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|The Rose's Thorns|
Appa let out a thunderous roar as he flew over the Republic City International Airport, where airships were coming and going. He landed just in front of Zuko's royal airship and allowed the Fire Lord to dismount. "Well, it's been fun, guys. I'll see you for our Ember Island trip," he said.
"See you then," Sokka casually replied.
Zuko started towards his airship, when, suddenly, he stopped. "Wait," he said. "Suki, you can come with me. Hu Xin City is on my way back to the Fire Nation. I can drop you off there."
Suki's eyes lit up with enthusiasm, but the expression was gone moments later. "Sorry, Zuko, I can't. The other Kyoshi Warriors are still here in the city," she replied. "And I thought the point of not going with Aang was to draw less attention to myself. Arriving in the Fire Lord's personal airship won't help."
"We can stop for fuel," Zuko countered. "Our newer airships require it. And the other warriors can rendezvous with you there."
"But-" Suki began to protest.
"Really, I insist," said Zuko.
Suki noticed something was odd about Zuko. It was almost as if he had a specific reason for escorting her to Hu Xin City other than wanting to help her out. Still, it seemed doable, easier, and much more comfortable. Surely, the Fire Lord's own, personal airship would be quite luxurious on the inside. Why turn it down? "Alright, I'll come," she agreed.
"Good," said Zuko.
"See you guys later," she said.
"Yeah, we'll see you for that Ember Island trip," said Bo.
Zuko and Suki boarded the airship and vanished from sight.
After their friends had left, Aang whipped Appa's reigns. "Yip, yip," he ordered. Appa growled and flew off.
Just several minutes later, Zuko's airship took off as well. On board the airship, Zuko and Suki made their way to the lounging area of the ship. Once they entered the room, Suki gazed in amazement. "Wow, talk about luxurious," she said.
"Yeah, it's nice," Zuko muttered. The two sat down on a couch in the room after entering.
Just then, someone entered the room – a woman dressed in Fire Nation armor. "I heard your trip was eventful, my lord," said the woman.
Zuko and Suki looked up to see a familiar face. Suki had not seen her for quite some time, but Zuko saw her on a regular basis. "So, you have heard of the Lightbender attacks," Zuko said. He chuckled to himself. "You're as resourceful as ever, Jin," he half joked to himself.
The former Sons of Ozai second-in-command was now thirty years of age and was much more mature than she had once been. She was not the blind and arrogant 19-year-old she was when she and Team Avatar were enemies. She had come to the realization that peace and balance was what the world needed, and she trusted Zuko to deliver those things to the Fire Nation and promote it all over the world.
"It's so nice to see you again, Suki," said Jin.
"It's nice to see you too, Jin," Suki replied. "How have you been?"
"Things have been busy back in the Fire Nation; but I hear you have been up to quite a bit these days. I'm sure being the leader of the Kyoshi Warriors isn't easy."
"Yeah, and I'm sure it's not exactly a breeze to be the Fire Lord's second-in-command either," said Suki.
"Well, as long as we like what we do, we can enjoy it," said Jin. The woman suddenly remembered that she had a question to ask Zuko. "She will be coming with us to the capital, I assume?"
"No," Zuko responded. "We are dropping her off at Hu Xin City. Tell the captain to set a course for that destination and send a wire to the Kyoshi Warriors. We will be re-fueling as a cover for Suki in order for her to slip out unnoticed and rendezvous with them."
Jin nodded. "Alright, you two make yourselves comfortable." She then exited the room, leaving the two friends alone.
After several moments in silence, Suki spoke. "Why did you want me to come on the ship?" she asked.
Zuko waited before responding. "I needed some company," he answered. "And I need some comfort from a friend."
"What about Jin? You aren't fine with her?" Suki asked. She was afraid that her question made her sound like she did not want to help her friend.
Zuko, thankfully, recognized the intent of her question. "I need someone close and personal who I can tell anything to," he replied. "And you were leaving, so I invited you to come aboard."
Suki was flattered at Zuko's explanation.
"I've just been so lonely since Mai left me. I just need a close friend with me now."
Suki could tell that Mai's departure was really getting to Zuko. Every time they saw each other, she noticed Zuko was trying to hide some kind of sadness. It pained her to see him this way, especially since it had been so unlike him. Thankfully, though, Zuko was able to stay focused on his duties and only let it get to him occasionally.
"We should be arriving in Hu Xin City within the next few hours," said Zuko, trying to look strong. Suki nodded and lay back on the couch.
The remaining members of Team Avatar were on Air Temple Island, sitting around in the living room. "Okay, now that Suki and the warriors are going to investigate, and Zuko is going back home, we need to take care of this on our own," Aang said.
"We can't just wait for them to come out of hiding," said Sokka.
"And what's your idea?" asked Toph.
"I say we do something to lure them out," Sokka explained. "Issue some kind of ultimatum that they can't ignore."
"We could ask them to come out and fight Aang," Ai suggested.
Aang looked concerned upon hearing this. "I don't want to fight unless I have to," he stated.
"Well, I think you might have to," said Bo. "We can't capture them unless we get rough with them."
"He's right, Twinkle Toes," said Toph. "It may not be just three of them next time. It could be a lot more, and we need every person we've got fighting against them.
Aang noticed Katara had not spoken. He looked to her as if he wanted her opinion. Katara knew this and had not wanted to say anything, knowing it would make Aang uncomfortable. "They're right, Aang," she said.
Aang nodded. "Alright, if everyone is so convinced that fighting them is the best answer, then I will in order to get the information out of them."
Everyone else nodded. "So, it's settled then," said Sokka. "Now, let's issue a challenge."
About two-and-a-half hours had passed since Zuko and Suki's departure from Republic City. Suki was asleep when she felt something shaking her. "Wake up," she heard. Suki jumped up, and Zuko jumped back.
Suki saw who had awoken her and relaxed. "Oh, sorry, Zuko," she apologized.
"It's alright," he said. "I guess I should be more careful form now on, huh?" he asked.
Suki smiled. She then turned around to face Jin just as she entered the room. "We will be landing shortly, my lord," she said.
Zuko nodded. "Very good," Zuko said. He looked at Suki. "I guess this is your stop."
"Yeah," Suki replied. "I'll see you for the Ember Island trip, Zuko," she said.
"Thanks for coming on board," said Zuko.
"Thanks for giving me a lift," Suki replied. She then exited the room and met up with two Fire Nation crew members.
"Just stay behind us and hurry away when you exit the airship," one of them instructed. Suki nodded and hid behind the two. As the three of them exited the airship, Suki quickly dashed behind the structure and slipped away, unnoticed by anyone. As the pilots re-fueled, Suki kept running past the other ships getting fuel until she saw some familiar faces.
"Hey, Suki; it's good to see you," said one of the Kyoshi Warriors.
"Good to see you too, ladies," Suki replied.
"So, where are we going first?" asked one of the warriors. She had brown hair that was formed into a bun on her head and had one bang running down the right side of her face.
"Well, Ning, we are going to check out all of the manufacturing plants all throughout the city," said Suki.
"Sounds like a plan," said another one of them.
Suddenly, there was an explosion. The Kyoshi Warriors looked to see a small wave wash over the station. One of the fueling stations' fuel pumps suddenly short circuited and exploded. They saw a woman riding another wave over the pump and towards Suki and her warriors. She lashed out, furiously, with a water whip right towards the warriors. They all immediately leapt out of the way. Suki looked to see the woman. She saw that she had flowing, black hair, wearing a blue kimono, and sporting a red rose in her hair. She landed on her feet and looked at Suki in the eyes. "You're the one, aren't you?" she asked quietly.
Suki remained frozen, unsure of what to say.
"You're the leader of the Kyoshi Warriors, aren't you? You're Suki?"
Suki responded with one word. "Yes."
The woman chuckled. She then took the rose out of her hair and stared at it. "Don't you just love the rose?" she asked. "It's a beautiful flower, really. It's so bright, vivid, and it's beauty is greater than any other flower, but a rose also has thorns. It can hurt those who try to harm it." She then looked at Suki and put the rose back in her hair. "For example, a little girl who thought she could murder someone's mother and get away with it."
Suki was puzzled. This was not making any sense. "What are you talking about? Who did I kill that was so important to you?" The woman paused for a moment. "You don't even know?" She seemed genuinely shocked.
Suki and her warriors were unsure of what to do next. They stood in their stances, ready to defend themselves if this woman decided to get violent with them.
Then, the woman shouted out. "Her name was Shun!" She extended her arm and shot forward a water whip, which Suki dodged. She ducked out of the way, just barely avoiding the attack. She ran towards the woman and sent an uppercut near her jaw. The woman jolted backwards, avoiding the blow. Suki struck with another punch to the stomach, this time landing the blow. The woman fell down and looked up at Suki and her warriors, who now stood over her.
Suki looked down on her, seeing no resemblance to the woman whom she had battled nine years ago. "How can you be Shun's daughter if you are a Waterbender?" asked Suki.
"My name is Lin Hui, and I may have been adopted, but I am still the daughter of the proud Air Nomad who was once my mother." The woman responded.
"I didn't know Shun had a daughter," Suki said.
"She didn't want anyone to know at the time. She said the time to reveal myself to the world would come, and it has."
"Well, maybe you should have plotted this out a little more carefully," said Suki. "Grab her, girls."
The Kyoshi Warriors did as they were instructed, and moved towards Lin Hui. The Waterbender was prepared, however, and unleashed a huge amount of frost from her mouth, freezing many of the Kyoshi Warriors where they stood. Suki, Ning, and two others jumped out of the way. Lin Hui then bent a wave beneath her feet and rode it away.
Suki and the remaining warriors stared in the direction in which Lin Hui had just escaped. Then, they heard a voice. "What happened?" asked Zuko as he and Jin ran out to see their friends.
"Trouble," Suki said.
"We're really sorry, Suki," said one of the warriors. "She probably followed us from the docks."
"It's alright, Miki," Suki replied. "She won't slow us down too much."
Zuko looked over at the frozen warriors. "Would you like some help unthawing them?" Zuko rhetorically asked.
Aang stood at the top of Town Hall once again, with a microphone in front of him. With him was the rest of Team Avatar. The Avatar was not holding a press conference, but, rather, making a statement. "Listen up, all Lightbenders," he started. "I hereby invite you to a meeting between you and Team Avatar. I don't want to fight you, but I wish to speak with you. However, if you decide to get violent, I will use force. Meet us in Qingdae Square and bring only peace." He then proceeded to walk down the stairs with everyone else. People were scrambling to ask Aang questions, but he simply ignored them as he walked down the steps.
In a brightly-lit room, four men and three women were sitting down, listening to the radio. "I hereby invite you to a meeting between you and Team Avatar. I don't want to fight you, but I wish to speak with you. However, if you decide to get violent, I will use force. Meet us in Qingdae Square and bring only peace."
One of the men then shut the radio off. "How are we going to deal with this, sir?" asked one of them.
The man he was addressing, a man with black hair, a beard, and goggles on his head turned around and spoke. "The way Bai Lung would want us to deal with it: with absolute force."
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