Well s again, that was a fun year between updates... Wait... not a year. A month at least then right? No? How very strange, hopefully this is a signal of some sort of routine. Also... turns out a couple of the OCs from last chapter do get a return, though nothing terribly major.
Anyway Legend of Korra series 2 should be out tomorrow. Looking forward to that, though hopefully won't find it too distracting.
Oh and of course:
I own nothing in this story. Naruto belongs to Masashi Kishimoto and Avatar the Last Airbender toMichael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko
The Secretive City
"Look the inner wall!" Lee cried excitedly as the monorail carriage dashed along the track. The two stony-faced earthbenders powering it not allowing their concentration to be broken as they powered it forwards, transporting the team, along with other refugees who had the money to escape the lower levels of the city. A few guards also lounged back in the chairs, clearly going back to relax and enjoy their time off. The carriage sped along the earth rail, the benders doing a fine job of keeping a decent speed whilst also allowing for an impressive few out of the carriage, the tall imposing inner walls standing as a bulwark, stark against the green and cultivated lands below them of the farmland.
Inside the carriage there was also the diversity, the people were all finely dressed, for the most part, but the differences in the fashions between the passengers showed the variations that a county as large as the Earth Kingdom could enjoy. Green and white and cream and brown fabrics and leathers mixed with the metallic armour intermixed of the guards, both on and off duty.
Katara looked up at Lee's cry. "I can't believe we've finally made it to Ba Sing Se in one piece!" She commented thankfully as Momo let out a yip of happiness and moved, rolling out the window and into the air to soar and glide alongside the tram.
"Hey, don't jinx it! We can still be attacked by some giant exploding Fire Nation spoon. Or find out the city's been submerged in an ocean full of killer shrimp!" Sooka declared in reply, his head whipping around, almost as if he did expect an attack from a crack squad of cutlery.
"Y been hitting the cactus juice again?" Toph asked, half jokingly, half annoyed.
"I'm just sayin', weird stuff happens to us" Sokka replied shrugging his shoulders as if the universe conspiring against him. Which in all fairness might have been true as it was at that moment that a man dressed head to toe in green robes moved other to shift the group apart, sitting down heavily whilst a corn plant held in his mouth moved up and down slightly. Toph and Sokka shifted away from the man, looking shocked whilst one of Tenten's brows rose.
"What is wrong with the plants here that cause people to do things like this?! First the cactus juice and now this" She rested her head on one of her palms as she could hear Lee stutter about something to do with youthfulness, but even he seemed to be slightly put out by the sight.
Katara meanwhile had moved over to Aang.
"Don't worry Aang, we'll find Appa" She said, reaching out to comfort him, but Aang just turned away.
"I'm not sure, it's such a big city and we lost Neji on the way here as well."
"Appa's a giant bison!" Sokka suddenly interjected. "How hard could it be?"
"Yea" Tenten said as well, coming over to try and comfort the young avatar as well. "and besides, Neji should already be here, I'm sure he'll find his way to us and then we can use his byakugan to help find Appa."
Aang looked up before smiling slightly and nodding.
"Yea, alright Ba Sing Se I'm ready for you" He exclaimed before the monorail carriage passed into the city, revealing the true size of the area the group had to search.
"Oh" Sokka commented, trailing off as the group looked out of the windows at the city sprawl spreading out in front of them, walls and buildings of every shape and size littered the area in front of them, the far wall barely visible even with its immense size. Rooftops of several different colours could be seen, grouped between the walls, greens of various shades clashed with groups of yellow topped buildings as they were sped through the city in the earth carriage, looking down revealed the sights of adults walking through markets and children playing and running in the streets. The monorail ran through the walls, but far above the city so the team were treated to a bird's eye view of Ba Sing Se as they sped through the city towards a higher level, apparently a finer part of the city if the architecture they were encountering was any indication as the further they travelled the more well fed and better cared for the people looked and the more finery adorned the walls and buildings. The earthbenders slowed their bending as the carriage approached the station, slowly gliding to a stop before coming to a rest as the benders fixed up the carriage, making it ready for the passengers to disembark.
Tenten watched as the benders pulled back, the designated earth pulling back to make doors in the side of the carriage and letting the people stream out. If only they could have something like this in Konoha, it would make the village so much easier to defend if they had a way, only they knew of, to open the village up. Then again she considered, even if the guard post was positioned outside the wall it could still be difficult for people to enter to give them requests, not to mention it would be exposing the guards horribly. Of course this would be a moot point since most villages had access to large scale ninjutsu to bring down walls, either with giant summons or several earth jutsu users, being able to run up walls didn't help either.
She moved off the train with Lee after everyone else had left, catching up to them on the station as Aang pulled his bison whistle out and blew on it, the people milling about the station gave him a few looks, but most of them hurried off, eager to conduct their business in the new city.
"I'm coming for you buddy" he muttered as Toph and Sokka argued about the pros and cons of the city. Tenten watched as Katara moved to comfort Aang, but she was distracted moments later by the gust of wind as the monorail behind her swiftly moved out of the station. She turned around with Lee, feeling eyes on their backs to look at a woman smiling unnervingly at them. She had long black hair, held up by a green ornament before a face that looked like it had forced happiness for perhaps slightly too long if the laugh lines and smile were anything to go by. She worn cream coloured clothing with a dark green scarf wrapped round her neck. Her hair whipped about in the wind before she strode forwards towards the group her smile seeming to widen, a bizarre feat all things considered Tenten thought as she tried to avoid recoiling away from the unsettling form.
"Hello, my name is Joo Dee!" She began, speaking excitedly and not allowing anyone else to interject into the conversation. "I have been given the great honour of showing the Avatar around Ba Sing Se." She paused looking at each of them in turn.
"And you must be Sokka, Katara, Toph, Tenten and Rock Lee! Welcome to our wonderful city." she bowed low, yet it almost seemed mechanical as not even a few strands of stray hair fell away. "Shall we get started?"
'How did she know who we are?' Tenten thought. She was about to ask, but Sokka interjected first.
"Yes. We have information about the Fire Nation army that we need to deliver to the Earth King immediately!" He exclaimed, dramatically pointing to the satchel slung over him, the documents from the library safely stashed inside.
"Great! let's begin our tour!" the automated reply. "And then I'll show you to your new home. I think you'll like it" She replied looking to lead them all towards an awaiting carriage.
Sokka looked slightly put out as Tenten and Lee shared a glance. Something was clearly wrong in this city if an official was denying them a meeting in a time of war, especially considering who they were with.
"Maybe you missed what I said!" Sokka cried walking up to Joo Dee. "We need to talk to the King about the war" He leaned in to emphasise his point. "It's important!"
"You're in Ba Sing Se now. Everyone is safe here" Joo Dee replied to the steaming Sokka before motioning them towards the carriage. Tenten however wanted to try and meet up with Neji, or at least let him know where they were, Momo had been flying outside of the train so there was a good chance he would have seen him so long as he hadn't moved to far into the city after he arrived.
"Wait" Tenten cried out running towards Joo Dee, placing a calming hand on Sokka as she neared them. "If we have a house perhaps we should head there first so we don't have to carry all our gear on the tour." She smiled as she saw Joo Dee's face, warring with wanting to take them on the tour straight away, but she had a few doubts about stowing all of them plus their packs into the carriage and making it comfortable.
"We really must be going, you can see your house later" she replied, the cheeriness in her voice cracking slightly.
"But we've had to trek all the way through the Serpent's Pass to get here, not to mention help your guards in keeping Ba Sing Se safe" Tenten tried again, using all the skill she had picked up over her career to try and tide Joo Dee over to listening to her. There was a pause and Tenten could almost see the gears turning in Joo Dee's mind as she tried to figure out what to do.
"Ba Sing Se is safe, though we do want to offer the Avatar such a fine house for helping our city and to make him feel at home, but it would be rude of me to leave you so soon." Joo Dee replied, her smile returning.
Tenten however had seen something she could work with and tried again, hoping that the third time would be the charm.
"If that's the case you should at least let us settle in to the house and store our stuff away. It would be rude to keep the Avatar on his feet after all this time, wouldn't you think?" She asked locking her gaze with Joo's, waiting to see which one of them broke first. Joo lost out first, turning her head to the side, nervousness gripping her face for a split second, something only the shinobi of the group noticed before she nodded.
"Alright, I'll take you to the house first and let you relax for half an hour, but then we must go on the tour" she smiled. "Is that alright Miss Tenten?" she asked tilting her head, her face a picture of forced happiness as she emphasised the prefix, broking no argument.
"Of course not" Tenten replied in kind, wishing the guide would leave so she could try and send up a signal for Neji.
"It saddens me to see such forced happiness" Lee said, making Tenten turn as Joo Dee scurried off to talk to Team Avatar. Tenten watched to make sure Joo Dee didn't change her mind, drilling her eyes into Joo's back as she turned to smile at Tenten before guiding the team towards the coach and talking to the driver to change their course.
"True, I can understand why they would be wary of new visitors to their city, especially if they were powerful warriors, but to dismiss our information is annoying, she's also going to stop me from signalling Neji as I don't want to do anything large while we're under watch.
"Do not worry Tenten, Neji's youthfullness will guide him back to us!" Lee exclaimed smiling a genuine smile at her. "I am sure he will soon return to us and we can still leave a mark for him to find us!"
"True" Tenten muttered as she headed with Lee to the carriage, noticing the driver dressed in black robes and armour giving her and Lee a slightly heated glare before he turned back to the ostrich horse.
The ostrich horse trotted down the street, slowly down to a walk and then finally a halt as the carriage pulled up outside of a fine house in the Ba Sing Se suburbs. The house was constructed from a fine white stone, with long pillars holding up a roof over a porch surrounding the building. A circular entrance provided access to the walled off porch, paved with yet more of the white stone with a short wall surrounding the perimeter. The arch gave way to a heavy oak double door, bound with black metal, giving off a strong look. Outside of the white wall was a well kept garden, the grass well maintained and cut with shrubs planted around to give more depth to the greenery. Flowers dotted around the wall and garden provided colour, the yellow flowers matching the deep gold of the tiles making up the roof of the house as it shimmered in the sun. A tower of white stone rose up giving a first and second floor above the ground layer, the layered golden tiled roof complementing the construction with a balcony protruding smoothly from the first floor, a dark wood railing surrounding it. The house was completed by a panoramic view surrounding it, the vista included corpses of trees littering the hills surrounding it, other fine houses laying on them as well with the same pristine white stone leading up to them. A few clouds lazily dotted the sky, gently moving in the breeze.
'All things considered this place would be perfect for Shikamaru' Tenten thought, taking in the balcony and clear view of the skies. She was snapped from her revelry by Joo Dee's voice
"This is your house" Joo Dee introduced, the ever present smile still making its home on her face as team avatar gazed at the house in wonder, shocked into silence by its grandeur even as they tried to get off the carriage. Even Tenten and Rock Lee were impressed, few buildings in Konoha looked this fine except for the Hokage tower and a few of the Clan compounds, but this style of building seemed common in this part of the city. As the group piled out into the street Joo Dee carried on regardless.
"This is a token of appreciation from the Earth King!" She smiled even harder. Toph looked over at her and blew the bangs up before stomping over towards the house, complaining under her breath about being back in the city again. Katara and Aang soon followed, happy to have a safe place to rest as Sokka turned back to Joo Dee.
"On the subject of the Earth King when can we see him! As I've mentioned we have IMPORTANT INFORMATION FOR HIM" He almost shouted the last part, waving his arms around as Lee and Tenten shared a shrug and Lee went to put his pack in the house along with Tenten's.
"Oh no!" Joo Dee replied, the cheerfulness still in her voice. "We have yet to show you the city and besides, the Earth King is very busy!"
"If he's so busy with the war effort surely it is crucial that we speak to him before the tour so we can help him or at least give him the information sooner rather than later."
"Oh no!" the same reply Tenten thought, resisting the urge to perform some sort of higher level weapons technique. "One does not simply pop in on the Earth King!" Joo Dee almost gleamed with cheeriness as she said this, in fact Tenten could almost swear she saw her hovering for a moment as Sokka's head crashed into the palm of his hand.
"C'mon then Sokka we may as well relax for a few minutes before we get dragged away again." She muttered, pulling the spluttering teen along after her and into the house. Smiling as the interior of the home lived up to the expectations of the outside. The finery continuing as rugs of rich, dark green lined the floor, the wooden shutters in the windows being thrown open by Katara and letting ample light spill into the room. A wooden door off to the side showed a kitchen, stone counters lined the walls with a heavy looking wooden table filling the centre of the room, stools with cushions atop them surrounding it.
Another door opened onto a cool looking bathroom, with blue tiles mixing with leaf and forest green decorations to provide a pleasant mixture of the two colours.
Tenten switched her attention to the rest of the gang, sprawled out on the comfy looking cushions and rugs littering the room. Toph gleefully messing up the floor with earth bending as she slumped down.
"Good call Tenten, way to stick it to the handler" she called out, playing with a few small clumps of earth, making them roll over each other as she relaxed. Sokka meanwhile was staring at the door as if by some magic means he could summon the Earth King into being by simply staring at it.
By some strange cosmic coincidence there was a sharp knock at the door a few moments later, making Sokka let out a gasp before dancing over to the house as Tenten readied herself to see Joo Dee's ever present form. She was pleasantly surprised however when the door opened to reveal Neji smiling back at them, taking in the house himself, seemingly impressed by it.
"Neji you made it" Sokka cried out beaming as he let Neji into the house, only slightly off put that he didn't summon the Earth King into existence by his want alone.
Tenten and Lee happily met their comrade, words not needed between the team members. As far as Neji and Tenten were concerned the bone crushing hug Lee pulled them into was also not needed, but still a nice moment between the team.
"Yes, and you must tell me how you got such a fine house." Neji replied, gasping for breath slightly as he winced from Lee's hug, having finally been able to pry him off.
"It's a long story" Tenten sighed, motioning for a chair near the table as the rest of the GAang rose to greet Neji again, asking how he was. She was about to start when another knock at the door gained the teams attention.
Neji looked up confused before going to answer it.
"No don't!" Toph and Tenten cried out simultaneously but didn't succeed in stopping him before it was too late, letting the figure standing just outside the house get a good view of the back of Neji's head.
"Ah another person!" The cheery cry from the doorway. "Though I'm not sure who you are, you had best introduce yourself" She said, the smile taking on a worried edge as she glanced at the carriage behind her, to the untrained eye she was sizing up the vehicle, but to the trained eyes of the shinobi her gaze was directed more towards the driver then the carriage he would be guiding.
"This is our youthful comrade!" Lee said appearing in the doorway in a split second, cheeriness radiating off him as well. He adopted the signature Nice Guy Pose number 307 tm before continuing. "He is Neji, he is the leader of our group"
Joo Dee seemed to be put off by someone capable of radiating even more happiness then her, the fictional, yet non fictional, sparkles glistening in the air like dew drops as she stepped back slightly.
"Leader?" she queried, throwing another glance over her shoulder.
"What he means" Tenten interrupted. "Is that before we met the avatar, Neji the leader of our group of friends" she motioned to Lee, herself and Neji to show who she was referring to.
"He's the one that stopped the Lower Se's recently as well" A deep voice said from behind them, they turned to look at the driver. "Pleased to finally meet the last member of team Avatar" he said, nudging his hat as the three shinobi looked at him suspiciously.
"Anyway!" Joo Dee spoke up, trying to regain control of the situation. "I'm sure you would all like to see our amazing city! It's a utopia where you can relax after all your hard travels!"
"What we'd really like to do is SPEAK TO THE EARTH KING!" Sokka yelled, appearing next to them, shaking slightly as his arm was raised high to draw attention to him and his point.
"Excellent, well if you'd all like to come with me we can get the tour started!" Joo Dee replied, either oblivious to the glares and mumbles of annoyed teens or just programmed not to pay any attention to them. Sokka stared at her, his mouth hanging open like a fish before Katara pushed him towards the carriage.
"Just go with it Sokka, the sooner we get this over with now the better, besides we might see the palace or find information on Appa" She shot Aang a glance who replied with a slightly hopeful one, Neji rejoining the team bolstering his spirits somewhat.
"Is she always like this?" Neji asked Tenten who nodded glumly in respsonse, causing Neji to rest his face in his palm, walking towards the carriage to get it over with.
The ostrich horse trotted along the dirt streets, the carriage bumping along as it sped down the road, giving its current residents the tour they, for the most part, really didn't want. Lee seemed enthusiastic enough, looking happily out the window, taking in the sights and smells of the new city, exclaiming at youthfullness at the energy, though even he seemed slightly off put by the poorness of the lower ring suburbs. Neji on the other hand shrunk away from the window, muttering about already having seen this lower ring too much. The rest of the group looked out the side of the carriage as Joo Dee showed them the sights of the lower city, trying to push Lee out of the way for a better view before giving up and asking Tenten to ask him to move for her.
"This is the Lower Ring" She chirped happily, gesturing out of the carriage.
"What's that wall for?" Katara asked, indicating one of the many large earth walls blocking off access to the other parts of the city.
"Oh, Ba Sing Se has many walls!" The incessant cherry voice spoke up again. "There are the one's outside protecting us and the ones inside that help to maintain order!" Neji sighed as the carriage moved on, parting the waves of the downtrodden refugees who walked alongside them, looking up forlornly at them, the walls and the sky. A fresh wave of people increased the crowds milling about and Neji spoke up about another boat of refugees having made port at the docks.
"This is where our new newest arrivals live, as well as our craftsmen and artisans, people that work with their hands!" The voice spoke up, it's chirpiness almost disguising it's disdain, but not quite managing it.
"She means this is where they hide away all the newest refugees they can't support." Neji spoke up. "Cram them all into one walled off area of the city so the higher ups can claim the moral high ground for helping whilst the refugees themselves get hidden away in crime and squalor, with not enough guards to police them." He looked out the window disinterestedly as Katara gave him a confused and almost sad look, like she suspected he had experienced hardships not just from his brief time in the lower ring, but from before that, at the hands of the more noble classes.
Tenten on the other hand took offence to the poor conditions the artisans and craftsmen had.
"How can you keep them all in this part of the city? There's nothing wrong with working with your hands and surely without them you would suffer! Where would your houses get furnishings, or your people their goods?" Tenten spoke out with barely restrained fury.
"Of course there's nothing wrong with it!" Joo Dee replied raising a hand to point up. "We have shops and cafes in the middle ring for people to buy whatever they want! From furniture to clothing you can get everything! Though that part of the tour is later." She smiled at Tenten as if she had solved the matter.
"But those shops have to get their goods from somewhere!" Tenten replied. "Even if you argue that this way they're closer to the goods coming in from the docks you still have to admit that they will have to be transported into the middle ring. And there's little protection here, you could lose all your produce and good craftsmen without realising!"
"Of course not!" Joo Dee replied. "The guards will keep everyone safe, this is Ba Sing Se. Everyone is safe here!" She chirped sending an almost hidden glance at the driver outside. "Everyone is cared for and valued within these walls, see the vibrant activity outside! It's so quaint and lively!"
Tenten merely sigh in exasperation whilst Lee spoke up.
"What about them?" He asked, pointing at an alleyway where a couple of men stood, one resting a large broadsword on his shoulder whilst one was gleefully ripping up a wanted poster for Zheng, smirking menacingly. Both men turned to smirk at them as they heard comments ranging from
"Now the lower Se's are gone re can rule this part of town" to "Bleedin' aristos... bet those kids would be worth a large amount of gold to the right people" triggering a few guffaws of laughter from the nearby houses
"You do want to watch your step though." Joo Dee commented, looking slightly put out and worried, obviously not happy with spending so much time in the lower ring.
"It's not so bad, it has its moments" Neji commented gaining a nervous glance from Joo and a look of slight respect as he leaned forward, the thugs in the alleyway seeing him and backing off slightly, annoyed.
"Why do they have all these poor people blocked off in one part of the city?" Katara asked, looking between Neji, Joo and the thugs slowly slinking off into the shadows nervously.
"This is why I never came here before!" Aang announced disinterested, clearly more interested in searching the skies and city by himself. "I always heard it was so different from the way the monks taught us to live" He turned so his back was facing more towards Joo and he soon engrossed himself in gazing at the clouds with an intensity that would rival Shikamaru, well if Shikamaru ever took to his passion of cloud watching with any passion.
The carriage lapsed into silence as it carried on its journey through the city, Aang scanning the skies, disgruntled hoping to find Appa, with Katara looking worriedly at him inbetween taking in the sights of the lower ring. Toph scowled in the back of the carriage, clearly not happy with being forced to come along as Sokka schemed with the shinobi on their information and how to actually get an audience with the Earth King. The seedier members of the lower ring looked up at the carriage as it passed, some of the braver members even moving forwards as if tempted to attack, but were put off by a glare from the driver and those who weren't were soon put off upon seeing Neji through the window, shifting himself there to draw attention and scaring off the thugs. The rumours of what had happened to the Lower Se's had already spread through parts of the city with far more efficiency then they had any right too. Joo Dee hummed quietly to herself in the carriage, seemingly oblivious to the swirling emotions going on around her.
Soon they were ascending towards the base of the wall again. A high square block was cut from the wall with guard houses on either side with another small balcony on top. A guard stood under the green tiled roof as it jutted out of the wall, the earth floor surrounded with a wooden fence and it leg into the wall, implying a further living area. A couple of guards were standing in the middle of the passageway, clad in the livery of the Earth King. They approached the carriage but after a few muttered words from the driver they soon backed off allowing the carriage easy passage into the middle ring of Ba Sing Se. The streets were of a better quality here reflecting the higher affluence of this part of the city which the surroundings shared. The houses were all made of better quality as stone buildings soon started to line the cobblestone streets, making the coach clatter behind the ostrich horse. The roof tiles changing to a different shade of green with some yellow and gold highlights. The buildings themselves were larger as well, though still not on the scale of the buildings seen in the brief time in the upper ring and more flowers and trees littered the houses and streets and courtyards. A small fountain surrounded by grass and a few trees filled a cross section as the carriage turned. Joo Dee clearing her throat as she prepared to resume the tour.
"This is the middle ring of Ba Sing Se, home to the financial district, shops and restaurants, and the university!" She smiled at them as Sokka turned from where he had been talking with the team of shinobi.
"Yeah, we met a professor from Ba Sing Se university. He took us to an ancient underground library where we discovered information about the war that is" he paused at this moment, causing the others to look up, before Sokka suddenly moved towards Joo Dee, yelling now as he flailed his arms around to emphasise his point. "ABSOLUTELY CRUCIAL FOR THE EARTH KING TO HEAR!"
Joo Dee seemed unfazed by the shouting and spittle coming from Sokka's mouth, even as it blasted her hair back from the sheer power of the sound waves and some spit landed on her face. She merely kept up the smiling persona as the carriage moved to a stop and she unlocked the door before climbing out.
"See isn't history fascinating? Look here's one of the oldest buildings in the middle ring! The Town Hall!" She moved towards the building before gesturing to the others to follow her.
"Is that woman deaf?" Sokka asked, as the others scrambled out of the carriage. "She only seems to hear every other word I say."
"It's called 'being handled'" Toph spoke up, causing Sokka to turn before she kicked him out of the carriage. "Get used to it" She muttered before jumping out of the carriage, barely missing Sokka as he rolled out the way. As she landed on the cobbled street she kicked up a few bits of stone and raised her arms up happily.
"Hey Toph, what gives?" Sokka asked, rubbing his arse before ducking as a few pebbles whizzed past where his head was.
"Ground it's so nice to have ground under my feet again!" Toph cried out, rubbing her feet back and forth slightly. "It's so nice to be able to see again, I'm not even sure why I'm on this stupid tour" She half cried in joy and half muttered under her breath.
"True, I can't imagine it's much fun being unable to see" Neji said walking up to the others. "Then again at least you can avoid their attempts to cage you" He finished. Sokka looked up to see Aang, Katara and Lee talking in the background with Tenten approaching.
"Wait where did Joo Dee go?" he asked, his head whipping around before Neji reached out and grabbed his hand, pulling him up.
"Our esteemed guide is in there" Tenten said, jerking her thumb towards the Town Hall. "Something about booking us in for a slot in the Earth King's schedule" Tenten raised her fingers in air quotations to show her disdain at the idea of all the time wasting beurcracy. Sure order was important, but if someone entered Konoha claiming to have information, hero of the land or not they were listened to... or at least put under Yamanaka techniques to find out what they knew and if it was true if they were lucky. They were 'interviewed' by Ibiki if they weren't.
"Neji!" A sudden feminine cry rang through the air before a flying blur tackled Neji to the ground. The group looked on curiously, and in Tenten's case slight jealously, as the blur revealed itself to be a young girl, about their age with curly brown hair held up in a ponytail with a few stray strands hanging down as bangs. Her green eyes looked cheerfully down at Neji as she sat on his chest. Her green short sleeved tunic slightly ruffled with a cream coloured shirt underneath. Completing her ensemble was a pair of cream leggings going into a pair of brown boots.
"Lei get off him!" A cry and the gang turned to see a young man clad in much the same running towards them, his curly brown hair bouncing slightly. He finally caught up before resting his hands on his legs, panting lightly. A couple in the background clad in long green robes looked over, smiling lightly as he caught his breath before straightening up.
"Sorry about that Neji" Lei apologised getting up before offering Neji a hand. "It's nice to see you under more favourable circumstances though, are these your friends?" She asked, looking around at the rest of the gang, the smiling Katara and Sokka, Aang grinning away cares forgotten. Tenten red and looking slightly annoyed and Lee biting his lip.
"Who is this most youthful of girls?" He cried out running over to join them as Katara and Aang walked over at a much more calm rate.
"Ah, everyone this is Lei and Lee" Neji said introducing them. "They're siblings I met whilst in the lower ring"
"Pleased to met you" Lee said, extending his hand to his shinobi counterpart. "Neji helped us escape from our bonds in a gang and took us with him here to get a better life" Rock Lee took the offered hand shaking it vigorously whilst Tenten's face softened and sent a knowing smile at Neji.
"What are you doing here?" Neji asked avoiding Tenten's smile.
"We came here because we're being adopted!" Lei smiled cheerfully as she gestured to the couple in robes behind them.
"That was quick!" Tenten exclaimed. "Neji's only been here for what, three days?" She paused before looking at him. "You must really be a prodigy!" She joked.
"Well, we were just lucky" Lei replied smiling at Tenten. "Because of the refugees lots of couples here are either helping out or looking to adopt children and since my brother is an earth bender people seem to be quite interested in him as he can help out around the house.
"They also appear to be lovely kids" an adult voice interjected. "Just what we always wanted" The group turned to look at the couple as the approached. The man had short brown hair with matching eyes whereas the young woman had piercing green eyes instead with long black hair to her lower back.
"We haven't had much luck with me getting pregnant" she said "so when the chance came to adopt we gratefully took it and we met these kids this morning when someone was trying to mug me. Lee used his earth bending to help us and they returned my bag" She smiled as they looked up to see the source of the ever increasing in volume cries were from the Lees having an arm wrestle.
"They said they were passing on the kindness from someone who had just met them, yet helped them anyway. We wanted to return the favour to them as well."
"Aw Neji you big softy" Katara said, nudging him in the side whilst he let out a sigh.
"Yea, all this time with the Avatar must have turned you soft!" Tenten joined in.
"Never" Neji replied deadpan as Lei looked around.
"Ah yes, you were friends with the Avatar... is this him?" She asked greeting Aang.
Aang nodded his head in response and started chatting with the couple. The pleasant scene continued for a while before Joo Dee returned.
"Ah it's nice to see you interacting with the locals!" She smiled. "But we need to get back on with the tour!" She made to usher them back towards the carriage, causing most of the group to moan in annoyance and Toph started to sulk as she was forced back onto the vehicle.
"Bye Neji!" Lei cried and Lee nursed his sore arm. "Thanks for everything hope to see you soon!" She cried as Neji waved back to her.
The carriage rolled its way along the finely paved roads of the upper ring, the occupants thoroughly bored at this point by the whole expedition as Joo Dee continued to chatter away about the fineness of the city.
"This is the Upper Ring! We are almost back at your house!" She chirped, getting possibly the only positive reaction of the tour, the group having given up on talking to her about the Earth King at this point and resigned themselves to just asking someone else later. The carriage continued inwards in its journey, passing by a walled off complex, a high, dark green gate was in the centre with a few men wandering around in dark robes with wide brimmed black hats. The trio of men sent a glare there was as the carriage passed by, a spire of yellow tiled roofs visible just barely over the wall.
"What's inside that wall?" Katara asked, suppressing a shudder
"And who're the mean looking guys in robes?" Sokka asked before giving Joo Dee a chance to reply.
"Inside is the Royal Palace. Those men are agents of the Dai Li, the cultural authority of Ba Sing Se. They are the guardians of all our traditions."
"Can we see the Earth King now?" Aang asked, resting his face on a fist, waiting for the expected answer.
"Oh no, one doesn't just pop in on the Earth King!" Joo Dee chimed.
Aang just nodded his head automatically as the carriage carried on towards their home. Momo circling above lazily before landing on Aang's shoulder as he disembarked the carriage. The others following with Toph happily stretching out again.
"Here we are, you house again" Joo Dee smiled before turning and greeting the messenger that had just run up behind her.
"Ah more good news, your request for an audience with the Earth King is being processed and should be put through in about a month!" She told them happily, causing the gang to turn and regard her with scandalous looks. "That's much quicker than usual!"
"A month!" Sokka cried out.
"How on earth is that quick?!" Tenten agreed, sure it was a time of war, but for people with such crucial information to be delayed like this...
"Six to eight weeks actually!" Joo Dee corrected herself, smiling innocently. "But you have a fine house to stay in as our thanks so the time should fly by and you should really enjoy it here!"
"I think we'd enjoy it a whole lot more if we weren't here for so long!" Sokka pouted. "Isn't there anyway we could see the Earth King sooner?"
"The Earth King is very busy running the finest city in the world! But he will see you as soon as time permits." Joo Dee replied, her smile never faultering.
Aang looked up, staring out at the sky, Momo coiled happily on his shoulder though he raised his head when Aang spoke.
"If we're going to be here for a month, we should spend our time looking for Appa." Joo Dee bowed in response.
"I'd like to escort you anywhere you'd like to go."
"We don't need a babysitter." Toph stated annoyed before stomping towards the street, only to find Joo Dee standing in front of her.
"Oh, I won't get in the way." She said smiling, stepping to the sides in time with Toph to block her access.
"And to leave you alone would make me a bad host!" Joo carried on, making sure she remained in front of Top at all times. "So where would you like me to tell the driver to go to first?" She asked, trying to smile disarmingly. Toph sighed in frustration as the group again relented, several members sighing in frustration at Joo Dee's insistence to be with them at all times.
A few exotic birds chirped in annoyance at Momo as the flying lemur landed on a wooden perch. A bird table set out with mixed nuts and fruit for the animals in the store as Momo reached out and grabbed a small berry, nibbling away at it before an owl with the features of a cat landed next to him and screeched, causing Momo to retreat back to the group, landing on Tenten's shoulder and circling it before she raised a finger to rub against his ears.
"I'm sorry, but I haven't heard anything about a flying bison. I didn't even know there were any." The nervous shop keeper stammered out. Sweat glistening on his brow as he wiped it away with a cloth, putting it back into the front pocket of his thick brow apron. His green undershirt was creased and his brown hair was starting to recede, giving him a widow's peak.
"If someone wanted to sell a stolen animal without anyone knowing, where would they go ?" Aang asked, slamming his hands onto the counter, eliciting a gasp from the frightened shop keeper and startling the animals into flapping their wings and squawking loudly.
"Where's the black market? Who runs it?" Sokka yelled as well, not letting the shop keeper have a chance to reply. He swung his arm out to point accusingly at the shop keeper. "Come on, you know!"
"Uh..." He stuttered out in response, his brown eyes flicking nervously side to side before sending a glance towards Joo Dee, standing behind the group and slightly to the side. She simply shook her head, causing Neji and Tenten to turn and glance at her out of the corner of their eyes. Joo simply smiled back at them.
"That would be illegal. You'll have to leave now; your lemur is harassing my sparrowkeets." He gestured to the bird table where Momo was now shovelling nuts and seeds into his mouth while fending off the approaching birds with a shuriken he had liberated from Tenten's pouch. Sokka looked like he wanted to argue his point further, but Joo Dee interupted.
"Perhaps we should investigate in other parts of the city" Joo Dee started to say before Neji interrupted her in turn.
"We could visit the university Aang, see if there's anyone else there who knows about the sandbenders or nomads"
"Also if we want to find out about the dubious side of the city the students might be a good place to ask" Tenten followed up whilst Toph nodded in agreement.
"The university! Good choice this way" Joo Dee said ushering the group out before smiling and nodding at the man behind the counter as she closed the door.
The carriage ride was a short, yet tense affair as Aang drummed his fingers along the sides and Joo was shot a few annoyed looks, some more hidden then others, from the other occupants of the carriage.
The university itself was a tall, imposing, building. Made of a white stone with a rich green roof as it spread out from a central tower. A medium sized wall of similar stone encircled it with a large green gatehouse in front. The driver stopped the carriage just before the gate and let them disembark as a university guard stopped them, not wanting the vehicle to enter the campus. There was a large number of students milling around the courtyard, a fountain in the centre providing them an area to sit down with statues placed aesthetically around the remaining area. There were several grassy areas as well with trees providing shade with their hanging branches, some of them even containing students that were either reading or sleeping in their confines as they relaxed in the warm Earth Kingdom sun.
"Excuse me, who should we talk to, to find out about the sandbenders and any other nomads from the Si Wong desert?" Katara asked a passing student, scrolls clutched to his chest.
"Hmm... I've never seen any sandbenders or nomads around here." the student paused, looking up as if thinking for a while before turning to address Katara again. "You should ask Professor Zei, he teaches the class on desert cultures."
"Right. And which of your professors could we ask about the war with the Fire Nation?" Sokka interrupted, almost pushing Katara out of the way in his eagerness to ask his question.
"Uh..." The student trailed off again, Sokka following his eyes, turning his head slightly to see Joo Dee shaking her head out of the corner of his peripheral vision. She stopped soon after she saw his head twitch, but judging by the three shinobi's expressions he knew they had seen as well.
"I don't know. I'm not a political science student... I've got to get to class." The student muttered suddenly, rushing to move away. Trying to run off before tripping over his own feet and sprawling onto the ground. Lee went to help him pick up his scrolls before letting him run off into the confines of the university as Joo Dee asked them where they wanted to go next.
"Well, I'm sorry no one has seen your bison. Why don't you go get some rest ?" Joo Dee apologised, as the carriage drew to a stop outside of the team's house. The driver opened the door and let the teens climb wearily out of the carriage, staring at their backs as the moved towards their house.
"Someone will be over with dinner, later." Joo Dee said as the door closed and she smiled at them one last time before the driver shook the reigns and the carriage took off.
"Finally, that woman is infuriating" Tenten muttered, to the nodded agreements of the rest of the team. Meanwhile Sokka glanced around, stretching out his back so it popped before he noticed a door slightly ajar that was promptly closed.
"Neji?" He asked looking over at the long haired teen.
"I saw it as well Sokka" came the calm reply.
"What is it?" Katara asked, looking up.
"Hey, come with me." Sokka motioned the others over, leading them across the street and to the house opposite theirs. He raised his hand and rapped his knuckles against the wood a few times before standing back and waiting.
The door cracked open slightly, before the nervous man got a look at the team.
"You're the Avatar!" he exclaimed, before looking around nervously and opening his door further. "I heard you were in town, I'm Pong" He introduced himself
"Nice to meet you Pong!" Aang replied cheerfully.
"So, Pong, what's goin' on with this city?" Sokka asked, raising an arm to rest it on the wall next to the door and leaning against it. "Why is everyone here so scared here to talk about the war?"
"War? Scared? What do you mean?" Pong replied, again his eyes looking around shiftily, as if he was scared of something. Toph stepped forwards towards him, clearly annoyed.
"I can feel you shaking" she said, almost accusingly.
"Look, I'm just a minor government official." He muttered again, his whole head trembling as he looked around yet again.
"Don't worry, there's no one else nearby" Neji said. Pong looked like he wanted to argue with him, but the confidence in his voice and the intensity of his stare made he think that perhaps Neji had a better idea of what was around then he thought, the way he was staring into his eyes with his grey pupil-less ones was also unnerving, but spoke of an ability to see and glare that someone who was blind wouldn't have.
"I've waited three years to get this house. I don't want go get into trouble." Pong replied, clutching onto his door frame like it was some kind of life line.
"Get in trouble with who?!" Katara asked, raising her voice slightly in frustration after the long day, causing Pong to shrink back slightly in fear.
"The Dai Li perhaps?" Tenten asked, thinking of the hard looks from the members they had seen earlier.
"Yes!" He squeaked out before looking scared. "No, just... stay away from them as much as possible no matter the cost." He paused, gathering himself. "And please be quiet about the way, you can't mention it here!" As the team looked slightly shocked at the revelation Pong quickly closed his door a faint locking sound coming from behind the wood.
"What do we do now?" Aang asked looking around the assembled faces.
"There's not much we can do for now" Neji replied. "Looks like this utopia is a well constructed cage."
"We'll have to wait for today" Tenten spoke up. "If we act like Joo Dee wants us to, stay in the house with the dinner she provides, we can hopefully make it seem like we've been placated and can do more tomorrow."
"That's a good plan." Katara replied. "Besides we could all use some rest." She looked over at Sokka who at this particular time had chosen to yawn.
The sunlight streamed into the house, sending cascading beams of light through the windows to wash the occupants in its warm glow. Some of the plates and bowls still littered the tables from the meal brought the day before as several teens lay sprawled out on the cushions and chairs spread out haphazardly on the floor. Katara wandered over to the door, yawning before opening it and letting the warm light flood in through the door. She looked over to a small slot in the wall by the side of the door and reached over grasping the paper in it before looking up and shielding her eyes against the sun. Looking over to a nearby hill where a fair green speck was running along, weaving in-between the trees. She shook her head, not used to being in a group with a morning person, but Lee had woken her up on his way out to do his early morning training and everyone else had been content to roll over and go back to sleep once they realised the imminent danger of attack had been replaced by lazy cries of rich teenagers stumbling back towards their parents fine houses and the running was just Lee going out for a morning jog. Up several neighbouring mountains. 'To each their own' she figured.
She glanced down at the paper in her hand as she moved back to the door, walking in as she skim read the front page, gasping slightly as she entered, causing the Sokka, Aang and Top to turn and look up at her from their chairs and cushions in the upper part of the living room.
"I got it! I know how we're going to see the Earth King!" She exclaimed as she rushed into the room, still gripping the paper tightly in her hands.
"How?" Toph questioned. "After all, 'One does not simply pop in on the Earth King!'"
Katara merely kept reading from the paper however. "The king is having a party tonight for his pet bear."
"You mean, platypus bear?" Aang asked.
"No it just says 'bear'"
"Certainly you mean his pet skunk bear." Sokka asked, leaning back so his head hung over the side of cushion he lay on.
"Or his armadillo bear." Toph stated.
"Gopher bear?" Aang again.
"No, it just says... bear." Katara answered looking up confused. There was a pause with a confused silence, broken only by the tread of feet down the wooden staircase as Neji came down, dressed only in his trousers as his wet hair hung down his frame.
"This place is... weird." Toph stated eventually looking downright mystified.
"That is the first sensible animal here I've heard of." Neji deadpanned from the kitchen, drinking some water from a nearby cup, early weird looks from the rest of the gang.
"Anyway..." Katara started recomposing herself to address the group again. "The palace will be packed. We can sneak in with the crowd!" She carried on, a growing tinge of excitement in her voice.
"Won't work" Toph stated, bored. Leaning back before lying down on the cushions strewn around her.
"Why not?" Katara asked, slightly put out.
"Well, no offense to you simple country folk, but a real society crowd will spot you a mile away." Toph raised a hand before slamming it down, knocking a bowl with pastries in over to her and away from Sokka you glared at her for stealing them out from under him. "You've got no manners!" she finished before biting into a pastry. Tenten chose this moment to appear down the stairs her hanging down as well as she went into the kitchen after exchanging 'mornings' with the group.
"What's up?" She asked Neji getting herself a drink as well.
"Katara wants us to enter the palace during the party tonight for the Earth King's bear."
"Just a bear?"
"Just a bear."
"Finally a normal animal then." Tenten muttered downing her water, seemingly unaware of the weird looks both shinobi had now received from the four nation natives.
"Anyway, I've got no manners?! You're not exactly "lady fancy fingers!" Katara shot back at Toph, finally no longer distracted by the other member of the team coming down from the upstairs rooms.
Toph in reply simply belched. "I learned proper society behavior and chose to leave it." She took another bite from her pastry before discarding it on the floor behind her, causing a short cry of outrage from Sokka as he looked forlornly at the discarded food.
"You never learned anything. And frankly, it's a little too late." She finished, starting to pick her nose.
"Aha, but you learned it! You could teach us!" Sokka cried out excited, suddenly shifting round to stand up.
"Yeah I'm mastering all the elements, how hard could manners be?" Aang joined in happily as well before running over to a nearby window and pulling one of the curtains off. Spinning around and draping it over him like a cloak.
"Good evening, Mr. Sokka Water Tribe, Ms. Katara Water Tribe, Lord Momo of the Momo Dynasty. Your Momo-ness" the statement causing Momo's reappearance from under the carpet, bowing regalling to Aang.
Sokka not wanting to be left out hastily picked up the other discarded curtain, draping it over himself in turn before standing up tall.
"Avatar Aang, how do you do? Go on." He asked bowing deeply to Aang, who replied in turn with another even deeper bow. They exchanged bows for a few moments before their heads collided with each other's and they knocked themselves onto their arses. Tenten giggled lightly covering her mouth with a hand whilst Neji face palmed
"Katara might be able to pull it off, but you two would be lucky to pass as busboys!" Toph muttered whilst getting up and walking towards Katara before turning to regard the two ninja. "As for you, if what you said about being from a noble clan is true you should be able to pull it off as well."
"Of course" Neji replied. "The Hyuga are one of the most powerful clans of Konoha, even as a branch member I am still aware of the proper codes and conducts, though you may have to teach us of any specific Earth Kingdom customs."
"I should be alright as well" Tenten said. "I've had enough practice with infiltration missions, so if I stay close enough to Neji I should be able to pull it off."
"What about Lee?" Katara asked.
"Lee... perhaps fits in with the other two more" Tenten muttered, pointing at Sokka and Aang on the floor wrapped up in curtains.
"But I feel so fancy!" Sokka exclaimed before Toph's snot drops on him causing him to gasp in revulsion.
"We better get ready for tonight then." Neji stated as Toph agreed and took Katara off to one side to start explaining the basics of courtly etiquette, saying she'd go over Earth Kingdom customs later leaving Neji and Tenten alone.
"She we get ourselves sorted out with some finery for tonight?" Tenten asked Neji smiling as Neji went upstairs to dry off his hair quickly and get fully dressed. Leaving only Sokka and Aang still around in the room when Lee returned.
"That was a most youthful training session!" He cried before looking around the near silent house. "What did I miss?"
The day was spent busily preparing for the night's plan. Toph having given Katara, Neji and Tenten a crash course on the specific Earth Kingdom customs as well as giving Katara extra lessons of courtly behaviour. As evening approached and dusk fell the house was still as the four went upstairs to get changed and ready for the party that night. The stillness was broken by a sudden cry of
Cried out Aang, Sokka and Lee as they carried on playing their game each of them groaning slightly in defeat. They were distracted however as Toph and Katara came down into the room. Make up lightly applied to their faces and clad in long exquisite dresses. Their hair held up in the latest styles of the aristocracy. Fans held loosely in front of their faces completed the ensemble.
Sokka and Aang stopped and stared with the latter blushing as the girls started to giggle.
"Wow, you look beautiful." Aang commented in awe of Katara, earning himself a cuff round the back of the head from an annoyed Sokka. Katara made to reply before Toph shot out her arm, opening her fan in front of Katara.
"Don't talk to the commoners, Katara. First rule of society." Toph reminded as a light weight on the stairs distracted them all. Causing them to look up as Neji and Tenten descended. Neji clad in long flowing robes of cream and white, looking every the inch a Hyuga noble. He wore a light brown tunic, that was open at the front, on top with a Konoha leaf symbol embroided onto the back of the fine garment. His hair was still tied back, ending in the usual long ponytail with a dark green ribbon tying it. A fine leather hair band covered his cursed seal. A fine leather belt was visible under the tunic with a couple of leather pouches, one for some money, the other presumably contained weapons.
Tenten was wearing a long flowing dress like the other girls, hers a long pale white with light greens mixed in with a darker green tunic on top. She held a medium sized fan in one hand, bigger than the ones held by Katara and Toph which she had complained slightly about. Her hair was done up behind her, leather cord holding it in place with a dark green hair piece. Part of it hung back in a ponytail, four senbon used as a hairpiece to complete it.
She giggled as the guys ogled her as well whilst Neji merely rolled his eyes.
"We best get moving." He stated, heading towards the door, with Tenten joining him, wrapping her one of her arms entwine with his.
"We'll get in the party, and then find a way to let you in through the side gate." Katara called as she and Toph followed afterwards. Momo made to follow them, still wearing a curtain as a cape, however his progress was impeded when Katara shut the door on him, bowling him over causing The remaining three to shrug.
The queue stretched out, with many of the cities aristocrats turning out for the Earth Kings party. Tenten watched as the queue moved forward slightly, the guards checking everyone entering the palace. She looked back, having lost Katara and Toph when they arrived and were ushered forward without them.
"What are we going to do Neji? They're not just going to let us in on how we act alone, they're checking for invitations." She looked over to him, taking in his form in the moonlight.
"I have a plan" He replied. "Tenten come closer I need you to cover my face." She was confused for a moment before he pulled her in, placing one hand on her lower back and one on her face. Tenten blushed at the close proximity confused before she heard him mutter "sorry about this." She looked at him confused for only a brief second as she saw the byakugan activate, their closeness and her hair preventing anyone else from seeing it. She felt her cheeks turn red as she heard the older couple behind them comment on how nice it was to see young love flourish and a few more "awws" could be heard from the surrounding crowd. She saw Neji concentrate for a few minutes before he deactivated his blood line limit and step away. She stumbled back slightly, feeling her face heat up from the closeness as well as the crowd nearby smiling at her. She could've sworn she saw Neji's cheeks turn a slight red, but he coughed and then he wasn't sure.
"Sorry about that Tenten." He muttered. "I was just checking the invites now and I should be able to cast a small genjutsu to make it look like we have one." Tenten nodded, it was a sound plan, she just wished she'd had some prior warning.
"What about the others?" She asked looking around, trying to ignore the knowing grins levelled at her.
"Either they got an invite in the post earlier, or we're going to have to hope that Toph has some way of using her families' influence to get in." Tenten nodded, it would hopefully work out, they couldn't leave now without being question why and if the others couldn't get in, it would make it more the more important that they did gain entry. The line was thinning out now and Tenten could almost see past the large doors leading into the finely decorated hall. She saw Neji perform a quick handsign under his tunic before he acted about fishing an invite out of one of his leather pouches. Upon reaching the door he calmly handed it to the guard checking them.
"Hyuga? Never heard of you?" The guard commented gruffly, looking between the invite, Neji and Tenten. "Your plus one looks nice though."
"How dare you address as such!" Neji commented, putting the full weight of the Hyuga authority behind his voice when addressing the man. "I should complain to your captain about that behaviour." Neji carried on, narrowing his eyes at him. The guard visably quailed under the might of his glare before stammering out.
"S-sorry sir, please go right in!" Neji strode in whilst Tenten smiled at him before following afterwards.
"So, I'm your plus one am I?" She asked jokingly as they were led through to the main hall of the palace.
"Sorry" Neji replied. "I wasn't sure what else to put on it, there isn't enough of a family connection to pass you off as a Hyuga and I didn't want to say anything else in case it was too forward."
"It's fine Neji, really" Tenten replied giggling before having her breath taken away at the sight of the Earth Kings grand hall. The room was huge, easily wider than most, if not all buildings in Konoha and nearly double that in height. Circular pillars of earth rose every few yards, holding up the tall ceiling. Arches of rock rose and fell between them at the top with long banners draped along them of rich, dark, green with gold embroidery at the edges and showing the symbol of the Earth Kingdom. Guards stood to attention at the walls, keeping a watchful eye on the party and to make sure the Earth King was safe, most of them wore dark green armour with feathers on their helmets over tan trousers and hose. Though there were men here and there dressed in dark robes and wide brimmed hats, blending into the shadows and almost unseen by all, but the trained eyes.
"Dai Li agents." We had best be careful Tenten muttered taking in the hall, Neji nodding slightly to her side. The rest of the people in the room however were much more colourful, a variety of greens, browns and creams filled the room filled with the upper classes of Ba Sing Se, a few people coming in congratulated Neji on his handling of the dispute with the guard while others asked why he did not have a hat like the others, though they never stayed too long when he levelled a Hyuga glare at them. Bus boys hurried around the room, carrying trays laden with food and vases and jugs of different drinks. The table was set with a fine meal, meats and vegetables and fruits and breads littered it, with people piling them onto their plates. The bear, Bosco Tenten vaguely remembered hearing it's name was, sat at the head of the table, it was his party after all. Bosco was greedily scoffing down any meat products put near it, with a line of busboys constantly restocking the meat supplies to keep it content.
"He's taking all the good stuff!" An older man complained, leaning back slightly in his seat away from Bosco.
"Quiet! You don't know what I had to do to get seats this near the bear!" His younger companion replied, emphasising the this to show off just how good their seats were. Though this may have been slightly undermined by the bear proceeding to jump onto the table and ferociously start tearing apart a cooked boar, just placed onto the table. As the bear gorged, sending scraps of meat and spittle flying Tenten turned, taking in the rest of the room as she looked for the others, trying to see if they'd made it in yet. She made out the two of them walking in with a man, looking uncomfortable. The man was at least a foot taller than them and wore a dark green mandarin coat with gold trimmings. His hair had retreated mostly from his head, only remaining at the backs and side and he had the black strands twisted behind him in a plait, his facial hair was formed into a fu manchu . She only caught a few parts of their conversation. Overhearing his name, Long Feng, and that he wouldn't let their friends out of his sight after helping them in, under the context of being polite. She nudged Neji and pointed to them, before he nodded at her and walked towards them
"We'll keep looking..." Long Feng said before turning around and moving away before Neji strode up to them.
"Ah, I see you've found my younger sister" He commented, gesturing to Toph and gaining they're attention. "I must thank you for that, I was worried when I lost track of her outside." Neji bowed low in a show of gratitude whilst taking in the man's form at the girls reaction to him.
"Ah, how convenient" Long Feng replied, smiling in a slighty grimace, clearly unhappy with being interrupted. "Though you must really take better care of your sister, leaving a blind girl out there by herself."
"Yes, I'm sorry about that, I was hoping she'd remember to check she had her invite with her" Neji returned, playing the part of a concerned brother as he levelled a mock glare at Toph. "especially after she begged me to let her come here."
"Well I'm glad that it's all resolved." Long Feng replied, masking his annoyance. "What family are you from again?" He asked, causing Tenten to frown, realising he was clearly up to something.
"I am a Hyuga." Neji replied calmly.
"I haven't heard of the family before."
"Yes, well we don't tend to socialise in the same circles."
"Of course, my apologies, I did not mean to cause offence" Long Feng backed off, clearly not interested in causing a scene with a possible noble in such a way. "I hope you children have a pleasant evening" He smiled as he slinked off into the background. The dark robed guards straying closer and more consistently to him then they perhaps should have.
"Thanks" Katara smiled at the two shinobi. "We had trouble getting in with just Toph's family influence" Tenten rolled her eyes as Toph visibly had to resist hitting Katara with her fan.
"It's not my fault he wouldn't let us in. And I wasn't expecting that creep to stick to us inside."
"Regardless it's good to see you in safely" Neji commented.
"Yea, I got worried for a moment" Tenten joined in. "But for now it looks like we should try and mingle a bit, as great as our need to let the others in is, we're being watched" She nodded slightly towards the shadows, causing Katara to gasp, using her fan to mask it whilst Toph grimaced, using her earth bending to sense them.
"How are we going to help the others get in?" Katara asked, looking slightly worried.
"Don't worry, I'm sure they'll think of something" Neji replied. "Now should we return to the party?" He asked before walking off towards the table, picking up a plate and taking some food off a passing busboy to which Tenten soon followed suit. Figuring that if they had the time to go to the party, they may as well enjoy it. She spent a few minutes mingling with the guests, enjoying the party and the food and drink without having to worry about the way, or the hidden village. She was finally able to relax after spending so much time on the run, or tracking with team Avatar, she even managed to talk to some of the adults nearby and get acquainted with some of families and locations of Ba Sing Se, getting complemented on how grown up her and Neji appeared to be as wel las having a few of the more brash noblemen trying to flirt with her. Neji interrupted the latest attempt as he came back towards her from where he'd strayed in conversation with a couple of the other noblemen and grabbed her hand, leading her away from the frustrated young Earth Kingdom fop trying to woo her. As ways of an explanation he nodded towards Toph and Katara who had found Aang, Lee and Sokka disguised as busboys and they went other to join them.
"Thanks for letting us in!" Sokka said, narrowing his eyes as he accused the girls.
"Sorry, but the guy who escorted us in didn't want to let us out of his sight!" Katara replied defensively.
"You could have gotten away somehow!" Sokka replied clearly annoyed. "And besides, what guy? I can't see anyone with you
"It's not their fault" Tenten spoke up, helping herself to a crab puff from the tray still in Sokka's hand. "We had to convince him to leave them alone and even then his eyes have been following us through the night." She paused as she ate the savoury treat. "And besides, those robed guards have been watching us ever since as well." She motioned with her fan casually two of the robed men, trying to conceal themselves by the walls"
Sokka looked like he wanted to reply, but was cut off by a frantic Joo Dee appearing by the group, for once the ever present smile on her face was gone. Her mouth instead set into a thin line of worry and anxiousness.
"What are you doing here? You have to leave immediately, or we will be in terrible trouble!" She spoke quickly, her usual cheeriness completely gone as she tried desperately to push Lee away, hoping to make the others follow her. Lee meanwhile merely shifted his weight and barely moved at all from Joo Dee's prompting causing her to sigh in frustration and try and push the next closest person which happened to be Sokka. Sokka however just blocked her with his tray.
"Not until we see the Earth King." He replied seriously.
"You don't understand. You must go." Joo Dee returned more desperately, her fear causing her to push more firmly against him, knocking him over onto Aang which caused his jug to slip from his fingers and cover a woman standing near him in its contents.
"Aarrrh! Oh!" The woman cried out as the water cascaded down her.
"Sorry, no please don't scream!" Aang cried out before sticking his hands and one of his feet out, unleashing a short blast of airbending to remove the water from the woman, in the process reducing her hair, makeup and clothes into a mess. The blast also knocked his hat off, exposing his Air Nomad arrow. Aang smiled sheepishly at her whilst the woman blinked in shock before it wore off, speaking with amazement colouring her voice.
"The Avatar! I didn't know the Avatar would be here." She spoke, getting gasps from nearby guests as everyone started to turn to look at the Avatar. Joo Dee's expression went from tense to dread as her face almost literally appear to fall. It would almost have been funny Tenten thought, if it wasn't such a drastic change of character. Momo chose this moment to slink off, with Aang's hat covering him as Aang waved nervously at his recently gained audience.
"You keep their attention while I look for the king." Sokka whispered quickly into Aang's ear before dashing off.
"Watch this everybody!" Aang cried out, jumping up and flipping onto the table, his busboy clothes sliding off to reveal his Air Nomad clothes on underneath. He landed on the table before lifting his arms out straight, parallel to the table. He spun on his toes, sweeping his arms around him over people's drinks. Using his waterbending to pick up the fluids causing them to stream under his hands. rotating around so they coiled around him before he ran down the table and jumped onto a pitcher. It wobbled slightly before he hopped and the water inside flew up and around him, spiralling around in a vortex before he rode it up to the top, raising his arms up high above his head, causing the streams of the multicoloured liquids to intertwine above him into a ball. He rotated his hands, making the streams flow around within the sphere. Tenten flicked out a few chakra strings, moving plates to shine some of the torchlight through the orb. Sending light scattering around the room in multicoloured patters to the great amusement and cheers of the audience, even Bosco appearing to clap in happiness at the show. It was at this point that more finely dressed guards marched into the other end of the room, eight of them bearing a palanquin. Tenten looked over, the rich greens and bright yellows signalling that they were members of the royal guard which made it easy to deduce who was occupying the palanquin they bore.. Sokka tried to pierce his way through the crowd before turning to the rest of them.
"Aang! The Earth King!" he cried, distracting Aang from making multicoloured bubbles float past Bosco as he placed all the drinks back into pitchers before jumping up, forming an air scooter under him and rushing down the table, causing several guests to hastilly pull their plates laden with food away from the spinning ball of air.
"Greetings, Your Majesty" Aang called out happily as he continued his charge down the table, the new guards fanning out around the table to give the Earth King space to get out, whilst still maintaining his protection. Sokka tried to charge through the crowd and Tenten saw Neji tense as he suddenly struggled, his arms disappearing behind him before he was dragged off. She whirled as she heard the telltale sound of a projectile aimed towards her, recalling her chakra strings and concentrating on them slightly so that when she turned she could use them to slice through the earth gloves, unnoticed to any of the other guests. She shifted with Neji so that they together with Lee were covering each other, working like the well oiled team they were. They grimaced as they saw other agents dragging Katara and Toph off whilst not even Momo escaped. A few agents shifted in the shadows, glaring at them as they glared back.
"Avatar, it is a great honour to meet you."Tenten risked glancing around seeing Long Fend approaching Aang. He bowed low. "I am Long Feng, Grand Secretariat of Ba Sing Se and head of the Dai Li. I'd like to talk to you. Your friends will be waiting for us in the library." He motioned to Aang before walking towards the shinobi. Aang looked after him for a moment before jumping off the table and following.
"Come now" Long Feng muttered so only Team Guy could hear. "You wouldn't want to make a scene now, would you Hyuga?" He walked of not waiting for a reply, his guards following him before Aang joined them. Tenten shared a mutual shrug with Aang before the four left, following Long Feng into the library.
The library the gang found themselves in was almost as awe inspiring as the great hall. The large green double doors dominated one wall, being far bigger then they needed to be. Old bookcases made of sturdy oak, creaking under the strain of so many thick tombs and scrolls, lined the walls and occupied vast parts of the floor off to the left of the double doors as well, under a mezzanine level which contained yet more. A few desks were scattered around, quills and brushes sticking out with parchment piled high. An impressive stone fireplace dominated the far wall, with a green flame burning brightly within, next to smaller door, leading off into a private study. A large wooden desk filled the centre atop a lush green rug. The team were all seated around the large table as they waited for Long Feng to reveal his intentions. Said man sat calmly in a plush armchair next to the fireplace, the green flames giving his face an eerie look in the darkness of the room.
Sokka's patience soon waned and he broke the silence in the room, clearly deciding that waiting for a man like Long Feng to reveal his hand was pointless.
"Why won't you let us talk to the king? We have information that could defeat the Fire Nation!" He said, pounding a fist onto the wooden table to illustrate his point.
"The Earth King has no time to get involved with political squabbles and the day to day minutia of military activities." came the reply.
"With all due respect," Neji spoke up. "this war is hardly trivial, and calling any promise of information that could end it is even less so."
"Yea!" Aang joined in. "This could be the most important thing he's ever heard!"
"What's most important to his royal majesty is maintaining the cultural heritage of Ba Sing Se. All his duties relate to issuing decrees on such matters. It's my job to oversee the rest of the city's resources, including the military."
"So the king is just a figure head!" Katara exlaimed.
"He's your puppet!" Toph cried out, slamming her feet down on the rug, though even this did little to stop the slight shifting of the floor, causing some of the Dai Li agents to tense before Long Feng waved them off.
"Oh, no, no. His Majesty is an icon, a god to his people. He can't sully his hands with the hourly change of an endless war."
"But surely if he is their ruler then he should show solidarity with them in times of war." Tenten spoke up. Even the Daimyo's paid attention to the hidden villages in their lands, maybe not very much, but still some.
"Yea and besides as we said, we've found out about a solar eclipse that will leave the Fire Nation defenceless. You could lead an invasion..." Sokka started, trying to deliver his crucial information.
Long Feng stopped him by standing up suddenly, his chair rocking backwards slightly before falling back onto four legs with a thump.
"Enough, I don't want to hear your ridiculous plan." He said, starting to pace up and down the room behind the team sitting in their chairs.
"It is the strict policy of Ba Sing Se that the War not be mentioned within the walls" He paused at the end of the table, placing his palms down and facing down the table at the GAang. "Constant news of an escalating war will throw the citizens of Ba Sing Se into a state of panic."
"Better a state of controlled panic then ignorance!" Tenten shot back. "Ignorance is not always bliss"
"In silencing talk of conflict, Ba Sing Se remains a peaceful, orderly utopia. The last one on Earth." Long Feng spoke, with absolute conviction in his voice, shocking the teens.
"But you can not just keep the truth from them!" Lee spoke out, Katara nodding in agreement. "It would be a dishonour to the refugees entering by ships and the people higher rings must know of why their city is getting more crowded by the day!"
"I'll tell them! I'll make sure everyone knows!" Aang said pointing an accusing finger at Long Feng.
"Until now, you've been treated as our honoured guest." Long Feng spoke calmly, as if this was a far more pleasant conversation as he moved towards Aang, sliding past his arm to look straight into the young Avatar's eyes. "But from now on, you will be watched every moment by Dai Li agents. If you mention the War to anyone, you will be expelled from the city." He moved back, leaving the Avatar reeling as Long Feng strode back to the fireplace.
"I understand you've been looking for your bison." he said, conversationally, even as the green fire lit his face with a eldritch glow. "It would be quite a shame if you were not able to complete your quest."
The room went quite. All of the team glaring at Long Feng, hatred burning in even the usual cheery eyes of Lee and Aang so much that it almost became an oppressive aura. Long Feng merely smiled at the barely constrained rage, moving his chair to the head of the table and sitting down comfortably. Steepling his fingers before resting his head on them. The door broke the atmosphere as the wooden double doors creaked open a woman walking in. Long Feng looked up and smiled
"Now, Joo Dee will show you to your home." The group glared a bit longer before turning around, some of them gasping in surprise.
"What happened to Joo Dee?!" Katara asked, shocked.
The woman bowed low before looking up, the clothes and mannerisms similar, but not quite the same, the face was wrong and the hair was done slightly differently. However the gang shuddered as she opened her mouth and in the same cheery voice uttered.
"I'm Joo Dee! I'll be your host as long as you're in our wonderful city."