Avatar: The Last Airbender
Book 3: Fire
Chapter 8: The Island
Ty Lee slowly opened her eyes. And then quickly shut them. After several seconds, she attempted to open then again. The light, blinding when she had first opened her eyes, was now more or less tolerable. And the figure that came into view was the last person she would have expected to see. Truth be told, she had fully expected never to see anyone again, so she was even more shocked when Azula's face came into view. Azula's eyes, while normally full of contempt and malice, were full of concern and worry. Ty Lee could also make out what appeared to be the remains of tears hanging onto corners of the Princess's eyes.
"Oh good, you're awake." Ty Lee managed to sit up, albeit painfully and with help from Azula, to see Mai standing on the other side of the room, who had a relieved smile on her face. "I was starting to think that Azula wouldn't get you here in time for us to save you."
Ty Lee raised her eyebrows. "Was I really hurt that bad?" She directed the question at Mai, but it was Azula who answered her.
"My uncle, much as I hate to admit it, is an extremely accomplished Firebender. He was able to disable one of your pressure points. Unfortunately for you, it also stopped your breathing. You had almost suffocated when I got you to our healers."
Ty Lee turned back to Azula. "What about your uncle and the Avatar? Won't your father be angry that you let them get away?" Azula nodded.
"Yes, I'm sure he'll be terribly angry. But I wasn't about to let you die for my enemies. Besides, he can get his pet Jarec to bring them back." She suddenly found herself engulfed in a bone breaking hug by Ty Lee.
"Thank you, Azula. I didn't think you cared."
Azula carefully unwound Ty Lee's arms from around her neck and gently pushed her down on the bed.
"Stupid. Of course I care. Now you should rest."
"And, based on the rock formations and the approximate direction that Zuko told us to take…I have no idea where we are." Sokka lowered the map and offered his best Don't-hate-me-I-tried look. Zuko shook his head and sighed.
"Listen Sokka; no one cares if you can't find this island on a map. After all, we're in the Fire Nation now." He glanced over Sokka's shoulder at the map. "Plus, it's not even on the map. But you tried." He patted Sokka on the shoulder. Toph cleared her throat.
"Alright Zuko; where are we?"
The island that they had landed on was exactly what Katara pictured when she thought of the Fire Nation: white sand beaches, palm trees, a nice warm ambient temperature, colorful bird and lush underlying vegetation. Behind her, Zuko spoke up.
"This is Gouka Island." When Sokka started to chuckle, Zuko rounded on him. "Don't laugh too hard. The name means Hell Fire." At those words, Sokka had a small coughing fit, Toph gasped, and Katara's eyes grew three sizes. Sokka managed to gasp out a question.
Zuko nodded. "Roughly."
"So what's here?" asked Katara, who was already walking away from the group towards a magnificent waterfall cascading down a column of basalt to land in a glistening crystal clear pool. Zuko pointed towards some trees close by the pool.
"We're here for supplies. Really all we need to get is fresh water and fruit."
"And MEAT!" yelled Sokka, happily drawing his machete, only to be stopped by Zuko. Sokka looked back at him, his eyes clearly asking "Huh?"
"Don't bother. Nothing here is worth eating." Zuko suddenly launched himself past Sokka and, running full out, managed to grab Katara before she could wade into the water. As expected, she was less than happy.
"Zuko, what the hell?" she asked, swirling to face him, her hands on her hips and her blue eyes shining with anger. Zuko pointed at the pool again.
"That water's over 1500, Katara! Do you want to be boiled?"
"What? No it's –" Katara started, but was cut off by Zuko.
"Do you see the bubbles? It's being heated from underground." Katara followed Zuko's finger and cast new eyes on the pool. Now that she knew what to look for, she could see the steam rising from the surface and the small bubbles that broke the surface. Zuko continued "This whole island is basically one giant volcano. Now let's get our supplies and leave."
"Oh?" said Sokka. "If I didn't know better -"
"You don't know better." Interjected Toph. Sokka spun around and pointed an accusing finger at her. "Must you always do that?" Toph smiled and nodded at him, only adding to his initial outrage. Katara walked over and put a hand on Toph's shoulder. "Not now, Toph. But this better be important, Sokka."
"Right." Sokka turned to Zuko. "Why are you in such a hurry, Zuko?"
Zuko sighed before answering him. "Because this place is forbidden for my people."
This brought a collective gasp from everyone present. Katara broke the following silence.
"You mean there are forbidden places for Firebenders? Why is it forbidden?"
Zuko took his time before answering. He took a deep breath and held it. As he let it out, he began speaking.
"About 50 years ago, during Fire Lord Azulon's reign, we were fighting against the Western Coast of the Earth Kingdom. And we were losing. My grandfather sent the 2nd fleet to reinforce our garrison there. To get there, the fleet had to pass by this island. There was another route, but it would take longer, and my grandfather was not a patient man. To make a long story short, the volcano erupted. Most of the ships were destroyed by falling rocks and one even sunk under the weight of falling ash. Two ships managed to limp back to the Capital. It was the worst naval defeat in Fire Nation history, and the ships weren't even in enemy waters."
Zuko was silent for several seconds and continued. "I was always warned against coming here." He fell into silence and then started to walk over to the fruit trees. He sank down on one knee and took a handful of soil.
"My mother used to tell me that it was Avatar Roku who sank those ships, in protest of the war. I don't know if that's true or not, but I don't want to spend too long here."
Katara gasped and Sokka spun around to face Zuko so fast that his neck cracked. Toph, who was blind, just kind of stared vaguely in his direction. Sokka opened his mouth and let out a squeaking noise before finding his voice.
"But..but Avatar Roku died 100 years ago! There's no way…" Zuko rounded on him.
"I know, I know! It's just a story. Actually, it was started by Azulon, to make everyone think that the Avatar was this menacing person. But my mother always told me it was true, and that Avatar Roku's spirit was alive."
A great laugh escaped from Sokka. And then another. "His spirit is still around! You mother sounds as dumb – " Suddenly Zuko's sword was at his throat. Sokka gulped against the blade and glanced at Zuko, who had an ugly grimace on his face. Just as fast, Zuko found himself frozen to the nearest tree, and Katara's ice shards at his throat.
"What the hell is your problem, Scarface?" The Waterbender hissed at him, tears of anger forming in her eyes, her rage causing her to use the nickname that she knew he hated. The grimace ran off Zuko's face like running water; his sword dropped from motionless hands. He closed his eyes for a split second and Katara thought she heard a sniffle, but when he opened them, he was back to his old self. Instead of her, he directed his shout at Sokka.
"Why did you say that about my mother?" When Sokka didn't answer, he took a step toward him. "I asked you a question, peasant!" The last word echoed across the clearing. Sokka just stared back, still visibly shaking. He opened his mouth, but Katara interrupted.
"Just stop it you two!" They turned to look at her. "Don't you see what's going on?" Blank looks… "We're going back to square one. Please. Don't do this." With that, Katara turned and ran off. Zuko raised his hand, as if to hold her back. Beside him, Sokka sighed.
"She's right. I never thought I'd say this, but I'm sorry Zuko."
Zuko let out a huff. "Keep your apologies, peasant." When Toph walked over and placed her hand on his shoulder supportively, he gently brushed it off.
"I need some space." He told her, before walking off.
Ty Lee was trying her best to block out the sounds coming from outside her room. The Firelord himself had walked down to her room and asked, none too kindly, to see Azula. And now the two were having a heated argument right outside. No pun intended. Ty Lee was practicing; standing on her hands, flipping through the air, punching, kicking, and she even threw in some elbow strikes. Mai, who was acting as her sparring partner, was holding her own well.
Both girls fell back panting as the door to Ty Lee's quarters opened. A very defeated looking Azula walked in, her head down, her hand covering her cheek. Without looking, she spoke to the two in the room.
"Pack your things. We're leaving." And with that, she turned on her heel and walked out the door. Ten minutes later, Ty Lee and Mai left their respective rooms and met Azula in hers. The Fire Princess was waiting for them, holding her own small bag. Smiling as they ran up panting, she answered their unasked question.
"My father has made it abundantly clear that he does not want me around anymore. I don't suppose I can blame him, but we're still leaving." Before she could make a move, Ty Lee sheepishly raised her hand. "Ummm Azula? Why do we have to leave?" Azula sighed.
"Father has banished me from the palace. He was very angry that I chose to save you." With that, Azula turned and hurried away, but not before Ty Lee had seen the burn on her cheek. She let out a gasp of fright and ran after her friend.
"Azula! There's something on your cheek!"
Azula slowed and then turned to her acrobatic friend again. Ty Lee could clearly see the character that was burned into the flesh of her cheek.