Author's prologue: That was ridiculously, absolutely totally too long. I could offer a dozen excuses, but really even with the problems that should not have been this long. I wish I could say the next chapter will be very quick, but I'm heading abroad for about a month, so hopefully the next chapter will come sometime late January. After that it could be a while, but I'd like to get the final three over with in quick succession.
Days of fire- A history of Sozin's comet
While in hindsight it may seem absurd that the Eastern Temple did not make the connection between Avatar Aang's dreams of fiery doom, and the oncoming comet, you must understand the time period. The world of 1125 simply did not regard Sozin's Comet (known then as the firebender's light) as a threat. It only lasted one day, and the idea of a nation projecting massive power in a single day simply didn't exist. Before then most fighting on the day of the Comet was done within the Fire Nation itself. It was regarded as a curiosity for scholars, a headache for Avatars, and an opportunity for every squabbling faction within the Fire Nation. But with Sozin grandfather and father having modernized and centralized the Nation, the stage was set for his audacious attempt.
Ultimately, the Eastern Temple came to the conclusion that Aang was suffering due to homesickness. Again, not an unreasonable conclusion given that he began having his dreams right after relocating, and he was only twelve. The Eastern Temple's council felt trapped: Sending him to any of the other temples was not an option. Initially, they considered having Aang's friends from the Southern Temple visit, but the Southern council had made it clear that part of the purpose of Aang's movement was to make him more independent, and it was felt that any request they made would not be granted.
Eventually Senior monk Ojan proposed a alternate solution: Since Aang's distress was believed to be caused by his rapidly changed environment, it would be best to attempt to make it feel more like home. Though the Southern Temple was not an option, perhaps they could accommodate guests from the Northern Temple. While they would not personally be friends with Aang, at least it would give him other boys to play with until he felt more comfortable.
An amusing antecedent claims that this suggestion was rapidly accepted after Aang's distress caused him to "sleepbend" and destroy something of value. Though what it was (fine vase, his bed, the elder's hair, large section of the temple) and what bending used varies widely from story to story. The accuracy of the story notwithstanding, Ojan's proposition was accepted in very short order.
Ojan soon departed for the Northern Temple, arriving scant days before the arrival of Sozin's Comet . Any records of how the talks went were sadly lost in the turmoil following the event. The only thing known is that she continued to stay in the temple for the next three days. On the day of the comet she had elected to visit one of the far mountains. Again, the exact mountain she visited is lost to history, What is certain is that it afforded a keen view of the sea. The (contradictory) claims that she was visiting a mountain spring to take a bath away from "those perverted old men" or that she was enjoying the company of one of the elders must both be viewed with suspicion. Ojan was 70 years old at the time. Since she died in the attack, it was impossible for her to elaborate, and these stories seem to have come into circulation many years later.
Ojan's mountainside visit would have far-reaching consequences as the ocean view afforded her a brilliant look as the Fire Nation's Northern Fleet . As with much of the time, exactly why she choose to scout it further is unrecorded. Perhaps, she had already made the connection between Aang's distress and the ships, or perhaps she simply wished to investigate.
Admiral Lee, nervous about being spotted, ordered his men to open fire on the loan Air Nomad as soon as she was spotted. It would not be an understatement to say that the early order cost the entire operation its sucess. The invasion's air-tight timeline meant that the comet was still not close enough to draw power from, and Ojan was too far way to hit accurately with normal catapults. Admiral Lee's rash action allowed Ojan to escape with knowledge of the danger.
Looking at the Northern Air Temple's invasion as a whole it is really quite shocking that it was not a repeat of the Western Temple's Catastrophe. An extraordinary string of coincidences combined to turn the tide of fate. Had Ojan not decided to come to the temple, had she not chosen to be at that exact spot on that exact day, had Lee not panicked and ordered her attacked too early and had the other monks not chosen to listen to her then things would have been very different. It is simply extraordinary that anyone survived at all.
Book 1: Water
There are several unpleasant ways to be woken up. Having a bender trying to kill you, blood pooling around you while severed heads lie right in front of you, being splashed by ice cold water by your sister, being hit with sparks from a psychotic princess, and so on. The worst however, as Sokka would later claim in his memoirs, was being licked by a Killer Whale-Wolf. Not only did it have the normal unpleasantness of being licked awake, but the shear size of the tongue meant that his entire body got licked, not merely one unlucky part of his face. Finally, it gave him the distinct sensation that he was about to be eaten.
As such it was quite understandable that Sokka's initial reaction was to jump back and scream like a little girl. Or rather, not like a little girl, but like a man, a manly man screaming with primal fury. After Sokka had properly established his personal space, insured an ample supply of oxygen and double checked his heart for proper blood flow , he proceed to calmly and rationally inform Sukara of his wish to not have said incident repeated.
"Don't! Do! That!" He yelled.
Sukara whined in response.
After a few more moments of insuring oxygen and heartbeat inspection he looked around. He was near the banks of a river. Other than that there was nothing around, save a few scattered trees, but it was mostly a rocky, barren wasteland near the river was a smooth trail of mud where Sukara had dragged him ashore. "So… you seen, er, smelled either of the others?" he asked and Sukara shook his head. "I thought you were supposed to be a great tracker! Fine, then I guess it is up to the superior human brain to deduce the most logical course of action."
Sukara rolled over, enjoying the sunlight. "Oh real show of confidence there pal. Now let me think. We were on the river, then the waterfall came, Katara did something… I can't remember what. Since your alive that probably means the others are. I mean no offense. It's just that you're heavier- not that I think you're fat. I'm sure it's all muscle- and where was I? Right, so they either washed up before us, or floated on downstream. No real way to tell which. As such we will have to really on the ancient water tribe method of divination." Sokka nodded sagely, then reached into his robes and pulled out a coin. He hadn't let Azula keep all of them. He flipped it into the air. "Tails…. I think." Sokka turned the coin around. "Actually, how do you tell with these? I mean both sides are the same design… Wait! This one has a scratch, which looks kind of like a tail, so that's tails and this is heads. Heads it is. Forward we go."
Sukara got up lazily and followed Sokka. As they walked along the river Sokka had time to think. He allowed himself a little smile: He had been right about Azula. She had just been using them, Katara couldn't have learned waterbending in the north even if she had gotten there. Sokka was one hundred percent, totally and completely right. Take that world, suspicion and caution win again. Now, all he had to do was get Katara and they could go home. He stopped as they came to the edge of the lake. "Look, you can swim better than I can. So how about you head to the center of the lake and see if maybe they're floating there? I'll walk around the edges."
Sukara stood still.
"Did you hear what I said? Go swim to the center."
Sukara sat on the ground doing a good impression of cocking it's head for something with no visible neck.
"Right, I forgot you're just a stupid animal-"
"Sure, now he understands me…. Look. YOU. GO. THERE." Sokka pointed to the center of the lake.
Sokka face palmed as he tried to think of a way to get communicate. He leaned against Sukara as he thought out loud. "Maybe a stick… but I'd need one the size of a tree to attract his interest. If I had some meat that would work…. I've got it, I'll build a twenty foot bow and arrow and launch in into the lake like a stick! …. Yeah that's not gonna work- AHHH!" Sukara shot forward without warning, leaving Sokka without any support and causing him to fall down. "What was that all about-?" Sokka looked out to the lake, where several fish were now trying to jump out of the water. "… I guess that solves that."
As he walked along the edge of the lake Sokka noticed several channels diverging from it. Above each channel were crude earthen "bridges" that allowed him to cross over, which implied earthbenders, and further implied civilization. His suspicions were confirmed when he was able to make out a dam at the other end of the lake. The entire lake was a construction project! Sokka quickly rushed to the edge of the dam, looking down to see if he could find anyone.
On the other side of the dam were several openings where jets of water poured out so fast Sokka half-wondered if waterbenders were inside. In front of each jet was a wheel that looked to be designed out of metal instead of the usual wood.
"Whoa." Sokka had seen a few waterwheels during his trip through the Earth Kingdoms, but this… This bore about as much resemblance to them as Zhao's ship did to the canoe he and Katara had gone fishing in.
Each of the wheels was surrounded by various small structures, which Sokka suspected housed the shafts connecting to the village.
And what a village! It didn't look anything like other villages Sokka had seen. It was neither crudely earthbent houses nor wood, but the stronger stone indicative of a city. The only problem was it clearly wasn't a city, being far too small. Heck Sokka was reluctant to call it a town, more like a collection of buildings. Whatever this was, it was worth investigating. "SUKARA!" Sokka called out before turning back around and looking for a way down. Fortunately, whoever had designed the dam had had the foresight to include stairs. He raced down them as fast as he could. Sokka was about halfway down when Sukara's distinctive cry forced him to stop. The Whale-wolf was at the top of the stairs, looking down.
"What's the matter? Just come down." Sokka motioned for Sukara to follow him.
Sukara just stood at the top of the stairs; evidently he was not willing to listen to Sokka.
Sokka paused for a moment, and realized that the stairs were far too small for a Killer Whale Wolf. "Look, there has to be some way around, just meet me at the bottom. Okay?" Sokka said, and then continued on down, hoping the creature actually understood.
The town was bigger up close, about as big as his home village, but still not nearly big enough to be called a city. The streets were oddly empty, lacking the stalls and bustle that seemed to define most of the Earth Kingdom's existence. The noise, however, was on full blast. Perhaps even louder than normal cities. Though instead of voices, it was gears, clanging and buzzing. It somewhat reminded him of the ship. It wasn't until he was practically inside the town that he saw someone to talk to. "Hey could I-" Sokka stopped as the man continued stair at the clouds. "Hello? Are you listening to me? Hey! Over here! I said HEY! HEY!!!!" Sokka shouted at the top of his lungs.
The heavily muscled man finally turned towards him and removed what looked like a pair of earmuffs. "Sorry about that," he yelled over the noise.
"No problem. Do you think you could help me?"
The man nodded, as if he had he had expected this question. "First time here? The mechanist is in the big building at the center! You'll want to pull the string, he might not hear you if you knock!"
"Um… thank you." Sokka began walking towards the center, trying to hide his confusion.
"Hold on a moment. You look different. Just where are you from?"
"I-" Sokka desperately founded about. He didn't really know where he was. Saying the wrong area could be… unwise. Best to go with someplace neutral, which meant that honesty was actually the best policy. "I'm Water Tribe."
"Water Tribe." The man sounded impressed. "So that's why you look so odd. Wow, we've never gotten someone as far away as Water Tribe before. Bet the mechanist is gonna love this. Water Tribe, to come all the way from the North Pole…. Guess his inventions really are getting a reputation…."
Sokka decided not to correct him on that and headed into the city/town…. place, proper. As he went further in the noise level increased, in both diversity and volume, until it dwarfed anything he had heard in Azula's ship. As he walked he noticed what sounds he heard, and what ones he didn't. The grinding of gears was the same, but there was far more pounding, the only pounding on the ship had been when Houjin decided to employ the "ancient engineer's secret technique" on a uncooperative mechanism, by contrast here it was constant To be fair, given Houjin's temperament, it was fairly constant on the ship as well. There were also some sounds Sokka couldn't hope to identify, such as a continuous buzzing that seemed to pick up and fall off arbitrarily.
Sokka barely had time to take this all in before he arrived at the base of the tower. Up close he could see that it widened out at the bottom to the size of either a very small mansion or very large house. He walked up to the door and pulled on a heavy piece of rope which dangled at the side . While he waited for someone to answer he examined the building. Like all buildings in the town it was made of solid stone, however, unlike the others it had no windows. Or rather there were no windows right now, various patches of earth along the walls implied that there had been windows at one point. Even more unusual was that the top of the tower had some sort of circle on each side, and within each of the circles (or at least the one that Sokka could currently see) were two metal bars that seemed to point to numbers on the circle.
"Hey. Are you just going to stare at the clock all day?" someone yelled at him.
Sokka looked back down. Then, seeing as there was no one at eye-level he was forced to look down again. The boy looked about his age. His clothes were typically earth kingdom, though a pair of the same type of ear-muffs the other man had worn were hung around his neck. By far the most distinguishing feature was the chair he sat in, which had two wheels, one each side.
"Well?" the boy asked, wheeling himself back to allow Sokka through the door. After Sokka had walked in the boy pulled a lever on the wall, and the door shut behind them. Once it closed, the noise died down to little more than a few muffled bangs, and the boy was able to speak without yelling. "That's better, sorry about the noise, but the Wei's old mass-harvester broke down and today was the day we agreed to let them make a new one. Name's Teo. I'm the mechanist's son, and you are?"
"Sokka." Sokka looked around, the place was covered with drawings, bits of wood and contraptions Sokka could only guess at, all organized haphazardly. There didn't seem to be much metal. Even more surprising was that Sokka could make any of this out despite the lack of openings or any visible candles, the place was well lit.
"Lot to take in, isn't it?" Teo turned his chair around, using his arms to manipulate the wheels. "Follow me, and I'll show you right to my father." Sokka followed him, trying to take in as much as he could. "So, Sokka, that doesn't sound like a name from around here… Where are you from?"
Sokka frowned, was he projecting some sort of "outsider aura" today? He'd made it through half the Earth Kingdom without drawing this much attention to himself. Why now? Well, he'd already told the first guy, so it wasn't like he could change his story now. "I'm Water Tribe."
"Water Tribe? Wow, dad's going to be real happy to meet you, he always loves new challenges. Hey Dad! There's someone you should meet, from the Water Tribe!" Teo cried out, rapping his hand on a wooden door.
"Wha? Oh! Hello there. I am the mechanist." Given Sokka's experience on the ship the mechanist wasn't exactly what he had expected. He looked older, and with far more facial hair, his head gave the impression that the hair from the top had simply decided to pack up and more to the front of his face. "So, you can all the way from the North Pole? What's your name?"
Sokka found his hand being shaken. "I'm Sokka and-"
"You want my help." The mechanist was positively beaming. "Well, I must say I can't wait." He held up a hand. "Don't tell me, let me guess. It's got to be something big, to come so far south and into the mountains. I haven't heard of any disasters so that's no help. Maybe some sort of ice breaking plow… but I can't imagine you get many crops up there. Maybe an auto-saw… do you have trees up there? You must, otherwise how would you make ships? Or maybe some sort of transportation… but I've heard about the canals you have, I would love to see those. Oh I know, fishing! Some sort of super-ship, that can fish faster than a normal man. I bet you could use a net, and then leverage to pull it up. But how would you sort the fish… maybe just do that at home. Or I know! You could have a grating to sort them by size. And you have waterbenders up there; with those you might not even need a net. But you would have to drain the water…hmmmm yes, that would be so complex-"
"Errr. Mr. Mechanist? Sir? I hate to break it to you, but I was actually just looking for directions."
The mechanist blinked. "I'm sorry?"
"Well I am too, but I'm not really looking for any ships or anything. I'm sort of lost and this was the first town I could find."
"Oh…. I see. Well I suppose I can help with that too. This is…." The mechanist turned to his son. "Do we actually have a name for this place?"
Teo laughed. "Well you wanted to name it 'Place where I make all of my inventions using hydro-power', but I still want "Mechisburg".
"Maybe I could just get a map?" Sokka asked.
The Mechanist nodded. "That's not a bad idea, now let me see, I've got some city maps here… just where are you headed?"
"Actually I'm-, not so sure…"
"Oh, doing a bit of touring? Well I hear Omashu is wonderful this time of year. Though it's quite far south."
Sokka held up his hands. "No, no it's not that. It's just that… Well, I'm actually looking for my sister, Katara. We got separated and I'm trying to find her."
"How'd you get separated?" Teo asked, leaning forward.
"We fell over a waterfall."
"And you survived!?" Teo asked incredulously.
"My sister's a waterbender."
"Wow, bending a waterfall…. And I always thought of waterbenders as only being able to squirt water at you." Teo looked thoughtful. "Then again, this entire place is powered by water, so I guess it was pretty stupid of me, huh?"
"Well, my sister is a pretty powerful bender. But after we fell I sort of blacked out, and woke up along the river a-ways back. I was sort of hoping maybe you had seen her?"
"Sorry, no girls have turned up here."
Sokka sighed, "Well, thanks for your help. Could I maybe get a map before I go? I've got a lot of ground upstream to cover…."
"Actually, I just might be able to help you with that." The mechanist said.
"Look, I'd appreciate your help but I really don't want you to go out of your way…."
He laughed. "Oh it's no trouble. I know most of the farmers around here, all I have to do is ask them if they've had anyone turn up."
"Really? That's great!"
"It might take a week or so for everyone to be contacted. But I would dare say it a bit faster than going yourself. And you could stay here until then."
"That would be-" Sokka began without thinking, then he stopped. What if these people were with the Air Nomads? They seemed nice, but so had Aunt Wu, and even if she wasn't really working for the Air Nomads, she had still talked to them. Or Suki, just because someone had a real life didn't mean he should trust them. Best to be cautious, even if they didn't tell, with all the surrounding families being asked…. "Look, I really appreciate it, but I don't want to be a burden. I could just make my own camp and-"
The Mechanist waved his objections off with a cheery smile. "Nonsense. The only people here are me, Teo and Kinzdong. We have plenty extra room."
Sokka began to object. "I really-" There wasn't a really problem, was there? After all, the Air Nomads (and Zhao) were after Azula, not him or Katara. As long as he got Katara they could just go home, no problem. "You don't have anyone? What about the, ah Wiis? Weren't they staying?"
"It's Weis." The Mechanist corrected. "Don't worry about them, they're going to be heading back today. Actually, Teo? You want to give our guest the tour?"
Teo began to wheel his chair towards the door. "Sure, dad. Come-on Sokka, follow me."
"So, how long has your family lived here?"
"Just one generation. We, and most of the people in the surrounding area originally lived in a valley to the east, but a terrible flood ended up wiping it out when I was only a baby. It's how my legs got injured, and how my mother died. After the flood we didn't know where to go. A lot of people wanted to head down south to the plains and cities, like some of the Air Nomads suggested, but my dad stuck it out and made this area our home."
"So you dad isn't a big fan of the Air Nomads then?"
Teo stopped. "What? Oh no, no, they were great. After the flood some of the monks from the Northern Temple came down and helped us find survivors, even flew a few who had been stranded away. There would be a lot less of us without them. With our home destroyed they were able to help find a few places that would be able to take us in, but well… It's just we would have had to go to the cities, and most of the community were farmers, so they would have had to be basic laborers, and it would have broken the community up. Dad could have gone himself, with his talents he could have been great, but he didn't want to leave anyone behind."
"So you just found this area?"
"Sort of, when we found it most of the land was dry and deserted, even if the valleys themselves had good farm land, and the river was raging through. According to dad this area probably was farm land at one point, but the river must have shifted. The flood which destroyed our original home was probably linked to the event that shifted it back. Kind of Ironic that the flood that destroyed our original home created this one, right?" Teo stopped as he began pushing the lever to open the door.
Sokka double checked his math. "Wait, doesn't that mean the rivers shifted at least twice… shouldn't you be worried?"
"What? I can't hear you over the racket, you're going to have to speak louder now!" Teo was practically yelling to be heard over the din.
"Nevermind!" Sokka shouted back.
"Could you get the lever over here?" Teo pointed to one on the outside of tower, as Sokka pulled it the door began to close. Teo dramatically pointed to the top of the tower. "This is the clocktower."
"Clock? You mentioned that earlier." Sokka had to raise his voice to be heard over the constant pounding (or whatever.) "How is that a clock?"
"If you read the circles they tell time! See the big-"
"Wait! I want to figure it out!" Sokka stained upwards, trying to puzzle out the thing. If you turned it on its side it would sort of look like a sundial… "OH! The hand works like the shadow on a sundial, and the other hand is like a candle clock. Cool! So what are the mirrors for?"
"Sunlight." Teo shouted back, "On work day this we shut the windows so it's not to loud, but the upper area is high enough that noise doesn't get through as much, so we use mirrors up there to catch the sunlight and redirect it to help light our house!"
"Why not just use candles?" Sokka said as they headed towards one of the buildings from which a large buzzing sound was coming from.
Teo shrugged. "We did originally, but my dad had an idea and decided to go for it. We still use them on cloudy days," Teo continued on, "The ground here was originally dirt, but when we created the rest of the place dad thought it would be a good idea to make the streets stone so I could move along them easier. Hold on one second." Teo opened the door via another lever, unlike the main tower, it was simple wood, if a bit thick.
Inside was the source of the buzzing. A circular piece of metal was rapidly rotating, while two men ran various pieces of wood through it. Teo waved his hand. "Hey Bae!Hyo!" They ignored him, and he was forced to wait a few seconds for the men to finish the particular piece of wood before shouting at his full voice. "HEEEEY!!"
The two men looked up. Just like the man Sokka had seen earlier they were wearing the ear-muffs, but were also wearing goggles over their eyes. The man nearest to them moved towards them while the other pulled a lever which caused the blade to stop spinning. "Teo! What brings you and your friend down here?"
"Just showing him around. So, how are you doing?"
He hesitated. "Not as well as I'd hoped, we decided just to try and get as much as we could done, then pack the rest up and do it back home."
Teo cocked his head to the side. "Can you do that?"
"Jae was afraid we wouldn't finish in time and we really need to get back. It's already turning dark and we can't afford to stay another day. I talked with your father about it yesterday. We did the last few pieces that need to be sawed, and Kinzdong's finished making the blades. We already pounded the heavy parts of the joints together – what's can just be assembled back home, plus it's a might easier to carry."
"Cool. I'll just show Sokka around. Don't mind us."
"Actually, we were just finishing up in here. These are spare pieces in case one gets broke, so go ahead. I remember what a pain that saw was before your father came up with these." He held the earsmuffs, happily.
"Thanks." Teo turned back to Sokka, who was already inspecting the piece of metal. It had slowed down enough he could make out the individual saw-teeth.
"So you build stuff here?" Sokka asked.
"Yeah. At first it was a lot smaller. I was too young to remember, but according to my dad when the flood came we had to abandon almost all of our tools. No plows, or shovels, or saws or anything. Heck, some families had to use earthbending to plow the fields the first year. What made it even worse was that most of the blacksmiths and skilled woodworkers were killed in the flood. Kinzdong is the only proper blacksmith we have, but my dad dabbled a little. Since the dam is in the middle of everything, he set up the forge here. Later, my dad began making better designs for tools, like the mega-harvester the Weis are building. The big problem was all the work that went into building one. So he set up the first water-wheel downriver. We didn't use the dam for power back then. We actually had to hook up the water-wheel to the different devices, changing it each time we wanted to use something else."
Teo smiled. "But it worked. The families could come down here and build whatever was needed. That way we didn't have build a dozen different workshops. About two years ago we built this place as an upgrade. Almost everyone who dad helped came down to help out. They even pooled money to hire professional earthbenders to make the buildings proper stone. That's when Dad made sure the walkways were also even stone so I could move easier. It's really worked out. We even got a few people coming from the southern plains. Some of them want to simply purchase the items, instead of using the place to build them. I don't think dad knows how to handle that."
Sokka was awestruck, the shear size and scale, he could begin to get an appreciation of how the Fire Nation must have made such big ships. "Are all your machines are powered by the river?"
"Yeah, well except the smithy." Teo pointed out a window towards one of the buildings, identical to all the others except for smoke stacks. "We still use coal there. Though dad thinks he had an idea to use friction to generate heat, only problem is that it destroys the object being used. Hey, I think the Weis are packing up. Let me show you what they built."
The two of them exited the building. As they headed away from the waterfall Sokka noticed most of the other noises had died down. Though it had been replace by the louder conversation. The first thing Sokka noticed were the sheer number of people, evidently when these people said "family" they meant "tribe". Because there were more people here than in Sokka entire village back home. The second thing he noticed were two large wagons were parked a short distance away from the buildings, several people were loading various pieces of wood onto them. "So that's the mega-harvester…wow. Is it all wood?"
"Well, except for the blades, yeah don't think anyone could afford to craft that much metal precisely. It's really cool, as you move it along the ground the blades are moved in such a way as to chop the grains, then scoop them up into a wooden bin. It's a shame you can't see it, it's really impressive, and sort of hard to describe."
"Sounds like it." Sokka said, but his mind was elsewhere. That was odd, Azula's ship had been much bigger, and the pipes were clearly crafted. Sure, it was a princess's ship, but then there was Zhao's entire fleet. Sokka didn't think all of the tribes in the south, working together, could craft even a third as much metal, and the Fire Nation had been on its last legs. How did they get so much? Sokka wished he thought to ask Houjin that, but back then a metal ship had just been another miracle. "What powers it?"
"Powers it?" Teo asked in confusion.
"Yeah how does it go? Like, the waterfall powers the stuff here."
Teo laughed. "Sorry to disappoint you, but even dad hasn't managed to figure that out. It's actually one of the big problems, given how hard some of his inventions are to move. Most people use oxboars but dad also made a version that uses bending leverage."
"Yeah, you know how earthbenders…. Oh, right, Water Tribe. Well you know how your sister can move a waterfall with bending? But couldn't move that much earth?"
"Dad calls that 'bending leverage' that benders can exert more force than normal when bending. So what he did is create a version with two flat wooden boards on the back, one sort of to the left and the other to the right. Two earthbenders can take rocks and push them forward against the wood, generating a lot more force than if they pushed it directly. It's still a lot of work, and they have to stay in stance, but it's a lot easier than it would be otherwise."
"What about steam power?" Sokka asked
"Steam-power, is that something you use in the Water Tribe? We don't have waterbenders here."
"It's doesn't need benders. I'll talk to your dad about it later. If we want to talk to them it looks like they're just about ready to leave."
"Oh, right!" Teo wheeled his chair forward with one hand while waving to a tall, balding man with a long white beard. "Jae!"
The man turned to greet them. "Oh, hello Teo. We were just about to leave, is there something you want?"
"Yeah. Sokka here" Teo pointed helpfully "Is looking for his sister."
"Yeah they're both from the Northern Water Tribe. They were on the river when they went over a waterfall and got separated."
"And they survived?"
"Yeah, his sister's a waterbender."
The man stroked his beard thoughtfully. "Huh, I thought the Water Tribe didn't train its women in fighting… then again that's not really combat is it? Very impressive, nonetheless. What does she look like?"
"She's shorter than me, and two years younger, usually wears her hair in little loops in front. She's wearing pretty typical earth kingdom clothing, but does have a blue chocker with a water symbol on it." Sokka supplied.
The man nodded. "If we see anything I'll let you know. And we'll tell the Wus and Shus to keep an eye out as well."
By the time they had gotten back inside the house, the table had already been set. Sokka had practically forgotten how nice normal, non-campfire cooked food could be. "This is delicious. How did you make it?"
"Oh I didn't make this. The Weis brought it over."
"Yeah dad can't cook at all."
"That's because he treats cooking like he treats inventing. He always wants to tinker." Kinzdong added.
The Mechanist ignored them and turned back to Sokka. "So tell me more about this 'steam power'. It doesn't seem like it would be strong enough to move the ship."
"It's not, at least initially. So you put the steam under greater and greater pressure by stuffing it into small globes."
"But how do you keep the fire from burning up the ship?"
Sokka hesitated. "The… the furnace is make of metal."
"Oh, I see. That sounds-" The mechanist was cut off as the doorbell began ringing nonstop. "Looks like someone's at the door. I do wish they would learn you only have to pull once," he sighed as he went to answer it.
Sokka resumed eating when he heard someone shouting in panic from the doorway. "You gotta help, there's a monster on the road." The mechanists reply wasn't loud enough to be heard in the dining room, but the man's answer was, "I don't know, some sort of giant monster masher! The harvest machine has all sorts of blades, you gotta have something. It's huge, ten times bigger than a man, and came straight out of the river! It's got four legs and a monstrous mouth. It's so pitch black you can barely see it if not for its massive, unblinking eyes. You gotta help us, Mech! At least let us stay here."
Kinzdong was the first to speak. "Wow, a real monster. Looks like we're going to be having a lot of guests tonight. I hope everyone is okay. It sounds pretty horrible."
"Something that big sounds less like a monster and more like a spirit to me. I mean I've seen probably the most vicious normal animal the world has to offer and –" Sokka slapped himself as he finally filtered out the obvious exaggerations of a panic stricken mind. "SUKARA! Monkeyfeathers!" He leapt up from the table.
"Hey where are you going?" Teo began, but Sokka was already out of the room and halfway to the door.
"Excuse me? Mechanist…. Wei guy, I think I might be able to help."
Sokka felt a little awkward going along the road alone. It would have been real embarrassing to get lost. But the Mechanist , Teo and Kinzdong were slow as molasses over rocky ground, and the runner was exhausted from running to get help. Frankly, after running along the road for so long, so was Sokka. It was a relief to see the glow of torches up ahead.
The scene was a proverbial firebender's standoff. Though now that Sokka thought about it that term wasn't very accurate, none of the Firebenders he had met would ever have had the patience for a stand-off.
The family had formed a half-circle around Sukara, who was keeping his back to the river. A few of them were earthbenders, and a low wall had been thrown up between the people and Sukara. It didn't look very study and Sokka doubted it would last through a determined charge. A few others had swords, but most seemed to have grabbed one of the sharpened blades from the wagon and were holding them in a manner that made even someone as inexperienced in swordplay as Sokka wince.
He walked up to the circle. "Excuse me." The girl closest to him gave a yelp of surprise and clumsily slashed at him. "Watch it! You could have taken my arm off!"
"Watch it? You practically snuck up on me!... Hey! You're the guy who was at the mechanist…. Is he coming, is he going to help?"
Sokka heard groans of disappointment and expressions of frustration. Jae shouted above the din. "That's about what I expected. It's not fair to expect him to have every solution on hand. Women and children move first, then the wagons. Anyone who can hold a sword or earthbend moves last. Keep your eyes on the thing. We don't want to give it ideas. I do assume we can stay over?"
Sokka spoke up. "Actually. I was going to handle it."
"Are you crazy boy? I don't care how good water tribesmen are as hunters, that thing's a killer! Look at the size of its mouth. And do you even have a weapon!?"
"I'm not going to kill it." Sokka said as he climbed over the wall. "It's mine."
That comment left everyone too stunned to speak. Sukara, who had noticed Sokka climbing over the wall, began to growl. "Hey there, Sukara. It's just me, Sokka. Your buddy, pal, friend?" Sukara stopped growling. "See guys", said Sokka was he walked closer to Sukara. "It's nothing to worry about. He's my pet…" Sokka stopped as he noticed that while Sukara wasn't actually growling, he still hadn't come out of the defensive crouch. Sokka leaned forward. "Sukara?"
Faster than should be possible for a four-legged creature that large, Sukara executed a one hundred-eighty degree turn. His tail whipped around, hitting Sokka like a battering ram and knocked him into the river. "What was that for you lousy mutt?" Sokka spat out between mouthfuls of water.
Sadly, Sukara's impressive display of circling around a few times, stamping his feet, rolling once or twice and giving various growls, barks and whines did little to enlighten Sokka. Except to leave him with a vague impression that someone name Lee had perhaps fallen down a well.
The mechanist leaned forward. "So, this is yours? Wow, to have a real Killer Whale-wolf as a pet…"
"Sukara isn't 'my' pet. Just something my sister picked up." Sokka scoffed.
"Well, she's still a magnificent specimen of Maaraka Timi-Iihaamrga or, to put it in non-scientific terms, Killer Whale-Wolf."
Sokka raised his eyebrows. "Wait…. She?"
"Oh yes. You can tell by the rounder curve of the dorsal fin. I'd say she's still a ways from full-grown though, but give it a year. Let me check her teeth." He began to move his hand to her mouth. Sukara growled.
"I don't think that's a good idea." Sokka said as he forced the hand away. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Teo mouthing 'Thanks'.
Beds were awesome. Sleeping bags over hard ground just didn't compare. Since travelling with Azula he had barely ever gotten to sleep in one thanks to her paranoid insistence they avoid towns at night if possible. Whatever stuffing the mechanist used here was just heavenly. If nothing else, Sokka resolved to find a way to get one of these back home, it might even make up for the entire trip.
He was half tempted to just lie in bed the whole day, because such a wonderful bed deserved proper use. Plus, he felt like he should celebrate that Azula wasn't kicking him up at the crack of dawn. However, the real world called. Scents from downstairs reminded him of the other reason he loved staying in one place.
Reaching towards the ceiling, the Mechanist pulled down a large map. "By checking all the rivers where you could have been-"
Sokka leapt from his chair. "We could figure out where Katara is! That's great! The last thing I remember is the waterfall, so we just have to figure out what areas of the river are downstream of it."
The older man nodded. "Though first we have to figure out which waterfall."
Sokka shrugged. "That shouldn't be too hard, how many can there be?"
A thin, translucent piece of rice paper was pulled over the map. "Let's see, we have the Huagxi waterfall here. The guanying here, and Tui's molars here. And this one doesn't really have a name." As he spoke, the mechanist began brushing 'x's all over the map.
"You look beat." Teo remarked.
Sokka sighed. "I had no idea there were so many waterfalls here, and rivers, and rivers that cross into other rivers. And join, and separate and then join back. If we went over the wrong waterfall Katara could be anywhere."
"Sounds like you could use some cheering up. Up for a game?"
"Honestly, my brain so overloaded with geography. I'm really not up for anything involving thinking."
Teo shook his head. "Don't worry, this isn't any sort of board game."
"Really? Like sports. I didn't you could- I mean you did those sort of things down here, in the Earth Kingdom."
Teo graciously ignored his last comment, and pulled down a large lever. A table fell out from the wall. At least table was the best word Sokka could think of, but it didn't really fit it. For one thing the flat part was incredibly thick, resembling a cabinet more than a table. Lengthwise along each side were a number of poles and various levers inserted into it. Looking over it, Sokka could see that it was semi-hollowed out, like a giant wooden pit. Within the hollowed out section were several bars that ran through various carved figures, some painted green, some black. "Allow me to introduce you to table earth- soccer."
Kinzdong examined the scroll. "Hmmm." He turned the scroll on its side. "Hmmmm." He turned it upside-down. "Hmmmm." Finally, he gave up. "Sorry kid, I can't make heads or tails of this."
Sokka put the scroll down on the table and began pointing. "It's very simple. This is the heart of it."
"The wheel? I thought this was on a ship." Kinzdong, hazarded.
"No, it's not a wheel. It's a hollow globe. See?"
Kinzdong took another look. "Not really. What are the lines sticking out?"
"Those are the pipes."
"We need to get you drawing lessons," the blacksmith muttered. "You know how you make these parts?"
Sokka rubbed his neck. "Not really. I was just working on the ship…"
"Right." Kinzdong turned and grabbed some tools from his work rack. "Well, I've made weirder things then this since the flood. I'm sure I can figure this out. Now kid, you interested in learning blacksmithing?"
"Do I have a choice?"
"Given you're the one who inspired this little mad project? Not really."
"So about how big was the waterfall?"
"I told you, huge, gigantean, monstrous."
"That's not a very accurate measurement."
"Sorry, near death experiences tend to reduce my accuracy."
The mechanist turned back to the board. "Alright. We should think this through. Your sister had time to waterbend, so it couldn't' have been too small. When would you say she began waterbending?"
Sokka sighed. "I don't know… halfway down maybe?'
The mechanist marked on 'x' on the crude drawing of the waterfall on the paper behind him. "So, if at halfway down she could reach the water… how far can waterbenders reach?"
"So I think I'm getting the hand of moving the guys. Now what are the levers down here for?"
"Are you sure want to do that? I mean, you only scored-"
"I'm ready. Besides, with my keen tactical mind, more complexity can only help me."
Teo shrugged. "Alright, but don't say I didn't warn you. Earth Soccer is done with earthbenders, so a big part of the game is maneuvering the terrain. Each of the levers let's you adjust the slope of one of the parts of the field. Turn it to move the slope the way you want."
"Alright, so this way is forward, this way is back…. I got this."
To his credit, Sokka did technically score half of the goals of the next game. Granted, they were all against himself, but it was still quite impressive.
"So, how long do you think this takes?" The mechanist was practically bouncing up and down with excitement.
Sokka sighed, it wasn't going to be any faster than the last ten times he asked. Still, he was a guest. "I don't know. The fires on the ship were much bigger, but so was the amount of water, and it had four chambers instead of our two."
"Wait, I think I heard something! It sounds like the water in the second chamber is beginning to boil. Oh I can't wait." The mechanist moved to look down the open pipe at the end.
"What are you doing?!" Sokka grabbed the mechanist, and pulled him back with such force that they both ended up sprawled on the floor. Almost simultaneously, his action was validated by a burst of steam from the pipe, coming out with such force that it tore through the small wooden rotational fan that was supposed to test its power.
The mechanist wiped the sweat from his brow. "You really weren't kidding! I had no idea that steam could pack such a punch, or that the Water Tribe was so advanced!"
Sokka jumped up and threw his hands into the air. "Yes! Victory."
Teo smiled. "So that makes it forty-two to one, right?"
Sokka shook his head. "No, no way. Those other games don't count. They were just practice. Now I've gotten the hang of it."
"Whatever you say."
"Spirit's drop. If that's the waterfall we dropped from----- Ugh! She could be anywhere!"
The mechanist patted his back. "It's not so bad. Most of the rivers diverging from it end up here." The Mechanist pointed to the collection of rivers irrigating the land near the town.
"But what if she ended up in here, or here, or here?" Sokka gestured all over the map.
"Well, I'm sure-" Any further attempts to comfort Sokka were drowned out by the doorbell ringing.
The mechanist stood up. "Oh, that should be the Xi. I didn't think they'd be here so early. Maybe I can use steam power for their plow. And if anyone found your sister she might be with them…. Though I do wish people would learn you only have to ring once."
Sokka, who was already up, headed towards the door. "Don't worry," he said as he pulled the lever. "I got it—acHAk!" His words were cut off as he was lifted up by his collar with a single hand.
Zhao leaned in towards him, smirking. "Hello, boy."
Sokka futilely kicked his legs in the air. "Zhao! What are you doing here?"
"Looking for the princess, unfortunately, I found you instead."
"What is going on here?" the Mechanist demanded as he rushed in, followed closely by Teo.
"Oh nothing, " said Sokka. "Just chatting with a friend. Look, Zhao I'm sorry but I don't know where Azula is. We broke up and I'm just looking for my sister. So sorry to waste your time but-"
Sokka was cut off as Zhao lifted him up and drove him into the wall with all the force of a catapult. .
"What do you think you're doing?" The Mechanist demanded. "Unhand him this-" Without even bother to turn around. Zhao placed his free hand behind him.
"Watch out!" Sokka shouted, as fire leapt from Zhao's hand. The mechanist leapt back, barely avoiding being charred.
"Dad!" Teo shouted, wheeling over to him.
"Leave them out of it! He hasn't done anything," Sokka shouted.
Zhao smiled. "He harbored a wanted fugitive."
"I told you, I'm not with Azula now, and she's not going to take time to get me. Why do you want me?"
"Oh I don't know. Do the words, 'They're trying to burn the ships and the city' have any meaning to you?"
Sokka gulped. "Oh, right. So what are you-"
Sokka curled up in pain as Zhao punched him in the stomach. Or at least he tried to, given that he was still being held up in the air this was harder than it sounded. Sokka's pain renewed and doubled as he was thrown over Zhao's shoulder.
Teo wheeled himself forward. "You shouldn't do that. I'd advise you leave right now, or else." Sokka mentally thanked the spirits that Kinzdong was in his workshop right now and would probably be unable to hear them. At least he wouldn't get involved.
Zhao laughed. "And why is that?"
"The Air Nomads. We have regular contact with them, and they're coming today. I don't think they'd like to find a Fire Nation marauder here."
Sokka mentally winced, while Zhao just chuckled. "Then I suppose I shall just have to burn this place and all its inhabitants to the ground to hide my presence." Zhao laughed at the looks of horror. "Oh don't worry. I won't really. Because I know you're not in regular contact with the Air Nomads. And even if you were, it wouldn't matter. You see, this boy is wanted by the Air Nomads."
"What are you talking about?"
Zhao made a tsk tsking noise. "You haven't told them? Then, as a great lover of the truth, allow me to enlighten you. This boy has been aiding and assisting the mad princess Azula. I assume even a peasant town such as this has at least heard of her?" If Teo and the Mechanist hadn't, they were at least smart enough not to mention it. "You know. I was planning to carry you, but now that I think about it, it's a long walk. You're a strong boy, you should carry yourself."
Sokka, still feeling Zhao's sledgehammer of a fist, barely managed to wheeze out "You… utter..." Before being unceremoniously dropped on the floor.
"You." Zhao pointed to Teo. "Fetch me some rope."
On the one hand by the time Zhao had bound Sokka's hands to his satisfaction, Sokka had mostly recovered from the earlier blow. On the other hand Zhao's definition of "firmly bound" meant Sokka could practically feel his hands going numb, then again, that might be an improvement on how they felt right now. And there was the fact that Zhao was now going to drag him one a several miles journey to imprisonment and an unknown fate, but that was life. While Sokka thought about all this, Zhao lost his patience and threw a fireball at his feet.
"Hey, what was that for?"
Zhao held up his hand again in warning. "I told you, no delays, now go."
"I can't, there's a door in my way." Sokka held up his bound arms.
Zhao rolled his eyes. "Will one of you two open the door?" Teo wheeled forward and pulled the lever, keeping an eye on Zhao as he did so.
Sokka began to walk out of the house, but stopped halfway through the door way. "Oh no," he muttered under his breath. About twenty feet away were a group of people that could only be the family that the Mechanist had mentioned were coming earlier. Even worse, Sokka could see a few holding crude weapons or floating boulders.
"Who's that? I don't recognize him." Sokka couldn't make out who in the crowd was talking. This family seemed even bigger than the first one. Not just in numbers (in fact there might have been less of them) but bigger, most were at least Zhao's size, and a few were about a head taller.
"Look at his skin. It's the Water Tribe boy."
"Look at his hands."
"I told you something funny was going on in there."
Sokka barely managed to dodge a second blast of fire near his feet. "I told you to get a move on boy-" Zhao stopped, the collective shouts of surprise of the crowd, combined with the now open door, were more than loud enough for Zhao to hear. "What is going out there?"
"What was that?"
"Look, that's got to be the guy who did it."
"He's got some sort of explosive?"
"Don't be a moron, Hong, he's obviously a firebender."
"I'm the moron? Firebenders don't come here. The Air Nomads beat them in good."
"The Nation maybe, but a bunch of em went rogue. Down in the cities you can hire em dime a dozen."
"AHEM." Zhoa shouted, failing to get the attention of the now squabbling family, to no one's surprise but his own. "I SAID AHEM!" This time he punctuated his statement with a brief burst of fire. "Now then-"
"See, told you he was one."
"Would you idiots stop babbling and listen to me!" Zhao shouted, taking a deep breath before continuing. "I am attempting to apprehend this criminal on behalf of the Air Nomads." For a brief, beautiful moment the entire family was silent.
"How stupid do you think we are? A firebender working for the Air Nomads? I can even still see your military uniform."
"Hey, I think I heard something about a rogue Fire Nation guy coming through the Earth Kingdom."
"For crying out loud, that was that princess. Does he look like a princess to you, Jiang?"
"Well, obviously not. But she's probably going to need escorts, high class princess like that. Goodness knows I wouldn't try it alone."
"Oh please. You could probably wrestle a platypus-bear to the ground. He's more of a princess than you are."
"You take that back!"
Had Zhao been…. well, almost anyone but himself, he could have easily slipped away while the family was bickering. Instead he once more drew attention to himself. "I am taking this criminal back to custody. You will disperse and allow me through."
The crowd, which had been suspicious before, began to turn hostile.
"Thinks he can order us around."
"Is the mechanist alright?"
"And his poor son, imagine bullying a cripple like that."
"Bet he did something horrible to em."
Zhao, showing all the tact of an enraged moose-lion, unleashed a stream of flame at the ground near the crowd as a warning shot. "I order you to move!" If Zhao hadn't made enemies before then, he certainly had now. His next sentence was cut off as a piece of stone came flying towards him. He easily blocked its crude flight, and retaliated with a blast of fire in that direction. The bender had set up a stone wall, but the amateurish, untrained creation was not nearly enough to stand up to Zhao's blast, and Sokka heard a scream.
"Hong! Are you alright?"
"He got my arm! The bastard got my freaking arm!"
"Now then, if the rest of you don't want to suffer the same. Get out of my way."
The murmurings turned low, and Sokka thought he could make out several creative names and suggestions for what to do with Zhao. Nevertheless, fear won out over anger and the crown began to slowly move back.
"Good, now-" Zhao stopped as he heard a very distinctive growl on his right. "It's that blasted Whale-Wolf," he muttered. This time it was Zhao who took an involuntary step back, trying to divide his attention between the crown and Sukara. "Go! Get lost" Zhao fired a few blasts at Sukara, but since he was unwilling to take his eyes off the Xi's, they were easily dodged. Sukara crouched down, ready to charge.
Sokka was sure the village time piece was inaccurate, as there was no way the stand-off lasted for only a minute. Finally, it was broken by the soft patting of metal against a hand. The mechanist had emerged from door, carrying one of the pipes. "You took my guest. You injured Hong. And most importantly, you threatened my son. Get out."
Zhao laughed. "Do you seriously think you can harm me? An untrained tinkerer with a metal club?"
"Maybe he can't," began Sokka, "But you sure you want to turn your attention towards him? I've seen someone get eaten by Sukara, not a pretty sight. And even if you pay attention to both of them, you've still got an angry mob to deal with. Mob to your left, Killer Whale-Wolf in front, and him to the right. Doesn't sound so pathetic now? Does it Zhao?"
Zhao gritted his teeth. Finally he picked up Sokka held him face to face. "You have the spirits own luck boy!"Zhao threw him to the ground before stomping off.
Sokka fidgeted nervously. "Is he going to be alright?"
The Mechanist nodded. "Hong will be fine. I've had to learn a bit of doctoring as well, and it's mostly a mild burn. The wall absorbed most of the impact."
"Look I'm, really sorry about this. I didn't mean to get you in trouble."
"Are you really with Azula?"
Sokka rubbed his arm awkwardly. "Sort of, I didn't mean to get involved it's just…. I'm actually from the Southern Water Tribe. Azula's ship got frozen near us and she offered to take Katara north to learn waterbending. It was her ship that used steam power, nothing my tribe came up with. My sister joined up and I followed her to keep her safe." Sokka felt himself jumping between topics, saying whatever came to mind.
"Couldn't she learn it in the south?"
"No, there weren't any waterbenders in our tribe, and going to the others… wasn't safe. Then again, neither was the trip." Sokka chuckled. "Look, I'm sorry I got you involved. I thought that after I broke up with Azula that was it. I'm sorry about not telling. I just wasn't sure I could trust…. Oh Tui."
"I wish you had been, honest. But I understand-" The mechanist began
"No, it not that. I just realized. Before we got separated, we had a big fight because my sister wasn't telling me everything. She didn't trust me…. Look, I should get going. "
"…. Are you sure? What about your sister?"
"I can't risk someone else for my sake. I might have done that already. Zhao's going to mention this to his bosses, though the Air Nomad in charge, at least I think he was in charge, seemed a lot calmer. Plus, my sister hasn't turned up yet, and I've been stupid. We saw that she only has a chance of ending up here. And at this point it doesn't matter where she ended up, it matter's where she is. Almost all the rivers lead to the coast, and there aren't that many cities. I should start looking there, if she isn't there, someone who has seen her might be."
"I see. Well, I wish you the best of luck."
The mechanist's area was supposed to be representative of someone who was just that, a mechanist, but not everything else. He had the idea of how to make a factory, but not the social advances that go with them (dedicated workers, city near the factory etc). Also, no steam power. Without having met the Fire Nation, and the ready source of hydro power, it never occurred to him.
Also, the reason Sokka comes off as unworried about Katara is because he's simply refusing to consider the possibility that she could be dead. He simply couldn't deal with it and isn't willing to confront it. I tried writing a scene detailing that, but it just really wasn't working so I ended up throwing it out.
Sukara being female was planned from the beginning. Interestingly if you look back, Sokka was actually the first one who mentionied a gender (getting it wrong).
Epilogue: Sokka sighed. "Look I'm sorry for ignoring you. Just because I met new people doesn't give me the right ignore old friends. Even so, you really came through for me. So apology accepted.
Sukara panted happily. This time, her communication was much more effective, indicating that forgiveness may happen if sufficient belly rubs were given.