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|The Yuam Suo|
Avatar: The Last Airbender
The Last Airbender Book Four: Air
Chapter Sixteen – The Yuam Suo
The Fire Nation Royal Palace, Ten Years Ago
Azula stood to the right of her father's throne, her eyes alertly scanning his advisors as they filed in. Each was past his prime, not a true warrior among them, every beard that met her eyes was gray and every face wrinkled with age. Even the war minister was a frail old man. She hid a grimace of disgust; most of these people were leftover from the days when her grandfather Azulon had been Firelord. If she were in charge, she'd disband this idiotic charade of tradition quickly. Her father did not need the blabbering mouths of old fools telling him what to do.
Yet Ozai was leaned forward upon his throne looking quite interested in the gathering. In particular Azula noticed that his gaze was drawn to two of the younger advisors were speaking briskly to one another on the opposite end of the room. The Fire Nation Princess narrowed her eyes inquisitively at the pair. They did not look nervous or excited, as one might expect if they were talking treason, judging solely on facial expression and body language they were having a normal conversation, same as all the others milling around in the chamber. Still if her father was taking note of it then so was she. He had a knack for observation to detail and better than that, knew how to use it to find and exploit weakness. Azula envied her father for having such a trait. In her mind it was essential to be an efficient leader.
Presently the royal chamber settled and, at Ozai's signal, one of the servants rang the gong, signifying all to come to order. Silence settled over the throne room. Every advisor had taken a cushion surrounding a giant map of the four kingdoms, lain across the floor for easy formulation of battle strategies. The Fire Nation Princess made a mental note of the two advisors her father had been watching, they were seated perfectly calmly on the far left side. Still nothing out of place and yet...she knew her father had not taken his eyes off them.
At the Firelord's hand the closest advisor rose. "Report on Admiral Zhao's progress with the Avatar." Ozai ordered calmly.
"My Lord, the Admiral sends his apologies, the Avatar escaped their last encounter. The war criminal Jeong Jeong assisted him. We believe he may have been learning firebending." The advisor took his seat quickly as Ozai rose in anger.
"Another excuse! Are you telling me Zhao and his full legion of Fire Nation soldiers were once again bested by a little boy? Send him a messenger-hawk; I want results. If he needs more men so be it, I'll promote him to admiral and give him command of the entire fleet if I have to, just so long as there are no more foul-ups. I can't have the actions of traitors prolonging this war. Were they still headed north?"
"Yes Firelord." A different advisor rose this time. "This placement here –" he slid a token over one of the smaller Fire Nation villages. "It is strange he would risk entering our borders...we still have not determined the reason why, but the Water Tribe of the north is still believed to be his most likely destination." Azula studied the zigzag route of the Avatar on the map while her father resumed his seat.
"He is very close." Ozai mused. "Zhao will need that fleet if he is to make a successful attempt on those frozen shores... grant his request for additional forces."
"But...but Sire," one minister spoke up. "Admiral Zhao hasn't made such a request."
"He will." Firelord Ozai answered plainly, his words were calm but they had an edge to them. Obviously the minister had picked up on it for he raised no further objection. Silence descended upon the chamber. Azula smirked. Her father was creating a deliberate sense of unease in the air to put everyone on guard before even opening their mouths. Intimidation, he had often told her, was essential to control. Finally the Firelord rose.
"So Jeong Jeong has at last come out of hiding. Curious that he and the Avatar should happen to be so close to each other, given that the Fire Nation is such a large country. Minister Zahn, you have spies aboard my son's ship... have any of them observed my brother sending any late night messenger-hawks?"
Azula stiffened slightly, one of the advisors her father had been eyeing rose. He was a middle-aged man, tall in a frame that looked as though it had once supported a stronger figure. He was still youthful but his short thin beard had turned silver at the tip and his posture stooped forward ever so slightly. There was something in his eyes, however, that the Fire Nation Princess found she had not noticed before. Life, the body may be old but the spirit that glowed behind those sockets breathed an essence unseen by any of the others in the throne room. Even his friend sitting next to him, the other her father had been watching, didn't possess the same flare.
"My Lord I have heard nothing of any bizarre messenger-hawks. If you wish I can have them monitor your brother on twenty-four hour shifts to make sure of it."
The Firelord waved a hand dismissively. "No need. I trust your men as I trust you my friend." Smiling, Ozai stepped down and started to pace around the room, behind the backs of the seated advisors. Only he and Zahn were standing while up beside her father's throne Azula watched with interest. "Tell me Zahn, how is your son doing? Matora isn't it? He's one of those you assigned aboard my brother's ship if I'm not mistaken."
The Minister nodded. "That is correct Sire...and he is doing quite well. He is an excellent soldier, loyal to a fault."
"Much like his father." Ozai observed, continuing to walk. "It is a shame you have been apart from him for so long. I'll see to it that the two of you are reunited soon."
"I would like that very much...my Lord." The minister was still standing yet Azula could see the faintest sign of a tremor in him. This man was afraid, and if he was afraid, that meant he was hiding something. Her father nodded sympathetically. He stopped a few paces away from his standing advisor.
"How long have you been sending out your spies for me Zahn? A year? Or is it two now, forgive me, I occasionally become foggy on the details." The Firelord tapped a finger to his forehead as if in indication of his forgetfulness.
"Three Sire." Minister Zahn replied formally.
"Three." Ozai repeated. "A truly dedicated servant. You're service is always appreciated in my palace Zahn. You are a fine example. An example I expect everyone here will learn a great deal from." At this Azula's father sighed. He shook his head several times and looked at the floor. "I greatly enjoyed having you in this room, on my court. It's a pity our charade must end now. Minister Vong, what did your men discover aboard Prince Zuko's ship?"
The man Minister Zahn had been speaking with before the meeting stood up. It was as if an elaborate costume had just fallen away. Where moments ago Azula had seen just another fragile old advisor there was suddenly a young warrior. A fighter, she could see it clearly in the way he carried himself, the glint of alertness in his eyes and the muscles that bulged ever so slightly underneath the skin. Here was a master of espionage, a spy himself. This man could be whoever he wanted to be, assume any identity, and it was clear now that the only reason he had ever been in this room, as a part of all those war meetings, was for this moment. A strike waiting to happen and now her father had delivered it.
"Sire, your brother has indeed begun a routine late night dispatch of messenger-hawks aboard Prince Zuko's ship. My men also observed that this Matora and several others were aiding him. We believe your brother seeks to rekindle communications amongst the Order of the White Lotus." The spy then turned to Minister Zahn. "In addition, I have successfully completed my mission of ascertaining proof as to this man's treachery. In my office upstairs I have several documents, signed by him, proving that he is indeed one of this Order."
Minister Zahn took several steps back. The doors, however, had been shut at the start of the meeting as per protocol and Azula had the strong feeling that her father had ordered them locked in anticipation of the traitor's unmasking. She braced herself, ready to leap down and charge but a hand from the Firelord stayed her. He was watching, quite contently, and Zahn continued to try and back through the door. Suddenly the cornered man's hands rose and clenched into fists with balls of fire forming around each of them. This seemed to be particularly amusing to Ozai. He broke down into laughter as Zahn waved his arms about menacingly.
"What do you intend to do my friend? Do you really think you can take us all on? Even at your prime you wouldn't stand a chance. Look around you, there are guards, your fellow advisors and your friend Vong there who all stand against you and even if by some miracle you got by them, well then I'm sure Princess Azula would be more than happy to put you down. Be calm now, you've been caught but you can still redeem yourself."
"Tell me the names of any other contacts you havein this Order of yours and I promise I will be merciful to you... and your son." Azula smiled as the minister winced. Her father had been dead on as usual. He had found Zahn's weakness, now twisting information from him would be all too easy. But to her surprise the man simply lowered his hands and stood firm against the door. The fire went out around his fists.
"It is funny what you learn about a person on any given day." Minister Zahn said as he fixed Ozai with a cold stare. "Only cowards attempt to prey upon fear, for it is all they understand. How very interesting that for all your poise and prowess Sire that you are a man vulnerable to dread. If faced with death you would kneel pleading on her doorstep. You will not get such pleasure out of me. Threaten my life; threaten my son's, I do not care. I will never betray the Order." The minister grinned at his last words. Azula bit her lip in anger; the arrogance of this fool was infuriating. Annoyance shown on her father's features as well.
Sighing again, he closed the distance between himself and the minister, stopping only a few mere paces away from him. After a moment he looked up. "Are you sure I can't change your mind my friend? Things don't have to end this way for you."
Zahn smiled. "Yes they do." He replied darkly. Ozai grinned.
"Always a sense of humor, I really will miss that in this court." He mused out loud. Then he struck.
It happened so fast Azula could barely follow it. One moment her father stood before the minister, arms down at his sides in a complete state of relaxation then the next they were a blur. He hit hard palm forward into Zahn's chest before striking with the fingertips of the opposite hand into the side of his neck. Next the palm became a fist and delivered a short surge forward, propelling the traitor back a few paces but not before the other hand, which was still at the neck, slashing a scissor-like gesture across the throat before tapping the top of the ribcage. All the while Ozai had this strange glow in his eyes, like a furnace has as it flickers to life surrounded by darkness.
Once all was said and done Zahn still stood, staring confusedly at the man before him. "You are free to go." Ozai barked, before turning and heading back toward his throne, taking the shortcut right over the giant map that lay sprawled on the floor. For a moment all Zahn could appear to do was stand there blinking. Then, in a rapid outburst of anger, the traitor charged across the room after the Firelord.
Azula counted, he made it no more than five steps before stopping. He lurched over in pain and gasped as he grabbed at his stomach. When he looked up at the head of the room the Fire Nation princess found herself slightly unnerved to see that his eyes had disappeared and in their place only burning sockets remained. The traitor tried to speak but when he opened his mouth only ash came out. Inside she could see flames literally burning, burning him from the inside out. Her father turned around and reseated himself just in time to see Minister Zahn burst into flames and then disintegrate into a heap on the floor.
Silence, as still as death, settled over the chamber. This time Azula didn't appreciate the atmosphere her father was creating. She couldn't. She had never seen such an attack before, such power and brutality. It was awe-inspiring.
"Everyone...with the exception of royalty, leave this room. Court adjourned, go tell any and all you find that this – this is the price of treachery in my palace. GO!" Her father snapped and the throne room immediately emptied. Even Vong, who only seconds prior had looked so snug in his role as spy, did not stick around. After a minute just Azula and the Firelord remained, illuminated in the torchlight of the room. She wanted to congratulate him on his technique; however, those were not the words that came out of her mouth.
"How did you do that?" She asked instead, her voice betraying all of her emotion.
"The re tang fist is something all members of the royal family are taught. Think of it as a surprise line of defense against any would-be assassin... or the perfect way to make an example of your power. Perhaps one day I will teach it to you Azula when you are ready to become Firelord yourself." He turned and grinned up at her. "But then you are so gifted I would be surprised if you hadn't figured it out by then, the trick is all in the wrists." Another period of silence passed between them where Azula could think of no way to reply. Finally she decided to switch topic:
"What do you think of this Order? A potential problem if the Avatar can call on allies from all over the world." The Firelord waved his hand dismissively.
"Not likely, a few old men here and there is not something to waste resources on. If I had felt otherwise I would have left Zahn alive. Oh well, if they become a problem again I can always see what Vong knows."
"You think he can infiltrate the Order?" Azula inquired calmly.
"He is one of the Order. A traitor just like Zahn was, only difference is he still thinks his cover's safe. He will be much easier to manipulate now I believe than he was before. You see, thanks to this stunt he is fully convinced that he has me fooled." The Fire Nation Princess was taken aback.
"You mean he killed his own friend willingly?" She whispered.
"No! Azula use your head. If Vong thought I was going to kill the minister he never would have revealed him, he believed I wouldn't kill the only member of the Order of the White Lotus that I had in my custody. And he was right, had Zahn been the only member I would have spared him but..."
"He wasn't, and you knew that." Azula finished.
"Very good." Ozai complimented. "People are puppets Azula, remember that, never let them see who's really pulling the strings and you can accomplish anything." The Fire Nation Princess smiled to herself. Those were definitely words to live by.
Aang stared out the front window of his home with a slight uneasiness in his gut. Earlier that morning he had invited Emiko to join him and Katara at noon for lunch and while the Mechanist's time candles still indicated there was about a half an hour to go, the Avatar was still on his toes. After returning home from his conversation with Monk Quanfar the previous day, the airbender had wasted no time telling his wife about Emiko's startling misconceptions on the world of the three nations. It hadn't taken much convincing to get Katara on board with him about enriching Emiko's experience. So, that morning, as the Yuam Suo gathered inside Hakoda's home in the Southern Water Tribe village, Aang had gone down and secured a rather reluctant acceptance from the timid Air Nomad.
"Dear stop fidgeting, you're making me nervous." Katara scolded from her cushioned chair by the table. "I'm sure she's on her way, come over here and sit. Get off your feet for a few minutes." She patted the chair beside her. The Avatar smiled; it was possible, for anyone who knew them, to always tell which chair was whose. Both were equally padded yet Katara had had hers covered in traditional tiger-seal fur, a sign of the culture of her tribe. Aang, by contrast, preferred simple, pale cloth coverings for his chair. He didn't like the idea of an animal's life being lost just to give him some comfort, although his wife reminded him that no part of the tiger-seal was usually wasted. He considered his concession to allow a polar-leopard fleece blanket to cover their bed the only ground had ever had to give on this particular issue.
Unenthusiastically he sat down. Looking over by the door he saw that his staff was still there, leaning motionless against the corner, just like it had been the past fifty times he'd checked it this morning. Behind them the map of the world glistened with the sunlight. The airbender sighed and rubbed his temples. He hated being out of the loop. As much as he publicly did not protest the decision by the Yuam Suo not to include him in the meeting but instead remain on standby, secretly he loathed it. Waiting here to be summoned to the council or to hear that the demons had finally been spotted did not sound like a productive use of time to him.
At his side Katara stirred. She winced in pain and put a hand to her stomach. "Are you alright?" He asked. She smiled and nodded.
"Baby is just kicking. Here, say hi." She reached over and gently took his hand. Aang smiled as she touched it to her stomach. It was like a fountain of warmth had bubbled over in his chest.
"Our child...this is our child." He whispered, looking into his wife's face. "How much longer do you think he will be?"
"Or she." Katara corrected. "And honestly I don't know. Soon I think, these little outbursts of affection are coming more and more frequently. Hopefully it will happen before Oguanga arrives."
Aang scoffed. "Yeah that would be great then, we could be a family before being massacred." He blew out a jet of air in exasperation.
"That won't happen!" His wife declared sharply. "And you shouldn't be thinking that way, it doesn't help any. What if Sokka or any of the others heard you talking like that?"
"Then they would know I've become realistic about the situation." The Avatar stood up in a sudden surge of emotion. "What chance do we have here when the most secure fortress in the world was dismantled by these things in less than a day? I've been reading Toph's notes on the demons; they weren't pushovers. Remember what I learned from Shinto and Saligia too; they made me! The Avatar; just an agent of Oguanga. What chance do I stand against my maker?" He sighed and rubbed his face again.
"Can they do nothing for us in the Spirit World?" Katara asked after a moment. Aang looked at her before shaking his head.
"It's no good. I tried all last night; something or someone has imposed a barrier between the two realms. Even Roku couldn't offer me any advice. It's the strangest thing, I didn't even know it was possible."
"You think Oguanga is behind it?" His wife asked from her chair. He shook his head almost immediately in response.
"No I don't think so. I mulled it over last night after I couldn't enter meditation. According to Azula the only reason that the demons are here is because they believe that I killed Shinto after being found guilty of murder. Why would Oguanga care if I could access the Spirit World? They'd be against me for killing Koh, if anything it would be more support for him." Katara nodded thoughtfully.
"That's assuming Azula is telling the truth, which is a giant leap of faith right there." She scratched her chin attentively. "Can you still use the Avatar State? Maybe the separation made you weaker?"
Again the Airbender shook his head. "Thought of that. I still have full mastery of the Avatar State and, far as I can tell, there's no change in my power. No far more likely that the one who killed Shinto, the real villain behind all this destruction is behind it."
"Real villain?" Both Aang and Katara jumped. Whirling their eyes to the doorway they saw Emiko standing shyly off to one corner. Her face was squinted in the light, she clearly still wasn't used to the brightness of the sun. The wind blew the soft yellows of her robe and the airbender noticed she was shivering quite visibly. How long she'd been standing still by their door before daring to speak he did not know but he guessed it had been awhile. Before he could act though Katara stood up.
"You must be Emiko, I'm Katara." She crossed the room quickly and gave the startled Air Nomad a very light hug. "Come in, come in! You look so cold out there. Don't worry, even though we live in a glacier it's pretty warm here." For a moment the young woman remained where she was, as if Katara's burst of friendly affection had overpowered her, then slowly she stepped into the room. Her footsteps barely made noise on the cool, carpeted floors. It took Aang a full minute to realize just how frightened she was. Who was this person to feel fear from the most mundane things in life? Katara had noticed Emiko's unease too. "Won't you sit down? I have soup heating in the kitchen, we'll eat as soon as it's finished."
"Soup?" The Air Nomad whispered out loud. "They have soup in the Water Tribe?" Aang exchanged a glance with his wife.
"Well yeah." He stated in an explanatory tone. "You only really need water for soup and...well where is there more of it really than in the Water Tribe."
Their guest blushed. "Oh right – that makes sense." She admitted. All three of them exchanged a chuckle as Emiko gingerly sat herself down in Katara's chair. For a moment the young woman simply looked around without saying anything. Then, at last: "you have a lovely home, it's very simple."
"Simple?" The Waterbender asked with a raised eye. Emiko's face reddened again.
"I meant in a good way, not too extravagant. I can tell you both aren't condensing to anyone. Not that you would be! But, well – if you did want to be then who could stop you, I mean, you're the Avatar right...?" The Air Nomad buried her face in her hands. "That's not what I meant to say at all!" She blurted out. "I'm so sorry, please forgive my rudeness!"
Aang looked at his wife. He could see that she was shaking from contained laughter, a hand up over her mouth. He smiled himself before starting to break his composure. As the two laughed Emiko looked up.
"I don't see what's so funny." She sniffed defensively. The airbender and his wife stopped laughing. Clearly their guest thought they were making fun of her.
"We didn't mean anything by it." Katara said quickly. "It's just...you're making such a big deal out of us in our own home. We're not used to it here."
"Yeah," Aang added. "Usually I only inspire awe while I'm out helping others. I expect strangers might look at me as if I have three heads but you don't need to, we're friends!"
"Inspire awe?" Katara raised her eyebrows at him. He grinned back sheepishly at her. Emiko looked back and forth between the two before lowering her head.
"Forgive me." She whispered again. "I was always taught to be respectful when around those more important than myself. And who's more important than the Avatar? I grew up loving the stories Monk Quanfar used to tell everyone about your legend. Until a couple months ago I dreamed of meeting you and know that I have...I'm afraid I've made a very bad impression."
There was silence was a minute. Aang felt sympathy and gratitude welling up inside him. Looking once at Katara he bent down next to Emiko. "First of all, there is no such thing as more important. Anyone who has told you otherwise doesn't know the real code of our people. Secondly...I am greatly honored that you see me as a role model. I really don't deserve the attention, I –"
"Excuse me Avatar, but I was sent to retrieve you. You have been summoned to the Yuam Suo." Glancing up all three saw General Matora standing in the doorway, dressed in full Fire Nation military armor. He was carrying his helmet under his arm.
"I have been summoned?" Aang repeated, surprise showing on both his face and in his voice.
"That is correct." Matora replied. "I was dispatched to collect both you and the Princess Azula for questioning." The airbender looked at the soldier. He held the other's gaze steadily for a few seconds before nodding. Then, rising, he grabbed his staff and turned to Katara.
"I shouldn't be gone long...you two can go head and eat without me. I'll be back when I can." The Avatar said as he kissed his wife lightly on the cheek. "I will definitely be back for desert."
"Alright, we'll try to save a bit of pudding for you." The waterbender teased.
"Don't even joke about that." Aang responded grinning. His eyes took in a quick sweep of his home to make sure he hadn't forgotten anything. Feeling satisfied that some progress had been made with Emiko; the airbender turned and, motioning to Matora, followed the soldier from his home.
Inside the Yuam Suo meeting chamber Zuko rubbed the back of his neck nervously. They'd been in here for two hours already and so far not much had been accomplished in terms of battle strategy. The only actual action decided upon so far had been the call to summon both Aang and Azula to hear what information they could provide. Zuko sighed, talking Quanfar and Kuei into allowing his sister inside this room had not been easy, even Sokka hadn't been very happy about it. The Firelord looked directly across at his friend, who sat leaning against the opposite wall of the chamber.
This was usually Hakoda's study but the former chief had generously donated it for the Yuam Suo's usage. It was a small circular room with curved ceilings that led up to chimney in the middle. Normally there would be a fireplace in the center of the floor but, for the meeting's sake, it had been temporarily filled in. Zuko had taken a seat relatively close to the door. Monk Quanfar was knelt down on his left while Kuei sat, in the only chair, to his right. In between them all various officials from the four nations stood silently, listening to their leaders discuss.
"I will say this only once more, it is foolishness to sit here and wait for our deaths, we must flee!" Monk Quanfar barked out in his serpentine voice.
"Many of my people are sick and tired from their journeys." The Earth King put in. "They haven't the strength for another march."
"And it makes no sense moving them anyway." Sokka objected. "We have walls and soldiers here. Every available military man from the Water Tribe is available now that Arnook has arrived." Beside the young chief Arnook nodded gravely in consent.
"And the entire free standing Earth Kingdom army is here as well." Kuei put in.
"Most of the Fire Nation forces have arrived." Zuko added. "We are just waiting on the zeppelins carrying those from the northern islands."
"Great." Quanfar protested. "Fire Nation and demons, the two largest enemies of the free world coming together at once. The only thing worse than a demon is Fire Nation."
"That is enough of that!" Pakku raised his voice in a loud declarative manner. "The loyalty of the Firelord and his nation is not the matter in question, nor has this Yuam Suo been called to discuss withdrawal procedures. It remains a question to the four of how best to use the defenses that have been put in place and deploy their forces against the incoming threat."
"Forces! The Air Nomads have no forces so I can answer that part of your meeting schedule right now. We will not fight against these demons. Especially when the reasons why we are fighting still remain unclear in my mind." The old monk ran a hand over his head angrily.
"Reasons? You want reasons? How's about: we're doing this so we're not all annihilated! How's that for a reason!" Sokka shot back.
"We, or the Avatar? It seems to me that, from what your intelligence has gathered, he is the reason for all this. Why should more people, even Fire Nation, suffer for his crimes?"
"Aang is not guilty!" Zuko roared. He had known this monk for less than a day and already Quanfar had managed to unhinge his nerves. He couldn't see how his friends had put up with multiple encounters.
"Humph, so you say." The Air Nomad conceded. "Still, if you are all determined to die in battle we cannot help you. We have no fighters and there aren't enough of us to be used as fodder to shield the rest of your troops. Sorry." He added that last part to the Firelord in particular, causing Zuko's blood temperature to rise again.
"We have three walls, three lines of defense." Kuei summarized. "The demons destroyed our home, let us be the first ones against them!"
"No." Sokka replied, shaking his head. "I've looked over the walls. The outer one is best suited for waterbenders. It is where we will make our stand. This is our home after all."
"And the Fire Nation should stand second, our siege tanks will be well perfect for giving the Water Tribe cover." Zuko stated. "Also the first two walls are made of only ice, so if need be, we can melt them down into more firepower for the waterbenders."
"Then Earth will be the solid foundation at the third wall, and we will not fall." The Earth King declared.
"This is sound judgment." Pakku ruled. The White Lotus master turned to Quanfar. "You and your people will assist the civilian population. Make sure there is no panic when the demons come." For a minute Zuko thought that the Air Nomad would protest. To his surprise the monk looked very agreeable.
"Panic? I cannot promise to avoid all panic but yes, we can do that." He was silent a moment before going on. "Do we have any idea as to how large the demon army is?" Everyone around the room exchanged curious glances with each other. "Because that is a factor in tactical planning am I correct? I am only a monk but even I know that much about war."
"Do we know their numbers?" Sokka inquired, genuine curiosity in his voice. The Firelord shrugged his shoulders in response.
"We believe they are in the thousands." Pakku admitted darkly after a few moments. "But we have no definite way of knowing. They were last sighted crossing Whale Tail Island this morning. We expect them to be here tomorrow night."
"Whale Tail..." Quanfar repeated. "And they were going in a straight line?" Pakku nodded in response.
"You have an idea?" Kuei asked, leaning forward in his chair. Monk Quanfar looked at him and then around the room.
"Well..." he hissed out slowly. "Last sighted at Whale Tail this morning, that would put them under Hokusai Point this evening wouldn't it?" Zuko felt himself turn his head in confusion. Hokusai Point was a highly elevated island in the Southern Water Tribe with many jagged peaks that stuck above the waves. There were no settlements on it that he was aware of nor for that matter was there anything of real interest. It was a bunch of big, tall rocks sticking out of the sea.
"Why do you ask?" He couldn't stop his interest. Quanfar looked at him as if the answer was obvious.
"Well from what little of the surface's history was preserved underground we learned that Hokusai Point was used several times in various wars as an effective ambushing point as those passing beneath have no way of seeing any who might be concealed in the rocks above."
"This is true." Beside Sokka Arnook had opened his mouth. "The Southern Water Tribe used it with great effectiveness against us during the civil war that created our two lands."
"Are you suggesting we attack them?" Pakku asked the Air Nomad. Quanfar shrugged.
"It may be the best way to catch them off guard. And you'll get a much more accurate account of their numbers from that spot." He stated calmly. "Surely you see the logic."
"But Hokusai is too small to hide all of our troops at." Sokka put in.
"So send a small number. A reconnaissance team to investigate and, if they have a good opportunity, attack." Quanfar replied.
"It is dangerous to split our forces." Zuko resisted out loud. The old monk turned a sharp eye on him.
"Would you rather sit and wait?" He spat. "You're going to lose men Firelord, whether you want to or not. That is the consequence of your choosing to place bodies between this Oguanga and the Avatar."
"But who will go?" The Earth King wondered, ignoring Quanfar's last attack against the Avatar. "They would have to be highly trained." He looked at Pakku. "Could the Order perhaps send their men?"
"Now hold on!" Sokka protested. "The Order of the White Lotus contains are best bending masters...isn't this risky?"
"I will go." Zuko didn't need to turn. He recognized his general's voice behind him. Judging by the soft sound of accompanying footsteps Matora was not alone. Turning around the Firelord bowed his head as his general and Aang entered the room, followed closely by his sister. Instantly the atmosphere tightened. Azula always did know how to make an entrance.
"Should like to grow fur." The Fire Nation Princess was saying to herself. "Wouldn't be so warm that way. This is a disappointing pigmy-bear cave. Three rooms so far and not one cub." She looked around at all those gathered. Her eyes lingered and stopped on Quanfar. "You!" She exclaimed suddenly and took several steps toward him. Instantly the monk drew back while Pakku and several others sprang forward. However before they could act Azula stopped and her eyes glazed over slightly. "You are a very old man!" She declared loudly before turning and sitting down by Zuko. "Hi Zuzu!" She whispered happily. "I'm in outside time right now, I hope I'm being good." The Firelord simply stared at her in response.
Pakku sighed. "I can already see that bringing her here will be productive." He said, his tone very dry. Allowing her to be comfortable for a couple of seconds before heading over the White Lotus master leaned down in front of her. "Azula...we've heard accounts from your friends and family on what you told your brother and the Avatar about the demons. Do you have anything more to add that might help us?" Zuko looked at his sister, her eyes were staring and unblinking. "Azula, did you hear me?" Pakku asked again. "Anything at all?"
Finally the Fire Nation Princess seemed to look back at him, and when she did it was very unnerving. "People are puppets, never let them see who's really pulling the strings and you can accomplish anything." She whispered gleefully as her eyes rolled back toward Quanfar.
On the southern shore of Whale Tail Island Oguanga sat, eyes closed, ahead of him stretched a sandy beach and beyond that the waters of the ocean. He conjured the winds to softly blow around him, bowing the grass in all different directions, as if they were observing a confused reverence. He blew out two long breaths; the first escaping as steam through his nostrils while the second wisped out as mist. His legs were folded up underneath him while his left arm rested on his thigh. His right hand traced circles in the grass, causing eruptions of wildflowers in its wake. Presently another demon appeared behind him, this one smaller but still intimidating.
"My lord Oguanga, sorry to disrupt you but the people grow restless. I feel it is time to move." The demon took a step back as the Demon King opened his eyes and exhaled heavily. The breath caused the plants that had just grown beneath him to freeze and die.
"I do not like this Tzu. Ever since we have come to this realm my ability to contact our ancestors in the Spirit World has been blocked from me. I wonder if this is a sign." He rose in a straight, upward motion.
"More likely it is the Avatar trying to prevent you from obtaining any more help." Tzu snarled. "Do not worry my King, we have sufficient numbers already to destroy him."
Oguanga nodded. "It just doesn't make sense. None of what has happened recently does. If I had not seen it with my own eyes I wouldn't have believed it. The facts are all there though, Koh murdered, An Liao destroyed by a powerful airbender or earthbenders, this army of followers he is massing against me in the south. It all adds up to an Avatar Spirit gone rogue. Still –" the Demon King shook his head before continuing on. "I cannot shake the suspicion that more is happening here than we see. Keep a sharp eye my friend."
"Of course King Oguanga." Tzu bowed. "Shall I tell everyone you are ready?"
"Yes." Oguanga replied. "I am ready."
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