Chapter 1: The Fort on the Hill
Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender. It would be about Sokka and Iroh if I did.
Author's Note: This story is set in season one, a little over a week after they met Jet. I came up with the idea for this story during season one, but put off writing it in favor of some other stories. I finally got motivated to write it when I heard that there was going to be an episode in season three with similar subject matter and I didn't want to look like a copy-cat. Mind you, I'm not the only one that has come up with this idea.
Author's Warning: This story will feature vivid violence and gore in the latter chapters.
It was a cool day and the breeze was strong. The leaves were being swept though the air in a swirling dance of reds, yellows, and oranges. It was late in the afternoon and the sun was slowly sinking closer to the horizon. They had been traveling for several days though the hilly country without any sign of civilization. Finally they had spotted a small village where they could get some supplies. Unfortunately, they also spotted a Fire Nation fort up on the large hill that overlooked the village.
"Ok, look we need the supplies," Sokka said as he and Katara argued over what to do. Katara was firmly against going into the village. They had not seen or been seen my the Fire Nation in ten days, why should they risk a run in now? Sokka on the other hand was much more concerned with his stomach. "There doesn't even seem to be that many soldiers in the village. I can go down there and get the supplies and be back up here before dark. This village is so remote that I doubt they even know the Avatar is back, let alone looking for us."
"Fine," Katara said with a huff. She crossed her arms and glared at Sokka. "Just don't expect me and Aang to come rescue you once you take your first step into the village and the guards have you under arrest."
With that the argument was finished. Aang had tried to voice his own opinion on the matter, but soon let the siblings argue it out. It was starting to become clear to him that even if he might be able to bring peace to the world, an argument between a brother and sister was something that he would just have to let it run its course. At least with everything settled Aang could spend the rest of the day practicing waterbending with Katara while Sokka went for supplies. With the North Pole so far away, he needed all the practice he could if he wanted to master waterbending in time.
Sokka pulled the hood of his cloak low so it would obscure his face as he neared the village. Despite his own arguments, he was smart enough not to advertise who he was in a Fire Nation controlled town. It did occur to him that he might be making himself look more suspicious this way in all irony.
As he a got closer, he could see that the village was a cluster of about two dozen houses. There appeared to be a line of stalls and other businesses down the main street. All in all, he would have to call the village quaint and peaceful looking. However, the Fire Nation guard standing under the archway into the town told him otherwise.
"Hey, you there," the guard called out to Sokka, proving that he was not asleep, though the sound of his voice would indicate he was not far from it. "Who are you and what are you doing?"
Sokka held his hands and said, "I'm just a lost traveler not familiar with this part of the world. I've been wandering for many days in hopes of finding a town so I could get directions and supplies. I'm in a real hurry to get home because my mother is—"
"Look, I just wanted to know who you were and what your business was, not your life story," the guard said cutting Sokka's rather elaborate and thought out lie. "The village elder, Getsu, should be able to tell you anything you need to know and the market is fairly well stocked," the guard said as he waved Sokka though. "Oh, and one more thing," the guard flipped Sokka's hood back so he could see his face, "don't wear your hood like that. It makes you look suspicious."
"Ok…thanks," Sokka said and started into the village, slightly annoyed that he did not get to use his well thought out lie. He was rather surprised, usually guards, especially Fire Nation guards, were not all that hospitable. Still, Sokka was not about to look a gift ostrichorse in the mouth.
The market was indeed more than adequately stoked and the people were friendly. It did not take Sokka long to get all of things he needed (a large quantity of meat being one of the items). He could have left then, but something was bothering him. Where were all of the Fire Nation soldiers? Aside from the guard at the gate he had only seen a handful of soldiers. They did not seem to be particularly patrolling the village, in fact most seemed to be on casual strolls.
This was not the Fire Nation that Sokka knew, or at least thought he knew. Things just did not make since. Why were there so few soldiers in the town? Why weren't the soldiers trying to be more controlling of the town? Why was there even a fort in a village this small? That was when it hit him, there had to be something up with that fort.
Sokka knew he should probably just let it go. The people in the town seemed fine. He had what he wanted. He knew he should just go back to Katara and Aang. But Sokka could not. He knew something was up with that fort, and since it was the Fire Nation it could not be anything good.
Finally settling his resolve, Sokka determined to investigate the matter before returning to the others. He figured that the village elder would be the best person to inquire with, and the guard had so helpfully given him his name. After a few inquiries with the vendors, Sokka found himself standing outside a modest house not far from the market. He rapt on the door and waited to see if the man was home.
"Hello," said an old man with gray hair and long, but well kept beard as he opened the door. He was short, not even taller than Sokka, and skinny. The man looked Sokka up and down. "I am Gatsu, is there something I can do for you?"
"My name is Sokka. I'm a traveler passing though your village and I was hoping you could answer some questions," Sokka told Gatsu. He smiled in what he hoped was an unarming way. He had taken the guard's advice and left his hood down to not look suspicious.
"Of course, come in," said Gatsu. He led Sokka into his house and pointed him to a wooden chair while drawling up one of his own. Once they were both situated, "So what is it you want to know?"
"Well, I've noticed that this town is controlled by the Fire Nation, but there are not many soldiers in the town. Also there is a fort up on that hill, but this village isn't exactly in majorly strategic area. I was hoping you could shed some light on these oddities," Sokka said.
Gatsu raised an eyebrow at the enquiries. He stroked his beard as he though for a moment then spoke, "Truth be told, some of this is a bit of a mystery to us. The commander of the fort has told me that he is uninterested in our village and that he has more important things to worry about than keep a few peasants in line. So long as we don't cause know trouble, the soldiers leave us be for the most part.
'As to why the fort is there, it is a little less clear. They seemed to be some kind of supply station. We get small units that pass though here. They stop at the fort, resupply, the off they go. As you remarked, it is an odd place for a supply station, but I'm no military commander. There is one more thing, a rumor actually…" Gatsu started to trail off, but Sokka gave him a nod his head to continue, "I've heard it mentioned that the fort is actually some kind of prison. The soldiers have made a few comments, but it seems to be something they aren't really supposed to discuss. What makes it stranger is that from the little that has slipped, it seems they only have one prisoner there."
Sokka made a little more small talk before finally leaving. He thanked Gatsu for his time and complemented the village before heading back to the market to contemplate what he had learned. It was close to twilight and he knew Katara would worry if he did not return to the camp before sunset so he started back towards the village entrance.
As he neared the arch, he spotted two soldiers moving into the village tavern. He had gotten several good bargains while shopping and had some coins left over. After considering the possibilities, he made his way to the tavern with a grin on his face. Soldiers were known to be more "forthcoming" to those that bought them a few drinks.
"Where have you been?!" Katara practically shouted as she saw Sokka enter the clearing. She had been nervously pacing around the campfire since the sun went down. She had wanted to go off and search for him at twilight, but Aang had told her to give Sokka some time. They should not assume the worse and if he might have been delayed for a perfectly good reason. Still, Katara could not help but be anxious. "We though you had been captured. We were getting ready to go that Fire Nation for to rescue you."
Sokka just smirked at her, knowing that would only fuel her aggravation with him. "That's ok, we're going there anyhow."
"What?" Aang and Katara asked incredulously. Even Momo and Appa tilted their heads to the side at this unexpected statement.
"While I was in town I found out some great information. That isn't a fort, it's a prison," Sokka said with a large smile.
"Um, Sokka… how exactly is that great?" Aang asked scratching his head.
"Because their only prisoner is a waterbending master. If we free him, he can teach you and Katara how to waterbend. We won't have to go all the way to the North Pole and it will save us a lot of time before Sozin's Comet arrives, "Sokka said. He watched as the full implication of his words dawned on his companions' faces and they all shared a smile.