Chapter 23: Did you think things through?
Once again, Katara and Zuko were on their way to wards Omashu. As they came closer, the trees became fewer and fewer, soon they would reach the end of the woods and enter a field of sand and rocks that lay outside the wall of Omashu.
"I think we should go further by foot." Zuko said. "We are too noticeable on the ostrich-horses."
Katara nodded in reply and let her ostrich-horse come to a stop. After she and Zuko bound their animals to a tree, they stretched their limbs and started to walk to the end of the woods. As they came closer to where the wood would end and the open field begun, they heard someone talking in a rather angry tone. Zuko ducked and crawled behind some bushes and singed for Katara to follow his lead. She did what was told and crawled over the ground and took a halt as she came next to Zuko. He put a finger against his lips and shove some branches aside. 15 feet in front of them they saw guards from Omashu, walking straight towards the woods.
"How they could have escaped is beyond me. But we must find them quick." One guard said to the other. "If we do not find them, the governor wouldn't allow me to go on my summer vacation."
"I know, I've spent half of my savings on a summer cottage on Ember Island. And I promised my wife and children that we were going to have the best vacation ever." The other guard complained.
Suddenly the man in front of the line came to a halt, just in front of the bush Katara and Zuko were hiding in, and spun around. The other guards placed themselves in a horizontal line.
"Listen up! We are to find the escaped Avatar. He is accompanied by General Iroh, Former King Bumi and a blind earth bender. We'll split up in three teams of eight men." The head guard walked from the first man in line to the last one. "The first eight are to search in the western parts of the woods, the second eight will take the eastern part, the remaining men will follow me. If you have located the escaped prisoners you will let the others know by blowing the horn you have with you."
Zuko and Katara hold their breaths as they heard the guard talk. This is not good, not good at all. They should hold very still now ore else they could get caught.
"You are now fully informed." The head guard spoke. "Men, go your way." He made some hand movements and the guards where off.
Katara's eyes grew wider at every step the guards took in their direction, her breathing was going faster an faster. They would be caught and there was not a thing they could do about it. She was about to panic when Zuko looked over to her as he sensed her worries. He signed for her to calm down but Katara shook her head. She couldn't calm herself. This was too risky. Then when a guard almost stepped on Katara's hand, she was about to jump a feet in the air if it wasn't for Zuko who grabbed her wrist and pulled her closer to him, covering her mouth with his other hand.
"Guy's I think I found someone." The guard said as he glared at the bushes Zuko and Katara were hiding in.
Katara looked up and starred in Zuko's eyes. Her eyes were completely filled with fear at this point. Zuko starred back and they were thinking the same thing. They've been caught.
The guard walked over to the bush and reached out a arm. At this moment Katara started to tremble with fear. Zuko felt how the water bender started to shake and with her some branches started to move as well. He hold her firmly but it had no use. She only started to shake more and more.
As the hand of the guard reached for some branches a rabbit-squirrel jumped out of the bushes and landed on the head of the guard. Then the rodent decided to jump down and run past the other guards who were laughing at the guard who still looked surprised.
"Hahaha, watch out Xino. The Avatar has transformed in to a cute rabbit-squirrel." One of the other guards said between his laughs. The surprised guard shook his head and followed the others who were still laughing and coming up with lame jokes about evil rabbit-squirrels.
In the great waters between the Earth Kingdom and the Fire Nation, on a Fire Nation ship stood the next Fire Lord in line. That is if she would tell her father about Zuko's decision to fight along the Avatar's side. Yes, that is what she would do. She would tell her father that Zuko had turned his back against them and their nation while she was giving him one last chance in Ba Sing Se. She would speak of how Zuko and their uncle helped the Avatar escape the city. If she knew her father, he would sent her to capture Zuko, Iroh and the Avatar. Zuko and Iroh would probably be executed for treason and the Avatar would be locked away for good so the Fire Nation would be unstoppable once Sozin's comet arrives. Only, first she would play a little bit with her brother and the water bender. But she kept that little plan to her self.
Sokka walked down the market in the lower rings of Ba Sing Se. He was still mumbling about his sister and Zuko being gone and how Suki and his father said that she would be fine. He kept thinking about the last few days and he had to say that he was giving Zuko a hard time. He did save Katara's life twice but that didn't make up for half a year of being chased down. How could everyone forgive him so easily? Even Aang seemed to be at piece with Zuko joining them. Maybe Sokka had to put his pride aside and give him a chance. Maybe... as long as he stayed away from Katara.
Sokka was roughly disturbed from his thoughts as a familiar shriek came from above him. He tilled hid head to see what was above him and saw a flying lemur coming his way.
"Momo!!!" Sokka yelled in surprise. He put his arms in the air for Momo to land on them. The exhausted animal landed on Sokka's head and purred happily as he finally found the blue boy. Sokka tilled the lemur off of his head and started to pet him.
"Momo, what are you doing here?" Sokka said to Momo as if he would answer the question. "You were supposed to be with Aang. Did something happen?"
The lemur looked back at the boy and purred some more. The he gave the scroll he was holding the entire time to Sokka.
"What's this? A letter from Aang? I'll read it when we are back in the inn. You look pretty hungry and so am I." Sokka said as he started to make his way back to the inn.
"You can let go of me now." Katara whispered to Zuko. They hadn't moved for five minutes now and Katara had calmed down. Zuko looked down at Katara, he almost forgot he had hold her so close.
"Are you sure you won't start to tremble again?" He asked her as he slowly let her go. She nodded her head as she felt how Zuko's arm loosened the grip around her. A small gust of wind blew trough the bushes and Katara shivered a little bit. The places were Zuko's body had made contact with hers had become warm, but now she was free of his grip the wind made those places feel icy cold. The water bender and the fire bender looked at each other for a moment before they carefully looked at the surrounding. The guards were gone and the woods sounded quietly, only the wind blowing through the trees was to be heard.
"Did you heard what those men said?" Katara said. "Aang managed to free Bumi and left Omashu."
Zuko nodded his head. "So this trip was a waste of time. I told you he didn't need help. Now we are here in some kind of wood, far from Ba Sing Se with no back up plan what so ever. Do you think these things through?"
"Oh shut it." Katara replied as she walked in the direction were they had left the ostrich-horses.
"Where are you going?" Zuko asked.
"Too see if the ostrich-horses are still there where we left them." Katara answered. "The guards are about five minutes away from us and this forest is big. We won't run into them."
"I don't think that is such a great idea. We should get out of here." Zuko argued.
"We will, but I'm not going to walk." Katara said as the moved away from Zuko. "So let's stop bickering, get the animals and come up with a new plan."
Zuko sighed as he hung his head. This girl was impossible. First she was trembling with fear like a mouse-rat trapped in a corner and now she was off in the woods filled with guards looking for anyone who had something to do with the Avatar. The fire bender followed the girl to the ostrich-horses. Luckily enough, the guards had left the beasts where Katara and Zuko had left them.
"Do you have any idea if there is a town or a village near by?" Zuko asked Katara as they climbed on the bird-horses.
Katara shook her head. "I've been here two times before, but I've never saw a village nearby." She kicked her ostrich-horse in the side and the beast started to walk. "But I do know a small town that is about 2 day's away from here. If we go on all day and night at a fast speed we might get there by midnight."
"And you are sure my father has not claimed the town by now?" Zuko asked as he came to ride next to Katara.
The water bender nodded her head. "I am sure of it. In fact, your father once had the town occupied but the men of the town reclaimed it." Katara looked a little proud as she thought about how she helped Haru and the imprisoned men gain back their hope they had lost when the town became claimed by the Fire Nation. "With a little help from Aang, Sokka and me." She added with a smug look on her face.
"Hey dad, Suki, look who I found. Or better yet, who found me!" Sokka said as he walked into the lobby of the inn. Hakoda and Suki turned their heads away from their strategy plans and looked at the happy warrior.
"Momo!" Suki called as she saw the white Lemur half asleep in the arms of Sokka. She walked over to them and petted the exhausted Lemur. "He looks tired and hungry. I'll find out if they serve any thing to eat for Momo."
Sokka turned to his father. "He has flown all the way from where Aang might have been to Ba Sing Se with a letter from Aang." Sokka began as he sat down and put Momo on his lap. He rolled out the scroll Momo had gave him and let his eyes glide down the scroll.
"What does it say, son?" Hakoda asked Sokka as he studied Sokka's face. Sokka looked up and he handed the scroll to his father who began to read it.
"Well, at least they escaped." Hakoda said as he rolled up the scroll and placed it on the table in front of him.
"Who escaped from where?" Suki wanted to know as she put a bowl of berries on the table next to the scroll. "What's this? A teller from Aang?"
Sokka nodded. "Aang, Toph and Iroh got imprisoned by guards of Omashu as they tried to free Bumi. They escaped though... with Bumi. Now they are hiding somewhere with the White Lotus Society." Sokka lowered his head an let out a small groan. "I'm beginning to think that reclaiming cities as we do now, in small groups, is not the best strategy."
Hakoda and Suki looked at each other before sitting down. "I think you are right." Hakoda replied. "We should gather men as much as we can and free the cities one by one."
"Or we could gather men as much as we can and go directly to the source of this war." Suki suggested. "It was the original plan from the start. Defeating the Fire Lord before summers end. Reclaiming cities one by one would take too much time. Who knows how long it takes to free Ba Sing Se from Azula, for all we know it'll take weeks of planning and gathering men." She whispered as a couple passed them by to check in the inn.
"It might be they only way." Sokka sighed. "I'll write a note to Aang telling we we'll meet them on the way to the Fire Nation as soon as we are done planning things." Sokka petted Momo who was just finishing his last berry. "Then you'll have to fly a great distance again."
The lemur shook his head and flew away from the table with a shriek and landed on Suki's shoulder giving Sokka an 'are you insane' look. Suki petted Momo on his back and smiled at him.
"I think Momo has had enough of flying great distances. We should come up with an other solution. I saw a pet store just a few streets from down here. Maybe they sell messenger-hawks or something." The Kyoshi warrior said.
"We're here." Katara said as she and Zuko climbed down from their horses and walked through the town's gate. They guided their bird-horses through the town searching for a place to stay only the small town did not had a hotel or inn.
"I guess we have to camp outside again." Zuko said as they failed at looking for an inn.
"Well, I do know some one who lives here." Katara replied as she walked up to a house at the end of a street. "I hope they don't mind getting up in the middle of the night." She knocked on the door and waited for some one to open. After a few seconds Katara and Zuko heard something moving from inside the house and a light was lit. Then the door went open slowly.
"Who is there?" A manly voice asked.
"It's me, Katara." The water bender answered. The man stretched out his hand and hold the lantern he held in his hand next to Katara's face.
"Katara, what are you doing outside in the middle of the night?" The man asked.
"Me and my, eeuh... traveling partner, are looking for a place to stay for the night." She said.
"Please, come inside." He stepped aside and signed for Katara and Zuko to come inside.
"Thank you Tyro." Katara said as she and Zuko walked pass Tyro.
"Please, sit down. I'll wake my wife, she will make you some tea." Tyro said as he hung the lantern on the wall and went to the back of the house.
Happy new year!!!!!!
My writing skills have become a little rusty. I haven't written any long chapters/ stories for more than a year. I hope this chapter was worth the wait, I never thought I would say this... but I'm looking forward to write the last chapters. The story is coming to an end soon.