AN: Ugh. Another fucking fight scene. I spent two weeks on the first seven hundred words alone. Seriously; I could not for the life of me think of a reason for Ty Lee to not just jump in there and ninja Zhou's pressure points (the bauble and Kirill's mindbending make him powerful, but not skilled). (I spent much of the next week addicted to strip slays (it's like writing a fan comic, only you don't have to draw), and long story short I ended up writing basically the whole thing on Sunday, barely making my schedule (yes, I have a schedule again, though it might not be apparent).) Man, I can't wait to get back to the world building and Sokkla (or as I like to call it, Sokkazula).
PS: On the off chance that anyone doesn't remember from the show and hasn't realized yet that his name's an option in the freaking Character A/Character B slots, Piandao isn't an OC. He's the swordsman from Sokka's Master (season 3). Maybe I should have gotten that bit of information to you sooner, but hey, I'm sure you all knew it already, right?
Oh, and if it seems that this chapter actually seems better than my usual quality, that's because I actually proofread it, for once! Well, sort of; I kind of glossed over it clearing things up here and there.
The World without the War
In Which There is Another Fucking Fight Scene, and It Gets Worse Again
The desert was a forbidding place, but Kirill was a mindbender; he sensed the minds of the animals around him, and they led him to water, laid down their lives so he and his Dragons may eat, or both. Meanwhile, he sensed that the Dragons were disturbed. "What is it?" he demanded.
"Are you sure Zhou will distract them?" Prokhor asked.
"Zhou will likely kill a few of them—all, if we're lucky," Kirill said.
"Sorry, it's just…"
"…The pink girl," Faina finished.
Kirill could taste the fear in the back of their minds, and sighed. "Her name is Ty Lee, and she is just a girl. She is not Tulu in human form, nor an avatar of the Crawling Chaos, nor any other sort of ancient mythological horror. She's a teenage girl, and not even a 'bender. She uses a strange form of martial arts, yes, but then, so do we. It doesn't make her any less mortal than anyone else. Do. Not. Fear. Her."
"It looks like he's alone down there," Amadahy said.
"Which means Kirill has supercharged him and left him as a gift for us; nice," Tsubasa said sardonically.
"Excuse me, I'm going to distract him so you guys can land without dying," Koh said, jumping over Marshmallow's side and into the earth like it was water. He rose from the sand completely covered in stone and advanced towards Zhou's position with loud clanking gravelly noise. Zhou brought up his shield. The golem made a left hook, and a right hook; Zhou blocked, and blocked again, and then shot a fireball at its head. The golem fell backwards, then rolled back onto its feet and came at him again.
"I'm pretty sure that Zhou's shield is stronger against bending than it is against melee attacks," Sokka said. "I need to get over to Fluffy so I can confer with Mai and Piandao."
"Right, then." Tsubasa picked him up and carried him over there.
"Amy, firebenders aren't fireproof, and even if we were, our clothes aren't," Azula said. "There has to be a 'layer' of free space underneath Zhou's shield. I want you and Katara to concentrate on piercing it, because if you do…"
"Squish," Amadahy supplied.
Meanwhile, Sokka was speaking with the non-benders on Fluffy. "Alright, from what we saw last time, melee weapons work better on Zhou's shield than 'bending."
"Makes sense," Piandao said. "It's not as if the fire itself is capable of blocking anything—it's the chi inside of it."
"Sure, I guess. Anyway, melee weapons don't work all that good on it, so I think we should be trying to stab him, not slice him."
"Maybe if I jab fast enough, I can get my hands back out of the fire before they get burned too badly," Ty Lee suggested.
"Er, I think that should be a tactic of last resort," Sokka said. "Just look for an opening. Or something."
The air bison landed, and the humans got off. Zhou and Koh were duking it out, shielded with fire and rock, respectively.
"I have an idea!" Ty Lee stole a pair of daggers from Mai and bounded off. She jumped over a fireball, and then over Zhou himself, spinning, and began to stab him; the daggers penetrated just far enough, leaving wounds that were barely more than paper cuts, but hitting all the pressure points, causing Zhou to scream and collapse.
Sokka said: "Well, that was anticli—" Zhou screamed again, this time in rage and fury. Fire spread across his body, but whether it was shielding him or consuming him was impossible to tell for it burned bright and thick. The fire grew into a giant ball, causing the party to fall back and regroup as it grew legs and arms and stood.
"You just had to open your mouth, didn't you?" Azula asked dryly.
"Say, I don't suppose retreating is an option, is it?" Sokka asked.
"Kirill has Ilmarinen. And is a threat to the balance of the world practically by dint of his very existence." And Zhou was their only link to him.
"Yeah, I didn't think so. Which begs the question of how do we fight a giant fire monster." He turned to Piandao. "Any ideas?"
Piandao stared up at the lumbering form, inhaled, and said: "Yeah, I've got nothing."
"You know, Tsubasa, it would probably be okay to use your voidbending if you're careful not to kill him," Azula said.
"You're not the one who has to live with the consequences," Tsubasa said, but tried to create a void in the heart of the fire monster, anyway. "The chi flow is too powerful."
Sigh. "Fuck," Azula said.
"Do we have a plan?" Sokka asked.
"Yeah. We're going to wear Zhou down until he runs out of chi," Azula said.
"Yeah, I was afraid that that was the plan," Sokka said. "Well, at least it seems to be taking its sweet time getting over here." Suddenly, a whip of flame shot out of the spherical body and began lashing at them; the benders used various shields, while the non-benders dodged back.
"People who can't defend themselves against the living embodiment of flame should probably back up," Katara said.
The benders and Koh split up to surround the Zhou-monster at a reasonable distance; it was far from a perfect strategy, but at least this way they could be relatively sure they wouldn't be hitting each other. Amadahy kicked the ground, causing a tidal wave-like upwelling which she began to punch, causing rock projectiles to shoot from the other side at the Zhou-monster. Koh's avatar crouched low and performed a spinning low kick with his heel in the ground, causing the very earth to ripple in the Zhou-monster's direction, making the very ground beneath his/its feet (pods?) shudder and conical projectiles shoot up to stab the fireball at random. Katara spammed her flank of the Zhou-monster with spears of ice, which evaporated on contact but she kept reforming from the vapor so she could keep on spamming. Tsubasa wielded her glider like a bastard sword, using it to fling enough razor wind at the creature to level a Ba Sing Se Middle Ring city block. Azula punched and kicked the air, sending jets and streamers of blue flame at the thing that was Zhou while Zuko prepared to shoot lightning at it.
"Zuko! Zhou's trinket can absorb lightning, remember?" Azula controlled her breathing well enough that she could speak and continue her assault at the same time.
"And not fire?" Zuko asked.
"Presumably it can't absorb and produce the same thing at the same time," Azula said.
"So if I shoot him, and then you shoot him…"
"Of course!" Using the trinket couldn't be free; at the very least, it took a conscious effort on Zhou's part, and the more spread out his attention was, the more likely he was to trip up somehow, or at least less likely to actually hit them with his own attacks. Azula prepared her own lightning. Zuko fired and then immediately began spamming the fireball with his fire, then Azula did the same. A few seconds after absorbing Azula's lightning, the fireball shot lightning at Zuko, who redirected it back at it, then continued his spamming. It tried the same with Azula with no more luck, and then again, but shot a wave of fire at her while she was in the middle of redirecting the lightning. The fire hit a wall of void.
"Hey, fire idiots, would you think defensively? We're going to need all of us alive if we're going to win here," Tsubasa shouted.
Meanwhile, the non-benders held back. "Just, nice going, Ty Lee," Mai said.
"Hey, how could he possibly do that?" Ty Lee retorted. "It's not possible."
"I've always heard chi referred to with water metaphors," Sokka said. "Maybe his chi was flowing so much that when you blocked it, it built up and burst."
"I think you're taking the metaphor too far," Ty Lee said. "Besides, that cannot be healthy."
"He's under Kirill's sway; I don't think he cares."
"Damn it, I really want to do something," Mai said.
Sokka sighed. "Yes, I know, but as we can't even approach that thing without it melting our flesh from our bones, I don't see what we can do other than tend the…air…bi—" Sokka stopped talking. Then: "That's it! Those giant mattress monsters fly using airbending, right? If you get on Marshmallow and Ty Lee gets on Fluffy, you can get them to attack." Maybe. How smart are air bison, anyway?
"Right, then," Ty Lee said, and scrambled up Fluffy's flank. Mai more slowly made her way up to Marshmallow's saddle, but both wind bison got off the ground. They circled above the fire monster like vultures, only turning their tails inside and slapping the air with them, using it to pummel the thing that was Zhou from above.
"That only leaves us," Piandao said. "Any idea as to how we can be useful?"
"Not really; I guess we'll just have to keep our eyes open and try and think of something. Maybe serve as runners to coordinate their attacks," Sokka said.
Meanwhile, Katara continued to spam the thing that was Zhou. She estimated that she was penetrating an average of a foot or so into the fire, but was very much not in her element. Desert all around, even the very air was devoid of any water she didn't bring with her. Amadahy was earthbending so that Katara could use all the water, maximizing their effectiveness, but even so every droplet was precious, every whiff of water vapor, and she dutifully pulled it all out of the air, using her very sweat as part of her weapon and, if necessary, her blood. But the effort was telling. There had to be a better way, somehow. Or else she would not make it. Katara gathered all the water, and created a great lance of ice, anchored in the earth beneath her feet. She pushed it into the great fireball, eventually getting in two feet, but it was hard going.
"That's it!" Amadahy said. "Katara, you can't do it alone. Soak the ground under my feet!" Katara gathered the water again and did so. "Alright, Katara, Koh, back my move!" She created a new lance, this time of ice mixed with sand and with an earth covering besides using both earth- and waterbending, and Katara and Koh lent their strengths, their various 'bending talents buttressing each other in a variety of complex ways.
"Tsubasa! We're putting all our strength into a joint attack!" Koh shouted. "Be our shield."
"Damn it, what did I just say to the fire siblings?"
"I honestly have no idea; I've yet to actually listen when you talk," Koh said.
Tsubasa made a rude gesture at Koh, but also made a thirty-foot leap and was standing on the base of the lance in front of Amadahy so as to be in a better position to defend them all.
"Do you think that'll work?" Piandao asked, stroking his goatee.
"If anything will, but they can't do it on their own. If Zhou doesn't take enough punishment elsewhere, he'll concentrate all his chi there and force them out." Sokka saw the top of the fire beast's spherical body flare as it was hit by a blow of air from one of the flying bison, and snapped his fingers. "That's it! Piandao, try and flag down Mai and Ty Lee. I'm going to warn Azula and Zuko."
"Warn them of what?" but Sokka was off, so Piandao waved his arms in the air at the sky bison.
Sokka ran up to Azula. "Sokka, get back!" she said, not pausing in her attacks.
"Everyone else is concentrating their fire on the Zhou thing's far side, and I need you and Zuko to get out from 'behind' him."
"This is the most logical place for us, then," Azula pointed out. "Spread out his concentration as much as possible."
"Just trust me, this won't be a good place to be in a few minutes," Sokka said.
"Why?" She threw up a wall of fire to block the Zhou thing's fire whip.
"I'm no expert on firebending, but I would assume it works better going downwind than upwind, right?"
"Yeah, well, in a few minutes you're going to be downwind of the fire monster in hurricane-class winds," Sokka said.
"Alright. Zuko! Go around about ninety degrees or so."
"Because the man with the plan says so."
Sokka ran back to where Piandao was, and the air bison were landing. "What is it?" Mai demanded.
"We're going to create a sandstorm," Sokka said.
"One, it's harder for Zhou to block physical objects than chi, remember? The sand may be projected by wind augmented by airbending, but is not itself touched by chi, so ought to count. Two, what do you do to put out a campfire when you don't have a firebender or Tsubasa around?"
"You throw earth on it," Ty Lee realized. "You're a genius, Sokka!"
"Compliment me if it works," Sokka said. "Alright, here's what we do…" After Sokka explained his plan, the air bison positioned themselves behind Amadahy, Fluffy near the ground and Marshmallow about a hundred feet above him.
"Alright, Fluffy, this is a little like that trick we practiced where you fly upside down," Ty Lee said. "Just try not to inhale any sand." She patted him once and jumped off, tucking and rolling against the ground while Fluffy positioned himself vertically with his tail towards the sky and head down towards the ground. With a great breath, he blew a hole into the ground, and made swimming motions with his paws, directing the pillar of air and sand up to Marshmallow, who fanned it using the beaver-like tail and airbending, creating a great gushing storm directed directly at the Zhou thing, but at a steep enough angle and acute enough cone that the 'benders were not affected.
"What the hell is that?" Tsubasa demanded.
Katara was concentrating too much to speak, but grinned a little; leave it to Sokka to come up with something as off-the-wall crazy as it was ingenious. She concentrated on keeping the ice in the lance ice and forcing it forward, a few inches at a time. She could feel her bending power mixing with Amadahy's and, to a lesser extent, Koh's. Just concentrate on the next inch, the next little bit. Do not think, just concentrate.
Ty Lee led Fluffy to the loosest sand, gesturing to indicate her movements to Sokka and Piandao who then told Mai how to adjust Marshmallow. "Do you think we can move Marshmallow down a little?" Piandao asked, hanging over one side. "I think it might help the others more."
"Yeah, but that way we'd risk interfering with Tsubasa's interference," Sokka said, hanging over the other. He paused, then decided that that sentence was fine the way it was. "We need to stay high."
Amadahy pushed with all her might, forcing the giant dirty upside-down icicle deep into the pit of fire without melting. Suddenly, she "felt" something—the lance was piercing flesh! They were in! Immediately, she melted the water at the very core of the icicle and forced it up into the hypothesized layer of space under Zhou's fire and flooded it—Zhou's shield was actually helping at this point, preventing the water from escaping—and then she froze it, froze him, and the fire beast collapsed with Zhou paralyzed. She brought him down to earth, and the others gathered.
"What the hell?" Katara asked.
"Did he get burned by his flame, after all?" Tsubasa asked.
"No, or his clothes wouldn't be still intact," Azula said, and yet Zhao was a blackened, wizened thing, as thoroughly used up as an orange peel.
"He thoroughly abused his chi and his body, and this is the result," Ty Lee said, and for once her eternal smile was gone. She was biting her lip and her fists (fists, mind) were trembling; she was, in a word, pissed. "He was a bad man, but he didn't deserve this—to be used, drained, and tossed aside like an old hanky all in one fell swoop. Kirill has a lot to answer for."
"Wha…?" Zhou managed to choke out. Amadahy moved his arm so he could see it, and the revelation seemed to shock Zhou out of it. "Great Agni." Then: "Great Agni! The mindbender is lose! The others must have freed him. He had me…did I break free?"
"Not exactly," Koh said. "You've lost so much chi that his mind control has nothing to fuel itself with anymore. Of course, that also means you're going to be dead soon."
"…Fuck," Zhou said.
"Yeah, that's something of an understatement," Tsubasa said.
"Zhou, focus," Azula said. "We need to know where Kirill is going."
"He's looking for something. Thinks it's at the antipode of the Koi. Calls it the Nest." Zhou expended the last of his energy saying this, and breathed his last.
"What's the Nest? And what's the Koi?" Azula asked.
"The Koi are where you went to contact me," Koh said. "As for the Nest, it's a very old story. There are spirits who believe that the lion-turtles weren't as willing to accept extinction as the historical record would indicate. They say that they used techniques similar to the ones used on Kirill and friends to preserve a bunch of eggs so that their species may repopulate the world one day, after the Avatar has grown strong enough to defeat the Beasts of the Elements and 'human' enough to be a force for 'good.'"
"Alright, let's say that's true. What's Kirill want with it?"
"To destroy it, most likely."
"Yeah, I was afraid of that," Azula said. "What happens if that happens?"
"Best case scenario? A truly unique and wonderful species is lost from this world forever," Koh said. "Worst case scenario? It turns out that this world really does depend on the existence of the lion-turtles to exist and their extinction causes a violent disruption in the chi that implodes the planet, and I die; also, so does all life on Earth including all of you."
There was stunned silence for a moment after that. "Well," Tsubasa said finally. "That blows."