Avatar: The Next Generation
Chapter 12: The Earth Kingdom's Expectations
“The Earth King feels that you aren't trying hard enough to fix the problem,” The Earth Kingdom representative told Zuko for what had to have been the millionth time in the past two days. He had been arguing with Aang and Zuko for what seemed like hours just today. Yesterday, they'd been unable to reach an agreement, so they'd decided to meet again today.
Zuko answered, again for the millionth time, “And what exactly does the Earth King think we should be doing?”
“Capturing Azula, of course,” the Earth King representative, who had introduced himself as Arashi, said this as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
“That's a brilliant idea,” Zuko said in a mocking voice, “But you haven't given us any ideas on how exactly we're supposed to do that.”
“That's because it's your job, not the Earth Kingdom's.”
“I assure you, we're doing everything we possibly can.”
Arashi glared at Zuko with cold eyes, “Obviously, that isn't good enough.”
“Guys,” Aang stepped in, “Let's not fight. Look, Arashi, I can personally attest to the fact that Zuko has done everything in his power to stop Azula, but Azula is very powerful, probably more powerful than you're aware of. I can also assure you that Azula is still in the Fire Nation and-”
“Yes,” Arashi interrupted Aang, “She's in the Fire Nation at the moment, but who's to say that she won't show up in the Earth Kingdom tomorrow.”
“Arashi,” Aang said as patiently as he could, “I think it's in Azula's best interests to stay in the Fire Nation. She wants to be Fire Lord first. Then, she wants to worry about taking over the world.”
“How can you possibly know that?” Arashi asked, “This isn't the old Azula we're talking about. She's insane. Insane people don't have plans. She just wants to kill as many people as she can.”
“I think,” Zuko said through gritted teeth, “That I know Azula better than you do. Insane or not, she has a plan, and at the moment, it's definitely to become Fire Lord. I promise you, there are very few people who should be worried at the moment, and most of them are currently in this palace.”
“What about General Iroh?” Arashi smiled, “He lives in Ba Sing Se now doesn't he? See, Azula could come to Ba Sing Se to find him.”
Aang rolled his eyes inwardly. This guy was just trying to use anything to make his point, no matter how far fetched.
“Why would Azula go after Iroh in the Earth Kingdom when there are so many people here at the palace, including me, who she wants the most,” Zuko asked Arashi. Arashi didn't seem to be able to come up with a response. “And she knows that Uncle doesn't want to be Fire Lord. He's not the one standing in her way.”
“That's what I thought,” Zuko snapped, and without another word, Zuko walked out of the room.
“Um,” Aang said awkwardly, “I guess the meeting's over then. I'll just be going. Bye.” He followed Zuko out the door, leaving a slightly confused Arashi.
“Did you hear that?” Ayame asked the others. They'd just been spying on the meeting between Aang, Zuko, and Arashi.
“Yes, Ayame, we heard it,” Ichiko rolled her eyes at her friend, “We were listening just like you were.”
“I hadn't even thought about Uncle Iroh,” Ai said with her face turned towards the ground, “I wish he was here.”
“I hope Uncle Zuko didn't make the Earth Kingdom guy too mad,” said Kazuna, “We don't need the Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation fighting right now.”
“True,” said Ai, “I wish everyone could just move on. It's mainly the older people who are still prejudiced against each other. That Arashi guy is old enough to remember the war pretty well. He may have even fought in it. Those are the people who have the hardest time forgiving.”
“They didn't really come up with a solution for Azula,” Ikuo observed.
“Of course not,” Hajime said in a somewhat annoyed voice, “The Earth Kingdom expects the Fire Nation to get rid of her immediately, but doesn't want to have any part in it themselves.” Hajime had never been more upset with his own nation.
The kids were silent for a moment, all caught up in their own thoughts. Then, Ai spoke up, “Did you hear what my dad said? About how Azula wants him the most? I'm so scared.” Just like that, she began to cry. The others weren't sure what to do. Ai was usually the strongest of them all, even if Ichiko liked to pretend that she was stronger.
“It'll be okay, Ai,” Kazuna said in an attempt to comfort her friend. She put her arm around Ai's shoulders.
“How do you know?” Ai asked in a disbelieving voice.
“I don't,” Kazuna said in a dark voice, “But I sure hope it will be.”
The next day, after everyone had had a good night's sleep, the adults herded all of the children together to deliver some news.
“It's been decided,” Aang began, “That everyone's going to return home for the time being except me. I need to travel to the Earth Kingdom and speak to the Earth King, and then I need to return here to help in any way I can. You'll be traveling with Appa, while I use my glider.”
The kids just sat still for a moment, thinking. Then, Saki spoke up, “Daddy,” Aang turned his head to look at his daughter, “Will we be safe?”
Aang knelled down to her level and placed his hands on her shoulders. “Of course you will, sweetie. I wouldn't let you go back home if you wouldn't be.”
Sugi wandered over to her father and sister. “I don't want you to go, Daddy,” she said in a quiet voice, “Why can't you come with us?”
Aang's heart hurt every time one of his children asked a question like this. He'd accepted his fate as the Avatar a long time ago, but he still found him wishing at times that it had been some one else. Then again, if he hadn't been the Avatar, he'd have been dead over a hundred years ago. “I have to take care of this. It's my job as the Avatar, but I'll come home as soon as I can. Okay?” Sugi nodded her head, and Aang pulled her into a hug.
“When are we leaving?” It was Kazuna who asked the question.
“In the morning,” Katara replied, “So, you kids had best get some rest. Come on. It's bed time.” She began ushering the children toward their bedrooms. The adults followed.
Aang really hoped this was over with soon. He didn't want to be away from his family for very long.
Azula quietly made her way through the corridor. It hadn't been difficult to get past the guard. Security had really gone downhill since Zuko took over the nation. Not that the guards had been all that competent during her father's rule either.
The prison was dark and cold, definitely a miserable place. Azula found the cell she was looking for easily. It was the only one in the whole prison that was occupied. I guess he's dangerous enough to warrant his own prison, she thought.
The prisoner looked up when he heard the door open. Azula could tell that she had startled him a little. He probably wasn't used to getting visitors at this time of night. In fact, the only visitors he probably ever got were the guards that brought his meals.
His startled expression soon turned to recognition. He smiled at her in a cruel sort of way. “Azula,” he said in a raspy voice that she could tell had hardly been used in the past couple of decade, “It's been a long time.”
“Yes,” she said, the same sort of cruel smile forming on her own lips, “It has been far too long.”
“Hajime and Hamako are both in bed,” Kaimu informed his wife as he entered their bedroom. He tried to smile at her, but couldn't after seeing her sitting on the bed with such a pained expression on her face.
Kaimu walked over to the bed and sat down next to Suki. He wrapped his arm around her and said, “They'll get Azula.”
“I just feel like we should stay to help,” Suki said quietly, “I could send for the other Kyoshi Warriors. We would be useful.”
“The Fire Nation is capable of handling this on their own,” Kaimu told her, “Zuko knows you'd be willing to help. He'd ask if he needed you.”
“Maybe, but I still feel like I should offer.”
“I'm sure it won't be that long before they catch her, and then this will all be over,” Kaimu said, attempting to comfort her.
“Maybe,” was Suki's only response.
Kaimu knew that that was all he'd get out of her. Ever since the Kyoshi Warriors had left Kyoshi Island to help the rest of the Earth Kingdom during the war, Suki had always wanted to help in anyway she could. It was one of the things Kaimu loved about her, but sometimes she could be a little too helpful. Kaimu was sure that Zuko and the Fire Nation could handle this problem on their own. How could Azula possibly beat a whole nation?
When Haru came into his and Ty Lee's room to go to bed, he found Ty Lee sitting up in bed with her knees pulled up to her chest. She was staring into space, with a sad expression on her face. It was the same expression that had been on her face almost constantly since they'd gotten back to the palace.
He got into bed next to her. Ty Lee must have seen him or felt the bed move because when he looked back at her she was watching him. She didn't say anything. She just laid down beside him. He knew she wasn't in the mood to talk. Everything with Azula had her in a very depressed mood. He just wrapped his arms around her and tried to sleep. That's how they stayed all night.
“I can't believe our daughter was kidnapped.”
“Sokka,” Toph's voice was muffled since she currently had her face smothered in her pillow. She turned over sleepily to look at her husband. “You've said that a hundred times over the past couple days. It's late. Can you please just go to sleep?”
“Fine,” Sokka answered a little grumpily. He laid down and closed his eyes.
Toph was just about to drift off into sleep when Sokka suddenly spoke up again. “I can't believe our daughter was kidnapped.” He received a, quite hard, elbow to the stomach which obviously worked as Toph didn't hear another word from him the rest of the night.
“I hope Ty Lee's okay,” Mai muttered to Zuko as they laid in bed. They'd been trying to sleep for a few hours now and had been unsuccessful.
“I'm sure she'll be fine,” Zuko assured his wife.
“I was thinking,” Mai started to say. She paused for a minute before she continued. “Maybe, once we catch Azula again, we should visit her sometimes.”
“What!?” Zuko practically yelled in shock.
“Think about it,” Mai continued, attempting to defend her idea, “It might be good for her, and I'm not suggesting we take the kids. That would be too dangerous, but the two of us could go. Ty Lee would probably be interested in the idea as well. Even Ursa and Iroh might go with us.”
Zuko had found his mother about a year after the war had ended. She'd been living in the Earth Kingdom ever since she'd been banished, and she had no interest of returning to live in the Fire Nation. She visited several times a year though, and they had even gone to visit her a few times.
“I don't know. Mom and Ty Lee might, but I don't know about Uncle.”
“She's your sister,” Mai pleaded.
“She tried to kill me, Mai!” Zuko said exasperated, “And you and Ty Lee too!”
“And at the time I hated her for it, but the more I think about it, the more I wonder if it was really her fault. Look at how she was raised. It wasn't exactly a normal upbringing. Neither was yours, but yours was a lot different from Azula's even if you are siblings. Plus, she may have been insane for even longer than we knew. She just got worse at the end of the war.”
“Oh, she's definitely always been insane,” Zuko said.
Mai turned to look at her husband, “Will you at least think about it?”
“I guess,” Zuko sighed, and they fell into a comfortable silence once again.
“I always hate when you have to travel,” Katara said quietly. Her and Aang were laying in bed wrapped in each others arms. They dreaded having to part ways the next day.
“Me too,” said Aang, “Hopefully, I won't be gone long. The Earth King is a lot more capable of making decisions, good or bad, on his own now, but it can still be pretty easy to influence him into doing what you want him to do. Usually, I hate that, but in this case, where he's completely out of line, it may actually be a good thing.”
“He's met Azula,” Katara said, “Surely, he could look at this realistically.”
“But everyone knows Azula went insane,” Aang told his wife, “The Earth Kingdom representative kept saying, 'It shouldn't be hard to capture a crazy woman.' They don't understand that Azula's not just any crazy woman.”
“I guess not,” Katara sighed.
“If everything goes well,” Aang said, changing that subject slightly, “I shouldn't be there that long.”
“I hope not,” Katara murmured. She snuggled into Aang, and they both drifted off into an uneasy sleep.
Ichiko was awoken when she heard a knock at her bedroom door. She tried to ignore it at first, covering her ears with a pillow. After about the tenth knock though, she'd lost her patience.
“Who is it?” she asked harshly.
“Hajime,” she heard someone say from the other side of the door.
“What the hell do you want?” she asked as she stomped her way over to the door, still pissed about being woken up in the middle of the night.
“I need to talk to you,” he said as soon as she opened the door. The first thing Ichiko noticed was that he looked incredibly nervous. She'd never heard his voice waver like that, and his breathing was loud and shallow.
“What is it?” Ichiko asked slowly with confusion in her voice.
Hajime was quiet for a minute. He looked over his shoulder as if he was scared someone would sneak up behind him. Finally, he spoke, “Um, would it be alright if we talked outside? We can walk around the palace grounds.”
“Fine,” Ichiko said, still confused.
She followed Hajime out the nearest door. It was a full moon, so they could see the nearby pond and flowers clearly in the moonlight. The scene kind of reminded Ichiko of when Ayame ranted about her dream date. It was beautiful. Wait, Ichiko thought, I did not just think that. I'm not turning into a girly romantic like Ayame. Besides I'm here with Hajime. Why am I thinking about dream dates and how beautiful it is?
“Ichiko,” Hajime spoke after a long silence, “There's something I need to tell you. It's been on my mind for a long time. I was too scared to tell you, but after what happened with Azula, I know I need to.”
“Um, where is this going?” Ichiko asked. She was a little nervous. She thought she might be starting to sweat despite the fact that it was the middle of the night and cool.
“I like you Ichiko,” Hajime finally blurted out before he could stop himself, “I mean really like you. I've had a crush on you for over a year now, and I've been too scared to say anything about it.”
He stopped, clearly waiting for Ichiko's reaction. Ichiko was only able to think one thing: crap.