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|The Last Airbender Part Two|
Avatar: The Last Airbender
The Last Airbender Book Four: Air
Chapter Nineteen – The Last Airbender Part Two: Duel of the Fates
"I want the airships fully fueled and loaded with our archers within the next hour! They need to be taken behind the ridge and into cover before nightfall!" Zuko called to one of his generals from high atop the outer wall. The Firelord stood there accompanied by Sokka, Suki and Toph. The four were waiting for their friend, Aang. After congratulating the Avatar and Katara on the birth of their twins, nearly everyone had vacated to return to their respective duties. Now it was three hours past noon, the time when Aang had told all the leaders to meet. Zuko looked up at the sky to check the sun. Arnook and Kuei had already come by several times but had not stayed. Their patience was not as deep.
"So let me get this straight," Sokka began, leaning back against the parapets in front of them. "You want to load zeppelins and sailboats with non-benders to attack from the rear?"
"Correct." Zuko replied simply. "The demon army brought down the walls of Ba Sing Se too quickly. We need to keep them distracted and off-balance."
"Yeah but non-benders?" Sokka repeated. "They'll be out on open water. They won't stand a chance when the demons turn on them."
"Not if we intensify the attack from this side when they turn around." Suki put in thoughtfully.
"Exactly." Zuko stated. He turned and looked out over the calm sea. The day was beautiful with hardly a cloud in the sky. The sea sparkled a clear blue while the snow off the icy shores shimmered. It was hard to imagine that in less than twenty-four hours all of this would be stained a different color.
"I'm not sure how happy with this Arnook is going to be." Sokka rubbed the back of his head uncertainly. "He didn't exactly like being told off by Aang last night, been in a bad mood ever since."
"The guy wanted to get home to his wife, who was in labor!" Toph exclaimed. "He can grow up and deal!"
"My thoughts exactly." The Kyoshi Warrior agreed.
"What are we talking about?" Zuko and the others looked up to see Aang descending toward them, riding the air currents effortlessly with his glider. He alighted a few paces away; the Firelord observed that his friend had no problem keeping his balance on the slick surface of the wall. Smiling briefly, the airbender made his way over.
"Oh, nothing." Suki quickly dismissed. "How are Katara and the twins?"
"Resting." The Avatar replied. "I left Hakoda and Emiko with them." He seemed to glow briefly as he spoke of his new family.
"I see you're enjoying your new role as a father?" Zuko couldn't stop himself from chuckling. The airbender nodded goofily.
"I hate to interrupt but..." Toph began. The Firelord nodded and his face turned a more serious tone.
"Zuko here has just finished telling us of his brilliant idea to use non-benders as some kind of sneak attack diversion. Come in behind the demons and try to catch them off guard. Personally I think it's too risky to –" Sokka began but the airbender cut him off.
"You already told them my plan? Good. Have you told the other nation leaders as well?"
"This was your idea?" Zuko saw Sokka's face sink. Whatever hopes the Water Tribe Chief had had of overturning the plan had fallen through the moment he learned the Avatar himself was behind it.
"I understand your concern, Sokka, but we'll need every edge in this battle and that means trying to think of things they won't be expecting." Aang explained. "Believe me, I'm taking all their lives very seriously here. We don't want to lose anyone."
"But this is war." Zuko added on. "So it's going to happen." He turned to the Avatar. "And yes I did tell them. They were all supportive, even Quanfar, which is surprising." He smirked angrily. "But they still want to know your plan for dealing with the Demon King." The Avatar nodded grimly.
"I haven't decided yet." He replied. The Firelord watched as his friend suddenly seemed to lean more weight upon his staff.
"Will you kill him?" Zuko asked bluntly. Aang winced at the word.
"I'm hoping to find... an alternative if possible." He answered back.
"Why not just glow it up and suck away his bending abilities like you did with the loser-lord?" Sokka suggested.
"I wouldn't try that." Came a misty voice from behind them. Zuko, instantly recognizing it, wheeled around.
"Azula! What are you doing here? Where are your guards?" He demanded. His sister gave him a stern look.
"If I want to get away: I get away, Zuzu." She turned her gaze back toward the Avatar and cocked her head to one side. "Oguanga is a bender, as ancient as any spirit. His kind existed before the first animals walked this land. Attempting to strip him of his power would be like trying to drain the oceans into a thimble."
"And how do you know so much about him?" Toph inquired with raised eyebrows. "I spent the better part of the last year researching relics on Oguanga specifically and I know next to nothing of his true bending capabilities." Azula stared at the blind earthbender for several moments of silence.
"Didn't you think to ask the lemur?" She stated plainly, as if it were the most obvious course of action in the world.
"Momo?" Sokka blurted out.
"If that is what mere mortals call him." Azula grinned and started to stroll away.
"Azula!" The Firelord called after her. "Where are you going?"
"I thought I might go for a swim." She replied in a haze. "It's been so long since I was at a beach. Won't have time tomorrow. All will have ended then." Zuko breathed a curse under his breath.
"How does she know that the demons are coming tomorrow?" Suki wondered.
"I'm surprised that head of hers can still remember how to walk." Sokka pointed out. Zuko suddenly felt a flash of anger. There were many things that were his sister's fault. Her mental condition, her sickness, was not one of them.
"Somehow you manage just fine!" He retorted sharply to the Water Tribe warrior. "I'm going after her, and then I'm going to see Mai and Lu Ten. If we're done here I want to spend some time with my family."
"We should all do that." Aang agreed. "I'll stay a little longer to speak with Chief Arnook and the Earth King. Make whatever preparations with your respective troop divisions that you need to, then take the rest of the day. We'll reassemble a few hours before dawn. When they come, I'd like to have everyone in position and waiting."
"Right, you got it." Sokka said. "Good luck with coming up with ideas on how to beat Oguanga."
"Ten years ago, I was convinced that the only way to stop the evil of my father was to destroy him. You found another way. You will do it again." The Firelord bowed to his friend. Aang smiled briefly back. All of a sudden, there came a scampering of feet and Duella came running up to them.
"Lady Toph, come quickly! One of the patients is acting up most violently!"
"Matora?" Zuko questioned.
"Yes that's the one." The Earthbender replied. "He was furious when he found out we had taken his armor and demands to return to active duty, even after told of his condition!"
"He'll calm down." Toph reassured her before turning to Zuko. "Think you could..."
"Stop by? I can make some time." The Firelord responded.
"Thanks." The blind earthbender gestured back at Duella. "Satisfied?"
"Oh yes, Mistress thank you! There was something else..." The woman dropped her voice to a whisper, though everyone could still hear it. "Hodder has been asking for you."
"Ooooh! Is Hodder someone's new boyfriend?" Sokka asked, making kissing sounds into the air. Suki gave him a light nudge as Toph blushed.
"Sokka, shouldn't you be worrying about your foot?" She inquired unexpectedly. Zuko saw the Water Tribe leader blink.
"My foot, but nothing is wrong with – OW!" Toph had stomped down hard and Sokka jumped in pain. "Not funny, Toph!"
"A little bit funny, Toph." Suki corrected, smiling.
Zuko reached the infirmary before Toph, the blind earthbender could sense the Firelord having quiet but stern words with his injured general across the room. She could also detect, with a considerable note of dissatisfaction, that Azula had accompanied her brother inside the cave and was sitting motionless against the wall by Matora's bed. Toph didn't need to able to see to know that all eyes were on the Fire Nation Princess. She could feel Hodder in particular, scrunched up in his bed, almost as if he was bracing himself for combat. The blood pulsed quickly through his veins and he gave off a heated anxiety. The feeling terrified her for some reason; Toph had never been one to show fear, even in the face of battle, but for some reason the thought of Hodder fighting scared her greatly.
"Hey, it's alright. Don't worry so much about Azula." The blind earthbender sat down by her new friend's bedside. "Zuko only needs to be here for a moment then they'll leave."
"This is a place of healing, someone like her has no business being here! I didn't even know she was still alive." Hodder hissed under his breath. "I did not know the Firelord allowed war criminals to walk freely at his side!" Toph bit her lip.
"She's a... different case." She whispered back at length. "She can do no more harm now, to anyone." The blind earthbender sat in silence with her friend until she felt Zuko and Azula take their leave. Matora had settled down again, and was back asleep in his bed. The atmosphere in the cave seemed to instantly warm with Azula's exit and she could hear Hodder's lungs taking in more air as the earthbender breathed deep sighs of relief.
"You fought her, yes? Ten years ago in the war?" He suddenly asked. Toph nodded. "I did too." He continued steadily. "War turns us all bad, perfectly normal people commit horrible acts in battle and then try to live with it afterward. I won't say I wasn't a monster in the war but her... it is one thing to fight and another to enjoy it. Witches then are witches today, I doubt someone like Azula knows how to live without war." He stretched his limbs and she heard his soft whimper of pain. "They are coming soon, aren't they?"
"First thing tomorrow." Toph replied.
"You will fight?" Hodder asked, and she thought she detected a hint of fear in his voice.
"I have to." She answered. "I've lost too many friends already, people who were very close to me... they took my entire home!" The blind earthbender suddenly felt rage surge through her blood and fought to control it. "They will pay. I have my followers. We will make them all pay." Beside her she could feel Hodder struggling to move.
"You sound like a woman possessed." He remarked seriously. "Such a fury, it is uncommon to see in... most others. Beware that frenzy that fuels you, in the fight tomorrow it can just as easily lead to death."
Toph laughed once. "But I have to fight with everything. I fight to protect another I – more that I care about." She grinned and turned her head in Hodder's direction. "Will you fight with me?"
"If I can move by then." Her friend grunted roughly. "That first tidal wave knocked me out cold last time, I never got to see action, probably the only reason I'm still alive. I wonder, with the battle coming tomorrow, have you thought about what you will do with the rest of today at all?" The blind earthbender thought.
"No." She answered truthfully. She could hear the rustle of blankets as Hodder struggled to readjust himself, presumably facing her. The assumption was confirmed when she felt his gruff fingers briefly touch hers. The sensation sent ripples throughout her body.
"Then, would you perhaps sit with me... it is nice to have such – such company as you. Please sit, and tomorrow we will fight... together." Toph could feel Hodder slipping away into slumber, his injuries overcoming him. Forming her decision quickly she squeezed his hand and leaned against the bed.
"Yes," she whispered. "I'll stay."
Aang was careful as he opened the door to his home, although he needn't have bothered. Both of his twin girls were wide-awake, staring happily up at their mother and grandfather, who in turn regarded them with loving affection. Emiko sat just outside the room, apparently deep in thought. She jumped at the sight of the Avatar. Waving to her politely, he walked into the bedroom to greet his family and the Air Nomad followed.
"Hi." Katara simply greeted in a pleasant, soft tone. "I'm glad you're back."
"Me too." The airbender replied gleefully. He lay down next to Katara and gently lifted Nuene from her hands into his. The infant chirped contently once against his chest. "My little ones. She has your eyes." He looked from Nuene's face to Katara's. His wife smiled back at him.
"Have all the preparations been made?" Hakoda asked. Aang sighed. "I'm sorry to bring it up." His father-in-law added quickly.
"No, no you are right to." The Avatar agreed wearily. "And yes, as far as the actual battle goes I believe we are as ready as we ever will be. Now... all that remains is Oguanga. I must figure out a way to stop him."
"You don't mean to kill him?" Emiko asked, sounding startled. "Even after all he's done?" The airbender shook his head.
"I have killed once in my life. That is once more than I swore I ever would do. You have no idea how much pain it caused me to kill Koh. I'd never have done it if Katara hadn't been..." he trailed off, unable to go on. Almost instantly he could feel the brush of his wife's hair as she snuggled closer to him.
"Shh, it's past now." She soothed. Aang looked at her and smiled.
"But what about justice? The actions of the demon army against Ba Sing Se? Does that not demand a harsh retribution?" Emiko appeared very confused. The airbender looked at her with tired eyes.
"Killing is never justice." He said simply. "I am the Avatar and as such I am charged with preserving the balance of this world and the demons, including Oguanga, are part of that balance. I would fail in my duties, both as Avatar and as Air Nomad, if I took the life of another out of vengeance. My enemies may kill for vengeance but I never will... again, I can't. It's what separates them from me." The Air Nomad woman said nothing, merely looked away at the floor, like she suddenly could no longer maintain eye contact. Aang turned from her to Hakoda and addressed the former Water Tribe Chieftain.
"Hakoda, will you do something for me, is there a safe-house anywhere near here?" His father-in-law stared at him, puzzled, but nodded.
"To the southeast, it was a fallout shelter back in the Hundred Year War. There is enough food in it to feed the entire village for a week, at least the village back then."
"Please take my family, put them on Appa and fly straight there. Take Momo with you too. You go straight there and you hide, do not come out. Wait for someone to come for you after the battle, do you understand? Do not leave that spot until someone comes or you run out of food." Hakoda nodded.
"You said 'someone' coming to get us, wouldn't that be you?" He asked. The Avatar looked away, right into Katara's fiery glare.
"You are not sending me away to hide, not now, not when I can finally help you." She stated firmly. Aang began to speak but she cut him off. "I don't want to hear about how you're looking out for us! This is stupid! Ever since we got here I've heard nothing except this approaching doom and how we need more benders to fight it. Now the Order is gone, you need all the help you can get! You are my husband, not my master! You can't just send me away when you want to! We entered this together! When we got married! Till death do us part, Aang!" She practically shouted the last part and in her eyes the Avatar could see his reflection in tears. Aara started to cry. Instantly Katara batted her eyes down and began to whisper soothingly to her, occasionally shooting dark looks back at her husband, as if daring him to rebuke her. The airbender sighed. He knew she was going to be like this, he expected nothing less. Her spirit was one of the things he loved her for, but this time:
"Katara please," he began. "This isn't about you or me. We have children now. Two beautiful baby girls. Someone needs to look after them. They need their mother. I was raised an Air Nomad, taken from my parents at a young age because I was a bender, I do not know how to be a father. If something were to happen... if the children were left with only one parent. This is what is best for everybody."
"Aang don't talk like that." Katara scolded him.
"Please let me finish, there's more." The Avatar swallowed. "The last time you were in serious danger I did something I didn't think I was capable of. If you are removed, if you are safe, there will be less temptation for me. Please understand, I cannot kill another and hope to survive, myself. It would destroy me." He could see that she wasn't going to argue further. Judging from the shifting expression and the tossing motion of her head, Katara was wrestling with the realization that they were again to be parted.
"You don't see Zuko shipping Mai and Lu Ten off like this, do you?"
"Actually he is." Mai hobbled into the room, her feet fairly steady. She seemed to have recovered a lot of her strength. By her side Lu Ten held her uninjured hand. Behind them stepped in Zuko. Aang could tell the Firelord was as weary as he was over arguing. "Isn't it nice we have our big, strong husbands to make our decisions for us and send us off to hide, Katara?"
"Honey please –" Zuko began.
"Relax, I agreed to go didn't I? I never agreed to be happy about it." Mai stated. The Avatar watched as she and his wife exchanged smirks.
"You dealt with Azula?" He asked Zuko. The Firelord nodded.
"Yes, she is well back and I think she understands that she needs to stay there. Hopefully she'll be as far away from the battle as possible tomorrow. I would have sent her along as well but..." Mai had shot Zuko a warning glance and appeared to be holding Lu Ten tighter. "That was decided against."
"Probably for the best." Katara agreed. "I know you think she's safe but with the children I don't want to risk it."
"Agreed." Mai added simply. The Fire Nation woman looked at her husband and then at the airbender. "You both realize how completely unfair this is, right?"
"It's the best solution." Aang reiterated again. "You're hurt and Katara just gave birth, you two are in no shape to fight."
"Right, so if you were injured you'd step down and let us take your place?" Katara asked in a biting tone. The Avatar simply looked at her. If she wanted to curse him, fine. She could yell and scream and be as spiteful as she wanted to be, but the decision had been reached, that was the important thing. After a very long and tense moment the waterbender finally averted her gaze, out of fear, disgust or a mixture of both.
"Zuko and I will see you off." He stated firmly, and that was the final word.
Appa was awake and alert in his stable as the group neared him. The great sky bison seemed to know that something was going on, he was more restless than usual. His horned head shook back and forth as if some unseen presence was bothering him. At first, Aang believed that his furry friend was simply upset because he had heard the argument below. However the Avatar quickly became more alarmed when he glanced upward and saw in the sky:
"Birds!" Lu Ten cried out happily. Above them tremendous flocks of birds raced southward, squawking and screeching as they went. The airbender saw local species; there were a great number of artic toucans and lemming-gulls fluttering around. However there were also more than a few Earth Kingdom types as well, ducks of all sizes and colors honked their bills as they sped south.
"This isn't a migration." Zuko observed aloud.
"They're fleeing from something." Katara pronounced, her eyes fixed to the sky. "And judging by how fast they're moving, it must be really close."
"Time to go." The Avatar commanded. "Hakoda, remember, straight to the shelter. You don't stop for anything." His father-in-law nodded and hugged him briefly.
"Good luck son." He said in a reassuring voice before moving quickly to unhook the sky-bison. Aang looked back to the Firelord and his family. Zuko was hugging Mai tightly while Lu Ten pulled on his robe.
"I want to stay and help you, Daddy! I can fight!" The infant shouted. "Master Jeong Jeong taught me! I want to fight!" The Firelord released his wife and bent down. The Avatar could see that his friend was fighting back tears.
"Master Jeong Jeong also taught you the most important thing a warrior can do with his power, didn't he?" Zuko asked.
"Protect those who need you, never attack first!" Lu Ten recited.
"Good boy." His father ruffled the child's hair. "And I need you to look out for your mother and Aunt Katara for me, okay?"
"And the twins?" The boy asked. Zuko smiled.
"And the twins, of course." He told his son. "Now off with you, listen to your mom! I love you, Lu Ten." The child was already running over to Appa, anxious for his ride on the great beast. Aang turned away and found himself being nearly choked by Katara's embrace. From over his shoulder he could still hear Zuko and Mai talking.
"Don't do anything stupid, blockhead. Last thing I need is for you to be a hero and get yourself killed." Mai was trying to be smug but the airbender could sense the undertones of anxiety.
"I'll be careful." The Firelord reassured her.
"You better be. I expect you to come get me and Lu Ten once this is over." Mai chided.
"I will." Zuko stated. "I'll give you my word on it."
"That goes for you, too." Aang's attention was drawn back as his wife breathed heavily into his chest. "Promise me you'll come for us, Aang, for me and the children." The airbender looked up. He could see Hakoda securing the two newborns under heavy blankets on Appa's saddle; getting what assistance he could from Momo.
"I promise." He answered simply, tilting his wife's head up so that their eyes were level. How he loved those sapphire eyes she had, he could stare into them all day and witness the mirages of many wonders. It was the same effect he received from staring out into the ocean. "Now go, and do me a favor Katara, don't worry about me while we're apart. We'll be together again soon." The two then kissed and, reluctantly, she detached herself from him.
Several minutes later and The Avatar stood on the roof of his home, alongside Emiko and the Firelord. All three of them watched as Appa beat his mighty tail and propelled himself farther and farther away, until he vanished from sight.
"Why not just go with them?" The Air Nomad woman asked shrilly. "Why stay? You know Oguanga means to kill you both, you could have gone and been happy with your families!" Aang turned to look at her. Distraught, with tears freezing to her cheeks, Emiko appeared barely able to stand. "Why?" She repeated.
"If I go, more innocents will die." The airbender replied simply. "One way or another, this has to end."
"Did you mean it?" Zuko asked suddenly, still staring at the spot in the sky where Appa had been moments ago.
"Mean what?" The Avatar questioned.
"That you would come for her, after all this was over. I mean, do you really think we'll make it?" Aang regarded his friend briefly before returning his gaze to the sky.
"I meant it," He started to respond. "In the exact same way you did when you promised Mai that you would see her again." The three stood on the roof for a long time after that, saying nothing, as day faded into night.
Dawn found Sokka standing atop the outer wall, the Water Tribe Warrior turned as Suki approached him. "Good morning." She said as cheerfully as she could, grabbing his hand and turning out toward the water. He instantly felt her grip tighten. "Where did that come from?" She whispered. Sokka turned back to the ocean.
"Few hours ago, it just drifted in." The pair were gazing upon an enormous iceberg. One glance said it was unnatural, for it was a perfect sphere. The first rays of the sun glinted off its rounded surface and there almost seemed to be a teaming texture to the ice, as if it was alive on the inside. The Water Tribe Chieftain had reported to the wall when a scout had told him of its arrival. At first the orb had been moving, inching slowly forward. For the last hour, however, it had gone still in the water, simply bobbing up and down but without momentum. "It's them. It has to be." Sokka whispered.
Glancing back briefly he could see the waterbenders taking their positions behind the first rung, getting ready to launch a volley over on his order. Water Tribe soldiers from both the north and the south were massing along the top, each one armed with a spear and shield and in their Tribe's respective markings. Even farther back Zuko had gathered with his army. The Firelord stood atop his wall, alongside him firebenders loaded heavy cannons with tar boulders and prepared to ignite. Unlike the light furs of the Water Tribe, every Fire Nation soldier stood solid in gleaming metallic armor. There had been few modifications since the Hundred Year War and Sokka was still a little unnerved by the sight.
Although he couldn't see it, the Water Tribe Chieftain guessed that, on the last line of defense, the Earth King's generals were preparing in their own way, along with the rest of the Kyoshi Warriors. "You know, you don't have to stay up here, you could go back and stand with your own people." He told Suki. She was wearing her traditional Kyoshi garb, save for a color change. The green had been replaced with black and her leather pads painted white, in reflection for her fallen order. Smiling at him, she drew her twin fans.
"And let you have all the fun, please. You're not going to get to save the world by yourself, you know." Her smile grew wider. Sokka laughed and drew his bone sword.
"Now there's the girl I'm going to marry!" He declared. There was a small gust of air signaling Aang's arrival.
"This is new." The Avatar gestured in the direction of the iceberg. "What is it?"
"Don't know." Sokka replied simply. "Maybe Oguanga is sorry and wanted to send this as an –"
CRACK! Aang whipped his vision to the top of the iceberg. A small hole had erupted from the top of the orb and air was shooting into the sky in a jet stream. There was a collective gasp from the all the soldiers atop the front wall. The airbender felt his blood run cold. Amidst the billowing torrent of oxygen rose a figure, huge in stature and clad from head to claw in onyx armor. Settling down in a crouch just in front of his newly made geyser, the Demon King exhaled fiery fumes and turned glaring eyes up to meet his own.
"Oguanga..." The Avatar whimpered. The Demon King rose slowly; sweeping a gaze that seemed to absorb every inch of his surroundings in an instant. Air still bellowed out behind him. The airbender suppressed a gulp that had been rising in his throat.
"Man, that guy is really... taller than I thought he would be." Sokka shook slightly to Aang's side, the Water Tribe Chief had his fingers wrapped tightly around his sword. "You still with me, Suki?"
"Till whatever end." The Kyoshi Warrior responded in a grim tone. Aang heard the hushed voices and whispers up and down the rows of soldiers. Everyone was talking to one another but nobody dared remove their gaze from the Demon King who stared unflinchingly up at them. Yet Oguanga didn't seem to notice anyone else. After making his initial sweep there had only been one person he seemed to be paying attention to. The Avatar shivered, the ferociousness in that glare, the Demon King had come for him and only him.
"Avatar!" The Demon King called out in a boom.
"What was that?" Sokka whispered beside Aang.
"He wants me to address him." The airbender breathed back, before calling out in the demon tongue: "I am here."
"Look at what your actions have lead us to, Avatar!" Oguanga gestured around with his arms. "Many innocent lives with end today because of you! At least they die knowing you will answer for your crimes!"
Aang snorted. "If you insist upon this then so be it. You and your kind have much to answer for as well. There will be no more incidents like the attack on Ba Sing Se. I will stop you."
"Defiant spirit, I expected more from you!" The Demon King snarled. "Perhaps it was a mistake, giving this kind of power to a human, clearly you are too easily led astray. I will correct the flaw once this is over. So it begins! Your move, Avatar!" And with that, Oguanga swept his arms forward in thunderclap, causing the iceberg to explode and sending thousands of demons rushing toward the walls.
"Suki, look out!" Sokka shoved her down and threw himself to the side as a demon smashed through the top of the wall, riding one of the chunks of ice from the iceberg. Rolling to his feet the Water Tribe chieftain waved his sword at the waterbenders below. "Fire – er, water, just start shooting! Zuko, we need those cannons!" The Firelord was already a step ahead of him and had ordered a volley. The flaming tar balls shot overhead, intercepting some of the demons in midair and knocking them into the ocean below. Sokka whirled around; demons were landing everywhere and striking out, ripping up large portions of the wall as they did so. He took the one closest to him. The demon roared, flicking its hands up in front of its face, pointed ice shards forming on the end of each claw. With several twirls it zipped them at Sokka. The Water Tribe Chieftain was fast, the ice shattered into miniscule splinters against the whirl of his sword.
"Down!" Suki called out. Without questioning, Sokka dropped and the Kyoshi Warrior flew over him, landing a hard kick against the demon's head. Disorientated, their foe staggered back before dropping off the wall all together, only to be replaced by three more. Sokka and Suki raised their weapons but a jet of water quickly knocked the demons back. Looking down, the Water Tribe warrior observed a group of waterbenders who had not yet been surrounded. They were summoning up tendrils every which way and flicking them out at any demon that got too close. Suki suddenly called out a warning and looking up, Sokka saw a demon spinning through the air. It unleashed a torrent of fire straight down upon the unsuspecting waterbenders, scattering them in all directions. "We need to get off!" Suki called. Indeed it was becoming hard to hear her, the outer wall was cracking violently now as more and more pieces were torn off of it.
"Any suggestions how?" Sokka asked, knocking away one charging demon with his sword.
"Jump!" The Kyoshi Warrior hollered. It didn't seem like she waited for him to register the order for no sooner had her words reached his ears then Sokka felt himself being hoisted and flung into the water behind them, joining the benders in the deepening fray. When he gasped for air he looked around for Suki. A splash told him she was in the water. Moments later, her head surfaced.
"We need those airships!" The Water Tribe Leader gasped before looking up. "Zuko, send up the flare!"
From high atop the second wall the Firelord battled. Spinning he launched two fireballs at one demon before going into a crouch and landing a swing kick against the other. Even so he could still hear Sokka's order. Putting up three fingers, Zuko ignited a small sphere of fire that rose rapidly into the air before exploding several hundred feet up. There, he thought, that should bring them in. He didn't have long to focus before a jet of flame billowed past his left side, scorching his armor. Looking ahead Zuko saw three demons mercilessly bend the ice, heaving a group of firebenders and one of the cannons off the wall. With a snarl the Firelord leapt forward, igniting a kick and then a jab at the group. One of the demons leapt in front of the other two and rose up a wall of ice, absorbing Zuko's attack.
Then, before he knew what was happening, the Firelord felt the wall hit him at full force as the demon sent it rocketing forward. He was pushed back several feet before managing to burn his way through. Now he could really feel his blood boiling, summoning his breath into his lungs like he'd learned from his uncle, Zuko dove forward and shot out a billowing roar of flames. The demons scattered and fell back briefly.
In his brief reprieve Zuko turned to see how the zeppelins and Water Tribe warships were faring out on the now tormenting ocean surface. To his surprise the Firelord observed that only one airship had been shot down so far. Indeed the demons appeared to be completely taken by surprise and were caught between threats. Aang's idea had proven an effective one after all. No sooner had Zuko finished mentally congratulating his friend then the Avatar shot by him, being forced back by a tremendous force of wind. The duel had begun; Zuko would have checked around for Oguanga had another demon not, at that moment, collapsed the wall under his feet, sending him spiraling into a freefall.
Aang felt the air forced from his lungs as he collided with the cold hard earth. Buried a good several feet into the ground, the airbender struggled to regain his footing. Igniting the strength of the past Avatars, he felt the tattoos on his skin begin to glow. Several yards away, Oguanga landed, the snow billowing up in a circle around him.
"You had to force my hand, why Avatar, we should be as one arm!" The Demon King howled, throwing up an arm, which in turn send a current rippling underground, knocking Aang into the air again before it was bent to slam him back down. Oguanga moved the front portion of his arms and the Avatar felt the snow constrict around his legs before he was launched up and slammed into the surface of a nearby hill. Once more he coughed for air before sending a surge of energy through his body, liquefying his bonds. Twirling he launched himself into the air, bending the snow and air underneath him to form a cloud to support his weight. Higher and higher he sped up, knowing that the Demon King was right behind him.
As Aang rose he made circles with his fingers and felt the winds increase and howl until tornadoes rocketed down from the sky all around him. Finally he chanced a look back. Within seconds his face retracted as lightning sizzled upward, flashing past the space his head had occupied a mere moment ago! Then he felt the cloud give way under him and he was falling, the air becoming heavier and heavier all around him, forcing his body down to earth. Aang smashed into the ground and again felt himself buried by the impact. This time however Oguanga did not wait for the airbender to rise. Sheer seconds after impact, the Avatar felt a horrible crunching noise as a large portion of the earth was ripped from the ground before being slammed down on top of him.
Even in the dark abyss of the underground Aang knew he had coughed up blood. Suddenly he felt the earth rise, only to crash down again harder. More blood began melting the snow under his face and it was becoming difficult to breath. Fighting Aang spun onto his back as the earth rose for a third time. Launching all four limbs forward at once the Avatar blew out several rockets of fire. Two went into and through the rock, exploding it into dozens of pieces. The other two circled around. Finally he had a clear shot. Clenching his fists and toes Aang forced the four streaks of inferno to their mark. Oguanga was shrouded in a fiery red ball.
The airbender knew it would not distract him for long so he struck out again, bringing one of the tornadoes into the circle and launching the Demon King like a skipping stone out across the ocean. Through the ground he could hear the thunderous crash as Oguanga collided with an island offshore. Struggling with all his might Aang collapsed the landmass around the Demon King before shooting up into the air. Once he had reached the height of several hundred feet, Aang gathered a massive fireball above his head and hurled it toward the spot where Oguanga had fallen. The sky ignited in a massive explosion as his blast reached his target and the airbender saw the fighting on the wall momentarily cease.
"Demons, hear me!" He called. "Your leader is defeated. Lay down now, this has to stop! No more people need –" He was silenced however as Oguanga rocketed into him, incased in stone, sending both of them tumbling up into the tornado ridden sky.
Sokka and Suki had fallen back to the third wall. The Water Tribe leader knew there was nothing left of the first and the second now too lay in ruins. He had been hoping to meet up with Zuko but had seen no trace of the Firelord. Now, slashing to and fro the pair made their way backward while demons streamed all around them.
"They just keep coming!" He breathed; knocking away a fireball while Suki hurled one of her fans into their attacker.
"Even animals eventually learn to stop sticking their noses where it hurts. All we can do is make this place painful!" The Kyoshi Warrior called. She knocked one blow away before taking another to the stomach, causing her to wince in pain.
"You okay?" Sokka put his sword into the demon's chest before kneeling beside her.
"Yeah." Came the hoarse reply. "Just need, a second to – " Water enveloped Suki, sending her body cartwheeling backward. Sokka looked up to see a demon in the classic 'octopus' Water Tribe stance. Raising his sword he prepared to charge when all of a sudden the tentacles died away and the demon simply appeared to keel over. Blinking in surprise he could only scratch his head for a few moments before a light figure bounded by him.
"Hey there Sokka, hey Suki, long time no see!"
"Ty Lee!" He called out happily. The acrobat was whirling to and fro in her Kyoshi garb, stunning demons left and right. She stopped briefly to help Suki to her feet.
"Heard you guys were getting hitched, Suki you lucky! If I wasn't already tied down I'd be jealous!" The former Fire Nation woman exclaimed as she dodged several boulders aimed at her head. "Just promise to invite me to the wedding, assuming we all survive that is!" She spun under a demon and casually flipped him on his back. "You know, I had kind of missed this. It's fun, isn't it, in a oh-Spirits-don't-let-me-die kind of way!"
"Thanks, Ty Lee." Suki nodded once she was back on her feet.
"No problem." The other girl said. "Oh, I was sent over here for something... right, the Earth King told me to tell you to get to Toph, apparently there is a pretty big attack being launched on the infirmary right now. Better hurry!"
"Come with us!" Sokka called.
"And miss all the fun here?" Ty Lee tilted her head. "Not a chance! Have fun lovebirds and good luck!" And with that she was gone, diving gleefully into an oncoming wave of enemies.
Suki grabbed his sleeve. "Come on!" She yelled and within seconds they were darting through the battlefield. Bits of ice, fire, and water were flung over them and several times the pair were tripped up by a stray blast of air. It wasn't long though until they reached a lull and the fighting almost halted all together. Sokka could still hear it of course and, judging from the streaks of lightning and fire in the sky, knew that the battle was in full rage. They were almost within sight of the cave when suddenly Azula appeared in front of them.
"What are you doing here?" Sokka yelled, out of both anger and surprise. The Fire Nation Princess didn't seem to notice him right away.
"Fireworks are so very... very pretty." She said at last, looking straight up into the blackened sky. "Whiz and pop they go! You shouldn't be here, not safe."
"Look whose talking." Suki pointed out. Then she turned and looking, Sokka could see why. Coming into view were Monk Quanfar and Emiko, the two dressed in flawless Air Nomad robes.
"Now what are you doing here?" He asked, exasperatedly. "This is hardly the time for crazy people and civilians, no offense to your intentions."
"None taken." Quanfar replied in a curt manner that for some reason made Sokka's blood run cold. In was just then that the Water Tribe Chieftain observed an empty sword hilt clutched in the old monk's hand.
"You see the most familiar faces in the strangest places." Azula remarked offhandedly. Sokka ignored her and instead pointed to the sword hilt with his stained bone-sword.
"Nice effort there buddy but that usually needs a blade to work." He remarked. Monk Quanfar looked down at the empty hilt, then up at Sokka. Then he smiled, and the Water Tribe warrior knew with that smile who their real enemy was, at last.
"You're absolutely right, it does." The aged monk agreed before whipping the blade through the air, severing the bone-sword from Sokka's body and the right hand along with it.
"Sokka!" Suki screamed. She threw herself down next to him and tried to stop the wound. The Water Tribe leader heard himself start to scream as he sank back, staring at the stump of an arm where his hand used to be. He could also hear Monk Quanfar laughing. Looking up he saw the old Air Nomad's eyes, now alive with malice and power.
"Like sheep to the slaughter." Quanfar hissed to himself. "This is almost going to be too easy." He raised the sword hilt again when blue flames suddenly struck him. Both the monk and the Fire Nation Princess jumped in fright and Azula even let out a small squeak, as if burned by her own blaze. Sokka watched as she turned to Emiko and beseeched the Air Nomad with haunted eyes.
"Cut your strings!" She yelled. "This isn't who you want to be, not the doll that was thrown away! Cut and be free of him!" Azula had barely finished before a miniature cyclone sent her spiraling, landing hard on her back.
"Of all the gall!" Monk Quanfar bellowed. "You die here and now, Fire Nation witch! Emiko, my dear, I give this one to you."
Sokka could feel himself going into shock and struggled to form words. "We're your friends." He whispered at length. He saw both Emiko and the monk turn to him. "Friends..." Was all he could repeat. Emiko's eyes widened while Quanfar's narrowed.
"Friends? You? Our enemy! Emiko and I played you all, foolish boy! She'll kill you with a smile, won't you my student?" The Air Nomad woman said nothing, Sokka watched as her eyes darted from him and Suki, to Azula, to Quanfar, and then back to him and Suki.
"Don't be me." The Fire Nation Princess gasped out simply. "I was brash fool while you are bashful, but fools all the same. Don't be me."
"Enough of this, Emiko, do it!" Quanfar ordered. Tears were falling from the Air Nomad's face as she looked at Sokka.
"I'm so sorry this had to happen to you." She said simply before turning around and blasting Quanfar through several of the tents. "Run!" She called over her shoulder. "I will hold him for as long as I can. Please tell Aang and Katara especially... I am sorry for being such a coward."
"Braver than I." Azula declared softly as she struggled up. Sokka then felt himself being hoisted by Suki and the Fire Nation Princess and led away while the winds whipped up savagely around Emiko. His last image of the Air Nomad woman before his mind faded to black was of her drawing her own wind-sword and charging off after Quanfar.
Oguanga had broken most of the rock casing he'd used to rocket up into the sky. The Demon King had formed the remainder into gauntlets and was charging through the heavens at Aang. The Avatar saw double as the first blow was delivered to his stomach, then felt his ears ring as the second came down on the back of his head. He needed to act fast. Spinning in midair, the airbender fired twin gusts into Oguanga's chest before forming the surrounding snow into shards of ice and shooting them all into his foe. Each blast exploded off armor as the Demon King roared his fury. The Avatar answered back with a bellow of his own before unleashing an immense tsunami of fire at his opponent.
Oguanga's shrill howl of surprise told Aang the attack had done some damage, which was good since he could feel his own strength fading fast. Reaching down into the earth far below, he shot slices up in rapid fire toward the Demon King. Oguanga blocked although one managed to slice a hole in his armor, revealing scales underneath. Aang barely knew what happened next as lightning struck him then immediately Oguanga's rock-gauntlet smashed across his jaw. He flew back and felt all the snow being sucked out of the air around him. Opening his eyes (for they had closed after all the pain), Aang could see the Demon King hovering above him triumphantly, a massive spike of ice and snow ready to be brought down.
The Avatar could only brace himself as the blow plummeted him down to the ground. He felt broken, barely breathing Aang looked around the impact crater. Then there came a spout of blood from his mouth as Oguanga landed on top of him. He could see his foe was bleeding as well, a violet purple against his crimson red. The Demon King shook his head sorrowfully as he began to summon what would be the lightning bolt that ended Aang's life.
"Such a useless waste." The massive demon breathed. "We would have been unstoppable together my child, when did you turn away?"
"About the same time you started killing innocents." Aang managed to reply. He saw Oguanga give him a puzzled look before the Demon King was suddenly whipped up into the air by an enormous water tentacle and hurled away. The Avatar watched as Oguanga's body thudded off the snow before stopping several yards away.
"AHHH!" He bellowed in rage. "Who dares?" Looking back in the direction the attack had come, Aang felt his heart both sink and swell. Standing a good ten feet away was Katara, poised and at the ready, with a protective shield of water formed around her.
"Get away from him!" She screamed and launched herself forward with the attack.
To Be Concluded...
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