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Avatar: The Last Airbender
The Last Airbender Book Four: Air
Chapter Twelve – The Fall
Fire Nation Royal Palace, Nineteen Years Ago
Azula giggled in her mother's arms, clutching her brand new doll to her chest. It was a simple toy, cloth stuffed with cotton, finely sewn together with onyx buttons for eyes and an auburn robe for dress. There were no sophisticated details such as hands or feet, the limbs simply ended in rounded nubs. Black stitching made up a smile on the face and rich dark yarn had been used for the hair. It was a simple thing but very well made. Azula smiled and hugged the doll to her.
"Now you have to be careful not to rip this one," her mother was saying to her in a soft voice. "She's a delicate little girl, and I know how you like to play rough!" At this Ursa ferociously tickled her daughter, causing Azula to break out into squeals of laughter.
"Stop it mommy! No more!" The young girl screamed in mock protest. Her mother continued for another moment before letting up. It took Azula several minutes to settle down out of her fit but once she had she sat back against her mother with a content sigh. She picked up the doll and held it out in front of her face. "I'm going to call her Pun-Pun!" She declared with confidence.
"Pun-Pun, that's a lovely name..." her mother acknowledged. "I think she likes it." The two sat in silence and enjoyed the fresh summer air that flowed past them on the balcony. Suspended high above the Palace's many gardens all they had to do was turn and look for a lush of jade beauty to meet their eyes. Ursa started running a hand gently through Azula's hair. "My little girl," She stated sweetly. "The spirits are green wishing they had hair like yours," Azula smirked. "My perfect little princess," her mother continued.
"But mommy, I'm not the princess, not really. It's not like I'll ever sit on the throne," Azula observed innocently.
"You don't have to," her mother stated. Just then a loud cry broke the air and a servant came running up to them.
"Princess Ursa, it's young Zuko. He fell from one the orchid trees and scrapped his leg up a good deal. It's nothing serious but he wants to see you," the Servant explained, bowing as he made his report. Ursa nodded and made to rise.
"No mommy stay with me!" Azula objected.
"I have to go tend to your brother for just a moment. You stay right here, cause we are going to play with Pun-Pun together when I get back!" she said, placing emphasis on the last part. Her daughter smiled brightly and she ran a hand through her hair again. "That's my princess, I'll be right back," she said before following the servant from the balcony.
Azula sat there on the cold stone, waving the doll to and fro in front of her. Her mind was free, as free as that doll that just swayed effortlessly in her hands. She'd show the doll to Zuko and to Uncle and cousin Lu Ten and they'd all say it was the prettiest doll they had ever seen. And she was all Azula's, all hers for her own cherishment and joy. The young girl held the doll tightly to her. Hers. All hers.
"Azula!" The harsh voice of her father cut through the air, placing her into a cage.
Appa roared a bellow of complaint as he sped back toward the Fire Nation Royal Palace; the entire group once again huddled onto his saddle. Momo too twittered about anxiously. Both animals knew that this had not been the plan and that something had happened to drastically alter the course of the vacation. The lemur landed next to Lu Ten before flapping over to Sokka and Suki before again taking off only to land on Toph's shoulder. The blind earthbender put up a hand and patted the flying creature on the head in an attempt to calm him down. Up front Aang was doing the same thing with Appa.
"Easy there buddy. I know you had palm trees in mind but this is fine too. The Royal Palace is...well a palace! You'll still have plenty of time to relax and take a load off okay? Just fly us a little farther. It's for Katara, you can do it for Katara can't you?" The bison made a gruff reply and continued soaring. "That's the spirit!" The Avatar affirmed. He patted the giant head in gratitude. Then without thinking he threw a glance back toward his wife, who was asleep peacefully at the back.
It was true they were returning because of her. They'd pushed on to Ember a day ago after leaving Salamander Island and all its unhappy memories behind. Yet no sooner had they arrived on Ember than Katara had had a false alarm. The baby still wasn't due for another few weeks but this had been a wake up call. Theoretically it could come at any moment and the only doctor on Ember Island was, naturally, on leave for vacation. So the group had made the decision to return to the Fire Nation Royal Palace. It was nearly dark now and Appa had been flying since dawn. Aang knew they must be getting close.
Back on the saddle Mai yawned. She wrapped Lu Ten's jacket tighter around him, causing the infant to put up a faint front of protest. Zuko smiled but made no movement. Toph absent-mindedly blew her hair out from in front of her eyes. Sokka and Suki were whispering to each other and laughing occasionally every few minutes. The Avatar couldn't help but raise an eyebrow.
"Hey, what are you two chattering about?" He asked innocently.
"Believe me you don't want to know," Toph answered as a reply. "I had forgotten how sappy these two were together. You and Katara are bad enough but what I've been hearing – ick!" She made a gagging noise and pretended to wretch. "Why can't you all be more like Zuko and Mai? You don't see them making kissy faces at each other every five seconds! Then again I don't see any of you doing that but I'm assuming you four do!" The blind earthbender shook her head at the group.
"Mai and I say we love each other lots of times," said Zuko in defense.
"Yeah, but we don't swoon constantly because of Lu Ten. He doesn't like it. That's mushy time," Mai added.
"Mushy time!" Lu Ten yelled, covering his eyes and making a sick face.
"Right on Little Spark," Toph acknowledged.
"So Zuko..." Sokka began, seeking to shift the focus away from him and Suki. "What's there to do in the Royal Palace huh? How many servants do I get to boss around?"
"Well technically every servant of mine is ordered, by law, to tend to my guests as well," the Firelord conceded, giving the Water Tribe warrior a cautious look.
"Oh sweet!" Sokka replied excitedly. "That means I'll be able to make myself a bed of servants if I want to?" A short silence followed this.
"Uh...I guess so," Zuko admitted. "Though I can't see why you would, our beds are incredibly –"
"I'm going to make a bed out of servants, and a chair – and a whole fort! I'll need someone to battle my servant fort, hey Aang! You want in on the servant-fort battles?" The Avatar gave him a confused look.
"Your mind is a dark, twisted place," Toph stated flatly. Sokka looked at her.
"What?" He asked incredulously. "Don't be jealous just because you didn't think of it first."
"I'll try not to be," the blind earthbender's tone dripped sarcasm. "You can go head and have your little...servant wars, I just want to know how many firebenders I'll get to scrap with – I mean training wise of course."
"Jeong Jeong's there. He heads up our staff of trainers," Mai replied abstractly. Toph grinned.
"Master Jeong Jeong? That'll be great seeing him again," Suki piped up. "He always has the best stories from the Hundred Year War." Appa roared and started to descend as Suki continued talking. Up at the head Aang guided the bison in the direction of the courtyard. Late afternoon mist rose up to meet them as Appa circled lower and lower towards the Palace.
"Okay everyone – we're back. Should be on the ground in a few minutes. Sokka, would you mind waking up Katara?" The Avatar called back. The Water Tribe warrior gave him a thumb's up and a mischievous smile before turning to his sister. Aang returned his gaze to the horizon; maybe he should have asked someone else. As the swirls of cloud vapor passed his vision a figure formed against the pale backdrop of the courtyard tiles. The airbender squinted in an attempt to discover the shape's identity. Whomever it was appeared to be waving their arms rather vigorously up at the bison, as if in importance. Suddenly the identity became clear.
"Hey Zuko!" Aang called, at the same time as Sokka shocked Katara out of sleep. Ignoring this the Avatar focused on the Firelord. "Zuko!" He called again.
"Yeah?" Came the reply.
"Should we be worried that your army general is waving us down there with a terrified look on his face?" The Firelord hoisted himself up and peered over the edge of the saddle. Aang watched as his face grew grimmer. Finally Zuko looked back.
"This might be nothing," he answered at length. "Matora takes every rumor, every whisper of uprising seriously. Might be another false alarm..." he trailed off. Mai was scanning over the side alongside her husband, her face considerably more shaken.
"This doesn't look like a false alarm," she whispered to her husband. He gave her a sideways glance as she wrapped an arm around him, her other going instinctively to Lu Ten.
"Let's get down there," Zuko said. "He shouldn't even have known we were coming...why is he waiting for us?" Hearing this the Avatar spurred his bison downward. Something wasn't right. He had known Matora these past ten years and while Zuko was right that the man could be a little jumpy at shadows, what he was seeing now warranted a different kind of reaction all together. Appa bellowed loudly and the Fire Nation general took several steps back as the great beast touched down, sending up a small cloud of dust into the air. Aang looked back to the others.
"All right, everyone off," he called. "Katara sweetie hang on, I'm coming to give you a hand." Then to the Firelord he added: "This will just take a minute. Give me a holler if it's anything really serious." Zuko nodded and jumped down. As the airbender made his way back towards his wife he watched the Firelord and Matora exchange quick and what appeared to be heated dialogue. Turning away he held out his hand to Katara.
"Next time please pick someone other than my brother to wake me up." She groaned up at him, accompanying it with a wry smile.
"Who says I even asked him?" Aang declared with a shocked tone of mock innocence. Katara raised an eyebrow.
"Nice acting dear," she said sarcastically. The Avatar put on his trademark child's grin in response. Katara laughed. She reached up and took his hands in hers and with a tug he had pulled her to her feet.
"Ready for your air-slide, I know how much you like it," Aang joked. His wife rolled her eyes but headed for the side of the saddle. With a bound the airbender leapt down off his bison and turned up to his wife. "All right in three...two...one – go!" He called. Putting a foot forward Katara stepped off and glided down to earth just as the sound of raised voices hit both their ears. Turning Aang saw that Sokka, Suki and Toph had all joined Matora and Zuko. Mai was standing close by holding Lu Ten up in her arms. The Avatar noted with growing discomfort that both she and the child were listening in on the conversation with looks of sheer horror on their faces.
"We better get over there," Katara whispered from by his side. He turned to her and nodded. Walking briskly and hand-in-hand they made their way over to the group, who fell silent at their approach. Every face that turned to meet them was grim except for Toph whom Aang noticed appeared visibly more distraught than usual.
"What is it? What's going on?" He asked. No one answered at first. Matora cast his eyes downward while Zuko just looked speechless, like whatever event had happened had knocked the ability to speak from him. Suki and Sokka held each other, both in that same terrified stupor as the Firelord. Finally it was Toph who spoke:
"Ba Sing Se has been completely destroyed," she managed to get out. "Matora received a letter...apparently the city was sacked and overrun yesterday morning...they say the demons did it." Aang let his eyes go wide and his mouth gape open. Next to him Katara had raised a hand over her mouth.
"That's impossible..." he stammered out weakly at length. "They wouldn't do that – they wouldn't come here...I was found innocent!" He looked up Matora. "You're sure this news is real? That it's not some kind of sick prank?" The Fire Nation general shook his head.
"I received a letter written by the Earth King himself. I dispatched a messenger-hawk promptly; I had assumed you had received it. Why else would you be back so soon?" Aang glanced at Katara.
"We must have left before it got there, possibly even passed it in midair," Zuko commented darkly.
"When you say destroyed...what do you mean by that?" Katara wondered. "I mean Ba Sing Se is so huge and the walls –"
"Are completely gone," Matora finished. "Outer wall, inner...according to the letter they left the whole city in ruins, no guesses yet as to where they were heading."
"Yes but what about the survivors?" Toph demanded again. "It must have said something!" The Fire Nation general simply shook his head.
"The Earth King said it was too early to be sure how many made it out...he only knew for certain that his military branch had suffered tremendous causalities."
"Let's get indoors," Zuko cut in. "We can discuss things further in the war room. General I want to see that letter immediately!"
"I do as well," Aang added quickly. The general looked at both of them and nodded. "Follow me then." He led them across the courtyard and up the Palace steps. As they strode upward Aang felt Katara's hand gripping his tightly. He looked at her and tried to smile. As they pass through the main door Matora cleared his throat. "Sire there was one other matter..."
"It can wait," Zuko replied in an authoritative tone. Matora nodded. After several moments the group entered the war room. It was empty; all the cushions where Zuko's military advisors would normally sit were bare. The fire was currently extinguished behind the throne. Only a few overhanging torches gave the chamber light. Yet as Zuko approached his throne almost instantaneously a roaring blaze whipped into life. He settled down promptly, Mai and Lu Ten settling beside him, as the others each took a mat. Matora was last to be seated, he pulled a battered piece of parchment from within his ceremonial tunic and approaching the throne, bowed, and held it up. Zuko leaned forward and took the paper, unfolding it and scanning it as fast as his eyes could. Within a few seconds he looked up.
"Anyone hear object to me reading this aloud to save time?" He asked.
"Well I personally was looking forward to giving it my own individual once over," Toph stated impatiently, before practically shouting "Do it already!" The Firelord nodded and began to read.
Ba Sing Se, Twenty Four Hours Ago
Ce Jian walked a few steps behind the Earth King, clutching a hard rock outline of the day's schedule under his arm. The two, accompanied by the standard four Earth Kingdom royal guards, were strolling along a street in the upper portion of the business district. All around them goods of the highest quality, from rare and delicate silks to fine jewelry and other antiquities, were being sold and bartered off. Every day new deals were offered for one of a kind artifacts found from all three nations. However, recently fake artifacts from the underground Air Nomad sanctuary had begun to flood the market and the economic branch was considering taking action.
Yet that was not why they were there today. Earth King Kuei was looking for gifts, offerings to placate the Air Nomad leader and set up more open and flowing negotiations between the two peoples. Over the past month many envoys and ambassadors had been dispatched down to An Liao with no apparent progress. Ce Jian sighed as the Earth King went over to a particular stall to browse. He missed Iroh. People could say what they wanted: it was true that the man had been at one point a war general to the Earth Kingdom's greatest enemy, but as soon as the war had ended it had become clear he was a gifted speaker as well. Ce Jian had never seen a military man so talented in the diplomatic arts.
If Iroh were still alive this would not have been a problem. That old man would have opened the doors to An Liao shortly after its discovery and by now the Air Nomads would be back at one of their temples where they belonged. Now instead there was this deadlock that spanned both public and international affairs. And the Avatar, Ce Jian grimaced, where was the Avatar?
"Something troubles you my friend," the Earth King acknowledged at the stall, holding up a rounded crystal that dazzled brilliant different colors in the sunlight.
"It is nothing my king," Ce Jian responded indifferently. "Merely a bit of indigestion, bad tofu curd puffs at breakfast I think." The Earth King smiled and continued to inspect the merchandise.
"If you feel we are wasting our time please feel free to say so." Ce Jian looked nervously off to the side.
"Of course not my lord. Peace and the pursuit of are the two most important issues of our time. I just do not like the way things have compounded themselves against us." He paused and when it became obvious that the Earth King wasn't going to reply, continued talking. "We discover a treasure trove of our own nation's history only to find it denied to us by a group of foreigners already who have already settled it and lay claim to our own land beneath our very feet. And when we try to reason logically with these foreigners their leader proves obtuse and impassive. He may be an Air Nomad but he's more stubborn than any earthbender I've encountered."
"Have you looked in a mirror?" The Earth King joked, still continuing to browse. Ce Jian cracked a smile.
"Point taken your majesty. All I'm saying is that this was a difficult situation before the Avatar pulled his vanishing act. Now I'm not so sure it's even realistically possible. At least not without..."
"Without military force," the Earth King finished for him. Ce Jian nodded. Kuei turned and regarded him crossly.
"I appreciate your frustration with our lack of progress but resorting to violent measures is completely out of the question. I gave Avatar Aang my word that I would let him handle the situation. In the meantime," he turned back and selected a superbly woven ginger scarf from the table. "We do what we can to win over Monk Quanfar, however impossible that may be." He motioned to his royal guard. "Let's go."
They made their way toward the entrance to the catacombs of Old Ba Sing Se. From then on it was only another twenty-minute walk to the entrance of the tunnel. Found so easily by Toph Bei Fong only a few months ago, Ce Jian still got a chuckle every time he thought of that young blind woman and how she had effortlessly surpassed the work and research done by all of her peers within a few short months. After this was all over and she was back in the city he couldn't wait to meet her for drinks again at the Rumbling Landslide bar in the upper portion of the city.
The two had started meeting regularly for drinks some time ago. They would have contests while exchanging old adventure stories or discussing international politics. Ce Jian truly admired the girl, how she could maintain a complete duality of this prim and proper researcher and teacher while still also being one of the toughest, most confident warriors he knew. Scratching his beard as he walked, Ce Jian reminisced about the time when he and Toph were interrupted in their drinking by a group of rowdy young gangsters, all of whom wanted to dance with Toph. He smiled to himself, well if by dance they had meant get the snot kicked out of them then Toph had certainly been all too happy to oblige. The grin widened slightly, that had been a great evening.
Suddenly Ce Jian halted in his tracks, along with the Earth King and his royal guard. They stared in disbelief at the swarm of frightened people rapidly approaching them. It took the grizzled earthbender several seconds to realize that the group was composed entirely of Air Nomads with none other than Monk Quanfar leading the panic. The aged Air Nomad monk had several lines of dried blood splash across his face and several of the other Air Nomads appeared to also be injured. Instantly the Earth King ran forward to meet them.
"My friends what has happened to you?" He beseeched the group. Yet most did not stop and the royal guard was forced to shoot up several slabs to protect the king from being trampled. Ce Jian ran to Kuei's side. The two exchanged worried looks as Monk Quanfar halted in front of them.
"It is the end!" He cried hysterically. "They came up from the very ground itself! All is lost! Flee or you too will perish in agony at their horror!"
"Be sensible man!" Ce Jian shouted. "Who has done this to you?"
"Oguanga!" Monk Quanfar replied with eyes bulging from their sockets. "Oguanga! He leads an army of demons from the abyss! They have come! It is the end of all!" He sprinted past them screaming. "It is the end of all!" His cry continued to echo off the walls around them. They stood at the entrance to Old Ba Sing Se, behind them the Air Nomads fled off into the light, in front of them the dark nothingness of the corridor stretched as if unending.
"My king I must recommend you and your guard withdraw to the palace. I will continue onward and check in with my men stationed at the entrance to the tunnel, see how much of this is real," Ce Jian stated darkly.
"No," Kuei replied firmly. "This is my kingdom Ce Jian. If there are invaders, I want them to answer to me." Ce Jian shifted his feet.
"My lord it is not safe," he reiterated. "Please let me go alone."
"Your concern is noted my friend," the Earth King continued. Then to his royal guards he called: "Guards, with haste, let us go to the mouth of the tunnel." Before he could object further they were past him and Ce Jian found himself gliding along the rock to keep up. Within moments they had reached the entrance of the tunnel that led to An Liao. Ce Jian at once cast an eye around for the men he had left stationed there but none remained. Only the black entrance to the tunnel greeted them along with dead silence.
"They must have gone to investigate," Ce Jian declared. "I suggest we wait here for there report before taking any more risky actions."
"Risky actions?" The Earth King repeated, raising an eyebrow. "You think you'd be used to putting your life on the line by now my friend."
"I am," Ce Jian responded. "It is your life, your majesty, that I do not think we should risk." Kuei smiled and nodded.
"Very well, as you are my chief military advisor I will yield to your counsel, for now at any rate." Ce Jian allowed a gruff of laughter to escape his throat. All six men sat before the opening and waited. Slowly, painfully, the minutes dragged by. Ce Jian found himself whistling a childhood tune in boredom while the Earth King was scanning some light paperwork he had had on him. Suddenly the ground shook violently.
All six heads shot up and Ce Jian was on his feet before the ripples had fully died away. He took a tentative step toward the entrance before a second tremor, even more powerful than the first, rattled the cavern. Chunks of rock began plummeting down from the ceiling. Ce Jian and the royal guard quickly shot up boulders to deflect any falling debris that might harm them. However they had only just finished when a third blast rocked the cave and their safety was thrown into serious question.
"Time to go your highness," Ce Jian stated somberly, grabbing the Earth King and taking off for the exit. The four royal guards followed close behind in standard cover formation. As he sped along the ground Ce Jian could swear he felt an underground force moving parallel to his own. As if in confirmation to his feeling suddenly a slab of rock roared up in front of him and he had to dodge immediately to avoid splattering against it. Several outbursts of surprise told him that the guards were experiencing something similar. As he continued to jet along the floor more and more spikes shot up. There was no question now; something was trying very hard to stop them from leaving the cave. Ce Jian wanted very much to turn around and just glance to see how the others were doing but there wasn't one second where he could tear his eyes away. Rocks blurred his vision, he felt sure he was going to smash into one of them. He probably would have to without the Earth King: he could easily create a custom hardened shield to save him from the impact but with someone else on his shoulders it was just too dangerous.
Then they were free. Sunlight pierced into his vision and he felt the power beneath his feet die away and the ground ceased being his enemy. After putting some distance between them and the opening he stopped and set the Earth King down. Only then did he turn and look behind them. Of the four royal guards only one remained and his right side looked severely battered and bruised. As for the other three, Ce Jian bit his lip and cursed, he hated losing men on the battlefield.
"What was that?" Kuei asked.
"I don't know," Ce Jian got out after several seconds. "But whoever's down there knows earthbending and knows it well." He sighed and looked at the remaining guard. "Soldier, get yourself to an infirmary right away. My king, I must insist that we get you to – " Ce Jian found himself cut off as five spouts of earth erupted in front of the entrance to Old Ba Sing Se. Like earthen geysers they sprayed rock and gravel over the cobblestone of street, causing several passers by to stop and stare. After a minute the dust cleared and the grizzled earthbender found himself experiencing a sensation he had not known in some time: fear.
Five hulking demons, clad in bright onyx battle armor stood combat ready in front of them. They stood with their feet in an L formation. One hand was drawn back while the other rose straight up at the elbow with the fist pointing forward. They squatted slightly but that did not conceal their tremendous size. Each one was easily seven feet tall.
"By the spirits..." The Earth King exhaled. One of the demons advanced slightly.
"?ratavA eht si erehW" It demanded in a strange tongue. Ce Jian stepped in front of the Earth King. The demon advanced again. "?sdamoN riA eht ot enod uoy evah tahW"
"I don't know what he's saying but I get the feeling it isn't friendly," Ce Jian muttered. "My king, it is time for you to run. Soldier, make sure he gets out of here safely." He tensed his fists in preparation. "Can't say I like these odds but hey I've had worse."
"No, I will not abandon my city a second time!" Kuei declared. To the demons he stated boldly: "Where is your king? He must answer for the crimes committed on my land today! You have shed innocent blood demons!" The advancing one snarled but made no aggressive movement.
"Your majesty please, get out of here!" Ce Jian hissed underneath his breath. "I cannot give full attention to the enemy with you in harm's way." The demon was growling again when a boulder suddenly crashed into the side of its head from somewhere off to the left. Darting his gaze quickly Ce Jian saw a squad Earth Kingdom soldiers racing straight for the demons. Taking this opportunity he spun around and grabbed the Earth King, once again slinging him over his shoulder he took off toward the Earth Kingdom Palace, riding along the cobblestones as if on a speeding carriage. Behind him he could hear the cries and screams of the soldiers in battle as they attacked and were ruthlessly repelled by the demons. He could tell just from his ears that the fight had been short...and he could tell for the Earth King's gasp of horror that they had lost.
Then another sound reached his ears that managed to be even more terrifying and horrible than what had preceded it. Multiple spouts were opening up all around them as they sped through the streets. He watched through the corners of his vision as civilians screamed and took off running every which way in a mad panic. More demons were arriving. Quite a few more from the sound of it.
At last the palace doors loomed in front of them. Ce Jian signaled they be slammed and bolted as he passed through. Guards poured past him as he raced up the stairs. He could see that look on every one of their faces: it was the look of fear blocked by grim determination. Each one of these men was prepared to die for their kingdom, and considering what they were up against, most would. Once inside the palace Ce Jian set the Earth King down and prepared to leave.
"I hate being carried like a sac of useless weight throughout the streets of my own city," Kuei spat in disgust. "I don't understand our enemy...none of this makes sense. Where are you going?" He stopped the grizzled earthbender, who was heading for the door.
"To join my men your majesty. I am a warrior, I belong on the battlefield." An explosion ripped through the air as he said these words causing both men to run over to a window.
"My city burns!" Cried Kuei in dismay. "And look, a large portion of the inner wall, by the spirits! They're ripping the walls down!" Ce Jian had grabbed a pair of binoculars from the table and was inspecting the scene.
"They're only targeting the sections of the wall with resistance..." he said thoughtfully. Then he redirected his vision throughout various streets of the city. Everywhere he looked he saw soldiers, demons and civilians. The soldiers and demons were engaged in an all out war but the civilians, the demons were completely ignoring them. Indeed it seemed that everywhere he looked a demon was not attacking unless it was under attack from some earthbender. "That's weird..." he said to himself.
"What? What is it?" the Earth King asked. Another explosion at the palace gate broke Ce Jian's train of thought.
"I must go," he stated, handing the binoculars to the Kuei. "Whatever happens, you must survive my king. Be prepared to use the emergency escape tunnels if need be."
"I'm not going anywhere," the Earth King declared defiantly as the doors to the room splintered open.
"Oh yes you are," Ce Jian replied. "Good-bye my friend, it has been my honor to serve." With that he cut his hands in a downward slicing motion, causing the ground beneath the Earth King's feet to open and send him spiraling down toward the escape tunnels. Sealing the way shut he turned to look at the intruder.
A demon, eight feet tall, sporting their traditional onyx armor with golden rim, stepped into the room. On his chest plate was engraved a silver scale with the weight perfectly balanced on either side. Atop his head a helmet with two long spikes sticking out at either end that pointed up in the air. Every bit of him was armored with the exception of his face. Ce Jian knew instantly who this must be. He remembered the stories from childhood. Before him stood Oguanga, the Demon King. Ce Jian smiled to himself and prepared to fight.
"You picked the wrong kingdom bub!" He snarled. "I don't know how much trouble you've been having with everyone else, but I guarantee you're going to get some from me."
".redro erotser ot emoc evah I dna ecnalab eht fo seimene era ratavA eht dna elpoep ruoY !oaiL nA deyortsed ohw elpoep ruoy saw tI !sdamoN riA eht tsniaga semirc rof rewsna tsum eH .gniK htraE ruoy ees ot hsiw I" Oguanga declared forcefully.
"Them's fighting words to me!" Ce Jian said calmly. He moved in flawless motion, his hands hacking through the air, summoning up diagonal chunks of rock that he proceed to send flying toward the Demon King. Oguanga smashed them to bits as they came, choosing to dodge the last one. He leapt for Ce Jian and the grizzled earth bender saw lightning teem up the length of the arm between the elbow and fist. He barely had time to dodge before Oguanga brought it crashing down, denting the floor and sending out a shockwave that knocked Ce Jian off his feet.
The earthbender landed hard upon the stone but rebounded quickly. Lurching up he pulled both arms upward and planted his feet, launching the section of floor that the demon stood upon straight up at the ceiling. Yet as quick as he was Oguanga was quicker. No sooner had the floor begun to rise than the Demon King shot off of it, sending a blast of air that completely knocked the wind from Ce Jian's lungs. He staggered and fell to his knees. Fire and air! This thing could bend more than one element? As if in confirmation Oguanga clasped both of his clawed hands together, which in turn caused ice to form up around Ce Jian's, holding him to the floor. This was it. The fight was over. He had lost. Oguanga strode toward him cautiously.
The Demon King stopped just a pace away from Ce Jian's head. "?ratavA eht si erehw :erom ecno ksa lliw I" Ce Jian looked up into the demon's eyes and gave no reply. ".eno sa gniyd fo ronoh eht uoy evig lliw I ,roirraw a sa thguof uoy ecniS .llew yreV" Oguanga raised his elbow and Ce Jian braced for impact.
The Fire Nation Royal Palace, Present Day
"Many men, including Ce Jian: who was my finest, are already lost. The only question that remains now is why. Why was this terrible evil brought upon us and how long will it last? I call upon your aid Firelord Zuko to handle this crisis. Signed the Earth King." Zuko lowered the parchment and allowed silence to fill the room. Aang felt like he was going to throw up. Looking up he saw tears streaming down Toph's face. Katara shook on the mat next to him. He felt a swirl of emotions torrent through his body at the same time: rage, sorrow, fear and shock also flooded his mind before vanishing as quickly as they had come. Once they had departed, there was only one thing left: resolve. Slowly he rose, Zuko looked up at him. "You have a plan."
"Yes, I do," Aang stated coldly. However, before he could speak further Matora opened his mouth.
"Excuse my interruption Excellency, but before anyone decides anything I think I should tell you about the other item of urgency."
"Yes general what is it?" Zuko inquired.
Matora looked at him. "It's your sister Sire, she wants to speak to you...and you too Avatar Aang. She's been demanding it since yesterday."
"My sister?" Zuko repeated.
"Azula?" Suki said in disbelief.
"Yes," answered the Fire Nation general. "She said everything depended on it. She said... she said – well she said she knows how to defeat the Demon King." And for the second time that day Aang allowed his mouth to hang open in shock.
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