Turbulent Alliance

Chapter 1: Old Friends, New Consequences

Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender or any of the characters there within, they are all property of Nickelodeon.

Safely tucked into one of the corners of the moving war vehicle sat a young, dark-haired girl of fifteen, newly recruited to a great cause for the Fire Nation. She had removed one of her many, many hidden weapons from the depths of her robes for an inspection, doubling as a means to not have to be social about the entire situation. She was invited, she accepted, and in this chase for the long run. There was nothing to discuss about it. Silence ruled the inner chamber of the two cargo bays in tow—that was if one could ignore the continuous babble of a positively ecstatic acrobatic girl that bounced animatedly at the center of the hold.

"Wow, it's been so long since we've done anything like this. I'm so excited! Just think of all the places we are going to see and the fun people we will meet. What an adventure! Don't you two think so? Ah, I just know my aura is going to change all sorts of different colors on this trip. I still think I'm mostly pink for right now though. I wonder what it might be next? I'm rather fond of orange, but who has ever heard of an orange aura?"

The girl's giggling was interjected by an agitated sigh.

"Ty Lee, this is going to be a very long trip if you cannot find a way to curb that tongue of yours."

The accused immediately stopped in her rather one-sided conversation to cast an uneasy glance at the Fire Nation's princess, who brooded in another corner of the vehicle. Her arms were sternly crossed over her chest with her legs extended before her and crossed at the ankle. She gave the pink-clad girl who occupied the center of the vehicle a low-lidded grimace. Ty Lee returned the gaze with a weak smile.

"I'm sorry Azula, I'm just so tickled to be with the both of you again."

Silence met the statement. Azula turned her attention to the preening of her long, auburn bangs and Mai continued to inspect her blade. Disheartened, Ty Lee slid down onto her belly to stretch on her makeshift bed, gloomily examining her nails.

Mai nestled a little more deeply into her pillows in an attempt to stave off some of the jarring movements of the moving vehicle. It did little to aid her as they ran over yet another form of uneven road. The newly refurbished bay had been put together in haste for the demands of the princess; beds, blankets, and pillows were laid out for the three of them, as well as lanterns hung to light the interior. It was cozy enough, though Mai appreciated her own space. Surely they did not need so many pillows and blankets; the simple futons they laid on should have been well enough to suffice for the journey. The extra space could have been used to carry other items of stock; such as weapons and supplies. But traveling with a princess lent itself to certain prerequisites. Well, at least they were traveling in comfort. Mai did feel as though there could be another lantern added to the two that hung overhead for a little more light with which to study her blade a little more closely, but she supposed her opinion in the matter did not amount to much.

The only sounds in the vehicle now were the churning of machinery gears and the occasional jolt as they ran over a rock or tightly packed mound of dirt and grass. Silence always got Mai to thinking and her mind infallibly wandered to the banished prince of the Fire Nation; her heart's content ever since she had set eyes on him. The handsome, sensitive prince whom hid behind a steely exterior but always meant well for others, had intrigued her since she had been first shyly introduced to him. It was a wonder how he and Azula were related with how contrasting each respective personality responded to circumstance.

And now there she sat, driving ever forward as fate conspired to reunite them in the most hostile of ways.

Her heart began to beat faster at the thought of seeing him once again, after so many years of monotony and wishful thinking. She had imagined so many possibilities of their meeting in the future, but this did not quite fit to her meticulously conjured daydreams. She had never dreamt that she would be hunting down the prince as a traitor to the nation and possibly be responsible for his execution, as Azula so pointedly hinted at.

No, she had dreams of his golden eyes falling on her and he would pause to recognize her for her beauty and skills. He would be awestruck to know of her dexterity in all manner of small blades and knives and projectiles…adore her for her beauty…smitten with her…

"Hey, I know that look…" Ty Lee was smiling deviously over at Mai, who was in fact, turning a light pink. "You're thinking about him again, aren't you Mai?"

Mai quickly glanced up then back down to her hands that now fidgeted with the weapon at rest there. The fleeting look had informed her of quite a bit of information. Ty Lee was still more than happy to tease Mai about her infatuation and not in the least bit shy to share it to anyone within shouting distance. Azula, on the other hand, had regarded Mai with an expression that could be interpreted into many things; the forefront might have been disapproval and hidden beneath that, the comprehension that a conflict could be had later in the mission—with Mai at its core.

Ty Lee's words interrupted Mai's train of thought.

"Aw, you are so cute Mai! Don't you think so Azula?"

Mai did not want to see what else Azula's gaze could denote into, but she could not stop herself as anxiety overthrew her stubbornness. But even as Mai looked up, Ty Lee had shrieked and thrown herself over to one wall.

"BUG!"

There, among the folds of linen, was a rather large-sized black critter scuttling out from where Ty Lee had just been lying down; but all of the girls were so startled by the sound and movement that all of them froze for a moment. The bug skittered in Azula's direction, swiftly climbing the wall close beside the princess' head. Her hand curled into a fist and she drew it back to strike when, as quickly as the lightning she could call forth from her fingertips, a blade embedded into the wall—pinning the insect under its point. The resounding bang seemed to echo a hundred times over inside the compartment.

Azula stared at the weapon and the bug struggling painfully beneath it. The distance between her head and the weapon was a little less than the length of her fist. The princess' gaze turned sharply toward Mai; who gazed back a little wide-eyed. The move had been dictated by immediate instinct, and quite unintentional. The two locked gazes in a battle of will. Azula's gaze was intense upon Mai and the latter wanted nothing more than to drop her eyes in humility, but something in her fought; fought to be heard. A nasty voice issued from somewhere within the depths of Mai's mind.

See how easily I could kill you?

Azula's golden eyes had not burned with the intensity they had now in ages—not since one unfortunate guard had not let her leave the premises of the palace of her own free will. Mai felt her breath catch—she was choking under that piercing gaze.

"Aw Mai, you didn't have to kill it." Ty Lee said sorrowfully from where she stood. This seemed to break the tension between the other two girls, if only briefly.

It was a moment before Azula gave Mai a deadly grin; wrenching the weapon out of the wall without looking at it. The insect fell to the ground, still pitifully struggling on its back, and a smart hole now resided in the steel wall.

"Still as good a shot as ever I see."

It was then Mai relented and dropped her gaze. She was gratefully saved having to answer by a smart rap at the door.

"Enter!" Azula snapped and the soldier behind it complied.

"Princess, the targets are in sight." He bowed respectfully, not looking the princess in the eye, and thus not witnessing as her eyes alit with fire.

"Excellent, continue forward and increase speed." The guard bowed out. Azula turned to her friends with a simpering grin. "Time to saddle up girls."


A/N: What began as a three page story became a ten page monster as I, once again, got carried away with myself--and this isn't even the section that I wanted to post in the first place! I think it's a safe bet that this will be a three chapter story and this first bit is just a teaser. I really wanted to focus on Mai and Ty Lee's relationship because those two are practically polar opposites--outgoing versus reserved, optimistic versus pessimistic, talkative versus quiet...I just hoped I pulled off their characters appropriately. If not, please don't hesitate to point out where you disagree!

Still, this story is going to be Mai centered (absolutely love that girl) and her relationship with Azula and Ty Lee. So stay tuned!

Please review!

Blackfire 18