Brave New World, or A Strange Case of Love In the City
The Trials of Ba Sing Se
The inn stood in the middle of the street, neither advertising itself nor standing out. Like so many buildings in Ba Sing Se, it basically blended in with the rest of the scenery. Granted, there was less reason to really look at it now, since it's landlord had been imprisoned for allowing Firebenders into the city. However, the inn's last tenants had been given the building to live in as a sign of good faith from the Dai Li, the ruling government of the city. The irony though, was that this building that seemed so unimportant and ordinary, now housed some of the most important and powerful people in the world.
In fact, if one of the many passers-bys were to look in through the windows, they would see the awe-inspiring figures of a young child, two teenaged Water-Tribe siblings, a young Earthbending girl, an old man, and a group of cloaked figures sitting in chairs discussing something. Well, at least that's what they would see at first. But upon closer examination, and a little knowledge of current events, those people would be recognized as Avatar Aang, his Water-bending teacher Katara and his friend Sokka, his earthbending teacher Toph Bei Fong, his future Firebending teacher the former General Iroh, and the legendary Elemental Knights, voices of the gods on earth sent to guard the young Avatar. And yet if one was to actually listen to their discussion, that person might turn and run in fear. For in Ba Sing Se, the greatest crime one could commit was to openly discuss the war that was occurring on the outside, and that was just what the group inside the inn was discussing…
"They wouldn't even listen to you?" Sokka asked again, his amazement and frustration quite apparent in his voice.
"They moved me up from six weeks to four." Tierra, the dog-Knight of Earth answered in disgust. "Apparently, the Dai Li's hold is strong enough to circumvent even the fear of the gods."
"Or Long Feng is smart enough to know we cannot fight an entire city without losing the support of the rest of the Earth Kingdom." Iroh added.
Tierra nodded, as Hierro, the spider-Knight of metal, spoke. "Iroh's right. We can't go after the Dai Li without word spreading throughout the Earth Kingdom that we've attacked Ba Sing Se and the Earth King. But there has got to be someone or something we can use to get through all this bureaucracy."
"But we don't have time for that." Katara argued. "This city is huge, and the Dai Li are everywhere. The eclipse will come and go before we can find anything here to help us."
Hierro nodded his head resignedly; just like everyone else, the spider knew just much of a strange hold Long Feng and the Dai Li had on the city. After the group had escaped Azula and regained Appa, they had attempted to make good on their second objective in Ba Sing Se; contacting the Earth King and telling him about the upcoming eclipse and it's weakening effect on the Fire Nation. The group had attempted to begin this process after Jouku, the previous owner of the inn had been arrested by the Dai Li. But the group had merely told the group to find a woman named Jo Dee who could set up an appointment. However, Jo Dee had merely creeped the group out with her unending smiling, and then promised them an audience in a month's time. No amount of explanation or begging could change her mind, but that didn't stop them. Toph and Katara had crashed a feast held in honor of the King's bear and tried to get an audience then, with Aang and Sokka posing as busboys and the Knights hiding under the power of Oscuirdad, the bat-Knight of Shadow.
It had been there in fact, where they had been introduced to the sinister Long Feng, and told about the state of affairs in Ba Sing Se; how the King was merely a figurehead, how the Dai Li ran the city and refused to discuss the war on any level, for fear of ruining their 'utopia.' Despite eloquent words from Katara, Aang, and the Knights (well, threats from Tierra) Long Feng had refused to grant them any kind of audience and said that the group would now be monitored by the Dai Li and would be forcibly expunged from the city at any further action towards the war effort. Therefore, the group had been trying for the last two weeks to try to figure out something they could do to speak with the King.
"Are we still alone?" Fuego, the 'magma-man' who served as Knight of Fire asked suddenly.
At this, Oscuridad cocked his ears as Tierra sniffed the air. The two of them stretched their enhanced senses to the max, then the bat said, "Not anymore."
"Don't these guys ever take a bathroom break?" Toph muttered as the group got up; with the Dai Li surrounding them again, any further talk about their situation was extremely dangerous.
"I think the time we spent talking was it, Toph." Luz, the fox-Knight of Light, answered as she moved over to the fire-pit. Taking some water from the canteen, she poured into the pot over the pit, reached into the small pantry nearby, only to turn a moment later and yell, "Dammit Mushi, did you drink all the jasmine tea again?"
"I had a very stressful day." Iroh responded, being sure to respond to his alibi. Since both Iroh and Zuko were wanted criminals of both the Earth and Fire Nations, the group had made sure to call them by their assumed names when they were being watched.
"What stress? You just talk all day." Muttered Aire, the falcon-Knight of Wind.
"You don't think that knowing the right thing to say all the time is stressful?" Iroh replied.
"Whatever. I think I told Trueno to get some more when he stops by Lee's tea shop today." Agua, cat-Knight of Water said. Since Zuko, or Lee as his alibi stated, did not have the experience of Iroh in advising the group, and had to be very careful in his dealings with the Dai Li, he was not able to do much to help out. Therefore, Zuko had begun searching for a job, only to have Iroh help him acquire one in a tea shop (this had not been much surprise to the group). Despite struggling at first, Zuko had become much better, thanks in no small part to Iroh's vast knowledge of tea. The job had therefore become a good source of money for the group, and had kept Zuko busy, if not hugely happy.
"I still can't believe that Lee's been able to do so well at the shop." Katara said. "He's hated tea for as long as I've known him."
"You know your brother." Bosque, the squirrel-Knight of Forest replied. "He's quite adaptable when he wants to be."
Katara nodded at that, but she shook her head a moment later. It was still strange for the girl to think of Zuko as her brother, despite what Tierra had learned while they had been captured by Azula. While trapped inside the cramped cell, Tierra had detected scents from the three of them and Azula that, after consultation with the Architects, or gods, of Water and Fire, had revealed that Zuko's mother, Ursa, had been the same Water-Tribe girl that had given birth to Sokka and Katara, while Azula's true mother was another Water-Tribe girl. Ozai had apparently captured both girls during a raid on the Southern Water-Tribe and despite escape attempts on the part of Ursa, had managed to keep both of them in the Fire Nation until their respective deaths, while Katara and Sokka were raised by their unknown stepmother.
All three of them were still coming to terms with all this, though their relationships with each other seemed to be improving. Part of this was Katara's doing; she and Zuko had been patching things up before this revelation, and despite a small, accidental kissing incident that nether of them truly liked remembering, they were still on good terms. As for Sokka, after fighting with Zuko to escape the ship and Zuko's help during Aang's difficult time without Appa, had begun to respect his brother more and more and had been treating him as such.
Who knows? Maybe they can actually go penguin-sledding back home. Katara thought as she looked out the window. But seeing the streets around her and knowing the Dai Li were hidden somewhere pushed such light thoughts out of her mind. I can't believe that Long Feng would be so afraid of the outside world. And we can't leave without speaking with the King, but will that even do anything? The King may be the same way. Things were supposed to get easier when we got here; why does it just harder everywhere we go?