If It's War You Want...
The Fire Nation soldiers were closing. Sokka felt his breath burning in his chest as he hugged the amulet to himself, running as though his life depended on it. Which, come to think of it, it probably did. The Fire Nation was unlikely to run them down, take the amulet, and then leave peacefully.
Even if they did, we'd still be screwed. The last thing we need is for the Fire Lord to get all the knowledge of Avatar Roku.
They reached an intersection, and Sokka paused. "Which way?"
"I don't know!" Aang allowed his air-scooter to lapse, and dropped to his feet. "I lost track!"
"That building looks familiar—"
"Now is not the time for jokes, Toph!" Katara wiped the sweat from her brow—her hand never touched her face; water-bending did the real work. "I'm pretty sure it's straight ahead. Sokka, you go that way; take Momo and Aang. Toph, to the left; I'll go right."
Katara glanced behind her, and saw that the party of Fire Benders, uncertain as to which of them was carrying the amulet, had split up. Four were behind her. One of them reached back and launched a lightning bolt down the street.
She jumped up, and reached out with one hand. Water was all around her, even here in the Fire Nation. A horse-trough bubbled and splashed out, intercepting the lightning bolt and grounding it out.
"Fine. You want to play that way?"
She invoked her power again, this time affecting her own blood. She twisted in mid-air, and came to rest hovering four feet off the ground.
It wasn't the first time she'd used Blood Bending, not even the first time it had been used on her. She'd sworn not to use it again, but...
"I guess it's time the gloves come off."
She pointed at the soldier who'd thrown the lightning bolt. Pretty advanced stuff for a Fire Bender. I'd better answer in kind.
The soldier froze as she seized control of the water in his veins. Then he started to bend. He screamed in pain, as his moisture-laden body was contorted into shapes befitting a drug-induced hallucination. Then his screams were cut short, and the only sound coming from him was the snapping of badly-tortured bones.
She dropped him, suddenly becoming aware of a pounding headache. Better not use this trick again... She dispelled her Blood Bending levitation, dropping to her feet, then scowled at the three remaining soldiers.
"Anyone else feeling lucky?"
Another soldier raised his hands, and a nearby candle-flame flared. She didn't give him time to finish the move.
A dessicated corpse fell to the ground, as she violently ripped all the moisture from his body. She shifted her hands, as though pushing, and the water lashed outward, thinning into a very high-pressure stream. Powerful enough to rip the next soldier's head clear off his neck.
The last soldier paused, obviously reconsidering her as a threat. But he clearly had his orders; he raised his hand, and a gout of flame leapt from the candle to his hand, then down the alley towards her.
She pulled the water back, intercepting the flame, and destroying both. The Fire Bender drew his hand back, preparing another bolt.
She didn't give him the time. Blood Bending once again, she grabbed him and lifted him from the ground. Then she froze every drop of water inside him.
She dropped him, watching with detached interest as his corpse shattered into a thousand pieces. Then the reality of what she'd just done caught up with her.
"I killed them...Oh, sacred Moon, I killed them all..."
Luckily, that horse-trough was still nearby.
By the age of twelve, Toph Bei Fong was the greatest fighter in Gaoling. An unusual accomplishment, both because of the quality of the competition—Earth Rumble was open only to Earth Benders—and because of her blindness. And the fact that she was only twelve. Some people also said that being a girl was a mark against her.
Not that she cared about what anybody said.
Her Earth Bending senses—which she'd long honed to replace her sight—told her that she was about to be overtaken by her pursuers.
Sometimes, it sucks being so small.
She hastily erected a wall of stone, fast enough that her pursuers couldn't stop in time and smacked into it. Then turned to face them.
She snorted. Metal armour, swords and shields...these guys probably aren't Benders. No challenge at all.
Her seismic sense gave her only an instant of warning, and she ducked under the swing of the lead soldier's sword.
But they're fast...I'd better put them down fast.
She felt downwards, and her Earth Bending informed her that underneath the packed sand was...more packed sand.
The sand underneath her assailant boiled upward, tossing him into the air. She excavated a hole twenty feet deep by five wide, then held the sand in the air until her attacker fell through it and into the hole.
Then she very neatly put it back in place.
Wouldn't do to make a mess, now, would it? Besides, I might trip.
The other two kept coming. She didn't want to kill them, but they didn't seem to have any compunctions about doing her in. So...
The second closed to sword range, and she ducked, reading his moves from the vibrations in the Earth. Her hand touched his breastplate; it was all the contact she needed.
Metal Bending was thought to be impossible, but she'd learned to seek out the silica impurities in forged metal. The soldier's breastplate buckled, then re-shaped, in the form of a massive spike. One going into his chest.
She dodged to the side, ignoring the man's scream of pain, and stomped her foot. A rock, buried two feet below the surface, burst into the air. Her fingers brushed it, and it shot towards the third soldier. Only to be deflected, with a loud clang, off his shield.
She reached to the side, to the brick wall her senses had picked out. A large brick was plucked from the wall, and she fired it towards him. It, too, was deflected.
She scowled, and this time, applied far more power to the wall. The bricks collapsed inward, and she compressed them in on one another. Sweat beaded her brow; she had maybe three more seconds before the soldier reached her...
Every brick in the house flew into the air, pulled into her grasp and compressed down to the size of a pebble. But a pebble that weighed as much as the entire house. And then, with every scrap of power remaining to her, she fired it at him.
Again came the clang, but it was followed immediately by a meaty thunk as the projectile smashed through the shield and then through the soldier's chest. And once free of her power, it began to expand. The sounds that reached her ears told her that it hadn't made it more than half-way through the man before starting to expand.
Well, that's going to take a while to clean up.
Then she dodged to the left, as a sword nearly took her head off.
There's four? How did I miss him?
Too much interference, she realized. The unsettled sand, the compression of the bricks; he probably was lighter on his feet than the others, and their tread masked him—no, her. Yes, one of the Fire Nation's female assassins.
She stomped her foot again, and a jet of sand exploded under her feet. She shifted her stance, and fired the sand straight into the face of her attacker with all the force she could muster.
She was rewarded with a loud, high-pitched scream that trailed off into a gurgle. The sand had abraded the woman's skin, destroying her eyeballs and tearing the flesh down to the bone. Toph winced; this was not merely killing. It was torture.
"Sorry," she said. She knelt, and picked up the woman's sword, but realized it was already moot; the woman had quickly bled to death.
They weren't going to out-run their pursuers. And they had to. Which left Aang only one choice. He stopped running, and turned to face them.
"What are you doing?" Sokka skidded to a halt. "They'll kill you!"
"If they get the amulet, they'll kill everyone." He glanced over his shoulder. "Go! I'll hold them off!"
"You're just a kid—"
"I'm the Avatar!" yelled Aang. "Now go!"
Sokka hesitated, then turned and ran, Momo flapping desperately behind him.
The four Fire Nation soldiers slowed as they approached. They seemed wary, and Aang grinned.
They ought to be.
"Just surrender now, little boy," the leader called out in a sing-song voice. "We already got the girls."
"Liars." He tightened his stance. A strong whirlwind ought to slow them down, and I can use it to take flight...
The leader raised his hand, and called up a bolt of fire, and then threw it. Aang started to dodge, then realized that the bolt wasn't going to hit him—
He pushed a cushion of air, deflecting the bolt. It wasn't meant for me, but for Sokka! Come on, turn a corner or something...
"I've heard that this kid respects all life," said one of the other soldiers. "Doesn't even eat meat."
"Really?" The leader glanced over to one of the nearby houses. Like most of those around the city, it had a thatched roof. "Surrender, boy, or we'll start burning people out of their houses."
Aang swallowed heavily. They'd do it, too, wouldn't they?
Then he heard the crack of a lightning bolt, and a scream.
He jetted forwards, his air-scooter appearing without conscious thought, and slammed into the leader. A blast of air sent the man flying into the wall.
The other three immediately turned and opened fire. Pain wracked his frame as the fire burned his skin.
He latched onto the air around one of them, pulling it away from him; it wasn't enough to suffocate him, but the man dropped to the ground, screaming. He shifted the drawn air underneath another, and blasted him into the sky with a massive overpressure wave.
The third had his sword out, and charged towards him, screaming. Aang grinned, though there was no mirth in his eyes. A twitch of his wrist, and air poured into the man's mouth and nose, overpressuring him. He dropped to the ground, blood frothing from his face.
He leaned to the side, as a lightning bolt crackled past him, and turned to face the leader, the one he'd thought he'd knocked out. The man was standing again, lightning crackling between his hands.
"You're good, kid. But the best of Fire Benders can control the lightning. A little more potent than just some hot air."
"Idiot," snapped Aang. "Where do you think lightning comes from?"
He raised a hand, and raised the winds again. This time, rather than a cyclone, he pushed two masses across the target, one coming towards him and one going away.
It took less than a second to create enough static to flash-fry the man.
Aang lowered his hand, and sighed.
"At least I left two of them alive."
A body slammed into the ground, causing him to jump.
"Make that one..."
But a quick check of the fourth revealed that he might have been alive, but he would never be the same. A blank stare had replaced his angry sneer, and his face was mottled with burst blood vessels. Aang bit back a curse—one that even Katara would slap him for uttering—and clicked open his glider.
"I don't know what came over me," muttered Katara. "I hate using Blood Bending. And this is why. It makes me..." She broke off, and leaned against the rail of the ferry, staring down at the water.
"I tried not to kill them," said Aang. "But it was the only way I could stop them."
Toph turned to face them. "What the hell is wrong with you two?"
Aang and Katara blinked.
"This is a war! Sure, I don't like killing, and I won't do it if I have an alternative. But they started this, not us. And if we have to kill, then we do it!"
"I don't know about your opponents, but mine were definitely going for the kill." Toph pointed at Aang. "I can sense that you're injured. So likely they were throwing fire at you." She pointed next at Katara. "And you said that the ones that attacked you were throwing lightning bolts."
"The Fire Nation aren't messing around. Their Benders use powers that can easily injure, cripple or kill. And you two have been going soft on them!" She jerked a thumb at Sokka. "At least this idiot uses a sword!"
"She's right," mumbled Katara.
Aang turned to stare at Katara in shock. "She is?"
"Aang, Azula nearly killed you. If I hadn't had the Spirit Water, she would have succeeded." She looked up. "If we can't treat this like a war, then we're going to lose. So I say that if we can spare their lives, we do so. But if we can't...then we won't."