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|The Sting of the Past|
Feng had done his best to transport his passengers all the way to their destination, but not even the speedy bolt of amphibious lightning could withstand the brutality of the heat brought on by the Si Wong Desert. He had reached his limit and each of his passengers acknowledged it by dismounting the great beast and walking alongside him.
Suki, Bo, Ling, and Rong had come all the way from Republic City to this accursed desert on their way to see the Earth King, and the heat wasn't doing them any favors either.
"Maybe we should stop and sleep through the night," Bo suggested.
"That sounds like a good idea," said Rong. "What do you guys think?"
"I'm down with that," Ling agreed.
"What about you, Suki?" asked Bo.
Suki didn't respond. Instead, she stared down at the sand, transfixed by it as it softly blew in the wind. Her mind obviously wasn't focused on anything other than that and she was subconsciously blocking out everything else that attempted to get through to her.
"Suki?" asked Ling. "What do you think?" he added, gently shaking her from behind.
Back in focus, Suki snapped her head upward and looked around at everyone. "I'm sorry, what?" she queried.
"Do you think we should stop for the night?" Ling asked.
"Uh, yeah," Suki replied. "We probably should. It's too hot to keep travelling. The sun will be down in about an hour and we're gonna need some rest before we finish the journey tomorrow."
"Great," said Bo. "So let's make camp."
It didn't take long to set up camp. Everyone pitched up their own tents. One for Suki, one for Bo, and one for Ling and Rong to share. Everyone's belongings were all accounted for and since they didn't have firewood, they sat in the dark with the moon illuminating their circle. Each of them were sharing stories of the old days back when they were teenagers, each one as riveting as the next.
"Remember when we infiltrated that base to save Rong and we ended up taking out all of the guards inside?" asked Bo.
"Yeah, that was crazy," said Ling. "Remember before that when we went sightseeing in Omashu?"
"I remember we were interrupted by two of the Zhimings," Rong chuckled. "I think one of the coolest things we ever did was when we found that history book that told us Avatar Kyoshi's past," she added.
"That's the coolest thing we ever did?" Ling scoffed.
"I said one of the coolest things we ever did," Rong replied, playfully punching her boyfriend in the arm.
"It's so nice to have it be just the four of us again," Bo said.
"It really is," Rong concurred.
"How about you, Suki?" asked Ling. "What was your favorite time?"
Suki stared at the ground once more. Where are you? The question raced through her mind. Are you here? Are you there? Are you buried right beneath us?
"Hey, Suki," said Bo, waving his hand in front of Suki's face. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," Suki replied.
"Are you sure? You've been acting weird ever since we made it into the desert," Rong pointed out.
"I guess I'm just tired," Suki said. "I should probably get some sleep." The Kyoshi Warrior retreated back into her tent and zipped it up, shutting everyone out.
"You know what, guys? I think we should all get some sleep," said Bo.
"Alright," said Rong.
"Sounds good," said Ling.
The couple made their way back into their tent and shut themselves in for the night. "It must be because she's pregnant," was the last thing that was audible from their tent.
Meanwhile, Bo walked over to Suki's tent and slowly dragged the zipper downward, opening the tent. "Hey, talk to me," Bo said. "What's wrong? Or is it really your pregnancy hormones?"
"It's not that," Suki said.
"Then what is it?" Bo inquired.
Suki took a deep breath before speaking again. She turned around, her throat stinging and her eyes on the verge of shedding tears. "This is where she died, Bo," she said quietly. "It was on a night just like tonight. We were all going to Ba Sing Se to stop some crazy dictator obsessed with a prophecy on the night that she died."
"You mean Ty Lee," Bo realized.
"I still dream about her, Bo," Suki said. "Not that often, but over the years I've kept having dreams about her. Sometimes we're together on Kyoshi Island, talking about something. I don't remember what. It's different every time. Sometimes we're in the Fire Nation and she's showing me around and getting excited about all of the things I haven't seen. Sometimes we're on a lake and we're just sailing together. No words. Just silence. And sometimes we're walking across this desert. And then they just come up and murder her. They stab her right in the back. And I have to stand there and watch it happen."
"Suki, that was ten years ago," said Bo, kneeling down right in front of his friend. "I'm sure she's had ten wonderful years in the Spirit World."
"You don't know that," said Suki. "That's what I've been telling myself ever since she died. That's what's kept me going, but you don't know that."
Bo was silent. He was at a loss for words. He was on the verge of tears himself now.
"I loved her, Bo," Suki said, tears streaming down her face. "She was my sister and I let her die. And the fucking asshole that killed her is possessed by my worst enemy. The man I hate more than anyone else. He's still walking around while she's buried in the sand." Bo brought one hand to Suki's chin and looked her in the eye, sharing her gaze. "You can't let this haunt you for the rest of your life," he said. "You're letting her shadow loom over you. She's become a phantom haunting your every thought. You are still young. Enjoy life while you still have it. You have a husband and you have a child on the way. You can't let this follow you into motherhood. Begin your life anew and let the past go."
There were no more words after that. Suki just stared at the ground yet again, grasping the meaning of Bo's words as the waterbender left the tent and zipped it shut.
The next morning, the pace was much quicker. Everyone packed up camp and was ready to complete the journey to Ba Sing Se. Suki was already atop Feng when Rong and Ling pulled Bo aside.
"So, did you find out what was wrong with her?" asked Ling.
"It's all taken care of," said Bo, mounting Feng himself.
Then the other two got on board and, with a whip of Feng's reigns, Team Suki was off.
About two hours later, the group made it out of the Serpent's Pass and witnessed the great wall of Ba Sing Se dead ahead. "I swear, no matter how many times I come here, that wall never fails to take my breath away," Ling said.
In an instant, they were at the threshold of the world's largest city.
"Should we knock?" Bo joked.
Ling elevated the ground beneath them, sending whole group sliding upward.
Once they reached the top, they could see the guards were furious and were prepared to apprehend who they thought were ordinary civilians. Once they gazed upon Suki, their demeanors changed entirely. "Miss Suki, it is an honor to have you visit our great city once again," said one of them.
"The pleasure is mine," she said.
Without any backtalk from the guards, Team Suki zipped through to the train station and sped through the tunnel.
"Can I just say that it is so cool that you can do that now?" Ling said, prompting a smile from Suki.
The fearsome foursome continued through the tunnel until they finally reached the inner wall, bringing them into the city at long last.
"This place is even bigger than the last time we were here," said Bo.
"How long has it been since you've been here?" Rong asked. "It looks exactly the way it did when I was last here."
It took Feng hardly any time at all to reach the Upper Ring. Being an eel hound was extremely advantageous when it came to getting places. Of course, the sight of a gigantic eel hound racing through the city wasn't easy for many of the citizens to behold. They came close to trampling a few people and even closer to trampling a man with a cart of cabbages. They couldn't avoid knocking over his cart, but thankfully managed to miss him.
"My cabbages!" he called out as the group sped away. "I knew I should have stayed in the engineering business!"
On their way, they even managed to see a rather large statue of Suki standing near the palace.
By the time they reached the palace, a quarter of the Upper Ring was in a frenzy over all of the commotion.
There were rows upon rows of guards stationed at the palace. Hundreds upon hundreds. Either the Earth King had become paranoid or he had wised up gotten better security. The guards stationed in the front approached the team of heroes. "State your business," said one of them.
"I'm Suki of Kyoshi Island and I need to talk to the Earth King about something important," Suki explained.
"Go right ahead," said the head guard. Everyone stepped to the side, clearing a path for Feng to walk through.
"Well, that was easy," said Bo. "I remember Aang telling me about this one time where he had to wait a month just to see the king."
"Six to eight weeks, actually," Suki said. "And I'm pretty sure that was because the king didn't know he was the Avatar or that there was a war, for that matter."
By the time they were finished chattering, they had made it all the way up the steps and through the grand halls of the palace, all the way to the Earth King's giant, fancy door.
"I guess now you can knock, Bo," said Suki.
Bo knocked on the gargantuan door, which prompted it to open on behalf of the guards that pulled it open.
The four heroes saw the Earth King sitting on his glorious throne, his pet bear Bosco at his side. Behind him was Chong with a knife made of light to his throat.
"So, the daughter of Kyoshi Island has return to Ba Sing Se," Chong said. "Where she will remain buried forevermore."
Alarmed and completely taken by surprise, Team Suki leaped off of Feng and took their fighting stances.
"Don't be so hasty," Chong said. "If you make one move, the Earth King dies."
"Don't let him hurt me!" Kuei cried out.
"How did you get in here?" asked Suki.
"We've infiltrated all of the world's governments," Chong elaborated. "Well, except for the Fire Nation, but the Daughters of Ozai were causing such a ruckus over there, we thought we didn't need to do anything."
"You've infiltrated all of the world's governments?" Rong repeated.
"Correct," said Chong. "The plan was to spread rumors about each of the world leaders and cause tensions to rise. Then when you came to stop a war from breaking out, Bai Lung would be on his way to Republic City with no one to defend it."
Everyone's eyes widened at this revelation. "How could we have been so stupid?!" said Ling.
"Ai was right all along!" said Bo. "I can't believe I shut her down for saying we should look for the Light Clan."
"You can take that thought to the grave with you," said Chong.
In an instant, dozens of lightbenders surrounded the group of four.
Acting sooner than anyone had anticipated, Ling shot an earth disk at Chong's forehead, knocking him backwards into the giant badgermole statue behind the king's throne, thus freeing the Earth King from his grip.
Then it was open season. Each of the heroes unleashed their full power against their foes.
Suki unsheathed her katana, plunging it into several lightbenders' stomachs. Two more lunged at her, but she leaped over them and swung her sword downward in midair, decapitating them both. She then swung it sideways, cutting another of her enemies in half.
Meanwhile, both of Bo's arms were engulfed in water whips. He snapped the water whips at his foes, knocking several to the floor. He then launched a water drill at his foes, solidifying the water, thus shifting it into an ice drill, plunging it right into the center of one lightbender, catapulting him so far backwards, that he took down two more behind him.
At the same time, Ling and Rong were double teaming the lightbenders. They were standing back-to-back, shooting earth disks and fireballs in opposite directions.
They decided to break off and Rong had formed a fire ring, scorching anyone who stood on any side of her. She then dissolved the ring and swung a fire whip at about seven more lightbenders, taking them out. She fired a lightning bolt at three more who approached her.
Ling sunk several lightbenders into the ground, pushing them into the sand and then solidifying it, trapping them underground. He raised a boulder out of the ground and chucked it at a lightbender who was coming at him with a light stream. The stream broke the rock in two, slowing the beam down and giving Ling just enough time to sidestep the blast.
Even Feng was getting in on the battle. Every lightbender who tried to attack him was either bitten by the great beast, or put into submission by his whip-like tail. He swung it back and forth, scarring any unfortunate soul who crossed his path.
By the time the whole room had been cleared out, Chong had gotten back on his feet and the Earth King had run over to the heroes for protection along with Bosco.
"You haven't won, you know," he said, cocky as could be. "Armageddon will be unleashed upon Republic City. You'll never make it back in time. He's got that idiot General hostage, too."
"We have to get back!" Suki said.
"I'm afraid not," said Chong, bending a light whip at the four of them, which Ling countered with an earth wall. "I'm afraid this is the end of the road for you."
"What, are you going to take us all on by ourselves?" asked Bo.
"You didn't think I would come to Ba Sing Se with just fifty or sixty guards, did you?" Chong asked.
The sound of marching could be heard echoing throughout the halls of the palace as the realization dawned on the heroes that they were in for the fight of their lives.
"You're always prepared, aren't you?" Suki said.
"I try to be," Chong replied.
Team Suki, the Earth King, and Bosco all turned around to face hundreds and hundreds of lightbenders ready to attack them.
"It's been an honor fighting alongside you three," said Rong.
"An honor and a privilege," said Bo.
"No," said Suki. "This isn't the end. I didn't come all this way just to be taken out now! I am going to have a family, dammit! I don't care how many of you there are!"
"Relax," Ling said. "I can do this."
"Do what?" asked Suki.
Ling began to take deep breaths as he closed his eyes and flexed his muscles.
"Ready!" Chong bellowed.
"Ling? Any time would be great," Bo said.
"Ling, hurry up and do something!" Rong begged.
Ling outstretched both of his arms and everyone witnessed the floor underneath the lightbenders' feet shift into scorching hot lava, incapacitating all of them at once.
"You're a lavabender," Rong said.
"I guess you're not the only one with a special skill anymore," Ling quipped.
Each of the heroes turned back to face Chong as his underlings screamed in agony. Backed into a corner, Chong bent a light path above the ground and ran across it all the way through the halls and out the exit.
"We have to follow him!" said Bo.
"No, we have to get back to Republic City," said Suki. "That's our number one concern. Everyone get back on."
Everyone mounted Feng and prepared to leave.
"Um, what am I supposed to do exactly?" asked Kuei.
Suki pulled him up atop Feng while Rong pulled up Bosco. "You can ride with us to the outer wall," said Suki. "Then you can figure out what to do."
Feng leaped up onto the light path and rode along it just before it disappeared.
On their way to the outer wall, Bo tapped Suki on the shoulder. "Did you mean what you said about starting over and having a family?"
"I sure did," Suki replied. "I don't know if all of that fighting was good for the baby, but, hey, I'm only about a month pregnant, so it couldn't have hurt it too bad."
Bo smiled as the group rode back to Republic City.
"What is this contraption?" asked Qian, gazing upon the behemoth of a machine that stood before him.
"It's my endgame," said Hong Shu. "And the result shall be the complete and total annihilation of Team Avatar."
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