Author's Note: Wow, I know it's been quite a while since I last updated, but my old computer was acting up again… for four months. This story will be as long as I said it would be, even if my updates are a bit scattered at some points. Anyways, I lied earlier when I said I have most of the story planned out. I have Aang and Katara's story planned out. Right now, Toph's, Sokka's, and Suki's stories are a bit open ended. I do plan to have them all participate in a journey relevant to the main plot at some point though. Any suggestions on that topic would be greatly appreciated. Thank you to everyone who reviewed before!
Disclaimer: Yeah, Yeah… I don't own Avatar: The Last Airbender, everyone knows that… this is getting extremely tedious. But really, do we have to write disclaimers? Has anyone gotten in trouble here for not writing one? I'm curious.
Chapter Six: To Omashu
Toph could tell by the heat on her skin that it was daytime once more. Of course, the forest she was passing though let very little sunlight through the snarled branches of its trees. The earthbender had traveled through the night to put distance between her and her prison; the place everyone knew as Gaoling.
Although she was blind, she was from helpless. This fact was made clear in her past endeavors. The only predicament she was in now, was one of knowing which way to travel. Sure, she could feel anything that stood within about a quarter mile radius, but that gave her no insight as to whether she was heading east, west, north, or her desired path, south.
She knew that the sun rose in the east and set in the west. It was still early in the morning, so if she stood still and felt which direction the sun hit her most, she could determine which direction North was, obviously using east as a guide.
In a moment of exacting her scientific pursuit, Toph discovered that she was in fact facing west- a good direction to be traveling in at the moment, as she needed to travel around the steep mountain range to the south. If she had traveled north, she would have ended up on the doorstep of the Si Wong desert. Had she travel east, she would have eventually come to the southern shores of Chameleon Bay. But, to continue west, that would bring her to easily navigable plains just about a day south of Omashu.
Toph Beifong, a thirteen-year-old girl with a sack full of Earth Kingdom gold in her pocket (stolen from her parents, of course) knew one thing for certain, and that was the fact that the supplies she had brought with her would only last a few days. She needed to find a town and use her gold as soon as possible.
An early morning for both of them, Aang and Katara had awoke before dawn and set off once again on their journey. As they had discussed the night before, they would be closing on Omashu by late afternoon.
Riding on Appa today, however, was something quite different from yesterday. A cold winter wind had blown up from the south and it was clearly making things less comfortable astride the loveable bison.
Katara sat far in the back of the saddle with her head leaning against the soft rolls of sleeping bags packed away. Her brown hair was down and the wind caused it to lash about her in a way that any boy would find extremely attractive.
Aang looked back at her for a moment from Appa's head and then turned around completely to face her. His general curiosity in whatever Katara was doing led him to shift to his stomach and rest his head on his hands in an intriguing sort of way. "Hey Katara, you're not tired are you?"
She sat up to look at him and smiled affectionately. "No, not really. I slept pretty well last night."
"Oh, well it just looked like you were sleeping… that's all."
Katara giggled at his feeble attempt to make a bored conversation and climbed forward, towards Aang. "Why? are you tired?"
Aang swung around to land on the saddle next to Katara. "Nope. Just bored… again."
Katara placed a hand on Aang's cheek and sighed. "These journeys are so much less… comical… without Sokka." She said this in an almost teasing way to the young airbender, causing the poor boy to nearly tackle her with desire.
"Um- I can be funny too! Like- uh… I heard this one joke a while ago it's- um… well, I can't remember most of it but it made me laugh!" Aang quickly stated in an uproar of the nervous emotions Katara aroused in him.
She laughed again. "Aang, you don't need to act funny just because of something I said."
Aang took Katara's hand from his face and closed it in his own. "I just wanted to make sure you were- well- entertained." He smiled, a little embarrassed.
"Aang, trust me," she started playfully, "You're pretty funny without trying."
Now Aang laughed. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Well, like just now… It was funny when you tried to be funny. That counts."
Aang rolled his eyes to counter her teasing. He then pulled the waterbender into his arms and sat silently for a moment.
Katara spoke steadily, changing the subject to a more serious matter. "Maybe Bumi can help us with the resistance problem… maybe he can give us an update at least."
Aang nodded. "I'm sure he will. Though, if he gives us any information, it'll probably be a riddle."
Katara smiled and agreed. "Yeah, or it just won't make any sense."
Appa flew on for almost five hours without stopping. The tedious journey both Aang and Katara had feared was now a reality. Then again, with a group of villainous firebenders about in the Earth Kingdom, tedious journeys were the least of their problems.
It was a good three hours before sunset that they finally beheld the four mountains on which stood Omashu. Many of the plants and trees around the city were scarred and dead from the recent siege of the city by the Fire Nation only a little over a year before. The stone bridge leading to its gate was built anew, however, and the metal scaffolding within the city had fallen since their last visit.
Appa landed on a hill outside the city where he let Aang and Katara disembark across the bridge. Aang's robes glided gracefully over the hard stone, his staff was held lightly in his left hand. To Katara, watching Aang in his Avatar robes, walking tall with his staff, seemed to make him age for some strange reason. This was in the most respective of ways as when they approached the guarded earth gate, and the guards got a good look at his arrows, they gasped and bowed deeply to their honored guests.
A tall muscular guard stood before them. "Hello, Avatar Aang… It is truly an honor to see you again…" This, referring to Aang's past visit very soon after the end of the war, "We would be happy to escort you to King Bumi if that is what you wish."
Aang glanced at Katara who shrugged in a dismissing sort of way. He returned eye contact to the guard. "I think we'll both be fine getting there on our own. Thank you." He finished with a bow.
Aang and Katara stepped into the city to find that, although the metal scaffolding was gone, many mild construction projects were taking place to rebuild the city's wooden houses. In fact, most of the mail slides seemed to be fragmented or were missing altogether.
"Well, no mail cart riding today I guess, Aang." Katara seemed to state with a sigh of relief.
Aang seemed a bit more distressed, however. "Katara, look around you. It's been a year and this city is hardly rebuilt. What's going on around here?"
"I'm sure it's just delayed because everyone's so tired from the war- or, it's probable that some sort of political issue is making things difficult." She waited a moment to let Aang adjust and then placed a hand on his back and guided him forward. "C'mon, we should go see Bumi now."
As the sun fell to the west, Toph's feet became almost unbearably weary- something that didn't happen often. The trees had gradually dispersed until there were barely any surrounding the young earthbender. She found herself in a light field filled with golden grass and chirping bugs.
Far to her left (the south) still loomed the great coastal mountains. She had mauled over her options many times, as the day went on. She could just use her earthbending to traverse the mountains, but that would be a waste of time as there were no ports or cities on the far side- just a shear cliff and water. Thus, her plan remained the same- head west to the open coast.
When she felt structures in the distance, and the vibrations of human inhabitants, her heart skipped a beat. Finally, she had come to a town where she could get more food, sleep, and maybe even get an ostrich horse ride to her destination.
Toph walked into the single street town, feeling the few residents and noting how they all reacted in a strange way to her buildings were wooden and two stories for the most part. At some, shop stands were set up selling an assortment of questionable goods.
She walked to one of the stands and began speaking to the man behind the counter. "I need something to eat mister."
The lanky man stared in awe at her. She was obviously blind by the looks of her eyes, but she acted as if she could she perfectly. "Um… yes. I can get you a nice hot Hog-Chicken meal for a gold piece."
Toph resented the idea of eating more Hog-Chicken. The creature was a major delicacy in that part of the country and she had often been forced to eat it for the sake of her parents' important guests.
"Don't you have anything other than Hog-Chicken?"
The man shifted nervously. "We have… rice."
Toph sighed. "Alright, I'll take the Hog-Crap." She set a gold piece on the counter and moved to the side of the shop to loiter until her food was ready. After a few moments of feeling the passing civilians, she felt the marching of a small company of Earth Kingdom soldiers.
The green-clad warriors moved in front of the shop and dispersed to go about their own business. A little boy ran to one of the young soldiers who couldn't have been older than sixteen. "Szn-Su! Mom says that dinners ready and you should stop by if you're on leave."
Toph smiled. These young soldiers must have survived the war, and are now returning home with their families.
As the brothers walked away, an old man approached Toph. "What's your name young lady?" He inquired.
Toph made an irritated expression and replied. "The name's Katara—yeah, um Katara Sakura." Toph forced a smile to hide her lie. Katara's name was just the first that came to mind. Sakura was made up.
"Where ya from?"
Normally Toph would have replied that it was none of his beeswax, but seeing as she had a cover to maintain she might as well draw as little attention as possible. "I'm from… up north! Way up there, like by Ba Sing Se."
The old man squinted at her. "Well Katara, we don't much like strangers here. We can't trust em! Not since we got the Fire Lord's son here dressed up like a commoner! There could still be Fire Nation spies around here who don't know the war is over—or there could be resistance members!"
Toph held up her hand. "Wait a second! Prince Zuko was here? When?"
"About a year and a half ago. Why?"
Toph's hopes that maybe Zuko was nearby were dashed. He was here a long time ago—before she even knew he existed.
The old man seemed to be senile as he forgot about Toph's presence and wandered off.
Toph was called over by the shop owner. She took her meal and ate it quietly before returning to the counter. "I need some food supplies for my trip."
Aang and Katara made their way up the steep stone steps of Omashu's palace. Two guards bowed and let them pass through the great double doors and into the throne room.
Bumi sat, slouched at his throne. "Ah! Look who it is Flopsie! It's Aang and Katara come to visit!"
They looked about, but no furry Gorilla-Goat could be found. Katara turned her head questioningly. "Um, Bumi… Flopsie's not here."
"Oh, right! I put him back into his pen! He was being very bad!"
Aang was taking this short amount of time to survey the throne room. It was rather dark, layered in green, and circled by green crystal lights. It looked just about the same as his last visit.
"Bumi, it's good to see you again." Aang smiled but soon, his expression fell. "What's going on around here, though? Everything still seems… ruined from the war."
Bumi hummed questioningly and then looked about to his guards. "Bring my friends some furnishings!" The guards quickly filed out of the room and soon returned with two cushioned chairs and a wooden table.
Bumi sighed contentedly. "So, how long will you two be staying?"
Aang looked confusedly to Katara who returned his expression, both wondering why Bumi completely avoided Aang's question. They took their seats and faced Bumi readily. Aang gave a look of sheer concern. "Bumi, please, I would really like to know if there's anything I could help with."
Bumi's goofy expression fell to a more serious tone. "I'm sorry Aang, but there's nothing that you can do about this. Omashu will heal itself over time. However, the scars my life has dealt me thus far leave me ill and frail."
Aang's brow furrowed in realization. "Wait, but… It was just a year ago—you were fine! You were in perfect health!"
Bumi lifted a gray old hand. "Aang, Aang, I know it will be hard for you when I pass as I am the last remnant of your old life. But you need to see that you have a new life here… one with a new family, and new friends. I have served my part in your destiny and now it is time for me to join my many lost friends and family in the spirit world."
Aang sighed. "I know that there's nothing I can do about this. I guess that your guards have been busier tending to you than repairing the city. I understand."
Bumi coughed. "I told them to leave me be, but they couldn't do it." There was a long pause. "I won't last through the week my old friend."
Aang looked down at his lap and felt the warm presence of tears welling in his eyes. Katara had watched in sorrow, knowing it wasn't her place to speak between the two good friends until she and Aang were alone. She placed a loving hand on his shoulder and caressed him gently.
Bumi exhaled through his nose and looked down at them. "I know Aang. I pity that a young boy must lose so much in his life. You must not let my passing suede you from your mission however. I have news of the resistance."
Aang looked up with red eyes and nodded. "What news?"
"They have a major headquarters established in the Fire Nation Colony #23—or, as it used to be called, Xiaxai. From there, they are recruiting, building, and sending out their new massive army to continue the war. They have already burned down much of the heartland."
Katara grew anxious at this news. "Do you have any idea who's leading them?"
"None whatsoever. But whoever it is, they're a master of strategy. They advance with precision and perfection."
Aang stood. "Then Xiaxai is where we're headed. Thank you Bumi."
Bumi stood as well. "But you must stay the night! Rest, for Omashu will be your last safe haven!"
"Thank you. We'd love to stay." Katara said, extending an arm in gratitude, but keeping a tone that reflected the sorrowful situation.
Aang was silent as they entered the ornate living quarters Bumi had arranged for them. It was unimaginable. The fact that Bumi was dying knocked him off his feet and sent him flying. That old earthbender was the last living thing Aang had that took him back home (other than Appa and Momo of course, but that was different; they had both gone through something similar to him).
Katara somewhat subliminally expected the terrible news they had received about Bumi's health. She was more worried about Aang's reaction than anything. Although he was wise and mature, he was still a kid who hadn't fully come to terms with the death of everything and everyone he had once known.
Aang's depression was a painful sort of presence that seemed to have ripped his stomach out and flipped it inside out. Upon setting his staff gently against the stonewall, he fell in to one of the two beds lying near each other in the dimly lit chamber.
Katara stood for a moment, watching him in silent desperation. She could only imagine the anguish he was feeling at that moment and decided that there were some things that talking couldn't help. She instead took a seat on the bed next to his resting form and placed a hand on his back.
A second or two passed as Katara realized Aang was crying into the sheets. It was a silent and gentle shedding of tears that Katara had hardly ever seen come from him. Suddenly, Aang shifted himself to rest on Katara's lap, drawing her blue parka close to him. "I didn't want him to see me like this." He whispered.
Katara knew talking wouldn't help… but simply being there meant the whole world. She looked down at the boy crying in her lap and gently rubbed the back of his head as if she was caring for her child.