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|The Impenetrable City, Pt. 1|
Chapter 20: The Impenetrable City, Pt.1
After two days of travel in the airship, the group finally arrived in Ba Sing Se. As they exited the transport, they were greeted warmly by Earth King Kuei and the Council of Five.
"Welcome, heroes!" Kuei bowed. "I am honored to have you stay with us in Ba Sing Se. I hope you will find the city quite different from your initial arrival last year." He indicated Team Avatar. "You will all have accommodations within the palace itself, if you so desire."
Zuko bowed in respect. "King Kuei, if I might have a word with you before the World Meeting. We have something that I think we need to discuss."
Kuei's smile vanished. "Yes, indeed, Fire Lord Zuko; we can talk in my study." He circled around to Piandao and Jeong Jeong. "As for you, great Masters, Iroh wishes to see you both at your earliest convenience, and I must say that I am happy to see two of the men who helped liberate the Earth Kingdom. I am honored to be in your presence."
Both old men bowed. "As are we, Earth King."
Kuei faced the group. "Now, before we get to the politics and bureaucracy of it all, I would like to invite you all to the feast."
Sokka began salivating. "Easy does it, big guy." Toph punched him in the arm. "Don't make a fool of yourself until we've been here at least an hour."
As they all sat at Kuei's table enjoying the exquisite selection, Kuei attempted to make small talk. "So, Fire Lord Zuko, when will your officers arrive?"
Zuko, who was, as usual, sitting next to Mai, wiped his mouth. "Well, they should be here by tomorrow, here in plenty of time for the meeting."
"Good, good, that leaves only the two Water Tribes," A servant leaned down and whispered in Kuei's ear. "And I have just been informed that the representatives from the Southern Water Tribe have just arrived."
Katara and Sokka looked at each other, eyes wide. "Dad!" They said in unison as Katara ran out to meet him, ignoring etiquette. Sokka glanced in that direction, but decided on finishing his plate first.
While General How fidgeted at the display, Kuei laughed. "I guess she has more pressing matters to attend to." He stroked Bosco's fur and fed him a cabbage.
"So what's this meeting about anyway?" Yun asked.
Aang spoke up. "It is a post-War meeting to decide how best to initiate recovery."
"Andth Aahng issh gon' be doin' histh Ahvatah ting!" Sokka said as he stuffed his mouth full.
Suki gave him an elbow to the ribs. "Sokka! That's rude!" She tried her best to hide a grin while she did so.
Sokka swallowed. "Sorry, force of habit..."
Mai just rolled her eyes at the whole display. "It'll be over soon; I promise." Zuko reassured her.
"Why do people have to be so boring...?" Mai sighed.
Zuko laughed quietly. "At least we haven't seen anything..." His smile deflated as the servants brought out a large basket of mangos, "...orange..."
"Looks like you spoke too soon..."
Zuko gave an awkwardly wide grin.
Hakoda, Bato, and Pakku entered the Earth King's palace and were immediately greeted by Katara. "Dad!" She addressed Hakoda but gave all three men a hug. "How are things back home?"
Hakoda shrugged. "About the same, we're still trying to rebuild. Our sister tribe in the North transplanted some of their Waterbenders to us in order to get us going again." Katara beamed. "That's great! Come on, the Earth King is treating us to a feast!"
Her father held up a hand. "No, we have our own arrangements; I will meet with the King later." He glanced at the door. "At least now I know where your brother is."
"Are you staying in the Palace, too?"
"Yes, but we have yet to unpack." Hakoda kissed his daughter's forehead. "I'll see you tonight, Katara; Pakku, Bato, and I are going to scout the city."
Katara raised an eyebrow. "Why? Are you worried about the Fire Nation Generals?"
Hakoda winked. "It never hurts to be cautious."
The rest of their first day in the Impenetrable City was uneventful. Each was left to unpack and explore as they desired. Yun Zhen spent his time piecing together several flattened shards of earth, a special project, not unlike his sword.
The night soon fell; the day had ended. As the morning sun rose, the World Meeting would begin in earnest.
The gathering began with Kuei making the opening statements. "We have endured much as a world. People from every nation have suffered because of the War. Now, now we have the power to set things right! I am here to ask you, generals, admirals, Fire Lord, Chieftains, every one of us, myself included, to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve peace." He waved his hand toward Aang, who sat opposite from Kuei in the circular table. "With the Avatar's help, we can finally reach an agreement; we can set this right!"
Everyone present gave a standing ovation, and each nation had their own representatives, be they chieftains or officers. Aang stood.
"Please! I am only one person. The success of this World Meeting falls on your shoulders! Be strong but kind as we move forward."
The clapping ceased as the fabled Order of the White Lotus members, in full garb, stepped into the hall. Yun's eyes widened. "Guru Pathik!?"
The old man looked at him and smiled, quickly returning his gaze to the proceedings. Zuko stood and bowed, prompting the other four leaders to do the same. "Greetings, White Lotus members, I am honored that the liberators of Ba Sing Se would be in attendance."
Iroh stepped forward. "We simply wish to ensure the success of the proceedings; please, continue."
The three Dai Li agents watched in horror as the Order entered. Some of the most powerful benders and non-benders alike were already here, but each member of this group radiated power.
One leaned toward another. "We must warn Long Feng; if we attempt anything, we will be wiped out."
"I agree. We cannot stand against so many..."
The third strolled over. "How will we deal with this?"
"We must simply report it to Long Feng."
Yuan Chong looked at the Outer Wall and saw the remains of the Drill, still left as a reminder. "I will ensure that Ba Sing Se will never be breached again." As his Terra Tanks rolled forward, he held no fear of their discovery, as the Wall Guard had been 'relieved' and replaced by his own men.
Ri Wu walked beside the former Earth King. "What shall we do? Long Feng has given us nothing!"
"I know. That is why I am going to see this meeting for myself."
"What?! But... you could be discovered!"
"Highly unlikely, I have been dead for twenty-one years. No one will recognize me."
The four leaders deliberated for hours, occasionally aided by their respective advisors. Zuko, though his desires were similar to Kuei's, had to bargain with Hakoda.
"My tribe has been decimated by Fire Nation raids. If it wasn't for our sister tribe, we would be gone. I feel that it would be best if we were in some way offered aid. Maybe you have any of our Waterbenders left?"
Zuko looked at Shinu, who shook his head. "I would be happy to look through our records for that information; in the meantime, we can use the Southern Raider vessels to render any aid you might require." Shinu put his head in his hands.
Hakoda nodded. "That's a start."
Kuei smiled. "This is good that we can reach such agreements, but I want to know about the Air Nomads." He glanced at Aang.
Aang swallowed nervously. "I have a few ideas about revitalizing my nation, but I can't do anything about the Sky Bison population. Appa's the last of his kind." Aang lowered his head.
"Well, that is horrible, but at least you might be able to restore the Air Nomads. On a different topic, I seem to be missing an advisor." Kuei looked at the Order of the White Lotus. "Where is King Bumi?"
Iroh stepped forward once more, head bowed. "Bumi is dead. We received the news this morning from a very distressed messenger."
"I see..." Kuei bowed his head in turn. "I hope he passed in his sleep."
Piandao stepped forward. "That is not the case; he was killed."
Kuei's head shot up. "What?"
"Bumi was killed by a group of powerful Earthbenders, the same group that is responsible for the mess with the Colonies."
Kuei folded his hands and rested his chin. "I believe, gentlemen, that we should cease deliberations for the day." He stood and bowed to each of them. "I also believe that today was successful; I hope that we can continue this pattern. In the meantime, I must speak with General Iroh."
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