I'll Walk You Home pt. 59

Chapter 24

Home But Not Alone


General Fong stormed into his headquarters followed by his aide.

"I want the Iron Brigade on the road and ready to march in fifteen minutes." The general ordered.

"The entire brigade, sir?!" The operations officer asked in surprise.

Fong fixed the colonel with a withering glare.

"Yes sir." The officer said bowing.

"Have the First Division ready to follow in half an hour, ready for combat!" The general commanded.

"The Division, sir?!" The division commander asked in shock.

"ATTENTION!" Fong shouted.

Everyone in the headquarters shot to their feet and stood still.

"The next one of you that questions one of my orders will find himself in the stockade waiting for a general courts martial for insubordination. Do I make myself clear?!"

"Yes sir!" The staff chorused bowing to their commander.


Minh watched as her company snaked around the eastern perimeter of the plaza. She had to admit that her people looked good, even the civilians in their wagons and carts had joined in to the spirit of the event cheering and waving banners and long pieces of cloth.

The civilians in the plaza were all cheering and chanting

"Long Live the King".

A number of them even had placards that they were waving.

She checked the position of the royal carriage. It had just passed the northern broad avenue. The column was about two thirds of the way around the outer circle.

"Ho, you may halt the column." Minh told her Executive Officer.

"Column HALT!" The lieutenant sang out, raising his hand high over his head.

"Front." Minh said.

"Ready… FRONT!" Ho called.

Minh watched with a swell of pride in her chest as the troopers wheeled from a column of fours into a double line facing into the plaza. It was well done, with precision and style, and got a cheer from the crowd.

The crowd had been growing, with more and more people streaming in from the side streets. It must be close to a thousand people by this point.

"Khuc! Find a roof top you like." Sergeant Truong called out.

The private stuck her loose arrows into her belt and slung her bow onto her back as she looked at the roofs around the circle.

"I like that one." She told her sergeant pointing to the four story building just west of the northern exit.

It was nearly behind his majesty's carriage and was the tallest in the immediate vicinity.

"Pham go with her." Truong ordered.

"Right sarge." The private said slinging his bow

The two rode up to the wall of the building and Khuc kicked her bare feet out of her stirrups, and hoisted herself up onto her saddle. She jumped onto the wall. She was a bender and stuck to the wall like a spider, using her bending to create foot and hand holds for herself.

"Show off." Private Pham groused. "You know they probably have stairs inside."

"Stairs are for weak little things like your dick." Khuc said over her shoulder as she began to scramble up the wall.

"Not what you said last night." Pham said under his breath jumping for the wall.

Pham was not a bender but he and Khuc were from the same mountain village and had been playing this game since they were young children. He grabbed onto the first set of handholds that she had made, and followed her up the wall.

Khuc knew she could have just used a pillar to raise the two of them onto the roof but this was a lot more fun. She smiled at the faces sticking out of the windows as she passed them.

One little boy was giving her a great big "WOW" face. She winked at him as she went past.

"Fan! Did you see that?" The boy shouted to a friend in another window.

Khuc laughed as she kept climbing. She looked ahead to see how much more she had to go and smiled as she saw a face appear over the ledge on the roof. He must be the one that Chu had spotted when the company had entered the plaza. She waved to him. The face disappeared.

When she got to the roof, she took a quick look over the ledge and then dropped down again, just in case he tried anything. Her glance told her that he was gone. She scrambled over the ledge and took a good look around. He was definitely gone.

She saw a trapdoor in the roof and moved to it. She pulled her sword and tried to open the door but it was locked from the inside.

She turned at the sound and watched as Pham pulled himself over the ledge onto the roof.

"Thanks for the help." He told her, his voice laced with sarcasm. "Where's your friend?"

"He left." She answered.

"Did you smile at him?" He asked uncapping his quiver and pulling his bow off of his back.

"Yes…" She answered getting her bow out.

"That explains it." He told her seriously. "Your smile scares most men off."

"But not you?" She asked stepping closer, with her wickedest smile on her face.

"I'm not most men." He told her closing the distance.

His free hand circled her waist and pulled her up against him. He kissed her hard, and she kissed him back harder.

According to the army they were not married. If they had been they would have been separated into different battalions if not different regiments. But they figured, as long as they were careful, and did their jobs well it was none of the army's business.

They broke the kiss and looked around them. The roof top they were on was a good vantage point. They could see all the roof tops around the plaza and beyond.

"I've got one to the east and one to the south." Pham said as he nocked an arrow to his bow.

"One to the west and he's the one in charge." Khuc said. "He's signaling to the others to stay in position."

She used an arrow to wave to the man on the roof top to the west. And then set it in her bow. It was hard to tell from this distance but he did not look happy.

"The one to the south is a long way away." Pham mused.

"I've seen you make longer shots." Khuc told him.

Even with all her bending Pham was taller and stronger than she was, and used a heavier bow. She always admired his skill as an archer.

He stuck a finger in his mouth then pulled it out and held it up.

"I'm interested." Khuc said in a throaty whisper. "But I don't think we have time right now."

He gave her a smile and then nuzzled her neck.

"Wind's from the north east." He moaned into her ear.

That earned him a deep laugh.

Pham pulled the arrow from his bow, and added it to the three he had in his left hand. He then retrieved the dart guide from his quiver and set it in his bow. He reached into his small belt quiver and set a dart into the guide and nocked it onto the string.

The dart was shorter and lighter than an arrow, thus the need for the guide. Using the guide he could draw the bow back farther giving the lighter dart more power and speed allowing it to fly farther than an arrow. Even using a dart the man to the south was still a very long shot.

Khuc leaned over the ledge and signaled Truong confirming the men they had seen.

The sergeant signaled he understood. She took up a position to have a clear shot at the man to the west. This could be a good morning.

Minh looked at the disposition of her command. She had First Sergeant Hu with a squad of good lancers from the tail end platoon on the extreme left of the company, and Platoon Sergeant Hualing with a squad from the lead platoon on the extreme right. The company was in a crescent formation two thirds of the way around the circle of the plaza.

The only way for an enemy to approach would be through the western avenue. The king was towards the head of the column just west of the northern avenue. If the enemy advanced on his majesty's carriage Hualing would be on their left flank and Hu would be in their rear. She fingered the whistle around her neck. That would be the signal for Hu and Hualing to charge.

Minh looked over the crowd of people. It was still growing, more people entering the plaza all the time. There was a holiday atmosphere in the open area. People were cheering and smiling, talking and laughing, celebrating or just enjoying something fun and different happening. Reports from the refugees they had met on the road were of how the city had been driven down by both the Fire Army and then by the Earth Army, curfews and restrictions everywhere. Any change must have been welcomed.

It was a strange mix of people in the crowd. Mostly the poorer part of the city here in the lower ring, but there were a few others as well.

There was a small group of very well dressed young ladies being led by an equally well dressed and much more serious older woman, with a very large man standing guard behind them. Three of the girls were holding up a banner that had been hastily painted but still with elegantly calligraphy, the banner read,

"The king with the sun

Returns to his sad people

The city is joyful"

Near to the young ladies, was another group of women, not so young and not so well dressed but definitely more gaudily dressed. They were pointing to the troopers in Minh's company and waving. When they got a response they would mime putting something in their mouths and then flashing both hands their ten fingers spread out.

Standing on the ledge of the fountain was a very odd group of about a dozen young men and women dressed in blue clothes that resembled the outfit worn by the young man that had started all this for Minh. Even the girls were wearing abbreviated versions of the outfit he had worn at the restaurant.

Some of the girls were swirling blue silk scarves around themselves. And the boys were holding up wooden swords painted black, or boomerangs painted blue. At first the general thought they might be water tribe. Some of them even had dark skin but it was different shades and looked somehow artificial.

Next to them was another group dressed in odd robes of burnt orange and gold. They all had light weight staffs of an unusual design. Some even had white silk scarves attached to the end of their staffs and were swirling them around over their heads.

There were also a number of groups of rather rough looking young men and women standing on the outskirts of the crowd. Each group had a distinctive colored scarf tied around their heads or a sash around their waists.

But on the whole the crowd seemed happy and expectantly cheerful. She didn't think she would have any trouble from them, and if she did she was confident that her lancers could take care of it.

She looked over at the royal carriage. His majesty was still standing, holding up his hands to silence the crowd. Private Tam had dismounted and was standing on the ground directly in front of the king. Tam's squad was still mounted and arranged around the carriage, two lancers in the rear and the rest in the front on either side.

Next up was Truong's squad. All the archers had there bows out with arrows ready.

She had done what she could now she had to wait to see if there would be an attack.

She was excited and confident. But she also remembered the old adage. No plan of battle ever survives contact with the enemy.

Kuei looked out over the expanding crowd holding up his arms and waving for quiet. He tried to remember his training.

"Remember to speak loudly but do not shout." The instructor had told him. "Speak from the diaphragm. Your voice needs to bounce off the back of the room. Your gestures must be seen but do not make them too broad, and they must fit your words."

The mass of people before him was very different than what he had been trained to expect. These were not nobles in silken robes. These were people of the lowest ring of the city, in rough tattered old clothes. These were the ones who worked hard every day, the refugees, the gamblers, the thieves, the university students, the servants, all the people who did the work that kept the city and the kingdom alive.

As he signaled them for silence he realized that these were the people he had played for and lived with these last few months. They were not strangers. He had seen them time and time again, in villages and towns all over the kingdom. He had performed for them in inns and taverns and in public plazas like this one many times. It helped to calm him, and give him confidence.

"People of Ba Sing Se…" He called out to them. "I have returned to you."

He had knowingly decided to not use the royal we in this speech. He was just one man, who happened to be the king. He was surprised that the crowd cheered for him.

"Perhaps returned is not the right word…" He told them once they had quieted. "Perhaps it would be better if I said I have come here for the first time. Because for years, my whole life really, I have been hidden in the palace and in the court. But now, like this city, I am free, so I have come to the lowest ring, to meet you for the first time. But not for the last time."

That earned another cheer.

"That is one of the things I have learned in these last few months, as I traveled through OUR kingdom. For it is OUR kingdom." He swept his arms out to include the entire plaza. "Not the nobles' kingdom. Not the Army's kingdom. And certainly not the Fire Nation's Kingdom!"

That received another, even louder cheer from the crowd.

"I wandered the land as a refugee, in war and peace. Earning what I could where I could. I lost a dear friend…. But I made new friends, real friends. Honest friends." He held out his hand to Yun Hee, and when she took hold of it he pulled her up to stand next to him in the carriage.

A murmur ran through the mass of people in the plaza. People pointed to the young woman and nodded their heads, speaking amongst themselves. The old people seemed to have the most to say.

"I did many things to stay alive." Kuei went on. "Some I am proud off, and many that I am not." He dropped his head and gave an embarrassed little grin at this last.

The crowd laughed and nodded in understanding.

"And some things I did because they had to be done for the good of all."

With this last his left hand fell to the pommel of the sword in his sash. It was an unconscious move on his part but it had a strong effect on the crowd. There were more and louder murmurs and discussions. It was the college students who seemed to dominate the pointing and explanations this time.

"On one particular day…" The king called out. "One that I will never forget. A day when a stranger, who fought against what seemed to be impossible odds saved a village with his skill and courage. A day when I was reminded just how much my courage had failed when put to the test, and was only revived by his bravery and skill."

This caused more quiet discussions in the crowd, murmurs of

"Cho-sen"

And

"The Black Lotus"

But Kuei ignored it and continued.

"I spoke to that man. Like all truly brave warriors he denied his courage, and his skill. He spoke of protecting the one he loved. He spoke of duty. He made me realize what my duty was. It was not to the kingdom. Not to the throne. But to you!" He pointed out to the crowd. "That my duty was to protect the people, all the people. Not just the generals, or the nobles, or the government, but everyone equally. And I swear before all of you here and now that I will do my duty!"

There was a cheer, and cries of,

"Long Live the King!"

"And to that end I am creating a new Advisory Grand Council that will have representatives from every province, and every city, and every town, and every ring of this great city."

There were more cheers at this. The king held up his hands for silence.

"And to that end, I hereby abolish the ruling council!"

There were loud cheers at the statement. It took Kuei almost a minute to quiet the crowd.

"I am responsible for ruling the kingdom, and I am responsible for the good and the bad that the government does, not some council, or group of generals."

"IMPOSTER!" A man shouted at the rear of the crowd.

Minh looked at the sound of the shout. It had come from the man on the roof top to the west.

"Death to the imposter!" The man on the roof to the south shouted.

There was the crack of stone being broken as a section of the ledge of the roof was torn off and raised into the air by the earthbender.

Truong drew his bow to its full span. It was a very long shot. The sergeant let his arrow fly.

"Death to the imposter and his whore!" Someone in the crowd shouted followed by the sound of stone being torn from the floor of the plaza.

Private Tam stomped his foot to the ground raising a heavy earthbent barrier in front of the royal carriage. The troopers leveled their lances at the crowd.

"How dare you!" Kuei screamed, launching himself off of the carriage, and trying to climb the barrier protecting him.

"Kuei! NO!" Yun Hee shouted jumping after him, to hold him back.

She grabbed him around the waist and pulled him down behind the barrier.

"He can't call you that!" He shouted over the thunder of the stones striking the barrier. "I won't let him!"

Before she could respond the sound of splintering wood and tearing leather caused her to look back toward the carriage were six stone spires had shot out of the ground and had torn the vehicle to pieces.

"Dai Li!" Someone in the crowd shouted.

The cry was taken up by many others and the orderly crowd turned into a panicked mob, all trying to find escape.

"Fuck!" Minh cursed.

She hadn't planned for this. She was expecting a military attack not a small group hidden in the crowd. With all the shouting people there was no way to use her lancers or even her archers until the mob had cleared the plaza.

The barrier that Tam had raised was heavy and would have withstood the attack of one bender, maybe even two, but not attacks from four of them. It protected those behind it but the barrier itself did not survive, and was reduced to rubble.

Kuei stood on the rubble and drew his sword.

The Dai Li agent on the southern roof was about to cast his stone down onto the king when an explosion of pain shot up from his left thigh. The shock broke his concentration and the stone slammed down on the roof next to him. He looked down to see a dart protruding from his thigh. He had no idea where it had come from. Then an arrow flew past his head.

He decided he had done his duty, and dropped down behind what was left of the ledge and crawled towards the trap door. He was smart enough to leave the dart in his leg, even though every time he moved the pain grew worse.

Ting was on Blaze when she heard the shouts, the last one from a man in the crowd just a dozen or so paces in front of her. She watched in shock as the man kicked up a flag stone from the ground and shot it at the barrier protecting the king.

Without thinking she pulled the full bottle out of her robe, and threw it with all her might at the back of the Dai Li agent. After all this work she wasn't going to let this asshole ruin everything.

"You son of a bitch!" she shouted as she threw it.

The heavy bottle hit the agent just below his shoulder blades. The blow knocked the man to his hands and knees.

"He's Dai Li!" Someone in the stampeding crowd shouted. "Get him!"

Two NAT employees with placards ran up and began to hit the agent with the sticks their placards were attached to.

Kuei saw stones coming right at him. He swung the sword knocking one away. He was slow getting his sword up for the next stone. He was able to deflect it but the sword flew from his hand as it was struck. There were more stones flying at him.

Yun Hee grabbed a stone from the rubble of the barrier and struggled to her feet. She saw Kuei deflect the first and second stone but he was defenseless against the third and fourth. She stepped in front of him holding up the stone catching the impact, shattering both stones but knocking her off her feet slamming her back into the king, who caught her.

The fourth stone would have killed the two of them, except for private Tam, who shot a stone from the rubble and deflected the last stone.

The Dai Li agent who had kicked the last stone at the monarch kicked up another from the plaza pavement. Before he could shoot it at the king a heavy hand fell on his shoulder, turning him and breaking his concentration. An old man was attached to the hand.

"You're not the only benders in the city." The grey haired old Pai Sho player said with a smile, while stomping his foot onto the ground.

The agent was shot into the sky by an earth pillar.

Minh was starting to make sense of the attack. There was the sound of something heavy falling from a roof and crashing through the wooden awning of a shop over by the eastern exit. She ignored it, hoping it was a body.

In the plaza the huge crowd was running and pushing trying to clear the area. Tam was standing in front of the king and shooting stones as fast as he could, deflecting incoming missiles. She could see at least eight benders attacking the king, spread out in two lines, one behind the other.

She watched as orse girl knocked one agent down by throwing what looked like a bottle at him. A group of students attacked the man with their signs while he was down.

She saw another agent flying through the air.

Then there was a second enemy flying across the plaza. This time launched by an old woman in the crowd.

She saw the large man guarding the young ladies rush forward and grab a Dai Li by the collar and the seat of the agent's pants, he lifted the agent into the air, turned the bender upside down, and smashed his head into the ground. The young ladies rushed in and began kicking the downed bender, wrapping him in the banner so he could not resist.

One of the gaudily dressed women stepped up behind a Dai Li and swinging a suspiciously heavy purse smacked him on the side of the head, knocking him off his feet. As he tried to rise more of her friends joined in swinging bags and fists, pummeling him to the ground.

One of the young women in blue jumped down off the fountain and threw her scarf, in a reasonable approximation of a bending move, around the head of another agent. Blinding him long enough for one of the young men to throw his boomerang, he missed the agent, but hit a rather rough looking fellow standing a few paces in front of the bender in the back, He looking for whoever had hit him and seeing the Dai Li agent, punched the blinded man in the face.

One of the teenagers in orange and gold jumped down from the fountain and swung his staff in a great arc and hit the blinded agent a good blow to the side of the head knocking the bender off his feet. Soon all the others were off the fountain and smacking the poor Dai Li with their faux weapons, staffs, or tying him up in with their scarves. A few of the rough looking fellows joined in, Minh thought just because they enjoyed punching and kicking people.

That left two and one of them was going to be hers. Minh leaned down over her mount's neck ready to give him her heels. She wanted to get into this fight and kick some ass. But a hand grabbed hers on the reins and pulled her back. She looked to see Lieutenant Ho looking at her.

"Your orders ma'am?" He shouted over the sound of the crowd.

Ho was right, she realized. She was in command. She couldn't join in. She had to get this mess under control. She sighed resignedly. She really hated being an officer.

"Lieutenant Ho, take third platoon and advance into the plaza. Capture or kill all enemy combatants."

"Yes ma'am!" Ho answered with a smile

He spurred his mount and rode for the front of third platoon.

"Can I go in there Ma'am?" Sergeant Gok cried.

She could tell he wanted to get in the fight just as much as she did.

Minh looked over the plaza. The two agents who weren't being beaten and tied up had retreated to one of the buildings on the edge of the open area and had launched themselves up onto the roof using earthpillars. Truong and his people were aiming for them as soon as they appeared over the ledge of the roof.

She was about to tell Gok to take a squad and try and get to the roof when she was interrupted by a loud, low, growling roar from overhead. She looked up to see a giant beast falling out of the sky.

As the beast flew over the plaza Minh could see a woman in blue on the beast's head swirling her arms. Water erupted from the pool around the fountain. The mass of water broke into two tentacles that swept out of site over the roof that the two agents had retreated to. The two earthbenders flew off the roof, wrapped in ice, and landed with a thud in the plaza. With a flap of its tail the giant beast rose up and flew over the buildings at the southern end of the plaza.

"It's Katara!" One of the girls in blue yelled waving another blue scarf, she seemed to have quite a few in a purse disguised as a water skin slung from her shoulder.

"The Waterbender!" Someone else in the crowd shouted.

Others took up the call.

"It's Appa." Kuei shouted waving to the great beast as it flew past. "Yun isn't he wonderful?"

"Yes, your majesty." The young woman answered.

The two were still standing on the pile of rubble that had once been private Tam's barrier. The king had one arm around her shoulders. The girl was holding her right wrist close to her stomach protectively.

"Are you alright?" Kuei asked full of concern, taking his arm off her shoulder thinking he might be hurting her.

"It's nothing." She told him. "I think it got sprained in the fight."

"You were magnificent!" The king declared. "You saved my life. You are the bravest person I know. I can never thank you enough?"

He leaned forward and kissed her on the cheek.

He felt her stiffen in his arms at the contact, her hands pushing hard against his chest.

"I'm sorry!" He told her in all sincerity releasing her and stepping back.

"No… It's alright." She responded embarrassed.

"I'm so sorry…" Was all he could tell her.

"Uniforms approaching from the right!" Hualing called.

Minh looked to see a column of police officers running into the plaza.

"Arrest the Dai Li!" Inspector Wong called out breathlessly.

The Inspector hated running. That's why she became an Inspector.

"Infantry approaching on the left!" Sergeant Truong called out.

Minh looked and saw a company of infantry coming into the plaza at the double quick from the southern avenue.

"Second platoon protect the king!" Captain Zhao leading the infantry shouted. "Third platoon arrest the Dai Li."

"Just like the infantry." Gok said with a laugh. "Show up after the fight is over."

"You got that right." Minh agreed.

Cleaning up took longer than the fight. Ho led the depleted third platoon into the plaza at a slow walk. They had some trouble pulling the various towns people off of the agents.

The Dai Li were much the worse off for the encounter. The one the group in blue had captured was wrapped up like a mummy in blue scarves. Or possibly they were bandages since the agent looked very roughed up.

The working girls all seemed to be carrying heavy stones in their purses. Something to take care of patrons who tried to not pay for the services contracted.

The one the nicely dressed girls captured was bleeding from a head wound, and was wrapped up in their banner. When he was handed over to the troopers the older woman declared,

"Pain is a teacher

Even the poorest pupil

Will surely learn from"

Ho thanked the woman and took charge of the prisoner.

The two that had been launched into the air had landed hard, which was just the start of their problems. Ho wasn't sure if the benders who had launched them had intended it or not, but the two had landed right on top of two "Social Clubs" of large rough looking young men and women.

The two wrapped in ice were the ones who had suffered the least.

One other agent was turned over by the residents of the southern apartment building. He had a dart in his leg but that was just the start. The residents told the trooper that he had accidentally fallen down a flight of stairs, three times.

The Dai Li who had been on the western building had been shot with three arrows and it had been his dead body that Minh had heard crashing through the shop awning.

As far as she could tell only two of the enemy had escaped. One was the agent that Khuc had frightened off of the roof to the north, and a second, the leader according to the archer, on the western building.

"I hit him." Khuc had told Minh. "But he was still able to bend and before I could get another shot off he had launched himself away from the plaza."

"Once the fight really started, the coward abandoned his people." The archer had said with disgust. "Not everybody has a real leader like we do."

This last was said with pride. Minh was going to call Khuc on false praise but didn't when she saw the real emotion in the trooper's eyes.

"Thank you Khuc." Minh said with a small bow to acknowledge the complement.

"Just stating facts ma'am." The archer replied with a bow of her own.

The only real problem came when Inspector Wong and Captain Zhao began to argue with Ho as to who should take the captured agents into custody.

Fortunately the altercation took place near his majesty, who surrounded by private Tam and his squad was searching through the rubble for his glasses.

"Lieutenant Ho you can have them." The king responded absently when asked for his opinion. "Got them." He said holding up his spectacles.

The captain and the Inspector, over awed by actually being in the presence of the king, immediately acquiesced.

"Good work today, sergeant Tam." Minh said riding up on the scene.

The private who had been a corporal looked at the general who had been a first sergeant.

"Ma'am?" He asked.

"You still have a problem understanding me?" Minh asked, letting a little irritation enter her tone.

"No Ma'am!" The newly promoted sergeant answered with a deep bow. "And thank you ma'am."

"Just remember sergeant…" Minh said with a hard look on her face. "I can rip stripes off a lot faster than you can sew them on."

"Yes Ma'am!" Tam said with another bow.

She moved off and watched as Tam's squad came up and congratulated the new sergeant. There was a lot of hard back slapping and good natured ribbing. Minh smiled to herself. This was the part of the job she really liked. Rewarding good troopers for good service.

It took some time to clear a large enough space near the fountain for the giant flying beast to land. Once it touched down Kuei ran towards it leading Yun Hee by her good hand.

"It's Katara!" The group in blue who had returned to the fountain began to cheer.

Others in the crowd took up the cheering, shouting out,

"The waterbender!"

"Katara…!" The monarch called up to the water bender on the beast's head. "Yun Hee is hurt. Can you help her?"

"Of course Kuei." The young woman said standing.

Katara suddenly stopped and stood up straight on Appa's head and in a too loud voice called out.

"Greetings your majesty, who I recognize from the time we met during the war!"

She followed it with a deep bow.

The college students in the crowd began talking loudly and pointed to the sky bison and the waterbender.

Katara slid down Appa's head and bending water out of the fountain wrapped it around her hands and began a series of movements until the water began to glow.

"OOOoooooo! She's healing!" One of the girls in blue cried. "I never thought I get to see this!"

"Shhhh!" The girl standing next to her hissed. "Let her concentrate."

The girl who had shushed the first was staring intently at Katara's hands and was following the movements with her own hands.

The water bender moved her hands over the wrist of the young woman with the king. After less than a minute the water lost its glow and fell to the ground.

"Amazing!" Yun Hee said looking at her wrist. "Thank you…?"

"Katara" The dark skinned woman said with a small bow. "And you're Yun…?"

"Yun Hee." The young woman answered.

"I'm sorry." Kuei said. "Yun Hee this is Katara, Sokka's sister."

"Sokka?" Yun Hee asked.

"Yes…. Ah… The man in black." His majesty said.

"Oh!" Yun Hee said understanding. "I'm honored to meet you."

She bowed to the waterbender.

"You know my brother?" Katara asked.

Before Yun Hee could answer someone in the crowd shouted.

"Look! Up in the sky!"

"It's a bird." Another voice said dismissively.

"No… It's a… a…" Another voice called out.

"It's the Avatar!" An older voice cut off the second.

People in the crowd began pointing up into the sky. Minh looked up and saw what could be a boy, barely in his teens, if that old, dressed in burnt orange and gold, with some sort of staff with large open fans attached to it falling out of the air.

At the last moment the boy spun and landed lightly on his toes next to the waterbender, the fans disappearing into his staff.

"Hi sweetie!" He said kissing the dark skinned girl on the cheek.

"Hi Aang." The waterbender replied returning the kiss.

The girls in blue and orange sighed, while the boys just rolled their eyes.

"Sweetie, you remember the king." Katara said turning the boy towards the monarch and nudging him in the ribs.

"Kuei!" The boy said with a huge grin on his face, stepping and hugging the royal.

"Avatar Aang!" Kuei responded returning the hug with vigor. "I'm so glad to see you again."

"Aang…!" Katara said in a disappointed voice. "You can do better than that."

The boy looked at his girlfriend, who indicated the crowd of people around them being kept back by the squad of cavalry troopers.

"Oh shoot!" The Avatar said slapping his forehead. "I forgot."

He stepped back and took a wide legged stance looking around him then turned back to his majesty.

"You haven't seen this before." He said to the king with a wide grin on his face. "This is really sweet! Watch this."

The Avatar swung his arms around in two great arcs. A gust of wind lifted him off the ground and high above the fountain in the plaza. His eyes began to glow and then the tattoos on his head and arms as well.

Water leapt from the fountain to join the wind circling the hovering boy. Then earth and stone streamed up from the ruins of Tam's barrier, and finally flame shooting from the boy's mouth and hands completed the rings streaming around the Avatar.

The boy spoke, but his voice was that of a thousand other voices speaking in chorus.

"The Avatar recognizes his majesty as king Kuei, ruler of the Earthkingdom, and welcomes him to Ba Sing Se."

The fire faded, the earth returned to the rubble pile, the water to the fountain, and the air calmed, as the glow faded and the boy descended gently to the ground.

"Sweet! Right?" The boy asked the king, grinning widely.

"Quite impressive!" His majesty agreed stepping in to the Avatar.

The king took hold of the boy's shoulders and pushed him out to arm's length to look at him.

"It's good to see you healthy again." Kuei said with happiness. "I of course heard about your recovery, and your victory, but the last time I saw you… well it's just good to see you fit and happy again."

"You look fit and happy too." Aang said.

Then the Avatar's mood turned somber as he told the king.

"We were sorry to hear about Bosco, he was a good friend."

"Ma'am?" Sergeant Gok said pulling Minh's attention away from the Avatar and the King.

The general turned and looked to where the sergeant was pointing. She could see private Bai on his mount working his way through the crowd, stopping occasionally to speak with a young woman, then continuing on his way.

Gok gave Minh a questioning look, she just shrugged in reply.

Finally the trooper approached the general and her aide.

"Ma'am…" Bai said with a slight bow from his saddle. "Sergeant Hu asked me to tell you that a platoon of MPs is approaching."

"From where?" Gok asked sharply.

The private looked surprised by the question. He gave this jumped up corporal, who wasn't even from Bai's company a hard look, before pointing off to the west.

"Find Lieutenant Ho." Minh ordered. "He should be by the civilian wagons securing the prisoners. Have him bring his troopers and meet me over at the Western Exit to the plaza. And do it at the double."

"Yes ma'am." Bai responded with a nod of his head.

"I can't hear you private!" Gok said in a loud clear voice.

The trooper gave a little sigh, before turning to the general.

"Yes Ma'am!" Private Bai said in a loud clear voice giving a proper bow.

"You have your orders, private." The sergeant said, letting just the right amount of anger enter his tone. "Carry them out."

"Yes sergeant." Bai said with a bow and moved off to the east.

Minh and Gok moved to the western side of the plaza. Minh saw that the sergeant was making a note in his book.

"Private Bai." She told Gok. "Second squad first platoon. Good with orses, and an expert with the lance. But he lets the little head tell the big head what to do, so you have to kick him in the nuts every so often."

"It would be my pleasure Ma'am." The sergeant answered, writing in his book.

That earned him a smile from his general.

Minh looked across the jammed plaza, trying to find the best routs to First Sergeant Hu. Moving a large body of cavalry through this mob was going to be a nightmare. Then she had a thought.

"Sergeant…" She asked as she changed direction and moved back towards the fountain. "What was the name of that infantry captain again?"

"Captain Zhao, ma'am." Gok told her.

"Thank you sergeant." She replied looking for the officer.

She found him and kicked Click Clack gently in the sides. The civilians moved out of the way. The large bird with its sharp beak and its iron shod talons scared all of the ones that had any sense, and even some of the ones that had very little.

"Captain Zhao…" Minh said when she got close enough to be heard easily.

"General." The infantry officer said with a bow.

"I need to move a body of my people from the east side of the plaza to the west side." She told him.

Zhao looked expectantly at her for a moment then understanding began to dawn on his face.

"Will they be moving in a column of two's or four's ma'am." The captain asked.

"Column of twos will be fine." She answered with a smile, glad he had understood the request without her need to explain it.

He had the makings of a good officer, given half a chance.

"With your permission ma'am I'd like to include Inspector Wong and her people?" Zhao asked

"Excellent idea Captain, I'll leave it all to you." Minh told him, and then she added to Gok. "Sergeant make a note."

"Yes ma'am." Gok replied pulling out his book again.

She moved off through the crowd leaving a smiling Captain Zhao behind her.

"She's got my name in her book." Zhao told himself proudly.

By the time Minh and Gok had worked their way through the crowd to the western entrance to the plaza the platoon of MPs had already arrived and First Sergeant Hu was on his orse listening to a very young second lieutenant, who was leading the platoon.

It was a full infantry platoon, arranged in a column of fours that had been halted as they entered the plaza by the First Sergeant. They were in very nice clean uniforms, and all were wearing, on their right arms, black armbands with the characters for military police emblazoned one atop the other in white.

First Sergeant Hu had his squad arranged on the southern side of the platoon. Sergeant Hualing had brought her squad up and had them on the northern flank.

The general and the sergeant rode up and listened for a time. The young lieutenant did not acknowledge their presence.

"General order three, section A states clearly that, any assembly of three or more subjects of the king…" The officer was telling the First Sergeant. "In any market, square, plaza, fountain, garden, street, street corner, cross street, school, café, shop, eatery, courtyard, lobby, private domicile, or any other location not previously listed is hereby declared as prohibited, and any subjects engaged in said meeting shall be subject to arrest by the military police."

Minh was very impressed that the young man had memorized all that.

"Lieutenant?!" Gok called to the officer, trying to get his attention.

The MP ignored the sergeant and continued his monologue.

"Under General Orders paragraph two," He told First Sergeant Hu." All military personnel in the city are subject to, no matter what branch of service, or unit, and most especially what rank, the discipline and orders of the military police. Therefore sergeant I am ordering you to arrest…"

With this last the lieutenant swung his arm out expansively toward the plaza and for the first time saw Minh on her ostrich/horse. That stopped him for a second. He looked into the hard eyes of the woman, and she looked back, expectantly.

"General!" The lieutenant said with a respectful bow. "I was just telling this sergeant…"

"First Sergeant!" Minh corrected him.

"Ma'am?" He asked confused.

"First Sergeant!" She corrected him again.

"Yes ma'am." The lieutenant who really didn't see much difference between sergeants finally agreed.

The sound of iron shod talons beating and scraping along the flagstones of the plaza caused everyone, even those who shouldn't, to look behind the general into the plaza.

Minh saw that Zhao and come through for her. His soldiers and Wong's police officers had pushed the crowd back creating a corridor all the way across the open space and Lieutenant Ho was leading two squads of lancers at the gallop, the troopers would be here in just a few seconds.

"Lieutenant…" Minh said turning back to the young officer on the ground in front of her, and pointing towards the center of the plaza behind her. "Can you see the large beast by the fountain?"

"Yes ma'am." The lieutenant said standing on his toes to look over the crowd jamming the open space. "It's the Avatar's sky bison."

"Very good, lieutenant…?" Minh told him with another expectant look.

Gok had pulled his book out and was sitting with his dry pen poised over an open page.

"Lieutenant Wu, ma'am." He replied, watching the sergeant note it down in his book.

"Well second lieutenant Wu…" Minh continued. "You probably can't see it from here but next to the sky bison is the Avatar, and next to him is the waterbender and they are talking to his majesty the king…"

"The king?" Wu asked interrupting Minh.

"That's right the king." The general answered. "And I take my orders directly from his majesty."

Minh leaned forward in her saddle and gave the young second lieutenant her best 'First Sergeant talking to a useless piece of shit new recruit' look. It should be said that Minh's best was really one of the best such looks, being in the top ten in all the militaries of the world.

"Now lieutenant, I don't know who issued those general orders you are so fond of quoting verbatim, or who you take your orders from, and I don't really care because I will Guar…ran… Fucking… Tee that, whoever they are, they do not outrank his majesty the King."

Here Minh leaned in even farther and gave him her best 'you had better not screw this up, you ass rag, or I will have you doing push-ups while cleaning the stables with your tongue for the rest of your life' look, which was in the top five in the world for such looks, if not higher.

"So I would suggest that you counter march your pretty little soldiers right back to wherever you came from, and let them know that the king has returned."

Click Clack being tired (it had been a long morning after a very long night), frustrated (The ostrich/horse had really wanted to bite and claw some of the two legged not birds in the recent fight but his rider had held him back), and hungry (no explanation needed there) easily picked up on his riders attitude towards this not a bird. He leaned in with her and snapped his beak at the youngling. The lieutenant flinched which caused all the other mounts to squawk in laughter at Click Clack's little joke.

The birds fell silent as Lieutenant Ho and his lancers came galloping up. Ho signaled his two squads to fan out surrounding the platoon of MPs before he took his place at Minh's right.

The MP officer looked around him. His command was surrounded and outnumbered by these hard looking lancers and their vicious looking mounts.

"Do I make myself clear?" The general asked sharply, shocking the young officer back to attention.

"Sir, yes Sir!" Lieutenant Wu nearly shouted, bowing to the superior officer.

It was a major fuck up and everyone knew it. Only underclassmen at the academy and recruits in boot camp began and ended every response or statement with the word sir. It was the sign of the greenest of the green in the army.

There were chuckles from the lancers and a quiet groan from the MPs. To cover his embarrassment Lieutenant Wu shouted,

"Attention Platoon. Counter…!"

The column of fours behind the officer split down the center sidestepping to the right and left to create an open avenue down the center of the column.

"March!" Wu ordered.

The lieutenant took one step forward and then did an immediate to the rear march moving down between the two halves of his column. The platoon sergeant then the rest of the MPs followed behind him, reversing the column so that the front was now marching back the way they had come.

The maneuver was very well done. There was a smattering of applause from the lancers as well as a number of compliments. Lieutenant Wu could feel his face burn but he kept marching out of the plaza and back to his headquarters. He had a report to make.

"First Sergeant" Minh called out once the MPs were on their way. "Leave your squad here to act as a road guard, and follow me."

"Sir, yes sir!" Hu said with a bow.

That got a laugh from the troopers.

"Sergeant Hualing" Minh called out next. "Take your squad back to the head of the column."

"Sir, Yes Sir!" Hualing called out earning herself a laugh.

"Enough of that shit!" Minh called out, giving a hard look to everyone around her. "Lieutenant Ho you're with me, send your squads back to their place in the column."

"Yes ma'am." Ho answered without even a trace of a smile.

"Sergeant Gok" Minh then said, in a quieter tone. "Find your girlfriend and bring her to me over by the giant flying thing."

As she was pointing to fountain in the center of the plaza she saw the air bison, with a flap of its great tail suddenly take to the air and fly out of the plaza.

"Now what?!" The general asked in frustration. "Alright… Gok bring her to the royal banner, you'll find me there."

"Yes ma'am." Gok replied giving his heels to Fang and moving off through the crowd.

Minh checked that her other orders were being carried out and saw that they were. Once Lieutenant Ho and First Sergeant Hu had joined her she rode toward the fountain. Thanks to Zhao and Wong it was easy now to move through the crowded plaza. As she approached the fountain private Song of Tam's squad rode up to Minh's small group.

"General." The trooper said with a bow from her saddle. "I have a report from sergeant Tam."

Tam's new rank caused Ho to shoot a glance at Minh who just smiled in reply.

"Give your report." The general told the private.

"When the Avatar learned that his majesty's carriage had been destroyed in the recent attack he offered his sky bison as transport for the king. His majesty accepted and the Avatar flew the beast off to get its saddle. He said he would return in a half hour."

"Where is the king now?" Minh asked.

"His majesty, his companion, and the waterbender have gone to the wagons, ma'am." Song answered. "When the waterbender heard that we had wounded prisoners she insisted that she be taken to them so she could heal them. The king and his companion went with her."

"Herding canary/cats." Minh commented. "Thank you private, return to your squad and please let his majesty know that if he could come to the royal banner at his earliest convenience I would appreciate it."

"Yes ma'am, thank you ma'am." Song replied with a bow, turned her mount and rode for the wagons where the prisoners were confined.

Minh and her small entourage got back to the column just behind the color guard in short order thanks to the paths opened in the crowd.

"First Sergeant." Minh ordered. "You may dismount the company."

"Yes ma'am." Hu replied. "Attention Company!" The First Sergeant sang out. "Prepare to dismount! Dis-Mount!"

"Bugler, sound hard tack and feed bags." Minh called to the musician as she loosened the girth on Click Clack's saddle.

The order rang out and was greeted by a chorus of squawks and beak clacks from the ostrich/horses. Minh smiled at that. That was a bugle call that the mounts knew better than the troopers.

She pulled the feed bag from her saddle bag. Checked the contents and slung it around her mount's head. Click Clack rubbed his head against her in appreciation.

"Yeah…" She said stroking his neck and smoothing his feathers. "It's been a Long morning. But go easy we still have a long day ahead of us."

"Sir yes sir" Ho said while stroking his own mounts neck.

The two looked at each other and shared a laugh, but then quickly looked away, embarrassed.


To be continued


Disclaimer:

"Avatar the Last Airbender" the characters and the world were created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko and owned by Nickelodeon and Viacom or Paramount or some huge corporation. This is purely a work of fan fiction because I wanted to play in their world and I love the characters that they created.


Author's notes:

Hi All,

Well finally got this chapter finished. I probably should have broken the return of Kuei into a separate story but then I had already included it and now I'm stuck. At least you got a fight out of it.

The next chapter will be mostly about Toph's and Liling's adventures in Gaoling. Though there won't be much in the way of adventure, they are clothes shopping after all.

Hopefully you are still interested and are still reading, and I sincerely thank you for that.

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Once again thank you for all the very generous reviews for this story. You guys keep me going, and I am very grateful.

Thanks so much for reading.

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NEW FANART! YEAHHHHHHHHHH!

That's my impression of Kermit the Frog.

I love fan Art inspired by my story. It is a huge ego boost and honor for me.

Here is some new art done by fuufuucuddlypoops on Tumblr

And they are also on DeviantArt under mLegend24

Please check them out.

FanArt; Sicksketch has done some wonderful sketches over on Tumblr. Please take a look, just search under the tag "ill walk you home" and you will find them.

Fanart on Deviant Art; There is fanart for the story on DeviantArt; Totalfanboy21 has a great picture of an older Toph and Sokka inspired by the story and Abi-chan14 and Cutubulla as well as Kawayui-Kage have created Fanart for the story. I am really honored that talented artists have liked the story so much that they have actually made art based on it. Please check them out.

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Thank you all so much for sticking with my story.

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Once again thank you to all those who have added this story to their alerts and especially their favorites, and a very special thank you to all who have added me to your author alerts and favorites. That is a real honor for me. I hope I have not disappointed you with this chapter.

Thank you to all for reading

All comments and/or criticisms are more than welcome.