Kyo

Avatar: Reborn from Ash

11 posts in this topic

Book 1: Resonance

 


 

 

A thick fog swept across the darkness, the wind carrying it gently across the midnight plains. A distant sound of drums rumbled rhythmically through the air. The regimented beat of war drums became louder, until soon they were deafening. A horn sound cut through the drumming, followed by an ear-splitting crescendo of roars. Missiles of flame illuminated the skies. 

 

Footsteps crunched through the wet grasslands, together in unison creating a rumble like thunder. spears and blades glinted off the light of the projectiles cascading across the sky. Fury was so thick in the air that he could taste it. He felt sweat pouring from him. Fear gripped him tightly. How had he gotten here? He had no memory of what had transpired before. Before him the armies met one another with a resounding crash and steel met steel. More fire shot skywards, the earth shot up from the ground in chunks, before being volleyed into the crowds. 

 

He fell to his knees. It was chaos. He looked to the floor, and the grassy plains were red with blood.

 

"Stop it!" He barked, hammering a clenched fist into the ground. "STOP IT!"

 

There was an explosion in the centre of the battle. He felt the heat wash over him. The light was blinding, but in the centre of it all he saw a lone figure. A man draped in red robes, long grey hair flowing behind him, a thick beard across his face. His arms were outstretched, gently moving through the air, coaxing the fire, swirling it around him. He stood calmly, manipulating this growing vortex of flame. 

 

Slowly the armies began to back off, moving away so as not to be burned. The air grew thick with black smoke, and their awe struck faces began to fade away from his view. After a moment, only the man within the vortex remained, and as he looked over the man, the man looked back, staring coldly at him, as if he could see within his very soul. Finally, darkness enveloped him too.

 

 


 

 

Yaozu's eyes sprung open, but he remained motionless, lying on his back. He stared upwards at the dark mahogany ceiling. The young man felt a weight on his chest, and for a moment he contemplated that this was the weight left on him by his dream. However the reasons soon became more literal, as the creature lying on his chest crept forward and in to his field of view. The orange and white furred creature looked at him with innocent, black eyes, before cocking it's head slightly. 

 

"Hey...Juro, you little rascal." Yaozu said with a soft smirk as he clapped the Fire Ferret with his hand, ruffling the fure on it's little head. Juro made a high pitched growling noise, before forcing itself out from his grip and running off of the bed. Yaozu sat up and turned to his side, to see there was another figure in the room. This time it was a middle aged man of strong build, his hair short and spiked, beginning to go grey, and a short goatee at his chin. 

 

"You were grumbling in your sleep again, kid." The man said with a soft smile, "Poor Juro was just worried about you, that's all."

"It was just a crazy dream." Yaozu replied, giving a quick yawn before pulling himself out of bed. His companion did not seem quite as dismissive as he was. 

 

"You know if it was anyone else I'd believe that." He said with a raised brow. "You know that your dreams...they're different. You can't just pass them off as your mind running wander."

 

"I know, I know." Yaozu sighed, rolling his eyes. "But this was definitely just a dream. I know the difference by now. This...didn't feel the same. You know, Kuj'ra?"

 

"Actually, I don't" Kuj'ra replied, smirking once more. "I'm not the Avatar kid, my dreams only involve quiet beaches and naked ladies."

 

"Hah!" Yaozu grinned. "I'm sure your wife finds that comforting."

 

"Yeah, right. Like I'm stupid enough to tell her that." Kuj'ra chuckled. "Anyway, you need to get dressed. We're almost there. I'll expect you on deck in ten minutes."

 

"Sure. You go on." Yaozu replied as he waved Kuj'ra off. As the door to his room closed he pulled off his night shirt and opened a wardrobe, pulling out some clothes and throwing them on the bed in a heap. He settled himself in to a pair of black trousers, before fitting on a pair of knee high, grey boots, fastened with black laces in a cross-hatch pattern up the front. He pulled a white vest on over his torso, and then on top of that he put on a dark grey, double breasted jacket, zipped up on the left hand side of his chest. He fastened a red sash around his waist and popped the collar of his jacket so that it covered his neck. 

 

Finally dressed he looked in the mirror. He was a fair skinned 18 year old, with green eyes and jet black hair, fashioned in a long mohawk, shaved skin-close at the sides. He pulled the long hair back and tied it back in a high ponytail. Now looking halfway presentable he made his way to the door, Juro padding along behind him before leaping up and clambering on to his shoulder. 

 

Yaozu walked along the tight corridor, the metal frames a stark comparison to the wooden frames of his room. He turned a corner and rose up a set of stairs, hearing Kuj'ra talking loudly at the top. The man was outspoken and often blunt, to the point of offending. Yaozu found this quite humorous as the man never intended to insult anybody, he was incredibly warm hearted. 

 

Kuj'ra was his mentor, the man who has taught him Firebending when he was just a boy. Even when he had to travel across the world in his early teens, to places his parents and friends could not go, Kuj'ra always came with him. From the icy cold of the Northern Water Tribe, to the peaceful peaks of the Air Nomads, and even to the lush valley of Zaofu where he mastered Earthbending. The most recent trip had been to the Water Tribe, to conquer his weakest element. While his training was considered complete, he still did not feel exceptionally confident with water. 

 

Finally he emerged from the steps and out on to a long deck, where crew were busy steering the ship. Yaozu looked up, his vision obscured by the large red canvas of the Fire Nation's Airship balloon. He walked over to the edge and looked over the side to the vast ocean below. Then in the distance he saw their destination. There on the edge of a city, the statue of Avatar Aang greeted those who travelled to Republic City. It had been nearly 200 years since Aang's passing. 

 

"This is it, kid." Kuj'ra said as he slapped Yaozu on the back, causing him to lurch forwards slightly. "The training wheels are off. This is your first diplomatic mission as the Avatar. Do you think you can handle it?"

 

"We're attending a summit." Yaozu replied. "A bunch of old men and women bickering over inane discrepancies in the education bills or something equally boring." Yaozu let out a sigh. "I want to see some of the action. I should be helping people. Like Yun Feng and Korra did."

 

"The world doesn't need saving, kid." Kuj'ra replied. "Your predecessors did those things because they had to. They fought for the peace we have now. It's your job to ensure it stays that way. Even if it means a boring summit, right?"

 

"Right..." Yaozu muttered, staring off into the mountains of the Earth Kingdom, way past Republic City. "...Still...what I wouldn't give for even a little trouble, someone I could save..."

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The spirit realm is a place of wonder, beauty and unrivalled danger. It is a world ruled by emotion and soul, as the physical has no place there. That is, until Avatar Korra broke the seals separating the human and spirit realms. Now humans and spirits are free to go where they please, but not all are welcome in this realm. In her realm.

A blue-speckled spirit frog with three eyes leapt from rock to rock beneath a purple sky, dotted with flecks of green and orange lights. Every time it soared through the air, it checked behind it, gulping for air to fuel it's frenzied flight. Moments later, the source of it's fear became apparent. Trees with blueish leaves crashed and snapped apart as an enormous boar burst from the forest. The boar was dark green, and it's fur seemed more like grass, it's tusks the jagged, broken branches of an old oak. It's roar pierced the valley and then it gave chase.

"Fang!!" The little spirit frog croaked, it looked over it's shoulder as it leapt once again, but saw that the boar was quickly gaining ground on it. It squealed and redoubled it's efforts, but it knew it was going to be caught soon enough. "Fang!!" It cried again, and it's three eyes widened as it saw an enormous waterfall ahead of it, sheer cliffs stretching on either side for miles. There was nowhere else to run, he could hide in the pool of water, but for how long? "Fang!!!" The frog spirit called out once more, and the boar came to a stop just a stone's throw away from it. 

The boar paced left and right, eyeing the frog, assessing it for a moment, then it roared and charged. Saliva flung from the charging boar's maw, rage in it's eyes and in it's heart. The frog closed it's eyes and made peace, the growing thunder of it's hooves heralded something terrible. Yet, even as he felt the hot breath of the boar on his face, an almighty crash and a wail of pain forced his eyes open. Before him stood a human woman, a great slab of rock jutting out before her, knocking the boar onto it's side.

"Fang, I knew you'd come!!" The little frog spirit cheered. 

 

"What mischief have you been up to, little one?!" The woman called back, her voice was stern but not unkind.

"Nothing! I'm quite innocent, thank you very much, he--" 
"-- I do not believe you." The woman replied, taking a moment to look back at the frog. Fang was tall and slim, draped in a simple dark green kimono and her feet were bare. Her long, thick black hair fell down to her hips and gave her the look of a wild thing, this image was helped along by her dark, piercing eyes. Great rivers and streams of scarred flesh ran the length of every part of her exposed skin. One scar came up from her collarbone all the way up her neck to just under her left eye. Another slashed diagonally on the outer edge of her right, barely missing the eye itself. She had only one arm, and held it in front of her, as though it was another barrier to the angered boar spirit.

 

"It's true! I swear, I--"
"If you are innocent, then I am an elephant rat." Fang replied, raising a dark eyebrow with a knowing smile. Then her face became fierce once more and she turned to look back at the boar spirit as it slowly righted itself and faced her, roaring once again. "Spirit, whatever this little one has done to wrong you is not worth losing yourself to rage! Go now in peace!" The boar hesitated but charged once again and gritting her teeth, Fang whirled around and kicked the slab of rock in front of her. The stone split from the base, flew forwards and crashed into the boar and before it had a chance to come back to it's senses, Fang leapt up over the rubble and landed with a soft tap in front of the boar. It roared and swiped it's tusks at her, but she deftly cartwheeled over its tusks using her one remaining hand to grasp it and use it to vault off. 

When she landed, she quickly rushed to the boar's side and began whispering in it's ear. The boar slowed it's frantic rage and it's empty, black eyes rolled around to look at her as she spoke. A few moments passed as the little spirit frog watched on in nervous anticipation, until at last the boar stood up and shifted shape ever so slightly. It shrank just a little, it's grassy fur lightened in hue and its eyes became softer, then it snorted and left. Fang let out a deep breath she had been holding and then walked past the little frog to take a drink from the waterfall's flowing water. 
"Now then, little one..." Fang licked her lips and wiped her mouth with the back of her sleeve before sitting by the side of the water. She patted the rock beside her with the palm of her hand and the frog leapt onto it and sat down, "... tell me what happened."

While the frog spirit told his tale, Fang stroked the scar on her left cheek thoughtfully, and when at last he was done, she shook her head. "You should know better than to bother that old spirit, he does not want to play with you, little frog."
"I'm sorry, Fang." The frog croaked, looking down shamefully at the rippling waters. Fang smiled and just as quickly the frog's melancholy was gone, "Oh can you tell me another story today?" The frog asked, "I like your stories..."

 

"... a story would not hurt." Fang replied, "What would you like to hear?"

"Tell me the story of how you came to us?!" The frog's eyes lit up.
"That is a very long story..." Fang scratched the back of her head but sighed and resigned herself to the telling of the tale, "Well, I suppose I have all the time in the world, do I not?" She smiled and then thought to herself, "Very well... I grew up in the Earth Kingdom, in a town called Gaoling. My father, mother, and my older brother, Dao. My father was a lord, we were wealthy. We wanted for nothing."

"And, so... you were happy?" The little frog asked.
"For a time..." Fang paused, a darkness touched her thoughts, but she knew the effect it would have on those around her, in this place, and so she wrestled her dark emotions back in check, and continued her story, "... but, when I turned six-years-old, everything changed..."

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Yaozu walked across the gangway that had been set up between the airship and a platform ahead of him, Juro balancing on the side of his head to get a good look around. Kuj'ra walked ahead of him, speaking with men dressed in a blue and white uniform. The White Lotus were a fairly familiar sight to Yaozu now, they had been present throughout his whole life. It was their mission to guide and protect each generation of Avatar while they completed their training. He wondered if perhaps now that her training they would go their own way in time. 

 

As they entered the docking station they were greeted by men and women in slate uniforms, the Republic City Police Force. 

"Avatar Yaozu" one of them addressed him directly with a swift salute. "Sir, we have been sent to make sure you arrive safely at your destination. I hope your journey wasn't too unpleasant."

 

"It was fine..." Yaozu replied, a little unnerved by the respect he was being shown. He had experienced such things only on few occasions in his life. After all he had only been to Republic City on a few occasions in his life, during his training he had travelled many places, but rarely for extended periods of time. "Do I really need an entourage?" he asked. "Is it dangerous here?"

 

"Not at all, Sir!" The police officer replied. "This is simply a matter of protocol. You can never be too careful."

"Right." Yaozu nodded absent mindedly. Kuj'ra ushered him on and they walked through the station, clearing the checkpoint and descending down an elevator to the streets below. At the front door a town car was waiting for them at the side of the road. One officer got in the back with Kuj'ra and Yaozu, and the vehicle took off down the road. 

 

Yaozu stared out the window at Republic City. The clusters of tall buildings made it seem quite dark and grey, were it not for the orange glow of the street lamps that had been ignited as the day had fallen into night. He noted all of the people, how they all seemed busy and with somewhere to go. There seemed to be no room for idleness here. 

 

"It's strange how different the people are here." Yaozu mused. "I mean, it's just as busy in The Capital back home. I suppose everything just seems to move so much quicker here. Nobody stops to take it all in, dot they?"

 

"The Four Nations are rich with history and tradition, kid." Kuj'ra replied. "You have to understand that Republic City is only a few hundred years old, that may seem like a long time for you and I, but for an entire culture it might as well be a small child. They aren't bogged down with tradition here. Well not like you and I know it. Progress is the tradition here."

 

"So what about this summit?" Yaozu asked. "You told me before that representatives from all of the nations will be coming. Do they discuss important matters?"

 

"They used to..." Kuj'ra said with a heavy sigh. "The four nation's leaders, or their representatives, come together annually to talk things over. It's more of a formality than anything else these days. The summit would only really be important if there was any friction between the nations, it's an opportunity to find compromise. Things are peaceful at the moment, so there is little to say. But we're almost here, you'll see soon enough."

 

Sure enough as the car turned a corner on to an open square, Yaozu saw City Hall. He gazed at it in wonder. The City Hall itself was large and crafted of white marble, with a domed roof of green. However stretching far higher than the building itself, was an enormous tree, that stood taller than any other, and behind it, a forest of trees and buildings overlapping each other. The Spirit Wilds. The car pulled up in front of the Hall and they got out, greeted by flashing lights and reporters. 

 

"Avatar Yaozu!" One of them called out. "Is it true that you have finally completed your training, and will begin taking on your responsibilities as the Avatar?" she asked. Yaozu looked back at her, shifting uncomfortably. 

 

"Uh, yeah." He replied. "That's why I'm attending this summit. It's time that I take an active interest in the activities of the world."

 

"Indeed" The reporter said with a nod. "And do you believe that our citizens should be taking advice from a young boy over their elected leaders?"

 

"Th-that isn't what I said." Yaozu replied hesitantly. 

 

"So your saying that we shouldn't heed your council?" The reporter pressed. "Avatar Yun Feng, your predecessor, he guided the world through a time of turmoil left in the wake of Avatar Korra. While her actions greatly benefited the world, they were not without severe consequence, that required a great deal of change. Avatar Yun Feng eased us in to a time of peace. Are you saying you wish to change how things are?"

 

"No!" Yaozu replied angrily. "That's not-"

 

"Alright, enough you Lion Vultures!" Kuj'ra interjected, moving the woman from Yaozu's path and leading him onwards. "This is a simply summit between the leaders. You have absolutely nothing to worry about."

 

"Very well." The reporter called as they walked away. "Be sure to tune in tonight! Our new movers are in colour now!"

 

 


 

 

Inside City Hall it was much quieter. They reached the main hall and only a handful of people were inside. At the table, two men dressed in blue robes were discussing something quietly. In the corner of the room a well dressed woman with silvery hair tied back in a bun was talking with another man, dressed in a military uniform.

 

"Over at the table." Kuj'ra pointed towards the two men in blue robes. "That's Chief Rom'na and Chief Dessa of the Southern and Northern Water Tribes respectively. And of course in the corner there is President Woo Lin, the head of Republic City. I don't know who the other one is...Earth Kingdom military by the looks of it."

 

There was a flash of golden light in the centre of the room. From it the figure of a large dark blue bear, with strange tribal markings through his fur. Yaozu smiled. He hadn't expected to see a spirit here. "Do you know who that is?"

 

"I'm...not sure..." Kuj'ra admitted, scratching his head. A soft and pleasant breeze cut through the air behind him. The soft tapping of feet urged both of them to turn and see who was there.

 

"That is Kunlai, he was chosen as an ambassador of the spirits this year." The strong but feminine voice addressed them warmly. "He is a noble and kind soul, but he doesn't care much for words."

 

"Ang Li!" Yaozu gasped, grinning from ear to ear. As she drew nearer he pulled her in to a hug, gripping her red and golden robes. He let her go and she flashed him only a hint of a smile, but her brown eyes showed a warmth that betrayed her stoic demeanour. She was a middle aged woman with pale, smooth skin, and most notably she bore the blue arrow tattoos of an Airbender, and her brown hair was left to lie freely, resting just above her shoulders. 

 

"It is good to see you, Yaozu." She said with a nod. "Has it really been 4 years since you left my home to master Earthbending? My how time flies I suppose. And now you are all grown. You look well."

 

"As do you." Yaozu said respectfully. Ang Li was the leader of the Air Nomads, a Master Airbender who had also been Yaozu's mentor. He was not afraid to admit that he had favoured her the most among his teachers, except perhaps Kuj'ra. He had always felt a connection to this woman, after all they had shared an important ancestor, in a way.

 

"Come now, boy" Ang Li said finally. "We must not keep the others waiting. We can talk later."

 

 


 

 

"I would like to begin by thanking you all for coming to this annual summit." President Woo Lin stated, addressing the rest of the people at the table. "Unfortunately Fire Lord Kazra cannot be present and sends his apologies. He has sent his trusted bodyguard and advisor Kuj'ra to be seated on his behalf. Additionally it seems General Lei Shen of the Earth Kingdom has also been held back by important business, and so Liu Xiao Hung, trusted Royal Advisor to the late Earth King, may he rest in peace, has came in his stead."

 

Yaozu eyed the man known as Liu Xiao. He had leathery, tan skin and appeared to be well in his 50's. His hair was short and well groomed, with a thin mustache under his nose. He was thin of frame, and looked rather like a snake. His eyes were shifty, and full of judgement. Yaozu did not rember much of the Earth King's murder 10 years ago, only that he had been murdered by someone very close to him.

 

"At any rate I will try to keep this short so that you can all go and enjoy the rest of your time here." Woo Lin continued with a soft smile. "As you will all be aware since our last meeting, there have been some issues arising over the past year in regard to trade disputes. While missing shipments and late arrivals have caused some upset, I have been assured that this is being taken care of. General Lei Shen has assured me on countless occasions that the shipments disappearing are a result of renegade groups within the Earth Kingdom. Naturally since the events of 10 years ago such things are to be expected and we must pull together in these times."

 

"Um..." Yaozu went to speak, but he thought better of it. However Woo Lin urged him on. 

 

"Avatar Yaozu, you have something to say?" She asked. "Please do not fear sharing. This summit's purpose is to clear the air of our thoughts on such matters."

 

"Okay. Well forgive me if this seems a little uninformed but...if rogue factions are stealing supplies coming in and out of the Earth Kingdom, then there must be a reason for it. Is there a shortage of resources? If history has shown us anything, it's that people revolt when their are unhappy."

 

"I don't think it's right to assume General Lei Shen isn't doing all he can in this regard. We are all allied here, there is no reason to suspect foul play."

 

"On the contrary." The voice came from Chief Dessa. "We've been skirting the issue here. The Earth Kingdom's activities have been more secretive of late. I understand your position requires you to tread carefully Woo Lin, but The Avatar has a point. Can we take everything the General is saying at his word? He has not shown himself in these meetings for 3 years now."

 

"Wait...I didn't mean to make an accusation..." Yaozu said. 

 

"Do not put words in The Avatar's mouth. You're reading too much in to this Dessa." Ang Li responded, her tone calm and yet commanding of authority. "There is no need to be throwing accusations around."

 

"Settle down, all of you." this time it was Liu Xiang who spoke. He stood up from his chair to address the table properly. "I'm afraid that these grumblings are forcing me to bring my purpose here to the forefront. There is indeed more to this matter than the work of petty thieves. You see in recent months the decline in shipments has, in truth, been part of an exercise to slowly bring our trade agreement to a halt. It may seem that this is malicious but I assure you the way we approached this was to ease the nations in to it, and not cause a sudden collapse in your economy."

 

"You see!" Dessa snarled. "General Lei Shen has been doing this on purpose."

 

"I am afraid that as of today, it is Emperor Lei Shen." Liu Xiang replied. The group went silent. "I have come here today to officially renounce the Earth Kingdom's affiliations with the other nations. Indeed today is the end of the Earth Kingdom in every sense. For today we march under the banner of the Great Earth Empire."

 

"This is preposterous!" Chief Rom'na chimed in. "This is treachery! It's plain to see. You can't expect to get away with this."

 

"Oh but we have committed no crimes." Liu Xiang explained, a thin smirk appearing on his face. "We are an independent nation as are all of you. We are free to walk away from this council at any time. It is you who is taking this is an act of aggression. We are merely seeking to go about our business on our own now. Can any of you say your nations have not explored this avenue in the past?"

 

"I...I still don't like it." Rom'na grumbled. The murmurs danced around the table until finally silence fell and President Woo Lin was left once more to speak. 

 

"Well...this is quite the piece of news." she said with a sigh. "I think we will end this at that. I will be in touch so that we can make the necessary arrangements. I don't have the legislation to hand with me. I assume General Lei Shen will be able to visit the City and deal with this in person?"

 

"Emperor Lei Shen would be most pleased to do just that." Liu Xiang replied. 

 

 


 

 

Hours later Yaozu was sat in his hotel suite, a cup of coffee in his hands, warming them as Ang Li and Kuj'ra spoke with one another. Yaozu had been barely listening, he felt very strange. He was on edge, as if something terrible we about to unfold. He did not know exactly what troubled him though. 

 

"It's disappointing of course." Ang Li said. "But we will get through this I'm sure. After all there was a time where we all managed on our own, kept to ourselves. Perhaps a new direction will be good for the Earth Nation. They have been without a designated ruler for 10 years now. Perhaps Lei Shen becoming an Emperor will bring a bit of peace to those still unsettled."

 

"I've got no idea" Kuj'ra replied. "I'll be taking the kid and heading back to the Capital in the morning. I'll need to brief Fire Lord Kazra about it. We can take it from there I suppose."

 

"We're going back in the morning?" Yaozu asked. "You mean...that's it?"

 

"There's nothing else to be done, kid." Kuz'ra said. 

 

"Something isn't right." Yaozu said with a sigh. "I can;t explain it but...don't you think this is pretty sudden? I don't really get politics but...I just don't trust that Liu Xiang. He was lying about something, hiding something. I could tell."

 

"He's a bit of a rat all right, but that doesn't mean we can do anything." Kuj'ra held his hands up in defeat. "We can't go around making a fuss about this kind of thing."

 

"Well why not!?" Yaozu snapped as he got up from his chair.

 

"Settle down." Ang Li asked of him. 

 

"No!" He snapped again. "All of you...all you did was bury your heads in there! At least the Water Tribe Chiefs wanted to do something about it. They could sense it too, that guy is no good. Something else is going on!"

 

"Like what, exactly?" Ang Li asked. "Do you know something we don't...have they spoken to you?"

 

"They don't just pop in to my head for a chat." Yaozu grumbled. "My ancestors can only guide me through what they have experienced. They don't warn me about the future, or at least they haven't before." Yaozu remembered the dream he had experienced that morning. He shook it from his head though, the man in his dream was neither Yun Feng nor Korra. He was only connected with the previous two, after Korra had began the cycle anew. 

 

"I'm sorry, I did not mean to be disrespectful." Ang Li said. "But you are the Avatar. Your feelings and instincts...they can mean more than a simple hunch. I trust your instincts, all of us should. It is your duty to maintain balance in the world."

 

"That doesn't mean he can't be wrong and you know it." Kuj'ra responded. "You know the history of the Avatars better than most. Korra, Aang, Roku, Kyoshi. They all made mistakes...ones that cost them dearly."

 

"Roku?" Yaozu said with a tone of surprise. "He was...before Aang, right? He was like me...born in the Fire Nation?"

 

"Exactly." Kuj'ra confirmed. Yaozu's fists clenched. The image of the old man in his dream, commanding the flames like they were an extension of himself. But that wasn't possible. He shook his head. 

 

"I need to get some air. Don't follow me." Yaozu turned on his heel to leave the room. 

 

"Like hell I'm letting you go alone." Kuj'ra called after him and marched forward. However as he did, Yaozu turned on his side and thrust his palm forward, sending a gust of air under Kuj'ra's feet and knocking him over, before storming off out of the door. Kuj'ra pulled his face up from the carpet and hear a small giggle from Ang Li. 

 

"You could have helped me stop him, y'know." He grumbled. 

 

"I could have. However that was rather amusing." she said with a soft smile. "Besides...didn't you see? He has realised something. I suspect his search will take him to a place we cannot follow even if we wanted to. It's about time you let him start figuring things out on his own."

 

 


 

 

Yaozu wandered through the streets of Republic City, feeling his temper bubbling away at him. He was so confused by it all. At the summit they had all seemed so dismissive. He couldn't help but think that this long lasting time of peace had made them evasive and afraid of aggression. However, 4 years ago when he had first communed with his past lives, it was Korra who had taught him: Darkness exists even in the strongest light. He took that to mean that war was inevitable, it was just a matter of when. 

 

He had not realised it, but his walking had taken him in to the part of the city known as the Spirit Wilds. The orange glow of the street lamps had been replaced by the eerie blue lights emanating from the firefly spirits buzzing around the streets. The walls of the buildings, and even the floor beneath him, were covered in great vines. And soon enough he found himself at the foot of the great tree that was at the heart of it all. He had never been particularly adept at understanding the ways of the spirits, he felt foolish to look to them for guidance now. 

 

"This is pointless" he said to himself. "I should just go back." 

 

"You should trust your feet." came a reply. Yaozu turned to see that the great spirit bear from the summit was there. 

 

"You're Kunlai, right?" he asked. The bear simply nodded. Then he exhaled loudly through his nose and looked around for a moment. 

 

"Even when your mind is lost, you should trust your feet." Kunlai said. "After all, they have guided you to this place, even without you knowing."

 

"I don't follow." Yaozu said, folding his arms. "Can't you spirits ever speak plainly?"

 

"And can't you humans ever look further than your own nose?" Kunali asked in response. "No, you expect the world to go slowly so you can understand. However, the world does not act on the whimsy of a human, even The Avatar. And yet you have brought yourself exactly where you need to be. You and I both sensed it, the lies that man spoke. More so, he feared me. An irrational fear if there ever was one. Why do you think that is?"

 

"I don't know." Yaozu replied. "I don't even know who he is, or what his intentions are."

 

"You over complicate things." Kunlai said. "You are using your mind, you need to use your senses, your instincts. The answer will come to you." Yaozu sighed and shook his head. He sat himself on the floor and crossed his legs. Why couldn't this spirit just say meditate in the first place? He closed his eyes, slowed his breathing, and tried to push all thought from his head. He found it easier than usual, most likely due to the spiritual energy nearby. 

 

"In that instance this man was hiding the truth through lies and misdirection. Yet his fear was placed solely on me, a spirit. Why do you think that is?"

 

"Spirits are wise. They can see through deception?" Yaozu guessed. 

 

"We are as different as humans are to one another. Not all spirits are wise." Kunlai explained. "Why would that man fear a spirit, in that instance?"

 

"...His secret...it involves spirits." Yaozu said. This time Kunlai did not correct him, and he took it as a sign that he was getting closer. "The secret he holds, the Emperor's secret. The truth can be unravelled by spirits somehow. Something about..." Yaozu sighed. "I can't! I can't do this!"

 

"Perhaps not." Kunlai mused. "You are but a child. It is true that you humans struggle with such concepts. The truth lies open like a book, even when it is hidden. You must simply look in the right place."

 

"I don't know the right place." Yaozu replied, exasperation in his voice. "I can't figure out what I don't know! That's not possible."

 

"Indeed it is, when you restrict yourself." Kunlai said with a sigh. He turned around and began to walk away. Yaozu got up from the ground and ran after him. 

 

"Hey wait!" he called, but it was too late. Kunlai had disappeared from sight. No doubt off back to the Spirit World. Yaozu hung his head down and sighed. For a moment he had felt close, but in the end he had gotten nowhere. In the morning he would be heading back to the Fire Nation, and he had nothing to go on. He wished so strongly that he could speak with his past selves, and seek their guidance. However it was not that simple, it was nothing something he could do at will. "The answer lies with the spirits...what does that even mean?"

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"I did as you asked, your Majesty." Liu Xiang stood in the main command room of their flag airship, before a man in his late 40's, the Emperor of the Great Earth Empire, Lei Shen. He was a large, muscular man with a powerful voice, but a kind, open face. His skin had been weathered by age and stress, and he carried several battle scars, signs no doubt of his many campaigns as a soldier, most notable of which was a scar that ran the length through his left eye, which should have been a dark green, but instead was a milky white. His hair was short and spiky, curving back almost like a lion's mane, and he had a short beard. His hair was black, save for a few lines of grey that slid through his hair and goatee.

"Very good, Liu, thank you. Did the council react as I feared?" The Emperor asked, leaning back in his chair.

"Yes, they fear what you will do, sire." Liu Xiang took a step to one side and poured a glass of wine for his master.

 

"Thank you, Liu, I have always been able to rely on you." Lei Shen took the glass from his aid, and sipped. "It is unfortunate that the council fears the independence of the Earth Kingdom, but in time, they will come to see that what I do, I do not just for my people, but all the people of this world."
"There was one person who spoke out against you more than anyone--"
"-- The Avatar," Lei Shen replied, confirming rather than asking. "It is his duty to understand the motivations of the world's leaders, Liu. But perhaps I can show him that I am no threat. He and I share the same goals. We want only peace." Lei Shen smiled and took another sip of his wine, "I will visit the Avatar, prepare my airship, we will leave afterwards."

 

 


 

 

Lei Shen smiled as the door to the hotel room opened, he saw the look of shock on the Avatar's face, and held his hands up as a gesture of peace, "Good evening, Avatar Yaozu, I am Lei Shen. You will know me as the ruler of the Earth Empire. I am sorry to startle you like this, but when we were told where you were staying, we found you absent, and so I asked the hotel owner if we could make you a cup of tea in preparation for your return. Will you join me?" He motioned to the free seat at the table, that had been laid with sweet cakes and biscuits, and cups of hot tea.

 

Yaozu's brow furrowed as he stared Lei Shen over quizically. His expression eventually calmed but the flare of his nostrils betrayed him. After a considerable pause he spoke. "Forgive me, your representative did not make a very good impression today. I'll sit with you, but no tea for me. I dislike it."
"I understand," Lei Shen laughed, "It's something of an acquired taste, I think." He paused and looked Yaozu over for a moment, "You remind me a little of your predecessor, I met Yun Feng, once, when I was a young man... I am sorry that Liu Xiang did not make a good impression on you, his heart is in the right place, but many are quick to judge, as I have learnt, your past rarely stains you pretty." He indicated his scarred face and shrugged it off, "But, how do you feel about the Earth Empire severing its ties to the council?"

 

"I... am not experienced with politics." Yaozu replied. "In truth this was my first time sitting in with a council. I have read plenty in history books but that doesn't compare to the real thing. I'm not entirely against it, I admit. However... I feel... no, I know. There is more to this. One thing the history books did teach me is that secrets can be incredibly dangerous."
"Good, you should be wary." Lei Shen nodded with an impressed tone, "But," He sighed, "I am no politician either. Too often they sit in that chamber, bickering about what to do while innocents starve and die. That is all I wish to avoid, Avatar. Needless pain. If you have any questions for me, however, before I leave tonight, you are free to do so. I came here so that I might get to know someone like me, someone who seeks balance."

"I was born in a time of peace and know nothing about war." Yaozu replied. "Do not think that you know me any more than I know you. I do have a question though, since you are promoting such honesty. I was taught to be direct so I will just say it. Liu Xiang couldn't mask his feelings all that well. He was hiding a truth in his words, and he feared the gaze of the spirits. So tell me, what are you hiding?"

"You are referring to his fear of the spirits?" Lei Shen asked, turning his gaze to linger on Xiang for a moment.

"I meant what I asked." Yaozu replied. "I'll say it again, what are you hiding?"
Lei Shen studied the boy for a few moments and nodded to himself, "You said yourself, Avatar... you are not experienced with politics, so I would not expect you to understand that sometimes, secrets must be held in order to protect the greater good. I will tell you, because I see in you the same spark that fuels the fire in my heart to protect those from harm, because you are not a politician. Liu Xiang fears spirits perhaps unjustly so, but it cannot be helped." Lei Shen paused to pick up a biscuit, dunking it in his tea before eating it in a single bite. After a sip of tea, he explained.

 

"You see," The Emperor began, "10 years ago, the Earth King was murdered. Most everyone knows this, but so too are most without the facts for which I have kept secret to protect the stability of this kingdom, and indeed the world." He paused, setting aside his tea. Lei Shen's face hardened as he spoke seriously, "The Earth King was not just murdered by some... assassin... oh, some people know he was killed by someone close to him, but if they knew the truth, the world would be upturned by war, as the other nations would perceive weakness and chaos in a time where I am trying to present a strong front, even as you, now, present me with a strong front." Lei Shen sighed and his eyes grew soft, "The Earth King, Hong-li Zhao, was murdered by his adopted daughter... Fang Zhao."

"...I see." Yaozu hung his head, troubled by the news. "...I didn't even consider something like that. I understand how something like that would be better off not known." Then Yaozu lifted his head again, a puzzled look on his face. "But what does that have to do with Spirits?"

Lei Shen opened his mouth and Liu Xiang interrupted him, "Sire, Avatar or not, this boy has no right to ask these questions of you."
"Be silent, Liu." Lei Shen raised an eyebrow with an expectant look.
"B-but sire--"
"Liu." The Emperor repeated, and Xiang fell silent at last. "Whether the Avatar is within his right to ask or not, it does not matter. I promised him transparency and so while we are in this room, we will do as I have promised. I am nothing without my word." Liu Xiang opened his mouth as though he might contest the Emperor's decision, but then thought better of it, and bowed. "I am sorry, Avatar Yaozu, it is a difficult subject for me to broach." He thought for a moment, running a finger across the rim of his tea cup. "I... I was very close, with the Earth King, you understand? But... he did not always heed my advice, he was as stubborn as I was back then. I saw the change in his daughter, her thirst for power. She claimed she wanted peace for her people and when her father would not give her the crown, she wanted to take it by force. I came to know she was after the crown, but... I never thought she'd go so far. I told Hong-li of his daughter's plans but he made me promise not to take her life, in order to protect his own. He said he would deal with it in his own way, but before he could, she took his life, and I..." Lei Shen clenched his fists, "And I was bound by my word not to kill her, despite the severity of her crimes, and yet... I could not allow her to go free, or twist the minds of her subjects to that end, and so I found the only way to keep my promise, and put her somewhere she could do no harm. I sent her to the spirit realm."

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Yaozu tensed up at the revelation. It had all fit with his feelings. If only he had known this was the truth that lay with the spirits. He felt ashamed for his mistrust. "I am sorry." he said at last. "I did not know that this was the case. I think I have misjudged this situation entirely. Is...is there anything I can assist you with before you leave? It is the least I can do."

 

Lei Shen bowed to Yaozu, "Thank you, young Avatar, but truly I need only rest. I will be happy once I am home again and seeing to the affairs of state which so badly need my attention in this new beginning for the Earth Empire, however," The Emperor stood and smiled to him, "I hope that we can become firm friends in the years to come, and with your help and guidance, I will lead the Earth Empire to a new age of peace and prosperity. May you watch over us as carefully and attentively as your predecessor. Good night, Avatar Yaozu." Lei Shen strode to the door, with Liu Xiang in quick succession.

 

Yaozu breathed a heavy sigh and made his way to his room. When he returned he found that Ang Li had left, and Kuj'ra was passed out and snoring in the bed opposite his own. He felt foolish now, he should have listened to Kuj'ra all along. Yaozu stripped off and got in to bed, Juro pawing his way up from the foot of the bed and resting on the pillow next to him. He felt emotionally drained, and ready for sleep. Sure enough it was not long before it had found him. 

 

 


 

 

He found himself once more stood upon a wide and grassy plain. The night had turned to day, and the warring had stopped. He looked across the vast grass land that stretched out as far as the eye could see. And all across, in every direction, rows a rows of gravestones, marking the resting places of the fallen. With the light shining upon him he did not feel the fog of confusion that had plagued him before. He felt lucid, and in control. 

 

"This isn't real." He told himself. "Just another stupid dream." As he spoke he wondered why he had even said it out loud. If he was truly lucid then surely this dream would pass him by, as he no longer wished to be in it. Yet still he stayed among a sea of graves. He had well and truly grown tired of vague messages coming from his mind. There was no reason for him to be here, no reason for his mind to be showing him such horrors. 

 

"Just wake up!" he snapped to himself. He grew frustrated, and as his anger built he felt a chill down his spine. He turned to face the presence, the figure who had appeared, as if he had been there all along, simply coming in to existence much like a spirit entered the physical realm. The figure was dressed in a green jacket with a tailed portion that reached the back of his knees. The hood was obscuring his face, but in the dark a pair of glowing, electric blue eyes were staring back at him, empty like a void. 

 

"If you have something to tell me then just say it!" He called out to the figure. "I'm sick of these mixed up messages! Just out with it!" The figure said nothing, did nothing, only stared. The more it stared, the more he felt his anger and frustration swelling. "Come on! Stop wasting my time and just...out with it!" He roared, his fist launching forward, and a burst of flame shot from it's end, flying towards the figure. However as it neared the figure moved, swerving to the side and spinning on his feet, catching the fire like a ball and redirecting it in his hands, allowing it to build up and grow larger, before sending it back toward Yaozu. 

 

Instinctively Yaozu lifted his right knee up and pulled his upper body back, and as he did a block of earth shot up in front of him, protecting him from the blaze, the fire clawing at it's edges in an attempt to bypass it for a moment. Then Yaozu kicked the block of earth and it shot forwards. This time he did not wait around, leaping and bending the earth beneath his feet, allowing it to move him forward across the earth at breakneck speed. 

 

The figure raised his fist and shattered the hurtling slab of earth and shattered it, sending the individual pieces back at Yaozu like projectiles. Yaozu changed his course, weaving left and right to dodge the earth, but then the ground beneath him fired up and sent him in to the air. He twisted his body, spinning mid air and swung out his leg. An arc of flame shot back down across the ground, scorching it, but his opponent had dodged out of the way. 

 

Yaozu fell back towards the earth and slowed his fall with a gust of air. The hooded figure came at him and the pair clashed, fists flying at each other, sending bursts of flame and air, each one narrowly missing it's mark. Then finally the figure caught him off guard and sent a burst of air in to his chest. Yaozu flew backwards through the air and hit something hard. The figure had raised a pillar of earth behind him. Dream or not, the pain felt very real. He dropped down on one knee and winced. When he looked back up his expression was scolding and driven. 

 

Yaozu pushed off from the ground with a burst of air, propelling himself back towards the hooded figure. As he neared the figure hurled chunks of earth up from the ground, but Yaozu punched through them, anticipating them. He closed the gap and swung another fist of fire, the hooded figure dodged and threw up two sections of earth from the ground like a pyramid in front of him. Yaozu let the earth beneath him drop, and moved through the earth, emerging on the other side and sending a kick with a blast of air, and the figure crashed through his own shield of earth and tumbled along the ground. 

 

Finally Yaozu spread his legs in a horse stance, thrusting both of his palms outward in a firm motion. The earth beneath the figure rose up and trapped him, binding him within the earth. He was certain this figure could break free any moment, and bridged the gap with another burst of air, raising his fist, which ignited with fire. As he drew closer, the figure raised his head and the flowing eyes faded. The light allowed itself through the hood and his face was revealed. Yaozu screeched to a halt, his fist inches from the man's face. 

 

"...Yun Feng!" He gasped. The man in front of him was young and fresh faced, in his mid 20's. His hair was short and brown, and he had a pair of light blue eyes. He broke out from the earth and stood up, no longer on the offensive. "What's going on?" Yaozu asked. 

 

"Well you finally opened your eyes for a minute." Yun Feng replied. "A good fight helped clear my head too. It seems we have that in common. Although your trouble with the spirits, you must have gotten that from the one before me."

 

"So what is this? What does it mean?" Yaozu asked. Yun Feng shrugged. 

 

"I don't know. This is your creation, not mine." Yun Feng explained. "This must be hard for you. In my life, I found it very easy to connect with the Avatar Spirit. You are out of balance, more so than you have ever been. However, I'm not sure it's entirely your own doing."

 

"What are you trying to say? That someone is doing this to me?" 

 

"Nobody can get inside your head like this, Yaozu." Yun Feng replied. "But something is interfering with your connection to the Avatar Spirit. Unfortunately you will have to find the answers for this one. I am only here to let you clear your head, and offer some guidance about something else."

 

"What else is there?" Yaozu asked, growing tired of having to ask questions. 

 

"I'm here to tell you that there are two sides to every coin." Yun Feng explained. "You see your perceptions are very black and white. That might be to do with your lack of experience with the darkness in people. You have learned through your teachings that there is both light and darkness in us all. But you haven't truly grasped how to use that knowledge. The form you see me in now, represents my younger years as the Avatar. During that time I learned that it's important to get the full story. Both the light and the darkness. You have heard one account of what happened. Don't you think the other side of the story deserves to be told?"

 

"I...I don't even know what you're talking about." Yaozu sighed in defeat. 

 

"You will, in time." Yun Feng said. "It's like the spirit told you. Trust your feet. They will take you where you need to go."

 

 


 

 

The next morning Yaozu walked with Kuj'ra across the walkway to the airship. However as he grew closer he paused, lingering on the walkway. Kuj'ra turned to him and tilted his head. "Everything okay, kid?" he asked. 

 

"Yeah...I think so anyway." Yaozu replied. 

 

"Last night...you didn't find what you were looking for, did you?" Kuj'ra asked. 

 

"I think I did. I...I met Lei Shen, the Emperor. He was here in the city." Yaozu explained. 

 

"What?" Kuj'ra asked, concern growing in his expression. "What did he say to you? Did he try to get you to do anything?"

 

"No...he just explained some things to me. He wanted to make sure I understood what was going on, to ease my concern I guess." Yaozu looked to his old friend and gave a half hearted smile. "It actually kind of worked. I think he might not be so bad. Something is still eating at me though."

 

Trust your feet. He had done so last night and it lead him to a big, old tree that taught him nothing. And now his feet were stopping him from getting on this airship. If what he was told was true, then he was on the wrong path. He had to go back to where he was before. Back to the Spirit Wilds. 

 

"Spirits..." He muttered to himself. Then it dawned on him. "Spirits...the spirit world. I have to go to the Spirit World."

 

"What!?" Kuj'ra gasped. "We're about to head back to the Fire Nation. We don't have the supplies for an expedition out in the poles. We'd freeze to death in this gear."

 

"Look...I have something I need to find out. It's important, but I can;t explain it to you right now. I know it's too cold at the spirit portal, but maybe we could go to the Water Tribe and pick up supplies?" Kuj'ra looked sceptical. 

 

"Yaozu...I have to report to the Fire Lord. I can't make a detour like that" he said. 

 

"...you're right. Okay." Yaozu went to get on the ship, but Kuj'ra pressed a hand against his chest to stop him. 

 

"I need to go back." Kuj'ra said with a smile. "Look. It's about time you chose your own path. Stay here for a while. Make sure you are certain about what you need to do. Then, if you are, you can get another airship to the Southern Water Tribe. You trained there, I'm sure your old master will still have your old winter clothes. Okay?"

 

"Kuj'ra..." Yaozu said with a sigh, then he smiled. He hugged the man briefly. "Thank you."

 

"Don't mention it." Kuj'ra replied. "Just find what you are looking for. If you need me, you know where I am."

 

And with that Yaozu watched as the airship took off without him. Now it was just him and Juro, alone in Republic City. As he made his way on to the streets he looked across the cityscape to his destination. If he recalled correctly, there was a temple within the Spirit Wilds. The spiritual connection would be strongest there. He nodded to himself, confirming that this was the right thing to do. Then he set off, trusting his feet to take him where he needed to go. 

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"So, what happened when you turned 6-years-old, Fang?" The little spirit frog asked, excited to hear the tale. Fang licked her lips, wetting them. Her throat felt dry and raw, as though the words she had to speak could not leave willingly. Turning to the waterfall's pool beside her, she leant down to the water's surface and drank from it directly, as an animal might. Once she had had her fill, she straightened up and brushed a bang of jet black hair from her face.

"Well, as i've said, I grew up in Gaoling. My parents were nobles, we were wealthy, but unlike many who live such lives, they were kind and generous people. My father was an architect and my mother a weaver. They used to say that they owed our town so much, and so they wanted to give something back. My father would build homes on the outskirts of the city so that those without homes would have a place to stay, my mother spent many long nights, making clothes to keep them warm, and together they exhausted much of their money in an effort to feed the townsfolk. But, back then, I didn't understand why they did what they did. I had many questions back then..."

 

 

Many years ago

 

 

Fang had just turned 6-years-old today, she ran down her stairs two at a time, gripping the bannisters with both hands until she got near the bottom and leapt off the last few and sprinted into the large front reception room in their estate house. The walls were adorned with beautiful hangings, ornaments and many other wondrous things made with a rainbow of colours, but dominant amongst them was the colour favoured by their nation. Green, the colour of the earth. Tapestries dotted with every shade of green you could imagine, miniature animal statues made with jade, their eyes set with emeralds. Her eyes glanced over these familiarities until Fang saw her mother sat at her loom, working.

"What are you doing?" Fang asked, quickly walking up to her and holding onto the side of her long, dark green robe. She looked up at her mother, and when she looked back at her, Fang saw the tiredness in her eyes.

"I'm just making a few winter robes, for the people of the village, Fang." Her mother smiled at her and stroked her hair, "Happy birthday, my little sparrowkeet." Her smile wiped some of her exhaustion away, but Fang scowled at her.
"You know I don't like you calling me that! I'm not a sparrowkeet, i'm... i'm more like a badgermole! I can just dig through the earth and find my prey, rawr!!" And she pounced onto her mother's lap, who laughed and smiled.
"Well those nasty wolfbats better watch out then," She replied with a grin that mirrored her daughter's. At that moment, there was a loud bang as the front door slammed shut and two men walked in. One was her father, and the other was her older brother, Dao. Fang and her brother were complete opposites, while she looked much like her mother, she was a tomboy who liked to play around in the earth like the other children and have fun, whereas her brother, Dao, was always serious, like their father.

 

"Leave mother alone, Fang." Dao warned, crossing the room as she watched her father storm upstairs. He was in one of his tempers, and she knew it was better to leave him alone for a little while. She turned her attention to her brother and as he started to pull her from her mother's lap, she pushed Dao, who although he was over four years her senior, was small and short enough to only have a couple of inches on her. Immediately, Dao retaliated, he drew back his hands and shoved forwards without touching his sister, but from the ground quickly jutted a little diagonal pillar of earth that knocked Fang to the floor.
"Dao!!" Their mother barked, and stood up from the loom, "First, you know there's no earthbending in the house, what have I told you?! But more importantly you don't use earthbending on your sister!!" 
"She started it!!" He snapped back at her in frustration.

"If I could earthbend i'd knock your block off!" Fang shrieked, kicking and punching the air while her mother held her back.

"Come on, you two. Behave yourselves," Their mother eyed them both and then let go of her daughter, "Now, do you want your present, Fang?" 

"PRESENT!!!" Fang yelled to the ceiling, to some unknown gods of gift giving, and started running around in circles around the room until her mother picked her up and placed her on her lap, smiling at Dao who rolled his eyes, brushing his short scruffy black hair out of his face.
"Are you coming, honey?!" Her mother called out, and a minute later her father appeared. He looked even more tired than her mother, lines etched across his face, and bags beneath his eyes, but he was smiling and so she smiled back at her father. 
"Happy birthday, little one," He said softly, kissing her on the forehead to which she made a disgusted face and wiped her forehead with the back of her sleeve, "Manners." He said with a frown, poking her in the side softly, to make her giggle.

"So..." Her mother began, sharing a look with her husband that Fang didn't understand, "... we don't have a lot of money right now, Fang, so we can't give you a normal gift."

A quick succession of expressions and emotions played through Fang in a matter of seconds. First she frowned as she didn't understand, they were wealthy and she'd always had a gift. Why couldn't she have a gift? It was her birthday. But confusion quickly turned to anger and she felt like whirling around and socking her brother right in his stupid face but as quickly as her anger arrived, it was replaced with sadness and she began to tear up, clenching her fists she stared at her parents who seemed to remain happy. Why were they smiling at her like this, even when she was so sad? Confusion returned, and she was unable to cry while the question remained unanswered. 
Her mother resumed, "Well, we don't have a lot of money right now, but... we still have a lot of influence and, well..." 

".... sooo, we spoke to Master Dun about accepting you as one of his pupils." Her father finished.

At this piece of news, it was her brother's turn to leave his mouth agape, "What do you mean 'pupil'?" He barked, "She can't earthbend!! I could earthbend when I was four, and Fang is six now and she can't even lift a pebble! What's she going to do with earthbending training?!"

"But..." Fang looked at her parents and then stared at the ground, "But Dao is right, Master Dun only trains earthbenders..."
"Well we spoke to him and he thinks you can earthbend, you just... haven't found a reason to or... or you just haven't..." Her father was stumbling with an explanation and looked to his wife for support who picked up his comment.
"Oh Fang, you just need the right environment, maybe if Master Dun teaches you, you can learn to earthbend, just like how he's teaching your brother. Just... give it a try, okay?"

 

 


 

 

"Good afternoon, students." Master Dun bowed to them, his long wispy white beard almost touching the ground as he did so.
"Good afternoon, Master Dun!" The students replied, every one of them bowing. Children aged 4 to 12 were present, but most of the group were made up of children around her brother's age. She watched at the back of the courtyard in silence, looking up at her mother for support who smiled back at her.
"Today, we are accepting a new student, Fang - Fang, will you come up here please." Master Dun held out his hand and she felt her mother's hands pressing against her back, forcing her forwards until she was stood alone in the space between her mother and the other children, all of them watching and silently judging her. She almost darted back to her mother but after a moment's consideration sniffed and sauntered up towards Master Dun, as though she had all the time in the world. 

However, mid-journey, Fang tripped on her long dress robe and face-planted the ground to a cacophony of laughter, greatly instigated by her brother. Enraged at her frustrating dress, she pulled herself up, cursing that she hadn't fought more when her mother had asked her to wear it. She hated dress robes, she couldn't move in them properly and now she had to finish her walk up to Master Dun awkwardly as he clapped his hands together for silence. She knew that had he not been present, they would have been content to laugh her out of the courtyard.
"It's alright, Fang." Master Dun whispered as she stood beside him, "Not all of us can earthbend right away, sometimes we are late bloomers. Can I tell you a secret?" She raised her eyebrows expectantly and he smiled, "I couldn't earthbend until I was 9." His smile broadened as hers did and then he added, "And I hate dress robes... my mother made me wear them until I was fifteen... she was a monster..." He shuddered and then looked back at her, and together they laughed.

 

 


 

 

"Keep your chin up, and surge forwards, dominant leg first and--" Master Dun paused his instruction as he noticed several of his pupils had split away from the main group mimicking his actions. He noticed several faces, it was always the same faces. Master Dun scowled and asked his class to continue practising as he began his slow, methodical approach towards the breakaway group, taking a puff from his pipe as he went.
"You can't even throw a little rock, Fang!" One boy shouted, pushing her roughly back into the centre of the group. Fang looked around her, she was surrounded. A number of boys and girls, most of them friends of her brother, and Dao himself.
"You've been here three weeks already, Fang, you can't earthbend! You never will." Dao lifted his arms and pushed forwards and a large block of stone burst from the ground and knocked her to the ground, taking all the air from her lungs. She tried to pull herself up but as she did so, a girl thrust her hand forwards and a small pillar knocked her to her side and she yelped in pain.

Lying on her side, Fang saw Master Dun watching her, though the others didn't seem to notice. Why wouldn't he step in? Why wouldn't he help her? She grit her teeth and wondered why she had ever liked him. He almost never spent any time with her, he never tried to teach her anything. She just had to mimic him like the others, but she couldn't earthbend. She couldn't do anything! And now he was just watching her as the other students knocked her about. She tumbled across the ground as another pillar knocked into her, making her world spin and she resigned herself to not resisting. She was tired of always fighting with them and always having to go home and lie about how she got her bruises. Tomorrow she wouldn't come back, she'd tell Master Dun she couldn't earthbend, and that was that. Her brother had won.
"Just... okay, look, we're really going to hurt her, Dao!" One of the boys piped in and Fang refocused her attention, one of the boys from Dao's group had stepped in, she didn't know his name, why was he helping her?
"Get out of my way!" Dao barked, and readied an aggressive stance. The boy mimicked Dao's stance but she knew that Dao was the strongest earthbender in the class, he would flatten the other boy as easily as he did her.

"That's enough!" The boy repeated, "What's it matter if she can't earthbend, she's trying and Master Dun is training her for a reason, its not up to you, or any of us. I used to follow you because I thought you were cool, because you knew more than any of us, you were stronger than any of us, but I guess not all earthbenders are also good people."
Dao's face curled into a snarl and he leapt at the boy, the two fought briefly, but Dao was faster, stronger, and after knocking the other boy's weaker punch to one side he struck the boy in the gut as hard as he could, and the boy collapsed.
"Hey!!" Fang yelled through gritted teeth, Dao stopped to look over to his sister.
"Shut up, i'll deal with you in a minute, mother and father should never have let you come here, it was wrong. You're weak."
"I'm not weak... leave him... alone, Dao..." Fang pulled herself up, holding her side gingerly.

 

A lop-sided grin of disbelief spread over Dao's face and he switched his attention to her. "What? What are you going to do, Fang? You can't stop me. I'm stronger than you are, i'm faster, i'm older... i'm better than you are, i'm going to be someone special when I grow up, but you? You're just a stupid kid who doesn't know when to give up. I'm going to show you when it's time to give up, right now..."
Dao lifted his hands, but at the same time, Fang charged him, caught off guard, Dao switched stances and blocked her leaping kick just in time and returned with a quick roundhouse kick, which though she was able to block, the strength of her brother's attack made her whole body vibrate and the arm she used to block his attack immediately began to scream at her with a terrible ache. She backed up, eager to regain some distance between them, maybe this had been a mistake. Dao did not relent, he wanted to teach her a lesson she wouldn't forget. She could see it in his eyes. He couldn't be reasoned with any more.

 

Her brother charged to attack her once again, and as he pulled his arm back to strike, she attacked. Arching her body, Fang spread her legs, strengthening her stance, she drew her arms in, arched her back and with a single jab, punched forwards. A large group of pillars exploded out just in front of her and caught Dao twice, once in the chest and once in the face. He hit the floor and silence filled the courtyard. After a few seconds, Dao wearily leant back up and looked around, unsure of what he had just been doing. His lips felt wet and when he wiped them with the back of his hand, it came away bloody. His nose was trickling blood and every student in the courtyard was looking at him, at least, at first that's what he thought. Then, he realised. They weren't looking at him, they were looking at his sister, and the great mass of stone jutting out before her. Fang was an earthbender. He opened his mouth to speak, but before he could, several of the other students cheered and laughed and shamed, Dao ran from the courtyard, ignoring Master Dun's request to wait. Dun turned to face Fang, who was caught up in a sea of the other students asking her what had happened for those who had missed the altercation, while others patted her on the shoulder and began chatting with her and laughing, and thought he felt sadness for how it had happened, he knew that it was something that had to occur naturally, and he was glad that at last, Fang had found her inner strength at last.

 

 

Present day

 

"WHOOOOO!!" The little spirit frog cheered, "That was the best part, the bit, where... you like... punched him, with a big hunk o' stone! Ahaha!" And then he began doing little punches with his little froggy hands, "Take that, and that!!" Fang smiled at the little spirit and sighed at the same time, "Oh, but hey..." The frog paused, "You told me all that stuff but you haven't even gotten to the good bit yet, how did you come to the spirit realm and, how did you train and what happened to your parents and what happened to your brother and--"
"--Wait..." Fang held her arm up, pressing a finger to her lips for silence. She felt a strange energy in the spirit realm, something had entered that was not of this world, and yet, it was. It was both uniquely alien, and yet also familiar to the spirits. She felt a great many emotions swelling to the surface around her, the air was electric with activity. "Uh oh..." She muttered.
"Yeah, what is that..." The frog spirit asked, turning it's head to look behind them.
"I'm... not sure..." Fang stood up and smelled the air, wrinkling her nose. "But I don't like it..."
"It sort of reminds me of you..." The frog mused, and then Fang realised what it was. A human had entered the spirit realm.

 

"How could I be so stupid!" Fang called out to the frog as she ran, darting through the forest.
"Slow down--I can't--keep up--with--you!" The frog gasped, as it leapt from place to place, desperately trying to hold pace with her.

"If that is a human, then it has no business here, I will see it gone and you should go back home! It could get messy..." Fang added, and then with a single leap, she cleared the ground and vanished into the trees.
"Dang, it was just getting good too..." The frog muttered, and hopped away. 

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With a final heave Yaozu pulled himself over the thick branch of the Spirit Vine Tree that stood above the buildings in the centre of the Spirit Wilds. He sat himself down taking a moment to catch his breath after the steep climb. He gazed out over the cityscape, the tall buildings cutting across the otherwise untouched horizon, where the morning sun shimmered over the ocean. Facing out to sea was the great statue of his predecessor, Avatar Aang.

 

Yaozu adjusted himself on the branch so that he was sitting comfortably with his legs crossed. His faithful companion Juro climbed down from his shoulder and sat in front of him, cocking his head to the side.

 

“If this works It’ll be like I’m sleeping, Juro†Yaozu said. “So you’ll have to stand guard and protect me if any evil assassins come to take me out, you hear?†Juro replied with a simple squeak of confusion and Yaozu smiled.

 

The last time he had entered the Spirit World had been in the later period of his Air Elemental Training, where he had travelled to the various Air Temples to learn the techniques each had to offer. Ang Li had taught him all about spirituality, but the circumstances of his last venture in to the Spirit World was completely different.

 

First of all, he had not been alone. Ang Li had accompanied him on his journey and offered him guidance, ensuring that he behaved correctly and warning him of any dangers. Furthermore he had only ever achieved astral projection once. In order to do so he had cleansed himself through fasting for 3 days, under Ang Li’s instruction. Not to mention the vegetarian diet he had adopted at that time had kept him in better health both in body and mind.

 

He was far removed from all of that now. His return to the Fire Nation had led to his resuming of a diet of plenty of meat, and he had certainly not been fasting recently. His only saving grace was the Spirit Tree on which he sat, where he could sense that spiritual energy was rich.

 

He shook his head, pushing out the fond memories of his past experiences from his mind. He closed his eyes and focused on his breathing. Slow, calm and rhythmic like Ang Li had taught him. He recited his mantra in his head, a personal phrase used to focus the mind, and push away all external thoughts and distractions. The familiar sensations of meditation began to wash over him. Distant noises became silenced, the sound of his own breath the loudest in his mind.

 

Time became irrelevant. He may have been here for hours, perhaps days, perhaps only minutes. Yet he kept his eyes closed and recited his mantra, avoiding the temptation to even wonder how much time had passed. He felt the tension in his shoulders relaxing, and then a true sense of calm washed over him.

 

“Hey, are you okay?†a voice asked him. He furrowed his brow in frustration, unable to push away such a direct distraction.

 

“I’m fine, please leave me alone.†He stated to the unknown voice, his tone calm but with a hint of frustration.

 

“No need to be rude!†The voice responded. “Who do you think you are?â€

 

“You’re the one being rude.†Yaozu replied, his annoyance showing. “I’m trying to reach the Spirit World!â€

 

“Well you’re clearly an idiot if you’re trying to go where you already are! Stupid human…â€

 

“Human?†Yaozu repeated, opening his eyes. The source of the voice was a strange cat-like spirit with light brown fur and dark spots around it’s eyes, standing on two legs, and it’s arms were long-fingered like a person but clawed like a cat. Juro had disappeared from his side, and as Yaozu looked around for him, he realised that he was no longer sat on the branch of a tree.

 

He was now sat in a clearing of a lush, green forest. The sky above was dark but the forest was illuminated by bright blue fireflies that were hovering around, and the plants and trees seemed to glow and shimmer. Yaozu smiled at the wonderous sight.

 

“I made it!†He said to the spirit. “I’m sorry about before…I thought I was still in the human world and you were just some other human trying to bother me.â€

 

“How dare you!†The cat spirit replied. “First you pop up out of the blue and I kindly come to check on you, then you accuse me of bothering you! If that wasn’t enough you insult me more, saying I sound like a human! Like I’d sound that undignified with all the whooping and honking you lot do!â€

 

“Honking…?†Yaozu murmured, scratching his head. “Look I’m sorry I think you misunderstood. I’m the Avatar you see and-“

 

“Oh well I’m so sorry your majesty!†The cat spirit snapped sarcastically, “Stuck up as well as rude I see. You won’t get much praise here. Ever since you opened the portals we’ve had more and more stinky humans turning up here trying to poke their nose where it doesn’t belong.â€

 

“But I didn’t do that…that was-“

 

“Are you really the Avatar? You don’t even seem to understand what that means! In this world the face you wear means nothing, your spirit is the same, and has remained the same for 10,000 years, dummy!â€

 

“Look I’m sorry I didn’t mean it.†Yaozu said as he stood up. “I’m trying to find someone, a human who came here years ago.â€

 

“So what?†The cat spirit replied, folding it’s arms. “The world is full of lost things, and full of people trying to find things. You better just buzz off and get looking, hm?â€

 

“But-“

 

“Go away now! Get out of here!†The cat spirit snarled, advancing on Yaozu.

 

He reached out to grab at him, when a blur of black fur closed the gap between them. The black wolf growled menacingly at the cat spirit, who leapt away in fear, scurrying in to the bushes. The wold turned to Yaozu, revealing one eye that was scarred and closed, and the other a piercing red. “I apologise about him.†The wold said gruffly. “Mienyao is quite the sensitive creature, but his outbursts are mostly harmless. I understand that you are in search of someone, Avatar?â€

 

“Who are you?†Yaozu asked.

 

“I am Lo, a mere servant of my master.†He replied. “If it is a human you seek that lives in the Spirit World, then there is only one. The Earthbender, Fang.â€

 

“You know her? Can you take me there?†Yaozu asked.

 

“I know of her. Follow me, I will take you to where you need to go.†Lo turned around and lead Yaozu out of the clearing and in to the forest, disappearing through the trees. Hiding in the tree tops not far from them, Menyao watched, his eyes fearful.

 

“Oh no…that human is going with Lo…he has no idea how much danger he is in!†Mienyao whispered to himself fearfully. “He’s an idiot but…I have to tell Fang!†and with that Mienyao tore off through the trees in the opposite direction.

 

 

Meanwhile Yaozu continued walking silently with the wolf. The forest was beginning to grow darker around them, the glowing lights were fading and the leaves were disappearing from the branches. He felt a little unsettled, as the forest became more sinister the further they went. He reminded himself what Ang Li had taught him. The Spirit World was not like the human world, sometimes it would seem scary, when there was no reason to be afraid.

 

Besides, if this was the way to Fang, then this was where he had to go. He followed Lo, who remained mostly silent throughout the journey. In fact the whole forest had become silent. There wasn’t so much as a whisper from another spirit. After a while Lo came to a stop and pointed his nose towards a dark thicket of large thorns, curving around each other to form a tunnel.

 

“You must go through there.†Lo said.

 

“Aren’t you coming with me?†Yaozu asked

“I can go no further.†Lo replied. “You must complete this journey alone.â€

 

With that the wolf spirit turned around and walked away, disappearing in to the darkness before Yaozu could say another word. He sighed, scratching his head. The way ahead looked dangerous. He didn’t care what Ang Li has said, this place was definitely dangerous. He had no choice though, he had to find Fang.

 

Carefully he made his way through the tunnel of thorns, ducking his head to avoid being stung by the sharp barbs. Twigs snapped under his feet and he heard something move in the darkness ahead. He edged ever closer, finally emerging from the tunnel and in to what could only be described as a nest of thorns. Was this the prison in which Fang had been kept? Had she been trapped in this dark place all this time.

 

Something shuffled around ahead of him and Yaozu cleared his throat.

 

“Hello?†He called out. “Fang, is that you? I’m Yaozu, I came to speak with you.â€

 

“Why have you come here?†a voice replied, wheezing and hoarse.

 

“Are you Fang?†Yaozu asked.

 

“Nay.†Came the response. “Who has sent you in to my domain?â€

 

“Lo brought me here, he said this was where I would find who I’m looking for.â€

 

“Hmm. Yes.†The creature responded. “Lo is a faithful servant. He has brought you to his Master, as is his purpose. Lo has sent many here to meet their fate. Alas you will find no Earthbender here.â€

 

“So he lied.†Yaozu replied, feeling fear creeping up on him. “He said Fang would be here.â€

 

“Nay†the voice called again. “Lo cannot lie. He indeed has taken you to where you need to go, to meet your fate. Yes, he is a good servant to bring one such as yourself to his Master.â€

 

“And you are?â€

 

“I am your fate.†The voice replied and the creature rustled in the darkness. Then a set of beedy, yellow eyes lit up in the darkness, then another pair, and another. The darkness moved as the creature stood up and revealed it’s form. A large, black insect like creature, with a salivating maw of teeth, and 6 beedy eyes. It’s centipede-like legs jittered in excitements, a pair of reaching claws in front of it.

 

“All who pass through the tunnel of thorns will meet their end at the hands of I, Ukurin the Fate Eater!â€

 

A memory flashed before Yaozu, of his time with Ang Li. In one of her teachings she had warned of the Fate Eater, a malevolent spirit who lures the unwary into it’s’ nest. The Fate Eater was plagued with unbearable hunger that could not be satiated by any normal food. Instead it would feast on a person’s fate, the very fabric of every eventuality that might ever be for that person, up until their eventual death.

 

“To bring the Avatar to me, Lo will be greatly rewarded.†Ukurin wheezed excitedly, “Your fate stretches continuously through multiple lifetimes, stretching onwards beyond any foreseeable eventuality. My dear boy, you will be my finest meal!â€

 

Suddenly the wheezing creature sprung to life, scuttling towards Yaozu. Instinct kicked in and Yaozu’s fist shot out, but then he froze in fear. Where was the fire?

 

“How fortunate for me that you chose to leave your body behind, and along with it, your ability to bend the elements!†Ukurin hissed, advancing closer, his claws snatching and grabbing menacingly.

 

As the creature’s claws came down on him Yaozu leapt forward, rolling out of it’s grasp and diving under the gap under it’s belly, scrambling out of the other end. However his path was blocked, the only way in or out was through the tunnel he had came from.

 

Ukurin spun around and launched his body at Yaozu, his gaping maw bared to swallow him whole. Yaozu spun his feet, twisting his body to the light, turning and moving, constant motion. Without his bending, the evasive style of the Air Nomads was his best option. If he could get to the tunnel again, he could attempt to flee.

 

He felt motion to his right as a large tail cut through the darkness. With a soft push of his feet he left the ground, spinning through the air, arcing his body over the tails trajectory, and landing firmly on the ground again. Without hesitation he was greeted with swiping claws, which he dodged and ducked, moving himself closer to the approaching teeth. He spread his legs wide apart, pulling his entire frame in to a low crouch as the creature shot past him, it’s soft belly now over his head.

 

His muscles tightened as he made his frame solid and unyielding like the earth. He gathered force at his feet and thrusted upwards, driving the force up through his arm and in to his closed fist, which slammed in to the soft stomach of the creature, causing it to screech and wheeze in pain.

 

However in it’s rage it began to thrash unpredictably, it’s body writhing chaotically in the darkness. He felt the tail connect with his back and send him crashing along the dirt. He winced and went to pull himself up, as Ukurin loomed over him. Somehow he had been thrown further in to the nest, and far from his escape route. Cutting off his options, Ukurin had trapped him in a corner.

 

The beady yellow eyes fidgeted excitedly, slober oozing from his teeth in anticipation. The creature wheezed as it began to inhale deeply. With each breath Yaozu felt weaker, like the life was being dragged out of him. His vision blurred, and sound became distant a muffled. He felt like he was drifting away, falling through air.

 

Then the sound came wooshing back as quickly as it had gone, a loud, crunching bang as rock and dirt smashed against the creature, causing it to howl in pain once more. Yaozu looked further away, at the blurred finger on the other side of Ukurin. The form was tall and slender, but toned with muscle. He recognized the form in which the figure stood, and for a moment he saw a glimpse of a white-faced warrior woman, a brilliant red flashing over her eyes.

 

This unknown and familiar woman was there for but a moment, and then as his eyes focused, he saw another woman. One who was clearly scarred by battle, but her face was completely unknown to him. And yet she had saved his life. An Earthbender woman…could it be?

 

“…Fang?†Yaozu called weakly. 

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"Quiet, human." Fang spat the word from her mouth as the spirit hauled itself back up. This spirit was incredibly dangerous, but she had fought with it many times, and she knew it as well as it knew her. It growled and snapped but did not advance on her further. Fang began to circle the creature's den, forcing it to circle away from the semi-conscious Yaozu until Fang was stood in front of him.
"He is MINE!!" Ukurin roared, taking a step forwards. Fang matched the step and Ukurin haltered.
"He might not have his bending here, Ukurin. But I do." She took up a powerful stance, spreading her legs and digging them into the dirt and holding out her remaining arm as a challenge to the creature. Silence filled the den, nothing moved and only the rasping sound of the Fate Eater's uneasy breathing remained. After a few minutes, it seemed as though Ukurin had decided against fighting Fang, and began to turn away from them. Letting out a breath she had been holding, Fang took a step back and bent down to help Yaozu up from the ground, but as she did so Ukurin's tail flicked out from the shadows, ready to slice the pair in two. 

 

In an instant, Fang reacted. Smashing her right foot into the ground, a great block of earth surged up from below Yaozu, knocking him into the air. Fang flipped backwards, missing the tail at the last instant as it whipped across the ground, kicking up a cloud of dust. As she landed, she whirled around and the block of earth split in two, forming a diagonal slide which Yaozu rolled down comfortably but Ukurin was already upon them. Fang ran forwards and leapt into the air, whirling as she went. Blocks of earth flew up from the ground like missiles and smashed into the side of the spirit, knocking it over but only for a split-second. Enraged at the attacks, Ukurin quickly reached out with it's jaws and tried to snap at Yaozu, but inches from the boy's face, two sheets of earth shot out from either side of Yaozu, creating a sort of 'tent' shape. Ukurin bit into this structure and roared, trying to break it but just as the rock began to crumble, Fang flipped forwards and smashed her foot into the ground. An enormous block of earth below Yaozu burst upwards, and as the rock tent broke, Yaozu was propelled directly into Ukurin's surprised face. The punch connected, sending the monster reeling. 

 

As Yaozu fell back to the earth, Fang brought another block of stone up at the right angle so that Ukurin's attacks missed him by a few inches, changing the trajectory of his fall just enough. Ukurin whipped it's tail back and forth, clawed and bit in a blind rage, and every time it was about to land a hit on Yaozu, Fang countered it by juggling the boy out of the way of the monster's attacks. But she knew this couldn't go on, she couldn't fight Ukurin and protect the boy at the same time. There was only one thing for it. Ukurin charged for Yaozu as Fang surged forwards and thrust her palm in a forward strike, all the accumulated dust during their fight gathered and flew into Ukurin's eyes, blinding it for a moment. The spirit's eyes watered as it fumbled to see where Yaozu had gone. Everything was blurry, it could barely see anything. Then from the corner of it's eye, it saw movement. Turning to face the figure, Ukurin charged once more, opening it's maw to swallow the human whole. Ukurin bit down, it's face oozing with pleasure.

But the expression left it's face almost immediately, as it looked down at the body it had sliced in two. The figure was not human at all, it was a statue. A statue of Fang, pulling her eyelid down and sticking her tongue out at it. As a fresh rage bubbled to the surface, Ukurin desperately looked for the real Fang. 

"I've had enough out of you, Ukurin." Fang called out from behind it, and it spun around to face her. "So i'm going to give you your own special prison." Ukurin roared in defiance. Quick as a flash, Fang began a complex series of movements and smashed her foot into the ground. Ukurin dropped straight into a huge rectangular pit just large enough to hold it, but as it tried to clamber back up blocks of stone shackled its legs and tail and it sunk deeper into the earth. 
"I'll kill you Fang, you're mine, he's mine! You--"
"Bye." Fang muttered, and with a final move, pulled across a thick sheet of stone on top of the pit, sealing the spirit inside and leaving no trace that it was ever there. "Well, he's going to be pissed when he gets out..." Fang smiled to herself and then remembered the human. "Oh..." She turned to look at Yaozu and sighed.

Crossing the den, Fang picked up Yaozu by the scruff of his neck and threw him to the ground in front of the thorny exit. "Go on, move it!" She barked, and kicked him in the backside to get him down the tunnel, then followed him through. When she got out the other side he was waiting for her and she stood up and shoved him, "Get out of here! You don't belong!" She yelled, and then turned and started to walk back.

"I belong here just as much as you do." Yaozu replied, hesitant but firm. "Out of the two of us, you're the only one here in their body."
"I'm the only one here that doesn't go stomping around in the forest like an idiot, pissing off grouchy spirits, pokin' my head where it doesn't belong." Fang growled as she spoke and shook her head, "You're all the same."

"I suppose you hit the ground running when you first came here then?" Yaozu replied, folding his arms at his chest and cocking his head. "You know you're not what I expected."

"Life's full of disappointments, kid. Go home." Fang muttered.

"I won't." Yaozu replied flatly. "I came here to speak with you, and I'm not going anywhere until I do."
Fang stopped walking abruptly and turned to look at the boy, she put her arm on her hip and rolled her eyes, "This is the part where i'd smack my fist into my other hand, if I could." She cracked the knuckles in her fist and stepped towards him.

"Hitting me won't solve anything." Yaozu raised his head, pointing his chin out. "But if it makes you feel any better then go ahead--"

Fang punched Yaozu square in the jaw, watched as he hit the ground and then smiled, "You're right. That did make me feel better." Then she turned from him, and resumed walking. After a few moments however, she heard his footsteps fall back in line behind her and her lip curled back as she turned on him, "What do you want?!"

 

"To talk to you." Yaozu said as he rubbed his jaw. "I did say that before you know..."

"No." Fang replied, "Talking to me is what you want to do - but what do you want?"

"That's... not quite so easy to answer." Yaozu said as he scratched his head. "Where to start... hmm... I don't know why I had to find you, I just know that I did. Something... bigger than you or I, wants us to meet."

Fang stood in silence for a moment with a mixed look of annoyance and confusion on her face, "... What, like... a platypus bear, or something?" Then her face grew serious again and her eyes looked to the sky as though pleading for help. "Say what you mean. Geez, I hate humans that can't just say what they mean..." She muttered, looking the boy over.

 

"Well actually there was a bear... but that's not important." Yaozu shook his head, then looked at Fang, eyeing her carefully. "I met General Lei Shen, well, actually I guess it's Emperor now. I wanted to ask you about... what happened 10 years ago."

"L-Lei Shen...?" Fang's hardened expression softened for a moment as memories flooded back to her, "T-ten years... has it..." She looked down at her hand, marked by scars and worn by calluses, "... has it really been ten years...?" She could hardly believe it. She knew time moved differently in the spirit realm, but was that all it had been? Ten years? It had felt like a hundred. Fang began pacing.

"I'm sorry if this is upsetting." Yaozu said softly. "You must have been pretty out of touch all of this time. Things have changed quite a lot, at least I think so. I was only a little kid back then. I didn't even visit the Earth Kingdom until I was 11. Oh... I'm Yaozu by the way."

It was too much for her, Fang stopped pacing and walked right up to Yaozu, grabbed him by the neck and marched him backwards by force until he was up against a tree and then she lifted him off his feet and slammed him against the bark, "WHY DID YOU COME HERE!!" She screamed, her eyes brimmed with tears. The spirit world reacted to her outburst, the trees began to warp, the grass beneath her feet curled and browned and as the world seemed to close in around them and darken, hungry yellow eyes poked out from the darkness.

"Lei Shen gave me one side of the story, from ten years ago. I want to hear the other side." Yaozu replied, his voice calm and firm. "You need to calm down, look at what you're doing."

Fang looked around and realised what she was doing. She had been here so long she'd almost forgotten. Taking a deep breath, Fang let her emotions settle until the spirit world in their immediate vicinity returned to normal, then she threw Yaozu to the ground and stood over him, "There's no sides to the truth, kid. If it wasn't for me, my father would still be alive. There's your story, now just... just leave." She walked over to a fallen log and sat down on the trunk, resting her forehead in the palm of her hand.

 

"You know... You were around in the time of my predecessor." Yaozu continued. "When he died, so I'm told, it was a truly great sadness for every nation. But I studied him, and his life. During the rebellions in the Earth Kingdom, he was asked to stand with the Earth Nation Army and put an end to the fighting. Instead he went to the rebels. He sat with them, broke bread, he listened to their stories. When his actions were questioned he told the people, 'It is not my responsibility alone to maintain balance, it is the duty of every single one of us. If only you could learn to see past your own nose.' Do you remember when he said that?"

Fang laughed, "That idiot..." She muttered, biting her lower lip. Fang looked back up to ask Yaozu a question, but he was not there. Stood before her was an old man. His arms crossed, a hood shaded his weathered face from the sun. He had a goatee and long, ashen hair cascaded down his chest, and he stood smiling back at her. "Yun...?"

 

 

15 years ago

 

 

"Yun!" Fang called out, crossing her arms irritably. Fang was in her mid-twenties, but she looked much the same, save for her lack of scars. Her skin was smooth and pale, and of course, she had both her arms. Her hair was just as long and dark, but unlike her older self, it was tied back in a high ponytail and she was far more restrained and serious in her mannerisms. She carried herself with an air of dignity and composure, with military precision. "Yun!" She called again, to no response. "Dammit, where did that idiot go..." She muttered, looking around their encampment. It was the eve of the battle between her father, the Earth King's forces, and the rebels. The moon was high in the sky, casting an eerie glow over everything. She quickly marched towards her father's tent and one of the soldiers, upon seeing her approach, stepped inside and announced her as she entered.
"Captain Fang Zhao, Princess of the Earth Kingdom, Lady of--"
"--Less of that." She growled, grabbing the man's lips between her thumb and forefinger and making the man splutter and squeek the last words. Her father laughed and ushered her over to his side.

"Where have you been?" He asked.
"I've been looking for Yun Feng, have you seen him?!" She asked, worriedly. 

The Earth King looked at his advisor and then back to his daughter with a concerned expression, "The Avatar has gone to speak with the rebels."
"What?!" Fang snapped, "They'll kill him!" She punched the war table which cracked in two and the soldier beside her marched out of the tent as quickly as he could without running.
"Perhaps..." The Earth King smiled weakly.

"I'm going over there..." She replied angrily.
"Daughter, wait..." The Earth King began, but Fang was already pushing past the guards. She had only gotten a few steps out when the King followed her outside and called to her, "Wait, Fang!!" He paused as she stopped to look back at him, "The Avatar has to do what he feels is right, for better or worse, he's... well he's the Avatar, Fang..."
"He's going to get himself killed, and i'm not going to let that happen." And she ran.

 

The horns alerted the camp to her approach seconds before she'd reached it. Rebel soldiers flanked her at every side and readied themselves but she washed over them like a raging torrent. Soldiers flew in every direction and she was just a stone's throw from the enemy leader's encampment, the palms of her hands holding two soldiers down in the mud, when a call came out in front of her. Fang looked up and saw Yun Feng and the rebel leader stood next to one another.
"Stop, Fang..." Yun Feng asked her gently.
"You're insane, Yun! You can't reason with these people, they'll do anything just to prove they're right and kill anyone in their way!!" As she let up the soldiers and they quickly scurried away, dozens more surrounded her and pointed their blades at her throat.

"Is that so?" Yun said with a wisened smile, his face wrinkled but warm and full of life. "How would you know when all you've done is come crashing in and causing a fuss." Yun turned to the rebel leader and motioned his head toward Fang. "I'll take responsibility for her. Rest assured she won't attack any more of your people." And with that the leader nodded and raised his hand, and the guards lowered their weapons. 
 
"Do you see now, Fang?" Yun asked. "How can you hope to reason with people if you don't even give them a chance?"
As the soldiers left, their eyes still warily on the wolf amongst their flock, Fang walked up to Yun and grabbed him, "Come on, we're going back."
"I'm quite happy here, thank you." Yun replied softly.
"Dammit Yun!" Fang spat, letting the man go. She shook her head, rubbing her forehead with the back of her hand. "We gave them a chance and they stole supplies that our people needed to eat! To live! We gave them the chance to return our soldiers and citizens which they captured and tortured and what did we get?!" She paused as the anger bit at her, "If they didn't come back broken in mind or body, there was barely enough of them left to bury. What will you tell their parents? Their children! This has to stop!!" 
"You're right, it does." Yun agreed, nodding as he spoke. "But don't you see that these people have been fighting for their livelihood, and their freedom? Can you truly blame them for having no faith in the ones who govern them?"
Yun shook his head, a look of disappointment on his face. "You are a product of the Emperor's will. He has molded you and shaped you like you mold and shape the earth. And like the Earth he has built you to be strong and firm, and unyielding. One of the many things I am grateful for, it is the time I have spent with all of the nations, and all of it's people. Learning, growing, changing. Even now in my old age I still learn wonderful and terrible things every day. If only... if only you could see past your own nose, Fang."
"Damn them, Yun... damn you." Fang turned and walked back to her camp.

 

 

Present Day


"That was the last time I saw you..." Fang muttered to herself, looking back at Yun Feng, "... Alive... I..." She paused, licking her lips as she sat on the log, "I'm sorry, Yun..." She cried, "I was so stupid, so full of hatred I couldn't..." She looked back at Yun, wanting to ask him so many questions, but when she did, he wasn't there any more. Yaozu was stood in his place, staring back at her with crossed arms, just as Yun Feng once did. Stripped of the walls she had put up over so many years, blocking many of the memories that had stung her so, Fang saw Yaozu for who he truly was. She stood up and frowned, unsure what to make of him, but whatever she felt about him, she could see Yun Feng in him and knew who he was.
"I know you..." She said, almost in a whisper... "You're... you're the Avatar..." She took a step towards Yaozu who smiled at her warmly, she smiled back at him. He held out his hand, and she punched him in the face. "That's for getting yourself killed, old man!" She barked.

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Yaozu sighed as he rubbed the bruise on his cheek tenderly. He was now sitting on top of a mossy rock, with Fang stood next to him. Minus the punch to the face he was otherwise fine, and Fang seemed to have calmed down now. Somehow she had come to notice the truth about Yaozu, that he was the Avatar. He rubbed his hands together and thought about what he had to say. Fang had been gone from the world for a long time, so she probably had some catching up to do. 

 

"I suppose I should start from the beginning." he said. "Yes, I'm the Avatar. I've been training my whole life, I've travelled around the world to master the elements, I've even visited the Spirit World a couple of times, although not for very long. Anyway I didn't really know very much about the goings on in the Earth Kingdom ten years ago. Politics were often avoided, because my teachers could be biased and perhaps sway me. As the Avatar I have to remain impartial, and growing up in the Fire Nation can make that a little tricky. Anyway when I completed my training it was decided that I should be involved in some of the goings on. I attended an annual meeting of the world leaders in Republic City. This is kind of when things went a little strange. Lei Shen didn't show up, and sent an advisor to notify the world leaders of the Earth Kingdom's...no, now it's the Earth Empire. Lei Shen has taken on the role of Emperor. The guy he sent was...he just didn't seem like a very nice person. Liu Xiang...do you know him?"

 

"Earth Empire...?" Fang muttered, furrowing her grizzled brow in thought, "Well... Lei Shen saved my life, he sent me here, and... I don't know. I hated what he'd done at first, but... I came to understand how much better it was for me, but Liu Xiang...." Fang let out a short laugh, "He was a Captain in Lei Shen's service when I last saw him. He always seemed a little slimy to me, but nothing that Lei Shen couldn't take care of."

 

"Yeah, I noticed that when Lei Shen came to me after the meeting." Yaozu replied. "He explained everything pretty clearly, which wasn't what I expected. Everything made sense after he let me know but something just didn't feel right. It's almost too perfect. I mean...if you don't mind, could you tell me about what happened? Lei Shen said that you killed your father, and you confirmed as much. But...what actually happened?"

 

 
"What happened?" Fang parroted, "Hong-li Zhao gave me more than anyone, I owed him so much and I failed him. He gave me wealth, respect, rank, order and discipline and training beyond anyone else in the army, or even our special units. He elevated me above all others, and when I thought I could be given no greater honour..." Fang sat and crossed her legs, sighing to herself, "... he adopted me." She shook her head, "But, then ten years ago... it was just a night like any other, i'd said goodnight to my father, and I was going to watch over him for a few hours before being relieved by one of the special unit soldiers, when I heard a noise from his room. I burst in, but I saw my father sleeping there, undisturbed." Fang lowered her eyes to the ground, "I thought he was sleeping, at least at first, but then I realised how still he was. He was already dead. Poison... tch, what a coward--" She shook her head, clearing her thoughts, "I remember, I ran to the window and saw the assassin escaping down the wall, and snapped his rope but as he fell, he... he pulled something off his back, opened it and splashed it everywhere and then, suddenly, he was waterbending. I was so dumbstruck I almost didn't catch him, lot of good that did..." Fang scowled as she absent-mindedly itched her scarred shoulder. "We barely fought for a few seconds, but in that time, he managed to do most of what you're looking at now." She indicated her face, neck and shoulder - absent one arm. "It was like fighting a demon." She punched the ground.
 
Yaozu sighed heavily, looking down at the ground. For a moment he paused, picking his words carefully. What Fang had said seemed to confirm his suspicions. Something did not add up, there was a secret, no...a lie. No he knew that it was deeply connected with the events of 10 years ago. He pushed himself off of the rock and stood up, finally looking at Fang. "...Lei Shen...he said that there was no assassin. He said it was you." Yaozu said finally, his face cross and accusative, but his anger was no directed at Fang, but to Lei Shen. 
 
"Well..." Fang began, but then she trailed off and shook her head, almost laughing, "He... he must have meant that... that it was my fault? Maybe... he didn't want there to be any panic? I mean... I-I don't..." She fell into silence, lost in her thoughts.
 
"He said he saw the change in you, that you had a lust for power." Yaozu replied, his gaze unflinching. "He implied that...the only reason you were not executed was because he had made a promise not to. It's pretty difficult to misinterpret that. He made you sound dangerous, like a person I...should not go near." Yaozu remembered his dream, where Yun Feng had reached out to him, guided him to where he needed to go. "Yun Feng knew I had to find you, he guided me here. I think...this was the reason why."
 
Fang opened her mouth to speak, but no words could escape her lips, they opened and closed like a fish gulping for air. Minutes passed in silence until at last Fang found her voice, but now, she was angry. "This doesn't make sense!" She barked, leaping to her feet. "How could he have promised to my father not to carry out my execution?!" Her face screwed up in sheer disbelief, "My father was dead before I even reached him, he couldn't have said anything to Lei Shen!!"
 
There was a creak, and then a loud, ominous groan, as if coming from the earth itself. Darkness was quickly enveloping the skies over the forest, the leaves on the trees began to wither. Tree branches twisted and contorted, and the plants and creatures began to warp into horrific forms. Yaozu looked around him, worry spreading over his face. "Fang..." he said to her cautiously. Fang looked around her and snarled, her lips coiled back and she bared her teeth like an animal but after a few seconds she began to calm herself only through what was obviously well-rehearsed mental exercises, though despite their surroundings slowly morphing back to normal, it was still clear on her face that a rage sat at the edge of her consciousness.
 
"I'm...I'm sorry" Yaozu said, hanging his head down. "I didn't consider your feelings...I'll leave, if that's what you want. I know now that there is something wrong and I know I have to do something about it. If you want to stay here...and forget all of this, well, I would understand..."
"Oh, you're leaving alright." Fang clenched her fist and her gaze bore into Yaozu, "And i'm coming with you, old man." Yaozu was stunned at the revelation. At first he had thought there was no hope for Fang joining him, after all she had built a new life here. He felt guilty for digging up her past, but he could see the resolve in her eyes. He had awakened something within her, and he could never take it back. 
 
"If you're sure." Yaozu said, forcing a smile. "Oh but...I'm not actually here. My body is in Republic City." Yaozu looked around as if an answer would appear to him through the trees. "You would have to take the long way out. There was a spirit portal near Republic City but...it was closed by Yun Feng when a group of cultists tried to use it to enter the Spirit World to manipulate the spirits within. I...I don't think I can open it." Yaozu sat himself back on the ground, crossing his legs. "I may not have my bending here but there might be something I can do. Just hang on a second..."
 
Yaozu took a deep breath inwards, his eyes closed and he tried to exit all thought from his mind. As he exhaled he looked within himself, past his own being, and even past those who had come before him. He knew that when he reached the bottom of his soul he would find the one thing that could help him. The image of the great spirit was burned in his mind, a kite shaped being with a beautiful blue glow. He inhaled, and then exhaled once more. "...Raava..." he muttered, and then he opened his eyes, and they were washed out with a glowing blue energy. The forest around them began to shift and change, disappearing from sight. Before they knew it they were soaring through the sky, passing through clouds, passing mountains and valleys below in the blink of an eye. Finally they began to slow, and then eventually stop. They were in a dark and barren place, both sat outside a great tree amidst the nothingness. 
 
In the sky above them there were two beams of light shooting up in to the sky, both opposite each other. A third could be seen, but it's light was blocked off, sealed away. Yaozu stood up as his eyes returned to normal. "I've taken you as far as I can." he explained. "Take that portal over there" he pointed to one of them. "That will take you to the South Pole. It's in the middle of nowhere, but if you keep a brisk walk you can make it to the Southern Water Tribe in a few days. Outside of the Portal there are White Lotus members who keep watch. They have a camp with some supplies. Tell them I asked for you, and that they should help you. They can give you some food, and some warmer clothes."
 
Yaozu looked around at the place they were at. His soul seemed to resonate here, it was a place that was incredibly important to his past lives, and he supposed that ultimately this was where his story had originally began. "I'll get an airship to the Southern Water Tribe and meet you there, in person this time. Oh and Fang...if you ever want to turn back, please tell me. We can always come back here and see your friends, okay?"
"Yeah, sure thing, old man. See you soon." Fang grinned, placing her arm on her hip and sighing as she looked around at the spirit realm for what might be the last time. Yaozu gave a smile and a nod. "Okay, I'll see you soon then." and with that he disappeared from in front of her. 
 
 

 
 
Yaozu gasped as his eyes opened to the view over Republic City from the top of the great spirit vine tree. Juro was curled up asleep on his lap, but awoke and lifted his tired little head. 
"I did it Juro." he said with a smile. He patted the fire ferrets head. "Thanks for looking our for me buddy. Come on let's go."
 
An hour later Yaozu was looking out at Republic City as it began to disappear from sight. As he flew over the sea on an airship he adjusted the collars on the blue fur-lined coat he was wearing. He knew all too well that where he was going, he was going to need to be wrapped up nice and warm. Juro poked his head out from his jacket and nuzzled his cheek, quite enjoying the warmth of the coat. Yaozu gave a smirk. He felt inspired, finally he had something to go on. He had some old friends in the Southern Water Tribe, and hopefully a new friend in Fang. Perhaps this was the start of his first real adventure. 

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As the Avatar vanished from sight, Fang let out a deep sigh. She had nothing to pack, and so she set out for the portal immediately. The lights from the portal danced around in front of her, inviting her in but she didn't want to go. She had to, she knew that. But she didn't want to. She was about to step through when she heard a gentle rustle behind her and looked back to see dozens of spirits approaching her, appearing out of thin air.

"You're leaving?" A tall, bark-skinned spirit asked.
"Yeah and... I don't really know when i'll be back. I might not be coming back." Fang replied, she felt something grasp her leg and looked down to see the little frog spirit and she smiled, "There's something I have to do... I need to know who killed my father, and if what the Avatar says is true... what Lei Shen has to do with it. If I can... i'd like to come back. This is..." She trailed off.

"... this is your home." Several spirits finished for her. She smiled weakly, and then turned away from them, only then allowing her tears to fall as she stepped through the portal.

 

The light slowly fell away from her sight and was replaced by a light snowfall. Fang's bare feet touched the snow underfoot, making a light crunching sound and she smiled for a moment. She had never been to the water tribes before, had never even seen snow, not like this anyway. It was beautiful. She could see a couple of figures in the distance, and beyond that a camp. They had to be the white lotus, guarding the spirit portal no doubt. She started towards them, they were only a couple hundred feet away.

 

"So then I said to her, 'Not on my pickle!'" The taller of the two white lotus guards finished his joke.

"Uh..." The other guard scratched his bearded chin in thought, "I don't get it."
"No, look it's funny, right, cus - hey..." The taller guard squinted and looked out into the snowstorm, "What's that?"

"What?" The shorter, bearded guard turned to look. "I don't... Oh! Oh yeah, what is that? Is that a person?" A shadowy figure was quickly approaching them, but they couldn't make it out in the storm. Was it a pilgrim from the spirit realm? There hadn't been too many as there were tales that a guardian would attack those that entered, and so less and less seemed to make it through each year.
"Uh... hello out there? Are you alright?!" The guard called out, no response. They looked at one another.

"Do you need assistance?!" The shorter guard yelled.

"WARM!!" The creature screeched, her face frozen and almost lifeless, appearing like a zombie. She leapt onto the taller guard and attached to him like a leech, wrapping her arm and legs around him and holding him tightly.
"YAAARGH!!!" The guard screamed like a girl, "IT HAS ME!!" He stumbled back and forwards in the snow while the other guard yelled and hit the creature in the back with the shaft of his spear but it wouldn't detach. The tall guard frothed at the mouth and finally passed out in fear. The creature detached from the guard and turned her attention onto his bearded comrade.
"Aaah, no, I don't want to be eaten by a yeti vampire!" He recoiled, dropping his spear.
"A w-w-w-what?!" The creature stopped and frowned. The guard lowered his arms and looked at her, it was a woman! She was scarred and looked frozen to death, but she was just a woman. "What the heck kind of stories are you idiots tellin' one another?"

"Oh, s-sorry miss, I just... are you alright?" 
"Coat, food..." Fang looked down at her bare feet. They were basically just blocks of ice. She hated wearing shoes, but she had to accept for the time being, it was necessary, "... shoes. Food, fire, food... shoes..." Fang maintained her mantra until the guard led her back into a visitor's tent.

It was spacious and had a roaring fire in the middle, the guard brought her a large plate of hot food, a thick winter coat and boots and was about to ask her if she wanted anything else when she started to undress. "Ah--!" He whirled around, averting his eyes, though he caught sight of a number of nasty looking scars on her body before he faced the tent flap. Laying her clothes out beside the fire to warm and dry them, Fang began to eat, wondering about what the world was like now. More than ten years had passed, but she looked the same as she did when she'd gone in. Did the spirit realm's time move differently or have a positive effect on the body? Or was this some kind of gift from the spirits for her guardianship of the spirit realm.
"I don't need anything else." Fang said, after swallowing a large mouthful of stew. "Hey, where's your friend?" She asked.
"... oh shit!" The guard rushed out into the storm and Fang grinned. 
Once she'd finished her food, gotten changed back into her warm, dry clothes, put on her winter coat and reluctantly put on her boots, she stepped back out into the main camp. She saw the short guard trying to revive his comrade that had become half-buried in the snow, smiled then turned her attention to gathering a few supplies. Fully stocked, she set out for the southern water tribe.

 

The journey was not entirely unpleasant, the storm calmed down after the first day and her coat and rations kept her warm and in relatively high spirits. Sleeping was the worst. Fang was used to sleeping in a lot of unusual or difficult places, but the cold made it difficult to rest without waking up frozen stiff. Eventually, she saw the southern water tribe's home on the horizon and breathed a sigh of relief. She'd come to learn over the last few days that she really didn't actually like the cold at all. She much preferred the warm, dry lands of the Earth Kingdom. The southern water tribe home was a lot bigger than she remembered. People were everywhere, it was so busy and lively.
"Hey!" Fang grabbed the first person to pass her, a young man carrying a decoration made of ice, a sculpture of an otter penguin. "What's going on? Why are there decorations everywhere?"
"It's the festival of lights, of course." The man's frown deepened, "Where have you been, under a rock?" 
"Uh, well..." Fang let the man go, "What's the festival of lights?" 
"Duh, it's the time when we celebrate waterbending, there's light shows and great food - man I love that spiced squid - Oh, and--"
"Yeah-yeah-yeah-ok-thanks-bye." Fang quickly walked away letting out a deep breath. People are weird. 

As she walked the streets, she noticed how happy people were, they were clearly a tightly-knit community. It reminded her of her time with the spirits, or even of her home in the palace. Though, looking back on it now, it was a lot quieter in the palace than it was here. She wasn't sure which she preferred, she used to like the silence, the peace and quiet. She'd had plenty of it in the spirit realm, but it was different there. She wasn't sure she liked it when people were quiet any more, she didn't miss the peace and quiet. She wanted things to be busy and lively, like they were here. Fang was pulled from her thoughts when she heard a heaving roaring in the distance and tracked the sound to the skies. An enormous airship was flying into the heart of the city. It was obviously from republic city, so that had to be the airship that Avatar Yaozu was coming in on. Fang pulled her coat's collar up and tucked her hands into her pockets and sauntered in the direction of the airship landing pad. She wasn't sure if she'd stay in the human realm when all this was done, but she could tell that if the rest of her journey was anything like what it had been so far, at least it wouldn't be boring.

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Yaozu stepped off of the airship, walking down the ramp with the few other passengers. As he reached the bottom of the ramp he saw a familiar face in the distance, although it was buried in to the confines of the fur coat she was wearing. "She made it..." he said to himself, smiling. As he went to approach her, Juro escaped from inside his jacket and ran off down the path of crushed snow, stopping just short of Fang, cocking his head to the side with a vacant expression. 

Fang stared down at the little creature with a blank expression, "What?" She muttered. Juro continued to stare at her. "I don't have anything for you." His beady eyes bore into her soul. "Take it!!" She barked, throwing her bag of supplies to the ground and stomping past the little creature.

 

Yaozu laughed a little as Fang approached him. "I see you made it." he said with a smile. 

"Barely." Fang muttered, looking back at Juro with a scowl before turning back to face the Avatar, "So, let me look at you..." Fang walked up to Yaozu and examined him thoroughly, taking a couple of circles around the boy before she stood back and said at last, "You're short now, but..." Fang sniffed, "You smell less, so..." She shrugged and then a thought occurred to her, "But then I might have a cold..."

 

"Yeah I kinda felt like that the first time I came here." Yaozu replied. "Fire Nation born and bred, so this is sorta like my worst nightmare..." 

Yaozu watched as Juro sniffed Fang's supplies, poking his nose in her pack, before becoming bored and pushing up on his front paws and standing on his head. "...We both are actually, me and Juro." Yaozu looked over at the town and it was as if he had only just noticed it for the first time. "Oh...I forgot that it was the festival. This might not actually be so bad. Come on, let's go look around and find somewhere to stay. Then we can figure out what to do next." Yaozu walked towards Juro, who fell on his butt before looking surprised, blinking slowly. Then as he noticed Yaozu he climbed up on his shoulder and dived back in to the top of his coat for warmth. Yaozu picked up Fang's things and tossed them to her. "I don't think a fire ferret has much use for this stuff so you should probably keep it."

 

The pair headed back towards the town, walking through the busy streets. There was a smell of grilled fish in the air from the market stalls, and lanterns were hung up and lit across the rooftops. 

"So do you know about the Festival of Lights?" Yaozu asked as they walked. 

"Only what i've been told," Fang replied.

"It's probably the best time to come here." Yaozu explained. "This time every year they have a week long festival to celebrate the anniversary of Harmonic Convergence. Specifically when Avatar Korra opened the Spirit Portals, and that lead to the Southern and Northern Tribes uniting. They have games, markets, food and drinks. Oh and they do these really great performances. Hey we should go see one!" Yaozu didn't wait for a response. "Come on!"

 

Yaozu went off at a jog, leading Fang in to a large square. In the centre of the square there was a large pond full of water, and surrounding it were 4 people dressed in blue fur clothing. A crowd had begun to gather. "Hey this is it, come see!" Yaozu called to Fang as he found a space in the crowd and watched intently. 

 

The four waterbender took their stance, bending at the knees and drawing their arms backwards in a fluid motion, as if pulling a length of rope between their hands. As they did the water in the pool lifted up and out, in to four streams that came winding through the air towards their masters, before each took the shape of a sphere in front of each waterbender. Then the sphere's drew closer together, moving back to the centre before finally merging in to one larger sphere. The waterbenders each stepped elegantly to their left, crouching low and arcing their arms from side to side, and then upwards. As they did the sphere changed, forming a large bulb like shape. The waterbenders waved their hands again, and suddenly the bulb began to part like a blooming flower, before finally taking the shape of a giant lily. 

 

The waterbenders' movements became faster, as they brought dust clouds of shimmering ice off of the ground, having it converge around the bottom of the lily, slowly taking the shape of the stem, and the leaves branching off from it, all glittering in an ice that sparkled like diamonds. Finally with a final thrust of their arms the lily on top froze solid, and it's form began to shimmer and glisten. The Waterbenders all took a bow, as people began to clap and cheer, Yaozu included. However, the waterbenders turned at the sound of his cheers and caught sight of him. For a moment they paused, analysing him, and then they frowned in unison. 

 

"It's the Avatar!" One of them said accusingly. 

"...Get him!" Another cried, and the waterbenders began to sprint before him. 

"Uh-oh!" Yaozu said in a panic, "Stay here! I'll come back for you!" he cried as he took off at a sprint, the waterbenders in hot pursuit. 

 

Yaozu turned a corner and sprinted across the street, weaving through the people and trying to get away. He turned to duck down a side alley but a jet of water shot across it and froze solid, blocking his path. Instinctively he leapt, kicking off against the ice and vault upwards on the the roof of the one storey building. His foot tapped against the tiled roof and he ran up it, reaching the middle and running along the beam. Two jets of water shot up from the sides, the waterbenders vaulting on to the roof. One of them came from the front, and sent a jet of water at Yaozu, who stopped and held out his hands, taking control of the water, spinning 360 on his heel to counteract it and sent it back at it's master, right in his face and sending him crashing to the ground. He leapt over the water bender and reached the edge of the roof, leaping off of it and on to the layer of pillowy snow on the ground. 

 

There was a soft crunch behind him as the other waterbender landed, but Yaozu reacted, spreading his feet across the ground and pulling his arms up, turning the snow to ice and dragging it upwards in an arc and sending the waterbender on to his backside. Then he ran off down the street once more. People stared as he barged past them, and he heard a distant scratching noise. Suddenly the two remaining water benders shot past him, their boots encased in ice, allowing them to skate across the ground at high speed. They turned effortlessly in front of him, blocking his path. Yaozu leapt out of the way as a pile of snow was launched at him, and he rolled across the ground, gathering snow around him, swirling like a maelstrom, before sending it hurling back towards the waterbender and burying him in it. He went on the offensive against the last one, 

 

Yaozu waved his arms and pulled snow from the ground, changing it to water and sending it forwards, snapping at his opponent like a whip. The waterbender pulled the same manoeuvre and used it to deflect the strike, before arcing it around Yaozu's and sending it in to the side of his face, as it turned to snow and blanketed his head. As Yaozu brushed the snow away from his face he heard laughing. His opponent was giggling like a child, and more laughter sounded as the other waterbenders came to him. "You guys..." Yaozu said with a sigh.

 

"You did better than last time" said the one who had bested him. "What are you going here, Yaozu. Taunra never said you were coming."

"He didn't know..." Yaozu replied. "It was a...surprise." Yaozu paused for a moment. "Oh...I left my friend. We better go find her."

 

The group made their way back to the square and found Fang.

"Fang!" Yaozu cried. "I'm back...sorry. These are student of my waterbending master, Taunra. They have this lame snowball fighting game..."

"Hey does she play?" One of them asked.

"Uh..." Yaozu began but it was too late, as the waterbender drew some snow from the ground and launched it at Fang's face.  

As the snowball approached Fang she deftly dodged a few inches to one side, letting the snowball glide harmlessly past her cheek. "My turn!" She chimed, and whirled around and stamped the ground in front of her. Suddenly earth from in front and behind the two students burst up, carried into the air by the rock underneath. The miniature avalanche landed on the two students, smothering them up to their heads.

 

A pair of heads popped out of the snow looking disgruntled. 

"Hey you cheated!" One of them cried. 

"Yeah! No Earthbending!"

"That's what you get for jumping the gun I guess." Yaozu said, holding back laughter. "Come on get up. Let's go see Taunra."

 

With that the group left, the waterbenders walking ahead of Fang and Yaozu. "That was too funny!" Yaozu said with a grin. "I've always hated that game...waterbending has never been my strong suit."

"You think it's mine?" Fang replied, smirking. Yaozu shrugged.

"I know, I know. I just meant...I struggled a lot here. I picked up Airbending and Earthbending no problem...this was the first time I really sucked at something."

"Everyone sucks at something, old man. Some more than others." Fang replied, cricking her knuckles as she put her hand behind her head and stretched, "There are exceptions, but opposite elements don't usually mesh very well. Your last... you... was an earthbender, but you're a firebender, so... waterbending won't necessarily come to you so quickly." A grin spread across Fang's face as something occurred to her, "Anyway, we can't all be as awesome as me." Yaozu smiled, and the two walked quickly to catch up to the Waterbenders. 
 
 

 
 
The hut they sat in was small and minimalist, but a fire was going and it was warm inside at least. Yaozu and Fang sat around a small table on cushions on the floor, with Juro scampering around the room, investigating. The others had went off to find Master Taunra to let him know they were here. At least for now they were alone to speak with one another. "So...about what we said earlier." Yaozu began. "What do you want to do? I mean we could try to confront Lei Shen I don't know how that would turn out. Equally...trying to convince the other leaders isn't easy. People have grown used to peace, the thought of something like this happening doesn't even occur to them."
"I..." Fang frowned, "Why are you asking me?!" She exclaimed, pointing at herself. "You're the Avatar!" She jabbed Yaozu in the shoulder. "Anyway, i'm not a politician. And if you put me and Lei Shen in a room together, I don't pretend to know what's going to happen..." She said - punching the floor with her fist several times.
 
"Then maybe we should avoid that scenario" Yaozu replied. "How about we get some rest here and tomorrow we can figure this out. At any rate I think that we should probably avoid Republic City, I'm pretty sure Lei Shen has eyes there. If we approach him alone we could endanger ourselves, so we should look at doing it publicly. Maybe we can find out where he is...or maybe-" Yaozu was cut off as the door opened and in walked an older man dressed in furs. His hair was silver, and long, and he had a thin, long moustache. 
"Yaozu!" he said with a warm smile. "What a nice surprise. I didn't expect you back so soon. What brings you here my boy?"
"Taunra!" Yaozu stood up, greeting his old friend with a hug. 
"Oh...and you have brought a...friend?" Taunra asked, eyeing Fang suspiciously, his gaze travelling the route of her scars, and finally her missing arm. 
 
"Yes this is Fang she's..." Yaozu paused. "She's a friend of mine I met back in the Earth Kingdom. I brought her here for the Festival of Lights!" Yaozu lied nervously. 
Fang watched Yaozu lying to Taunra with a peculiar expression etched on her face. A mixture of confusion and amusement which warped into outright delight as she opened her mouth, "Hi, i'm Fang Zhao, y'know? Daughter of Hong-li Zhao - Earth King." If Yaozu had been drinking tea, he would have ejected it from his mouth with such force that he could have pierced the far wall which only triggered laughter from Fang. "Oh please, old man, you're not fooling this guy." Fang pointed a thumb at Taunra. "That insane flavour saver aside, he's pretty sharp." Then Fang leant in close to Taunra, "Do you tie it up before you drink broth?" She asked in a deliberately loud whisper.
 
"If that is the case,,," Taunra said as he sat down calmly. "Then this must be about the new Empire I've heard so much grumbling about."
"Master Taunra I..." Yaozu began
"Enough, sit." Taunra commanded, and Yaozu sat down immediately. "Now, I am just a steadily ageing old fool who keeps to himself. I care little for politics, or alleged assassination attempts..." Taunra cast a cursory glance at Fang as he said it. "However you are my student, Yaozu. In that regard I may have the right to question what company you keep. However...your friend Fang here seems rather forthcoming. I'll allow you to explain the whole story before I make my judgement."
 
And so Yaozu did explain, about the meeting with the leaders, and his journey to the Spirt World. He told Taunra of what he and Fang had learned together, and what they sought out to do. In the end there was a long silence which was particularly uncomfortable to Yaozu, who felt embarrassed for lying. In the end it was Taunra that broke the silence. "If what you say is true then I suppose it is quite troubling for those that care about such things. However I cannot allow my student to go barging in to the Earth Empire without a plan. Have you spoke with the leaders about this?"
"No" Yaozu replied. "We came straight here."
"Hmm...well that might have been the better choice. Those blockheads probably wouldn't help you anyway. Might I suggest another option?"
"Um..is there one?" Yaozu asked. 
 
"There is." Taunra explained. "Find the true assassin. If you can capture the perpetrator then you have leverage. People will trust what you say. Fang...you said this assassin was a waterbender correct?"
"He was a waterbender alright," Fang nodded, "I remember that night like it happened today. Nobody could do something like that without waterbending."
"No doubt a mercenary, and no ordinary one at that." Taunra replied. "I know it is not your area of expertise but...was there anything distinguished about this person, the type of waterbending they used, did it stand out?"
 
"It was hot. Really hot." Fang muttered, rubbing her shoulder where her other arm used to attach, "Cuts flesh like butter. Did a number on me, obviously." She rolled her eyes and then leant back and sighed, "Can't we get some alcohol in here or something? I've been sober for ten years - girl could use a drink."
"I might be able to whip something up." Taunra replied as he got up and began rifling through his cupboards. "Heating water is pretty advanced. That significantly narrows your search, however, it's not like we keep a list or anything. However it's highly unlikely any assassin would stick around so you're unlikely to find him anywhere near Lei Shen, or the Earth Empire for that matter. He may be in this very town, or the Northern tribe. Or perhaps in the Fire Nation I suppose, but that might stand out." Finally Taunra pulled a dusty old bottle from his cupboard with a pair of glasses, one for him and one for Fang. He placed them on the table and poured the drink. "There is a man named Shila who lives here. He is one of the only people I know who can do such a thing. He trained only a few students, perhaps you can start with him." Taunra took a drink from his cup and gasped audibly. 
 
Fang glanced at the liquid in her glass, reached out and picked up the bottle and took a long, deep drink from it then wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. "Phew, that's better." She sniffed, holding the bottle between her feet as she stretched out, "Let's ask him then - in a bit." She took another swig of the bottle.
"Shila is quite a solitary man, and suspicious of strangers." Taunra said as a caution. "I probably would not be so honest about your origins with him."
"I'm sorry about...lying before." Yaozu said. 
"It's okay, I understand why you did" Taunra said with a soft nod. "Get some rest you two. Oh and Yaozu...if you have time before you leave, I would like to see if you've been keeping your training up. You may have scraped by on your mastery of waterbending, but there is still much more you could learn."
"Um...okay." Yaozu said with a nod. "If we have time."

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