Hi guys! Sorry my updates are so slow! Uni life is insane! But I am trying to make as much time as possible to write FF.
~Also I am really sorry if the chapters/the story itself seem(s) really draggy and long but I am a bit of a detail-freak. Do let me know if you like my flow of the story so far. Sometimes the fillers are quite necessary for me but I think I still need some tweaking.
On a lighter note, do enjoy this chapter! I was really excited when writing this chapter - and also there's a real facepalm moment that you can sense from me. :)
Chapter 34: Revelations
Zuko felt incredibly surreal while doing the circular motions in order to generate lightning. Ever since he successfully managed to conjure up lightning after having it battered out of him, he could feel the difference. Ever since letting so much go – albeit in a very dangerous way...he could feel the ability of the cold-blooded fire flowing through his veins. Fire and lightning crackling with his very self. Whenever his body warmed up, it felt hotter than usual – like his blood was rushing faster and hotter, his inner fire blazing wilder and more vigorously to the point where sometimes it even felt...like burning ice that never wept.
"Good...good..." Masuta mused, watching every minor movement that Zuko made, every arc that he created with his arm, making sure that they were always smooth and fluid – never rocky or rigid. "Just let it go, Lee. Let everything flow out of you as if to expel the toxicity that clouds your mind. Don't pause. Don't stop. Just go with it."
And Zuko did exactly that. With every deep exhalation he made, he set his mind on one focus that he knew was imperative at that moment – and that was to defeat these rebels. For the sake of the innocents in his Nation, for his Uncle, for his friends, for himself, for Katara.
Katara. The fiery waterbender who always looked like she was dancing with a wild grace whenever she was in her element. He remembered how the motions for lightning generation and redirection were similar to waterbending, and incorporated those into his form.
His arms smoothly curved through the air, with only index and middle fingers slicing through the emptiness, his mind was clear and focused, his inner fire calm but still raging with a purpose – white-blue sparks then began to crackle and dance around his fingertips. He circled his straightened right arm in one large circle before bringing both his hands close to his chest, and a coughing string of awakening lightning followed the curve.
A clean arc cut through the air, and three thin ribbons sizzled through the void. Zuko even bent his body backwards slightly, creating a large clockwise circle over himself, and the crackles sounded louder with a brighter glow.
"Careful now," Masuta warned, his body tensing as he watched with wide, almost crazed eyes as his prodigy slowly achieved progress. "Careful, Lee. Hold it. Hang onto it. Don't you dare let that power go unless it is to hit a target!"
Zuko took Masuta's closest thing to advice, and quickly shut out everything out, focusing only on his power and his goal. Soon his movements became quicker, more lethal as it carved out small and quick whispers of air – and with each swipe and curve and curl, the choking strings grew to become thick yet delicate but deadly ribbons of crackling white and blue light.
Once Zuko could feel that he had generated enough, he circled his left arm in an anticlockwise motion while simultaneously circling his right arm in a clockwise motion – with his right foot forward, before bringing both hands close to his chest, his person illuminating with light that glowed ferociously from the lightning.
The undercover Fire Lord then immediately – in one clean, smooth movement, shot his right arm forward – aiming at a piece of wall next to Masuta, his left hand close to his hip, as cold-blooded fire roared and cackled as it surged from his inner fire through his arm, and escaping out through his fingertips – before clashing against the hard wall and burning in a large hole. The chilling burn leaving his body with the blast.
Zuko exhaled deeply, before returning to a relaxed position, all the while looking at the hole in the wall. He didn't completely puncture the wall, but he guessed that it would be lethal enough against a body.
Masuta was mildly impressed with his prodigy's work, his face carved with slight admiration. He then clapped heavily with his large hands as he approached Zuko.
"Well done for a rookie, Lee," he said with a nod. "But you're still weak, I must say. I assume it is from any unresolved issues you have. However you're doing an alright job of blocking them out a much as you can. It would be preferable if you could have more freedom in that thick skull of yours though. Other than that, excellent form and I like your control so far. Imagine the fury Shan or Nazuma will unleash on you if you really damaged their wall. We do more lethal work out in the field."
Zuko frowned. "What's wrong with a few holes in the wall? We can always patch them back up, plus we have more than enough reinforcement to keep the Sanctuary from burying us alive."
His Master shook his head with a smirk replacing his small smile of admiration.
"Rookie," he muttered. "You know, it's a good thing you're my prodigy, if not I wouldn't be telling you so much of this. But I think you'll be really favored by Shan and Nazuma when you show them your lightning progress. Let's just say that we have a back-up plan in case the Sanctuary is ever to be discovered. The Phoenix Sons are not dumb benders, Lee. Have more faith in us and what we stand and fight for. A found intruder won't make two feet into the Sanctuary without being blown apart."
Zuko raised his eyebrow. Masuta was definitely talking about a trap. A trap set up within the walls of the Sanctuary. Perhaps they used blasting jelly... There was no other reason why the walls couldn't take so much fire damage. Though he wondered if he could try getting more information about the trap out of Masuta. But that was near impossible unless he really got the approval of Shan and Nazuma – and he didn't have a lot of time...nor did he think that Shan and Nazuma are really that careless to just blurt their plan out, no matter how mundane it may seem.
"Masuta," a deep, almost hazy voice that resembled Hanzai's sounded from behind them. The two firebenders then turned to face a man who could easily compete against Hanzai in terms of skeletal figures. Zuko wondered if he was Hanzai's brother or something of the sort. If it weren't for the wider jaw and the lack of a ponytail, he would've thought they were twins.
When Masuta saw Skeleton Man #2, his expression immediately changed to stone.
"What is it?" he asked, his voice snappy and harsh.
"Shan and Nazuma want to see you. They're having a meeting. Find Qin and bring her along," the skinny man said, before turning on his heel and leaving them, entering a dark, barely lit tunnel. A tunnel, which Zuko had never gotten the chance to enter.
Masuta nodded, he then turned to Zuko. "Take a break. Maybe go help Bacca or something. I want to teach you more advanced lightning moves after this."
Zuko nodded and hopped off the training platform as Masuta left, only to find Onni and Amai standing in front of him with wide, disbelieving eyes.
"Bunglon is out," Amai gasped, her eyes getting wider and wider as she stared at the tunnel in which Skeleton Man #2 had disappeared into.
"Who?" Zuko asked, frowning, looking back at basically nothing but a tunnel. "What's out?"
"That man," Onni explained, pointing at the disappeared subject. "His name is Bunglon. He's one of Shan and Nazuma's favourite Master students. We've only seen him during the very first recruit. He never speaks, we've never seen his skills, but Shan and Nazuma keep him very close. He only speaks to them. No one else. He doesn't even show himself around here."
Zuko raised an eyebrow. He wondered if this...Bunglon was some sort of secret weapon with incredible firebending skills. And if what Onni said was true – something extremely important must be going on between the Masters and Shan and Nazuma, for Bunglon to suddenly make a public appearance.
"Any chance he might be related to Hanzai?" Zuko asked, almost light-heartedly.
Onni shook her head and chuckled, while Amai simply rolled her eyes.
"Well, we're off. We've got some private training to do. See you later, Lee," Onni said, before grabbing her younger sister by the arm and dragging her off.
Zuko pretended to make his leave, as his eyes made a quick but thorough enough scan around the training compound – and most importantly, where Onni and Amai were going. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see them walk into the same tunnel Bunglon entered.
There were only 19 days left until the next New Moon, there wasn't a doubt that this important meeting had something to do with the attack.
Making sure no one was looking, and trying hard not to look suspicious, Zuko quickly and quietly followed Onni and Amai, making sure to always look back and keep his distance. He thanked the Spirits that Amai was a loud chatterbox, allowing him to pinpoint their location. He eventually stopped at a dead end - after only one sharp left turn, in front of a generic metal door. He only knew it was somewhat more 'special' than the other rooms because of a large, red-painted Phoenix Son insignia on the door.
"So it's confirmed then? Bunglon was right?" he could hear Amai speak in the most serious tone he'd ever heard her speak in within that room – he would've been dumbstruck if it wasn't for the topic they were talking about. He was also amazed at how her voice carried in that tunnel. He didn't even need to press his ear against the door.
"Unfortunately as well as the other way around," Shan replied with a scoff.
"It was not easy," Bunglon's low voice followed. "One slip up and I could've gotten caught. I danced on thin, breaking ice to get this information for us."
"But you didn't, darling," Nazuma's harsh voice suddenly snapped. "This is great for us. Besides, even if you were found out, and if we found that out - you would be incinerated on the spot by me personally for being so careless. The location does not matter."
"I am actually shocked," Onni said, switching the subject quickly, the pitch of her voice heightening to emphasize her genuine surprise. "I mean..."
"It's not smack in your face obvious, definitely," Zuko heard Nazuma interrupt calmly. "But I've decided to tweak our plans a little bit in order to adapt to this...situation."
There was a brief silence, and Zuko assumed that everyone was silently agreeing or obeying.
"Maybe you should set your prodigy onto this new mission, sis," Shan said. "I'm sure this will be a good challenge."
"Hmm I suppose... If you're up for it of course, my dear..." Nazuma mused, followed by a too-long silence that Zuko did not like at all.
"What sort of mission?" Onni asked. Zuko wondered who was Nazuma's prodigy... Who she was sending to do who knows what. Were Nazuma and Shan hiding secret 'weapons' of their own? How much do they keep up their sleeves?
"I'll run it by you alone later," Nazuma said instead. "It won't be very much actually – so it's not that big of a challenge. Anyone could do it. I could send anyone. Amai, Onni, you, et cetera."
The prodigy wasn't being named - and Zuko heard no one else... He didn't even hear the other Masters like Qin. He inwardly cursed his rotten luck.
"What do we do in the mean time then?" Amai asked.
"Keep doing what you're doing then," Shan quickly said. "We have this great advantage thanks to Bunglon. We'll discuss more later, but we thought that you ought to know this earlier. Keep your guard up, understand?"
Zuko knew he heard enough – so he silently darted off before the door could open.
Amai and Onni were the only recruits he knew that were in that meeting with Shan, Nazuma and Bunglon. They were important... They were his only chances - unfortunately so.
"Hey, Lee!" Bacca greeted the older firebender when the latter entered their room. Bacca and Reza were both sitting cross-legged on the floor with two bowls of plain, half-eaten rice sitting in front of them, and three plates of dishes that Zuko could only guess was some overcooked meat.
"Grab a bowl, Lee!" Reza followed, waving his chopsticks in the air. "Girls are gone. Time for some man time! Only meat here, my man!"
"Not hungry," Zuko said monotonously, but joined the two guys anyway, sitting in between Reza and Bacca.
Bacca looked up at his older-brother-figure with a worried face, examining the serious and faraway look on Lee's face.
"Hey, Lee, is everything okay?" Bacca asked. "You look – down. Well, downer than usual."
Reza stifled a chuckle and elbowed Zuko in the arm – prompting the latter to shoot him a glare.
"Nah I bet he's just missing Tomi," Reza said jokingly with a wink. "Ya know. The man's got the burning desire for his gorgeous lady."
A deep blush pooled in Zuko's cheeks as Bacca suddenly lit up with understanding.
"Aw it's okay, Lee!" Bacca said cheerily, patting Zuko on the arm. "I bet Miss Tomi misses you a lot too! I miss her too, you know. She's really nice. Like a really awesome big sister."
Zuko couldn't help but crack a ghost of a smile at that comment. He did miss Katara a lot – but that wasn't what troubled him at the moment. He knew she was safe - for now...
"Well what's stopping Lee from seeing her? He can always pop over for a visit," Reza suggested with a shrug, finishing up his last few clumps of dry, overcooked rice. "Unless Masuta's got you chained to training and stuff. But I think Lee's earned a good break or two. He's got talent."
"Masuta said he was going to teach me more advanced techniques after his meeting with Bunglon and the Masters," Zuko said with a cool shrug.
Reza raised an eyebrow. "Of all people. You know, I never see or hear much about this Bunglon guy. But from what I heard he's really close to the Masters."
"He's supposed to be a Master himself," Bacca said. "I think he is a Master's prodigy."
Zuko's ears perked up at that. Nazuma's prodigy. The Masters were going to send Nazuma's prodigy for some secret mission. He wondered if it was going to be Bunglon.
"How much time do we have left before the attack?" Bacca asked, his gaze darting from Lee to Reza.
"Nineteen days," Zuko immediately answered, his voice dark and cold. "Almost three weeks. It's not a lot of time..."
"That's not a total boo," Reza commented, waving his chopsticks in the air. "I mean, at least we get to get it over with. I don't know about you but I don't exactly fancy sleeping like a badgermole. And come on, the cook's dishes are just...not sanitary. I am no royal hair fluffer but I still have my standards."
Zuko raised his eyebrow. "Why're you here anyway? What did Prince Zuko do to you?"
Reza shrugged. "I am mostly here to become a Master firebender, you know - reap the benefits. I mean I lost quite a lot of family members because they supported the Phoenix King. Demotion, exile, some death in battle... I'm here to avenge them."
Bacca nodded and punched his fist up into the air. "Yes, you must! We will not let a shameful prince disgrace us and oppress us!"
Zuko nearly scoffed. Oppression. Of everything he uses. Oppression.
"Well, I am getting more of the cook's unhygienic food," Bacca said, standing up with his empty bowl of rice. "As long as I get my energy."
Bacca's 'lack of energy' became quite questionable when he practically zoomed out of the room as quickly as a lightning strike.
"Why are you here then, Lee?" Reza asked, raising an eyebrow. "Personal reasons? Plans to subdue the other Nations? Our ultimate plan of World Dominance and total take over?"
Reza let out a sigh, and his shoulders slumped forward as if in defeat. This caught Zuko's attention - the hyper teen's sudden deflation. He had never seen Reza so...down.
"Can I confide something to you, Lee?" Reza asked quietly, his eyes refusing to meet Zuko's. "I just feel like I need to tell someone. The only person who knows is Onni. But I don't know... And... I couldn't with Bacca around because he's so...passionate."
Zuko frowned. It sounded rather...serious. And it could bear fruit. "What is it?"
Reza exhaled sharply and squared his shoulders, finally looking Zuko in the eye.
"I don't really want to be in this fight," Reza admitted instantly without pause or hesitation. "I mean, I am upset that my relatives are gone but... I don't hold any grudges against Fire Lord Zuko."
Zuko's eyes widened to a point where he feared his eyeballs just might pop out of their sockets.
Fire Lord Zuko.
"You don't support the rebel cause?" Zuko asked, his ears practically twitching out of desperate curiosity. "What, do you share Zuko's vision?"
Reza shrugged, and Zuko just about nearly wanted to shake the teen by the shoulders in order to make the latter more decisive.
"I don't really care to be honest," Reza continued. "I mean, I don't see the point of the Fire Nation acquiring so much power over the other Nations. What, the earth ruled by Fire? We're not invulnerable to our element, Lee. We can still burn. Too much fire – it will throw all of us into an eternal inferno. I am a patriot, don't get me wrong. I want my Nation to prosper. I do want us to be powerful. After all we are the element of power. But what good is this...great power if we're demolishing the rest? I don't particularly fancy saying this out of pride but...we need the other Nations. I am here for my own benefit. I am not here for this war."
Zuko's heart soared. He almost leapt in happiness at this small but meaningful revelation. It took every fiber of his being to not burst and reveal his identity to Reza. But that would be a dire mistake.
"But you will be fighting the Avatar, the Fire Lord... You won't be fighting for their submission, Reza," Zuko said slowly. "You will be fighting for their Death. Then Phoenix King Ozai will take over and shape his vision into our reality. You don't share this vision, but you're fighting for it."
Reza sighed and ran a hand through his hair, his face contorted into a look of utter frustration. "I know it looks...stupid. But you know, fighters get wounded all the time. And there're so many of us..."
"Why did you not join the Fire Lord?" Zuko asked, cutting Reza off. "It just doesn't seem worth it if you were to join a rebel cause when you don't even support it. Even if you want to acquire this level of firebending."
Reza's eyes widened and his face turned chilli red, and Zuko knew he was going to penetrate through a true secret. What baffled him was when Reza started blushing as heavily as he does whenever he gets teased about Katara. Suddenly he worried that all that blood in Reza's face might blow his head up or something.
"I...I...I" Reza stammered quickly, his gaze suddenly darting everywhere except on Zuko. "Uh... I...I...ehm...I..."
Zuko rolled his eyes. He sincerely hoped it wasn't purely to learn deadly firebending.
"I... I am... I am here for-for-...Onni..." Reza finally managed to grind out through clenched teeth.
At that moment, Zuko wondered how many times he had to be shocked in his lifetime.
"Onni?" It then hit Zuko – the only other person who knows about Reza's opinion on this entire mess was Onni.
Zuko eyed Reza, who suddenly seemed extremely uncomfortable to be in his position at the moment. The latter found great interest in the ceiling all of a sudden, and his hands were clawing at his shins to the point where Zuko was sure he would draw blood.
It hit him once again. Like a flash of lightning.
"You love her. You love Onni," Zuko stated, his jaw suddenly hanging open in shock. "You're here to protect her..."
Reza made eye contact with Zuko for a second, before immediately hanging his head, nodding limply.
"Amai is bloodthirsty. She truly is out for the Avatar and Fire Lord's blood. But Amai is Onni's younger sister... She can't leave Amai... And you can't leave Onni..." Zuko slowly said, putting the pieces together, still hardly believing... Onni and Reza.
"Onni shares my opinion! She's good! She's better than this!" Reza quickly said desperately, his head snapping up and his hands clawing at the ground in front of him as if he was begging Zuko of something. "She knows this fight is pointless and will only end in blood and fire! She is angry and upset, yes, but she does not support this! She wants peace! She knows better! But Amai is her younger sister! Her family! She cannot leave her sister! But Amai wants what the Phoenix King wants! What Shan and Nazuma want! Oh Spirits, Lee, please keep this to yourself! I know you're not out for blood like the rest of them! I know you're like us!"
Zuko's eyes widened. "What makes you say so?"
Reza cracked a small, relieved smile. "I am not Bacca, Lee. I am not dumb or whatever. I notice stuff. You're an interesting one. You don't speak like the rebels. Your reasons to be here are...beyond vague. I don't know why you're here... But I do know that you are not one of them..."
And for the first time as a faux Phoenix Son...Zuko smiled.
"You're not as stupid as I thought," was all Zuko could muster.
Reza grinned, and his face lit up as if the world had been lifted off his shoulders. But a dark expression loomed over his features within seconds.
"So far we are the only ones," he said quietly. "I have to keep Onni safe, Lee. She may be one of the greatest talents here... But...she's one of us. I can't leave her. Not alone. Not with them."
Zuko nodded, understanding. He truly admired Reza for being so loyal and protective of Onni – and he knew that he would do the same for Katara in a heartbeat, no questions asked.
"Why are you here though, Lee?" Reza asked. "I mean, Tomi is not here..."
Zuko could not reveal his identity. It was too much of a risk. He could not put himself and everyone he held dear in such danger.
"Let's just say we share similar reasons for being here," Zuko said. "I am also protecting the ones I love."
Reza grinned, and gathered all of his empty dishes before standing up.
"Well, I'll just clean up. Wouldn't want to continue this bonding session before Bacca comes bursting in," he said. "Good luck to you, Lee."
Zuko nodded in his roommate's direction. "You too."
Only when Reza left the room did Zuko realize that everything could've been a lie – and he could've just dug his own grave.
At the end of his final training for the day, Masuta had never been prouder of his 'prodigy'.
"Good work, Lee. You catch on quick after knowing how to generate lightning, as weak as your lightning actually is," Masuta said, clapping Zuko over the back – nearly sending the latter toppling forward. "I think you're ready to learn how to wield it. Like the weapon it is."
Zuko raised an eyebrow at Masuta. "Wield it?"
Masuta ignored his question. "What weapon are you most comfortable with? Axe? Sword? Dagger? Whip?"
The Fire Lord frowned. "I am most familiar with dual Dao swords..." he replied. "Why?"
Once again Masuta ignored his question. "You can ask Qin about our weaponry if you want to use the swords here. But I suggest you to use your own – because you know your own weapons best."
Zuko nodded and ran his sweat-dampened towel through his hair, roughly scrubbing his scalp with the damp, gritty material.
"You're dismissed. I want you here tomorrow before dawn with your weapons," Masuta instructed, before waving Zuko off.
As Zuko left, a small but satisfied smile spread on his lips –
"Onni, I want you and Amai to transfer rooms," Nazuma said to the young woman, as she paced back and forth in her room. Onni stood in front of the door, her hands clasped in front of her like a proper lady.
"Why?" Onni asked, her eyes widening.
"Don't question me, dear," Nazuma snapped - with a tone that was both equally sweet and scathing. "Just do as I say. I have already had Amai transfer your things to Qin's room. I want both of you training extra hard, day and night. Both of you are the greatest talents here. I want you two to be absolutely perfect on the day of the attack. You are to train with the elite group."
A small smile spread across Onni's face. "That's an honour, Nazuma! I thank you!"
"One more thing...and you are forbidden to question this. Only know that this is for your own good."
Onni nodded obediently. "Anything, my lady."
Nazuma stopped her pacing and looked at Onni dead-straight in the eye, a sly smile picking up at one corner of her lips. "You and Amai are not to leave the Master's or my sight after this. You are not to mingle with your old roommates, or any of the other recruits that are not within my personal, elite team. Basically, you are to be kept here and here only with us."
This chapter(I am pretty sure some of you can tell) did not go as originally planned! I have to do some serious tweaking to the storyline after this! *cue headache*
I hope you enjoyed this chapter! Read and Review(constructively)~ and all that jazz.
Who do you think is Nazuma's prodigy? What do you think Bunglon found out? What do you think is going to happen? ;)