Chapter 3: A Meeting of Minds
*Super Long Chapter Warning*
Naruto woke the next day, holding onto Mai as her head rested on his chest, one of her hands resting on his stomach. A small, happy smile curled her lips as she dozed. She had probably awoken earlier than him, but had rested on him for long enough to fall back asleep.
Naruto leaned over and kissed her gently, her eyes fluttering before slowly half-opening, her amber irises locking onto his blue. "There's no better way to wake up than like this, is there?"
The blonde smiled and pulled her into a tender embrace. "None at all." He agreed.
Mai sighed slightly, before pulling away. "I better get back to my own room before my parents freak out."
She slipped out from under the covers, giving Naruto quite the view as she bent to grab her gown from the night before. "I'll talk to you later, okay?" She smiled coyly at him before leaving the room.
Naruto sighed as he got up and dressed, looking over his white, black and blue armor critically. This is too Water Tribe. I need something a little more Fire Nation. With a small smirk, he flicked his wrist, the colors shifting and changing.
The black was more prominent and shinier, more like obsidian, while the blue changed to crimson and became more prominent and the white changed to amber highlights.
Now, his armor looked like something a Fire Nation noble would wear. The boots were similar to what most citizens of the Fire Nation wore, with the exception of the curled toe, with a line of gold traveling up the front. His pants were mostly black with crimson highlights, loose for easier movement, as was the style for every bender. His shirt was short-sleeved and a dark crimson. He wore a pair of black bracers on his forearms that connected to a pair of fingerless gloves.
Over that, was his armor. Greaves covered the top of his feet and the shins, along with thigh armor connected to a girdle that was made from scale-like armor that shifted when he did for easier movement. Over his chest was a triangular cuirass that covered his chest and most of his stomach, as well as the shoulders and back, made of plated dark red metal. The neck had half-masks sewn into it to be drawn up to cover most of his face when needed. He also wore a pair of gauntlets that covered the entire forearm with small hooks, as well as the back of his hand and the first knuckle of all his fingers. The final piece was a long cloak with a hood, the cloak having small rings sewn into the edges to catch the hooks on his arms. This allowed him to use it like a glider.
After fitting the last piece on himself, he exited the room to look for the governor. After asking a servant, Naruto found the governor eating breakfast with his family on the veranda.
The mad noticed him and shuffled to his feet quickly, hastily wiping his mouth on a napkin. "Ah, excuse me! I didn't think you'd be on your feet at this time. Oh, where are my manners? My name Kanjo, this is my wife Kai, my daughter Mai and my son, Bo. Might we know the name of the man who saved us from those Rebels?"
Naruto bowed at the waist. "My name is Naruto, and I simply did what anyone would do to help a family, sir."
Kanjo smiled beatifically. "Well, I'd still like to thank you for the help. Might I inquire about what you were doing that night?"
The blonde rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. "I was trying to study the statue of Fire Lord Ozai…I'm an architect's apprentice, you see. I never made it to the statue, though it was worth missing if it helped in the long run."
Kai smiled brightly at the young man. "Well I'm glad you did. Why don't you pull up a seat and have breakfast with us? And Mai, thank the young man for saving us."
Mai sighed and rolled her eyes. "Thanks for saving my family, I guess…"
Naruto gave her a nervous look, before sitting down with them and eating breakfast. After they had eaten their fill and the food was cleared away, Mai took a spot on a stool, waiting with a placid look on her face. Kai had set Bo in a play area, though the toddler had his eyes firmly set on a bowl of lychee nuts.
The governor opened his mouth, but the dirge of hundreds moaning in unison drew all of their attention to the view from the balcony.
All of the citizens of Omashu were stumbling around, covered in red dots and groaning, heading in the general direction of the gate.
Naruto's sharp eyes picked out Sokka, Aang, Katara and Yue, who were shuffling with the rest. I see they took the 'pentapox' idea to another level…though I wonder why they're leaving; I thought Aang wanted to see King Bumi?
Mai surreptitiously glanced at Naruto, who shrugged back. "What in the world is going on?" Kanjo called out incredulously.
Unknown to them, Momo had spotted the bowl of nuts and was currently eating from it greedily. Bo had spotted the flying lemur's tail and latched onto it, startling Momo, who jumped out of the window, pulling the toddler out with him.
Through a series of lucky coincidences, Bo was completely fine when got to the ground, and he crawled off after the lemur, his parents unaware that he was missing.
Later that night, the rest of the Gaang sat around a small fire along with the citizens and soldiers of Omashu.
"Man, I can't believe Bumi would surrender like that." Sokka muttered with a shake of his head.
"I don't know," Aang said, "But I intend to find out."
Katara was fidgeting worriedly with her fingers, as she had been doing all night and day. "What about Naruto? Do you think he's safe in there? Maybe they're torturing him for information about us?!"
Yue, as she had done all day, reassured Katara with soothing words. "Don't worry about him, Katara, he'll be fine. He's pretty well traveled and a smooth talker, so don't be afraid for him, okay?"
Katara relaxed marginally, but Yue knew she would go right back to worrying in a few minutes.
A giggle and a screech from Momo drew their attention to a small boy trying to grab Momo's tail. He was dressed in Fire Nation clothes, something that set alarm bells off in their heads. "Uh oh…" Sokka muttered. "I think we have one extra."
Katara picked Bo up and sat him in her lap, worry on her face for someone besides Naruto. "This isn't good. How do you think the governor will react to this?"
"That cunning King Bumi…surrendering without a fight, only to have his men steal my son away? Genius!" Kanjo muttered to himself while stroking his chin anxiously.
Kai had collapsed into a chair and was sobbing inconsolably. "Oh my baby!" She wailed. "I can't imagine what they're putting him through right now!"
"A big boy eats his vegetables! Don't you want to grow up big and strong?" Katara asked in a babyish voice.
"Katara!" Sokka whined plaintively. "Not in front of other people!"
Bo stared and giggled at them as Yue spoon-fed him mashed vegetables. Aang snickered behind his hand at the sight of Katara trying to make her brother eat some greens.
"Now you will eat your veggies young man or no dessert for you!" Katara scolded her brother.
"Katara, I'm older than you!"
"Oh, I can't stand it!" She cried out. Mai sighed and handed her a handkerchief she pulled out of her pocket.
Naruto locked gazes with Mai, and unspoken question passing between them. Are they always this dramatic?
Mai nodded once. Definitely.
Naruto sighed and palmed his face in distress. This is going to be a long night.
(The Next Day)
Azula rode into Omashu in a royal palanquin with a procession of soldiers and a girl her age, wearing a pink, mid-riff baring outfit with fluffy legs, her long brown hair tied into a braid and a bright smile on her face.
Another procession, this time with the haggard governor and his wife, along with an irritated Naruto and Mai, met them halfway to the mansion.
The governor bowed hastily, as did everyone else. "Princess Azula, I apologize for not coming earlier, I've been negotiating with a band of Rebels who have kidnapped my son."
Azula lifted a single well-plucked and shaped eyebrow. "Oh really? Well let this be a lesson to you to pay attention to your son more often."
The girl in pink with her had cart-wheeled ahead and glomped Mai, happily cheering, "Mai! It's so good to see you again!"
Mai rolled her eyes in exasperation before patting her on the back. "Nice to see you as well, Ty Lee. Still happy, I see."
Ty Lee peered over Mai's shoulder, locking eyes with a smiling set of sapphire. She winked slyly at Naruto, before jumping off Mai and getting into his face with a wide smile. "And who's this? You have such a bright aura!" She blushed slightly. "He's cute, too. You have good taste, Mai."
Mai flushed uncharacteristically, sputtering. "He-he's not my boyfriend! I just met him yesterday!"
Azula stepped out of her palanquin and smirked arrogantly at Naruto. "And who are you?"
Kanjo stepped forward hastily. "Ah, this is just a traveler who saved my family from a sneak attack from Rebel Earthbenders, named Naruto."
The princess narrowed her eyes on him and smiled nastily. "Say, 'Naruto', are you any good at combat? Your armor would tell someone else that you are, but it tells me that you need protection from those more skilled."
Naruto looked entirely unfazed. "It's a dangerous world, Princess. Anything to survive."
Ty Lee draped herself over Naruto's shoulders with a wide grin. "Oh, lay off him, Azula! He's too cute for you to drive him away! Besides, he's also free for the taking!" She exclaimed while rubbing her cheek against his whiskered one.
Kanjo spoke up again. "If I may ask, princess, what is it that you are doing here?"
Azula sniffed haughtily. "I came to find Mai. I'm putting together a team to hunt down my traitorous brother and uncle, and I could use her skills. But, while I'm here, I might as well deal with this."
Kanjo blanched slightly, before bowing hurriedly. "Of course, Princess Azula."
The princess looked over Naruto and scoffed slightly. "Are you powerful, peasant?"
Naruto shrugged slightly, lifting Ty Lee and making her giggle. "There are benders stronger than I am, but I can hold my own in a fight."
Azula eyed him arrogantly. "I'm sure. Well, follow me, and we'll see how skilled you are. Who knows, if you're lucky I may ask you to join us on our mission?"
Naruto bowed shortly. "As you wish."
She turned to Kanjo. "We'll handle the negotiations from now on. Where were you going to meet these Rebels?"
"On the scaffolding near Lord Ozai's statue. The crane is the only thing that can lift Bumi's constraints." Kanjo explained, bowing again.
Azula scoffed and motioned for the other three to follow her. They made their way up the mountain, stopping once they were completely sure that they were alone.
After getting the all clear from Mai, Azula broke out in a happy smile, as did Ty Lee. "Naruto!" The bubbly pink girl cheered and glomped onto the blonde happily.
She pulled back and looked him dead in the eyes, grabbing his cheeks with both hands. "You have no idea how long I've waited to do this." And then Ty Lee smashed her lips to his passionately, arms around his shoulders and pulling him tightly to her. She licked his lips, begging to be given access. He obliged and pulled her tongue into his mouth, allowing her to explore to her heart's content.
Azula watched with visible amusement, and Mai chuckled as, after five minutes, Naruto and Ty Lee hadn't separated.
After air had become enough of an issue to suffocate them, the two separated, panting heavily.
"Wow," Naruto commented. "I saw you last week."
Ty Lee grinned happily. "Well, it's been so hard to pretend that it's taking a toll on my aura! The only way to bring it back to it's usual color is to make out with you!"
Mai pulled a pouting Ty Lee off of Naruto as Azula came forward and claimed his lips for herself. They broke apart with a sigh of relief coming from Azula. "It's so trying to pretend for so long," She complained, "Even my attitude annoys me."
Naruto threw an arm around her and Ty Lee with a smile. "Just a little while longer, ladies. And then we'll be able to walk hand-in-hand down the main street of any Nation."
They made it to the section of scaffolding where Yue, Aang, Katara and Sokka waited, Yue holding Bo in her arms. Behind the Fire Nation group, a madly cackling Bumi was lifted by a crane into the air. "Hello, Aang!"
Yue approached them warily, hiding a smirk as Naruto winked at them. As Mai stepped forward to bring Bumi down, Azula sidled up beside her and whispered loudly in her ear, "Wait, Mai. Is this really worth it? A powerful Earthbender for a toddler?"
Mai appeared indecisive for about half a second, before she nodded. "You're right," She agreed, "Deal's off."
The crane holding Bumi began to pull him away and Naruto subtly took a step back, behind Azula and the girls.
"No! Bumi!" Aang shouted, ducking as a blue fireball shot over his head, fired by Azula. As he bent back up, his cap came loose, showing his arrow tattoo.
Azula's eyes widened, before narrowing in pleasure. "Ah, the Avatar. I didn't think that I would get to meet you so soon…I have to say, I'm not that impressed."
Naruto bent a blast of air at the girls, stumbling them and giving Aang enough time to jump off of the scaffolding and onto Bumi's metal box, where he began blowing on the chain to freeze it.
"Traitor!" Azula hissed venomously at Naruto, before she chased after the swinging crane. Naruto followed after her while Mai and Ty Lee engaged Yue, Katara and Sokka.
Ty Lee went after Sokka first, dodging his wild swings with his machete nimbly, punching his arm softly in a few specific spots.
To Sokka's horror, his arm immediately went limp. He ducked and rolled underneath a kick, coming up to pull his boomerang out and hurl it at Ty Lee's head. She moved her head an inch to the side, letting the metal zip past her. She closed the distance and punched him lightly in the chest, paralyzing most of his body.
Ty Lee stuck her face close to his and examined him, before smiling widely. "Hey, you're kinda cute, you know!"
Sokka looked at her incredulously, before his boomerang came back and slammed into the back of her head, with enough momentum to continue into his face.
Sokka lay on the ground, furiously trying to make his body move while Ty Lee was unconscious.
Yue and Katara used their water to block the sharp projectiles, trying to whip or trap Mai, who dodged with surprising speed. She jumped forward and dodged underneath simultaneous whips, missing Katara with a needle but stabbing the other into Yue's arm.
The white haired princess gasped in pain and clutched her limb, which refused to move.
Mai smirked. "I may not be Ty Lee, but I can still take away your bending."
Aang finally froze the chain enough to shatter it with one swing of his staff. Unluckily, they were hanging in mid-air. Fortunately, they landed in one of Omashu's mail chutes, sliding down the ramp at a blistering pace.
Azula saw them race past her, Aang childishly sticking his tongue out at her as he passed. Am expression of rage crossed her face, before she kicked a stone cart into the chute and jumped on the lip, practically surfing after Aang and Bumi.
Naruto followed them, bending metal bolts out of the scaffolding to form a thin sheet of metal that took an oblong shape, which he used to actually surf down the chute after them.
"Just wait a few seconds, Bumi! Once we get away I'll free you!" Aang called out over the sound of metal grinding on stone.
"Aang!" Bumi tried to shout, but was cut off as the Avatar spun his staff rapidly, dissipating a blast of fire from Azula, who was following close behind them.
"Hold on, Bumi!" He shouted, blasting a wall of air at the side of chute, crashing through the side and shooting off into air, landing in another chute.
Azula managed to do a similar thing, using Firebending to push her cart out of the chute and into the other.
Aang cheered as they slid down the chute like a bullet. "Just like old times, eh Bumi?"
The mad king of Omashu tried to get Aang to listen to him. "Aang! I need to talk to you!"
But Aang misheard. "I missed you too, buddy!"
"No, Aang, listen!"
Another blast of fire shot over Aang's head, drawing a cry of alarm from him and Bumi. Behind them, Azula charged another fire blast, shooting it at them quickly.
Aang inhaled deeply before launching a compressed ball of air at the fire, which exploded as Azula's cart slid through it.
The cart cleared the smoke, bereft of Azula. Aang breathed a sigh of relief, before sucking it back in as she hopped out of the cart and back onto the lip, launching a spinning fire blast that Aang would not be able to just blow away.
Bumi, tired of being ignored, thrust his chin up with a grunt and a flex of his muscles, bending a spike of earth out of the chute.
The fire ball impacted into the rock, barely chipping the stone.
Azula's eyes widened as she hurtled towards the rock, jumping off at the last second, avoiding being a splatter on the chute. She landed on her feet and slid a few meters before stopping, but the annoyed look on her face would send most men running.
Not Naruto, however.
With a screech of metal, he zipped past her, grabbing the collar of her armor and pulling her onto his back a she screamed in surprise. "Yo!"
She punched his back before clutching him tightly. "Don't ever surprise me like that again, Naruto!"
He laughed loudly. "Really now?"
With a twist of his feet, he sent the board abseiling out over Omashu, spreading his cloak as much as he could and Airbending the air underneath them to fly.
Azula screamed into his ear as she held onto him with a death-grip. Naruto guffawed loudly, before beginning to sing loudly. "I can show you the world, shining, shimmering, splendid!"
Aang jumped off of Bumi's prison as the king bent the earth at the bottom of the chute to make him stand up.
"What's going on Bumi? Why did you surrender? How can you still Earthbend? What's wrong with you?" The young Avatar shouted at the old bender.
"Aang, listen to me. I tried to tell you, but I can't be your Earthbending teacher." Bumi said sadly.
"What? Why?" Aang complained.
"Listen, Aang, you know about jing, right?"
Aang nodded his in exasperation. "Yeah, there's positive jing when defending and negative jing when attacking."
Bumi cut in with a wide smile. "And then there's neutral jing, when you do nothing!"
The Avatar gaped in surprise. "There are three types of jing?!" He exclaimed in shock.
The king glanced off to the side in thought. "Actually there are eighty-seven, but that's not important right now. Your Earthbending teacher is one who is a master of neutral jing, someone who waits and listens before striking."
"But why not you, Bumi?" Aang asked quietly.
The mad king sighed. "It's just not meant to be Aang. The one who will teach you will help you more than I ever could. However," A glint of madness shined in his eyes, "When you do meet the Fire Lord, I hope you will remember to think like a mad genius."
With cackling laughter, he bent a wheel of stone to push him back up the chute, laughing all the way.
Aang sighed but smiled as Momo landed on his shoulder and patted his head. "Come on, Momo, let's get the others and get out of here."
(With the Girls…and Sokka)
Sokka had managed to pull himself up with the use of his hands, gathering his boomerang and slotting back into the sheath on his back. He then pulled himself along the wall, right as Ty Lee began to groan and shift. "Definitely not cute anymore…" she moaned painfully. Mai had managed to hold off both Yue and Katara, through dodging and disabling them with needles, but she was getting annoyed. Every time she managed to tag one of them, the other covered for them and let them heal, before getting back in the fight.
Appa flew behind the girls with Aang and Naruto already in the saddle. Sokka jumped on as Mai and Ty Lee pursued them. The cunning tribesmen spotted something where the girls were running, throwing his boomerang quickly and knocking the support out from underneath them.
The weakened wood collapsed under them, trapping them up to their waists in wood. Sokka blew a derogatory raspberry at them, before ducking quickly as Mai shot a trio of crossbow bolts she had stored in wrist launcher at his head.
Yue and Katara jumped on, and Aang cracked the reins, Appa flying off into the distance.
On their way out of Omashu, they found Naruto flying through the air with his cloak, avoiding blasts of blue fire being shot at him by Azula. "Get back here!" She screamed as a burst of flames raced after him, though the heat generated from the blaze only propelled him along faster.
He landed in the saddle, looking back with a derisive grin at the angry Fire Nation Princess. While she watched, he brought his thumb to his nose, the rest of the hand extended out, and he wiggled his fingers.
The message was clear. Better luck next time!
On the Sky Bison's back, the Gaang and Naruto had a lovely reunion. Yue and Katara hugged him tightly while the guys patted him on the back. "We were so worried about you!" Katara very nearly cried.
Yue rolled her eyes mentally and sighed. You were the only one actually worried, Katara.
Naruto scratched the back of his neck sheepishly. "Sorry, Katara. I'm alright, they didn't hurt me or anything, they just asked me a few questions."
Sokka was wondering about something else. "Who were those girls? What did that pink one do to me?"
The blonde shrugged. "I don't really know. I only heard snippets of their conversation, but I did catch a few names. I think the gloomy one with the black hair was Ty Lee and the bubbly one was called Mai*."
The seriousness on his face was alarming. "But if I heard right, the other girl will be serious trouble."
Yue gave him a questioning look. "Why?"
"Because she's Princess Azula, Heir Apparent to the Throne of the Fire Nation and a prodigy Firebender."
Sokka waved his hands. "That's cool and all, but you didn't let me finish! The more important thing here…how did you change your clothes? You don't even have a bag with you!"
Naruto patted his armor with a laugh. "I bent them."
Everyone in the saddle goggled at him. "What?!" The force of wind coming from their mouths nearly blew him out of the saddle.
"It's pretty easy, actually. It takes some fine control and a lot of practice, but it's worth it in the long run." Naruto shrugged easily. "Just a few specific movements and…"
He twitched his shoulders and twisted his wrists before slapping the cuirass. Before their disbelieving eyes, his clothes shifted.
The triangular armor plates widened into rectangular shapes, colored emerald green. His leg guards changed into plates, covering only the top of his feet as the boots retracted to reinforce his pants, leaving him barefoot. The gauntlets shortened to covering just the back of his hand and shifted to green. His shirt stayed mostly the same, but it turned tan and slightly heavier, and a pair of black leather bands wrapped around his upper arms. Lastly, his cloak shortened and lost the beak, turning a light green and trimmed with gold in a solid design around the edges.
When he was finished, he looked very similar to an Earth Kingdom General.
Sokka shook his head in disbelief. "Is there anything you can't bend, Naruto? Just tell me now and end the suspense."
Naruto shrugged as the girls marveled over his clothes. "I haven't come across anything I couldn't bend if I put my mind to it."
Katara wore a pensive look as she spoke her thoughts. "If you can bend everything, why aren't you the Avatar? No offense, Aang."
The bald monk waved her off, focused on Naruto as well. "I was wondering about that too."
The blonde shook his head. "I'm not sure why, but I'm glad. With my abilities, I'm a lot more versatile in a fight, but Aang has hundreds of previous lives to add power and finesse. You could eventually have the power to bring all of the continents together if you wanted."
He shrugged blithely. "I'm just different, even among people who can bend more than one element."
Aang nodded in agreement, before Naruto's last words hit him. "Wait, what? There are people who can bend two elements?"
Naruto quirked an eyebrow at him questioningly. "Do you seriously believe that the Avatars and myself are the only ones who can bend more than one?"
Everyone nodded, including Momo. "Wait, seriously?" Naruto shot up in surprise with wide eyes. "You don't know?"
Shaking heads answered his question. "No one told you about the ones who are out to kill us?" He asked incredulously.
The entire Gaang paled and Yue grabbed onto Naruto's arm tightly. "Who's out to kill us?" She asked fearfully.
He gave them a dead serious look. "The Ember Generals. A group of the highest-ranking and most deadly men in the Fire Nation. Each one of them is dangerous and most are a master of two styles."
Dread darkened their faces and Aang began to sweat nervously. "Who are they?" He asked anxiously.
Naruto's eyes darkened and narrowed angrily. "There are only a few confirmed. There's Sing and Song, one a master of all types of weapons, and the other, one of the previous holders of 'Last Airbender', along with one of the twin duo, Ran and Cor. They're probably going to try and get that title back, Aang."
The young Airbender's eyes widened in surprise. "What do you mean, Airbenders? I though Sozin wiped them all out!"
Naruto shook his head. "Every war has it's traitors, Aang. They may bend air, Aang, but they are no more Airbenders than Sokka's an Earthbender. Even they are not the most dangerous." A murderous look swept across his visage, one that was alien to his friends. "No, that title is held by one man…the man I've sworn on my blood that I would kill…High General Ourra Zhong. He's said to be the third strongest Firebender in the World, below Iroh and Ozai respectively. It's said that he isn't the Fire Lord because he doesn't want to be."
Sokka asked Naruto nervously. "Why did you swear to kill him?"
Naruto eyed them, before turning away with a sad sigh. "It's not something I like to talk about."
They left him alone as he sat in the saddle with a lost look on his face, Katara and Yue squeezing his arm and comfortingly.
After they broke camp the next day, everyone was relaxing in the saddle, doing their own things. Naruto was perusing a small scroll on control; Yue was lying on her stomach sewing pieces of leather together; Sokka was fussing with his puzzle box, yelping in pain on occasion for no reason and looking around in alarm, before going back to his box, only for it to happen again.
Katara leaned against Naruto, her right hand hidden behind her back, where it occasionally twitched and twisted, creating small balls of ice that bounced off her brother's head with a dull thunk. She smothered giggles behind her hand as she watched Sokka become more and more paranoid.
Aang lay back, watching the clouds with a carefree grin on his face.
A sudden cacophony of sounds drew Sokka's away from his box and over the side of the saddle.
"Whoa!" his shout startled the others, who joined him looking over the side.
Beneath them was a humongous forest that stretched for miles beneath them. The biggest thing was the tree that towered over them, even as high as Appa was flying. This tree was bigger than anything any of them had ever seen.
"Spirits…" Yue breathed in surprise.
"That is one huge tree." Naruto commented in an awed voice.
The sound of rushing winds, while not unusual on Appa's back, was still alarming. They turned to see a huge tornado that was storming towards them.
"Aang!" Katara shouted in concern.
The Avatar jumped onto his familiar's head and grabbed the reins, pulling them sharply away from the tornado. "Hold on everyone!"
The tornado kept behind them, by now it was obvious that it was unnatural. "This thing cannot be natural!" Sokka cried as the air maelstrom followed after them intently.
With out warning, it was on them, battering the group with hard winds. They grabbed onto the hand-holds of the saddle, holding on for dear life.
Naruto narrowed his eyes as the wind whipped at him, before they widened in shock. The blade that had been gifted to him by the Water Tribe was being pulled into the tornado.
He whipped his hand behind him, sending a blade of air slicing through the currents. It gave him enough time to let go of the saddle and pushed himself off to grab the blade.
However, as he did, the wind shifted and reversed, pushing them down instead of pulling. Naruto was in the middle of the saddle, no hand-hold nearby, and received the full force of the pressure. He slammed harshly into the hard leather of the saddle, and the wind reversed again, pulling him out of the saddle and throwing him into center of the tornado.
Yue saw him fly off into the wind and tried to scream, but the wind forced her mouth shut. One by one, Aang, Sokka, Katara and Yue were ripped from the saddle, thrown into the tornado like twigs.
They eventually lost consciousness, and it was only the heavy amount of vines crossing the trees below them that they did not die.
Aang awoke suspended by vines, about four meters above the swampy ground. He struggled to release himself, eventually falling from the vines and floating towards the ground.
A rustle in the bushes to his left made him raise his staff in a defensive stance, ready to defend himself from the undoubtedly large amount of predators in the swamp.
The bushes parted to show Katara and Yue, who were battered and bruised from the landing. "Aang!" Katara yelled out in relief, sprinting over to the monk and hugging him tightly. Yue joined them in the hug, and they parted to look around themselves. "Where are Sokka and Naruto?"
Muffled yelling from a distance drew them through the brush to an old stump that had two legs kicking wildly from the top along with the yelling issuing from it.
Yue and Katara drew water from the swamp and made a blade that slashed through the empty trunk, letting it fall to the ground and shatter, leaving Sokka somewhat unharmed.
"Oh, thank the Spirits! I've been trapped in there for an hour!" He coughed wood dust from his lungs and stood, warily looking around him. "This place gives me the creeps."
The sounds of nature, the buzzing of insects and the groans and creaks of the trees created an eerie sound that made them question whether or not that light glinting in bush was a reflection of the water or the hungry eyes of a predator.
A sudden loud scream made the group jump and whirl around, looking for the cause of the human-sounding cry.
Instead, they found a fat white bird with a large beak, who screamed at them again and flew away to do bird things.
The tenseness faded slightly, but was still lingering under the surface of their minds.
Sokka unsheathed his machete and began to hack away at the vines crossing his path. The other three glanced at each other before Aang voice the question on their minds. "Sokka, what are you doing?"
"Trying to find Naruto." He replied shortly.
"Not that it's a bad idea, but why?" Yue asked.
"As much as I hate to admit it, Naruto's a better warrior than I am, and I'll feel safer if he's around." He gave a peeved look. "If you tell him that I said that, I'm going to be pissed."
He continued hacking away, leaving an easy trail to follow. Katara, Yue and Aang shrugged at each other and followed.
Naruto awoke, lying on a branch above the murky water of the swamp. His sword was clutched tightly in one hand, and a headache throbbed in his skull.
He groaned in pain and pushed himself up, tying the sword to his belt before viewing the area around himself. It's going to be hard to find anyone here, He thought.
With a sigh, Naruto leaped off of the branch and onto another, heading off into the forest to find his friends.
Aang glanced nervously about him as Sokka continued to slash through the vines with impunity, noticing that the sounds of the forest had diminished to the point of silence. "Sokka, I don't think you should be hurting the plants like that…" He cautioned.
The Tribal scoffed. "What, should I apologize as I hack our way out of here? Oh, I'm sorry, Mister Vine, do you mind if I cut you? Phht."
Yue and Katara fell into light stances while the tension increased. "Sokka, I think Aang might be right about this…"
Sokka threw his hands in the air in exasperation. "Really, Katara? It's not like the plants are going to fight back!"
At that point in time, a large mass of what looked like tentacles shot out of the undergrowth and impacted into Sokka, throwing him across the clearing with a loud scream. He disappeared into the brush as Katara cried out, "Sokka!"
A creature, seemingly made from a mass of vines and a large wooden mask appeared out of the swamp with terrifying speed, swatting aside all attacks and sending each of the group out into the swamp.
Katara found herself in the dirty water of the swamp, covered in muck. With a swift motion, she pushed all of the mud off of her and looked around.
Fog began to permeate the area, giving the swamp a much more sinister feel. Whispers began to echo from all around her, sending shivers crawling up her spine.
One voice began to echo louder and louder, being one that she longed to hear the most.
A humanoid shape appeared out of the thick mist, a slender female figure dressed in the clothes of the Southern Water Tribe.
"Mom!" Katara shouted in disbelief and sadness.
Her mom's face was stern and cold, the complete opposite of what her countenance usually was. "Katara…what are you doing?"
Her voice was harsh and sharp, and it brought tears from Katara's eyes. "What do you mean, mom?"
"I mean, what are you doing away from the Tribe!" She shouted angrily.
"W-what do you mean?" She asked, stumbling over her words in fear.
"I wanted you to be safe! And yet, I find you here, hanging around with some of the most danger-bringing people around! I died to keep you safe, and you throw it in my face!" Her screams of anger drove Katara to her knees.
Tears fell from her eyes and splashed into the swamp with barely a ripple as she sobbed. "I'm sorry!"
Her mother's face hardened further. "A sorry person wouldn't disregard the sacrifice their mother made for them! A sorry person wouldn't lie!"
Katara's watery blue eyes met her mother's hard ones. "What do you-?"
"I know about you and that boy, Katara! I know how you feel! And yet you deny your feelings like a little girl that doesn't want to accept the truth!" She appeared right in Katara's face, screaming her words out.
"I'm not lying!" She cried back.
"Yes you are! You hide behind this façade of cheerfulness, when inside, every time he touches her, you wish with all your heart that you were in her place!"
Katara slumped in shame. Her mother drew her ire up for the final attack. "You went on this journey to prove you were a woman. A woman knows the difference between love and lust, and can tell themselves the truth!"
Her next words were the harshest yet. "You are nothing but a little girl, not a woman. You can't even tell the man you love your feelings…you don't deserve to be here. Go back to tribe until you can grow up."
Katara's shoulders shook as more tears fell, before they stopped and she stood in the water, her hair covering her face.
"No…" she whispered.
"What was that?" Her mother asked sharply.
"No!" Katara shouted. "I'm not leaving! I am a woman, and I will prove it!"
Her mother smirked haughtily. "Then say it."
"Say what?" She asked angrily.
Her mother sneered. "Say what you feel. Or are you still a little girl?"
Katara clenched her hands, before grinding out. "I love him."
"What was that?" her mother taunted.
"I love him!" Katara yelled.
"Who's him, little girl?" Derision dripped from her tone.
"I LOVE NARUTO! AND NOTHING YOU CAN SAY WILL MAKE ME ABANDON HIM!" She screamed with all her passion and heart.
Panting heavily, she looked into her mother's eye with determination. To her surprise, they glimmered with love and happiness. "That's my girl…" she whispered, before fading into the mist.
Katara's eyes widened as she realized that she had hallucinated the whole thing. Her shock eventually waned, but her determination remained. No matter what happens, she vowed to herself, I will tell him how I feel!
"Katara?" A familiar voice startled her from her reverie, shock crossing her face.
Sokka pulled himself out of a mass of tangled vines with an irate grumble. "Stupid plants…"
Fog began to descend around him, and he voiced his dislike of the situation. "Oh great…now it's dark AND creepy! Fantastic!"
He trudged through the swamp, hacking his way through the vines in front of him. "Stupid plants, stupid swamps, stupid tornadoes, stupid nature!"
The young Tribal jumped and turned to the familiar voice, eyes widening as they landed on someone he never expected to see in here. "Dad?"
Hakoda, his long hair pulled back into a wolf-tail like his son's, smiled at Sokka. "My son…it's good to see you again."
Tears came to Sokka's eyes, but he wiped them away hurriedly. "How are you here, dad?"
His dad smiled mysteriously and deflected the question. "Never mind that, how are you?"
Sokka puffed his chest. "I'm great! Dealing with all these benders, being the only normal person around…it's great." His enthusiasm died as he finished his sentence.
Hakoda draped a comforting arm around Sokka's shoulders. "You're lonely, aren't you son?"
The proud tribesman slumped. "Everyone we meet is not like me, dad. Everyone. Barely anyone I've met hasn't looked down on me at some point for not being a bender."
The chief gave his son a questioning look. "What about that one girl…Suki, was it?"
"What about her?"
Hakoda shrugged. "She's not a bender. And she seemed to respect you from your last meeting."
Sokka slumped further. "She's an important warrior…I'm just a hic from the Southern Tribe…"
"Sokka," Hakoda grabbed his son's shoulders firmly. "I know, better than anyone, what it's like to feel inadequate for a woman. Your mother was worthy of so much more than just me…but in the end, she chose me. And I made sure to never make her regret it, not once."
"What are you saying?" Sokka asked cautiously.
"I'm saying, that if you really want to, you can do anything you put your mind to. Even love." Hakoda smiled. "And if you're my son, you'll do the right thing."
Sokka wiped his watery eyes and hugged his dad tightly. "Thank you, dad. I miss you so much…"
Sokka opened his eyes, only to find himself hugging the trunk of a tree, two branches draped around his shoulders. He sniffed and smiled slightly. "Maybe nature isn't all that bad…"
Yue pushed her way past a tangle of vines, worry tightening her features. We're all separated in a dark and creepy swamp, stalked by a strange creature made out of vines…I hope Naruto's alright…
She wouldn't like to admit it, but Yue was concerned for Naruto. During the middle of last night, he came to her and told her about what was going on between him and Fire Nation, or, more specifically, Azula. She was also a princess, and if Yue were to grudgingly admit it, very beautiful.
It's not like Naruto will forget me for her…would he? She thought worriedly.
"Of course he would."
Yue whipped around, drawing water from the swamp in preparation to attack, when she came face-to-face with Azula herself, looking about the swamp with a disdainful sneer.
"What do you mean?" Yue growled lowly.
The ebony-haired Princess smirked nastily. "Having trouble believing what I've said? Too bad. You know that Naruto would choose me over you in a heartbeat! After all, I'm the Heiress to the Ember Throne, the future Fire Lord and one of the best Firebenders in the nation."
The ivory-haired Princess growled like an angry cat. "I am a princess as well! And you know that he doesn't care for riches or skill, he would still love me no matter what!"
Azula's smirk widened. "Really now? Oh, Naruto~!"
Yue's eyes widened as Naruto, wearing Fire Nation regalia entered the scene. "Yes, my beloved?"
The Fire Nation Heiress smiled lovingly. "My fire has faded into embers, my love. I need it stoked back into an inferno so I can incinerate this foolish woman. Be a dear and help me, won't you?"
Naruto's eyes were full of love and trust as he took Azula into his arms and laid her back, his lips meeting her passionately.
Azula's exaggerated groans and moans of pleasure nearly drove Yue to edge of her sanity, her fists clenching hard enough to make the bones pop.
Her fingers twitched in the preparation of making a water blade, before her sense came rushing back. Wait! The first words she said to me were an answer…to a question I thought! This is all an illusion!
She straightened her back and faced the moaning illusion with determined steel in her eyes. "This isn't real. I know Naruto, and he would never do something like that, not for all the riches in the world. So you can take your illusionary Ember Throne and shove it up your ass!" She shouted in an uncharacteristic curse.
The illusion raised an eyebrow at her, speaking softly. "Illusion? Interesting…"
The two faded away, revealing two rotting tree trunks, one lying on top of the other. Yue narrowed her eyes, thoughts racing. She then turned away from the logs and marched off in a random direction. It's time to find the others…I've had enough of this place to last a lifetime.
Naruto dropped from the tree branch with a frown marring his face. This is useless! I can't even see anything from the trees!
Fog began to drift from the swamp, covering everything in a misty blanket. Naruto sighed in annoyance and began to trudge through the swamp.
As he trudged he heard whispers, echoing throughout the forest.
The blonde whipped around, seeing nothing that could say his name. "Who's there?" He called out.
"No! Not Naruto! Not my son!"
A feminine voice cried through the fog. Naruto couldn't find where the voice originated from, his head twisting on his neck dangerously. "Who are you?!"
"Damn you! I will find you, bastard! Nothing will keep me from my son!"
This time, it was a male voice, deep and angry.
"Hah! With your strength as low as it is, you couldn't kill an ant! So much for your famous speed!"
Another male, this time higher and triumphant. "What is going on?!" Naruto shouted in agonizing confusion.
"Your son will make the perfect weapon! It will take time, but your end will come from the hands of your son! A fitting end to you, don't you agree?"
"You son of a bitch! I don't care who you are, you won't harm a hair on my son!"
"There is nothing you can do about it! Ahahaha!"
It seemed to be two men arguing over him, or someone with his name, while a woman cried in the background. The sounds faded at the other man's laughter, before being replaced by another.
"You will be the perfect weapon, Naruto. Even if we have to torture you for it, I will swing the first whip and drive the first nail. And when you are through destroying your father, I will release you from your life, I promise."
This man had deeper, but older voice, and he almost seemed regretful. He was replaced by a younger, feminine voice that was similar.
"Naruto…I'm so sorry. Grampa found out about my visits, and he threatened to hurt you if I didn't stop…I'm so, so sorry…but this is goodbye."
And then, a deep, deep voice that seemed ageless, sad and forlorn spoke in a weary tone.
"I'm so tired, Naruto. So tired of being a captive…a slave. I just want to leave this world and move on…but there is only one way to do that…follow the gestures I make, and repeat after me…I know he won't harm you, young one. And for what it's worth…I'm sorry I wasn't strong enough."
And then finally, a duo of voices, a very young one and another that echoed oddly, spoke last.
"This is not the type of deal you can go back on, you know."
"I know…and I don't care. I want to be free, I want to be a hero…I want to live!"
"Very well…is that your choice?"
"Then, you have my respect. I wish you good luck, Naruto."
Naruto's face was creased in confusion, disturbing feelings and, oddly happiness. "What…what THE FUCK WAS THAT?!" He screamed at the trees. As he expected, they didn't answer, well, not immediately.
"I LOVE NARUTO! AND NOTHING YOU CAN SAY WILL MAKE ME ABANDON HIM!"
A familiar female voice shouted from his left. Without pause, he dashed through the vines, unheeding of the damage he left behind.
Naruto burst through a thicket, coming upon Katara, her clothes stained and slightly ripped, looking at a tree trunk in confusion. He voiced a concerned question. "Katara?"
Katara jumped in surprise, turning to him with a face full of surprise, before steely determination entered her eyes. She marched up to him, and without preamble, grabbed him by the collar and pulled him into one of the most passionate kisses he had ever felt.
She seemed determined to prove something, her tongue forcing itself between his lips and into his mouth, twisting with his own and tying them together.
Naruto was so surprised that he didn't have the higher brain function available to respond. Luckily, his lower cognitive functions kicked in and reciprocated, wrapping his arms around her waist and pulling her closer to him, as if trying to meld them together.
When they broke apart, Naruto asked breathlessly, "Not that I mind, but what was that about?"
Katara looked him dead in the eye and said seriously. "Myself. I've been lying to myself since we first met."
He gave her a confused look, and she expounded her thoughts. "The first time I saw you, I thought you were the most handsome man on earth. The way you complimented me, the way you acted around me, and the way you treated me only confirmed that. And all that time, I told myself that it was 'just a crush', and that it would fade in time…but after spending all the time with you that I have, it never faded. It grew stronger. And now, I'm going to tell you the truth."
She pulled his head down, leveling a dead-serious look into his eyes. "I. Love. You. I love you, Naruto, and I am going to be by your side whether you want me or not…because you are the man I want to spend the rest of my life with."
Naruto was speechless. This was the fourth time a woman had confessed to loving him, but the only time a woman had practically told him that she was going to marry him, like it or not.
It was kinda hot.
"A-re you-isn't this a little fast?" Naruto stuttered.
Katara shook her head resolutely. "Life is short, and we're in a war that's gone on for a hundred years, and we're trying to end it. There might not be enough time later, and waiting any longer would just make me doubt myself. I love you, and there is nothing that you can say to change that, ever."
Naruto searched her soul through her dark blue eyes, finding what he was searching for after a moment as a wide smiled broke over his face. "I've been waiting to hear you say that, Katara. There is nothing I would ever want to say to make you change your love. And I promise, I will always cherish you and keep you happy."
She wrapped her hands around his shoulders as he tightened his grip on her waist and kissed him again, happy tears trailing from her eyes as she felt her heart swell with affection.
A rustle in the bushes made them separate and ready weapons. The vines parted to reveal a slightly battered Sokka, thorn-torn clothes and branch-pulled hair giving him a wild appearance. "Katara!"
"Sokka!" She yelled in relief. They ran at and hugged each other happily, spinning each other around. "Oh, I'm so glad you're alright!"
The bushes rustled again, this time showing Yue pushing through the branches. "Naruto!" She shouted happily.
"Yue!" He shouted back, grabbing her in a tight hug and lifting her into the air. He put her down just as Katara smashed into her in a strong hug, as Sokka did the same to Naruto.
"Naruto, old buddy!" He cheered happily, before coming back to his senses and letting go quickly. "Ahem…I mean, good to see you unharmed, my fellow warrior!"
Naruto shook his hand firmly. "Good to see you survived, Sokka."
The others traded hugs again, before they became serious. "We need to find Aang," Naruto said. "We should stick together, it'll be hard to find each other again in this swamp."
They nodded in agreement and Sokka warned, "We should also watch out for that swamp monster, no telling when it will pop up again."
The blonde's eyebrows shot up. "Swamp monster?"
Aang climbed a branch, sliding down the other side to land in the swamp. Fog had begun to roll in, making visibility even worse.
A small breeze ruffled Aang's collar, before a stronger one blew it over his head.
The bald monk struggled with the orange cloth for a few seconds before pulling it back down, turning around and seeing someone he never thought he'd see again.
Monk Gyatso, his teacher and very best friend…
…and also dead for a several decades.
"Gyatso!" Aang called out in surprise. The old, wrinkled monk chuckled gently, opening his arms for a hug.
"It's so good to see you Aang."
The younger Airbender appeared in front of Gyatso, slamming into him with great force. He didn't really care that he had seen the old monk's skeleton, he was just happy to see him again.
"Gyatso…how are you here? I saw…I saw your body…" Aang trailed off.
He laughed lightly. "When one is old and wise enough, they realize that Spirits are strange things."
Aang peered up at the Master Airbender with teary eyes. "Why are you here?"
Gyatso sighed wearily. "Aang, I came to talk to you about something. Our way of life."
"What do you mean?" He asked confusedly.
The old monk seemed to age even more. "When you were among us, we taught you that taking life, no matter how small, was a crime. And the Fire Nation made our people pay for it, over and over again."
Aang gazed warily at him. "What are you saying? That I should kill everyone who gives me trouble?!"
"No, no, Aang, you misunderstand. What I'm trying to say is, times change. We thought that isolating ourselves would solve our problems with others, but it only led to our destruction. One of your friends has a saying, the blonde I think, that goes like this: 'Some people aren't worth saving.'" Gyatso explained.
Aang thought back to that, how he felt when he heard that. "Are you saying that Naruto's right?"
The old monk nodded. "I am. He is very wise, young Aang. He has seen many things, and he has good advice. Trust your friends, Aang. They will be the deciding factor on ending this war."
Aang smiled and hugged the monk tightly. "I will…I promise."
"I know you will, Aang…you've always made me proud…"
The Avatar opened his eyes, finding himself hugging a tree. He smiled sadly. "Thank you, tree."
A girlish giggle sounded from behind him, making him whip around to find the source. He saw a flash of white disappear behind a tree, and he followed after it quickly. "Hey, wait!"
Aang came around the tree, only to see nothing but the swamp. Another giggle came from behind him, and he turned to see, again, a flash of white pass behind a tree.
He chased after it, coming into a clearing and finding the source. It was girl, older than him by about two years if he was to guess, wearing a white, expensive looking robe, betting a boar with white wings.
She giggled as it licked her hand, before it flew off, and she ran away.
Aang followed her speedily, coming around a wide tree trunk, coming face-to-mask with the swamp creature. "That's not a girl!" Aang yelled in surprise.
The monster extended one of it's arms at Aang, trying to hit him. The young Airbender twirled his staff and sent a blade of air at the arm, severing it close to the middle.
The creature looked at it's arm, uncaring as the vines grew back. It attacked again, forcing Aang to dodge the wild yet coordinated swings of it's arms.
A fire ball impacted into the back of the creature, making it pause it's attacks and turn around, spotting Naruto, Sokka, Yue and Katara bearing down on it, attacks ready.
"Let's take this thing down!" Sokka shouted.
Yue and Katara sliced at the creature with water pulled from the swamp, only for the vines to grow back.
Aang sent a blade of air cutting through the back of the creature, and the vines parted slightly to reveal tanned skin, that was quickly covered by vines again.
He watched carefully as Naruto cut through the creature with an ivory blade, seeing more skin, this time with a belly button on the front.
"I think there's a person in there!" Aang shouted to the group.
The others shot him a questioning look, before turning an angry gaze at the creature. "What the hell? Why are you attacking us?" Yue yelled at the monster.
"Why don' you ask my fist, loggers!" the creature yelled back in an unrefined and male voice.
"Loggers?" the group asked each other. "We're not loggers." Aang said slowly.
"You're not?" It asked.
"No, not really. Aang's the Avatar; harming nature is kinda against his nature." Sokka explained.
"Oh! The Avatar!" The Swamp Creature exclaimed, before the vines collapsed like cut puppets, revealing a man underneath.
He had shaggy grey hair and dirty tanned skin, and wore nothing but a stained and old loincloth. "I didn't realize you were you! Welcome to Boggy Swamp! My name is Tho!" He greeted with a wide smile showing all of his dirty, cracked teeth.
Yue leaned into Naruto and whispered, "He does know that a bog is basically a swamp, right?"
Naruto shook his head. "I doubt it, but don't tell him. I don't think he cares."
Hours later, the group had found Appa being hunted by the local Waterbenders, tribe of leaf-wearing, country-sounding, dirty and unintelligent swamp-dwellers who could all use a bath in fresh water.
That night, after clearing up the point that Appa was not, in fact, food, the Gaang feasted (liberal term) on the local fare, consisting of bugs and fish.
As they lay down to rest for the night, Aang asked a question that he just remembered. "Wait, do you know who made the tornado that pulled us out of the sky?"
Tho shrugged happily. "Ain't no Airbenders around these parts, just me and the Tribe."
The Gaang glanced at each other in confusion. The dirty hermit smiled widely. "Tho, if'n you stay here a long time, like meself, you realize that the forest isself is alive."
He laughed uproariously as the Gaang lay down for bed, questions unanswered.
Naruto lay on his back, peering at the stars visible through the canopy of the trees. Who am I, really? Where did I come from? Why can I do, what I can do?
His thoughts turned slightly dark. Do I really want to know?
*Naruto was making a joke. He knows the difference between Mai and Tai Lee.
A/N: Here's the third chapter to the New Element. I hope you like it!
As you can see, Suki will be paired with Sokka. I just thought they would fit together the right way.
Answers to questions:
June in the harem is up for debate. She'll be involved, but either as sex-pals or a pairing has yet to be seen. I've been trying to go for a more romance-over-time kind of pairings, instead of my old 'I just met you-but I've loved you for a long time-instantly in love' kind of pairings, hopefully to add drama and suspense to my stories.
Also, no lemons. My writing ability has not gotten to the point where I could write it the right way, being emotionally involving and all.
Naruto's ability to bend seemingly everything will be explained, but not just yet, as it would spoil all of the story. It has a deep impact on the future, so expect to see it then.
Also, I'm kind of torn between having Aang paired with the girl from the Fortune Teller episode, or Anji from the Fire Nation Academy episode. I think they would fit well together.
Next chapter, Toph enters the picture! The Blind Bandit vs. the ex-Assassin White Hawk!
Enjoy your day and review!
Keep Being Awesome!