Chapter 11

A/N: Heyo. I'm just updating things left and right...

Apologies beforehand for any spelling mistakes/grammer failings on my part.

Reviews might get me working on this story again.

No reviews will ensure this story stays on hold indefinitely. (:

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Chapter 11: Escape

"Aang."

In the dim light that Zuko was using to illuminate the paths of the tunnels underground, the air bender turned his head to look at the speaker to his right.

"Yeah?"

"Run that theory on finding our mystery island by me again."

Aang rattled off the words from memory as best he could. "Um, it was something like... to get there, we had to go in all the directions and put our feet on the soil. And Water country was last, I think," He said though the uncertainty in his voice made the Fire Prince roll his eyes.

From behind them the third member of their party spoke up. "North, East, West, and South," Sokka named, ticking the directions off on his fingers. "She said one day in each direction, and set foot in the different kingdoms of the four countries. Once we did all that, we were supposed to head straight back into the ocean, where we're supposedly going to find a volcanic island no one's ever located."

The Prince seemed to absorb the words, then nodded. "Hn."

"Why do you ask?" Sokka quipped as they walked by the small light coming from Zuko's fist. The Fire Prince gave Sokka a half-glance over his shoulder.

"Because we've been here for more than half a day. If that's really the theory and we don't get off this island soon, we may have to start the process over."

The sound of Sokka's gulp was audible over the flickering of the fire and their combined footsteps.

"Then shouldn't we be looking harder?" he hissed, remembering not to shout lest the sound carry and reveal their presence. The Fire-Bender shrugged.

"We're looking as 'hard' as we can," he hissed back, "and we've been looking for hours. These tunnels are interconnected like a maze. It's a wonder we haven't been going in circles."

"How do you know we're not?" Sokka pressed, glaring at the earthen tunnel walls.

"Because I haven't seen these rocks before," Aang replied in place of Zuko, gesturing with a free hand to the wall.

Zuko nodded his agreement, glancing back at the water-tribe boy and reaching back to tap Sokka's jaw which had dropped open.

"You might not want to let that hang open," he leered as he turned away, "We may be underground, but there's still a chance something will get caught in that obnoxious chatter-hole of yours."

Sokka ignored the bribe and pointed out another thing that was bothering him. "But we've been looking together. Shouldn't we split up? All of us can fire bend to light the way, and we can all pretty much handle ourselves if we run into trouble."

The Fire Prince turned abruptly and shoved an accusing finger Sokka's way--the one that wasn't balled in a fist lighting their way, anyway. "And then, when they DO catch us, they won't alert the other guards to our presence?" Sokka opened his mouth to retort but Zuko kept talking. "Think about it! As inexperienced you are with bending, do you really think you'd have the slightest chance of actually defending yourself against the guards here? This is an Earth Country prison, and they're not likely to have hired inexperienced benders to be the guards!"

"But--"

"Sokka, think about it," Aang began, trying to resolve the apparent squabble that had broken out between the two.

"Are you siding with him?" Sokka asked in disbelief, eyes wide as he looked between the air-bender and the fire-bender, "I thought you were my friend!"

"Sokka, I AM your friend," the Avatar argued softly, "But Zuko has a point. And you forget--I can't fire-bend anymore, so splitting up wouldn't be as good as you're thinking. Plus, you haven't had the Avatar powers for long, and you really don't have the best control over them. We really should stick together in case something happens."

"You couldn't hold off a flying lemur, let alone an Earth Prison guard," Zuko leered at the other teen, a grin spreading across his face as Sokka's hackles rose.

"I could, too!" he protested vehemently, taking an offended step towards the taller boy, "If Momo was here, I--"

Whatever he was going to say was cut off by a palm across his lips and a hot amber-eyed glare. Sokka grunted into the palm as his back hit the earthen walls of the tunnel, Zuko's forearm pressed across his chest like an iron bar. Aang's sharp 'shhhhh' sounded needlessly in the sudden silence of the tunnels, as Sokka was quite unable to form any kind of noise with the Fire Prince's palm against his face over his mouth, a rough thumb beneath his chin to tilt his head forcefully to meet the other boy's glare. An unnerving darkness befell the tunnels in the absence of Zuko's flame, as it had flickered out the instant Zuko had turned on the other teen.

"Do you WANT to get us caught, idiot?" Zuko hissed hotly, three inches from Sokka's face. The other boy mumbled a weak reply into Zuko's palm.

"Guys, we can't fight here," the youngest teen cut in reasonably from the side of their squabble, pointing down the tunnel in the direction they hadn't gone yet, "We have to find Katara, and then we have to get out of here. Are you guys gonna act your age and help me find her or not?" He crossed his arms to emphasize his growing impatience. Zuko held Sokka against the wall a moment longer and then released him, arms dropping to his sides and a golden-eyed glare averting to the darkness of the tunnel ahead. The tunnel re-lit abruptly as Zuko balled one hand into a fist with an obviously aggravated flare. He stalked off past both boys with a stony expression, heat radiating off him. Aang and Sokka watched him go on ahead.

"...why do you do that, Sokka?" asked the younger of the two boys after a moment. Sokka looked confused. "Huh?"

"I mean, why do you always have to shout?" Aang clarified as they started off after the other member of their party, "We're in a small place where sound waves echo over long distances. Couldn't you have kept your guys' fight to whispers?"

Sokka pouted.

"It's not my fault," he whined as he walked with the Avatar after the fire-bender, "He always starts it. Don't tell me he doesn't say things that make you mad!"

Aang didn't deny it. "But just this once--we've got to find your sister, Sokka, and get out of here! No more shouting until we get out of these tunnels." He gave the older teen a pleading look. "Can't you do that? For Katara?"

The water-tribe boy sighed heavily as they caught up to Zuko.

"I'll try, Aang. I'll try."

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Having freed herself from her bonds, Katara was getting ready to intercept any guards that might come down with food or, if her luck was that good, Aang and the others. So far, she'd been alone down here for hours on end, or at least that's how long it seemed.

Turning herself over in the darkness she sighed and stood, deciding that it would be best to be ready for a fight, should it come to that. The water-tribe girl stretched, limb by limb, eyes always searching the walls and ears open to listen for the tell-tale sound of earth crumbling away. When she had loosened every bit of herself she could think of, Katara decided to pass the time practicing water-bending maneuvers. She rose both hands palm-up before her and moved them in an arc, then crouched and threw her palms towards the earthen wall. She swept one hand across the ground as she swung a foot behind her and twisted her entire body around, bringing her other hand palm out to strike an imaginary foe with an imaginary jet of water. Her palm left the ground and swung in an arc above her head before sending an imaginary stream of water after the first, then standing fully and bringing both hands together, twisting them over one another and then making a motion as if to send the enemy flying off in a spiral. She ended her mock-attack in a defensive position, eyes scanning the small prison for any sign of change.

'Nothing,' she thought, somewhat put out. But she felt better the moment she exhaled, because she was ready.

Raising both arms in front of her, she began another series of movements, this time defending against a superior foe. At intervals, she would shift her focus and pretend to send needle-like spires of water flying at the enemy while keeping up her defenses against Earth and Fire benders. She would bring her palms up together and then throw her arms out in wide arcs around her, as if deflecting powerful streams of fire with equally strong shields of water. Spinning, her eyes were always watchful of the walls, ears always open and listening.

Bringing one hand to rest at the ready by her cheek in a balled fist and the other before her with her palm turned heavenwards, Katara ended her second series. She gave the prison another glance.

'But,' she thought to herself as she shifted stances, beginning with a neutral standing stance with her feet apart and her hands lax at both sides, 'this is better than sitting and waiting for something to happen to me.'

With that, she launched into another series of flowing motions, sending invisible attacks at invisible enemies.

Halfway through this third sequence, the wall to her back began to shift. Immediately, she spun and faced it, dropping out of her stance instantly and bringing both hands to rest at her sides. Round blue eyes narrowed against the sudden light that flooded the small earthen cell, and she rose a hand to block the lantern rays. By the time her sight returned and she could make out the outline of a water flask at the man's side, instinct took over.

It was over in a matter of moments.

As the man rose the lantern to better see into the cave, the flask at his side jerked violently, causing him to upset the tray he'd been carrying. Katara sprung into action, dashing for the door and bending the water in the flask to rise up and hit the man between the eyes. She was at the cell door by the time he dropped the tray to cry out in pain, and she sprang into the hallway past him as he reflexively used Earth-bending to shut the cell wall. Landing in a crouch, the water-bender caught the lantern the guard had let fall in both hands and set it down as she stood again. Bending the water flask to her side, Katara turned around in time to see the guard coming to his senses, about to cry out that she'd gotten out. With a flick the flask was open and water shot out forcefully. The stream pounded powerfully against the man's temple, bringing him down with a thud to the earthen floor.

Katara watched him for signs of movement before bending the water back to the flask at her side and securing it to her body. Once she was set, water flask at her side and lantern in hand, she set off down the tunnel at a jog.

A few minutes later, still jogging, Katara broke into a small smile.

'I'm not helpless,' she thought proudly, making a mental note to tease Zuko incessantly later.

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"Are you SURE we haven't been here three times before?" Sokka asked, speaking in a stage whisper to Aang as they followed the Fire Prince along a familiar path. The Avatar gave Sokka a worried look.

"Actually, I think we have been by here before," he admitted, "But all the tunnels look exactly the same..."

"How do the Earth Benders know which ones to take, then?" muttered Sokka sullenly.

"They don't," Zuko said suddenly, groaning.

"Huh?" Aang and Sokka piped up intelligently.

Zuko let the light on his fist flare up a bit angrily with a hiss. "Think about it. Earth-benders would have no need for these tunnels at all. Why should they, when they can just bend themselves anywhere?"

"You mean we've been wandering around in a maze?" Aang asked, afraid of the answer.

Sokka looked between them and coughed slightly. "So... if you're saying what I think you're saying..."

"Awwwww," Aang groaned, sinking to the ground. How much time had they wasted just walking around in circles?!

"...then you owe me an apology," Sokka finished, looking at Zuko triumphantly. The Fire Prince gave him a look of undisguised confusion. "For shoving me up against the wall earlier," the water-tribe boy clarified with a grin.

"I'm not sorry about that."

"What?!"

"Are you deaf as well as dumb? I just said, 'I'm not sorry about that'."

"Are you serious? You shoved me up against the wall for no good reason!"

"It was a perfectly logical thing to do at the time," Zuko argued hotly, the fire at his fist flaring a bit as he spoke and pointing at Sokka with his free hand. "You were getting loud, and at the time, shouting seemed like something that would've gotten us caught!"

"Well you should still apologize," the other teen retorted grumpily, arms crossed defiantly over his chest.

"Hey, someone's coming," Aang announced, looking down the tunnels suddenly. In an instant, all three were in defensive stances, Sokka and Aang facing the front and Zuko to the back. Each was prepared to defend as best they could, despite the little squabble that had just broken out.

Sokka frowned as he found a figure rushing towards them in the dark. "Hey!" He called out, pointing and unintentionally earth-bending the ground beneath the figure's feet. The person in the darkness gave a very feminine yell as it was thrown forwards off its feet at the group. Zuko spun around in time to watch Katara fly into Aang. Both he and Sokka had the sense to throw themselves up against the wall to avoid getting caught up as Katara and Aang tumbled over one another and eventually landed in a heap on the floor behind them. Aang sat up quickly but there were virtually swirls in his eyes and he groaned.

"Ooohhh, dizzy..."

"Aang!"

The air-bender's world rocked again as Katara threw herself into him again, this time with her arms around his shoulders in a fierce hug. Aang

"Oh! I'm so glad to see you guys!" the water-bender gushed, giving Aang another squeeze before she let go and looked at her air-bending friend.

"Hey, this is no time to be catching up," Zuko reminded the group, breaking up the short-lived relief at finding one another alright, "We're still in an Earth Country Prison."

"As if that wasn't obvious," Sokka muttered sullenly.

Zuko was about to retort when the sound of feet approaching stopped him dead in his tracks. Aang's eyes widened and he let go of Katara, standing up. "Oh, no," breathed the water-bender, "Guards?"

"Sounds like a lot of them," Aang guessed with a slight waver to his voice. "In this tunnel where we're all really close together, it'll be really hard to fight."

"So... We're outnumbered and disadvantaged?" Katara asked nervously even as she stood with her hand on the lip of the water flask. "How come that doesn't sound good?"

"Because it's not," Sokka groaned.

The Fire Prince balled his fists, half-snarling at the sounds of the other teens already giving up. They could surely hold off a few Earth Prison guards, no matter how bad he made it sound. The slight rumble of approaching feet, what must've been half the entire guard, shook the ground. Aang looked nervous but determined. Katara stood firmly beside him, hands at the ready to water-bend. Sokka was standing beside them on the other side of the tunnel, whining about things not looking good--and then, inspiration hit.

"Sokka!" Zuko's voice rung out suddenly, "Get us above ground!"

"Right," Sokka called back, wishing fervently that they were above ground at that moment.

The ground beneath their feet suddenly sank three feet, causing the four friends to fall on the ground. Just as they hit the earth, Aang with an 'oof' and the others with grunts of surprise, the ground shot heavenwards towards the ceiling. It looked for an instant like they would be crushed between the swiftly rising floor and the ceiling. Katara had enough time to register the situation and begin to scream before the ceiling suddenly cracked and fissured into a shape just wide enough to allow the rising slab of earth to pass through it and up through the ground. With a sudden jolt, the piece of earth broke to the surface and cemented itself into the ground as if it had always been there. The four teens, still traveling at the speed of the slab of earth, were thrown into the air a bit and came down awkwardly.

Aang air-bended himself to his feet and landed just before Katara crashed down on top of him.

The other two teens weren't as lucky and landed separately on the unforgiving ground.

"Ohh" groaned Sokka, gripping his rear tenderly, as he'd been unfortunate enough to land on it, "ouch--ouch, jeez, that really hurt!"

"Yeah," agreed the Fire Prince as he sat up, rubbing his neck and looking around at the green that surrounded them, "But at least we're out."

At that moment the group realized they had indeed made it out above ground.

"Wooooohoooo!" Sokka shouted, pumping a fist into the air.

Zuko rolled his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest.

Aang let out a whoop of laughter, jumping up into the air a foot or so. "We're out! We made it!"

Katara grinned broadly, unable to hold back a few giggles.

They'd escaped!

"What are you celebrating for?" Zuko cut in, "I hate to keep breaking up the happy atmosphere, but we're still standing right above the Earth Prison!"

Katara and Aang came back down from their happy high instantly. "You're right," Aang said, turning and pointing at the horizon. "There's a sea breeze coming from this direction. Let's get back to the ship."

"Right!" Katara agreed, and both set off at a dead run in the direction Aang had pointed out.

Sokka was about to complain loudly that Zuko was always cutting into their good times when he realized Zuko had already covered that point. Luckily, Aang and Katara were running on ahead and weren't here to see him looking somewhat ridiclious. His mouth was half-open and both fists were in the air. Zuko glanced at him curiously before a smirk spread across his pale features. Sokka glowered darkly at the Fire Prince.

"I hate you," he muttered, sticking his tongue out at the older boy.

Zuko felt his eye twitch.

"Keep that out and I'll bite it off," he threatened, taking a half-step towards the other boy.

Sokka 'meep'-ed and ran off after the others. Zuko watched him flee with a smug grin before he set off at a run after the others as well.

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End Chapter.

Closing A/N: Well! I realize it's been three years or so since I updated this... but I was looking through my old things and figured, 'oh well. Can't hurt to throw it out there'. I DO have an ending planned for this story, and there IS Zukka ahead for those reading for that particular ship. If I get enough reviews/a good enough review to convince me to continue, I shall. If this chapter provokes absolutely no response out of you guys, well... I've also got a fairly large trash bin. -eyes the story- It'll fit. Why don't you make sure it doesn't end up there, and click that little blue button at the bottom of the screen?