Alright here's the next chapter for you lovely people. Hope you all enjoy.
Broken Angel: Rising Demon
Chapter 26: A Darkened Day of War
The day of the invasion had arrived. Tensions were running high and several people were a nervous wreck. Namely Sokka, in large part due to his part in planning a lot of the invasion himself. The boy truly had a mind for tactics and strategy, though he lacked confidence in the presence of actual soldiers, especially his father who he looked up to and admired.
By now all the participants of the invasion had arrived at the rendezvous point, and at most there was around two hundred combatants.
It was honestly a pitiful excuse for an invasion, though in truth, it was the best that could be mustered, given the circumstances. Without the assistance of the now fallen Earth Kingdom, the entire invasion rested on using the few minutes provided by the Solar eclipse where the Firebenders would lose their abilities, to breach the capitol city and capture the Fire Lord.
It was a risky plan, a gamble to say the least, but it was all that could be done. They had to try and catch the Fire Lord during the eclipse so that they could end the war.
It was during the briefings before the invasion that Riley, Gaia, and Yugito learned of the reason behind the need to attack now. Not only was the eclipse a useful opportunity, but it was also the last, best chance to end the war before the arrival of Sozin's Comet, a meteor that would enhance the powers of the Firebenders and allow them to wipe out any remaining resistance to their rule.
Learning about the coming comet, Yugito asked Riley why she though the powers of the benders were so heavily tied to these natural phenomenon. They had already learned that the full moon made Waterbenders stronger, and that at night, Firebenders were a bit weaker, but she didn't know why.
Riley wasn't one hundred percent certain she knew the reason, but she did have a guess. She suspected that it had something to do with these phenomenon enhancing the abilities of the benders, and that when these events weren't occurring, that power boost went away. The Firebenders worked best during the day, but during an eclipse, strange magics were suddenly at work, and the power that they drew from the sun, was not only blocked, but it was also altered due to the nature of the eclipse. In essence, Riley explained that solar and lunar eclipses were often the focal points of various rituals because magic was altered in the presence of such events, and this altered magic could accomplish things that weren't possible at other times. So in essence, the power the Firebenders were getting from the sun had suddenly changed, and they couldn't adapt to it.
She wasn't certain how accurate that was, but it made sense to her. It would explain why Firebenders could still bend even during the night of a new moon, when very little sunlight was reflected onto the planet's surface. It was these alterations to magic that caused the loss of their ability to Firebend.
Yugito saw the logic in her idea, and agreed with it.
The briefing eventually came to an end and the final preparations for the invasion began. Aang took the time to shave his head, allowing his Airbender tattoos to show once more. Meanwhile Sokka spent the entire time trying to keep his cool. His nerves were through the roof and he was definitely on edge.
Thankfully Aang was there to give him a pep talk and make sure he was focused. Soon their force set out towards the Fire Nation capitol.
The plan was rather complex and involved one of a kind technologies, never seen before in these lands, many of the ideas for these technologies came from Sokka, and they were brought to life by an ally of the group, by the name of the Mechanist. Utilizing ships, they would sail towards the capitol. Once they arrived at where the Fire Nation had established it's first line of defenses, they would utilize submersibles designed by the Mechanist and stored within the ships to escape underwater and while the Fire Nation investigated the ships, they would pass by the defenses without being seen.
Then utilizing ice covered bombs as makeshift torpedoes, they would blow a hole in the seawall that had been erected around the Fire Capital port, and sail the submersibles through. The subs would then land in the Royal Plaza, a gathering place where the Fire Nation royals would hold rallies for their people. The plaza was set below the Fire Capitol which rested inside a dormant volcano. They would arrive shortly before the eclipse began and would storm through the plaza, march up the mountain, invade the city, and capture the palace and the Fire Lord, and if everything went as planned, than by the time they were making it to the city, the Firebenders would have temporarily lost their Firebending, and would be unable to fight back, making it easy for them to advance.
It was definitely a risky endeavor and there were many ways it could fail but Riley and her mates kept quiet in regards to that, it wasn't their place to win this war, nor was it their place to tell these people how they should fight for their freedom. They were doing what they thought was best, which was commendable, and even if the three women saw flaws in their plan, it didn't mean that the plan itself was doomed to failure, it simply meant that it didn't allow for many errors. In all their combined years as kunoichi, they'd all learned that such strict plans with no fail-safes or backups could lead to catastrophe.
With that in mind, it was decided that Gaia and Yugito would remain with the invasion force to aid them in their battle and to keep Toph and her friends safe, meanwhile, Riley would leave after the battle started to go and find their supposed daughter, the Fire Nation princess Azula, whom Riley suspected was at the heart of the demonic presence she felt coming from the city.
With their plans in place, the trio joined the others in setting off for the invasion. It was a rather quiet affair as they sailed for their destination and as they approached, the Waterbenders threw up a blanket of fog to cover their advance.
The wall of fog obscured their numbers and composition but it did alert the defenders waiting at the outermost defenses that something was amiss. In response they raised a set of ropes that were doused in flammable liquids tied between several statues erected as lighthouses around the entrance to the Fire Capitol harbor. This flaming wall of rope prevented ships from advancing until they burned away, luckily the attackers had planned for this and used their subs to slip through beneath the ropes and the waves.
Marvelous machines these submarines were. Designed off the image of the blue whale, and powered and controlled by Waterbenders, they were an excellent example of the merging of magic and technology and served as inspiration for Riley when she returned to Albion. She fully intended for such fusions of technology and magic to become common place within the upstart kingdom taking the best from both worlds and using it all to improve themselves.
They traveled on a decent way past the blockade before having to surface to refill their air supply before the main attack. It was during this momentary pause that Aang planned to depart from the group and head for the Fire Capitol so that he could confront and capture the Fire Lord while the invasion was occurring. The trio offered him their best wishes and before he left he shared a moment with Katara which ended in him kissing her and than heading off, leaving a blushing Katara behind.
Riley and her mates couldn't help but smirk at the sight, having sensed the affection the two shared for one another despite all the hardships they had gone through.
Not long after, they set off, sinking beneath the waves and beginning their attack on the capitol.
Just as planned they punched through the seawall defending the port and their subs landed in the Royal Plaza under heavy fire from battlements that lined either side of the high walls of the Plaza.
The first forces out of the subs were another set of machines designed by Sokka and built by the Mechanist. These machines were armored tanks powered by Earthbenders, that looked like segmented worms. They would provide protection for the attackers and allow them to deploy their infantry safely, even while under heavy fire.
Aside from that, the invaders had two more tools at their disposal. One was a giant construct made of seaweed controlled by a Waterbender from the swamps of the Earth Kingdom. This towering construction was a useful weapon on the battlefield as it offered the Waterbender within it a wide range of offensive options while also keeping him protected, and it also drew attention away from the invaders as many of the Firebenders began to focus their attacks on the monstrous seaweed monster.
The other tool they possessed was Oppa, who'd been equipped with armor to keep him safe. Katara rode on his back and used her Waterbending to strike out at the enemy from the air, attacking the battlements that lined the plaza.
Riley, Gaia, and Yugito were quick to exit their transport and join in the battle.
Yugito rushed into a crowd on Fire Nation soldiers, using her superior agility and speed to easily outpace them and attack them with taijutsu and kunai. Whenever she spotted a group of enemy soldiers clustered together, she would utilize a Fire Style jutsu to scatter them. She kept it simple, only using a basic Fireball Jutsu, or her Mouse Hairball Technique, which created mouse shaped balls of hair coated in blue flame. They would split and multiply and chase after targets before latching onto them and exploding. Both of these techniques worked to marvelous effect with the former keeping her enemies on the move and the latter maiming them when it struck true.
Gaia took to the air on a cloud of sand and began attacking the battlements above, utilizing a mass of sand that she carried with her she would rush at the battlements and drive this wave of sand right into the bunker flooding it and knocking away and burying the defenders within, than she could simply crush those within and pull the sand free and do it again. Occasionally she would make a pass over enemy positions and pepper them with a hail of Sand Bullets.
Riley herself chose to get a workout with her sword. She didn't feel the need to call upon Shikai and simply stuck to regular sword play. It actually became decent fun for the demoness sticking only to her sword as she fought. Handicapping herself like this, helped to raise the stakes a bit and make the battle more interesting to her.
She intended to hang around for a few minutes and help the invaders get through the hardest part of the invasion which was the initial landing, getting away from their ships and closing in on the defenders. Once they were actually advancing, she'd take her leave.
It was as she fought that she felt a dark feeling begin to press against her senses. The more she bathed in this demonic power, the more certain she became that whatever was unleashing this darkness was no simple demon, it was something of incredible power. For a brief moment she wondered if one of her half-demon children could ever have such a potency in power as this, because from what she was seeing, the demonic youki in the air, was almost like a black mist that slightly obscured Riley's vision and almost caused the enemy soldiers own magical signatures to be buried within it.
"I don't like this Riley. This demonic presence is so feral, and it's filled with a hellish intent. It's a monstrous hunger I'd expect from a wild demon, not an intelligent half-demon. This doesn't make sense." Kurama noted, expressing his concerns.
"You're right. This is a feral anger. An evil desire for bloodshed and destruction. I can't sense a human will behind it. What in the hell is going on here?" Riley thought to herself as she came to a pause.
She stood thoughtfully as a fireball washed over her. She didn't even react to the blazing heat and the caster could only stare in dumbfounded amazement as she stood pondering this strange feeling.
As the woman prepared to launch another blast of fire at Riley, a rock flew through the air and smashed into the side of the woman's head, knocking her unconscious and dropping her to the ground.
"Are you alright?" Came the question from Toph as she rushed over to where Riley stood.
"Yeah, I'm fine." Riley answered, turning her gaze towards her daughter before glancing at the battle.
Deciding it was time to head off, Riley made the choice to leave the attackers with a parting gift.
Impaling her sword into the ground, Riley brought her hands together and sped through a quick series of handsigns. She then leaped up into the air and released her attack.
"Fire Style: Great Flame Flower!" Riley called out as she took in a long breath and then exhaled a large cluster of fireballs. These fireballs shot forward towards the enemy, swelling in side until each was nearly five feet across.
These fireballs were quick to rain down on the defenders, Riley's targets being the various bunkers, tanks, and clusters of enemies that lay before her.
Nearly two dozen of these fireballs struck their targets, creating a series of explosions and a wave of heat that halted the attackers in advance for a moment.
Riley quickly landed back on the ground next to her daughter and her sword. She retrieved the latter and sheathed it before glanced at Toph.
"I have something I need to see to. There is a malevolent presence nearby, something that's giving off a terrible aura. I need to check on it. Keep advancing with the others, I'll return soon." Riley explained to her before leaping into the air, and out of the Plaza.
"What? Oh uh okay, I guess." Toph responded, not knowing what else to say as she rejoined her comrades.
Gaia and Yugito noted Riley's departure and kept on the offensive, aiding the attackers in pushing forward. Meanwhile on the inside, their two Bijuu were having a discussion that both Jinchuriki could hear.
"I don't like this dark feeling. This demonic presence is so intense." Matatabi noted.
"Yeah, it's definitely a demon. We should be careful." Shukaku agreed, wondering what it could be. It obviously wasn't a half-demon, the power was too evil, too menacing to belong to anything other than a full blooded demon. But they knew they were looking for a half-demon. Yugito was the mother, meaning the child was half-human. So than where was this monstrous demonic presence coming from?
"Be careful Riley."Gaia offered a silent prayer of safety for her fiancee.
"What could it be if it isn't our kid? I definitely don't like this. We should hurry up and get this over with." Yugito though to herself as drove a kunai into the throat of a Fire Nation soldier.
Riley was quickly to move up the mountain, using her Byakugan to scan the city.
To her surprise she found it scarcely populated. Only a small army of soldiers remained within, but civilians were strangely absent.
"They definitely knew we were coming." Riley thought to herself as she landed on the edge of the volcano and stared down at the capitol.
Turning her gaze up towards the moon, she could see it starting to approach the sun. Within about twenty minutes or so, it would pass over the sun and eclipse would begin.
"Shadows will spread, devastation comes." The Darkness whispered into her ear.
Riley felt her bloodlust begin to rise at her child's words, but she kept from reacting and instead focused her attention on locating her other child.
She could sense the demonic energy was boiling up from within the volcano, so using her eyes she gazed deep into it's rocky interior, following the energy to it's source.
She came upon an interesting sight, energy pockets were littered throughout the volcano, pools of glowing hot magma that burned with demonic energy. There were hundreds of them, some as small as a human being, just a glob of magma burning for no real reason, while in other places, massive building sized pools of lava radiated the same energy.
Each one seemed interconnected, like threads of magic that tied them together. These globs of magma gave off a hellish feeling on top of the evil power they radiated. For a moment, it almost reminded her of her familiars and how they were tied to her in a similar manner.
Perhaps these pools of lava were more than they appeared? She watched them, searching for signs of intelligent movement, but they seemed to hold in place where they were, locked in small chambers, dozens of feet beneath the surface of the volcano.
"Perhaps they are the Princess's demonic servants? That would explain the purely demonic energy we're feeling. Like how Elsa has Reedman."Kurama suggested, his idea falling in line with Riley's own suspicions.
"That's what I'm thinking. Still… to have so many… Well if I follow the threads to their source, I'll locate my daughter." Riley thought back as she did just that.
Using her Byakugan she traced the threads of demonic magic towards a chamber deep within the volcano. Within this chamber was a hellish storm of magic that Riley couldn't see through with her eyes, it was like a solid wall of red fog.
"The youki in that chamber is so dense that I can't even see through it. No wonder she was able to beat Aang so easily. Even as a half-demon her power is greater than any of her other half-demon siblings. She might just be the second strongest of my children." Riley noted to Kurama, earning a grunt of agreement from the demon and a hellish hiss from the Darkness.
Turning her attention towards her demonic child, she felt anticipation within it growing. The coming eclipse and the surrounding battle no doubt excited him, but this was a bit more than she'd seen before. The last time the Darkness was this excited was during the massacre at the Wind Capital where Riley had unleashed him against the Iwa and Earth armies, and used her magic to block out the sun.
The demon's excitement was palpable and Riley could feel it's desire to be unleashed and wreak havoc upon their enemies. Riley was half tempted to allow it, her own excitement was growing. Even though the battle was relatively small in comparison to other battles Riley had fought it, war had always had a way of exciting her, and that was something that would probably never change.
So, letting out a sigh, Riley chose to maintain her composure and activate her Intangibility, where she then sunk into the ground and moved towards the chamber that housed the intense demonic energy she'd seen.
She quietly passed down through the earth, occasionally coming through halls and tunnels constructed into the interior of the volcano. At one hallway she came across a squad of Fire Nation soldiers patrolling. She took the moment to stop and engage these enemy combatants who no doubt had a part to play in the battle going on, even if it was only a defensive role.
Appearing before the squad of seven soldiers, each one readied their weapons when they spotted her, none of them immediately recognizing her.
They charged forward swords at the ready, Riley smirked and held out her hand. From her palm, a sharp bone erupted outward. Letting out a dark chuckle she met the charging squad and retaliated against them using the bone blade.
Even against metal swords, the bone born of her body cut through them like a hot knife through butter.
Her strength was simply too great for any earthly creation, not born of magic, to withstand. The bone itself was pointed, and would have made a better spear, but it ultimately didn't matter. She hit so hard and so fast, that it sliced through her opponents with ease, not even the stone walls were enough to deflect or hinder her strikes, it was almost like they weren't even there.
A part of her thought nothing of the people she was killing. The blood excited her, the screams brought a smile to her face, but ultimately, she felt nothing for these people. Another part of though, felt a great deal of concern due to that, not because she was worried about feeling this way, but more so because she wasn't overly focused. Fighting had always been a favored past time, but when her opponents were little more than lonely ants standing before a hurricane, it was hard to get invested. Such complacency led to arrogance, and arrogance would lead to her underestimating her opponents.
Even if there was no one on the Earth stronger than she was, the Earth was a small place. There were countless other worlds and dimensions and even other timelines, where possible threats could reside. As easy as it was to become overconfident, she simply could not allow herself to lose interest in the facets of battle that kept her at peak performance.
Madara had proven to her that power only meant so much. When he had regained a physical body, he had wiped the floor with her for weeks, even though she had as much power as a Bijuu. He had superior skill, and experience, with enough power to pack a punch. Since regaining his Rinnegan his power had only grown. Fighting him and Hashirama, when the latter used Sage Mode, was possibly the most thrilling battle she could manage on a regular basis. She absolutely loved going at it with them on all cylinders and it got to the point where almost no one else compared.
Tobirama was a damn skilled fighter, as was Izuna, but compared to Hashirama and Madara, the difference in power was immense. And even still, comparing Tobirama to someone like Kakashi, was much the same as comparing, Kakashi to even a standard Legionnaire. The level of power that was held by the people she knew, led to even the benders of these lands to appear as nothing more than children to her at best. Aang was the greatest of them in terms of his potential and his current ability and even then, Riley could see him being easily overpowered even by Kakashi. Than again, she had never seen the Avatar State in action so perhaps his true power would elevate his threat potential even higher.
These basic benders and soldiers were almost a non-issue to people like Riley and her mates. Yugito and Gaia were no doubt cutting down swaths of enemy combatants with notable ease. Perhaps Yugito would have the hardest time with it, as she was only a Jonin, while Gaia was a Kage, but both had access to the powers of a Jinchuriki so in a lot of ways they were relatively even in terms of power. Both ladies would see this battle and at best, feel as if they were fighting an army of Chuunin and Genin.
It wasn't that Riley held any complaints, she had worked hard to become this powerful, as had others, but a part of her worried about how easily she could become bored with these opponents. Against skilled fighters like Jonin, Riley could turn her brain off, lose her focus and just have fun in a fight, they were fast enough and strong enough to make the fight interesting and if Riley wasn't focusing than the dance could actually be fun. But with weaker opponents who were much slower, even when barely paying attention, her opponents moved at a glacial pace.
Her reaction speed and perception were so high that even when not focused, her enemies moved like they were encased in jello. If Riley focused, even for a moment, than they'd all appear to just stop.
It was easy to get bored, and boredom could lead to complacency and knowing what was on the horizon, Riley couldn't afford to get complacent. She had an Archdevil to face one day, and if she intended to survive, she needed to keep improving her strength and skills.
She easily dealt with her attackers as she pondered this, taking these thoughts and trying to formulate a proper method of dealing with the issue.
"What about using these weaklings to test your new abilities? How does that sound? They'll never actually put up a good fight against you if you're just going to use what you know, so what about testing out your weakest skills on them, so that you actually get something from fighting these guys, rather than it just being a chore." Kurama suggested to her, his idea causing her to take pause.
She stood in the center of a passage, corpses surrounding her as she took a moment to consider his idea. Testing out her newest or weakest abilities on weaker opponents would be like handicapping herself, which could also make these engagements more interesting.
"Training… I can use these guys for training. I treat them like practice dummies and even if the battle is boring, I'll still end up getting something out of it. I like it." Riley thought to herself as a wall of heat surrounded her and consumed her body.
For a moment she was wrapped in flame before it dissipated, revealing a Firebender standing at the end of the hall, his eyes wide in disbelief at her survival.
She smirked at him and shot forward, seizing the man by the throat and crushing it in a swift movement before dropping him without a second thought.
"Alright, let's see what's waiting below." Riley thought to herself as she made her descent.
She passed down into the large chamber where she had seen the concentration of demonic energy. The moment she entered it, her senses were assaulted by the blistering heat of the room. The air boiled, and the ground burned with barely contained flame. Cracks spider-webbed out across the floor of the chamber, that glowed a fiery yellow and released walls of skin-peeling heat.
In the center of the large chamber was a metal cage, twisted and charred and contained within this cage, was a woman.
Slowly, Riley descended from the ceiling, her eyes trained on the woman. Now within the chamber, Riley could see more clearly. This woman was a demon. A full blooded demon, that held substantial power.
She looked human, her skin was pale and the flesh below her belly was charred black from the heat. So burned in fact, was her lower body, that it almost looked like smoldering embers were rising from within her darkened flesh. Her hair was long and black as coal. As Riley landed several meters in front of the woman, she raised her head, revealing two coal black eyes with red pupils that held a familiar pattern in them.
Two blazing Sharingan eyes stared back at her filled with hatred and vile contempt. That anger lasted for all of a single moment before recognition dawned in those eyes.
"Mother…" A tired voice creeped out from the woman's lips.
Riley stared at her for a long moment before her eyes spotted a dim glow hanging above the woman's head. There strung up just above her was a coal black feather, that now smoldered with flame.
Riley's face twisted in rage as her tails suddenly lashed out, seizing at the bars of the twisted cage.
As she touched the metal she felt the bars begin to drink in her demonic power, no doubt they were part of some sort of sealing or suppression ritual that was containing her demonic child in this hellish prison.
With an enraged growl, Riley ripped the cage asunder, sending the metal bars sailing across the room. Within seconds the cage was shredded apart, releasing the demoness contained within.
Slowly, Riley began to approached the woman who had fallen to her knees as the cage was ripped away from her.
She lifted her head with what appeared to be immense effort and gave Riley a smile that was at once both the saddest and most infuriating thing Riley could recall seeing. It was a smile of salvation, and of hope, and it ignited an immeasurable fury in Riley, that no doubt reflected upon her face.
"I knew you would come, mother. I've been waiting for you." The woman spoke as she slowly pulled herself to her feet as Riley closed the distance between them.
Right before Riley could reach her, the ground began to shake and then suddenly, around Riley it erupted as several entities made of lava sprung forth from the ground.
Riley glanced around at the collection of demons that surrounded her. The creatures were composed purely of magma, their shapes amorphous and shifting, they had no features other than the difference between hot and cool sections of their bodies. The hotter the section was, the more it glowed white hot, while in other places where it was cooler it was more of a yellow or even orange.
The first to attack was the one that was positioned behind her. A towering blob that stood at nearly ten feet tall. It looked basically like a pillar of burning lava. From it's body, dozens of tendrils of flame erupted off of it and shot towards her.
Riley spun around, her tails shooting forward, catching many of the flaming tendrils, halting their advance.
Several tendrils made it through her block, and lashed at her body. Searing heat danced at her skin as she dodged the strikes. From what she could feel of the heat, against a normal human these demons would be able to unleash the full fiery power of lava. A person would be severely burned, long before the tendrils of flame even made contact with their skin, and actual contact would cause flesh to blacken in moments.
Riley dodged another lash from the free tendrils and released a Reducto from her hand that blasted the demon apart, sending magma raining across the chamber.
The others rushed forward as Riley's tails coiled around her body before spinning outward, creating a twister of destruction that sliced the incoming demons apart.
Several more rose from the ground to continue the attack, as they did, Riley's daughter held out her hand, her palm facing the groups of fire demons.
About an inch off of her palm, a small flame ignited. This flame let out an ear piercing hiss as it boiled in on itself, twisting and folding inward as the noise grew in intensity.
Riley turned her gaze towards the sound and stared with surprise at the raw power that was building.
Before the fire demons could react, the flame before the woman's palm exploded outward in a torrent of fire that rolled across the chamber. The heat was blistering, it caused the air in the room to boil and than ignite as more air began to rush into the chamber. The heat was otherworldly, hotter than anything Riley had ever felt before. She seriously doubted that her own body could withstand such heat without taking damage.
The demoness maintained the fire gout for several long seconds before the attack ended and she collapsed onto her hands, her breathing haggard and filled with exhaustion.
Riley raced over to her side, kneeling next to the woman. She sent a glance around the room as the flame cleared away, and found that the fire demons had been completely destroyed. Despite their fire nature, these demons weren't strong enough to withstand the power of Riley's child. Her flames burned much hotter, than even their fiery bodies.
"Are you alright?" Riley asked as she placed her hand on her child's back.
"No… my powers have been drained, and my life force is severely diminished." The woman muttered in response, slowly shifting her gaze to meet with Riley's.
"Alright. Come with me, I'll take you somewhere safe and try to heal you." Riley responded, pulling her child into Kamui before departing into the other dimension herself to try and heal her injured daughter.
-Elsewhere on the battlefield-
The eclipse was only a handful of minutes away from starting when Aang returned to the group.
He informed them that the capitol was empty, and so was the Fire Lord's Palace.
The enemy had known they were coming and evacuated. The discussion quickly became what to do about it. They either had to take the opportunity to try and track down the Fire Lord and deal with him before the eclipse ended, or they had to take the time to retreat. Katara felt that retreating was the better option, as did Gaia, and Yugito, though Hakoda made an impassioned suggestion that those who were fighting already and those that had given their lives in this invasion wouldn't want them to give up now. He argued that so long as there was a chance, they should take it.
Aang agreed, and decided to take Toph and Sokka with him to search the interior of the volcano. Gaia and Yugito chose to go with as their main purpose was protecting Toph.
Using Toph's seismic sensing, she was able to detect the series of tunnels deep below the volcano, as well as a large metallic structure somewhere deep below, which was no doubt a bunker.
If the Fire Lord was anywhere, it was most likely there.
Toph and Aang used their Earthbending powers to bore a hole into the ground leading down towards the bunker. While they headed downward, Yugito and Gaia shared a few words on something that was worrying them. Riley had yet to report back, and their respective Bijuu could no longer feel her presence.
Gaia was half temped to try and contact her, but chose to give her some time, and try not to worry.
They made their way deeper, eventually arriving at the underground bunker, using her new Metalbending abilities, Toph was easily able to pierce it's outermost layer and allow them entrance.
They made their way inside, cornering a traveling servant who, when threatened, pointed them in the direction of the Fire Lord's chamber.
As they closed in on it, Shukaku spoke up.
"Hey Gaia, just a heads up, I think I can feel a half-demon through all of this demonic power. I think Yugito's daughter is up ahead." Shukaku informed his host.
"She must be with the Fire Lord. Make sure the Cat knows and that it informs Yugito as well if she isn't aware." Gaia responded
As they advanced, Yugito seemed to visibly react to something that was being said to her, assuring Gaia that her partner had been informed that her daughter was no doubt ahead.
They arrived at a large chamber entrance there they took a moment to pause as Aang collected himself and prepared to confront the Fire Lord.
"I'm ready to face my destiny." The boy stated, his eyes filled with determination and resolute resolve.
"Be careful. This could still be a trap." Yugito warned, sharing a glance with Gaia.
Aang took in a deep breath and nodded before knocking the doors to the chamber down with Airbending allowing them all to advance inside.
"So… you did survive." Came the amused voice of the Fire Nation princess.
Azula sat at the far end of the room, upon a lonely throne. She seemed confidant, and wore a smirk on her face.
The group slowly began to cross the room, as Azula rose to her feet.
"Where is the Fire Lord?" Sokka demanded.
"Not here. I'm all you get to play with today." Azula responded, still smirking.
"She can still use magic right?" Yugito quietly whispered to Gaia.
"There's no reason she shouldn't be able to. She's not an elemental, meaning her abilities shouldn't be affected by the eclipse." Gaia responded, equally as quietly.
"Tell us where he is, now!" Aang demanded, leveling his staff at her.
"I have no idea." Azula responded with a shrug.
"Stop stalling, and give us the information, you're powerless right now." Sokka again demanded as he got into a fighting stance with his sword at the ready.
"And stick to the truth, I'll be able to tell if you're lying." Toph added.
"Oh really?" Azula inquired, raising an eyebrow, she then proceeded to tell an outrageous lie that was obviously false, but Toph couldn't pick up any physical indicators that she was lying.
"Ok, you're good." Toph conceded as Azula let out a laugh.
"We don't have time for this." Aang stated, anger filling his voice.
"No, we don't. You three should go and continue the search, Yugito and I will deal with her." Gaia suggested, earning looks from the three younger members of the group.
"Are you sure about that?" Aang inquired, a slight unease to his voice.
"It's like you said, she's powerless right now. And her two little helpers wont manage much either." Yugito offered, her words earned surprise from Azula, and confusion from the three teens.
"What are you…?" Sokka began to ask when suddenly, chunks of the earthen ceiling began to fall towards them.
A wall of sand erupted out of Gaia's gourd, shielding them all from the falling rocks as two Earthbenders fell from the ceiling to flank either side of Azula.
"She meant these. Dai Lee agents. Souvenirs from Ba Sing Se." Azula replied coolly, eyeing Gaia and Yugito with a bit of interest.
"Go, quickly. The eclipse will be over in a few minutes. You have to hurry." Gaia commanded as her sand shoved the two stones aside and then fell to the ground around her.
The three teens shared a look before turning to race out of the room.
"You, your name is Sokka right? My favorite prisoner used to mention you all the time." Azula began, causing Sokka, Aang, and Toph to stop in their tracks and Sokka turned to glare back at Azula.
"She was so convinced that you would come and rescue her, but you never came." Azula prodded.
"She's damn good at that Kitten. She knows how to get under her enemy's skin. It makes her dangerous. Be careful, she may be your daughter, but she's still an enemy combatant at the moment." Matatabi warned.
"She's definitely Riley's kid." Yugito thought back.
Sokka began to advance with a growl, fire burning in his eyes. Whoever Azula was talking about, she definitely meant a lot to the young swordsman.
The two Dai Lee agents stood in front of Azula and readied to attack.
As they moved to launch their attacks, Gaia made a move, sending a torrent of sand rushing at the three of them.
"Go now, before you run out of time!" Yugito snapped at Sokka grabbing him as he tried to advance on Azula.
He blinked several times before realizing that she was right. He threw a glare at Azula before retreating back towards Aang and Toph.
The two agents tried to raise a wall of earth to stop the incoming stream of sand but it simply washed around it like a wave of water. The two agents stomped the ground, creating pillars that launched them into the air. To their amazement, Azula's as well, the sand followed them, shifting it's movement in sync with their own, and now that the two were airborne, there was nothing they could do to avoid the incoming cloud of sand that wrapped around them.
Azula began to back away, turning to make a break for it as she saw the Avatar and his friends run back out the door they came in, and her guards being encased in cocoons of sand.
She turned around, only to stumble back in surprise as she found Yugito standing there. She struck out at the woman with a knife she had hidden in her hand. Yugito avoided the slash and caught Azula's wrist, twisting it and forcing the knife out of her hand.
Azula tried to pull free from Yugito's grip but found herself unable to get free, Yugito's grip was like a vice.
Azula lashed out with her free hand, only for Yugito to duck under the strike and jab the princess in the gut, knocking the wind out of her, she then hooked her leg and tossed Azula to the floor.
The Fire Nation princess tried to roll away, she managed to put a few feet between her and Yugito, and she tried to spring to her feet. She only made it to a crouch when she felt an elbow hit her in the center of her back, knocking her flat onto her face. This time, before she could tumble away, Yugito knelt on her back, taking one of her arms and pinning it behind her, while also placing a kunai to her neck.
"Settle down." Yugito stated, her tone cool.
Azula held still for a moment as she pondered for a way to escape. As she did, she heard the screams of her Dai Lee agents becoming more and more muffled, as they were fully cocooned in sand.
"Sand Coffin, Sand Burial." Gaia growled, filling the chamber with the screams of the two men, which was quickly cut off by the sound of every bone in their bodies being crushed.
Azula couldn't see this, as the agents were held outside of her line of sight, but she could see the blood that began to rain down from above.
Her eyes went wide at that, and a moment later the sands began to descend from above, depositing the corpses of the two agents and returning to Gaia who calmly approached the two.
"Hello Princess." Gaia greeted her, earning a glare from the young Firebender.
"Riley… we've found and captured Azula. Where are you?" Gaia sent over their bond.
"Dealing with something important. Take her and get out of there. There are demons within the volcano, a lot of them. You need to leave. Contact me if you have any trouble getting away." Came Riley's response, earning a troubled look from Gaia. What could it possibly be that was pulling Riley's attention away from this moment, and meeting one of her own children?
"We need to go. There are demons present within the volcano. This whole thing was a trap." Gaia stated to Yugito.
"Oh, figured that out did you? You're a bit more intelligent than the Avatar or his cronies, who are you?" Azula inquired, maintaining a sense of calm as she waited for her moment to try and escape.
"I am Gaia no Sabaku, fifth Kazekage of Sunagakure." Gaia responded, turning her gaze to stare down at the dark haired young woman.
"Fancy name. Never heard of you though. What are such skilled women doing in the service of the Avatar?" Azula inquired.
"Looking for our children. Now that we've done so, we have no need to remain here any longer." Yugito was the one to respond.
Azula made a face at that, not quite sure she understood what was just said.
"The eclipse is going to end here in a few seconds. The seal tag that Yugito is applying to you will strip you of your ability to bend so long as it's active. Make any attempt to escape and I'll knock you out." Gaia explained as Yugito removed a seal tag from her pouch and placed it on the center of Azula's back and then activated it.
Before she could really understand what was just said, Azula felt a sudden weakness overcome her, almost like fatigue washing over her body. Panic began to set in as she realized that she couldn't feel her powers anymore.
She began to struggle and thrash, but Yugito held firm and hauled Azula to her feet.
Gaia approached and took Azula's arms bounding her hands in front of her body so that she couldn't reach the seal tag on her back. The seal was provided by Riley, just in case they needed to suppress Azula's power and keep her compliant while they made their escape. It did it's job as intended, as the eclipse came to an end, both kunoichi counting off the time in their heads throughout the whole operation.
"Let's go." Gaia instructed, sand rushing forward and wrapping around Azula's torso, lifting her off the ground.
"What are you doing?! What's been done to my bending!?" Azula snapped as she struggled against the sand.
"Remain calm, we have no intention of hurting you. For now, you're our prisoner." Yugito responded, stepping out in from of Azula and giving her a once over, taking in her face, her features, and finally settling on her eyes. They were a golden color, but held an intensity to them that very much reminded Yugito of Riley.
"You think you'll get away with this? You have no idea who I am, what I'm capable of. Release me, or you'll regret it!" Azula demanded, as she struggled against her restraints.
Gaia and Yugito shared a glance with one another. Before turning and heading for the exit, the sand carrying Azula with them.
Azula fought and cursed them as the two quickly made their way to the place where they'd entered and returned to the surface. They only encountered a handful of enemies, who quickly showed that the eclipse was over with their use of Firebending, but they were easily dispatched by Yugito.
The ease of her kills, silenced Azula's struggles. Seeing how quickly her countrymen were cut down by her kidnappers, showed just how powerful they truly were.
Within moments they were outside, and not long after they exited, they saw their invasion force, begin to retreat over the mountain, heading down towards them.
Gaia and Yugito shared a look with each other, while Azula smirked. Not long afterwards, what their allies were running from appeared in the air above them. High in the sky, coming towards them were several large Zeppelins, bearing the insignia of the Fire Nation, as well as a number of War balloons.
"That's not good." Yugito muttered.
"No it is not." Gaia noted, as she spotted Toph and Sokka amongst the retreating forces. Gaia and Yugito quickly raced over to them, just as Aang glided down from the sky, and Katara landed on Oppa.
"There's too many of them, we can't stop them all." Aang expressed, worry and fear dancing in his eyes.
"What are we gonna do?" Toph inquired.
Sokka looked to be trying to think as his eyes turned towards the sky. High up, the Zeppelins were passing over. Large chutes were opening along their undersides, seeing this, the boy knew what was coming.
"Heads up everyone! Get to shelter, I think we're about to see some bombs!" Sokka called out, right as small bombs began to rain out of the passing balloons. The Earthbenders began to manipulate the ground to form barriers to shield them from the dropping bombs.
Some were unlucky and vanished in fiery explosions, and one of their tanks was knocked onto it's side by an explosion, rendering it useless.
After several moments, the bombardment stopped, and people began to take stock of the situation.
"The balloons are headed down to the landing area." Yugito noted.
"The submarines, their gonna destroy our only means of escape!" Aang realized.
"Things are looking desperate. I think it's for the best that you kids escape on Oppa. The adults will stay behind and surrender." Hakoda stated after a moment.
"What? What are you saying? We were just reunited, we can't let them separate us again!" Katara argued.
"It can't be helped. You have to get out of here. Aang has to survive, it's the only way to keep hope alive. We'll surrender. We may be prisoners, but at least we'll all survive." Hakoda reasoned.
"Your father is right. They'll have to take them prisoners. They need to know where the Avatar is, and they need to know where their princess has been taken." Gaia responded, gesturing to the restrained Azula, who was just now noticed by the others.
"You captured her?" Sokka asked with surprise.
"Yes. All will be explained later. For now, we must make it to safety. There is great danger here, and I don't wanna push our luck with tempting it. We should retreat now and save as many lives as possible. We have two things that they want, and that gives us some ability to predict their movements. We have to go, otherwise we'll lose that advantage." Gaia expressed to the all.
"She's right. Live today, fight tomorrow." Yugito agreed.
"Alright than. I guess we have no choice." Katara muttered quietly, turning towards her father.
He offered her a nod, to show that he understood why she was upset, but it had to be done. Oppa couldn't carry all of them, and it would unfair for any of the adults to catch a ride, when others couldn't.
Katara and Sokka offered their father a tearful goodbye before hopping onto to Oppa.
The youngest loaded onto Oppa's back, while Gaia prepared a cloud of sand to carry her and Yugito with them.
"Hey, where's Riley?" Katara inquired as they prepared to leave.
"Dealing with something important. She's safe, don't worry. Let's get going." Gaia replied, taking a moment to make sure that Azula was secured, mostly encased in sand, save for her eyes, nose, and mouth.
Trusting Gaia's words, the teens took to the sky on Oppa, followed closely by Gaia and Yugito. They flew through the air, heading away from the Fire Nation as they moved past the zeppelins.
Now that they were safe and in the air, Gaia pulled alongside Oppa and called out to Aang, asking where they were going.
"Follow me, I'll show you where to go. We're headed for the Western Air Temple!" Aang called back to her, earning a nod in response.
"Riley, looks like we failed to get the Fire Lord. The kids made it to safety, we're headed for the Western Air Temple. The other members of the invasion force were captured, though we have Azula with us. Where are you?" Gaia informed Riley, finally taking the moment to get some answers.
"I'm busy trying to repair the damage done to another of my kids. I found her chained beneath the volcano. She's in a bad way, so forgive me if I'm away for a little while, let me know if you need me for anything and I'll be there in a flash." Riley offered as an explanation, earning bit of surprise from Gaia, which soon turned to concern.
"I thought there was only two of our kids here? Who's the mother?" Gaia asked.
"So did I. I'll let her explain herself once we meet up with you, and as for the mother… well I am. She a full demon. Though I'm almost certain that her other mother is Yugito." Riley answered.
"Yugito? Alright, I guess we'll just wait until you're here to explain the situation to us." Gaia responded, deciding it was best to finish this conversation in person.
Gaia glanced at Yugito, concern visible in the Kazekage's eyes. Yugito was not yet Riley's mate, so they couldn't communicate telepathically just yet, but the Kunoichi was a natural sensor, and empathetic as well. She could tell that something was very much bothering Gaia.
Keeping it in mind, they continued on their way, eventually arriving at the Western Air Temple.
The group settled in, with Azula being freed from the sand cocoon and being tied to a stone pillar. Without her ability to bend, and without any weapons, she was unable to cut through the ninja wire, that was keeping her restrained.
As night began to fall, the group took the time to discuss their next course of action.
"With Azula as a hostage, we may have a way to get close to the Fire Lord and force a dual, but in order for that to happen, Aang needs to be ready to defeat him." Sokka offered.
"I doubt she'll hold that much value to him. He does have an older son." Gaia noted, her response earning a laugh from Azula, who was quietly listening to their conversation.
"What's so funny?" Toph demanded.
"Oh, just that you think dearest Zuzu, has any value beyond a turnip or some other base vegetable." Azula responded, chuckling in amusement.
"She's a real charmer." Toph muttered to the rest of the gang.
"Well if we can't use her to get to the Fire Lord, what do we do with her, just let her go?" Aang asked after a moment.
"You wont need to worry about that. We'll deal with her. She's our responsibility." Yugito stated, earning a curious look from the teens.
"Why?" Katara inquired.
"She's my daughter. Mine and Riley's." Yugito answered, her response earned collective surprise from the teens, especially Toph who quickly realized what that meant in regards to her.
"Wait, she's my sister!?" Toph demanded, pointing a finger at Azula who was staring back with confusion, not quite understanding what Yugito had just said.
"Half-sister." Yugito corrected.
"Wait, how long have you known this?" Sokka asked.
"We came here to these lands, looking for two of our kids. One from me, and one from Yugito. We first found Toph, and a short while later, after helping to remove the corrupted energy from Aang's wound, Riley suspected that the other child we were looking for, was Azula. We had no proof until we saw her earlier today. Just like Toph, she has one of Riley's feathers." Gaia explained to them, her words earning even more confusion from Azula who was still listening, though when she heard that part, her mind turned towards the always present black feather that she had. The one she had thought was given to her by Ursa, the woman who raised her and also carried the same feather.
"This feather was given to me by my mother, Ursa of the Fire Nation. I have no clue what you fools are on about, but if you're trying to trick me, it wont work." Azula spoke up, openly glaring at them.
"That must be who Riley located beneath the Fire Nation capital. We thought we were only looking for two children, but Riley located a third during the invasion. She's currently away, attempting to heal her. Apparently she was kept chained, and was left in a miserable state." Gaia offered as well, earning more surprise from the teens, while also earning a nod of understanding from Yugito. Azula seemed surprised as well, though the source of her surprise was a mystery to the group.
"The woman who raised you, princess, is not your mother, she's your sister." Gaia stated, turning her gaze towards Azula, who's eyes were wide in disbelief.
"You're lying!" Azula snapped.
"Your real mother is Yugito here, that feather belongs to our mate, Riley. If the woman who raised you, Ursa, also has a black feather, that means that she is also Riley's daughter." Gaia expressed.
Azula stared back in disbelief, not able to make sense of this revelation. She knew it had to be a lie, but a part of it did strike as sense to her, which confused her, because she didn't know why it made sense.
"If what you're saying is true, than that would mean that my brother is actually my nephew. My father isn't my father at all. And that I'm adopted." Azula noted, still glaring at them.
"You're correct. Speaking of which…" Yugito stated, before turning her gaze towards a darkened part of the temple, where a figure was starting to emerge.
"Who are…?" Aang began as the teens, along with Yugito and Gaia, rose to their feet. He stopped when he realized who it was. It was Zuko, the one who'd been hunting him since he was freed from the Ice-burg, months ago.
"Hello, Zuko here." The young Fire Nation prince greeted them.
"What are you doing here?" Sokka demanded, drawing his sword.
"I'm here to join your group. To train the Avatar in Firebending." Zuko responded.
"What? Did he say what I think he said?" Toph asked in reply.
"You came to teach Aang Firebending? Do you honestly think we'd believe that? After everything you've done?" Katara snapped at him, not believing him for a moment.
"I know I've done a lot of bad things, and I'm trying to atone for them. The Fire Lord is evil, I see that now. I see that he's lead my people to do terrible things, as has the Fire Lords that preceded him. What they've done can't be forgiven, but I can try to make things right. The only way the world can heal, is if my father is defeated. I know you don't trust me, and I'm not asking you to, let me prove it. You need a Firebending teacher, and I know the Fire Lord, I can help you." Zuko pleaded his case.
Aang took in his words, though kept his emotions from his face. Sokka and Katara were both openly glaring at Zuko, and neither of them believed what he was saying.
"He's right ya know." Toph stated during the silence.
"Toph, you know what he's done. We can't trust him!" Katara argued.
"I didn't say to trust him, all I said was that he's right. Aang needs a Firebending teacher. Who better than the Fire Lord's own son? He knows Ozai, and unless you have another firebender, other than my ornery half-sister, we're basically stuck with what we can get. Besides, aren't the monks all about forgiveness and peace?" Toph explained, openly shrugging.
"That's a low blow…" Aang muttered.
"I'm right though." Toph pointed out.
"Yes… the Monks did teach forgiveness. But to those who've earned it. How do we know he wont turn on us the moment he gets the chance?" Aang argued.
"I wont. I've seen the things my father is planning, and I've seen the things my people have done. I know now what I did was wrong. Like I said, I can't ask for your forgiveness, all I can do prove myself, through my actions." Zuko tried put in.
"Like you did at Ba Sing Se? You betrayed us then. I gave you a chance, and you threw it in my face! Aang nearly died because of you!" Katara snapped at him, earning a visible flinch from the young man.
"Technically that was me, but that would be splitting hairs…" Azula couldn't help but add in, earning Zuko's attention. He stared at her for a moment, before realizing who it was.
"Azula… what are you doing here?" Zuko asked, his eye wide in disbelief.
"Oh? Hadn't you heard, I came to teach the Avatar Firebending. This is what they did to me." Azula responded, sounding so innocent. Her reply garnered dumbstruck looks from Aang and Sokka, while Katara threw a glare at her, and Toph let out a laugh.
Zuko stared at her for a moment, and she stared back. Azula maintained the innocent look on her face, while Zuko seemed unamused.
"No she didn't, and we didn't tie her up. She was taken prisoner from the invasion." Sokka argued.
"I pieced that together. My sister is a liar, always has been." Zuko muttered, still staring at her.
"I may be a liar, but at least I'm not a traitor like you or uncle. What does that say I wonder? I'm the one who can't be trusted because all I do is lie, but I've never betrayed my country, my people, my family, or my friends… hmm…" Azula rolled her eyes at that, causing Zuko's stare to morph into a glare.
"Why do you think we should trust him, Toph?" Aang asked, turning towards his Earthbending teacher.
"It's like I said. You need a teacher. You'd be a moron to turn him away. You may never be able to beat the Fire Lord at his own element, but having no experience in it at all will get you killed. If you want any chance of beating him, you to learn Firebending. It's just that simple. Though to be fair, I'm biased. From the sounds of it, he's my nephew." Toph explained, finishing with a shrug.
"I'm your what?" Zuko asked in response.
"Her nephew. Hadn't you heard? Apparently the blind girl is Ursa's sister. I'm also apparently Ursa's sister. I don't know if that's true or not, but I've decided that I would like you to call me Aunt Azula from now on." Azula sniped at Zuko, earning confusion and anger from the young man.
"Does she ever take anything seriously?" Sokka grumbled.
"It's a mask to hide her true emotions. Snapping quips is a way to hide her feelings and deflect from them. She's confused, doesn't know what to believe, but teasing her brother helps her to focus." Gaia offered as an explanation.
"You're able to tell that about her after only just meeting her?" Yugito noted, smirking and raising and eyebrow.
"Riley does it. Though Riley uses sex to deflect when she doesn't want her mates prying into something she's up to. I've noticed it. You'll notice it too. Maybe." Gaia responded, her explanation earned a bit of a blush from Yugito, which Gaia noticed, causing her to smirk and add in that last bit, just a little dig at Riley's future mate.
"I'm not sure I understand everything that's going on." Zuko admitted after a few seconds.
"Join the club…" Aang muttered as he rubbed the side of his head and let out a sigh.
"The decision on what you do with his offer is entirely up to you Aang, but Toph is right, you need a teacher, and he's offering. Your only other option right now is Azula. So… well… do with that what you will." Gaia stated, addressing the Avatar and earning another sigh from Aang as he thought on it, stripping away his emotions and thinking about the situation logically.
He needed a teacher, to help him learn Firebending, that was a fact. Zuko was a prince and a Firebending prodigy. Not only was he skilled, but he'd been trained by actual masters in the art. There wasn't much time left until Sozin's comet arrived, only a scant few weeks. He didn't have time to go looking, and he couldn't face the Fire Lord without at least some skill in Firebending. So that left only the issue of trust. Zuko had hunted him, and fought him since he awoke from the iceberg. He couldn't be trusted off his word alone.
"Why do you wanna teach me? You've been hunting me for months, so why the change of heart? I can't trust you off of your words alone, only through your actions. But knowing why you're here, why you're doing this, might just be the best place to start." Aang stated, focusing his gaze onto Zuko and taking a step forward.
While Katara and Sokka looked extremely hesitant, Toph offered a nod, happy to see that Aang wasn't acting irrationally, or allowing his feelings to get rid of what could be his only chance to learn Firebending before Sozin's comet arrived.
"That's a difficult question to answer. All my life, I was raised to believe that the Fire Nation was the greatest civilization the world had ever known, and that we were spreading our greatness to the rest of the world. Three years ago, my father banished me for disrespecting him, for speaking out for my countrymen. He gave me an impossible task. If I wanted to return home, and regain my honor, I needed to capture you. For three years I wandered the world, trying to find you. My goal was to go home, to regain what I thought I'd lost, but in that time I began to learn things, and see the world. I saw what my people were really doing out there, and I saw how people hated and feared the Fire Nation. My uncle helped me to start seeing a better way. When we were hiding out in Ba Sing Se, I was genuinely happy, just living a normal life. When we met in the crystal caverns and I told you how I'd changed, I meant it." Zuko began to explain, addressing Aang, but directing the last part at Katara who glared at him in response, not believing him.
"My sister's words got into my head. I had been away from home for so long, been away from my people, that a part of me didn't believe that the people I remembered, and the people I'd experienced during my banishment were the same. Azula offered me the chance to go home, to regain my honor, and my father's love. I made a stupid decision, and I chose to go home. I know I shouldn't have, and I regret that decision every day. My uncle was more of a father to me than Ozai ever was, and I betrayed him. When I went home, nothing felt right anymore. I tried so hard to convince myself that everything I'd learned over the last three years about my people wasn't true, that we weren't monsters, that we weren't as terrible as everyone thought. I tried so hard, but I never convinced myself. Than I learned about the things that had been going on while I was away, and I wanted no part in it. I knew my uncle had been right, that everyone had been right about us. I needed to make a change, but the only way I can do that is if my father is stopped. I met with him during the eclipse, I had the option to kill him. He was powerless, but I had my swords. I could have dealt with him then and there. But it wouldn't have been right. It wouldn't have fixed the world. I realize now that the only way to restore peace is for the Avatar to bring the Fire Lord to justice. You have to be the one to stop him, if anyone else does it, it'll just be an act of violence and hatred. You're the only one who can bring balance back to the world, and I know that I have to help you. I have to stop this insanity." Zuko continued, his words causing Aang to turn pensive. After several long moments he glanced at his friends. Katara was still openly glaring at him, and Sokka seemed conflicted.
"He's not lying, as far as I can tell." Toph noted, when his gaze passed over her.
"You want me to believe you've changed, you want me to give you a chance. Than give me something, anything to prove to me that you're a decent person, that you're not the same person who's been hunting me relentlessly." Aang decided to challenge him, taking another step forward.
For a moment, Zuko was silent. He seemed conflicted, which could easily be interpreted as him not having an answer. As he thought on it, Oppa rose up and walked up next to the Fire Nation prince, and licked the side of his head, twice, earning a grunt from Zuko as he wiped the slime from his face.
"Oppa seems to like him." Toph stated with a smile.
"Considering he's thrown fireballs at him before, I find that hard to believe." Sokka countered.
"He's probably just trying to say thank you." Zuko muttered, using his shirt to wipe more of Oppa's spit off his face.
"Thank you for what?" Aang asked, curiously.
"I found him under Lake Laogai. I thought he'd help me find you, but when I finally did find him, my uncle approached me. Told me that I wasn't thinking clearly, that I wasn't thinking ahead. I was so focused on capturing you, that I never stopped to think about what I was doing and where I was going. He told me that I needed to look inward, and find what I truly wanted. It was there that I decided I just wanted to be done with it all, that I didn't want to be consumed with hunting you anymore, so I cut his chains and let him go. It wasn't really anything to be praised for, it would have been cruel to just leave him there." Zuko responded, earning surprise from Aang, Sokka, and Katara, and a rumbling growl from Oppa, that seemed almost like some sort of agreement.
"Well that would explain why we found him flying around when we made out escape." Sokka noted quietly earning a nod of agreement from Aang.
"Oppa has been my friend for as long as can remember. Thank you for that." Aang offered, seeing it as the least he could do.
"Like I said, It's not like it's something I wanted to be praised for. Leaving him there would have been cruel." Zuko responded, his eyes falling to the ground.
"Hey Gaia… do you feel that?" Shukaku asked suddenly.
"Kitten!" Matatabi shouted as a feeling touched at her senses.
Yugito was the first to move, shooting forward, towards Zuko. She grabbed the young man and tossed him back towards Toph and the rest of the group. Less than half a second later, flaming tendrils erupted from the ceiling above where Zuko had been standing.
Yugito quickly began to backpedal as the tendrils lashed out at her. Pain screamed through her body as she avoided the half-dozen flaming whips that chased her. She was narrowly able to avoid contact with them, but it did very little good. The heat each tendril gave off was so intense that the fabric of her clothes nearest to them, burst into flame, and her skin began to burn.
This all occurred in the blink of an eye, Yugito cursing as she managed to pull away from the flaming tendrils backing into a pillar and collapsing to the ground, a scream of pain building in her throat as she swatted at the flames burning along her clothes.
Zuko's landing wasn't overly gracious flying into Sokka and Aang. Oppa let out a cry of pain and quickly retreated as lava began to leak from the ceiling and fall to the ground where Zuko had been mere moments earlier. A terrible heat began to flood the area as the demon took form.
"What is that!?" Sokka cried as the three boys pulled themselves to their feet.
"Damn!" Gaia cursed, sending a glance towards Yugito who was still putting out the flames on her body, before unleashing a torrent of sand at the creature.
"Katara help Yugito!" Aang shouted as he took an Earthbending stance and slammed his foot into the ground, causing a small pillar of stone to rise up. He then deliver a punch to the pillar, causing a section to rocket off right into the demon's center mass, causing it to sprawl backwards before quickly reforming.
Katara was quick to race over towards Yugito, drawing forth some water from her pouch and using it to douse the remaining flames on Yugito's body.
The demon began to take shape, the burning mound of lava, cooling in certain areas and burning brighter in others. Two bright lights of burning white could be seen as eyes, and the creature developed long arms with three fingers upon each. It stood at nearly seven feet tall and it's arms hung almost to the ground. It's lower half seemed almost like the body of a slug, just an upright pool of lava that connected to a vaguely humanoid torso.
Gaia's sand began to wrap around the creature as it finished taking shape, and once it did, it let out a hellish bellow that sounded like nothing any of them had ever heard before. Heat erupted from it's body. Heat so intense it caused everyone around to flinch and shield their faces, save for Gaia who's Sand Armor was already in place, and she quickly used her sand to form a wall between her allies and the demon, shielding them from the heat.
As the creature vanished behind the wall of sand, Gaia began gathering more sand between herself and the wall. The sand shaped into an almost drill-like form, the sand hardening and crushing together to make the object almost completely solid.
Within moments, the sand wall began to glow and in it's center it burned white hot. Seconds passed as the wall began to melt and demon began to push through. As soon as she spotted it, Gaia sent the sand construct sailing right into the demon, pushing it back through the sand wall, into the dark recesses of the abandoned temple.
For a moment, the heat dissipated and Gaia began to recall her sand back to her.
"What was that?" Sokka asked again, now that they had a moment to breathe.
"A demon." Gaia answered, turning her attention towards Yugito.
"Are you sure you're alright, those burns are pretty bad?" Katara was trying to keep Yugito from rising to her feet, but the Jinchuriki merely let out a string of curses, and waved off the girl's help.
"I'll be fine… focus on the demon!" Yugito snarled, as she finished rising to her feet. Katara was the first to spot a frightening change in Yugito's face, her pupils were slitted, and her eyes had changed color, one was yellow and one was green.
From her burn wounds, blood red chakra began to bubble outward, her burns beginning to rapidly heal as a result.
Seeing Yugito back on her feet, Gaia focused back on the where the demon had been pushed too. By now her sand had returned to her, though unfortunately, much of it had been lost. A wall of burning glass now held in the air, as parts of her sand wall had fused into glass from the extreme heat.
"Where did that thing come from?" Zuko asked.
"It most likely followed you or us here." Gaia responded. Earning looks from everyone.
"What do you mean followed us?" Aang asked.
"A number of creatures just like that one were hiding within the volcano beneath the Fire Nation Capital. This one must have followed us from the capitol." Gaia answered.
"Azula, what is that thing?!" Zuko demanded, turning his gaze towards Azula, who's eyes were wide in surprise.
"I...don't know. Father said he had a secret weapon… I guess this was it…" Azula responded, her voice quiet, and obvious fear could be found there. While fear was felt by everyone present, Azula felt it more than most as he bending had been suppressed and she was tied up.
"It's coming back!" Sokka noted as the creature began to emerge from one of the halls of the temple, dragging it's body forward and a rocking motion, letting out a twisted gurgle of rage as it locked it's eyes onto Gaia.
"It's made of fire, Waterbending might work the best." Aang noted, earning a nod of agreement from Katara.
The two immediately began the motions, drawing water from a nearby waterfall and sending twin jets rushing at the demon. As they approached the demon began to glow white hot, and the water began to evaporate.
A wall of steam began to rush outwards.
"Watch out!" Toph cried out, hearing the hiss of boiling steam. She slammed her foot into the ground, causing a solid wall of earth to shoot up separating them from the demon and the wall of steam.
"We can't use water against it down here in the temple. This place it too narrow and the steam has nowhere to go. We'll be cooked alive if we try to fight it here." Sokka determined, Gaia nodding in agreement with him.
"Gaia! There's another one coming!" Yugito shouted. They all turned their attention to her and saw her pointing out at a distant part of the temple. Climbing down from above, they could all see another fire demon, scaling the cliff side, and making it's way down towards the temple. It was a distance away from them, but none of them doubted that it intended to join with the other and attack them.
By now the rest of the younger individuals who'd been brought with them had come to see what was going on. Sokka immediately shouted for one of the older members of the group to take everyone and make a run for it, these things were here for Aang so they most likely wouldn't follow.
"They'll launch a coordinated attack on us, from both sides. There could be more making their way down from above, we need a plan." Yugito stated aloud.
Gaia was silent for a moment as she thought on it. Already Toph's earthen wall was beginning to glow with heat as the demon burned through it, and the other demon had reached the temple and now sat on a distant part of it, staring down at them from an elevated position.
As Gaia was contemplating a plan, the distant demon reared back and began to expand. Her eyes went wide and her sand rushed forward, instinct telling her what was coming next, as the demon opened a mouth of sorts and vomited out a stream of lava.
The stream arced across the distance towards them, globs forming in the air, about to pepper their position with burning hot magma.
Sand filled the air above them, stopping many of the globs from striking true, Aang was also using Earthbending to form a barrier between them and the lava stream.
A stream of cursed filled the air, as Azula lifted her legs up to avoid a first sized glob that nearly struck her in the knees. Now it sat at her feet, and she was forced to keep her legs raised to avoid burning them.
"A bit of help here would be appreciated!" Azula snapped out.
The others glanced over at her, and spotted the lava at her feet. Toph, made a motion with her feet, causing the ground to open beneath Azula and swallow the burning rock and pull it down into the ground, so that she could avoid being burned.
"Perhaps you can follow up your generosity with a bit more and cut me loose." Azula stated.
"Your welcome." Toph muttered with a shake of her head.
"We're definitely not letting her loose. She'll team up with those things and try to kill us!" Sokka stated.
"In case you weren't keeping track you dunderhead, that was the third time they almost killed me as well. The heat blast, the steam blast, and that lava, all would have killed me, I don't think they're following orders properly." Azula sniped back.
Yugito and Gaia shared a look at that, before Yugito let out a sigh and threw a shuriken towards Azula which pass close enough to slice the wire holding her trapped.
"Come here and I'll remove the tag. You need to be able to defend yourself." Yugito commanded.
"Are you crazy?!" Sokka cried out, fearfully.
"If she tries to fight us, I'll deal with her, and if she runs, we'll just collect her later. The whole point of us looking for her during the invasion was to confirm her identity. Whether she likes it or not, she's Riley's child, so Riley will come for her." Yugito replied, locking eyes with Azula, who hesitated, as Yugito was now fully consumed in an aura of red chakra, her burns had already healed, though her eyes still remained changed, and her canines were elongated, appearing almost like a cat's.
Slowly Azula approached the woman who claimed to be her real mother. Yugito was quick to strip the tag off of Azula's back, and almost immediately, she felt her power swell and return.
"Wow… interesting. Don't worry… I wont run. I'm actually curious to hear more about all of this. For your generosity, I think I'll give you a gift." Azula expressed turned towards where the distant demon was still located. She began to walk in it's direction, making it several yards before stopping.
"What are you doing Azula?" Zuko demanded.
"Seeing if this works Zuzu, pay close attention." Azula responded as she began to perform movements, the crackling of lightning filling the air.
The others watched with keen interest as Azula charged up her attack and launched a bolt of lightning straight at the distant demon. It struck it just below center mass, creating a loud explosion. The demon's upper half went flying into the air, separating from it's lower parts.
The top of it's body arced up and over the edge nearby, causing it to plummet down into the recesses below where a river ran.
"Hmm… that seemed to work." Azula noted proudly.
"Yeah, but we've still got the other one!" Katara cried out as the original demon finished burning through Toph's defensive wall and came rushing at them, dragging itself forward with it's arms.
Zuko was the first to retaliate, punching the air several times releasing a volley of fireballs which all struck true, hammering the demon's head and causing it to halt it's advance.
Aang followed up with a blast of wind from his staff which caused the demon to lurch backwards.
"Toph, send it into the ceiling!" Sokka suddenly shouted, "Gaia, sand barrier!"
Gaia and Toph both did as instructed, Gaia forming a half dome of sand between them and the demon, while Toph hopped into the air, and slammed both feet hard into the ground, causing a square pillar of earth beneath the demon to rise straight upward carrying it hard and fast into the ceiling.
Thanks to Sokka's forethought, they were saved from the showed of lava as the demon was smashed and splattered into the ceiling sending globs of burning lava showering the area.
Silence filled their surroundings for several moments.
"Did we get it?" Toph was the first to ask.
"One of them." Yugito responded as she turned towards the edge of the temple.
Seeing the direction of her gaze, Azula acted on instinct and immediately backpedaled away from the edge.
Moments later, the upper half of the demon she'd blown apart, began to pull itself up from below.
The creature let out a hellish bellow and began a charge straight at Azula. Azula's eyes went wide and she tried to charge up another lighting strike, but the creature was close too quickly.
In a movement faster than the eye could follow, Yugito was between Azula and the demon, her chakra shroud becoming more intense and her nails beginning to elongate. Yugito felt the sweltering heat of the demon wash over as she prepared to attack the beast when suddenly it came to a halt.
The creature held in place, completely stationary. Standing between Azula, Yugito, and the demon was Riley, her hand placed on the creature.
"Down beast!" Riley snarled as she raised her hand, ripping the demon's soul out of it's body.
A burning heat thrashed in the air, visible for all to see. This heat flowed into Riley's body before vanishing completely. The lave of the demon's body cooled to blackened stone in a mere instant, leaving nothing but the vague shape of the monster left as a representation of it's existence.
"Is everyone alright?" Riley asked, turning towards the group, before guiding her eyes towards Yugito. Yugito stared back in surprise for a moment, fear filling her gaze.
Riley's eyes were slitted and blood red. The tomoe within her Rinne Sharingan, spun in a hypnotic pattern. Riley appeared furious, and it frightened the Two-Tails' Jinchuriki.
"Are you alright?" Riley asked her, taking note of the damage to her clothes.
"Fine…" Yugito muttered quietly, her chakra shroud evaporating and her feature's returning to normal.
"Thank goodness you made it back!" Sokka let out a sigh of relief.
"Don't be to excited. I've got some bad news." Riley expressed as she held out her hand. From Kamui emerged a woman. This woman looked a lot like Azula, with long dark hair, similar eye shape, pale skin, though she was on the tall side for a woman, standing almost as tall as Riley. And in her eyes the Sharingan was present.
"Mom?" Zuko muttered upon seeing her.
"We have a very serious problem…" Riley began, signifying that things were far worse than any of them could have thought.
-Elsewhere at the same time-
A woman sat, cradling a baby in her arms. She quietly nursed the child, trying her hardest to stay focused on the task. Her distraction came from a certain amount of fear, not to mention sea-sickness. She was on a small sailboat, heading away from the Fire Nation, in her arms, the prince Shakik Azulong. At the helm of the ship, gently humming a tune to himself, was the disgraced general Iroh. His eyes were set firmly on the east as he sailed away from the Fire Nation with the servant and the young babe.
The woman knew that she couldn't return to the Fire Nation now. Even though she'd been kidnapped, they'd kill her for being complicit in the Prince's kidnapping. She had no choice now. The only thing that might save her skin was to keep the prince alive and healthy. That seemed to be what Iroh wanted from her, and that seemed like the one thing that would keep her alive, so that's what she was going to do.
-In the Fire Nation Capital-
Fire Lord Ozai sat amongst a sea of flames, a collection of Fire sages gathered before him.
"Who was it? Zuko, Iroh, or the Avatar?" Ozai questioned, his voice dark and filled with malice.
The five sages kowtowed before their lord, terrified of the malevolent presence he gave off.
"We… do not know, my lord." The lead sage replied fearfully.
Ozai was silent for a moment, before letting out a snarl.
From the flames that surrounded him, tendrils of hellish fire shot out, seizing the lead Fire Sage and pulling him towards the inferno. His screams died almost instantly as the flames increased in intensity and he was burned to ashes.
The remaining sages cowered in terror.
"Find them. Find Ursa, Find Azula, Find my son! The time I ask for answers, you will have them. Or you lack of answer will coincide with your lack of life. Am I understood?" Ozai snarled at them.
Yes my lord! We'll see to it immediately!" One of the fire sages responded.
"Good. Go." Ozai growled, causing the four to flee from the chamber.
The Fire Lord sat in silence in the empty throne room, nothing but the crackling of flames to fill his ears.
"Run all you want Ursa… I will find you. You cannot hope to withstand my power!" Ozai hissed internally, his eyes falling to an entity rising from the flames around him.
A being of pure blue flames, rose and hovered over him. It was shaped almost like a dragon, it body nearly a dozen meters long. A vaguely serpentine head, stared down at him, with eyes of blackness within the flames. Ozai stared back at the hellish nightmare, he hid his fear well. So well that he tricked himself into believing otherwise. But the demon knew better, it stared down at the Fire Lord, and drank in his terror. Soon this monster would be unleashed upon the world, and it would feast upon the terror of all that lived. The abomination of a man that sat before it, believed that it was holding the reigns, that it was in control. The mighty demon would show the lowly human who truly held dominion over who. Just a little bit longer now. The comet would be here soon, and when it did, all hell would break loose.
-To be Continued-
Alright, there you go, hope you all enjoyed, took a little longer than I thought it would, but I didn't like certain parts of it so I have to keep going back and changing them. I actually like how this turned out, and I liked taking a bit of time away from Riley to see what other people are doing and how they handle thing. What did Ursa tell Riley? What does she know of Ozai's plans? It's definitely got Riley concerned, and very pissed off. Stay tuned, we've got the final installment of the Last Airbender arc, coming up next. Until then, Ja Ne!