Author's Note: I know I always have excuses and apologies at the beginning of these chapters. This semester as honestly been the busiest time of my life. Ever. On Monday, I take the AP test for AP biology. I really hope to have a lot more free time after that's over. Two and a half weeks from now, school ends, and I get even more free time. That definitely means more writing.
Although I still have some problems with it, I'm really proud of this chapter. I think it may be the longest chapter yet. I hope you guys enjoy it!
Chapter 22: What's Life Without a Few Near Death Experiences?
“How long does this vent go on for?” They'd been crawling for what felt like hours, but in reality was only twenty minutes.
Ai, who was in the lead, glanced back at the questioner, Ayame, when she heard the question. “I can't even see another opening,” she answered.
Ichiko groaned, “Great. We're going to be stuck in here until after the fighting ends.” She turned so that she was sitting with her back up against the wall of the vent.
“If you don't keep moving, then we will be,” Hajime told his girlfriend as he attempted to crawl around her, which was not an easy task in so small of an area.
“Weren't you the one who was most eager to get out of the bunker?” Kazuna asked her best friend as she too crawled around her.
“I didn't think it would take so long,” Ichiko grumbled as she began to crawl again, this time at the end of the line, behind Kazuna. “I hate closed in spaces,” she continued to complain as they made their way through the metal chamber.
A few minutes later, after Ai pointed out a spot of light in the distance, Ayame exclaimed, “That has to be the way out!”
“Sh!” Ai warned, “We don't know what's going on out there. It's better if we stay quiet. Otherwise, they could ambush us when we get out. When we get near the opening, let me go first. If I think it's safe, I'll motion for you to come.” The others nodded in agreement. Ai quietly crawled towards the opening while trying to remain quieter than she'd ever been in her life. Light streamed in, and she had to squint as she came to it. Carefully peaking around the edge of the opening, she was unable to detect anyone. A little less cautiously, she crawled directly in front of the vent and peered out. She turned and motioned behind her, “It's safe. I can't see anyone. It looks like the vents led us about half a mile from the bunker.”
“Half a mile?” Ayame asked with disbelief, “We had to have been crawling for a lot longer than that.”
“It was a rather winding tunnel,” Ikuo rolled his eyes beside her. Ayame shot him an aggravated glare which caused him to look a little sheepish for his smart ass comment.
Turning back to Ai, Ayame continued, “So, where are we exactly then?”
“I think we're at the very edge of the capital,” Ai peered out again, “We're definitely far away from most of the fighting. I can see a few people fighting from here, but they're far off in the distance. I think we could walk around and go completely unnoticed.”
“Still,” Kazuna said as she crawled towards Ai, so she could see for herself, “We should try to be inconspicuous. We don't want to take any chances of being caught.” They all shuddered at the thought of the last time they'd been held captive.
Ai took a deep, calming breath. “Well, here we go,” she said as she began to pry the metal covering off of the opening. She ambled through quickly with Kazuna directly behind her. They others followed soon after, and they began setting off towards the fighting.
It wasn't long before they began seeing evidence of a recent battle. They spotted dropped weapons, patches of blood, and even a few corpses of soldiers who had evidently not lasted long in the battle. What really distressed them was the abandoned arm that they found lying on the ground. Nothing tested their resolve to continue on more than that sight, but still, they went.
Ozai's mouth formed a smirk as he saw the Avatar running towards him. He internally let out a laugh at the determined look on his opponent’s face. He seemed to think that Ozai would be an easy opponent considering his lack of fire bending. The Avatar didn't know that Ozai was perfectly capable of putting up a fight bending or no bending, and he still hadn't forgiven the person responsible for his lack of bending.
Ozai waited moments before the Avatar was directly in front of him to pull out a small dagger. At first, it managed to go unnoticed by the Avatar, who wasn't expected Ozai to be carrying a weapon. The Avatar dodged the dagger, missing it by inches. He directed a gust of air towards the hand holding the dagger, hoping to knock it free from Ozai's hand. However, Ozai had been expecting such an attack, and he managed to maintain a firm grip on his only weapon.
Realizing his first attempt hadn't worked, the Avatar removed enough water from the air to freeze the dagger and Ozai's hand together. Ozai growled in frustration and tried to shatter the ice by banging it against the wall of a building. He grunted in pain when the ice refused to break.
Aang allowed himself a small smirk at the ex-Fire Lord's pain. He used Ozai's moment of distraction to also freeze his feet to the ground. Ozai seemed to have forgotten he had the ability to freeze things because of his water bending. This didn't seem like it was going to be a fair fight.
Taking advantage of a brief moment when Zuko was distracted, Azula glanced around the city that had been converted into a battle field. She glanced Ty Lee fighting twenty feet away and smirked. It was time for the two old friends to get reacquainted with each other. She turned her attention back to Zuko just in time to see him return to a fighting stance. Azula knew that the Avatar and Ozai were continuing to battle behind her, if only she could get Zuko to join them and leave her free to fight Ty Lee. That would never work though. Zuko wouldn't just let her go. Azula quickly calculated another plan. She sent a quick blast of fire back at Zuko. It was just enough to distract him for the second she needed to sprint in Ty Lee's direction. Zuko blocked the fire easily. He didn't understand why Azula would have sent such a pathetic blast of fire his way. Then, he saw the direction she was heading. Zuko rushed after her.
When Ty Lee's current opponent saw Azula coming, he gave a sigh of relief. He was happy to finally be done battling such a tough opponent. He quickly made himself scarce when Ty Lee's attention shifted to the blast of fire sent her way from Azula.
As soon as Ty Lee saw the blue flames, she felt a wave of dread wash over her. Facing her childhood best friend was not something she wished to do. She flipped through the air to avoid Azula's fire. She began doing many complicated moves in order to get away from Azula's attacks. Azula knew what all of Ty Lee's weaknesses were. She wasn't letting Ty Lee get anywhere near her. Ty Lee wasn't able to preform any attacks of her own.
Zuko was just seconds away from reaching the pair when a hand suddenly grabbed him from behind. At first, he was startled and, thinking it was a rebel, started to attack. When he turned to face his wife though, he quickly extinguished the flames coming from his hands.
“Mai!” Zuko yelled in anger, “What did you think you were doing!? I could have attacked you!”
Mai rolled her eyes, “You realized it was me in time. I was fine.” Before Zuko could respond, she continued, “Go help Aang with Ozai. I'll help Ty Lee fight Azula.”
Zuko glanced to both pairs before turning back to Mai. “Are you sure you want to face Azula?” he asked with slight concern in his voice.
“I have to,” Mai told him as she watched Ty Lee continue to dodge Azula's attacks. “You and Katara got to fight her last time. Now it's Ty Lee's and my turn.” Zuko nodded in understanding and rushed off toward Aang, leaving Mai to run to Ty Lee's aid.
Azula and Ty Lee didn't even notice as Mai approached them. Mai shot a shuriken at Azula while her back was turned. Azula suddenly found herself flying forward. The blade struck a wall, and Azula found herself pinned there by her left sleeve. Mai quickly threw another shuriken, attempting to pin Azula's other arm, but this time Azula was prepared. She was able to maneuver herself so that the blade harmlessly hit the wall. What Azula didn't see was Ty Lee sneaking up to her. Before Azula could right herself, Ty Lee punched her in the right arm, rendering it useless.
In retaliation, Azula kicked her right leg towards Ty Lee and sent a blast of fire. Ty Lee, who had been expecting something of the sort, jumped out of the way. Another one of Mai's blades sunk into the fabric of Azula's pants. Now, Azula was almost completely defenseless. She didn't even attempt to use her left leg. She tried in vain to rip her sleeve from the grip of Mai's weapon. The sleeve gave a little, leaving a small tear, but she was still attached to the wall. She looked up at her old best friends as they advanced upon her.
It wasn't long before the kids encountered a small battle taking place. They crept along quietly, trying to conceal their presence. Within moments of their approach, the rebel soldier had slashed the Fire Nation soldier's throat. The children's gasp of absolute horror alerted the soldier of their presence.
“Well, it seems I've found the jack pot,” the woman smirked, “Your parents would be devastated if something happened to you, wouldn't they?” She slowly began advancing towards them, but they held their ground. They were determined to prove their bravery. They wouldn't let it turn out like last time. Besides, what could a random soldier hold against the ex-Fire Princess Azula.
They were ready as the first blast of fire came their way. Ai sent her own stream of fire towards the rebel. They collided in the air, and the children found themselves knocked to the ground as a wave of heat blasted towards them.
Once the flames had cleared, the children saw that the rebel had also been knocked down. She was middle-aged, and this kept her from getting up as quickly as the children. While she attempted to regain her footing, Ikuo rumbled the earth beneath her feet, making it even harder for her to stand. The rebel slowly straightened up, but she soon found her feet encased in rock. Ikuo smirked as the rebel growled in anger. She attempted to blast him with fire, but the flames weren't very deadly as fire bending is a style that relies heavily on the use of the bender's feet.
The rebel began to realize that she was in a bad situation. Her techniques were now limited, and it was six against one. She had to force herself not to panic. Panic would only make the situation worse. She concentrated on creating the biggest flames she could manage using only her upper body movement.
The next stream of flames were able to travel farther, but the children were prepared. Kazuna, who always carried a pouch of water with her, bent a wave of the liquid over the flames streaming from the rebel's left hand. Meanwhile, Ai was able to conquer her own flames to block the one's issuing from the rebel's right hand. As soon as the flames were gone, Ikuo shook the earth beneath the rebel's feet yet again. This time the rebel lost her balance, and Ikuo was able to in case her hands in the dirt. Now she was forced to remain on all fours, defenseless.
For a moment, the six of them all looked at each other as the rebel hung her head in shame. She couldn't believe she'd been beaten by children. After a moment or two, Hajime finally spoke up, “Well, I guess we're done with that then. Should we move on?”
Ichiko sighed, “I felt completely useless. If we meet another rebel, I vote that Hajime and I get to take them alone.” She began running towards the battle again with the other five following closely behind.
However, they never met another rebel to battle. It seemed that they had all been either killed or imprisoned already. The remaining Fire Nation soldiers had gathered around the only two battles still taking place. Even some of the rebel prisoners were being permitted to watch as their Fire Lord and the Avatar fought their old oppressor and their Fire Lady and Ty Lee fought their former princess. No one so much as attempted to step in and help. They stood and watched, almost as if they were entranced by the powerful skills they were seeing in front of them.
Azula glared at the two traitors that stood in front of her defeated form. This whole situation felt just like the last time she'd lost twenty years ago. Only, it seemed to be worse this time around. Maybe it was because this time the two people who stood before her had once been her friends. At least, they'd been the closest things to friends Azula had ever had. She'd treated them horribly, but she was the Princess of the Fire Nation. She couldn't help it if she was better than they were.
Azula had been hoping to fight them this time. She wanted to make them regret betraying her. She internally cursed herself for ending up so vulnerable, again. Her mind quickly ran through strategies and attacks, but she couldn't think of one for her current predicament. As Mai and Ty Lee began closing in on her, Azula's thoughts became even more frantic. They were less than a second away from reaching her when Azula completely began to panic. It was almost as if she couldn't control herself. Fire burst from her mouth, and tears began to flow from her eyes. She didn't dare look her two old friends in the face. She was ashamed. She'd let it happen again! It was the second time Azula had been absolutely humiliated, and this time there had been even more people there to witness it. Yet again, Azula had failed the one person she'd tried pleasing her whole life: Ozai.
When Zuko had made his way back over to Aang and his father, he found Aang in a bit of a predicament. Ozai was surprisingly good at fighting without bending and with his feet frozen to the ground. Zuko shot a blast of flames toward Ozai before Ozai had even realized his son's return. Ozai felt the heat behind him and managed to dodge the fire at the last minute. He turned his head to see his son running towards him again. His ever-present smirk widened. Ozai always loved the chance to fight and humiliate his first-born.
Ozai held his knife over his head as soon as Zuko was within reaching distance. In his anger, Zuko paid no attention to the knife. It was seconds from entering Zuko's flesh when a blast of air send it flying. Zuko looked behind him to see Aang in an air bending stance. There wasn't much time for words at the moment, so he made a mental note to thank Aang later. Ozai quickly recovered from the lose of his one weapon and grabbed Zuko by the arm. Before Zuko could react, Ozai had his arms pinned to his side, rendering them near useless for fire bending, but Aang was quick to react.
Ozai was soon knocked backwards by a strong gust of wind. His body bent at a weird angle with his frozen feet making it impossible to lay flat. Before Ozai could even attempt to right himself, Aang earth bent his arms to the ground as well. Ozai was now completely defenseless. The ex-Fire Lord's position eerily reminded Aang of the man's last defeat over twenty years ago.
Aang and Zuko, who hadn't been aware of the crowd of people surrounding them, turned in shock to see everyone cheering at Ozai's second defeat. As Mai came running towards her husband, Zuko saw that Azula had also been defeated for the second time. He gripped his wife tightly as soon as she was by his side. Before long, his daughter was also in his embrace. It took a few minutes before he realized that she wasn't even supposed to be there.
“How did you get out here!?” Zuko exclaimed suddenly as he held his daughter at arm's length.
Mai also scrutinized her daughter as Ai looked sheepishly at her parents. “We kind of crawled through an air vent.”
Zuko sighed and glanced around at the celebrating crowd. He decided he could wait to discuss a punishment until tomorrow at least. Zuko and Mai found the other adults also questioning their children. There seemed to be a mutual consent to not worry about it until further notice. The crowd began to part as the group made their way back to the underground bunker.
Upon their arrival, they discovered Haruki and several others still standing guard at the entrance. Haruki seemed startled to see Ai and the other teens with the adults. He glanced quickly at the door as though expecting to see it open or maybe a large hole that they'd blasted through it without his noticing. “Wha-What?” Haruki stammered.
Ai smirked at her boyfriend. All she said was, “Air vent.” Haruki hung his head in shame, feeling like he'd failed the Fire Lord.
“I'm sorry, sir,” Haruki addressed Zuko's feet, “I failed you and the Fire Nation. I promised I'd keep them safe, and I wasn't able to. I deserve to be punished.” To further show his regret, Haruki knelt before Zuko on the ground. Zuko's friends and family chuckled a little upon seeing all of this, and Zuko felt a blush spreading across his face. He didn't look like such a powerful Fire Lord at the moment.
“Haruki,” Zuko addressed his daughter's boyfriend in an attempt to end his embarrassment as quickly as possible. “That's really not necessary. I'm not my father. I know it wasn't your fault, and no one was hurt. You're not going to be punished.” He paused a moment before adding in a whisper, “And please get off the ground before someone else sees you. My friends are already going to mock me about this for a long time.”
“Sorry, sir,” Haruki said as he hastily stood up. At the sound of yet another apology from the boy, Zuko felt a slight shudder run through his body.
Zuko's prediction proved to be true soon enough. As the made their way back to the palace, Toph fell in step beside him. His other old friends following close behind. The children had fallen behind a bit as they discussed things they obviously preferred the adults didn't hear. Zuko glanced over at Toph only to see her looking at him with a smirk on her face. He knew what was coming and groaned. “Toph,” he said exasperated, “Can you please not make fun of me today. Let's just be happy everything's finally over, please?”
Toph shrugged her shoulders and stepped back to walk beside Sokka. “You're safe for now, Mr. Fire Lord, but I can only guarantee you twenty-four hours. My self-control to mock such an easy target can't last longer than that.”
Zuko outwardly sighed, but inside he was smiling at his old friend. “Thanks, Toph. What would I do without you?”
“Live a dull and uninteresting life,” Toph smirked. The others all chuckled in agreement.
Meanwhile, the children were having a conversation of their own as they trailed behind their parents.
“Do you think they'll be locked up for good this time?” Nori asked.
“I hope so,” Kazuna told her little sister. “This has been enough fighting to last me a lifetime.”
“What are you talking about?” Ichiko asked her best friend in shock, “This past week or so has been the most exciting of my life!”
Ai rolled her eyes, “You have the worst definition of exciting, Ichiko. I'd much rather do exciting things that don't involve almost dying.”
Ichiko just shrugged her shoulders. “What's life without a few near death experiences?”
Hajime laughed at his girlfriend as he put his arm around her shoulders. “I think we've had enough near death experiences to last us a decade or two.”
“You guys have no sense of adventure,” Ichiko sighed as they continued towards the palace. Her friends just shook their heads, all agreeing that she was out of her mind. If Ichiko had seen it, they would have all received the evil eye, but thankfully, she didn't seem to notice. Hopefully, Ichiko's temper would be the closest any of them would get to danger in quite a while.
Author's Note: I hope you all enjoyed the last chapter of Avatar: The Next Generation! I'll have the epilogue up as soon as possible. I hope to begin working on it tonight or tomorrow.