City of Spite and Spies

by Niels van Eekelen




Avatar: The Last Airbender is, of course, the property of Nickelodeon. Or so they think—I'm sure Toph has other ideas.

Fair warning: The following is a oneshot and will not be continued unless someone else feels inclined to do so. If so, let me know where I can read it.




With an annoyed sigh, Aang grimaced. He would have to return to Ba Sing Se, no matter how much he disliked the place. The entire world had changed so much during his hundred years away, but Ba Sing Se of all places had to stay exactly the same.

But Aang was the Avatar, and it was his sacred duty to keep the peace and stop injustice all over the world. (No matter if he had saved that world once already, three years ago.) And for these three Earth Kingdom nobles to actually seek out the Avatar's intervention, it had to be serious. They'd even managed to track him down here in the Fire Nation capital, during one of his irregular visits to check up on Firelord Zuko's progress in reforming the nation.

"Fine," he said, and saw the immediate relief in the nobles' eyes. "I'll come to Ba Sing Se as soon as my meetings with Firelord Zuko are over. Appa will fly me there, so you will have to leave right away if you want to be back by the time I get there." It was a not so subtle hint. Aang didn't want to foist these bootlickers on Zuko for any longer than necessary, and the people of the Earth Kingdom rarely understood subtlety.

Muttering their thanks, the nobles started bowing and moving backwards out of the audience chamber. For all that they had come to beg for Aang's assistance, they seemed as eager to get away from them as he was for them to leave.

Pondering the task ahead of him, Aang petted Momo's head, and the lemur purred happily. Suddenly, Aang frowned. "Wait—hold on!"

The nobles froze in their steps.

Aang looked the one still closest to him in the eye, the youngest of the nobles. A city governor from the middle ring of Ba Sing Se, he had said, Ding something-or-other. "Who exactly is this leader of the Dai Li that's causing all this trouble? You people didn't put Long Feng back in charge, did you?" he asked suspiciously.

The startled, worried looks the three Earth Kingdom nobles exchanged did nothing to put the young Avatar at ease. Honestly, if the Earth King had given Long Feng power over the secret police again, he was tempted to let the Kingdom work things out by itself. Aang and his friends had had enough trouble with Long Feng during the war—they had as good as lost the city of Ba Sing Se because of the man's manipulations!

"You don't know, your Avatarness?" Ding something-or-other said hesitantly.

Aang just grimaced. Obviously he did not.

"How long has it been since you were last in Ba Sing Se?

Aang frowned. "Not since the coronation of the new Earth King and the end-of-war celebrations," he said. "So almost three years. Why?" Yes, he had avoided the city while traveling and performing his Avatarly duties, and no, he did not feel the slightest bit guilty.

Once again, the three nobles exchanged nervous glances. It was starting to unsettle Aang, and Momo hissed as he accidentally petted him a bit hard.

Finally, apparently having lost the wordless standoff and having been elected to speak, Ding turned back to him.

"There is a saying that has become popular in the Earth Kingdom over the past few years," the man said. "'In Ba Sing Se, justice is blind.'"




In her private gardens in Ba Sing Se, Toph Bei Fong sat on the earth, waited, and listened. She had been attempting to meditate for some time now, but as always found it impossible to disconnect from the world. The soles of her feet remained on the ground, of course. There was no sense in blinding herself—and if she interpreted the muffled vibrations on the terracotta roof behind her correctly, that caution had just been vindicated.

Two people, a man and a woman. The woman was an Earthbender, and she was using that skill to still the vibrations of her footfalls. It was actually quite clever—Toph made a mental note to find a way to counter it later—and might have worked, if she hadn't reached out to steady herself with her hands so often. Toph snorted. An Earthbender unsteady on her feet. The woman would never even have made it into Earth Rumble like that.

When they struck, Toph was ready. Again, their strategy was better than their execution—there must have been a mastermind behind this. The Earthbender attacked big, loudly. Leaping from the roof, she landed slamming her heel into the ground and opening a chasm in the ground, splitting the earth as it raced towards Toph.

With a jerk of her chin to the left, Toph stole the chasm's momentum, directing it sideways. It stopped before it reached her and widened, the ground crumbling away under the foot of the Earthbender standing at its far end so that she tumbled into it. Loose earth covered the woman up to her neck and solidified into rock. She barely had room to breathe, but she'd live.

Meanwhile, the other assassin had launched himself from his rooftop to the other side, flying through the air towards Toph with his long knife at the ready. Obviously, the two had counted on the noise of the Earthbending attack distracting Toph so that she wouldn't notice the man until he was in the air and out of reach of her senses. Too bad that she had sensed exactly how hard and at what angle he had pushed off.

Toph squeezed the small rock under her right hand, and it began to disintegrate. Tiny fragments of rock shot towards the remaining assassin so fast that the bang of each launch melded into a continuous rattattat.

There was a shriek, and the man tumbled to the ground. Feeling the earth, Toph noted with satisfaction that her aim had been true. The man lay clutching his legs in pain. Unless he found a Waterbender to heal him, it would be a while before he could walk again, but he too would live.

The action over, Toph's six bodyguards finally arrived outside. They were clearly not surprised to find that their leader had already dealt with the matter. That was very nice, but Toph was a bit beyond needing praise for her skills nowadays. What she really needed was a bit of competency around her.

"You let another pair through," she spoke without turning her head. "I'd almost think you rockfists are doing it on purpose. You don't want to get rid of me, do you? That would really hurt my feelings."

Ignoring the bodyguards' pleas for forgiveness and their proclamations of loyalty as they fell to their knees and bowed their heads, Toph waved a hand dismissively, still not turning.

"Take them away," she said. "Find out who hired them. And there might be a third assassin involved, a planner. Find him before I come find you."

Eager to be out of her presence, the men retrieved the female Earthbender from the ground and dragged the two captives off to the interrogation rooms. Two of them stayed behind and restored the damage the brief battle had done to the garden, but soon they were gone as well.

Toph sighed. Second assasination attempt this week. Two assassination attempts every week (plus one every other weekend), like clockwork. There were too many bureaucrats in Ba Sing Se clinging to their schedules and regularity. Oh well. There were less bureaucrats there now than when Toph had arrived. And there would be less still before she was done.

Climbing to her feet, she dug her toes into the dirt, sending out tendrils of sensation throughout the palace grounds to check for anyone out of place—but her agents and servants knew better than even to speak out of turn so nearby. She turned and walked back inside. No chance of reaching a peaceful meditative state now.

Like it? Then why not check out my original fantasy saga FULCRUM, available in e-book on Amazon Kindle and Smashwords, or start reading for free on my website TelltaleProductions dot nl (link in profile).