Avatar: The Stone Warriors
Author's note- This story takes place three months after the events of The Army of the Avatar
"And as you can see my Lord, the rest of the Fire Nation has finished swearing their alliegances to you. The kingdom is whole once again.:
"Good." Zuko replied, as he looked down upon the map. The new Fire Lord turned to the speaker and asked, "What do you recommend we put our efforts to now?"
"Oh one thing and one thing alone sire." Hun Lo, the majordomo replied, as he gripped his scoll and ran a hand over his thin, bearded chin. "The tributes."
"From the required sections. It is basic protocol."
Zuko sighed and said, "We just got those people to accept me. And you want me to take their goods already?"
"Sire, this has been tradition for more then a century..."
"Then it is time it changed." Zuko said. "Send word to those territories that I will not take any tribute, only ask for their help should we need it. Is that understood?"
"I...Um...yes my Lord." Hun Lo.
"Good. Now what word have we heard from our people in the Earth Kingdom rebuilding effort?"
Hun Lo quickly began to rattle off figures and numbers, while Zuko sat back and absorbed it all. The Fire Lord was still new to his position, but he was learning quickly. Since his inception, Zuko had thrown himself into the job, putting as much effort as possible into helping rebuild the rest of the world, per the Fire God Darya's instructions. It had also led him to disregard many of the ancient practices that his father had been so adamant about (such as tribute).
But though Zuko was learning quickly, he admitted it was hard coordinating so much by himself. The Army of the Avatar was scattered about, all helping to repair things in their own ways. This also meant that Zuko was bereft of many of the friends he had made on his journey. Though 'Team Avatar' (himself, Sokka, Katara, Aang and Toph), the Elemental Knights, Azula, Iroh, Mai, Ty Lee, and of course Jin considered the Fire Nation home base and spent much time there, the duties of rebuilding often called them all apart, leaving Zuko to deal with the political maneuverings.
"And so, it is believed that the Ba Sing Se Inner Wall will be rebuilt with a few weeks." Hun Lo finished.
"Good. Any word from the Knights there?"
Hun Lo started to reply, but then the doors burst open, and a pair of ragged figures walked in, flanking a young Watertribesman.
"What don't ya ask us yerself, Mr. Fire Lord?" asked Tierra, the brown clad man-dog known as the Earth Knight of Chirron.
"You know, he does have a lot on his plate right now. Give 'im a break." Chided his silver-clad brother, the ram-man Thunder Knight of Zueia, Trueno.
"Hey, both you guys stop it. I'm his brother, I get to know things first." Said Sokka pushing past both Knights as Zuko stepped down off the throne to greet his friends.
"You're back early!" Zuko said in happy surprise.
"The Earth King was able to get some extra troops, so we came back to see what we could do here." Sokka replied.
"I'm sure we can find something. Aang and Katara are flying back from working with the Airbenders on their new temples, and the other Knights are coming in for their monthly reports." Zuko said. "Otherwise, I'm afraid it's been a little quiet around her.."
But before Zuko could finish, screams and sounds of destruction rang through the room, from the direction of the courtyard. Everyone's eyes quickly went to the window.
"What's going on down there?" Zuko yelled, as he, Sokka, and the two Knights ran to the window. They looked out and immdiatly saw the source of the screams and destruction. A lone king rhino was rampaging through the courtyard, destroying everything in its path as the guards helplessly tried to hold it back with firewhips. But as the group watched, the rhino ignored the whips and half-crazed, charged the guards who just barely got out of the way in time.
"Wonder what got him so amped up?" Tierra asked aloud.
"Maybe they ran out of meat." Sokka suggested. "I mean everything else here seems to depend on it."
"It doesn't matter." Zuko said. "We've got to stop it before it before someone gets hurt."
"Well then come on, let's move!" Truneo said, as the four of them made for the door. But Sokka had barely grasped the handle when a shrill voice called out, "Your Majesty no!"
"Is something wrong, Hun Lo?" Zuko asked through clenched teeth, as he turned to face the majordomo.
"Fire Lord, you cannot endanger yourself like this!" Hun Lo insisted, all but wringing his hands in his hysteria. "You are the great light of the Fire Nation and are the only one who can keep the path bright for us."
"Wow. That was both pretty and kiss ass." Trueno said.
"Hun Lo, my people are in danger down there." Zuko began.
"The guards can handle themselves; it is what they are trained for."
"They are also trained to protect me. How can they do that if they're injured? And how will I be safe?" Zuko asked.
"Come back to me with an answer." Zuko said, as he pushed the doors open and headed down to the courtyard, the others following him.
"Keep at it men! We'll tame this beast yet!" The Captain yelled, as he brought down his fire whip yet again. It sparked and twisted in front of the rhino, but the creature, possessed by madness, ignored and charged the captain again. The Captain brought the whip down once more, then seeing it did no good, dodged to the left, as the rhino went hurtling by.
"What in Darya's name is wrong with that animal?" he cursed aloud as he got to his feet, his men already surrounding him.
"The stablehands said it just went berserk in it's cell sir." One of the guards said.
"Great, sudden madness." The Captain muttered, as the animal began to charge again. The guards quickly stood to defend themselves, but before they could, something whizzed out of the air and struck the creature in the head. The rhino staggered to a halt, shook it's head, and then turned to see four beings standing in front of the castle gates. As one of them put up his hand and caught the boomerang that flew through the air, the rhino snarled and began to charge them.
"Fire Lord Zuko! Get out of the way!" the Captain screamed as the beast charged his lord. But the Fire Lord didn't even seem to hear it; instead he gave a glance at Trueno, who nodded back. As the rhino came closer, the two of them suddenly began to fire small bursts of flame and lightning, directing their attack at the creature's feet. The rhino's steady charge began to shift wildly to either side, as it felt the pain of the attacks. As it slowed down, Tierra suddenly stomped his feet, and with a rumble, the earth around the creature rose up, trapping it in a thick stone circle.
"Well, dat went pretty well." The dog said, as Zuko and Trueno put their hands down.
"Yep, once again Team Avatar saves the day." Sokka said, stretching back in victory.
"Eh, what did you do? Ya threw a stick at it." Tierra replied.
"Hey! I got its attention; without me it wouldn't be in that rock pile!"
"Dat's no pile, dat's a finely contructed cage, ya.."
"Come on guys, we caught the thing, let's leave it at that." Trueno said, as Zuko slowly approached the cage. The rhino was still rampaging inside, roaring and charging the walls, hoping to get out.
"Fire Lord are you all right" the Captain said, as he approached his lord.
"Fine. What about you and your men?" Zuko asked.
"Shaken, but nothing serious."
"Good. I want you to go and take stock of the injured and damages. Sokka, the Knights and I will deal with the rhino."
"My Lord I must..."
"Please Captain. You have done enough for today. Allow me to thank you by dealing with this."
"As you wish sire." The Captain said, saluting before he turned to leave. Zuko watched him go, then turned to the rhino, still angry inside it's prison.
"Whatta ya tink we should do wittit?" Tierra asked.
"If it's just gone mad, I'll have it put down." Zuko replied. "But I want to make sure that this isn't something that could spread. We need the rhinos for their strength in the rebuilding."
"Too bad we can't talk to it." Sokka said, as he glanced at the angry rhino.
"Well not literally, but I might be able to do something." Trueno said.
"I've always been good with animals. Maybe I can do something." The ram said, as he looked down at the rhino.
"I appreciate your intentions, but I don't know about leaving you alone with it." Zuko said.
"C'mon Zuko, do you really think I can't handle this?" Trueno asked with a grin. "Ask Tierra, he knows I've always had a way with animals."
"Oh yeah." the dog replied. "He got some trainin' back home, learned how ta treat a bunch of 'em. Sides', a guy who can heal himself's a lot safer den da royal vet, right?"
"..... All right. But be careful." Zuko said.
"No problem. Now you guys had better get back there before that domo blows a gasket." The ram said.
Zuko nodded and he and Tierra began to walk back to the palace. But after a moment, the dog stopped when he noticed Sokka still standing there.
"Somethin' wrong?" he called out.
"I'm just gonna watch." Sokka said. "This could be cool. And besides, he might need my boomerang again."
"Uh, I wouldn't worry about dat." the dog said, quickly moving over to his friend. "'Sides, it probably ain't a good idea ya watch dis."
"Why?" Sokka asked.
"Um.. Trueno's gotta concentrate on dis. It'll be a lot harder if he's gotta watch out fer you too."
"He's right, SOkka." The ram said. "I appreciate your effort, but it porbably is best I do this alone."
"But I can..."
Sokka pasued a moment, then nodded, as Tierra let out a small sigh behind him. The dog then turned and headed back to the palace, with Sokka in tow. But one the dog was through the door, Sokka turned on his heel and hid behind the doorframe, looking on as Trueno apparoched the rhino. But the ram only came to the edge of the walls before stopping. He looked around briefly, and thinking himself alone, spoke two words- 'Ummous, Magus'. A stream of white light suddenly flashed between the ram's hands and when it faded, a large, brown book was clasped between them. The book was worn and faded in spots, decorated with a circular silver rune in it's cover, one that shone brightly enough for Sokka to see from a distance.
Sokka watched with wide eyes as Tureno started flipping through the pages, then halting. Looking over the words in the book, he pointed a finger at the rhino, which slowly began to stop moving and return his gaze. As the others watched, the rhino's eyes began to glow, as did Tureno's. The two of them stood there, staring at each other, their eyes as bright as lanterns. Then, Trueno began to approach the rhino, who remained still as the ram approached. As he came closer, the rhino stretched one of its legs forwards. Once he was close enough, the ram reached under it, grasped something, and with a grunt, pulled it out. He then dropped the piece of spear that had penetrated the rhino's foot. As the glow faded from his eyes, Trueno patted the rhino's head, as the creature gave what sounded like a contended growl. The ram then took a step back, and with a thundercrack, broke down the walls. The creature emerged from the wreckage and as Sokka watched in amazement, began to follow Trueno in the direction of the stables...
"Sokka, you awright?" Tierra yelled, his voice tinged with worry, knocking Sokka out of his observations.
"Yeah, sorry! Got something in my shoe from the courtyard! Be right up!" Sokka yelled
"OK." The dog called back, obviously relieved. But he hadn't noticed the half curious, half greedy look that had taken over Sokka's face.