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|More from Agent Slash||Action/Adventure, Drama||PG-PG13||Positive||N/A|
|The Field Trip, Part 1: Return of the Ringleader|
As Team Avatar flew through the brightening, morning sky on the back of Appa, Aang sat, huddled on top of Appa's head. It was hard for him to concentrate on the sky ahead of him with the images from his nightmare flashing through his mind. They terrified him to his very core. All of his friends being burnt into skeletons, Republic City being engulfed in waves of light and darkness, Katara being burned alive by Bai Lung, and the eerie little girl with the red, beady eyes and the robe. What did that mean? The rest of it obviously stemmed from his fear that Bai Lung would fulfill the prophecy, but the little girl had said that the darkness would consume him. Was it possible that there were other darkbenders out there as well? Aang's thoughts were interrupted by Katara.
"Are you feeling okay?" she asked him. "You've been awfully quiet ever since we left Republic City."
"The nightmare," Aang said. "I can't figure out what it means."
"Well, you said that in your dream you saw Republic City being destroyed and all of us along with it. That probably means that's what you're worried is going to happen." "I know, but the little girl. What did that mean?" Aang asked, hoping Katara would be able to give him an answer that made sense. "I'm sorry, Aang. I can't say with certainty what that means," Katara replied.
"It's okay," Aang said. "I'll figure it out."
And with that, the couple dropped the subject and rode in complete silence with the rest of their companions back to Republic City.
Meanwhile, Toph and Zuko were riding on the back of Feng, having been doing so for the last five hours. The wind whipped by them as they rode on the back of the world's fastest creature through the Earth Kingdom woods. They approached the seedy tavern they hadn't seen in years, having finally reached their destination. "So, you think she'll be up to it?" asked Toph.
"It doesn't matter," said Zuko. "She'll come around. She always does." The two approached the tavern and went inside. People were loitering the place; either sitting down and drinking or standing around a table and watching a lady with long, black hair and a snake tattoo on her arm, arm wrestle a rather strong-looking man with spiky hair and a white kimono. The man was struggling to keep his arm leveled with the woman's. The muscles in his arm were straining as he used all of his strength to try and push the woman's arm down, but it was useless. The woman slammed his arm down on the table, causing the man to let out a cry of pain and his half of the table to collapse. She then stood up and took a sip of her drink. Everyone standing around the table cheered her on. It was then that Zuko and Toph approached her. She saw them and smiled.
"Well, look who it is," said June. "It's been a while, Prince Pouty," she said. "Oh, wait, I guess you're Fire Lord Pouty now."
"I need your help again," Zuko said.
"Of course you do," June said. "So what is it this time?" she asked, sounding rather unenthusiastic.
"You're not even going to try to get out of it?" asked Zuko.
"Nah, I might as well. Beating up guys around here without any effort has gotten pretty boring," said June. "So where's a smell sample?"
"We left it outside. Come with us and we'll show you," said Toph.
"Alright, let's – duck!" She shouted, suddenly. Zuko and Toph, acting just a split second before the object hit them, moved out of the way just as it zoomed past their heads and stabbed itself into the wall. The other patrons in the bar looked at the object, unsure of what to think. Everyone was wondering why someone would throw a knife. Usually, if there was a bar fight, people would pull out concealed knives, but it wasn't very common for someone to just lob one across the bar. The three of them looked at it from where they were standing. June approached the wall, pulled out the knife, and saw that there was a note attached to it. She opened it up and read it. "If you survived this, it doesn't matter. You will die one way or another," she read. "It looks like someone is out to get you guys."
"We know. That's why we came to you for help," said Toph.
"I can use this as a smell sample," said June. "So you guys never told me who's out to get you," said June.
Zuko couldn't help but chuckle at the irony. "My girlfriend ran off on me," he said. June simply laughed at the Fire Lord's answer. Once she got back to where Toph and Zuko were standing, Zuko saw the knife in her hand. "Wait, let me see that," said Zuko. June handed Zuko the knife and he examined it for a few moments before speaking. "This isn't one of Mai's knives," he said.
"What do you mean it's not?" asked Toph.
"Mai uses different kinds of knives than this," Zuko explained. "Someone else was trying to assassinate us."
"How do you know they were targeting us?" asked Toph.
"It was aimed right at us," said Zuko.
"Maybe it was Hong Shu?" said Toph.
"Maybe. I can't remember if he uses knives like this," Zuko replied.
"Alright, are we going to do this or not?" June asked, getting impatient.
"I guess we'll just go ahead and assume it wasn't aimed at us," said Zuko.
"I like that idea," said Toph.
"Me, too," said June. "It saves me a lot of work." The three of them walked outside and found June's pet Shirshu. "Alright, Nyla," said June. "I've got something for you. Give me the smell sample," she commanded.
Zuko handed her the dagger that had been planted in his wall and she, in turn, put it up to Nyla's nose. The beast smelled the weapon and immediately started growling and pointing in the direction the smell was coming from. June quickly mounted Nyla and the shirshu ran off. Toph and Zuko quickly got on top of Feng and followed. None of them saw the attacker hiding in the trees nor did they see his mongoose dragon down below that he was using to follow them.
It took them quite a while, but Toph, Zuko, Feng, June, and Nyla all managed to make it to their destination. "It looks like Mai had a getaway vehicle," said Zuko. "It's the only way she could have left the Fire Nation so quickly."
Not listening, June spoke once again. "She's near here," she said. "Nyla's acting up."
"Thanks, June," said Zuko.
"No problem," said June. "Well, this is where I stop. Good luck finding her." And with that, June cracked her whip and rode off on Nyla, disappearing into the woods.
"Alright, it looks like it's just the two of us now," said Zuko.
"Alright then, what are we waiting for?" asked Toph. "Let's go!" Before either Toph or Zuko could do anything, they noticed the ground moving beneath their feet. Feng jeered away as a rock with a pointed end emerged from below them. Toph and Zuko leaped off of Feng and took their fighting stances. "Do you think it's the assassin from the tavern?" Toph whispered to her friend.
"Who else could it be?" asked Zuko.
"Only one way to find out," said Toph.
"Wait, can't you tell who he is?" asked Zuko.
"I don't recognize this person," Toph replied. "He doesn't feel familiar."
"Who are you and why are you trying to kill us?" asked Zuko.
"You mean neither of you recognize me?" asked a gruff voice coming from the trees.
"That voice," Toph said. "It sounds so familiar."
"You two are going to meet an end so agonizing, so unbelievably painful that you are going to wish you never crossed me," said the voice.
Both Zuko and Toph turned their heads every which way, trying to find out where the person speaking was. "Show yourself!" Zuko shouted.
"He doesn't need to," said Toph. Raising her fists and then thrusting them forward, the blind earthbender bent an earth spike from the ground and stabbed it right through the tree which she felt the assassin was behind. The assailant moved out of the way, having expected her to attack, and emerged from behind the tree. He raised a boulder from the ground and sent it flying at Toph, who outstretched one arm and destroyed the boulder.
Zuko, now able to see the man, was now stunned. His eyes widened and the man was nothing less of shocked that he had run into this man again. "You," he said.
"So, you do remember me," said the assailant. "But you're not the one I'm after. You are!" he said, pointing to Toph. "I'm going to make you regret ever having cheated me in the first place."
Having finally figured it out, Toph was stunned as well – much more so than Zuko. For once, she was unsure of what to say or how to react. She had thought this man dead for many years. "Xin Fu?" she asked.
"Ah, so now you remember," said the former Earth Rumble VI host.
"You feel so much thinner," she said. "So much weaker."
"That's because you locked me in that damn box for so long!" he screamed.
At first, Zuko was confused as to why Toph wasn't just beating the living daylights out of Xin Fu and why she was letting him talk. Then he realized she must have been genuinely interested in Xin Fu's explanation.
"Your father heard how I'd treated you and not only did he not pay me a single copper piece, but he sent his guards after me as well! I was weak and malnourished; I couldn't make it. I was locked away in Gaoling Prison for kidnapping and for attempting to aid the Fire Nation by turning in the Avatar. I only received little bits of food every day. Eventually, I was finally let out on parole and left Gaoling. I left it all behind. I came here, intent on finding and killing you somehow and then I saw your eel hound dashing through the woods on your way to the tavern and, well, I can't tell you how unbelievably relieved I am that I finally get to kill you."
As Toph listened to her enemy speak, she noticed he even sounded weak. It was as if he was losing his will to speak. "Wait a second," Toph said, still intent on having one last question answered. "Where is Master Yu?"
"We were in that box for what felt like a lifetime. We were starving and it didn't look like either one of us was going to make it. The poor, damn fool died just a short while before we were discovered," Xin Fu responded, bitterly. "Not that you care, you spoiled, little brat!" With a fierce bellow, Xin Fu leaped up into the air and slammed his fists into the ground, creating a massive wave of earth.
Zuko jet propelled himself into the air while Toph metalbent a cable onto a tree branch and lifted herself off of the ground, whizzing towards Xin Fu. She kicked her opponent in the face, causing him to groan in excessive frustration. It was clear he had no patience left. With a fierce cry, he let the duo have it. The man started chucking boulders in every direction, hell-bent on killing his opponents. Both Toph and Zuko noticed the man had clearly gone feral. With wild eyes and a crazed, deranged expression unlike any other that the pair had seen, Xin Fu scanned around the woods for Toph. "Come out here!!" he hollered. "I will beat you! Do you hear me, Toph?! I don't give a damn if you invented metalbending; you are not the best and you never will be!!" Suddenly, Xin Fu was sucked into the ground. He thought about escaping, but Zuko leaped out from behind a tree and aimed his fist at him.
At that moment, Toph leapt down from the trees and looked Xin Fu in the eye. Quietly, she spoke. "I told you before and I'll tell you again: I am the greatest earthbender in the world. I told you never to forget that. Maybe if you hadn't then you wouldn't be here now." She lifted a boulder out of the ground and, right as she was about to crush her long-time enemy, she saw the look on his face. He had the look of someone who had just given up all hope. She then realized for the first time that she had caused this. For a brief moment, she actually felt sorry for the man, but the feeling quickly subsided and she crushed Xin Fu, taking him out for good.
Zuko looked at his friend, unsure of how to approach her. "Are you okay?" he asked. "You kind of hesitated there." "I'm perfectly fine," Toph said in a voice that made Zuko believe her. She truly sounded unremorseful. "Alright, then let's get going," said Zuko. The two of them headed back towards Feng while Toph whispered a single word under her breath. "Dunderhead."
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