings for Kuei."
Suki glanced back up the Palace steps. "Ohhhh. That explains the complication."
Sokka glanced back and forth between the two, scowling. "What complication?! She's a liar and a traitor and kidnapper! Those are the type of people you lock up in the deepest darkest dungeon you can find and throw away the key!"
Suki smiled fondly at her husband. "Sometimes you really can be the most clueless lummox."
"Hey–!" Sokka began to protest, but Suki gave him an affectionate peck on the cheek and he decided to go along with it.
Haru raised a skeptical eyebrow.
Beside him, Tyro chuckled. "Ah, love," he said. "It makes us all do strange things."
Haru frowned. Was this an innocent comment or another one of his father's 'hints'? Or was Haru over-analyzing because he could still feel Ty Lee's flirtatious smile to his right? Before he could make up his mind, a deep rumble underfoot drew away his attention.
"Incoming!" Sokka called. He groaned as the billowing dust cloud surged closer. "Oh man, it looks like they've got reinforcements."
Haru shook his head, smirking. "Those aren't reinforcements," he said. "They're showoffs."
Haru might have chuckled over Sokka's comical confusion, but he was too focused avoiding his father's gaze. It was an impressed gaze, filled with admiration and pride, but Haru knew he would turn bright red with embarrassment. And there was that feeling, deep down, that it was a gaze he didn't yet deserve.
Suki's face scrunched as she cocked her head to listen. "Is that...singing?"
From within the dust cloud came the unmistakable sound of voices carried in cheerful –if disharmonic– song. As it drew closer, the earth bucked beneath the Gauntlets. Where Haru and the defenders stood remained reasonably solid. 'Showoffs' was the right word. The Gauntlets scrambled for footholds but, one by one they were picked off by different means –sucked into the earth here, launched across the courtyard there– as if someone were making great sport disposing of them.
Sokka gazed with flat disappoint as the last Gauntlet was hurled out of reach. "Is that who I think it is?"
Haru shrugged. "Probably."
The cloud whooshed apart, blowing dust in all directions. The four friends coughed and spluttered, covering their faces as the particles settled.
"There you are! I was wondering where you got off too."
Haru blinked at the dust caught in his eyes. "You're the one who told me to check on Aang," he reminded. Cross, he rubbed at his face as tears streaked from his stinging eyes. "Was that really necessary?"
Toph's reply was a hearty laugh. Caked in dirt and dust, her black hair had turned brown and her skin the color of a Water Tribe woman's. "Absolutely!"
Beside her, Bumi cackled. The only other occupant of the dust cloud, he was as dirty as she. "After all," he chuckled, "What better way to employ a dust cloud than to take someone by storm?"
Sokka snickered in spite of himself.
Toph groaned loudly, but her huge grin gave her away. "You ought to stick to bending," she told Bumi. "You're better at that."
The King of Omashu gave her a sly smile. "So you admit this old coot's still got moves? Is that actually a heartfelt compliment from the great Toph Bei Fong?"
Toph snorted. "I'm at 83, buster. How many have you got? 35? All I said was your bending was better than you're joke-telling. Trust me, it's not much of a compliment."
Bumi chortled. "Close, O most impudent one. I have 87."
Haru almost laughed as all mirth fell from Toph's face, but luckily for the sake of his bones, he managed to hold it in.
Gritting her teeth, Toph kicked behind her. Somewhere in the crowd, two rebels squealed as they were launched into the air.
"85!" She stuck out her chin at the old man, crossing her arms.
Bumi leered at her. "That's still two behind, girly, and that makes you second best."
Toph scowled. "Not for long, old geezer! Finding two more in this mess is a piece of cake!"
"Yes," Bumi agreed, his grin never slipping, eyes twinkling. "Yes, it is."
Sokka cleared his throat. "And just what have you two been up to while the rest of us have been defending the Palace steps? I mean, other than your juvenile little competition?"
Toph snorted. Suki giggled, perhaps remembering a time when Sokka had goaded the pair on, even at the risk of revealing their secret location. She knew, if he'd actually been invited to witness the contest, he'd be cheering his goofy little heart out.
If Sokka was expecting a compliment of some kind with his well-placed hinting he was sorely disappointed.
"Why, we've been saving the king!" Bumi cried.
"Somebody had to." Toph grinned, pounding her fist into her hands. "And these Gauntlets got a lot more than they came for, let me tell you."
Bumi began to cackle again, throwing an arm around Toph's shoulder. "You should have seen the look one of them gave you when–"
"Saving the king?" Sokka burst out. "Just what do you think we've been doing?"
Toph cocked her head at him. "I don't know, Sokka. What have you been doing?"
Sokka smacked his forehead with a cry of frustration.
Haru shook his head. "Do you have to do that?"
Toph laughed. "But he makes it so easy..."
Suki's grin suddenly fell. "Looks like we'll have to save the jokes for later. Here comes Jeong Jeong."
The Admiral cast a quick glance up the stairs as he approached, but the Avatar was still occupied with Kuei and his Generals. His face grave, he turned back to the Kyoshis. He eyed them for a moment with dark, narrow eyes.
"Do you know where the Firelord is?"
Sokka frowned. "The last time I saw Zuko, he was scaling up the wall." His emphatic gesture toward the balconies far, far above betrayed his envy.
Jeong Jeong nodded, the wrinkles in his brow deepening. "That is also when I lost track of him."
"He's probably with Mai," Suki offered.
Jeong Jeong shook his head. "The Firelady is also proving difficult to locate."
"I don't know about you guys," Toph said airily, "But if I were them, I'd sure be looking for the guy who betrayed me and kidnapped my entire family." She flashed a warrior's grin. "I'd give him a piece of my mind, too."
Sokka and Jeong Jeong exchanged a look, for once thinking the same thing.
"We'd probably better find him," Sokka said. "Fast."
"Hold on a minute," Toph said, halting the two men as they began to sweep away. "Doesn't anybody else think Zuko deserves to dish a little sweet revenge? I say we give him a few minutes and let him deal with the traitor himself."
Jeong Jeong shook his head with surprising ferocity. "Unacceptable!"
The others were taken aback.
Jeong Jeong's eyes softened. "The Firelord believes in justice, not vengeance. If his anger were to outweigh his will even for an instant..." He sighed. "He would never forgive himself."
Toph shuffled her feet. "...oh." She shrugged, casting the weighty burden to the wind. "I guess not everybody's as tough as I am."
"Toph!" Haru cried in horror.
She ignored him. "Are we going to go find the hothead, or what?"
Sokka straightened his sword belt. "Yep. Here we go."
"Not so fast there, Defender of the Stairs," Toph said, pushing the ground beneath him.
Sokka struggled to move forward across the shifting dirt. "What now?"
"No offense, but if Kuzarr's got any backup, it's probably going to be Dai Li, and you non-benders are next to useless against them."
"What? I said 'no offense'."
Sokka crossed his arms and scowled. "I find it offenseful. I am very offensed!"
"She's got a point, Sokka," Haru admitted, heart sinking. "The Dai Li are not easy targets."
Sokka, however, refused to be consoled. "Humph!"
"Oh, cheer up, Sokka!" Bumi cackled. He stepped beside the Water Tribe warrior and threw his arm over his shoulders. "I'll stay here to keep you company!"
Sokka's face darkened tenfold. "Whoop-de-doo."
Jeong Jeong turned. "Come, then," he told Toph. "We're wasting time."
Toph started after him, but paused. "Hey, Stache Man, you coming or what?"
TO BE CONTINUED...
- Yes, Kuzarr, obviously Ursa must have been rescued. Heaven forbid the daughter of two people who became masters of lethal arts in their teens must have foregone all forms of self-defense and violence for their daughter. Oh. Sarcasm much?
- You think?
- Yuki is so channeling Butler. :) (Read 'Artemis Fowl' if you don't understand this comment.)
- As ARG pointed out last week, Toph and Bumi's competition is reminiscent of Legolas and Gimli's. Can I hear a hip, hip, hooray for comedy in action?
- "What better way to employ a dust cloud than to take someone by storm?" -Yeah, that was all me, dearies. XD
- "We've been saving the king!" -This is a reference to 'The Three Musketeers'. Not the book, and not the one with Orlando Bloom, or the one with Tim Roth (That was 'The Musketeer', silly!). The one with Tim Curry and Kiefer Sutherland.
- Sokka's at it again! 'Offensed' and 'offensful' are not real words. Classic Sokka, through and through. You know, he was a wordbender too. ;)
- You can tell from the end of this chapter that the combination of me, Toph, Sokka and Bumi can be dangerous. Muahahaha!
If you haven't yet, now is the perfect time to like my Official Facebook page. I just instigated Corny Joke Mondays. We'll have a blast. ^_^
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