Author: marvel26 PM
A wacked out tale from beginning to end. *Complete*Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Humor - Aang & Toph - Chapters: 9 - Words: 101,426 - Reviews: 147 - Favs: 179 - Follows: 86 - Updated: 06-16-09 - Published: 04-15-08 - Status: Complete - id: 4199578
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer: I do not own the intellectual properties depicted herein. I do not own the characters portrayed. I make no claim to own any part of 'Avatar: The Last Airbender'. All intellectual properties depicted herein belong to the creators of 'Avatar: The Last Airbender.' and Nickelodeon.
Let's talk about dreams shall we?
Webster's….no, I should use a more relevant source, one that kids can easily refer to, God knows searching the internet is far more entertaining than flipping through a book so thick you could kill puppies with it.
Plus the internet's got…extra educational material…with pictures.
Now where was I? Oh yes, Wikipedia defines dreams as, "Sequence images, sounds and feelings experienced while sleeping, particularly strongly associated with rapid eye movement sleep." However, Wikipedia does not exist in the Avatar-verse, so that lot's just a load of Bull-Toad post gastro-intestinal by-product.
Dreams are prophetic in the world of Four Elements.
Dreams lay down the foundations of destiny.
Dreams lead the good to greatness and the evil to defeat.
Dreams are the conduit where by the spirits pass on their sage advice.
Dreams are serious business.
Take Aang for example. Just look at him. All tucked in between his sheets. All snug and comfy as the massive tin can of a ship the gang's on rocks gently upon the waves. As Avatar, his is the first name on the list should the 'Powers That Be' decide to call and he's had a few crackers over the past few years.
Like the poor family whose little girl got possessed by an evil spirit. Aang had never seen puke spewed that far, in the many directions and in that particular shade of green.
The spirit cat that no one could get out of a tree, which wound up keeping an entire village awake with its hellish meows. Apparently the feline died while mating. I leave you to image the volume of noise on your own.
When something's strange in the mortal world, who're they gonna summon?
What's he dreaming about? What mandate have the Spirits pass down for him to uphold? What supernatural feat of heroism and self sacrifice shall he perform to keep the world safe? What….
….ah…ha….well…Aang's a guy too. He's…well you know how guys are.
Truth be told, years ago, the then young and innocent monk, never had such…colorful dreams. No, Aang, being an Airbender and saddled with all the neural differences that set his people apart from the rest of the world, didn't dream like everyone else.
Dreams, as best as I can guess, are a mish mash of the day events all plunked in a mental blender with the eviscerate setting permanently on. Resulting in a porridge, or oatmeal for you readers across the pond, of 1960's swinger-esque imagery.
Airbenders, however, don't dream.
At least not in the way most people would comprehend. Oh yes, nothing beats having dreams so outlandishly horrifying and comical at the same time that the only explanation for enduring such rampant mental torture would be if the dreamer had been eating special rainbow colored mushrooms which grew out of a flying Hippo-Cow's glittering bum hole.
And the mushrooms were singing.
Right now, the Avatar, or as the majority of the populous termed him, the Virtuous Sentinel of Justice and by majority I mean just him, was having a most enjoyable getaway in dreamland.
No past lives shouting words of warning to impending apocalypses. No one nagging at him to master all four elements. No worries at all.
Just him, the earth, the sky and Toph.
Who was training him to master earthbending…but she was using special teaching aids.
Oh Aang you poor sexually repressed pervert.
In all honesty, it's all Sokka's fault. He was the one who didn't tidy his room in the Western Air Temple. He was the one who started Katara's 'Nagging Nanny' meter. He was the one who roped Aang into cleaning his room for him and he was the one who left a well used copy of 'Warrior's Gone Wild', under the bed.
Who knew the old Owl's library had such a comprehensive adult section?
Finale: Giant Space Flea
To say that Katara was not amused was an understatement. Back then, when they were younger, no one could really take her seriously. She hadn't lost her baby fat then and her face was still rounded with none of the sharp elegant features she'd come to be known as the Ice Maiden of the Fire Palace for.
In short, baby faced Katara? Not taken seriously.
Ice Queen from the Frosty Bowels of Hell? You bet your last Pai Sho tile people took her seriously.
However not everyone's afraid of the big bad bloodbender.
Case in point.
"Whaaaat?" Whined Toph, leaning back on her arms. Taking great lengths of enjoyment at the vibes emanating from the fuming waterbender, "So what if Sour King laid a wet one on you? Frankly, I almost thought I was going to lose my bet with Suki."
"Bet? With Suki?" Shrieked Katara, hair whipping around her torso as she snapped around at the Kiyoshi Warrior, "You bet on me?"
"No! Nononono!" Suki held her hands up in defense, "No bets! I swear!" Toph snickered, rocking back and forth slightly, "Cinderblock redirects lighting, and I redirect misplaced aggression. I am Toph. Master Angerbender"
"You think you're soooo smart, huh?" Said Suki trying to deflect Katara's attention back to the blind earthbender.
Toph held her head high, "Yup." She flicked a moss covered pebble at Suki, gently of course, hitting the elder girl in the thigh, "And you are a Master Buffonbender."
A fact that, not only did she not deny, Suki proudly acknowledged, "Someone has to keep him in line."
Toph nodded excitedly, "Yeah and Sugar Queen's…well…" She feigned a shy response, "Let's not dwell on what position she wants to bend Cinderblock into."
Katara's eyes widened and then narrowed, "Why I…!"
Suki laughed, slapping her thigh, "Oh come off it Katara. You do like him…at least a little, I'm sure."
"No! I do not! Not like that!"
Toph made a space between her thumb and forefinger, "Not even a teensy bit?"
Mercifully, Katara was spared further ribbing when Aang walked out of the men's shared mud hut wiping his hands with a damp cloth, burning said cloth with firebending a minute later.
"Well…I've done my best. I'm no healer but I think they'll pull through. A few cuts and bruises…Zuko did dislocate his shoulder and Sokka landed on his head…"
"See Iron Fan? Told you Meathead would be fine." Said Toph grinning widely, "Now if he fell on his ass…"
Suki growled, "Which I will kick to high heaven and back. What the Hell was he thinking?"
"I bet it was all Zuko's idea." Snapped Katara. Aang leaned away from her, slightly taken aback by the ferocity in her words,
"Umm…yeah…maybe you'd better a take a look at them. Give them a once over. See if I missed any wounds."
"No. Unless they've got their guts hanging out, I'm not going to heal them."
Toph whistled, "That's cold."
Suki shrugged, "Ice Maiden of the Fire Palace. What did you expect?"
Aang shook his head, disappointed, "What ever happened to 'I will never turn my back on those who need me?'"
"I can't heal stupidity." Katara huffed, "Besides, you said they'd be fine. Sokka's my brother, as his only sister, it's my Spirit given right to torment him."
Aang turned to Suki and Toph, hands upturned as if seeking confirmation on Katara's claim. It took him a moment and two blank stares as replies to realize he shouldn't have asked a pair of only child's.
Toph did have something to add though, "Sounds like someone's been bonding with Azula."
"Wow…" Suki's eyes widened in amazement, "Katara and Azula…bonding…" The Kiyoshi Warrior patted Aang on the shoulder,
"Looks like another world threatening disaster's coming your way again."
Katara was most displeased when Toph got in on the joke. "Oh no!" She cried melodramatically, "The world has never seen such evil! Oh think of the children Katara! Think of the little ones!"
"Those are rumors right?" Asked Aang, "Azula doesn't really eat babies…right?"
"No. She just likes the scary reputation. She's really changed since…well…" Katara wrung her hands, "Since these." She held her hands up for her own viewing,
"I still don't know what I did to her. Did I pop something in her brain when I bent her blood?"
Suki stood, brushing the dirt from her legs, "Well, in any case, good riddance to the old Azula…though I still don't trust the new one. She was eyeing Sokka like a Feline-Serpent watches a Mouse-Canary."
"Like you?" teased Aang, he was really starting to appreciate the value of a good tease, snark and comeback. Suki rolled with it,
"Yes. And I don't like to share." She gave a little bow and curtsy, "Now if you'll excuse me. My man needs tender loving care…and some sense beaten into his hollow head."
Toph felt the elder girl's footsteps through the soft muddy swamp earth, making a beeline for the guys' mud hut. She tugged on Aang's hand to get him to sit next to her. Katara fought to keep her dinner in at the sickeningly sweet sight as the younger teens huddled together in front of the fire. But seriously, giant fired bug is a bitch to digest.
Not even lifting her head from its resting spot against Aang's shoulder, Toph offhandedly remarked to Katara,
"Iron Fan just left for Meatball. What about you? No love for Cinderblock?"
"Gaaaah!" Katara threw her hands up and stomped off. Aang whispered, "Too much?" Toph blinked, "Maybe a little."
They sat in silence, enjoying each others company underneath the starlit sky…not that Toph could give any less of crap about the stars but all in all she liked where she was.
The tender moment was shattered like an egg against a rock by Zuko's horrified cry from the guys' hut.
"Oh for…! Damn it Sokka! Suki! I'm still in the (Censored) room!"
"The whole world is against me."
Aang rolled his eyes at the Fire Prince as Zuko picked at his scabs, "I thought you worked out all this out long ago? Stop being paranoid and you should stop picking at your scars."
Zuko shot him a look that said 'I curse the day you fell in love with Toph Bei Fong.', "It's not paranoia if they really are out to get you." He waved his free arm about as the other was in a makeshift sling, "It's like the world, no…the universe, has decided that Zuko of the Fire Nation shall be its new set of private parts."
Aang made a disgusted face, "What?"
"It plays with me for pleasure."
"Ugh…that was just tasteless. And I thought Katara's jokes were bad." Zuko blew off Aang's comment,
"So what do you want?" He snorted, "Shouldn't you be swapping spit with Bei Fong?" Aang looked Zuko straight in the eye and in a grave tone said,
"Do we look like Sokka and Suki to you?"
At the mention of the couple, Zuko groaned covering his eyes, "I've seen quite enough of them, thank you very much. Thank Agni my legs weren't broken…or I'd be stuck in there with them right now!"
"I suppose," He continued, "I'll have to watch my back now. Sokka'll be after my head."
"Why?" Aang cracked a few nuts, offering them to Zuko. The prince politely refused, "I did kiss his sister right in front of him."
"Is that how you'd react if someone kissed Azula?"
"No. I'd offer my condolences and chip in for funeral arrangements."
"You wouldn't warn the guy or anything?"
Zuko shrugged, "Nnnnnah. The way I figure, Azula's doing the world a service weeding out the stupid."
"That's harsh." Rebuked Aang, "She's your sister."
"Exactly." Zuko smirked, "I know Azula. I knew her then and I know her now. There are differences. She's not plotting to kill me so often now."
Zuko waved his hand about, "Meh. She has her moments every now and then."
"Nice try Azzie! Like I wouldn't notice a large hammer rigged to smash my face in the second I open my door!"
"Damn it! I've lost my touch!"
Aang arched a brow in shocked questioning,
"It was during her healing period." Zuko recalled the first few months following her awaken from her bloodbent coma, "She was ah…a little off."
"I can bend…lightning…"
"…that's nice dear…"
"Can't wait to show Zuzu!"
"Alright what are you two sissies yapping about?" Toph strode up next to Aang and kicked him in the hip.
"Hey!" He protested. Toph snorted and shoved herself between the two boys, "Scootch over, Cinderblock." Zuko was about to say something about pushy earthbenders but decided to play it smart this time.
"We were just talking about Zuko's relationship with…"
"My sister." Growled Zuko, straightening his sling. Toph cringed and shuddered, "Ew! Gross!"
"Not like that!" His highness growled at her pointing at her toes, fingers and head, "Dirty feet, dirty hands and obviously a dirty mind."
Toph let out a disappointed sigh, "No juicy blackmail then?"
Aang shook his head, "No juicy blackmail."
"Well, that sucks." She said, "The night's entertainment, gone down the crapper."
"The two of you could go and 'entertain' yourselves. Sokka and Suki are certainly having fun."
Aang flushed crimson but said nothing, he was kind of glad he'd let his hair grow out. At least now his entire head wouldn't look like a bright red piece of candy. Toph took Zuko's 'meaningful' remark in stride and came back with her own,
"I would but Twinkles' too much of a prude to even say it much less do it." She headbutted Aang in the shoulder playfully.
"Toooph…not in front of people we know."
The earthbender cringed back, "Eww…and you'd rather in front of complete strangers?" She conspiratorially hissed to Zuko, much to Aang's embarrassment,
"He'll jump me once you leave. It's always the quiet ones."
Katara looked up from the small globe of water she'd created, slowly molding it into various shapes.
"What is it, Sokka?"
"Yeah, hate to interrupt your bending time…" His sister let the water drop back into the estuary, "But you gotta minute?"
"Sure Sokka, what's the problem?" She said, wiping her hands clean of the muck and grime from the swamp.
"No, no problem." Sokka sheepishly held out a very tired and worn out Hawky, "I mean, could you…?"
Katara sighed, taking the poor bird in her hands and uncorked one of her water skins, "Sokka, you have got to stop torturing the poor bird. How many trips has he made this week alone?"
"You're going to kill Hawky. No wonder he likes Zuko more than you."
"We've got a lot of friends, Katara. They all need invites."
"Speaking off which," She started, gently rolling a cool glowing glob of water over the Firehawk's tired wings, "When are you going to come clean with Suki? Sokka, surprise birthday parties are one thing but who ever heard of a surprise wedding?"
"Exactly!" Beamed her brother, "It'll be one of a kind!"
Sighing, Katara finished up with Hawky but kept him out of Sokka's reach, "No." She said firmly, "Hawky's not going to be flying anywhere for a while. Hell, I'm surprised Suki never noticed him missing most of the time…and by the way, you should let Suki in on the wedding plans, it's her wedding too. I'll tell you now; she WILL be pissed when you drop the bomb on her."
Sokka scratched his head, "But I already did. Note the necklace she's wearing."
"Yeah okay, she said yes. But that doesn't mean you sneak around and plan the whole wedding behind her back and you certainly do not ask your own sister to lie to her best friend! Even though I may have let a few things slip…"
"Great…now I'll have to change my plans."
"No plans Sokka! You go tell that girl right now what you've got planned for your wedding and by Yue, you let her have some input."
"Alright! Alright!" Before he let the matter drop he just had to know, "Uhh...Katara."
"Whaaaat?" Katara caught herself, slightly surprised she sounded like Toph at the moment.
"One more thing…you and Zuko…are you…?" Sokka gestured with his hands, moving them around in weird yet vaguely sexual shapes, "You know…?"
Oh dear La, she'd enough of this!
"Are we what Sokka? Are we what?"
"Am I going to have to tell Dad to expect another in-law?"
"No. No, you don't have to. There is nothing between Zuko and me." To make her point crystal, she reiterated, "Nothing."
Clearly Sokka wasn't listening as he continued to ramble on,
"Because…I mean…four years…even Dad was wondering…"
"Dad? Him too?!" Katara could not believe her own father. Sokka offered a weak response, "Well…he's worried…"
"About what? That I'm not married yet? That I'll be an old maid?"
"No! No, no! Dad was wondering about Zuko."
Katara crossed her arms, "So? He's not the easiest guy to work with but he's good people." Sokka shook his head, "No it's not that. Dad was wondering why Scarface never made any intentions known."
"Dad was wondering if there was something wrong with Jerkface. Personally, I can confirm that there's something wrong with him. Always has been."
"Wait. Back up. Why is Dad in my business?"
"Okay, these are Dad's words…not mine. Remember that."
"Sokka…tell me about Prince Zuko…is he?"
"What Dad? Jerkface is a lot of things. Good and bad. Mostly bad. You have to be more specific."
"Well…Does he like women?"
"Not that there's anything wrong with that…I mean…we're a sea faring people and he spent years on a ship. I understand, but seriously…he does spend more time with you and Aang."
To say that Katara was…caught off guard would be an understatement. "Dad said what?"
"Let me finish."
"So he likes girls then?"
"Yeah Dad, he hasn't hit on me yet so I think it's safe to say he likes girls."
Sokka glared at his sister, "Omashu not counting."
"Uhh…you were the one trying to hump his leg."
"I was drunk!"
"Just finish the story."
"So why hasn't he courted your sister yet?"
"Dad wants Zuko to court me?"
"Is there something wrong with Katara?"
"Ah hah! I knew it! It is about me!"
"No! Let me finish!
"Because quite frankly if he can't see the beauty in your sister…"
Katara called Sokka out on his bluff, "Okay. Dad did not say that. He did not say anything. This is about you, Sokka. You and your problems with Zuko."
"I don't have any problems with him…much! He's like a brother!"
"So? What's the big deal?!"
"If he's my brother then he's your brother too! Brothers don't kiss sisters full on the mouth."
"Aang kissed me before! Don't you consider him a brother?"
"He was just a kid back then!"
"Then why are you against Zuko?"
Sokka took a step back, "Are…are you suggesting that you did like the kiss?"
Aang stared into the blackness of the swamp. The swamp stared right back.
Toph shook his shoulder, "Hey. What's with the 'Hmm'?"
"Ever heard of the expression, 'Stare into the abyss and the abyss stares back'?
"Can't say that I have." She replied snidely.
Aang laughed softly, "Sorry about that." Toph sniffed, "S'alright. But seriously what's up?" Aang took her hand and pointed it right into the inky darkness,
"That." He said gravely, "Something's in there and I'm not talking about visions."
Toph was intrigued, "What visions?"
"Huu once told me we'd see people we'd meet, love and lose." Aang gripped her smaller hand gently, "For me it was three for three. I saw you here, met you in Gaoling, lost you once and…well…you know the rest."
"Would I have visions in there? Would I be able to see for real?" Asked Toph, wiggling her toes in the damp air,
"I don't think you should chance it."
"You might not be able to bend in there." He said as if stating a certainty. She shoved him roughly, "I can take care of myself." She spat.
"I know. But this is my department. This is my world. The Spirit World and from what I've experienced not everything in there has mankind's interests at heart."
She held his hand tighter, "Aren't I part of your world? What? Are you just going to toss me aside?"
"No!" He almost yelled, "I'll never do that!" his voice dropped into a whisper, "I…I just don't want to lose you again." Toph nudged him, "You won't." She whispered back.
Aang decided to let it off his chest, "When we encountered Koh back in the desert…"
"Freaky, by the way." Said Toph, shuddering at the memory, "Why'd he possess a Saber-Dog?"
"I don't know." Admitted Aang, "I don't want to know. I guess there are some things that just can't be explained. I don't know why Koh does the things he does. Why he enjoys targeting Avatars…or is it just me? I know he went after Kuruk…but he never touched Roku, Yang Chen or Kiyoshi…"
Toph let his words mull around her head a bit before answering, "Maybe he did." Aang turned to look at her, "Maybe he did screw with them, one way or another."
Toph shook her shoulders in the negative, "I dunno…you're the Avatar, isn't this your department?"
"I thought you wanted to be part of my world?" He shot back playfully despite the grim topic, "Is the great Toph Bei Fong scared of the things that go bump in the night?"
"Pfft…As if," She snorted, "Why should I be afraid of something I can't see?"
Aang didn't have the heart to tell her otherwise.
"So how'd it go?"
Sokka dropped down next to Suki as she toasted a few Opossum-Chickens she'd gotten from Tho and Due's cousins over the fire. Despite their rather unsightly appearance, they didn't taste half bad. Sokka reached for a piece,
"Not…exactly as I'd planned."
Suki tugged on his wolf tail, "You can't plan things like this Sokka."
"I know. I know. I have no problems with Zuko…honest."
"Yeah, you like him so much you tried to kill him this afternoon before the race."
"I was…I was not prepared to see him lip rape my sister, alright?"
Suki licked her fingers clean of the grease and oils dripping form her late night snack, "Lip rape? That's new. What's next? Sight molestation?"
Sokka chuckled, chewing half heartedly, "That's Toph's area of expertise. Have you seen her just sit there and 'watch' Aang?"
"Yeah…I was wondering why she kept tapping her feet against the ground…" Suki dropped a bone into the neat pile beside her, "Almost had rhythm going."
They sat and ate in comfortable silence for a while. Sokka let his sister's advice play over and over in his head. He turned to look at Suki intently causing the Kiyoshi Warrior to be taken aback,
"What? Is there something on my face?"
"No." He smiled, "Just wondering why you're so damn beautiful." She punched him lightly in the shoulder,
"Oh that was terrible. You're slipping mister funny man."
Rubbing his shoulder, even though it didn't hurt, he snickered, "Yeah…where's my game at? Sooooo…I was thinking…"
"What'd you think about a winter wedding?"
Huu watched the Prince of Flames wander, almost aimlessly about the swampbenders' village, stopping in place every now and then to grab his head with his good arm and rant to himself before continuing on his way.
Huu had never met Zuko in person before, only saw him around the Fire Palace when visiting as a foreign delegate, but he was quite sure of one thing about the prince,
'That is one confused young man.'
The venerable swamp sage was partially true; Zuko had his baggage squared away years ago. What was running a rut around his mind was something very recent. When confronted, the prince only had this to say,
"I think…I think I may have done something really stupid."
Huu stroked his beard, nodding sagely at every word of Zuko's tale,
"I see. Affairs of the heart."
The prince looked at his feet, "Yeah…I think…I shouldn't have done it."
"And why not?"
"We're friends. We work together…Hell, we live together!"
Huu nodded, "Yes. Sounds like a perfectly normal relationship to me. I don't see the problem. In fact I wish you all the best."
"It's not that simple. This isn't some bedtime story where prince charming gets the girl in the end."
Ah, yes. The standard Zuko excuse. Trademarked in fact. Iroh holds the patent.
"It's awkward. It will be awkward. I mean…I'm not even sure I want this either." Zuko held his head in his hand. Huu did his best to consul the young man,
"Then why did you do it?"
"I dunno…heat of the moment perhaps? I mean, I just got so worked up…now I think about it I could have just walked away. It was such a small matter…"
"Then perhaps you did want it. Why make a mountain out of a Badger-Mole hill if you didn't want it?"
Zuko looked at Huu like the old man was mad, "Badger-Mole hills ARE mountains! Don't you swamp hicks ever get out?"
Amazingly, Huu took no offense, "Not really. We have everything we need right here. Oh and we prefer the term 'Quaintly Rustic Waterbenders'." Zuko groaned, "Don't you get it? I've gone and (censored) things up! I've crossed the 'friend' line and I'm lost on the other side!"
"Is it that bad?" Huu gestured to Aang and Toph who were sitting by the river bank, just staring out into the darkness. Zuko watched the Avatar say something to the earthbender which resulted in her punching him in the gut leaving the Element Savior gasping for air. Huu quickly amended his words,
"Well…not that part. I'm sure you'll have better results."
"Yes…replace punch with ice dagger in the groin."
Katara scanned the area for her friends. Any one would do right now. She just needed someone to talk to about…stuff. A pile of bones and scraps of meat indicated Sokka's recent presence and most likely Suki's as well. But she didn't want to talk to her brother at the moment, not after his failed attempt at fishing the truth out of her earlier.
What truth anyway? This whole thing was horribly confusing. Why did Zuko up and kiss her? Why now? After so long, why now? And what the Hell was he thinking during that time?
"It's official." She said to herself, "He's as nutty as his sister." Katara glanced about the village. How odd. Where was everyone? Never mind where her brother and Suki had gotten off to, where were the villagers?
To her shock, the village began to warp and melt away, revealing her current location being a few hundred feet from the real village. She whipped around, staring at the warm lights shining from within each cozy little hut as if calling to her, telling her to run towards them. To get out of the beast's maw before it was too late.
Then the lights went out.
"What now?" She groaned remembering her previous encounter with the spiritual aspects of the swamp. It forced her to envision her mother, made her remember all the pain and hurt and sorrow. Katara took a bit of pride and comfort in the fact that she's squared away her painful memories. That she'd made peace with herself.
What could the swamp do to her now?
Suki set aside some of her packing and peered over Appa's saddle, the big bison had already drifted off to the land of dreams, no doubt dreaming of a day where Sky Bison would once again fill the skies. The Kiyoshi Warrior looked down at her beau, who was staring out into the swamp,
"What? What's wrong?"
Sokka rubbed his chin, "I dunno…something feels off…"
"Are you channeling Aang now? Because every time he says that…" Her words failed to come out as she watched breathlessly as her surroundings seemed to mix and blend together. For a moment the swirl of colors reminded her of a child's finger paintings. Her own to be exact. Sokka ended her sentence for her,
"…Weird crap like this happens."
"Perhaps in time you will come to learn."
Zuko tried very hard not to sneer at Huu but still felt the need to say something,
But the old man was no longer there. Zuko stared out into nothingness, watching the ground slowly being swallowed up by an inky darkness.
Within seconds, his world was completely dark and yet he could still see himself. Pinching his arm roughly, Zuko, utilizing his vast deductive skills, confirmed that he was neither dreaming nor dead.
He'd heard stories about the swamp, not the obvious tourist attractions like swamp skiing. Aang had once told him, in passing, that there were special places in the world, powerful places. He'd experienced it himself, up close and personal, at the Northern Water Tribe years ago. Zuko screwed his eyes shut, trying to recollect the image of the departed Admiral Zhao being dragged to his watery grave.
Powerful places indeed.
"Now…what does this place want with me?" He wondered, walking into the darkness.
A rush of hot swamp air hit Aang and Toph full on, as if they were being breathed on by some otherworldly creature and judging by the force of the gust, it would be quite a big one too.
"What the Hell was that?" Said Toph, wiping her face clean of the slime that had splattered on it, "Was that you Twinkles? That's not funny! Why don't I toss a boulder in your face? Would that be funny?"
Toph gasped when she felt the ground crawl beneath her feet. She knew the swamp's moss covered ground would be a rather grimy situation for her bare soles but she didn't expect for it to be…alive.
"Did you feel that?" She exclaimed, reaching for Aang's hand but found it missing, "Twinkles? Aang?" She groped around for him,
The Avatar swept his staff back and forth at the darkness around him. One minute he was sitting by the river bank with Toph and the next…nothing. He'd closed his eyes for just a second, when they opened it was just darkness and Toph was gone.
In anger and desperation, Aang thrust the staff's tip into the dark void in the vain attempt of accomplishing something other than futile flailing. It was darkness, he laughed, how could he hurt the dark? Even if he was the Avatar.
But hurt it he did or at least he thought he did for as far as he knew, darkness doesn't crack. With another swing, a single crack became a web of crisscrossing scars with faint illumination seeping in from the other side.
With another swing, his hopes of seeing Toph again grew.
"Okay…I am officially freaked the Hell out right now." Suki watched the psychedelic display of colors mix, meld and glow in growing intensity, "Did this happen the last time you were here?"
Grimly, Sokka replied, "No. Last time I saw Yue. I'll tell you now; she's a far sight better than this."
"No complaints here." Said Suki, eyes still fixed on the storm of colors. Sokka tentatively reached for the colors, Suki caught his wrist,
"What are you doing?" She hissed, "It might be dangerous." Sokka turned his head to look at her, slightly agreeing with her words but before he could act in agreement a pulse of light spread out from where his hand would have contacted the swirling colors.
A second pulse.
This time followed by what sounded like a thunder crack.
Suki looked up and around, trying to pinpoint the source of the echo, "Aang?" Sokka's shriek snapped her back to the matter at hand. A mass of tendrils had formed out of the colored maelstrom and wrapped them selves around his forearm. Galvanizing in to action by years of training and honed instincts, she slashed the invading tentacles with her fans…only to have them pass cleanly without any mark or wounds.
"Gaah! Suki!" Cried Sokka, "They're touching me!" He cringed as the multi-colored pseudo pods snaked round his bicep,
"This is so wrong!"
A larger blob of color shot out of the wall, covering his head, latching on to it like some technicolored leech. Suki reached out to grab Sokka's free arm, "Hold on!"
Sokka mumbled something but it was too muffled to make out. She tried to pull him free but the colors would not relent. By now, they had consumed Sokka down to his chest.
And then it stopped. The colors stopped pulling but left Sokka halfway in and out .Suki felt him grip her hand tighter, letting her know he was still alright. The Kiyoshi Warrior let out a sigh of relief. Now all she had to do was figure a way to get him out. Any plans for rescue were put on hold when the colors shimmered violently.
"What now?!" Cried Suki. Her eyes went wide when the storm of colors suddenly fell on her like a torrential rain.
Katara watched the darkness recede once more, revealing the swamp again. But where she was, she couldn't rightly know. This much she was certain,
"This place is screwing with me."
She took a deep breath, "Alright. Stay calm Katara. Whatever this place throws at you, it isn't real. It's just visions. They can't touch you. Just visions." Calm and cooled, the master waterbender proceeded to arm her self or at least she tried,
"I can't bend." She said, trying to make the water around her heed to her call. A splash from behind caught her attention.
The newcomer was one of her countrymen, though judging from her slightly altered attire, Katara reckoned her new 'friend' was from the North Pole. Katara took a step back, getting to a fighting stance. She might not be able to bend, but she'd be damned if she went down without a fight.
Why the hostility?
Well, her new 'friend', as it were, was already dead.
Elsewhere, the world's greatest earthbender was having a mild panic attack. People did not just up and disappear. Where did Aang go? At first she thought he was playing a joke on her but after her third and loudest calling of his name with no reply, she realized he'd gone.
The notion that he might have been taken was her first thought. Aang would never leave her; abandon her, not like this. After all this was THE Swamp, one of the spiritual centers of the world.
And as she knew it, the Spirit World was a very complicated place. Did they take him for some important Avatar business? Toph stomped her foot down to generate some vibrations. She was elated when she felt her 'vision' clear and create rudimentary images in her mind's eye. Good, she could still 'see', now could she still bend?
Her previous elation faded quickly, when the earth beneath her ignored her commands. Swearing under her breath, Toph took a moment to get her head on straight.
With no bending and not the faintest idea on what was going on, how was she going to get Twinkles back?
Of course that would assume Aang was the one who got taken.
The darkness spat Zuko out like a rotten piece of fruit, vaulting the prince into a stinking bog further aggravating his injured shoulder. Cursing the powers that be, Zuko shakily got to his feet.
So far, he'd been transported from every slime pit to mud hole in the swamp. If he'd didn't know any better, he'd wear that whoever or whatever was responsible was making him go round in circles.
Of course, Zuko didn't know any better but that didn't stop him from trying to make sense of all this madness.
"I knew coming here was bad idea." He made a note of kicking Aang in the head once he got out of here. He winced as he rotated his shoulder. All this activity certainly wasn't doing it any favors. His ears perked up at the sound of footsteps. Feet splashing in the swampy marsh waters. Sounded like…running.
And there they were.
Zuko watched as a man ran past him, only a few yards from where he was standing, with a woman in tow, struggling to keep up. He called out to them. They didn't seem to hear him. In fact they seemed to be running away from something.
Zuko took note of the couple's clothing: Earth Kingdom, only much, much older in style. Seemed a trivial thing to focus on given what followed after.
He'd only seen that kind of armor in history books and scrolls.
Fire Nation Dreadnaught battle armor.
The Prince watched in silent horror as the massive warrior from his nation's sordid past began to hack and butcher the couple. At that moment, he remembered what Dreadnaught clad soldiers came to be called on the battle field.
For they would commit all manner of violent atrocity known to man upon another. Of course history was written by the victorious and the Dreadnaughts were given a more palatable background. Stalwart defenders of their Lordship, The Firelord.
Zuko couldn't quite recall during which dynasty the Dreadnaughts operated but he was quite sure they'd been disbanded by both his great-grandfathers' time. Perhaps, even Sozin couldn't stomach their deeds.
If so, then what he was witnessing…
"Must be some kind of vision." Zuko snapped his fingers, "This isn't real. Not now at least. Those people died a long time ago…but why am I seeing it now?"
As if in answer, the blood spattered Dreadnaught rose up from its gory kill and fixed its baleful glowing red eyes on the prince. Zuko got a good look at the sheer size of the warrior. The crimson and black armor seemed to shine with the slick blood of countless lives while the over sized razor blade it used as a sword was stained black with the life blood of thousand.
"This isn't real. That thing is not looking at me…"
A roaring stream of fire erupted from within the Demon Knight's gullet and out the slits of its mouth piece, barely missing Zuko's head.
A tangle of limbs landed with a soft thump on a patch of moist earth. Disentangling themselves with moans and groans, Sokka and Suki hauled themselves back to their feet.
"I feel oddly soiled and violated. What the (censored) just happened?" Yelled Sokka, spitting out liquid color. Suki shook some of the same gunk out of her hair,
"You're asking me? One minute I'm trying to pull you free from becoming lunch for some kid's finger painting and…" Suki stopped to taken in their new surroundings or lack there of.
It was drab brown with streaks of inky black being thrown about haphazardly. Suki could make out vague shapes that oddly seemed familiar. Was that a house?
"Why are we in one of your drawings?"
Aang's prison of black glass finally shattered, letting the Avatar emerge panting and disheveled. He looked down at the black shards and then behind him.
He'd just busted out of some mirror.
"This isn't normal."
Or what passed for normal in spirit terms. Was this the darkness Huu told him about? The one they tried to converse with but failed?
This was completely new to him. He'd never encountered this kind of supernatural phenomena. Everything was straight forward…usually. The Spirit World looked like the Mortal World, with a few tweaks to the laws of reality.
But this…this was a whole new bag of crazy altogether.
As always Aang's first suspect was the Face-Stealer. Then again all this seemed far too random and chaotic, even for Koh. His first assumptions were that this was another attempt on Toph's soul. Some crazed and elaborate plan cooked up by the worm but this…
"No." Aang cleared his head, leaning on his staff for support, "Can't think about that now. Have to find Toph. Get her out of here." He tried an airbending move and true to his assumption, he couldn't bend.
"I really have to get Toph out of here."
"Stop! Don't come any closer." Katara issued a verbal warning to the staggering…thing before her, "Oh real smart Katara, telling a corpse to stop moving." The dead woman made a clumsy lurch forward and Katara got a good look at the woman as she brushed past. If she were still alive, she would have been beautiful.
Hauling herself onto one of the Great Tree's roots, Katara watched as more of the walking dead began to emerge from the shadows. All of them Water Tribe. For the most part they seemed to ignore her, even the first zombie had lost interest in her, and just milled around near her spot. They weren't trying kill her but they sure weren't going anywhere in a hurry.
She'd counted up to forty heads and more were coming by the minute. One face in particular stood out from the rest. Vaguely but still quite sure of her self, Katara wracked her brain to recall.
Something to do with…
"Gran Gran!" She tried to go back farther, remembering a picture of her grandmother and some of her friends…including that old witch Hama. Katara brushed thoughts of the crazed hag aside and focused on the others. Kanna had shown her a picture once of her friends when they were younger. A close knit group out of which at least three were Water Benders.
She studied that particular zombie once again and though much older and obviously dead, there was little mistake, that was one of her grandmother's childhood friends.
Were these the waterbenders taken by the Fire Nation? Were they doomed to wander in undead states here in the swamp?
The horde stopped their moaning and began to hiss. A few began to spasm violently. A red blur tore into the crowd, resulting in more than a few of the undead tumbling over.
"Aaargh! Dead people!"
Katara rolled her eyes and yelled to him, "Its okay! They won't hurt you!"
The behavior of the horde changed dramatically, clawing, tearing and biting at the prince. A stray hand ripped his sling right off, while a swift blow to his shoulder nearly dislocated again.
Fairly certain her undead countrymen wouldn't hurt her, Katara dove into the crowd pushing her way towards Zuko. True, they didn't attack her but they wouldn't let her advance either. A pair of cold hand grabbed her arms and forced her to the ground. Her grandmother's friend hovered above her letting out a death rattle that sounded, to the best of her stiff vocal cords, strangely like,
To make matters worse, Zuko's new armored buddy made his presence felt. By cleaving four zombies in half with one swipe of his sword.
"Oh you have got to be shitting me!" Cried Zuko smashing his fist into a zombie's face and shoving it aside. The Dreadnaught bellowed, locking its eyes on the prince. Like a charging Komodo-Rhino, it barreled through the horde, knocking Katara free.
Coughing and choking, Katara pushed herself off the ground, just in time to watch the Dreadnaught lift Zuko off his feet with one massive steel hand. She looked at the walking furnace and then to Zuko,
"Isn't that thing on your side?!" She cried out, shoving a zombie aside. The dead man barely registered her and stumbled towards the Dreadnaught, throwing itself at the knight. The metal monstrosity ignored the zombies as some of them turned their attention from Zuko to it. Zuko, for his part, tried kicking the knight in the face with the heel of his boots.
Ineffective but worth a shot.
He managed to kick off the lower face plate of its helmet causing it to lose its grip and cover the unhinged grill to prevent the fires from bursting out. The group of zombies Zuko had fallen among considered it their lucky day as their extended their claws towards him.
He kicked the first one to get in range in the knee, shattering the joint but allowing the zombie to now be at his waist. Just as the undead prepared to bite, a roar indicated that the Dreadnaught was back in the game.
All this walking was getting her nowhere. She'd walked for what seemed like miles, by all logic, she would have been out of the swamp or at least hit some water by then.
"I hate this crazy Spirit World crap." She said, thumping her fist against what she assumed to be a tree. She felt the 'bark' ripple under the blow like water and yet it felt solid enough to register the hit.
"Twinkles….where are you?"
She felt around with her feet, sighing when her search yielded the usual flat ground she'd been getting lost on with the additional 'tree' here and there.
A rumble from underneath made her snap into a bending stance reflexively even though that very ability was null and void here. There was something moving underground. The tremors grew stronger.
Make that some things.
Man sized things.
"This is not how I imagined my 'visions' would be." She muttered making a dash in a random direction. Her field of 'vision' was clear that much the ground told her, it also told her that whatever was tunneling underground was ignoring her but she didn't want to take any chances. Without her bending she was at a disadvantage, she knew a few hand to hand moves, courtesy of Suki, Sokka and Zuko but she didn't kid her self, she wasn't going to face whatever was down there with blind punches and kicks…maybe if she was in the real world…yeah, she'd go toe to toe with them, however this was the spirit world.
Crazy, face stealing, ominous, comet prophesying Spirit World.
A vague outline of a house loomed into her 'view', making a sharp turn Toph made a bee line for it, quickly throwing the door open and hustling inside.
She breathed out sharply in relief, leaning against a wall. She felt about locating a table and a chair right in the middle of the circular room. Nothing else to be found using her unique 'sight'. If Toph had regular sight she would have noticed the badly drawn picture pasted on the wall beside her.
The one bearing two poorly drawn stick figures.
"This makes no sense at all."
Aang waded through the reeds, shifting them aside with his staff, "These aren't visions." He said trying to make some sense of the whole situation. His thoughts were interrupted as the world around him began to shift as if phasing into another world.
"The darkness Huu was talking about…maybe…it isn't a spirit?" He threw out an idea, "Maybe…it's a gate?"
A wall of shimmering ice crystallized in front of him. He placed his hand against it, it felt warm and comforting. He peered through it and saw a pair of fuzzy figures; one dressed in green the other in orange.
"Is...is that me? And Toph?"
Upon closer inspection, or as close as possible given the blurry quality the ice was creating, he realized both figures were female so it couldn't be them and he was damn sure he wasn't a woman.
The women were joined by two others. One red and one blue. Males this time. Now Aang wasn't as simple as he used to be and put the pieces together fairly quickly,
"My past lives." He whispered, "Maybe they can tell me…" The ice turned into fire, forcing Aang back.
"Hey!" He protested. The fire then became a vortex of wind, ripping up foliage and clods of dirt, sucking it all in. Aang could do nothing to prevent his similar fate.
"It's…it's my dream home…I think."
Suki looked out the scratchy looking window and into a garden consisting of lines and cloud like puffs intended to be flowers. A larger structure to the left had the words 'Training Hall' written on it. Unlike the artistry, the penmanship was impeccable.
Sokka found this all to be very surreal.
"This is your dream home?"
Suki cocked her head, "I guess so…of course it looks much better in my dreams but it's all there. The training hall, the garden…oh!" Her head shot up in excitement as she ran through what could charitably be called a doorway. Sokka leapt to his feet upon hearing her cry out.
"What happened? Those crazy color tentacles come back?"
She shook her head and did a twirl with her arms outstretched, bringing his attention to the details of the room. This room was much different than the others. It looked like it was done by a professional rather than some drunken leper hobo who drew with his feet.
It was a nursery. Done in the wood paneled style typical of the homes on Kiyoshi Island. In the center of the room stood two cribs.
Suki let out a sigh and hugged Sokka. The young man blinked taking all of it in. He knew what her reaction to the room meant and in all honesty he quite agreed with her.
Now if only the walls weren't colored pink….
Toph poked her foot out of the doorway and felt around for a couple of seconds. Those two burrowing things were still out there. Quite a ways from the house but still there all the same.
Deciding to test a theory, she tossed the chair outside. It landed with a crash and bounced twice before coming to a stop.
"Great. Now I've got no chair to sit on. Genius Toph. Genius." She chided herself knocking her head, "What made me think those things reacted to vibrations like I did?"
She shut the door and sat on the stone table, propping her chin in her hands.
"Now what? Stay here and wait for Twinkles to come find me?"
Now that she thought about it, wasn't that what she'd been doing all along? Waiting for him?
Waiting for him grow up. To sort through his feelings for Katara. For her. To get to where they were now as a couple.
An earthbender sits and waits patiently. A creed most of her fellow earthbenders followed. She did too until she met Aang. Then it was live life to the fullest.
Now she was back to waiting.
This place was forcing her to wait and by using whatever was out there running around underground to do it.
"And I don't even know what the Hell those things are!" She yelled out in frustration. Her conversation with Aang earlier still whispered in her ear,
"Is the world's greatest earthbender afraid of the things that go bump in the night?"
"Pfft…as if! Why should I be afraid of something I can't see?"
That hit the nail on the head. This place was teaching her a lesson. Toph grumbled, "Me and my big mouth." She yelled at the ceiling, "Okay! I take it back! I am afraid of the Spirit World! There I said it!"
She half expected to feel Aang's vibrations and hear his voice congratulating her on making it out on her own.
But they never came.
She was still stuck on the table and in that house.
"Argh! I hate the Spirit World!"
A scraping noise made her ears tingle. Something was at the door.
A set of yellowed teeth chomped nothing but air as Katara grabbed Zuko by his arms and dragged him out of harms way. Much to his shoulder's protests.
"A thank you would be nice." She panted, keeping a zombie at arms length with a broken off branch. Her next words were silenced when the Dreadnaught swung its great blade and cleared the way to her and her fallen prince.
She flushed slightly despite the dire situation.
"My fallen prince?" She hissed to herself, "Get a grip Katara." She pushed Zuko out of the way as the knight barreled through between them.
"What did you do to that guy?!" She yelled. Zuko only groaned back a, "Hell if I know!"
"At least my zombies won't hurt me!"
"Your zombies?!" He shouted, smacking one of the said undead away.
"Well, they are Water Tribe! Why's that fire thing trying to kill you?!"
"I said I don't know! Why don't you order your countrymen to attack it?!"
"They are!" She pointed at the Dreadnaught having a few zombies clamber on it, bashing their fists against its steel armor.
"Can you tell them to stop attacking me?!"
He punched another zombie in the teeth while grumbling something unpleasant about waterbenders…and that only made the undead attack even more ferociously.
The zombie male who was about to chow down on his leg stopped and looked up at the prince with a quizzical expression as if to say, "You really mean it?"
Of course he didn't which is why Zuko then kicked the poor zombie's head off. Katara found this most disrespectful to the dead.
"He wasn't going to bite you! Wait…"
"I don't care! They want to eat me! I don't want to be eaten!" He ducked a swing of the Dreadnaught's blade, "I don't want to be chopped in half either!"
"What?! Kinda busy here!"
"Tell the zombies you're not like your father! Tell them you're not Ozai!"
Zuko forced a zombie woman's gnashing jaws away from his face, "What good would that do?!"
"Just do it!"
"Stop ordering me around!" He retorted. As if on cue the Dreadnaught seemed to burn even hotter. Katara threw up her hands in defeat, "Oh great, the living furnace reacts to him as well."
"Alright! I'm sorry! I'm not my father!"
The zombies didn't stop.
"Great plan PEASANT!"
"I told you not the call me that!"
Suddenly one of the undead miraculously recovered its living agility and leapt on Zuko pinning the prince to the ground. Katara gasped, covering her mouth,
"He's not responsible for their actions…I am…but why didn't they listen to me before?"
The naught rumbled past her, its sword raised high and ready to strike.
"No! Please don't hurt him!"
Instantly, the zombies ceased their assault but the Dreadnaught continued on. Zuko barely got free of the zombies before the great sword cleaved his previous spot.
"Zuko!" cried Katara, "I can't stop it! It won't listen to me!"
By now the zombies had tuned their attention to the knight, assaulting it by throwing their bodies against it. "I control the zombies! But that thing must be yours!"
"Then why isn't it attacking you?!"
Her temper flared, "I don't know!" Some of the zombies turned back to Zuko. "Wait! No!" They stopped and just stood there.
"They react to my anger…I was angry at Zuko and they attacked him…but when I tried to stop them they wouldn't let me. I wouldn't let me. Until I meant it."
"Katara! A little help here?"
The Dreadnaught's knees buckled as a horde of the undead wrapped themselves around its legs.
"I didn't do that!" She yelled, "They must instinctively hate the Fire Nation!"
"What about Tiny here?" Zuko jumped on to the knight's back, pushing a zombie off in the process. The great warrior tried to grab Zuko with comical results.
"I don't know! It's not attacking me!" She yelled, still trying to direct more of the undead to Zuko's aid. "It's supposed to be your nation's right?"
"If it is tied to me, it's not attacking you because I don't hate you!" He rolled to the ground and used a zombie as cover.
"Zuko! Do you hate yourself?!"
"Not since I was sixteen!"
Had Azula been there she would have agreed, however she'd have added that it was mostly self pity that her brother wallowed in nowadays.
"Well, there must be something wrong!" Yelled Katara throwing a few more undead in front of the beast.
Toph swallowed audibly, her fingers inching towards the door. That damn scraping noise just wouldn't go away.
"Okay." She told herself to stay calm, "You can do this. You can do this. You can be part of Twinkles' world and survive it."
Lifting the wooden bar of its latch, she pressed her hands against the door but found her self unable to open it.
"Now's not the time to wuss out. Rock like Toph. Rock like. Whatever's out there…if you can't handle it, then Twinkles will kick its ass for killing you."
Taking one deep breath she swore, pulled the door open and rushed out into the open. She felt extremely silly for fretting over nothing.
"I hate this place." She said smiling. The ground rumbled and she 'saw' the house disappear from sight.
"Okay. That's that."
Then she realized that the tunneling creatures were still there.
"Oh now that's just not fair."
She felt them circle her continuously. Occasionally one would stop and move away but the other would bring it back.
"Alright. Whatever you two are. You're dealing with the world's greatest earthbender. Just thought you'd like to know." Toph got into a defensive stance. These things had kept her in that house far too long for her taste. In fact the whole thing felt just like…
"My life." She whispered, "And I've got two things keeping me trapped in that FREAKING HOUSE!" Her voice grew louder with each passing moment, "You two must be mom and dad!"
One of the tunnelers approached her and popped out of the ground. It was a female Badger-Mole. Just a lot smaller. About the size of dog. To her credit, Toph stood her ground, she loved Badger-Moles but these were Spirit World creations, she didn't quite trust those.
To her surprise, the female nuzzled against her palm and licked it tenderly. Toph giggled and drew her hand began,
"Hey that tickles!"
The other one, which she assumed was representing her father, did not approach. Instead it circled a few more times and then made to leave.
At her voice, the other Badger-Mole did surface. Well if the first one was her mom in spirit form then…
Toph knelt down and wrapped her arms around the creature. For its part the Badger-Mole remained stoic and still. Toph hugged it closer,
When she let go, both creatures dove back into the ground and began tunneling. Toph felt the earth lose its stability,
"Hey! What are you doing?! You'll cause the ground to….!"
Her frightened words became a scream and then an echo as the ground opened up and swallowed her whole.
"Holy Yue! Our kids are hideous!"
Suki slapped Sokka over the head, as she put down a badly drawn picture of what seemed to be their future twins.
"That's because you drew them with your mind." She said, "Everything here is a product of my dreams and your imagination."
"Oh. I knew that."
"Riiiight. Now how do we get out of here? As much as I love being in the house of my dreams with the love of my life, I'd like to be in the real world making my dreams come true."
Sokka smirked and teased her, "Haven't I made them come true already?"
"No. Not really. There's still the matter of our wedding plans. You were saying something about a winter wedding?"
A crack in the ceiling broke Suki's train of thought. Sokka took the time to put in a joke,
"Were Rock-Termites in your dreams or that just my imagination?"
The vortex spat Aang out into a new area of the swamp; actually it dumped him right at the base of the Great Tree but it looked a hell of a lot different from the last time.
The big spinning black hole of doom would have done it.
"Okay. THAT can't be good."
Getting to his feet, Aang chanced a closer inspection of the aforementioned supernatural phenomenon of doomy dooms. As far as floating portals of inky blackness went, this one seemed fairly run of the mill. Hovering a few feet of the ground, a droning hum as it slowly vacuumed loose objects such as leaves, branches and the occasionally fish into its maw.
Aang recalled some words of wisdom Katara once gave Zuko,
"There are certain things in existence that do not need introductions or warnings. Such things are clearly labeled as DO NOT TOUCH by common sense."
Then again, Katara was referring to her personal effects. I.E her underwear. Even though it was Zuko's turn to do laundry and the whole incident was not his fault, not that it mattered to Katara.
So he stepped through.
"Zuko! Think! There must be something you're holding in!"
"I can't think of any!"
By now the zombies were completely decimated, quite a feat given they were a hundred years worth of Fire Nation prisoners. The Dreadnaught hadn't come away with a few dents in its armor either.
Right now it had Zuko in its grip, just slowly squeezing the life out of him with Katara trying desperately to force the behemoth to release its claws.
"Think Katara! Think!" She thought to herself, "The zombies were your hate towards Zuko. They reacted to your anger at him as well as Zuko just being from the Fire Nation. This thing just hates Zuko. If this thing isn't mine and it isn't his hate…isn't his HATE!"
"What?!" he wheezed.
"Do you have anything you want to say?"
"Before I die?!" He sneered, "What? You're taking last requests?"
"In a way yes! Anything you regret?"
"Well I do!" She cried, reached over to hold his face and kissed him.
It was slow.
It was beautiful.
But the knight did not relinquish his prize though it did ease up on the pressure.
"Damn it! I was sure that would work!"
"Damn it Zuko if me kissing you is not what you want then why did you kiss me first!?"
"I'm dying here!"
"There must be something more! What is this thing?!"
"A Dreadnaught! Fire Nation holy warrior!"
"But you're the prince!"
"A traitor prince!"
And that did it. That was Katara's missing piece of the puzzle, "It's attacking you because you still feel guilty for betraying your nation! Zuko, you're royalty! This thing should be your servant not your executioner!"
The knight drew its free hand back into a fist, just about ready to smash the Prince's head in.
"Zuko! Act your fucking role! You're a hero to your nation! You're a hero to me! Stop being so stubborn and just admit it!"
"That I have feelings for you!"
Aang had seen many weird things over the course of his tenure as the current Avatar. There was that possessed Fire Nation girl with the spinning head who puked all over him.
That was freaky. And disgusting.
The quaint little village of Taiyo where dead pets began to reanimate and terrorize the townsfolk.
Fortunately no one buried anything bigger than a poodle-monkey. Except that one guy who kept Scorpion Hounds. Claws and jaws indeed.
Even the nest of diamond skinned nightstalkers wasn't as…well…no, that was all sorts of wrong too. But the supernatural encounter right now would take a close second to that.
It was a giant cicada.
An honest to spirits, giant cicada clinging to the trunk of the Great Tree, leisurely gorging itself on the sap of all creation.
"Oookay…." Aang scratched his scalp, racking his brain for ideas, "Haven't seen that before." Seeing as how the creature was a giant bug, Aang naturally came up with this conclusion,
"You're one of Koh's aren't you?"
If he expected a reply or even a boastful acknowledgement of how the Facestealer would utterly wreck his life, Aang didn't get it.
Not from the cicada anyway.
"No, it's not one of mine. Pity."
Spinning on his heel, Aang snapped into a defensive stance, mindful to keep his face as stone cold blank as possible despite his inherent surprise at being caught unawares as well as Koh's appearance.
Eschewing his regular Chilopodan form, the Facestealer had taken on a more humanoid guise. Gone was the chitinous serpentine body, replaced with a bipedal form clad in Fire Nation armor colored black as midnight and trimmed with bloody red. Lost were the rows of clacking insectoid limbs, arms and legs of glowing white ether clad in aforementioned armor in their place.
What caught Aang's attention was Koh's head. Made of the same glowing ethereal energy, bald and featureless, save for the inanimate painted stage mask adorned upon it. It was a darker shade of grey in contrast to the white ether. Undecorated save for two blank eyeholes and the painted lips of a woman.
"What? Too much?" Koh swept a clawed hand down from his chest to his feet in a flamboyant manner, "I've always liked Fire Nation fashion. It just screams to me."
Aang gave no reply, mind trying desperately to devise a strategy out of the situation. A situation he was not fully aware of and Koh knew it. The vile one cackled sensing Aang's hesitation in replying,
"But I'm sure you're not here to trade fashion tips were you?"
"You were never this chatty." Aang cut in.
"And you were never this serious in your duties as Avatar." Koh threw back flippantly, "Bravo boy. I'm proud of you."
"What is going on?" Growled Aang. The sight of Koh's doll like death mask irked him as it remained inanimate as the Facestealer spoke.
"This," Koh stalked towards the feasting cicada, "is a problem." He cut Aang off before the Avatar could voice his annoyance at him,
"This is the reason those swampbenders have been relocating their village every few weeks. The reason why your friends are now trapped in their own little worlds. And of course the reason why you're here."
"And you?" Asked Aang pointing his staff at Koh, "What's your stake in this?"
Koh gave a derisive snort, and gently pushed the staff's point aside with a talon,
"I was getting to that. Before you rudely interrupted Didn't Gyatso teach you any manners?"
Aang barely moved a facial muscle at the obvious verbal bait.
"Oh. You're getting good at that." Applauded Koh, "As I was about to say, there are certain locations in the mortal world that run parallel and even intersect the Spirit World. The Moon's old home stand along a spiritual lay line, while this place," Koh swept his arms out and above, "Runs right next to my Hall of Faceless. And yet I never get any guests."
"My point, boy, is that the barriers keeping our worlds separate is weakening. On account of that magnificent creature sapping it."
Aang withdrew his stance but kept his wits up just in case, "You sure it's not one of yours? You seem to admire it."
"Accidents happen, boy. The tree serves a tunnel between the mortal and spirit worlds. Every now and then something from your end wanders through and gets…transformed." Koh pointed back at the cicada, rustling its wings as if in acknowledgement, "Case in point."
"So it's weakening the barriers and you want me to get rid of it."
"Yes. If you don't, the barriers' will break and I'll have all manner of creatures and people," An obvious emphasis on the last word, "dragging their filthy feet through my halls. And I won't be held responsible for what ever happens. After all a spirit's home is his palace."
"Get rid of it yourself."
"Oh I would." Koh feigned weakness, holding the back of his hand to his forehead, "But alas," he then proceeded to demonstrate just exactly why his efforts would be for naught. Aang watched as Koh's hand and arm phased right through it. "It stands between both worlds. A state of limbo if you will. The plane between existence and oblivion."
"If you can't touch it why would I be any different?"
"Is it not your duty as Avatar to rectify such problems?"
Aang ran his own hand through the beast, "I can't touch it either." Koh scoffed, "That's not my problem." He leaned in to whisper in the Avatar's ear,
"Think of the people who might stumble through." He didn't mention her, but Aang could tell Koh meant Toph.
"That should give you much needed inspiration."
Aang caught Koh's forearm before the spirit could fade,
"Not so fast. We're doing this together."
"I've been humoring you boy. Now unhand me."
Koh's poisonous tone did little to dissuade Aang, "No. I'm going to need some spiritual muscle on this and you volunteered."
"Oh." Koh let out a laugh, "You must have me mistaken for a spirit who cares."
"You care." Said Aang, "You care about what might happen if the barriers break."
"I'll have more to add to my collection then."
"Or lose it." Countered Aang, "If things can get it, you precious collection might get out."
All Koh gave in response was a deft flick of his wrist. A seemingly casual motion that sent the Avatar flying into the muck and sludge of the swamp.
"I trust you'll curb any acts of foolishness?" Sneered the Facestealer.
"I'm a slow learner," Hauling himself to his feet, Aang reached deep within himself, summoning the power that defeated Koh the first time around. For only a spirit could truly harm another. What better way than the Avatar spirit itself.
In a plane of reality without elements the power of the Avatar manifested itself differently. Rather than confer total dominance over the elements, the Avatar spirit itself became pure power. Instead of linking to every Avatar in history, the spirit of the world would come into being. Aang couldn't help but smile inwardly as he felt the familiar rush of power and exhilaration surging through and around him as blue ethereal flames burned along his shoulders.
Koh growled as his fellow spirit collected itself. The spirit of the world had no real sense of self, being nothing more than a sort of power battery that made its home in the hosts of man. For when the world was created and spirits were brought into being to govern each aspect of life, mankind had no such spiritual representative. Thus the decision was made for mankind to represent itself among the gods.
So the first Avatar came forth.
Empowered by the life energies of the world itself.
Energies that weren't originally to be used in the spirit world.
Aang staggered straight, the blue flames licking wildly about his shoulders as his eyes and tattoos glowing crimson red as opposed to the normal cerulean blue. Voice echoing with a deeper bass along with his normal pitch, Aang put forth his terms,
"I beat you once Koh. Nearly destroyed you. Don't force me to do it again. Now you can either work with me or get pulped into working with me."
"Feh." Sneered Koh, "I forget how different you get when you're in this state. Can't say that I miss it. None of the other Avatars have ever reached this level of obnoxiousness."
"That's because they don't hate you as much as I do. Now help me."
True to Koh's assumptions, Aang did not strike the Facestealer. Not this time. When Toph was taken Aang had every right to rip into the spirit. Now he had no justification. The cicada was not of Koh's making. Aang would have to fix this on his own. Beating Koh would accomplish nothing. It'd make him feel better but still it would prove useless.
Taking great pleasure in watching the wind get taken out of his nemesis' sails, Koh cackled as he settled on an exposed root of the Great Tree. He mockingly clapped his hands,
"Well. Get to it. We don't have all eternity."
"Damn worm." Hissed Aang, fists lighting up in crackling blue flames.
"Where the Hell am I now?!"
Toph had fallen for what to her seemed like ages before landing on something surprisingly soft yet squirming.
"You're getting the Hell off my back that's where you're going!"
"Meathead?" was all Toph could uetter before being scooped up in a hug by Suki, "Iron Fan? What's going on? What are you two doing in the center of the world?"
"What? Toph, you're in our house."
Suki shrugged, "Well…kinda." She offered the earthbender a poorly drawn chair, "Here. Watch out for the edges. Sokka still hasn't gotten drawing straight lines down yet."
Both girls ignored the warrior's indignant yell with Toph even more confused than ever, "What? Drawing lines? What lines? Where am I? You two aren't more spirit crap the swamp's throwing at me are you?"
"We're real Toph." Said Suki letting the blind girl feel her face, "We got sucked into some kind of portal and ended up here." The Kyoshi warrior smiled softly, "Apparently it's our dream home."
"Your dream home sucks." Stated Toph flatly, "This chair's poking me and the ground's uneven."
"Yes and you fell from our ceiling. Anything else you want to point out?" Added Sokka getting to his feet, "Anyway where's Aang? He's the resident expert on all things ghoulish and ghostly."
Toph dipped her head sadly, "I don't know. One minute we were talking by the river and the next I was on my own."
"Goodness," gasped Suki, checking the younger girl for any unseen injuries, "Are you alright?"
"Yeah. I'm fine." Toph waved away Suki's hands, "Had a weird exchange with what I guess were my folks…except that they were dog sized Badger-Moles that kept me locked in a house until I got enough courage to break free and stuff though."
Sokka turned to his beau, "Okay. Now you can't say that our world is screwy."
"That I have feelings for you!"
The result of Katara's outburst was instantaneous. The mailed fist that held Zuko clenched in death's grip fell apart followed by the rest of the armor when the unholy flames within it died out. Zuko hit the ground in pain.
"Zuko! Are you alright?!"
He shot her a look, "Do I look alright?" Katara laughed nervously, "Sorry. Reflex question. But hey it worked! You admitted your guilt and feelings and it went away."
"No I didn't."
"Yes you did. Stop being macho."
"No. I. Didn't." He repeated trying to get feeling back into his limbs, "You did. The zombies AND the Dreadnaught were tied to you! You tried to kill me!"
"Well something went right! Now where's my thank you?"
"What?! If you think I'm going to…"
Clawed fingers on a steel gauntlet began to move.
"I am in your eternal debt Katara of the Southern Seas. You wonderful, beautiful woman you." Zuko eyed the steel hand from the corner of his vision, hoping that did the trick,
"Is it still moving? Tell me if it's moving. I've got more compliments."
Katara smirked helping him stand,
"Oh I think I saw it twitch a little."
"Argh! Nothing's working!"
Aang thrust both arms into the spectral cicada, flushing ghostly insect with spiritual energy into an attempt to turn it corporeal.
"Time's running out Avatar."
"Feel free to help." Snapped Aang. And that was what Koh was waiting for. That spark of emotion.
In an instant Aang could feel Koh's claws scrap against his skin as the facestealer's hands seemed to envelop his face. "Gah!" He cried out, masking his emotions was pointless at this juncture.
"I told you boy. I told you that you were on my list."
Tearing at Koh's fingers, Aang tried valiantly to pry the invading fingers off his skin, "You DID create the cicada!"
"Oh no, I was telling the truth about that. The barriers aren't failing though. The creature is simply draining the Great Tree and altering the life cycle of the swamp. Who cares if some mortal mud hole? I was keeping the creature in limbo just to keep it safe. I wanted to see what would happen if the Great Tree was destroyed." Koh laughed, kneeing Aang in the midsection to force the Avatar to his knees,
"A stroke of bad luck really. All this could have been avoided if you'd simply not come here. But here you are all the same." Aang felt his neck strain, Koh was going to trying to break it, "Now just relax and let me take your face. After all you did break my rules."
Desperate, Aang gripped two of Koh's fingers and snapped them backwards, breaking them in double joints. Stunned but not hurt, Koh laughed, "Did you think that would stop me?" Aang slugged him across the face. Scrambling to his feet as he wiped the ethereal blood off his face,
"No. But it worked." A palm strike to the solar plexus lifted Koh off his feet, though the Facestealer quickly recovered and landed with cat-like agility.
"Oh ho. You actually managed to dent the armor. What are you going to do Avatar? Fight me and lose or fail to save the Great Tree?"
"How about I prove you wrong on both counts?"
And it was on.
Basing his existence on deceit and manipulation the Facestealer proved a wily combatant. Indeed as the fight seemed entirely one-sided with Koh seemingly toying with Aang as they traded blows in the middle of the swamp,
"So you won't fight for you own life, should I go get your blind earthbender?"
"Making me angrier isn't going to help you." Snarled Aang blocking a vicious claw swipe and countering with a blow intended to break the attack arm,
"Oh of course. I wouldn't like you when you're angry." Koh doubled his strength on his next assault, "I remember when you got angry," A crack ran down Koh's mask, a memento of their last altercation in the spirit realm. He clawed a duplicate scar down Aang's face, lightly as a taunt, "Now we match."
Aang replied in kind with a head butt further worsening the crack on the mask.
"My face!" Shrieked Koh backing off in fright, "My beautiful face!"
Capitalizing Aang reached out hooking his fingers through the eyeholes of the mask, "You don't have a face!" Kicking off Koh's chest while ripping the painted mask out.
What followed could only be described as the shriek of the damned as beams of light shot out of the blank space that used to be Koh's makeshift face,
"I will kill you!" He roared flailing blindly about, "I will kill you!" Stepping back to avoid the spirit's wild swings and regroup himself, Aang noticed the cicada shimmering back into the spirit world's plane of existence. Giving Koh a cautious glance, Aang went after the great insect, determined to end this nightmare.
The cicada had other plans as it began rubbing its wings together generating a head splitting sound wave. Aang did all he could not to completely lose his mind as the sound tore through his body and assaulted his senses. Koh's agonized cry was heard over the screeching pain,
"And so ends the legend of Avatar Aang."
"I. Will. Not. Lose!"
Aang lunged at Koh, ramming his fist through the glowing space that was Koh's face. The spirit screamed, trying to shake Aang off. Within himself the Facestealer knew that to stay would mean irreparable damage to his existence.
Just like that the Facestealer faded away. Retreating back to his squalid tree. Leaving the Avatar with an empty set of Fire Nation armor and an irate cicada. Turning to the still active insect, Aang got to his feet in tired triumph over Koh,
"Okay….okay. Now it's your turn."
"Lookie here Tho! It's our Southern cousins!"
Aang shot straight up, feeling his face for scars, "Wha?" He shielded his eyes from the bright sun as it beat down on him,
The jovial swampbenders pulled their skiff into the bank,
"Well if it isn't Avatar Aang. How you been kid?" Said Tho. Aang didn't reply, he looked around their make shift camp from TWO nights ago.
A groan from his left signaled Sokka's awakening, "Ow….what the flying (censored) just happened?"
Suki moaned her discomfort as well, "I had the freakiest dream…it was a dream right?"
Zuko limped into view; his body marked with bruises, scratches and a few teeth marks,
"Popular opinion says no." Katara rushed over to keep him upright. Due whistled in a low tone, "You folks been knocking back too much moonshine or something? Cuz you look like the living dead."
At those last two words, Zuko cried, "No more zombies!" His reply stumped the swampbenders., "Urr…you didn't happen to burn any swamp weed didja? Cuz that stuff'll mess you up real proper."
Aang shook his head, "Uh…no. But weren't we at your village already?"
"Boy, you plumb loco? We just seen you right now." Said Due, "We was moving house again what with them crazy tide flows and all and we bumped into you."
Aang watched Katara fuss over Zuko's mysterious injuries while Sokka and Suki talked about something that had gotten them very excited, Sokka said something about making baby carriages. The ground rumbled softly, the young Avatar smiled as a pair of soft but powerful arms circled him from behind,
"Hey Twinkles." Whispered the earthbender, kissing the back of his neck before leaving to ask Suki something about a letter to her parents.
"Well, seeing as you're already here. Why don't you stay a while? Let us show you some good ol' swampbender hospitality? Once we get our new home up and all."
"Yeeah about that." Aang rubbed his right forearm absently, "I don't think you have to worry about that anymore."
If only they knew the truth….
"Hey, I'm the Avatar. I fix these things."
The worm's going to be real trouble from now on…
"Well, you're still welcome to join us."
Aang turned to his friends once again, watching them deal with the fall out of their little detour into the unknown. Personally he just wanted to get on Appa, let Sokka take the reins and sleep till he was sixty. The Avatar chuckled as he politely, respectfully and with tired smile, replied,
"Maybe some other time."
Sweet home Gaoling. A quaint little burg smack dab in the middle of the Earth Kingdom and home to the richest non-royal family in the Kingdom.
The Bei Fongs.
Contrary to popular belief, the Bei Fongs are not elitist snobs. They're just very, very conservative. Or should I say, just the head of the family, Lao Bei Fong himself.
To say that the man is anal is an understatement. Some people say he was born with the Great Tree, or at least a branch of it, rammed right up his little baby hiney and when the doctors tried to remove it, HE wouldn't let go.
If he didn't wear green, he'd fit right in the Fire Nation. Probably be one of the nobles currently wearing Fire Lord Iroh's great ocean of patience thin and have Toph's name right at the top of the 'Brides for Zuko' list.
Aren't we lucky he isn't a Fire National?
To his credit, Lao does care for his community. Those who have the most should give the most. Just don't expect him to be there to cut the ribbon of whatever benefit he's funded. The man must be some kind of vampire. Never leaves the house and always does business from home. What? Does sunlight boil his skin and melt his eyes?
Anyway, we're just in time to watch the man work…
"The offer is on the table Lao. I've got investors lining up outside my door, trying to get in on the ground floor but you're the first one I've come to."
Lao perused the documents with lion-eagle eyes at great detail. No fine print had ever escaped his search. For the really fine print, he'd use a nifty tool given to his daughter by a friend from the Northern Air Temple. Now the use of a magnifying glass was lost to a sightless earthbender…until she discovered she could focus sunlight and burn stuff with it.
Like her dresses, which she'd often stated that she despised.
"It was an accident, honest." Was her heartfelt and oh so very sad apology. Of course, Lao knew she was lying out her noble behind but she was the apple of his eye. Anyone else find Toph to be the nicer Azula?
So now, in Lao's hands, it's got a better function.
"What's this bit here about turning Gaoling into a strip mine?" Said Lao, not looking up from the parchments. His associate, a man named Hei Gan, looked at him and stated, "That's not the fine print. That's the main point."
Sighing, Lao let the papers unceremoniously fall,
"I'm not going to turn my town into a dead valley."
"But your copper mines are barely tapped." The man tried to reason. Lao shook his hand and waved him off,
"They are being mined. By skilled earthbenders. They've been instructed to do as little damage to the environment as possible."
"But their progress is slow and hardly cost effective." Lao's business associate thought he'd get the head of the Bei Fong family by citing the all mighty dollar…or coppers, silvers and gold in this case.
Lao narrowed his eyes, "They were hand picked and trained by my daughter." In the four years since her initial rebellion, Lao had taken the time to appreciate his daughter's talents and skills and he was so proud of his little Earth Blossom…not that he'd ever tell her that, the fear of his little girl finally leaving the nest still scared the rocks out of him.
"Speaking of your daughter…have you come to a decision about the other matter?"
Lao liked this less and less. Business was business, bringing Toph's marriage issues into the conversation was bad form. Buuuut, if this was how Hei Gan wanted to play it then…
"I believe my wife is handling it."
Lao smiled evilly, "Yes. My wife." Hei Gan and his son, who'd been silent throughout the whole exchange exchanged glances,
"But as the head of the household, is it not your final say that matters?"
Poppy Bei Fong, who like Hei Gan's son, had stayed blissfully quiet, finally spoke up, much to the man's disdain,
"I believe a wife should stay out of her husband's business affairs. I honestly have no idea how the family business is run. My Lao's got the head for business not me."
Hei Gan nodded as did his son. A woman's place was either in the kitchen or the bedroom. No where else.
"But." Said Poppy raising a finger, "My daughter's future happiness is one of my concerns and responsibilities."
"Your husband has the final say and as his woman…"
There was time when Lao would swear by what Hei Gan was spouting. Man, superior. Woman, inferior. A majority of his life, in fact. But the spirits decided to change that by blessing him with the world's greatest earthbender for a daughter. It took him quite a while to finally accept that but accept he did. And while Poppy wasn't as talented as her daughter or business savvy as him, his darling wife had her own special skills.
Poppy Bei Fong was a quiet woman. Raised under the doctrine of being the perfect wife, she was polite, devoted and more importantly deferred to her husband most of the time.
I repeat, MOST.
While Lao took care of the family fortune, Poppy ran the Bei Fong household with a cushioned iron fist. Hard yet fair. One of her chief concerns was her little Earth Blossom. Born blind and helpless, she agreed with Lao that Toph should be protected from all harm at all costs…even from Toph herself if need be.
She knew now that had been a colossal mistake and while she'd twigged the instant Toph ran away the first time; it had taken her a few more years to convince her husband. With Toph's return from the war, Poppy began to pick up some of her daughter's self assured attitude. No, she wasn't butting heads with Lao but she did second guess him, in private of course.
Case in point, she'd taken on the list of suitors for Toph's hand and promptly burned the entire stack of names. If nothing else, Poppy Bei Fong knew what her daughter wanted.
And it wasn't men like Hei Gan's son.
Though every now and then, like the present, some yahoo full of himself would approach them with an offer for Toph's hand in marriage.
Poppy feigned a look of subservience, "Of course. My husband is my lord." She said meekly. Lao continued, "And I have given her the responsibility of matching Toph with the most suitable husband."
Poppy grinned inwardly, Lao didn't know that she's torched the name list and had already fixed on one particular name.
Hei Gan snorted, "The most suitable man for your daughter is my son. No questions asked."
"I would like to ask a few questions…" Poppy played her part of meek housewife to perfection, "If that is permitted." Lao nodded. He was finding Hei Gan to be more of an annoyance now. That and the fact that the man dared to raise his voice to Poppy.
Seeing Hei Gan bristle, Lao laid it down, "Need I remind you whose house you are in?" The man grumbled and pushed his son forward,
"Make it good boy."
Hei Gan's son, Ling, was…handsome…probably the only good thing about him but the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
"Ask away my Lady." Said the young man haughtily.
"Very well." Lao swore he saw a glint in Poppy's eyes when she folded her hands and subtly cracked her knuckles,
"Would you describe yourself as strong?"
Hei Ling puffed his chest, "Best earthbender in the county. I've applied for Dai Li membership as well. Very prestigious honor."
Poppy mumbled under her breath, "Yes… as prestigious as a bunch of two faced traitors can be." She, of course replied differently, "Very nice." She gagged in her mind, "And…how would you treat our Toph?"
"Like a princess. Naturally."
"Okay…good answer." Neither Poppy nor Lao could begrudge such an answer. They wanted the best for Toph. Hei Ling carried on,
"She would be treated as royalty, cared for by the best servants. She would want for nothing."
Poppy pointed out something, "Cared for?"
"Yes. Because of her blindness. Can't have the mother of my heirs injuring her self now."
"You said heirs." This time Lao was speaking, he did want grandchildren.
"Of course. That would be my wife's only concern. I will take care of everything else."
The boy did make a good argument…if he'd approached the Bei Fong's four years ago. Poppy fought the urge to snarl, her Toph was not some baby making machine.
"And would Toph be free to do as she pleased?"
Hei Ling hesitated for a second until his father elbowed him to answer,
"Y…yes. She would be…to an extent. I mean her blindness and all."
Both Bei Fong's sighed, well Lao sighed, Poppy smirked. "And this is where it all goes to Hell." They both thought for different reasons. If there was one thing Toph hated, which would be one of many, many things, her biggest peeve would be being treated like an invalid.
"Quite." Poppy almost snapped the word out with venom, "One last question."
Hei Gan grumbled something about women being long winded. Lao frowned and mentally put the man down at the bottom of his New Year's party invite list, right under the man who cleans out the latrines over at the Earth Rumble Arena. Yes, Stinky Wang the Toilet Man would be considered to be invited before Hei Gan.
"Would you die for Toph?"
Hei Ling drew back with a look of confused amusement, "I beg pardon?" Even Lao raised a brow at the odd question.
"Would you die for her?"
"Umm….yyyes. Yes I would."
Both Bei Fong's didn't need sensitive feet to know that Ling was lying out his ass. Poppy put on her best fake smile,
"Good." She chirped, "I'll make a note of your name," 'On a piece of toilet paper so that the stable boys can wipe the Ostrich-Horses with your name.' "And get back to you once we've decided."
Ling poured on the charm, if you could sweet talk the mother; the daughter would be a cinch to bag,
"I eagerly await your good news, my Lady."
Poor deluded asshole.
After the Hei's had been escorted out by the guards, Lao turned to his beloved,
"What was that last question for? And are you honestly considering that boy? I mean, I can't stand his father and…"
Poppy kissed him on the cheek and handed him a yellowed letter baring the mark of the Kyoshi Warriors, the emblem of the Water Tribes, the royal seal of the Fire Nation and the Avatar's personal signature…which was a simple smiley with an arrow, he even left a little post script,
Poppy patted Lao on the shoulder as she got up to oversee the cooks preparing dinner,
"I think that explains everything."
Indeed as Aang's post script smiley was accompanied with Toph's encased in a stylized heart.
Story ends here.
I lost steam for this story, and the series as a whole, last year and I just couldn't finish it. So I decided to rework the last few chapters, mash them together and try to squeeze out some sort of ending.
I hope I succeeded.
And yeah, this chapter made even less sense than the original to me.