artsy: thank you all for you well wishes! we are glad to be back. wedding planning is keeping me pretty busy but trombe is just pounding out these chappies! go trombs!

Trombe: Well this is gonna be a long chapter so I'm cutting into two parts - like the show, ahah! So there will be 4 chapters for sure to conclude this story, including this one. Hang in there with us, and enjoy the ride.

What I Don't Like About You

Chapter 53: Explosions and Infiltration

Who knew riding a - what did they call it? A submersible? - would be so much fun. Granted it was kind of cramped with her and Mai in it, but it was never a problem for the contortionist of the royal circus. Although Mai was, as always, covered in small, sharp objects. Ty Lee felt them randomly poke her from time to time, and shifted quickly away.

Silently, cocooned in their bubble beneath the water, they slipped under the waves of the Fire Nation harbor. Much like last time the ships above were none the wiser. It was kind of thrilling. That was a gift Ty Lee had, the ability to enjoy anything and everything she was doing.

"Isn't this so exciting? Breaking into our own home? Oh it feels just like the times I would sneak back into my room in the middle of the night. Of course it wasn't easy when you have like six sisters for roommates..." The girl in pink grinned. "They're all tattletales."

"Why would you even... Never mind. Forget I asked." Her gloomy companion rubbed her temples.

Ty Lee's face tipped sideways curiously, her braid hanging over her shoulder. "Are you okay Mai?"

"I'm fine. Its just... I don't think I like this form of transportation as much as you seem to."

"I could help you out," Ty Lee offered brightly. "There's a breathing meditation that I do that-"

"Thanks Ty Lee. No, but thanks."

Ty Lee knew her friend enough that that was courteous for Mai and dropped the subject all together.

It wasn't long til they arrived at their final destination - a crack between the walls. Something that you would not have even noticed had you observed it from above the waves. But you can see it clear as day beneath the turquoise ceiling. Their vehicle made its way towards the hidden crevice and submerged slightly under the surface. Sure enough a secret passage was revealed. It looked to be the remains of a shipping dock, albeit one that was more archaic and seemed to suite smaller ships then the ones the Fire Nation currently had in its navies.

"Wow... Who knew huh?" Ty Lee stared in astonishment. "How'd you know it was going to be here?"

"I'm psychic," Mai stated sarcastically. Ty Lee knew she shouldn't be so surprised. For as long as she'd known her friend Mai's family line were infamous as spies, saboteurs, and if they were needed, assassins of the Fire Nation. Information was their trade. She made a face, and Mai gave in. "Long before the gates of Azulon was built this was part of the harbor. I guess it was just sealed up when they built around it. I remember seeing an old blue print about it deep in dad's old office, something about smugglers moving illegal merchandise. Funny what the brain remembers." She shrugged as if it were nothing.

Opening the pod the two girts lightly jumped out as the pilot of the vessel emerged up from his chamber to give the girls one last hurrah.

"Remember the plan," he instructed. "We need the gates of Azulon neutralized and brought down. Only then can our main forces begin our assault."

"Leave it to us, Mechanist," Ty Lee responded with confidence.

The elder inventor merely smiled. "My name is Yi. I haven't told anyone that in a long time but by the spirits, I'll be damned before I'm only remembered for my horrific inventions. Anyway, go get them girls!" He gave a wave of support before departing once more into the depths of the waters.

"So... how do you wanna do this?" Mai sighed as she surveyed the dusty surroundings.

Ty Lee continued to move about as she spotted the exit and made their way back into the capital's imperial harbors. "Let's play it by ear."

"You serious?" Mai knew her friend was never one for battle plans but it seemed obvious they still needed one.

"Well you know. The universe has ways of fixing itself. Lets see how this goes. C'mon the entrance to the walls should be this way! I think..."

A lifetime of training and months with Azula took over as both of them sneaked pass patrol after patrol until finally they found themselves up high upon the first bastion of defense of the capital. Hiding by the corners both girls took their time and surveyed the opposition. The breezy ocean winds shifting Their hairs playfully.

"Hmmm...thirteen guards from the looks of it." Ty Lee observed.

"Fourteen." Mai corrected. "One of them is sleeping by the ballista." She cocked her head in the general direction, guiding Ty Lee's eyes to where they needed to be.

"Aww... he looks so peaceful. This does seem like a nice place to take an afternoon nap," the silver-eyed acrobat observed longingly, as if she herself wanted to take that nap.

"You can nap all you want when we finish all this," Mai responded automatically.

Ty Lee crossed her arms and pouted. "Oh don't be such a gloomy shoomy, Mai. I was just kidding. Also don't you have other important things to take care of?"

For a second Ty Lee was sure she saw hesitation flashed in her friend's eye. "Yeah, I do. But are you su-"

"Yep. Don't worry. I got this." Ty Lee winked with confidence, an act befitting of the star performer of her circus. "Now I just need to figure out how I'm going to close the distance from here... Charging in doesn't seem to be the best idea. Those two archers are going to be problematic, even for me... Hmm, not enough space to move around the wall here..." The braided girl cupped her chin as she thought out loud.

Distance wasn't the only problem. Time was of the issue as well. In the time that it would take for her to move and incapacitate the first guard the possibility that someone would raise the alarm was extremely high. She needed to be able to disable them all quickly and efficiently. The pretty acrobat's job had seemed much simpler when all she needed to know was to take down the guards of the wall. Seeing everything first hand put a little damper on Ty Lee's optimistic mood.

But no. Only she could do this.

Or at least, only she could do this without unnecessary bloodshed of people who were, technically, their allies. Or used to be, but would be again if Zuko won his Agni Kai. Or something like that. Either way, she had to do it if she wanted these loyal guards to live.

So lost in thought was she that she barely remembered Mai was still around. Mai who slowly made her way towards Ty Lee and began ripping her sleeves down.

"Hey!" With a pull and a rip both of her sleeves were torn with ease. "Mai! This is my favorite dress!"

"It's your only dress, Ty Lee," Mai said dryly. "Besides this will help you with your problem."

"And how exactly is tearing my dress going to help me?" the girl in pink raised an eyebrow in annoyance.

It was kind of an unspoken rule; girlfriend or not, one never touches another girls dress. It was the girl code.

The smile on Mai's face made her feel uncomfortable for a moment, as if the projectile specialist knew the joke and she didn't.

"Its kind of a spy thing to do, but it should be easy for you. Just do what you do best Ty Lee," Mai prompted with one of her rare grins, "Tease."

Ling Tong hated guard duty, especially up here on the great gates of Azulon's Harbor. Who in their right minds would dare try to take on the capital of the world? The meager forces of the Avatar's rebellion had tried and failed. If the most vaunted enemy of the Fire Nation could not breach them, then who could? Really?

So though he was relegated to his duty, he couldn't help but feel it necessary and the most demeaning part of the job as a Fire Nation Elite soldier.

Still it wasn't without merit. The gates provided a spectacular view of the ocean. Something Ling Tong had used many times over with girls he had wanted to impress. But today of all days, the coronation of the crowned princess Azula which marked her ascension to the throne, he wished he was not up on this accursed wall. The royal palace was in celebration. For all intents and purposes he should be there. Not least of all because of the glorious feasts and gorgeous women, but even more so to protect her royal highness of course.

Of course. He nodded, responding to his own thoughts.

Feeling restless, he stirred and looked down the wall to his neighbor. "Hey Han!" he shouted to his fellow guard.

"What?!" Han called back over the sound of breaking waves.

"This sucks!"

"Your mom sucks!"

Ling Tong responded with an obscene gesture of his middle finger. This was, naturally, a long shared tradition for the men of the nights watch. With the formalities out of the way, he tried again. "No, I mean c'mon. Were stuck here and Fa Zheng and those yups from the 301st are schmoozing it up with royalty! How's that fair?!"

Han shrugged at the injustice, and a third voice chimed in from the other side of the wall. "Just be thankful were here and not stationed on those ships. The admiral just has them patrolling back and forth." Ling Tong saw his friend Liu gesturing at the ships. "It must be freezing!" Liu added.

"Yeah well it's not much of an upgrade, Liu."

Ling Tong glanced up and down the wall. Counting himself and his two comrades there were a squad of fourteen men who manned the gates of Azulon. In times of war it would have been a paltry sum, but now a days fourteen seemed to have suited the general in charge of defense just as well as a larger number used to.

Yep, the palace celebrates while the duty bound rot on their posts.

Before another yawn could escape him, he caught something out of the corner of his eye. It appeared for a second as if a figure was running along the wall to his left. He turned and lifted his fist, flames coating his hand instantly .

"Halt! Who goes ther-" He cut himself off mid sentence as he saw the ravenous figure of an angel rise up suddenly before him.

Her sleeves were torn, as if escaping from some sort of assault, revealing her perfect cream skin. Her braided hair swayed along with her buxom... body. Her silvery eyes were washed with horror and all he wanted to do was hold her right there and then and tell her it was going to be okay. She was lithe, a bit young... maybe too young, but she was the most beautiful girl he'd ever seen.

"Help! Help me please!" she pleaded as she ran straight for him.

Reason and doubt left his senses. Only a masculine sense to protect this girl remained.

"A-are you alright miss? Come here!" He beckoned for her to come to him, thinking that maybe, for the first time all night, some luck was coming his way.

It would be the last thing Ling Tong would remember for several days to come.

Part of what was said between friends on that day long ago on Ember Island was true. Deep down Ty Lee knew she loved the attention she got from all the men and boys. She never meant to, but when they stared at her so wantonly she couldn't help but take advantage over them.

Who was she to deny them of what they wanted? And if she got something she wanted in return, what was the harm?

As she continued to grow so too did her hold over men. And she loved it. The respect and admiration she never got at home was presented to her everyday by complete strangers and she never fully got over it.

Playing the damsel in distress was too easy of a plan, and she almost felt sorry for the nice young man as she raced towards him. She was pretty sure he didn't even see her fist coming as she let loose two lightning flash jabs from the shoulder joint to the heart. They were all that was needed to incapacitate the primary muscles of his body.

That was one.

The first of many that she needed to take down quickly.

As Ling Tong slowly descended backwards falling to the ground she used his body as a spring board to give her the extra boost she needed. She tumbled gracefully on the ground, like a cat on the prowl.

Twenty five feet til the next guard. Might as well be a mile, Ty Lee thought, but she shook off the comment as her legs moved on instinct.

The second saw the whole thing took place and was mere moments from shouting for reinforcements. Ty Lee didn't know how she covered the distance so quickly but she did and with a leap she pounced upon her next prey. He had time to draw, but only barely. Her gentle yet strong palms held her on the guard's shoulder like an unwanted accessory, a pinch or two of the nerves on it was more the enough as the Fire Nation sentry went down with neither as much as a grunt but rather a whisper.

Just like she predicted the first two were not a problem. It would be the rest. And the amount of time she took them down was not quite enough. The soldiers were reacting quicker then she expected. With a new sense of danger flashing over her nerves her body shifted to a much more animalistic heightened form as she drew upon years of training and let instinct took over. She could see it but the images seemed to slow down to a crawl as she saw them slowly react to her assault.

The third drew his halberd, but too late!

She was already upon him as she deftly avoided the coming thrust. Defying gravity in the process, Ty Lee landed upon the pole arm, her lithe body allowing her the balance and coordination she needed. A kick to the assailant's face followed by a pressure point to the throat was her natural response.

It was now the archer's turn. Two deadly flaming arrows hissed through the darkness, keen to pierce her body.

Ty Lee didn't really feel like becoming a pin cushion that day. Narrowly avoiding the first one she ducked under its intended aim. The second marginally missing its mark as she spun around it like a graceful ballerina. Flaming arrows, she scoffed inwardly. They're like a beacon saying 'Here I am! Dodge me!'

While her desire to stay alive and remain unharmed kept most of her focus she could have sworn she heard a voice yell out, "Oh C'mon! She's just one girl!"

Noticing for one second the fallen weapon that moments ago was trying to cleave her in half, Ty Lee kicked the halberd effortlessly up into her receiving hand. Using the pole arm as an extension of her body she accelerated with all the power her legs could carry her and vaulted towards her intended targets. Before the two archers could respond with steel swords in hand she had already landed in between and like a pink maelstrom she unleashed a torrent of jabs and pokes that the eye could barely see.

The marksmen would not threaten her again. Though deadly from a distance, up close they had no defenses but to fall to her deadly grace.

A thundering roar of laughter erupted on the other side of the wall. Silver eyes met a swarm of Fire Nation hazel. A random patrol had just finished their duty and were about to relieve the men on the wall. And what a patrol it was. She estimated around twenty to thirty. not counting the men she still needed to incapacitate.

Ty Lee's demeanor changed for the worse.

"Oh poop," she sighed with regret, blowing a bang from her face. "This just got a little bit tougher."


The dance continued on.

It would be minutes later and dozens of bruised, battered, and generally incapacitated soldiers that littered the wall before only Ty Lee was the one left standing. "Piece of... huff... huff... cake..." She panted, as she caught her breath.

After she felt she could breathe again, she carefully pursed her lips, whistling a small tune. A fire hawk came by and quickly she placed a red scarf upon its talons before setting the bird free. It wheeled slowly upwards and disappeared back into the sky.

She had done her part. The signal was given.

The assault would commence.

The acrobat then dusted her dress and continued on towards the designated rendezvous point, as if her momentous deed was simply a stroll in the park.

Too far away already she could not hear the grunting and complaining of the soldier's of whom she robbed the ability to move their bodies, but who's minds were functioning perfectly.

"I was wrong, Ling," one of the fallen guards spat, struggling to move his paralyzed lips. "You're mom doesn't suck. You do."

"Lieutenant, report!" Admiral Wai Len barked, as he proudly gleamed at the helm along with his officers.



"For the one hundred and fifth time, Admiral, nothing to report or distinguish, Sir. We've patrolled these waters for hours now and haven't seen anything," the weary tone of Lieutenant Yue Jin echoed in a dead panned manner.

"Make sure it stays that way."

The lofty old Admiral was proud to keep the peace, even if they merely provided the illusion of security. No enemy would endanger them today. Not when the Phoenix King was through with his invasion. He could hardly count the hours til victory would be theirs and they could finally end the hundred year war with the true victors at hand. To finally bring peace and order to the land.

"Actually... Admiral I think there's something up ahead, Sir," one of the officers chimed in as he handed Wai Len the spy glass.

"Preposterous lad! Like what our beloved Lieutenant has stated there is nothing in these waters exce- Oh would you look at that, there is something." The cautious Admiral took back his words as he spied with his beady little eye five Fire Nation battle ships.

"Hmmm... Not imperial classes that's for sure, too small. Destroyers?" he piqued to his men.

"Then they must have come from Admiral Chan's eastern fleet, Sir," one of the eager ones spoke out.

"Well why wasn't I informed?" the gruff old man bellowed, as if he had just been insulted.

Admiral Chan was notorious for being a crafty commander, yet he was also noted for his simple lack of respect for the chain of command. It was a constant annoyance to his fellow commanders.

"Because Admiral Chan's eastern fleet would still be in Earth Kingdom waters helping quell the last of the rebellion, Sir," Lieutenant Yue Jin reminded him.

Admiral Wai Len knew the Lieutenant to be a sharp man when it counted, even if he was lazy when he considered a chore beneath him. He put much faith in his Lieutenants' words. Silence fell upon the bridge for a moment as the Admiral considered his next move.

"Have we tried signaling to the ships?"

Yue Jin shook his head. "Our flag scouts have been at it since we've spotted them, Sir. Whatever the reason they are not responding to our codes."

The old Admiral cautiously stroked his long silver beard. Wai Len was nicknamed the Tortoise of the South for his cautionary style of strategy. While not as extravagant as say a certain Dragon of the West or as infamous as The Deserter, he was nevertheless well suited to defending the capital. His style had kept him alive long enough to be Admiral anyway.

"They haven't changed course yet Admiral. At this rate they'll definitely be upon us unless we weave around them."

"Ram them," he simply commanded.


"You heard me. We have the numbers. I'd rather end it quickly rather then put up a barrage. Ram those ships and prepare to board. Ships that have no business being here suddenly appearing coincidentally and not responding to our codes... I don't know about you Lieutenant but I smell a rat-weasel."

His second in command nodded as if he too had just caught on to the bigger picture.

"You heard your Admiral, Signal the Eternal Fire, Azulon's Love, Wolf's Bane, and the... I Hate Haikus So There." The Lieutenant sighed. They really needed to talk to whoever was in charge of naming the ships. "Then tell Sozin's Fang to take point and prepare ramming stage. Take down those rogue ships!"

"Aye!" The discipline of the Fire Nation Navy were second to none as they set out to do their tasks.

The Patrol fleet of a dozen imperial class battle ships began to take formation as they consolidated towards their target like an eel-shark circling towards its prey. The Fire Navy's chosen ships broke away from the main force as they began to pick up speed, side by side, ready to engage the forces that lay ahead.

Admiral Wai Len studied his assault with cautious eyes as his ships dwarfed the opposing ships on the horizon. Unaware that the hunters had now became the hunted.

Mai waited.

The shadows surrounded her, sheltering her from the guards sight. The fire that lit the wall exposed them to her. There seemed to be some confusion up there. Soon all but three of the guards were sent in different directions, most heading in the direction Mai had just come from - where Ty Lee was - but others going the opposite direction. They clearly had no idea what was happening, though they did seem to know something was wrong.

In the darkness Mai smiled, very slightly. Too little, too late, boys.

With only three remaining guards Mai knew she could easily slip past them unseen, but she waited. She knew time was of extreme importance, but she had to know something before she moved on.

Finally a messenger hawk dropped out of the sky and landed on one of the men's arms. He opened it. "What does this mean?" he asked, calling out loudly so his closest companion could hear.


"It says, 'Your turn.'" They both shrugged, but Mai breathed a sigh of relief.

"Stupid hawk probably meant to bring it to someone who just left this post," the third guard suggested. "Is there someone who this was delivered to?"

"It just says Yuan." The first guard scratched is head. "Is that a first name or a last name?"

"Isn't that... the guy they put in charge of New Ozai? Why would he get a letter here..."

Mai didn't wait any longer. The message meant that Ty Lee was safe. Sliding down her secure rope soundlessly, none of the few remaining guards were even aware of her presence, and into the city she went. Somewhere very close on her right she knew Ty Lee was making her way through these same streets. Of course she was probably flipping over rooftops to avoid being seen. Mai simply wrapped her dark cloak around her, hiding her apparel. It was not strange to be seen walking down the street, but her outfit didn't really belong in this part of town.

When she reached the inner wall she stood a while in the shadows and observed. People were still going in and out. The coronation was going to happen at dawn, but the whole night was a celebration, one many people, both workers and nobles, had to attend. Where there were events of this magnitude, there were always cracks you could slip through. The regular folks were acting extremely nervous, and the guards poked and prodded them extra. Azula didn't just have the working class on their toes though. The two noble parties she saw passing, while appearing at first glance to be calm and joyful, showed the signs of wear and worry that only a trained eye would catch. Nervous habits, gripping their robes with their thumbs, asking people to repeat things, even snapping at their servants. Mai sighed and rubbed her temple. It took a long time to get comfortable around Azula, and even then she had never let her guard down around her friend. These people, none of them, was used to the pressure of being around the Princess, and now she was the Fire Lord.

Mai removed her cloak and let the cool night breeze sweep her hair back from her face. She had missed this home. The smell of it, the warmth of the air, it was all so familiar. She quickly reached into her cloak pocket and switched out her shoes. Pulling on the slim straps of her new ones, she tested her movement. More limited than her regular costumes, but the dress wasn't bad. She could take full strides easily, and it was no problem to bend. She pulled at the sleeves a little bit to ease movement of her arms. The long draping sleeves were heavy, but she had known they would be. It was still manageable, and all her weapons were concealed. Nodding, she knew that was the best she was gonna get.

She looked out the inner city gates and put on her best high born lady's act.

The explosive expert took his cue from the fizzling fuse. The Fire Navy was getting closer and while he would have liked to get as close as he could, this was as far as time would allow him. He raced alongside the deck of the ship. Gazing at their colossal opposition he then turned his attention to his side, nodding with relief the ships hadn't broken formation yet.

Now came the hard part. One that didn't come naturally to most soldiers of the Fire Nation fleet.

"Always hated the water but HERE GOES!"

The former soldier of the Fire Nation grabbed up a heavy rock and jumped overboard with the grace of a rhino-elephant.

And with a splash he disappeared under the cold waters.

The timing could not have been more perfect as the radius of the explosions wrapped its inferno clutches upon the vanguard like a jealous lover. Below the ocean depths the explosion looked like a flower of crimson and steel flying harmlessly above the waves. Deeper and deeper the cascading debris sank, down into the watery world, like an iron rain fall. But as they approached the bottom of the bay, a new force besides the tides moved the waters, and they were shifted sharply away from a giant, sunken air bubble.

Chey followed directions, sinking while he counted to ten. Then he opened his eyes and looked about for his rescue. A bubble cocooned in a frothing tornado or water moved towards him. The tides from it writhed and tried to push him away, but he held fast to the rock until the air engulfed him. He gasped a breath and dropped the rock. It sank away as the waterbender pulled him into the bubble completely.

"This is... amazing," Chey gasped as he caught his breath.

The water below his feet was solid, their pocket of air unable to escape to the surface as long as the water bender commanded the sea around it. The bender smiled. "I thought so too, the first time I saw the Chief's daughter do it." He glanced upwards at the falling debris. "But the air here won't last long. We need to join up with the rest of the troops. Ready?"

Chey nodded and they slowly sank deeper and deeper, along with the pieces of the ships dying hull.

Deep blow the cadres upon cadres of warriors admired the scenery behind their bubbled cocoons crafted meticulously by their waterbending brethen. Their slow march upon the ocean's floors working flawlessly. Chey's bubble connected and was absorbed into theirs. He and his bender dropped the ten feet to the sea floor, and the explosive expert's hand landed on sharp coral. The bottom of the bay was nothing like he had imaged from the surface. But he rose smoothly. "Its done."

"Nicely done, Chey."Hakoda smiled as he led his army with a thud from his spear. "Men! How about we say a surprise hello to our would be conquerors, Water Tribe style?!"

Mai frowned. The inner gate had been a cinch compared to her next challenge.

Actually, passing the inner gates had been incredibly easy. She had simply approached the gate, and the guards had rushed up to her, abandoning the working class. "My Lady," one had said. "Apologies, but I will need your name or invitation."

"Yes, my father has our invitation," she had stated plainly. "But I am Lady Nene Koga, and I believe the rest of my family is already inside."

"Yes, my Lady," the guard had replied quickly. "They passed through in the family coach much earlier tonight. I shall mark your name down. Welcome to the Coronation."

And that had been that.

Too easy.

This next part would be harder. Much harder. The palace guards were essentially there to keep any without an invitation out. While Lady Nene Koga did have an invitation, Mai did not. Her first idea had been to steal one, but there were few noble in the courtyard, and she knew all of them immediately. Which meant there was a good chance they would know her immediately as well, and she was sure she was wanted here. Even with her make up, she also suspected the palace guards might recognize her. Without an invitation, she would open herself up to scrutiny, and surely she would be caught. But she could approach none of the invitees without suspicion either. She sighed angrily.

She would just have to wing it.

At the gate the guards stopped her. Unfortunately, one of the two guards seemed particularly smart and looked at her suspiciously. "I'm so sorry boys, I left my invitation with my father, and he is already in the party."

"What name is supposed to be on your invite, Lady?" the duller looking guard asked.

"Lady Nene of the Koga Clan," she ventured, lifting her head.

"I thought that was Lady Nene Koga," the smart guard insisted, his finger turning to point directly at a woman slightly through the crowd.

Mai groaned. Sure enough, Nene was just visible through the crowd.

She stepped forward quickly. "I am not Lady Nene, I am with Lady Nene," she snapped as if the guard had misheard her, not as if she was changing her story. "That is her right there, call her over. I am her cousin, Pai, from the New Ozai colonies."

"You're not on the list..." The smart guard looked down at it, running his finger along it.

"Nene!" Mai called, ignoring him, and she raised her hand to hail the girl as she turned about. Between her fingers she grasped the lotus tile Hakoda had told her would be her best tool. Nene's eyes took in Mai's presence quickly, but changed suddenly as they fell on the tile. "Nene, its me, cousin Pai," Mai called out before Nene could speak.

Nene caught onto the cover quickly, and Mai got lucky she decided to go with it. "Pai! So glad you could make it." Her voice, like Mai's did not seem to fully endorse her words, but Mai breathed a sigh of relief all the same. "The trip must have been horrid. But I hear you saw some incredible lotus flowers."

Mai nodded, trying not to make their obligatory embrace seem awkward. They had to sell it to the guards. "Yes, I must say I learned much about Pai Sho as well. It seems there is far more to the game than you taught me at school." Into Nene's ear she whispered, "I need to talk to your father. Quickly."

Nene nodded and released Mai. "Come, come, cousin," she beckoned Mai in, leaving the guards glaring at their backs. "You are running a little late for the party. There is so much left to do between now and Princess Azula's Coronation. Tell me, where do you stand on the 'Fire Lord/Fire Lady' issue? It seems to be the big talk of the night."

Recognizing the code as more than a proposition for if they should change the title, she nodded. "I think you know I prefer a Fire Lord."

"Funny," Nene responded in a tone dryer than Mai's, "you always seemed like a Fire Lady fan to me."

Mai raised her eyebrows. "Things change."

For a moment they said nothing. Then, "I'm glad," Nene said, in the most bland, unhappy voice imaginable.

But the corners of Mai's lips turned up in a very small smile. Being an Assassin for Azula had been interesting for a time, but it felt good to relive the spy's life once more.

And with what was at stake she needed to play the spy game harder then ever before.