|Voice of the Earth: Land of Fire and Stone 2
Author: Arcole PM
COMPLETE! In this sequel to Land of Fire and Stone, the Gaang has been invited to Omashu to help King Bumi choose a new king. Fluff, adventure, swamp spirits, bandits, Zuko/Toph, Jet/Mai. I love Jet. He's not dead. But you knew that already.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance - Zuko & Toph - Chapters: 47 - Words: 163,019 - Reviews: 292 - Favs: 112 - Follows: 50 - Updated: 08-28-11 - Published: 08-06-08 - Status: Complete - id: 4453867
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
With the exception of Toph, everyone in the courtyard took a cautious step backward away from the clearly deranged king.
"Negative jing for the retreat," Bumi remarked in disappointed tones, and with a wave of his hand, the floor pushed the crowd back several yards away from where he stood with Toph. "Wrong answer," he concluded as they all staggered back a bit to regain their balance.
From her spot there on the stone courtyard, Toph could sense by his heartrate and breathing that Aang was entering the avatar state. She gave him a little shake of her head. That wasn't the answer. Beneath her feet, she could see Zuko in his little earthen prison, and she could tell that he was not panicking—yet.
Hang in there, Sparky, she thought to him. You know I can see you. You know I'm watching out for you.
King Bumi walked back toward Toph and looked at her with a question in his eye. "Well," he said after a moment, "what about it?"
"Bumi, you know that I'm married to Prince Zuko. I already have plans. I can't be ruler of Omashu," Toph explained patiently, all the while keeping one eye on Zuko. She would have loved to make her husband a little more room or a place to sit, but Bumi would be sure to sense any earthbending on her part.
"Prince Zuko? He's that moody boy of Iroh's with the big scar on his face, isn't he?" Bumi asked in a bored voice, rolling his eyes at her.
"Yes, he's Fire Lord Iroh's nephew and his heir. Iroh won't like it if you suffocate him, Bumi," Toph warned.
Bumi seemed to think about that a second, then gave a shrug and gestured absently with his hand. Zuko came pushing back up out of the ground, covered in dust. He staggered a little and dropped to his hands and knees to take in deep breaths of fresh air, blinking at the brightness of the sunlight.
More than anything, Toph wanted to run to his side, to be certain he was okay. But to keep Bumi working with her, she knew she had to stand her ground. However, she did let herself take a long look at Zuko, checking his heartbeat and his breathing. Once she felt confident that he really was fine, she spoke to Bumi again.
"I thank you and I'm sure Fire Lord Iroh thanks you," Toph responded lightly. "Now what's all this about neutral jing? There are 92 different types of jing, not three."
"There are 85 types, not 92, Toph," Bumi argued. "How many times do we have to go over this? You are making things overly complicated."
"No, Bumi," Toph patiently retorted as she tucked her arm in his and led him back up the steps to the palace, "you are being overly simplistic. There are 92 types."
The two headed up the palace steps and through the ornate metal doorway, their voices still echoing in discussion of the finer points of earthbending jing.
As soon as Bumi was out of sight, Aang and the rest rushed to Zuko's side. "What is she doing?" Zuko asked, still a little breathless from his ordeal. He hated tight places.
"I think she's trying to talk him down," Aang explained.
"That guy is a complete nut," was Sokka's immediate evaluation.
"I can't believe he did that to you, Zuko," Mai exclaimed, reaching out one hand to his arm, helping him stand. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," Zuko said with a cough. "Aang, will Toph be okay in there with him? He didn't seem right to me."
"He's a nut," Sokka reiterated.
"Plus, he's at least 125 years old," Katara added. "Maybe it's finally catching up to him."
"Technically, I'm 125 years old," Aang responded.
"Yeah, but you don't look a day over 60," came Sokka's immediate response. "He's a senile nut, then. We're going to have to go get Toph away from him."
Aang looked up at the doorway and over at the mess in the courtyard where the grounds looked like they had been pushed back like a carpet. He sighed.
"No," Zuko spoke up firmly as he dusted himself off. "Toph will let us know if she needs us. I think she's got the situation under control for now."
"So what do we do?" Sokka asked.
"Neutral jing," Aang replied in sudden realization. He and Zuko exchanged looks.
"We do nothing," Zuko concluded.
A half hour later, Toph and Bumi came back down the steps of the palace, clearly in good spirits. Toph gave the old king a hug, then ran lightly down the stairs to rejoin her friends. Bumi gave everyone a cheerful good-bye wave, then went back into the palace. Toph stood there, a big grin on her face, waving happily at the old king until he went inside.
As soon as he was gone, she immediately ran to Zuko and threw her arms around him. "Oh, Sparky," she cried, "I am so sorry!"
"I'm fine, sweetie, just fine," Zuko replied, clearly gratified by the concern in her voice.
"You know I was watching you the whole time," she said softly into his ear. "I never had you out of my sight. If I'd thought for an instant you were in danger, I'd have ripped this courtyard apart to get to you, you know that, don't you?"
"Yes, sweetie," Zuko answered gently, "I know that. Trust me, I'm fine."
"What happened in there?" Aang regretfully intruded on their moment by asking.
Toph pulled back far enough from Zuko to answer, but still kept her arms around him. "Bumi has agreed that maybe I've got other priorities than becoming ruler of Omashu. However," she continued seriously as everyone began to relax, "I did promise him that I would help him find a new ruler—one that listens to the voice of the earth."
"What is that supposed to mean?" asked Katara worriedly.
"I'm not really sure," Toph replied nonchalantly, her arm still around Zuko.
"You know, Bumi said something similar to me when I was looking for an earthbending teacher," Aang began as they all walked back across the courtyard to the residential section. "He said I had to look for someone who listens to the earth before acting. Then when we went into the swamp, I saw a vision of you, Toph. And then we met. Because you're blind, you listen for the actions of your opponent with your earthbending before you do anything."
Then Aang stopped and looked over at Toph with respect. "Bumi was right. You were supposed to be my teacher for that very reason. I don't think I could have learned so much earthbending, so fast from anyone else, Sifu Toph," he stated honestly and reinforced his words with a bow.
Toph blushed a little at the compliment. "You were a very good pupil, eager to learn," she said.
"I don't know about that," Zuko responded with a laugh. "He still owes me at least a hundred hot squats."
"And I think he deliberately tried to splash me a little too often," Katara added.
Aang looked at his other teachers in surprise, then with a grin said, "Sifu Hotman, I promise I'll get to those hot squats as soon as possible."
Then he leaned in close to Katara and murmured suggestively into her ear, "And you, my dear Sifu Katara, have no idea how good you look when you're wet." And it was Katara's turn to blush.
Back at the avatar's apartments, the group gathered around to discuss their next move. After several minutes of discussion, they were no closer to reaching agreement on how to find the next ruler of Omashu. At last Mai stood up to go.
"I am sorry to rush off, but I've been waiting for a hawk message from my brother to let me know he is on his way here. I should have already gotten it," she explained. "So I'm going to get my major domo to check up on this Jet character he's hired as escort."
Several pairs of eyes looked up at her in disbelief. "Jet?" Sokka asked at last. "Are you sure he said Jet?"
"Yes, Jet," Mai answered, then sat down on the low blue sofa again, looking at the group with interest. "Do you know him?"
"We knew a Jet in the Earth Kingdom several years ago," Katara answered evasively as she played with an orchidlotus blossom from a nearby vase.
"But he was badly injured in Ba Sing Se under Lake Laogai," Toph added, aware that Zuko had tensed next to her. "We didn't think he'd make it out of there alive."
"Well, this Jet is young, about our age, according to Tiandu. He also came highly recommended," Mai offered. "It might be the same guy."
"The only problem is our Jet has a long-standing problem with the Fire Nation," Sokka said seriously, leaning forward to meet her eyes directly. "I'm not sure he'd be the best choice for the job of escorting your brother."
"But Jet may have changed," Aang commented. "He did risk his life to help us escape Long Feng." The room was quiet as they all thought it over. Then Aang added, "After all, people change. "
Zuko and Mai glanced at each other, then looked away again. Zuko then cleared his throat and addressed the group at large. "People do change. But all the same, it's probably a good idea to check up and see if this is the same Jet," he stated firmly. "Plus, we need to know what's happening with Tom-Tom, same Jet or not."
"Agreed," Sokka replied.
After a word with Tiandu, the group made their way downtown to the cafe where the major domo had made contact with the mercenary who might or might not be the Jet they knew. A few words with the bartender put them on the trail to the leather store where some of Jet's friends worked.
The door of the store jingled as they entered, signaling their presence to Smellerbee and Longshot. For a long moment, everyone just stared at each other, then Smellerbee broke and walked toward the group. She and Katara looked at each other, then fell into a hug.
"It's so good to see you!"
"How have you been?"
The words fairly tumbled out between the two young women. At last, they all slowed down enough to make introductions and re-introductions. After a few moments, Aang spoke up and asked the question they all were thinking. "What happened to Jet in Ba Sing Se?" he asked.
Smellerbee looked over at Longshot, then began to retell the story of how they'd managed somehow to get him out of the prison with all the chaos going on after Appa's escape and their fight with Long Feng. They'd gotten him to a healer as fast as they could, but it was still touch and go for a very long time. He'd nearly died. But somehow, his strength and youth as well as the skills of the healer had pulled him through.
"I told you we'd take care of him, and we did," Longshot said to Aang in a quiet voice.
"After he was better, he wanted out of Ba Sing Se, especially with it under Fire Nation control—no offense," Smellerbee added with an apologetic look at Zuko and Mai. At their nods of understanding, she continued, "So we managed to sneak out of the city, disguised as Fire Nation soldiers, and went to work as Earth Kingdom freedom fighters again."
"So you guys have been together all this time?" Aang asked happy to know that at least part of the group had managed to stay intact.
"Not exactly," Smellerbee replied with a little sidelong glance back at Longshot. She looked at him questioningly for a moment, then he gave her an almost imperceptible nod and she continued, "We got separated on the day of the comet. We didn't know what had happened to Jet until about a year later when he led a raid on the village we were staying in," Smellerbee admitted sadly.
"He was a bandit?" Aang asked. Mai shifted nervously at the thoughts that her little brother might be in the hands of a ruthless criminal.
"Not for very long," Smellerbee jumped to his defense. "He got a little mixed up there for a while. But things got better when we came to Omashu," she said with a big smile. "A group of nomad entertainers came through the village talking about a secret tunnel to Omashu and asked if Jet would lead them through. He agreed and we came too. Jet helped us get started here with the shop and we've been here ever since."
"So what is Jet up to these days?" Sokka asked.
"He's a kind of guard for hire for travelers and merchants. Right now he's out in the swamp escorting Lady Mai's brother to Omashu," Smellerbee said brightly.