This is the final book! Yay! Big thank you to dejavidetc for doing the amazing cover art!
Zuko twitched, still pretty much asleep, when something crashed into him. He yelped, eyes snapping open. A shadowy blur greeted his vision. Hands gripped his tunic and then a familiar voice babbled a string of words at him, all at lightning speed.
Groaning and conjuring flames for light (which he winced at), Zuko directed a very bleary-eyed glare at the monk now sitting on his lap. "Aang," he said, voice hoarse and his hair sticking up everywhere. "Has anyone ever told you that it's not a good idea to tackle people awake? I could have burned you, idiot!"
"Sorry, sorry, sorry, but you don't understand! I had to come and tell you now because I think I saw—well, no, I mean I don't really know if I saw him exactly because—"
Zuko pinched the bridge of his nose with his free hand. Aang was speaking too fast again. "Aang, slow down."
"—there was lots of mist and stuff, and everything was kind of blurry, and—"
"Aang!" Zuko gripped his shoulder. "Stop."
Aang did that too. Some of the tension eased from his body and he relaxed more against Zuko.
"Okay." Zuko guided his flames to light the candle on the small dresser, then lifted Aang off his lap and plonked him on the bed. "Now tell me what's going on. Slowly."
Aang leaned forward, eyes bright with excitement. "I think I saw Roku!"
"Yeah! I was in this misty place, right? And it looked heaps like the Spirit World. Like heaps. And Roku, or at least a guy who looked a lot like Roku, was standing there in the mist and he called my name."
"Wait, how did you get to the misty place?"
"In my dream!"
Zuko scrunched his nose. "That's it? You dreamed about a person, who may or may not have been Avatar Roku, and he called your name?"
Aang pouted. "When you say it like that, it doesn't sound so great."
Zuko just groaned and flopped against the mattress, throwing his arm across his eyes. "I can't believe you woke me up for this."
"Hey, this is serious! What if I really did see Roku?"
"And what if you were just dreaming? Maybe you just saw what you wanted to see."
Aang went quiet. Zuko raised his arm slightly, peering out from the gap to see him sitting with slumped shoulders and a dejected look on his face. Oh geez.
Repressing a sigh, Zuko removed his arm from his face and sat up again. "Alright, did anything else happen in your dream?"
It was like the sun came out from behind clouds. Aang grinned and once more leaned forward. "Actually, yeah! I tried to run towards Roku, but when I did the mist just got thicker and I got lost, and I kind of freaked out because no shiny thing appeared this time to help me find Roku again, but then this deep voice was all, 'Come, Avatar Aang', and I turned and was like floating above the ship, and then the world just kind of whooshed forward, except I think I was actually going south, and—"
He laughed sheepishly and rubbed the base of his neck. "Right. Sorry."
Zuko shook his head in reluctant amusement. Aang made a big show of taking a breath and then told the rest of his dream, thankfully with actual pauses and less meandering. He explained that he sped over the ocean until he came to this little trio of islands. One of them was quite big and looked populated. Then he heard the deep voice again, saying, "Come", and the dream ended.
"I've had a lot of weird dreams," Aang said, "but I don't think this was a normal one. It felt like a message from the spirits. It felt real."
Zuko frowned. "You didn't recognise the islands?"
"Nope. Never seen them before in my life."
"Maybe they're part of the Fire Nation."
"I don't think so. I've actually travelled quite a bit in the Fire Nation … well, at least a hundred years ago. Anyway, like I said, when I was doing that whooshy travel thing, it seemed like I was heading south."
"But there's only the Southern Air Temple and the Southern Water Tribe south of here, and they're both more to the east." His brow creased. "Unless …"
"Yuzo and Shizue. I'm pretty sure they said the fire healer tribe lives on an island in the far southwest."
Aang's eyes widened. "Do you think?"
"I don't know, but I think we'd better call a meeting. If you're right and your dream is the work of spirits, this will change our plans."
"Then let's call a meeting!"
Zuko latched onto the back of Aang's collar before he could dash off. "I meant let's call a meeting when everyone is actually awake."
"Aang, it's not even dawn. Let them sleep."
Let me sleep, he wanted to add. He and Katara had stayed up really late the previous night, and firebenders were not night owl-cats. Frankly, Zuko was exhausted.
Aang drooped like a wilting flower. "Fine. I guess it can wait a few hours. But I'm not going to be able to sleep now."
"I can't. I'm too awake." He twisted to face Zuko, smile flashing. "I know, we could—"
"No." Zuko, who still held the back of his collar, picked him up by the fabric and carried him towards the door. "I'm tired. I need sleep. You go try sleep."
Zuko dropped him on his feet outside the cabin. "Don't come back unless the sun is up." Then he shut the door on Aang and collapsed face-first onto his bed. A tired flick of his hand snuffed the candle.
He just groaned and clamped his pillow over his head.
The meeting was a shambles. Those who had been requested to attend gathered in the mess hall and took their seat around one of the long tables. Zuko's mum, Yuzo, Atsuo, and a still recovering Shizue were quick to confirm that Aang had dreamed of the Ito Islands, home to the fire healer tribe. Then everything went downhill. One of the biggest issues was that some people, including Shizue, doubted whether the dream could be trusted.
"Shūrin knows how to manipulate energy," Shizue reminded them, "and not just the energy within humans either. Remember, she was able to put an ancient spirit to sleep. She also knows the Avatar has lost his connection to his past lives. This could be a trap."
"Or the spirits sent me a message and this is what I need to do," Aang retorted.
"Yes, but if it's from Shūrin—"
"We don't know that!"
The two kept bickering back and forth, others joining in with their own concerns. Zuko frowned as he listened. There was no doubt that travelling to the Ito Islands would be dangerous. The tribe were not welcoming to outsiders, caring only about maintaining secrecy. Even without the Silencers—and there were plenty of them—Shizue informed that many of the tribe were highly trained warriors.
"Going there would be suicide," Shizue said frankly. "We have no idea how deep Shūrin's control is over the tribe. We all know she can control those bonded to her, not to mention she could be heading there herself. It would be better to stay away."
"I have to agree," Hakoda said, folding his arms across his chest. "It sounds like a lot of risks to take just for a dream."
Aang flushed. "It wasn't just a dream! I'm telling you that the spirits want me to go to the Ito Islands! This is how they communicate with me! This is how it works!"
Katara squeezed his shoulder, then looked up at her dad. "I know you're worried, Dad, but Sokka and I have been travelling with Aang for a while now. This stuff happens sometimes, and it always works out when we follow whatever instructions are given. Right, Sokka?"
"I guess," he said with a shrug. "Never made it any less dangerous, though. Remember the swamp?"
"That was Huu who attacked us," Aang pointed out. "The spirits just wanted to bring me there so I could see a vision of Toph and find the airbender sanctuary."
"Wait." Toph perked up a little. "You had a vision of me?"
He rubbed the base of his neck. "Um, yeah. I needed an earthbending teacher, and the swamp showed me a vision so I'd know you were the one."
"Did you have a vision of any of your other teachers?"
"Knew it." Toph stretched out her legs, looking far too smug. "Even the spirits know I'm the most important."
Zuko rolled his eyes. "Toph, this really isn't the time."
She shrugged but continued to look like a smug cat-fox.
"Anyway," Aang said loudly, shooting a frown at Toph, "the point is that now I know I need to go to the Ito Islands if I want to reconnect with my past lives. That's what the dream told me."
"Or it's a trap," Shizue said.
Aang made a frustrated sound, complete with throwing his hands up in the air and going a bit red in the face. This time it was Zuko who gripped his shoulder in a calming way. He could see the poor kid was about to blow.
"Look," Zuko said, glancing around at everyone gathered, "regardless of how you feel about the dream or the Ito Islands, Aang is the Avatar. The dream came to him. He thinks following the voice will help remove his block. Maybe we should just trust him on this."
Aang looked like he wanted to hug Zuko.
"Blind trust is a little hard to give when lives are at stake," Hakoda said, still frowning.
Zuko looked down, stomach twisting. He remembered the Water Tribe warriors who had been killed on Wu Yao's island. Of course Hakoda would be wary. All the rules of battle had been changed now that mind control and energy bonds had come into play.
"There are other places Aang could enter the Spirit World, right?" Suki said. "Iroh mentioned the swamp and the Northern Water Tribe oasis."
"I did," Iroh allowed, "but I'm inclined to go along with Aang. The spirits work in mysterious ways, and I find it difficult to believe Shūrin was able to communicate with him through a dream, regardless of her abilities. Perhaps this is just what's best for Aang."
"For what it's worth, I agree with Gram—Iroh," Ty Lee chimed in, elbows propped on the table. "Shūrin is super scary and powerful, but she doesn't have a bond with Aang, and it's her bonds with people she seems to rely on."
"See!" Aang said, rounding back on the naysayers. "It'll be fine."
"It will not be fine!" Shizue retorted. "Even if the dream is as real as you claim, the Ito Tribe is not—"
Ursa placed a hand on Shizue's arm. It was like the instant soothing of a storm. Shizue went silent and stared at her questioningly.
"Do you feel that strongly that you are meant to go to the Ito Islands, Aang?" Ursa asked.
"Then that is what you shall do."
"Ursa!" Shizue's eyes widened. "You know the tribe won't—"
"Yes, it will be risky," Ursa cut in before Shizue could get going again, "but that does not make it impossible. What we need is a plan."
Sokka sat up straighter. "A plan?"
Ursa and Iroh exchanged a glance. Both had been relatively quiet during the meeting, but there seemed to be a mutual understanding between them now.
"We split up," Iroh said. "A few of us will go with Aang to the Ito Islands and—"
"What?" Katara exclaimed. "You want us to split up?"
"I'm afraid separating was always inevitable," Iroh said. "Remember, it is crucial that we stop Fire Lord Ozai before the comet arrives."
He went on to remind them how Aang, as they all knew thanks to Avatar Roku's warnings, was supposed to be the one to defeat Ozai, but right now Aang couldn't access the Avatar State. There were three concentrated points of spiritual energy that they knew of: the Spirit Oasis, the Foggy Swamp, and the Ito Islands. Aang had to go to one of them if he wanted to get his abilities back. Unfortunately, the Spirit Oasis and Foggy Swamp were too far by boat. No one would make it for the eclipse invasion.
"The Ito Islands are closer, but there still isn't time to sail there and back to the Fire Nation," Ursa said, shaking her head. "Flying is the only option."
And that meant limited room on the saddle.
Katara tried to argue, saying it would be safer for everyone to stick together, but Iroh was firm in his response that the eclipse wouldn't wait, nor could they. Sure, the eclipse would only offer them a small advantage, but that was still better than nothing when invading the capital. Plus, their allies were already on the move to get to the rendezvous point.
"We need to be there," Iroh said simply. "We have no choice but to sail straight for the Fire Nation."
Mai looked him dead in the eyes. "And if baldy gets held up on the dangerous islands?"
"Ideally, Aang and those who go with him will join us before the eclipse. If they can't, we will have to fight on our own."
A grim pause.
Katara's fingers curled into her palms. "And who's supposed to go with Aang?"
"That is what we need to discuss."
Needless to say, the meeting went on for a long time.
The mood was sombre as everyone dispersed from the mess hall.
"Are you sure about this, Ursa?" Shizue asked with a frown. "It's bad enough we're taking the Avatar back to the tribe, but Zuko as well? I thought you wanted to keep your son safe."
"It seems foolish, doesn't it?" Ursa glanced across the deck to where Zuko was talking with Aang. "I tried to hide him from the tribe for all these years and now I'll guide him to them myself."
"It would be better if he stayed on the ship with the others."
"No." Ursa turned to face her. "Even if Shūrin is targeting him, he's the only one strong enough to go against her. We can't afford any mistakes. This world needs its Avatar."
"Then you think she will go back to the tribe?"
Ursa shook her head in a helpless gesture. "I don't know. I just feel that this is how it's meant to be."
Shizue raised her eyebrow. "You just feel?"
"I guess you could say I'm more in tune with things now."
Both eyebrows went up.
Ursa scratched at the back of her hand, lowering her gaze. "There were … effects from being possessed by that spirit."
"What? Why didn't you say anything? We have to—"
"It's fine. Plus, I don't think this can be fixed."
Shizue's brow creased.
Ursa smiled and touched Shizue's arm. "Don't look so troubled. It really isn't so bad. I talked to Iroh and he said a similar thing happened to him after he travelled to the Spirit World. It's like a heightened sense. I just get a feel for things now."
"And what do you feel?"
She glanced towards her son. "That Zuko and Aang's destines are tied. We shouldn't separate them."
Shizue frowned but said nothing.
"Honestly, the one I'm more worried about is Azula," Ursa admitted. "I don't think we should leave her behind."
"You aren't seriously suggesting we take her with us?"
"She's … fragile. If I leave without her, I worry she'll react badly."
Shizue sighed. "Fragile or not, you know that girl is a danger to herself and to others."
"Perhaps, but she is my daughter." Ursa's voice softened. "I failed her once, Shizue. I don't want to fail her again. I certainly don't want to send her back to Ozai. She will be better off away from him."
"Then you'd better convince everyone that it's in their best interest to let her go with you."
"I know, but somehow I don't think that's going to be easy."
Katara sat on a crate in one of the more secluded parts of the deck, foot swinging slightly as she glowered at nothing. Soft footsteps approached.
"You got pretty fired up back there," Suki observed, stretching her arms above her head before taking a seat next to her.
Katara hunched into herself more. "Are you going to tell me I'm being too emotional as well?"
"No. I get why you're mad."
They were both quiet for a moment, just staring out at the ocean.
"I'm not really mad," Katara mumbled. "I just don't think it's a good idea to split up again. We're stronger together. We've always been stronger together. I mean what if something goes wrong, but we're not there to help?" She clenched her hands hard on her lap. "We've had so many close calls."
"It's hard to be the one left behind," Suki agreed. "With a war like this, though …" She shook her head and her tone grew distant and a little sad. "Sometimes there isn't a choice. Sometimes necessity forces you to fight away from those you care about."
Katara sat up straighter, glancing at Suki's profile. "Like you and the Kyoshi Warriors?"
"I'm sorry. You must miss them."
"Every day," Suki admitted. "They're my friends, my sisters, my family. The Kyoshi Warriors are everything to me."
"So, why did you decide to come with us?"
It was something Katara had often wondered, though she'd never figured out a tactful way to ask. She hadn't wanted Suki to get the wrong idea and feel unwelcome.
Suki let out a breath. "Because I knew it was the right decision. I love the Kyoshi Warriors, I love being their captain, but this war has been going on for a hundred years. In the same way I knew I had to leave Kyoshi Island, I knew when I ran into all of you again that I couldn't go back to protecting refugees either. Not this time." She frowned at her lap. "I guess you could say I just realised I could make a bigger difference if I followed you."
"Well, for what it's worth, I'm really happy you came with us. I like having you around."
Suki smiled. "Thanks. I like being with you all as well."
"Especially Sokka?" Katara nudged her in the arm.
Suki's smile tightened a bit, though it was only for a split-second. "Well, he is cute and funny, and he's a really good kisser—"
"Ugh, gross. I didn't need to know that."
"Hey, you went there first."
"Lesson learned. I will never tease you about my brother again."
The two girls settled into silence again. Katara leaned forward on her palms, once more swinging her feet a bit. Try as she might, she couldn't stop thinking about the meeting—or, rather, the fact she hadn't even got a choice in saying where she would go. The adults had decided she would remain on the ship and somehow that had been that. Zuko and Aang had seemed to just accept it as well. Though, if she were to be honest, it was more Zuko's acceptance that bothered her. After everything they'd been through together …
"I hate this," she muttered.
"I really don't want us to split up. I mean, I get why they have to limit the number of people who go with Aang, and I get that they don't want to bring too many outsiders to the tribe, but I can fight. I can heal. I can help."
Suki's mouth twitched. "Are you sure it's the splitting up part that's bothering you? Sounds like you just want to join Team Bison and Spirit Mumbo Jumbo so you can rush into danger with them."
"You know, you really don't have to use my brother's labels. I think this might be one of his worst."
"I dunno. It's kind of catchy." Suki poked her in the ribs. "And don't think I don't realise you're trying to change the subject."
Heat touched Katara's cheeks. She should have known she wouldn't be able to escape the conversation. "Okay, fine," she said heavily. "I want to go with them. Shūrin is targeting Zuko, not to mention we only just got him back. And Aang? He almost died in Ba Sing Se. I watched over him every day he was in that coma." She frowned at her hands. "I'm not used to being apart from them. I don't want to be apart from them."
Suki squeezed her shoulder. "They'll be okay."
Katara had always been known as the optimistic one, but there had just been so many close calls. Not to mention there were things she had done to protect her friends that made her own heart seize and shiver. Even now, she remembered how it had felt to bend Ursa's blood—the heady pulse of power and control, the sickening ease of it all.
She could have stopped Ursa's heartbeat with a simple twist of her fingers.
But that wasn't what scared her. What really kept her up at night, waking from nightmares in cold sweats and with her heart thumping, was the thought of what would have happened had she not been there. In Ba Sing Se, on Wu Yao's island, all those desperate moments. The simple truth was that, without her, Zuko and Aang probably wouldn't be alive right now. Ursa would likely still be possessed.
How was she supposed to let them leave?
When Katara voiced these concerns, Suki went quiet, expression pensive.
"You know one of my biggest regrets?" Suki said softly.
"I wasn't there when Sis died."
"Sis? You had a sister?"
Those were the wrong words to blurt ("I'm sorry" would have been much better), but Katara was stunned. Suki had never mentioned anything about a sister or family. Fortunately, Suki wasn't offended. She just shook her head, a sad smile touching her lips.
"Not blood-related. Mum died when I was young, and I don't know who my dad is. But Sis … she took me in. Raised me."
"How did she …"
"Pirates. They used to come sometimes, raiding for rare goods and snatching people with blue eyes."
"Blue eyes?" Katara blinked. "Why people with blue eyes?"
Suki balled her hands into fists. "The Fire Nation had bounties out for waterbenders. Kyoshi Island has history with the Southern Water Tribe, though as far as I know, no one on Kyoshi is a waterbender. But sometimes this still happens." She pointed at her own eyes, which were bright blue.
Katara swallowed against the sudden dryness in her throat. Oh no, oh no. She did not like where this story was going.
"So, when I was eleven, these pirates came to our village. Sis was the captain of the Kyoshi Warriors then. I wanted to fight beside her, but she said I was too young and that I'd just make myself a target." Suki closed her eyes. "A lot of the warriors were killed that night. Sis … her body was never found."
"I'm so sorry."
It was all Katara could say, even as her fingers worked their way to the necklace around her throat. She'd had no idea the people of Kyoshi Island had suffered such raids.
Suki played with her tunic. "A part of me used to hope she was still alive out there—maybe injured or kidnapped by the pirates—but as the months passed, I realised she wasn't coming back. Deep down, I think I'd always known." A small exhale. "The thing is, I doubt it would've made a difference if I'd fought at her side. I just hate that my last memory of Sis was the two of us arguing. I hate that I'll never know what really happened, that I never even got to bury her."
"You wanted closure."
"Yeah, I wanted closure."
Katara pulled her into her arms. Suki returned the embrace briefly before pulling back.
"You're probably wondering why I'm telling you all this," Suki said with a wry smile. "I guess what I'm trying to say is: if you feel that strongly about sticking with Zuko and Aang, then make it happen. Fight for your place at their side. We don't know what the future will bring, but at least you'll be there with them. At least you won't have regrets."
"You're right." Katara stood up. "I can't give up so easily."
Suki smiled and gave her a light push to her back. "Then go get your spot on that saddle."
Katara took a few steps only to pause, glancing back over her shoulder. "Suki?"
"I think your sis would be really proud of you. You're one of the best warriors I know, but more than that, you're a great friend."
Surprise glinted in Suki's eyes and then she laughed. "Stop it, you're going to make me blush."
Katara smiled at her warmly before dashing off down the deck. Time to get that spot on Appa's saddle.
In the end, eight—or nine, counting Momo—were to head for the Ito Islands. Ursa, Shizue, Aang and Zuko were a given. Yuzo and Atsuo would also be accompanying, and Katara and Azula were the last minute additions. There had been some unhappy murmurs about Azula joining them, but then (as Ursa had rightly pointed out), if they felt Azula couldn't be trusted that much, taking her back to the Fire Nation would be a worse decision.
Not everyone was happy about Katara going either. Hakoda had tried to get her to reconsider, but she'd won herself allies in Aang, Zuko, Yuzo and Atsuo. Ursa had clinched the matter by saying she owed Katara her freedom and wasn't about to turn her away if Katara really wanted to come. They would make it work.
So the eight packed up their things and made their goodbyes. Katara hugged her dad and brother tight enough to hurt her own ribs, but her heart was at peace when she settled on the bison with the others. This was the right decision. Her family would be okay, and she was going to make sure Zuko and Aang would be okay as well.
"We'll see you at the rendezvous point," Iroh said.
Aang nodded and gripped the reins. "Yip, yip!"
Then they were flying and leaving the ship far behind.
Kyoshi Island just kind of confuses me because the Kyoshi Warriors all look so young (Suki is the captain and she's only 15 or 16). So I tried to read up any outside facts about it, but it's all "the island never had much problems before Zuko came looking for the Avatar" blah blah.
Then where are all the adult warriors?
Like, there are a few adults around, but also not really. It's weird. So here I've delved a little into my own headcanon for Suki and the island's history itself.