Author's Note: Because I'm so particular and a perfectionist, it might seem like I'm about to slip into hiatus again when really I'm working my booty off to finish this fic out strong because I want the end to be a cataclysmic masterpiece, much like the show itself. There are so many references to other fandoms and movies even in here, I'm such a dork. Kudos to you if you find them! (Most were not done on purpose, believe it or not) I hope you guys enjoy, please review too (if you like of course!)
If I could just go...Beyond the sun
Where I can't feel pain
Where I could just fade away
Beyond the sun, where no one lives but me
"Uncle, you're the only person other than the avatar who can possibly defeat the father-lord." Zuko pleaded with Iroh while all of us sat together in a circle eating breakfast.
My ears perked up at his mistake. "The Firelord." I corrected him, separating the rice from the rest of my meal with my chopsticks.
"That's what I just said." The prince insisted, tone a bit more curt than usual. My ears were convinced otherwise, but the argument would have been goofy and pointless. It was a simple mistake after all. "We need you to come with us!" The scarred boy urged his elder. Having Iroh alongside would be a great aid. However, the older man only sighed and shook his head slowly. "You can beat him!" I was sure of this too. Iroh could prove to be more powerful than Ozai.
"Even if I did defeat Ozai, and I don't know that I could," I wanted to intervene. Of course Uncle could do it! He was wiser and more experienced. He was the Dragon of the West for Agni's sake! "It would be the wrong way to end the war. History would see it as brother killing brother for power. Just more senseless violence. The only way the war can end peacefully is for the avatar to defeat the Firelord." This had been the plan for a long time, but with Aang out of the picture for the time being, how could this fall into place?
"Then would you take your rightful place on the throne?" Zuko looked at his uncle hopefully. This was a man I would give my life for. Iroh would rule with peace, benevolence and honor. This was a man I could follow. Not Ozai. Never Ozai.
The older man continued to stare down at his hands holding his bowl. "No. Someone new must take the throne. An idealist with a pure heart and unquestionable honor." Seasoned, goldenrod eyes looked directly at the scarred prince.
Zuko had been my first friend and long-life companion. The boy was like family. Though Raiden and I were blood-siblings, I considered Zuko to be my brother as well. He had always had good intentions, a gentle heart and compassion for others. Sure he had stumbled; we all had at one point or another. I currently was. But looking at the dark haired boy, I knew he was ready. His journey and all the lessons he had learned from Iroh and others on the way had shaped him. Ursa would have been so proud of her son.
"It has to be you, Prince Zuko." The older teen's golden eyes widened as if he couldn't believe it.
"Unquestionable honor? I've made so many mistakes!"
"You have." Uncle Iroh agreed. "You have always followed your own path. You restored your own honor. Through your struggles and suffering, you can restore the honor of the Fire Nation." The boy closed his eyes tight, breathing in deeply. This information and confidence was a lot to take in.
"I'll try, Uncle." Zuko obliged in a low voice. No, you will Zuko. I had total faith in the prince. He was destined for greatness and this was his moment.
"What if Aang doesn't come back?" Toph posed a valid question. The subject was still sore to most of us, but the issue needed to be addressed.
"Sozin's comet is arriving, and our destinies are upon us." Uncle Iroh informed us. I could feel the muscles in my hands twitch ever so slightly. "Aang will face the Firelord." The wise man seemed quite sure of this fact. "When I was a boy, I had a vision that I would one day take Ba Sing Se. Only now do I see that my destiny is to take it back from the Fire Nation so the Earth Kingdom can be free again." It made sense why he had gathered the White Lotus inside the walls.
They grey haired man turned back to his nephew. "Zuko, you must return to the Fire Nation so that when the Firelord falls, you can assume the throne and restore peace and order. But Azula will be there waiting for you." He warned the scarred boy.
"I can handle Azula." Zuko narrowed his eyes, ready for the challenge. I bit my lip to keep from laughing. It wasn't that I found the situation funny or amusing; it was because I found fault in his statement. I wanted Zuko to win and knew that the prince had great discipline and courage. But these traits alone were not enough to win battles. And Azula had been trained for warfare since they day she could walk.
"Not alone." Iroh quickly interjected. He was on the same page as myself. "You will need help." Zuko lowered his gaze for a moment, weighing his options.
"You're right." He lifted his head, looking straight at the water-bender. "Katara, would you help me put my sister in her place?" The look upon the darker skinned girl was simply priceless.
"It would be my pleasure." No doubt the blue eyed girl wanted a rematch with the princess.
"Kari," When Zuko spoke my name, I painfully raised my head up from my rice bowl. "We'll need your help too." An awful sinking feeling in my stomach began warping its way to the rest of my system. I cleared my throat and set down my bowl in the grass.
"I want to stay here and help take back Ba Sing Se. If...that's alright with you, Uncle." I gazed upon the older man, hoping he would not object. Iroh remained silent and I assumed he was waiting for the prince's reaction first.
"Please Sankari..." Zuko scooted closer to me on the grass. "It might take all three of us to stop her. Azula's power will be amplified, but ours will be too." I hadn't give this simple fact much thought. Would this mean the power of the White Dragon would increase as well? There was only one way to know for sure.
"Zuko, I can't." I told him in a quiet voice. I was ashamed I wouldn't allow myself to help him in his hour of need. Abandoning my future ruler. I just couldn't bring myself to face Azula. Not after all that went down between us. Not after I betrayed her. Not after she had done the same to me.
"You'd be our only chance to put a peaceful end to this. We have to try. Please. I need you." Looking into the boy's golden eyes, I felt a strong epiphany take over my conscience. This wasn't about me and my problems, it was about the world and its problems. No more could I hide in a corner like a toddler who hadn't gotten their way. Refusing to offer my help was selfish. I needed to step up and assume my place and duty in the universe. If my destiny was to face the Fire Princess, so be it.
"Then I'm with you until the end of the line." I told my prince and best friend.
Sokka selected Toph and Suki for his team. The trio were going to do everything in their power to stop the airship fleet headed for the Earth Kingdom. I wished I was able to accompany them too. It seemed some fire power could come in handy there. We dispersed shortly, gathering supplies and readying ourselves for our last mission.
"Sankari," Uncle Iroh voiced his presence before entering my tent. I had just slipped on a pair of ebony arm guards when the older man entered. "I should have told you more frequently how proud I am of your choices and your growth. It warms my heart to know you think of me as an uncle and I am more than honored to call you my niece." Instantly, I opened my arms wide and received a bubbly Iroh-hug. The affectionate gesture reminded me of when I lived in the Fire Nation ten years ago...only, Uncle didn't feel as round and squishy as he used to.
"I only wish your father could have seen the aspiring young woman you've become." I wiped a loose tear from my eye. So do I. "I hoped that perhaps, one day he would have given this to you." From inside the folds of his robes, Iroh handed me a bundled uniform of blue and white. I glanced up at him incredulously. "I had them altered for you." I ran my fingers over the soft, yet durable material.
"A member of The White Lotus." So many pieces fit into the puzzle now. The nights my father would need to have Li Ann watch me because of "meetings." Sometimes he'd be gone days at a time. The choice in subjects I was taught. The flower etched into the back of the necklace I had inherited. "He was Jeong-Jeong's student, but also my pupil." The thought was incredible. My father, Makoto Tsong, was a member of The Order. But of course he would be. This organization is everything he ever stood for. I felt prideful knowing I was raised by him.
"This is his final blessing." I whispered mainly to myself, thinking of all the gifts he had left behind for me. My voice was hoarse and almost lost in my throat.
"Your father lives on in you, Sankari. And though he is on the other side, he watches over you. Let us win this war for him as well."
The navy uniform was long sleeved under the tunic. The sleeves had to be gently tucked under the arm guards. However, the material was light and breathed well so I couldn't complain. I would be quick, agile and lethal all the while. Comfy, Bistre colored pants accompanied the outfit. White outlined the edges of the tunic and also created a sort of box pattern diagonally across my chest. I was ready. Ready to level mountains and erupt volcanoes.
My cousin wrapped her short arms around my waist and buried the side of her face into my uniform. "Goodbye, Karuna." I hugged the blind girl tightly. She was the closest thing I had to a little sister. I loved her dearly and prayed silently to the spirits for her safety. I had a strong feeling it would turn out alright. The Bei Fongs did have a knack for close calls, but we were survivors. We wouldn't be separated for very long.
"Bye Toph." I kissed the top of her head next to her headband. "We'll make a game out of it. Keep track of how many soldiers you take out. We'll compare the count when it's over. Winner takes all!" The younger girl gazed up at me with glassy, blue eyes.
"Now you're talking, Smokey!" The dark haired girl used June's nickname for me. "Say goodbye to your precious recurve, cuz I'm in it to win it!" The earth-bender declared, throwing her arms up into the air and everything.
"Toph, what on earth are you gonna do with a bow and arrow?" I stood with my hands on my hips.
"Sell it, duh!" Was my cousin's response.
"Our family has more money than Koh has faces!" Toph was quite the bandit.
Suki offered me a hug which I gladly accepted. We had become close during our travels and I was both happy and lucky to have such a reliable and loyal friend. "Be careful. All of you." The girl's blue eyes were wide. No doubt she was referring to the Fire Nation Princess.
"You don't have to tell me twice!" I half laughed. I redirected my gaze behind the Kyoshi warrior where my cousin sat waiting on the saddle of the eel-hound. I lowered the volume of my voice. "If something happens to me, take care of Toph." Suki pursed her lips and tilted her head.
"Karuna, nothing bad w-"
"Please." I interrupted her. "She still resents her parents. We don't exactly have anyone else." The auburn haired girl nodded her head gravely.
"We will. I promise. Though, hopefully it's one I don't have to keep." The warrior girl gave me one more squeeze before joining Toph atop the lanky, green creature.
Sokka was the last to embrace me. The boy and I had grown close since the early spring when I first met the siblings and the avatar. I considered him a brother of sorts as well. "Good luck and be safe." I told him, hugging the boy closer. The material of his wolf helmet rubbed against my ear.
"Of course we'll be safe. My plans are fool-proof, remember?" This caused a burst of chuckles to come out of the both of us. I sighed heavily, feeling dread creep up my nerves. It was just pregame jitters. All that and nothing more. They would be fine; the Water Tribe warrior was with them. We would be reunited when this was all over.
"I would follow you into battle any day." This brought a smile filled with gratitude to the young man's face and there was a twinkle in his deep, blue eyes.
"And I would follow you. Looks like that will have to wait for another time." We grasped hands and patted one another on the back. This was Sokka's version of a more "manly" hug as the boy had put it weeks ago. Soon, Sokka began his climb up into the saddle and swung his leg over the semi-aquatic creature. I saluted him and he copied the signal.
"Shoot straight, Captain Boomerang!"
"Aim for the face, Admiral Ash-maker!"
As I headed over to Appa, I overheard Uncle Iroh telling Zuko his plans for reopening his tea shop after the war was over. Count me in for some peach oolong! I thought, pulling myself up into the saddle. It was comforting to know that while the man was a strong and fierce warrior, there were more important things to him than conquering. If only I had learned that lesson years ago.
"You know," Katara studied me. "From first glance you kind of look like a Water Tribe Warrior." There was a half grin upon her beautiful face; one she usually wore whenever conversing about touchy matters. There was a small lump in my throat which I soon swallowed. I felt a little uncomfortable under her gaze.
"Yeah...I guess so." I agreed, avoiding sapphire eyes. That was the only time I wished I had not worn my father's uniform.
"Goodbye everyone." Uncle Iroh bid us farewell. "Today, destiny is our friend. I know it." The old General was so sure of this statement that I began to believe as well. From a pouch at my side, I pulled out a smooth and cool cloth with various shades of green. I wrapped it around my forehead, letting my bangs cover the sides of it. The flying boar was shown proudly in the center. For a moment, I could almost feel the energy of my family line absorbing into my skin. It was time to meet fate.
Our flight began peacefully, like any other trip on Appa. Hardly any words were exchanged between the three of us at first. It was most likely because we wanted to enjoy gazing upon the world still somewhat whole and okay before the storm would hit. We knew that soon it would become something much darker and grim. Clearly, none of us were truly ready to accept this, but there wasn't any other choice.
"What if Aang doesn't have the guts to face my father?" Zuko asked after a long ride in silence. It was a question burning inside everyone's curiosity. It also happened to be a topic no one wanted to explore.
"Aang won't lose." Katara declared. "He's gonna come back. He has to." The last part of her sentence was quiet and lacked some confidence. I could only imagine how worried and frantic the water-bender was underneath the calm and collected exterior. Baldy could do it, I knew he could. He was just pressing his luck with timing.
"I spoke with a past avatar last night." This sparked the interest of my company. "Sango." Katara's blue eyes studied me with wonder.
"The one from the story you told us?" I nodded my head. Indeed she was the same.
"What did she say?" Zuko inquired.
"She gave me her wisdom.," I began. "and the way she spoke about Aang- the kid has to be okay. He's just somewhere else right now." The air-bender had probably searched for knowledge and guidance on his own. "But if he doesn't find his way in time, we'll have to fight Ozai ourselves. Zuko, I think it's only right that you do it." The scarred prince looked at me nervously. I could tell since the day he had been given that mark across his face that he never wished to confront his father like that again. This proposition of mine was asking too much of him.
"Kari, you're one of the bravest and strongest fire-benders-no, warriors I've ever known." The gloomy teen admitted. "You have more skill and knowledge than I could ever learn and you are the White Dragon. The rest of us are no match." I found that hard to believe. Our team was comprised of benders and non-benders with great abilities, speed, courage and strength. It seemed Zuko had already given up before the fight had started.
"As much as I would love to kill your father," My word choice was poor and too late did my brain catch up with my mouth. "I think I'd need some help. Ozai is over twice my age and he has way more experience."
"Then if it boils down to it, we'll take him out together." The dark haired boy finally decided, voice slightly shaky. A wry smile found its way up to my lips. This was the plan then; Zuko and I against the world!...er his dad! I liked the odds.
"Alright, but if you make me fight Azula, Ozai is all yours." The solemn boy tried hard to fight the chuckle lingering in the back of his throat.
"I'll do it!" Katara volunteered with great enthusiasm which made me nervous. "I don't fucking like her." I snorted and put a hand over my eye.
"Guys, this is hardly the time for humor." A half stern Zuko tried to reprimand us. I slapped him on the back.
"I know, which is why we need it the most."
I felt the change first. My knuckles felt as though they were going to pop out of my skin. My joints tightened and my bones almost seemed to rattle within me. But above all else, butterflies scattered from the tip of my skull to the bones in my toes. "It's here." I told my friends. Upon the distant sound of roaring fire, we gazed up into the sky to see apocalyptic shades or orange, red and mauve. A short glance back at the prince informed me that he could feel its power as well.
Soon after, I recognized a familiar structure surrounded by the sea down below us. My gut tightened again and the rest of my insides turned to putty. These strange and awful sensations were definitely a product of the comet, but they somehow convinced me that the institution below was part of my destiny too.
"Karuna, whatever you're planning, don't do it." The water-bender must have seen me observe the prison with extreme intent. Maybe she had even spotted the glint of adventure in my eyes. I turned to look at her.
"You know me too well." The statement was almost a laugh. "Drop me off here, chuckles." I rose slowly to stand in the saddle. "I'll catch up with you guys when I can."
Zuko glanced wildly over his shoulder. However, it wasn't because of the new nickname. "W-what?" The boy sputtered, trying to find words.
"We've talked an awful lot about liberation, yet no liberating is actually happening." I placed my hands on my hips.
"Uncle is taking care of Ba Sing Se with the White Lotus. Aang will protect the rest of the Earth Kingdom and we're going to save our people from my sister's reign of terror!" The scarred prince went back to navigating Appa. I glanced back over the ledge. We were passing the prison.
"I need to go there. I have to set them free." I pleaded with my friends. Katara crossed her arms.
"It was sheer luck that you found my dad and Suki. Your brother might not be there. Maybe none of the allies are."
"I have to try."
"Did you find them last time? Did you see them?" All I could do was lower my head and silently shake my head. "How would you get out? There won't be any airships or war-balloons. Why risk it? Think of the guards, the fire-benders! We can find Raiden and the others when we win." Katara was an intelligent and hopeful person, but her idea of logic was different than mine. Patience was something I could no longer rely on. I had to act; I was done waiting.
"Let me go to the Boiling Rock and I will join you at the homeland. There's someone else I have to rescue." Kneeling in front of my duffel bag, I unzipped the carrier and rummaged through my belongings. My hands eventually stumbled upon a cold, metal case with silver dragons engraved. I handed this sacred text to the Water Tribe girl and she accepted it with a certain gentleness. "Hang onto this for me. It's important." Katara gazed at the ruby-red eyes of the dragons curiously.
"I need your word." The darker skinned girl sighed heavily before locking eyes with me.
" I will make it out of that prison." I emphasized my promise. " I will help Zuko become Firelord." Finally, the healer gave me a scolding look and hollered up to Zuko.
"For spirits sake, stop the bison!" The prince stared at her as if she had lost her marbles. "She will fight us until the ends of time." The water-bender really did know me. I hid my smirk. To my surprise and relief, Zuko commanded Appa to make a left and circle back around. Our giant animal friend complied and soon we were drawing closer once more.
"You better liberate that prison in under ten minutes, otherwise my ghost will haunt you till you're in the ground too!" I could only chuckle at Zuko's threat.
"You're not going to die. I'll meet up with you both soon." I readied myself for the drop. Slow and steady breaths. We were almost at the right angle.
"And how are you going to do that, pray tell?" A skeptical soon-to-be Firelord asked me. I backed up to one side of the saddle, letting my ankles and calves rub against the edges. This was the fun part.
"Creative thinking!" Katara tried to stop me from the insane, but to no avail. I took a running jump and dived off of the Sky Bison. For a moment, I was almost hovering. So this must be how Aang feels whenever he flies. The sensation was incredible, and I felt almost weightless. But then came the descent. I positioned my arms into streamline as I shot down towards the prison like an arrow. I was falling fast, yet somehow the dropping feeling in my gut stopped as soon as it had started. The rushing wind flew into my ear canals, making sure the air was all I heard. My eyes began to water from the velocity. I tilted my head up slightly against the pressure. Brown, orange and red clouds greeted my eyes. The comet was still coming, the world was ending, might as well go out with a bang. Letting out one more hearty measure of laughter, I pulled my arms back at my sides. I took a deep breath and when I exhaled, white jets of flame as large as Appa shot out from my fists, propelling me towards the ground faster.
The air against my skin made my hairs stand on end, but the feeling would soon be over. I targeted my landing zone and prepared myself for impact. I thanked the spirits that I had not fallen into the boiling water surrounding the structure. I quickly passed the guard tower and the gondola lines. At the last moment, I tucked my legs under and drew back my arm. My fist made contact with white stone. A large dent with cracks leading every which way was my gift to the ground. Black scorch marks spread out stretched all around me, like a majestic fire-bird of some kind. Smoke lines rose from my shoulders and clothes, but I was not burnt. This was the same spot the Warden had first brought Hakoda and all the other war prisoners.
Soon, a number of guards come onto the scene to check out the commotion. No doubt half the prison saw my plummet. "Put your hands where we can see them and stand down!" One of the warriors in red and black commanded. How adorable. This was starting to sound like a true Fire Nation welcome. I gazed at the crew circled around me. The guards ranged in size and I assumed the same about their skill. I kept my breathing steady and my head clear.
"Take me to the Warden's niece and I won't have to make heads roll!" I demanded. This was war, and I had to play the game however it would allow me to be victorious. The head guard who had previously spoken only sneered. He had probably thought I was bluffing.
"Yeah right. Hands in the air!" I furrowed my brows and stared these dense, idiots down.
"Don't make me tell you again." One of the smaller, lankier ones gulped and his stance twitched a little. Good. I wanted to instill fear in these morons. Unfortunately, they didn't seem to know who I was or what I was capable of. On the bright side, the revelation would be worth it all. The persistent guard with the drill sergeant voice wouldn't back down.
"I said hands up!" He and his squadron dared to take steps near me. I held out my arms in front of me, almost as if to surrender.
"They're up." I obliged, holding my arms slightly above my head. The fools drew closer still. I inhaled once more. "Now they're down." I forcefully pushed my palms towards the ground and a white flame traveled from the center of my hand. I stepped through the fire and watched it spread the full 360 degrees around me. My opponents had not quite been ready and my attack stunned about half of them. The others that hadn't been harmed rush at me all at once. Big mistake.
One by one, I countered the hits and throws which came my way, all while remembering significant techniques Suki taught me weeks ago. I blocked with open palms, stopping my opponents' arms at the elbow with a snap. I swiped their feet from under them with my own leg in fluid motions I relied on turning their energy against them. This included the fire. While the plumes were hotter and larger than they would be at any other day, I broke through them with advanced fire-bending forms and did not get burnt. I danced across the stone and watched my enemies pile up after defeated. I finally pulled the lead guard up by his uniform.
"Where is she?" I gritted my teeth, voice menacing. The young man must have decided he'd rather keep his head and he soon squealed.
"She's with the other war prisoners!" His amber eyes were wide. I tightened my grip, coaxing him to continue. "Sector 4, D-Wing!" I smiled genuinely at the guard.
"Thank you." After showing my gratitude, I promptly socked him in the jaw. The boy was lucky I hadn't decided to crack his skull open. He collapsed and I stepped over his unconscious body and headed inside the prison.
Suki and I followed Snoozles down the airship corridor which reeked of oppression and tyranny by the way. By the way the boy carefully tip-toed, I could tell he was trying to be sneaky. This tactic might have worked on anyone else but, not yours truly! The non-bender hushed us as if we didn't know we needed to be quiet and stepped into position. The two readied themselves on either side of the big, metal door I sensed in front of me. I wrapped my knuckles against the iron in a fun, rhythmic fashion before sending the entire thing flat down into the room it guarded. From the pulses I could feel of shuffling feet, those inside were pretty alarmed. What an entrance!
I hit the dirt, or should I say iron? I bended the dense material so it acted like a type of armor around me. I had never done a trick like this before and the success excited me! Soon, I heard the crackle of flames and felt heat surround the metal encasing me. It was a little too warm for comfort, though I hadn't actually been burned. I had never been a fan of fire, and ever since Zuko accidentally barbequed my toes, my irrational fear returned. I twisted and dodged the fire as fast as I could. I let my ears guide my movements. I bent an excess part of my metal suite up to where I thought the ceiling of the hangar would be and let 'er rip! I sensed the pipes running through the aircraft and it seemed I had just discovered the ones running up top. I yanked part of one down and trapped a soldier against one wall. I pulled another pipe piece down from above to cover the attacker on the left. After that, I sprung up and clung to the remaining exposed pipes along the ceiling. I was out of the fires' way and used this short break to scurry up above. I soon dropped down and felt the presence of the last fire-bender who had been doing his darnedest to shoot me down. From behind him, I stopped his fist early from making contact with my head-thank spirits! And the result was the control room window shattering. A few tiny pieces landed in the back of my hair but I couldn't let that worry me.
"Hey! Watch the face!" I shouted at him, but from under my metal protection it probably sounded more like, "Ahm! Maamh muh mhmmm!" A quick punch sent the soldier clear out of the room by the sounds of his frightened hollering. Once his body made contact with an iron wall meters away, I knew my work was done for the time being. "Coast is clear!" I called out to my friends.
The lovebirds took their sweet time to join me in the newly hijacked control center. They were probably observing all the damage I had caused. Sokka hadn't screamed or pulled his precious wolf's tail out yet so I must have not destroyed everything. I shed my metal coverage and with a crunch it compressed after falling off my body and clattering to the floor. "That's how it's done!" I stood proudly with my hands on my hips. "Who's the greatest earth-bender in the world? Toph Bei Fong! No autographs please!"
"Good work, Toph!" Ponytail sounded thrilled at how easily we had taken over the airship. "Time to take control of the ship. Take the wheel." Had my ears deceived me? Sokka was gonna let me drive? This moment was too good to be true!
"That's a great idea!" I chuckled sarcastically, brushing strands of hair which blew wildly in the wind. "Let the blind girl steer the giant airship." Boy was Sokka out of his mind sometimes. His voice came deadpan next.
"I was talking to Suki." The Kyoshi Warrior's footsteps went behind me towards the wheel. My face fell. I had actually been a little excited by the hypothetical opportunity of command. Good thing I ad misread the conversation. Things could get disastrous with me in charge. Toph take the wheel! Sure thing.
"That would make a lot more sense." I agreed.
"What about the rest of the crew?" Suki's melodious voice sounded from a few feet away. The three of us hadn't gone that far in the plan apparently. Making shit up as you go only gets you so far I guess.
"Take us down closer to the water, I've got an idea." Oh no. This couldn't be good.
"One of your famous ideas?" I teased him, thinking of how swimmingly the others had gone in our journey.
"It may live in infamy." Was boomerang boy's response. He grabbed hold of something near the controls and cleared his throat. Soon, his voice was echo-y and amplified. "Attention crew: this is your captain speaking," The doofus began in a mock authoritative tone. "Everyone please report to the bomb bay immediately for...hotcakes and sweet cream. We have a very special birthday to celebrate." I couldn't believe my ears. Who would be dumb enough to fall for that?
To my surprise, the answer was the entire crew. They had all taken the bait and when the bomb bay hatches opened, all the members dropped like rocks into the ocean below. For a short interval, all their surprised exclamations could be heard from up top where we were. I wished I could see all of their stupid faces. It was a small moment of victory for us, but then things got serious again.
"Oh no!" Sokka sounded truly scared. "We're not going to catch up to Ozai in time!" There were only mere moments of faux serenity before an awful tumult took over my eardrums. The massive roar grew louder and it sounded almost as if we were in a tunnel. I could only imagine the kind of terror the Firelord was reigning down upon the poor inhabitants of the Earth Kingdom. Upon my home. I tried to picture the flames in my head and thought of how Katara once described the element. Hot. Bright. Flickering. Sizzling. There seemed to be a new word to capture it everyday. I felt my lip quiver but didn't attempt to bite down or stop it. For the first time in forever, I admitted to being afraid.
Then, a loud crashing sound interrupted my thoughts. What could it be? Were the airships malfunctioning? "What just happened?" Suki took the words right out of my mouth.
"It's Aang!" Sokka eagerly shared the good news. "He's back!" The warrior boy cried, throwing what I assumed to be a navigational instrument up in the air. I raised my arms up to cheer alongside him.
"Wooo! Go Twinkle-toes!" Baldy was back in the game just in time and suddenly things didn't seem so bad anymore.
"We have to focus on stopping these airships." Sokka soon reminded us of our mission from the get-go.
"And how are we gonna do that, Captain Obvious? I can't see outside this flying hunka junk metal!" Sometimes it was actually crippling being blind. My trusty feet couldn't help me in the air. All of a sudden, Sokka responded with such gusto, I knew we should all be fearing for our lives.
"Airship-slice!" A whoosh sound happened after the exclamation and I figured he must have done a hand demonstration to go along with it. I guessed that Suki was also staring at him blankly due to the silence between us. Sokka was a bit of a wild man, but his plan could be the only way to finish what we started.
"Oh boy," I rolled my eyes, hoping they moved in the right direction because that was one thing I could never practice in the mirror like other little girls. "I hope the terrific trio are having just as much luck as we are." It took Sokka longer than I anticipated for him to realize I meant Zuko, Karuna and Katara instead of the three of us present.
"I'll bet you my space-sword that Katara's giving Azula what for-or at least she's about to." That was a pretty big bet. The Water Tribe boy's weapons meant the world to him...other than his girlfriend of course.
"You seem pretty confident with that wager." Suki appeared to agree with me. "What makes you say so?"
"Cuz I know my sister," Ponytail explained. "She doesn't have a deep, sentimental connection to Azula. Plus, she hates her more than Toph hates bathes." He had a good point and I couldn't argue with that.
"This is true. My money's on Sugar-Queen too!" I declared.
"Sure. Let's turn this whole thing into one giant bet!" Suki retorted after forfeiting the wheel to Sokka. "It's not like we're at war here or anything. We could make posters! Or design shirts! Oh! And I can sell fire-flakes to front row!"
"No one likes a sore loser, Suki." Sokka blew raspberries at his girlfriend. Yep. Aang's backup squad, right here.
If there's one sound I'll remember until the day I die, it's the dense thud of Fire Nation soldiers' heads colliding with steel walls. To my amusement, some sounded hollow and also to my horror, I found myself enjoying the activity. The helmets clattering eventually became satisfying to my ears and I looked forward to making the sound ring out. My fight continued on inside the cold, unforgiving corridors, only this time I would not fall. I could hear the panic echoing through neighboring hallways. So far, I hadn't killed anyone- that I knew of anyway- but the number of unconscious victims decorating the floor was definitely something to be concerned about.
"Why don't you send some more?" I cupped my hands around my mouth and called out to any others who might be lurking about. I was actually trying to be helpful and not an ass, believe it or not. Besides, I wanted a challenge.
Two more guards soon appeared at the end of the passage. However, one stopped short and removed his helmet. "Sankari?" I could never forget Kenzo's wavy, brown hair or almond shaped golden-brown eyes. The question seemed more of a puzzlement than hostile.
"Hello, hello." I greeted him back. His buddy got to me first and it was easy to break his stance and throw him at one of the iron doors. The boy slumped over the lower half of his body, out cold. I was on Kenzo before he could process the situation. Though the bender was taller than me, I still managed to hold him bent in a headlock. "Where's Mai?" There was no need for further introduction. My opponent had once known her too. We had all been friends once upon a time. "What cell?" I held my firm grip. Kenzo struggled against me, gasping for any air that would seep into his windpipe. The boy raised a shaky arm and pointed several doors down. I squeezed tighter while lowering him down and his tomato-red face soon showed hints of purple. The struggle soon stopped and the wavy haired boy passed out at my feet.
I stood parallel to the iron barricade which towered before me. I exhaled a puff of smoke and took a side-stance. "Stand back!" I commanded loudly enough for the entire sector to hear. I pulled my leg up to my chest and then extended it with a quick and powerful kick. The fire from my foot was hot enough to burn clear through the iron cell door. The gap I made was more than large enough to slip through.
The pale faced, raven haired girl stared at me with a look of pure astonishment. After I stepped through the threshold, the silence engulfed us. It had been so long since I had known her; when we were still young girls, eyes wide with heads full of frivolous things. Looking at her now was like gazing upon a ghost of the past. Our natures were different, yet we had both grown into something darker.
"You're a gods damned miracle, Sankari Tsong." Mai finally rose from her seat on her cot. Charcoal eyes weren't cold nor calculating. They were filled with wonder, thankfulness and relief. I raised my arms and approached her, then stopped and remembered the assassin did not particularly enjoy physical displays of affection. I was partly in awe when Mai met me halfway and wrapped maroon sleeves around my neck and back in a tight embrace. After a moment, I let my head drop lightly against the back of her shoulder and squeezed my eyes shut. I had missed my dear, gloomy friend.
"They didn't hurt you- they didn't touch you, did they?" I examined the taller girl once our reunion hug had officially ended. Only a snort escaped the girl's lips.
"You think I'd let them?" Her usual sass brought a smile to my face, but there seemed to be more lacking in the girl's dark eyes. Something I couldn't pinpoint. Something that convinced me she had changed.
"They took your weapons..." I noticed her writs guards were no longer present on her arms. The governor's daughter smirked slyly.
"Not all of them." I could only grin in response. Mai was certainly full of surprises, and mischievous when she wanted to be. If the girl had been born a bender, she would definitely control earth; she was patient and always waited for a window of opportunity to attack.
"Save em for the breakout. We gotta get Ty, my brother and anyone else who can help us." I tucked my head through the hole in the cell door to check the scene for safety. Mai followed suit.
"Ty Lee's in the cell next do- wait, you have a brother? Since when?" I had forgotten she wasn't up to speed with my personal life. That probably meant she didn't know about my relationship with Katara or my fling with the Earth Kingdom boy. Stories for later times. Perhaps. Or not, I preferred.
"Well, since always, but I just figured out during the eclipse. He grew up around the Earth Kingdom capital while I was raised here in the Fire Nation." I pushed my palms against the cell door next to Mai's, letting the heat slowly melt through. Behind the door, our pink clad friend was positioned in a fighting stance until we fully revealed ourselves.
"Whoa! Don't chi-block me!" I protested while instinctively recoiling and raising my arms in defense. The braided haired girl's light grey eyes were larger than normal.
"Kari! You came back!" Unexpectedly, the acrobat lunged forward, seizing me in one of her big, snugly hugs. In truth, I had missed these; especially after we had grown apart. "Azula's a jerk!" I wanted to laugh my head off at this statement but instead I only chortled. I had never expected these words to come out of Ty Lee's mouth. Just now she had figured this out?
"I know." I made a face, pushing loose bangs out of my eyes. "She's tried to kill me more times than are healthy in a re-" I paused briefly. "friendship." I quickly corrected myself. Now that Ty Lee and I seemed to be in good standings, it seemed unnecessary to open the door to the past. I didn't want to further upset her; she didn't deserve it.
"She may be a bitch, but she's got a soft spot for you." Mai rearranged the stilettos inside hidden pockets of her robes. I gave the tall girl a nervous glance. She was opening the Pandora's box I wished to avoid entirely. "That might be the key to stopping her." I tilted my head to the side. How so? "You and Zuko were heading to the palace, weren't you?" I nodded a 'yes.' "She told us the plans for the Fire Nation. Her father's plans as well. The avatar might defeat the Firelord, but that won't stop Azula from setting fire to the world in the meantime." I understood her concerns.
"She won't listen to me." I sighed, trying to remember the last time the princess heeded my advice or warnings. In the last six months we had been fighting on opposite sides- of course she wouldn't follow anything I had urged of her. She was angry with me and probably hurt too. Though I didn't want to excuse her behavior, I couldn't exactly blame her. And why would she listen to me now, of all times? To a bystander, it would look cute if I tried to persuade the princess to reason. In her eyes I was a traitor, no longer a friend or lover.
A small hand was placed atop my shoulder. "She will." A wry smile formed on Ty Lee's round face. "It was never me, Kari. It was always you." Light grey eyes looked a bit glassy. I could only gaze back at her, mouth slightly agape. It was both a truth and lie to protest. Somehow I knew that Azula cared about all three of us. She just had a different way of showing it as well as a different connection to each of us. I waited for the anger and bitterness to come, but the longer I held my breath nothing happened. The acrobat's expression held peace and happiness. Nothing more.
"We've gotta get her going." Our short friend looked up at the marks-woman "C'mon, let's go find Raiden!" Ty Lee cartwheeled down the metallic and unfriendly corridor.
"How..." I watched her a moment in awe. "does she know his name?" I had only mentioned I had a brother- no extra information.
Mai rolled her eyes subtly and sighed. "Probably means he's on the list." What did that even mean? There was a list? The tall girl followed the chi-blocker.
"List? What list?" I eventually took up the caboose.
"The list of cute boys Ty Lee wants for her own." The monotone yet colorful response echoed back at me as we turned down the next passageway.
The girls assisted me in my search for my brother. They acted as my first line of defense- like Azula's Dai Li. There weren't exactly any name tags next to the cells, so for good measure I busted all of them open. Most of the inmates I released ran wildly into the halls, rioting inside the building. A few tried to tempt fate and attack us. They soon figured out how bad that decision was. The prison staff were in for a rough night.
As fate would allow it, only one iron door remained at the end of the hangar. "You better be Raiden." I huffed under my breath." I accepted two sturdy, metal rods Mai had discovered inside a utility room located at the beginning of the corridor. What a nice little present these were. I rapped on the surface of the door, making a goofy rhythmic pattern. With one hand, I struck bits of molten, white fire at the hinges and then drove my foot into the center of the metal.
"Oof!" A young man's voice sounded from the other end. The bounty hunter pulled his legs out from underneath the heavy door. Apparently he had also been trying to break down the barricade. It was strange to see him in all crimson instead of shades of grey and green. Even his recognizable white headband had been stripped from him. I was glad I had come to his aid today.
I puffed my chest out and held the solid weapons over my shoulders all macho like. "Excuse me sir, you have some unattended children that need to be chaperoned." I tossed him his escrimas.
"I should have known you'd be the one behind all this ruckus!" He flashed a white grin before catching his weapons. In seconds, I had captured the older boy in a big, bear-hug which he returned immediately.
"I kept this safe for you too." I began to untie the green headband snug across my forehead. Raiden gently touched my elbow with his free hand.
"No. You need it today." He decided, smiling down at me warmly. His hair seemed spikier and messier than usual. I noticed the stubble which had grown on his cheeks in the weeks of his imprisonment. I thought about how much he might look like our father. If only I could remember. "Besides, it'll clash with my outfit." He gestured at his red prison wear. I snorted. The ham gene was strong with this one. We were definitely related.
"We have to move before this place is swarming with reinforcements." Mai warned us. "There's a special hangar with sets of escape boats for situations like these. They were designed to withstand extreme temperature so they can act like submarines." She pointed at my brother and then at Ty Lee who was currently occupied batting her eyelashes at Raiden. "We'll take them to get out of his hell hole and then figure out a way to get her to Capital City." The boats wouldn't be fast enough. I tried picturing them in the water. Nothing would be as fast as Appa, but there were no spare flying bison around. Suddenly, my eyes recalled a sight from earlier that summer. A jet of blue pushing off high into the air- sustaining itself. Had I stumbled onto something?
The four of us raced from the dank, gloomy passage and burst through a set of heavy double doors to the outside. Out of stupidity, I expected a nice, cool breeze to counter the heat. I waited for the sun to touch my skin once more. But instead of a crystal clear, blue sky, we were greeted with a terrible blood-red horizon.
"Gah!" Raiden cried out dramatically. "What did you do now?" I threw my hands up in the air.
"Yes, because I have control over space somehow!" I knew the warrior was only teasing. Humor during this hour was more certification that we were siblings.
"We need to hurry up and decide how we're going to evacuate." Mai diffused our nonsense yet again. "Because the speed boats are halfway across the Boiling Rock." She extended a long arm in the direction she referred to. I didn't fret. I had it all figured out in my head...mostly figured out.
"Get to a boat and once you get out, wait by the outer walls." Mai stared at me peculiarly, probably wondering why in Agni I wanted them to wait outside the hotspot. "I'll be fine on my own, but I need you guys there. Go!" Ty Lee was about to further question me, or possibly my sanity, when Mai grabbed her arm and dragged the contortionist along.
"Don't do anything stupid." Raiden warned me and poked my sides with one of the escrimas.
"I won't. I'm not you." I retorted, watching him quickly exit with the girls after giving me a confident nod.
Turning my attention back to my half-assed plan, my eyes scanned my environment. The wires, the gondola and guard tower. Wires. Gondola Guard tower. That was it! It was if a scene from an adventure tale was playing before my eyes. Roaring, blue flames lifting up, up and higher still. I took in the elements of the prison. The comet would give me extraordinary power and I was eager to test my abilities.
The guard tower was occupied by two fire-benders who were cowardly sending plumes into the tumultuous courtyard instead of fighting honorably down there. As annoyed at I was at the display, it meant that the control was shifting in favor of the prisoners.
I jogged backwards a few paces and then took a running leap off the edge of the balcony. I tucked my knees in for mere seconds, then forcefully pushed them down as well as my arms. My flames fought against the air and shot me up to the tower at an angle. The idiot fire-benders screamed in unison and one jumped into the other's arms as I dropped down on them. Because the morons didn't think to get out of the way, their helmets contributed to their unconscious state; they had both hit the stone hard.
Glancing back at the spot where I had told Mai to meet me, I realized it was a much bigger gap. But this fact did not discourage me, for I readied myself for round two. Jumped off the ledge and applied the same force in my limbs. The roaring fire confirmed my successful bound. My flames carried me up over the gondola lines and over the boiling water below. I did my best not to look down in fear I would break my concentration. I dropped down about fifteen feet and landed on the top of the hotspot walls. I glanced out across the water, watching the warm colors reflect on the surface. It was a different kind of view than if the sun were present. Though we were at war, I took comfort in gazing at the ripples made in the water. Water had been my savior once, perhaps it could be once more.
I didn't have to wait too long for my brother and friends to arrive. I heard the motor before I spotted their vehicle. Raiden worked the controls, with some help, probably, from Mai. Behind the boat, choppy waves soon formed. Ty Lee waved at me as they came around the bend.
"What are you waiting for?" The assassin shouted up at me, once their vessel was close enough. This was a good question and a smirk highlighted my features as I continued to look out at the vast ocean before me. My next destination was the Fire Nation Palace. It was still a great deal away, but not impossible to reach. What was I waiting for?
"Don't leave until you know I won't drown!" I called back down to her. Mai raised her arms up at me in confusion. She beckoned for me to hop in, but I had other plans. The comet had granted all fire-benders strength and stamina they would likely never see again after this day. It would give Ozai the power of one-hundred suns. But I was the White Dragon. As Aang had once said, a person's abilities combined with this form would increase tenfold. I would have the power of a thousand suns.
I raised my arms out at my sides, parallel to the tips of the hotspot wall and grew used to the feeling of suspension. My steady heartbeat became a metronome to keep in time with. Next, I lifted my head up to the skies, hoping and praying for strength. Agni...Oya...Nike. If any of the gods could hear me now, I wished they would give me their wisdom and guidance. My body felt the kind of warmth that could only be felt with the sun beating down. The hairs stood up under the material of my uniform and the heat rose as well. It was like a rapid fever, only no pain came to me nor discomfort. This bright sensation reminded me of my friends and our times together. It reminded me of Katara. Of Azula. Of Jet. But above all else, the feeling took me back to a time when Makoto Tsong still drew breath. When I had been his daughter.
The loud crackles and hisses caused me to open my eyes. Once my irises allowed light to pass through them, I gazed up at the blinding, white pillars rising from my body. The flames flared as they danced towards the sky, creating a blazing inferno all around me.
"Oh shit! You can fire-bend?!" Came my brother's equally shocked and amazed voice from down to the right. I could barely hear his words over the roar of the flames which were only growing louder.
"Did you miss the part where she fire-bent you free?" Mai was quick to retort.
"I thought she was metal-bending!"
I laughed for I knew the fire was searing hot. I could feel the sparks and embers under my sleeves. I laughed because I should have roasted there on that wall. But the heat did not harm me. After all, fire could not kill a dragon. It was larger and more magnificent than any ceremonial or funeral pyre. I watched the smoke rise high up into the atmosphere and realized that I was that very same fire. Ever-changing, enticing, and unpredictable. This moment urged me to go forth and carry out what I was meant to do. I was ready now.
The flames only ceased once I jumped from atop my high perch, and this time I felt the queasiness that came with the drop. Six eyes observed me with fear from safely inside the speed boat. I trusted my bending as well as myself and forced my limbs down powerfully. Only mere cubits above the water, white, hot jets exploded from the ends of my feet. The ripples of the sea grew larger again as the fire fought to keep me airborne. I soon found that the more I believed, the more energy I could exert. I took one more look over my shoulder, as a way of bidding my friends farewell for now. Ty Lee waved and Raiden looked on, still appearing quite stunned and flabbergasted. And for the first time in years, Mai smiled. It held a certain pride in it; that we were comrades. That we were companions.
I bent my knees slightly, gathering more heat and energy to lift myself even higher into the sky. Once I reached desirable height, I threw my arms behind me and pushed out cone shaped flames from my palms. My hair whipped wildly in the wind, tangled with the green tails of my headband. I had never before in my life felt so free. My eyes rested on the large cumulonimbus clouds which blocked the rest of the sky. There were areas leaking yellow light in between the alto-stratus ones and I wondered, if I were able to fly high enough, could I reach the sun? Would I survive the golden radiance? I glanced at the water down below me, knowing the answer already. I could see myself flying in the surface reflection. The waves rolled this way and that. I smiled at myself, hoping to see the mirrored image do so back at me. In this hour of darkness and despair, I had been reborn in the flames of hope. I knew what I really was. Not Karuna Bei Fong nor Sankari Tsong. I was earth and fire.
I pushed myself to soar faster over the vast body of water, aiming south towards the small sight of land spotted way in the distance. My friends needed me. Zuko needed me. I didn't know how much time we had left, but the mere measurement seemed irrelevant now. Destiny was calling, and for once, I was eager to respond.
Author's Note: The italiczed set of lyrics at the top are from the song "Beyond the Sun" by Stick to Your Guns. I DO NOT own the song or band at all! (could be cool though) Again, I know I've been asking more recently, but I would honestly love reviews, critiques and criticisms. I want to know what I can do to improve my writing and story telling! Thanks for reading!