Chapter 7

Despite the fact that the Hundred Year War had been over for almost two decades, there were still those that wished to fight, especially in the Fire Nation.

Most of these people had been raised from birth to serve the Fire Nation loyally, and were taught that is was the Fire Nation's right to rule the world. The fact that Ozai had been so close to victory when he was defeated by the Avatar only fueled their notion. It was their belief that the Avatar had simply been lucky. These same people also harbored great hatred for Zuko, who in their eyes was not their true Fire Lord.

Zuko had been declared a traitor, had allied himself with the Avatar and fought against his own people. And Ozai, while still alive, was no longer able to firebend, rendering him unworthy of the title.

To these Fire Nation "Loyalist," the true Fire Lord was Azula, despite the fact that she had never once contacted a single one of them to issue commands. It was their belief that, due to the fact no one had seen her since the end of the war, and she was still wanted by the governments of all four nations, she was in hiding, waiting for the opportunity to reclaim her rightful crown and lead the Fire Nation once more to conquer the world. And that she would reward them greatly for aiding her reclamation

It was conveniently forgotten that Azula had disappeared before Ozai's fall.

And so when Loyalist spies discovered that the Fire Lord and his family would be traveling with the Avatar and his family, it had seemed like a golden opportunity. It was rare that the Fire Lord's children left the palace, and no Fire Bender dared venture to the Southern Water tribe to take the Avatar's daughter. It would be a chance to get close enough to do the deed.

All the Loyalist need do was kidnap the Fire Lord and Avatar's children, and their demands that Zuko step down from the throne and Azula take his place would be met.

Knowing how formidable those that traveled with their quarry would be, a group of no less than fifty loyalist were dispatched to take the children, thirty of which were firebenders.

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Sokka was working in his forge, preparing a custom order for an Earth Kingdom Lieutenant that was to be a gift from his family for graduating from the Earth Kingdom Military Academy.

While he worked, he mulled over the events of the previous night, and paid little attention to the entrance to his forge.

So he completely missed his visitor.

"I thought I felt something familiar."

Sokka jumped and spun around, only to come face to face with Toph. The blind earthbender's unseeing eyes, contained a, no pun intended, blind fury.

"Toph," Sokka gulped. "What are you doing here?"

The Earth Queen stomped her foot onto the ground, and instantly Sokka was encased up to his neck in hard earth. She glared at him. "I could ask you the same damn question Snoozles!" she told him angrily. "Do you have any idea what your sister's been through? How much she hurts whenever she remembers you? And here I find you, safe and sound, in MY kingdom, and you have made no attempt to speak to your sister. You had better have one hell of an explanation!"

Sokka sighed. "Can you at least release me?"

Toph shook her head. "Not gonna happen until I get some answers Snoozles"

Sokka glared at the blind woman, not that she cared. "It's not as simple as tell or don't tell Toph!"

"Then explain it!" she growled out.

Sokka fell silent, as he debated whether or not Toph would be as accepting of his marriage to Azula as Mai had been.

As the cocoon of earth around him tightened, he hand to think that she wouldn't be.

"Well!" Toph demanded.

"I can't tell you."

"Lie," Toph said, reading his heartbeat through the earth and determining his truthfulness.

Sokka growled. "Fine, I won't tell you."

Toph frowned and asked, "Why?"

"You won't want to listen."

Toph, despite her brashness, wasn't dumb. In fact, she was far from it. She may not be able to see, but she could still tell Sokka through the earth. As she took another careful 'look' at Sokka, a few of the pieces to Sokka's reluctance fell into place, but not all. "Ms. Coldfire's your daughter, isn't she?"

"Yes," Sokka said reluctantly, knowing Toph would be able to tell he was lying. This was one of those times he wished that Azula had taught him how to control his heart-rate when he lied.

"Her mother?"

"My wife," Sokka answered.

"You're Mr. Coldfire," she said in realization. "Why didn't you contact your sister?"

Sokka remained silent, and Toph tightened the cocoon of earth more. To the Earth Queens surprise, Sokka smirked.

"Go ahead Toph, crush me," Sokka challenged. "Kill me, I won't say any more. Sure this is uncomfortable, but it is nothing compared to the whipping I received in the Fire Nation. I endured that without screaming, I can endure this."

Toph clenched her fist, realizing that her bluff had been called. But that didn't mean she would give up. "Why won't you just tell me WHY?"

"Because he's protecting me."

Sokka's eyes widened as Toph spun around to face Azula. Toph was surprised that she didn't sense the other woman's approach, but then again, she had been distracted, physically and emotionally by Sokka.

It took only a moment for Toph to recognize the feel of the woman before her. "Azula!" she yelled, moving into a defensive position.

She was shocked when Azula only arched an eyebrow.

"I don't suppose you could free my husband?" the former princess asked, a small smirk making it's way to her face.

Toph's mouth fell open and she mouthed, "Husband?" Knowing she couldn't trust what she felt from Azula due to her past experience, she turned to Sokka for confirmation.

"This is why I never contacted Katara, or any of you."

The Earth Queen's mouth open and closed several times and drew the cocoon around Sokka back into the ground, before she said, "I think you need to explain this to me, from the beginning."

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Toph groaned as she joined the rest of the group, and Ursa Jr as she had dubbed Ms. Coldfire, for lunch. She made sure to sit next to Mai.

"I know," Toph whispered to the Fire Lady as they sat down.

Mai smirked and nodded her head in acknowledgment."We'll discuss this later."

After eating, Ursa Jr, stood and addressed the group. "If you wish, you can have another afternoon to rest, and I can give you a tour of the facilities and vineyard tomorrow, or I can show you the facilities this afternoon and the vineyard tomorrow afternoon."

"I'd like to visit the village," Mai said, before anyone else could speak. "I vote for everything tomorrow."

"I as well," Toph said, knowing that Mai wasn't being completely truthful.

"I think we'd all like to visit the village," Ursa Sr, said, looking at the entire group and receiving nods in return. Looking at, unknowingly, her granddaughter, Ursa said, "We would like to take the tour tomorrow, if that is acceptable."

"It is," Ursa Jr, assured everyone.

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"So what do you think?" Mai asked as she and Toph walked through Tigris village. They had separated themselves from the rest of the group so that they could speak privately.

"To tell the truth, I'm a little freaked out," Toph admitted. "The only Azula I knew before today was the one that chased us across the Earth Kingdom and wounded Aang. And Sokka, he's more serious than I remember, but I suppose that all of us are. We were teenagers back then. I do know that I should probably rescind the reward for her capture, but then Katara, Arnook, and Zuko would wonder what I was doing. To tell the truth, the only one I can see that would back me is Arnook, and that's only because at least it's not personal with him, like it is with Zuko and Katara."

The earthbender looked at the assassin, "I told them things would be easier if they told Katara and Zuko, though I admit that I don't know how Katara or your husband would react."

Mai shrugged. "Zuko will rant and rave, but unless he has reason to attack, he'll at least listen. As for after that," Mai smirked. "I can get him to rescind his reward, even if he doesn't want to."

Toph snorted. "I'm sure you can." After a few moment's she said, "While normally, Katara is peaceful and rational, she can be scary when angered, not to mention dangerous. I'm afraid that, if she saw Azula, she would attack first without waiting for an explanation. Maybe if we could convince Sokka to reveal himself and then he could explain it before Azula did?"

"Perhaps," Mai agreed. "the trick is convincing Sokka and Azula to reveal themselves. They're both incredibly stubborn."

"Not as stubborn as we are," Toph smirked.

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I would like to thank those who pointed out that Twinkle-toes was Aangs nickname, I have corrected it, and apologize.