I don't own Avatar: The last airbender

Chapter 29

Katara wondered what exactly got herself in this situation. She was now trying, and failing, to do a split.

"Come on Katara, push and pull!"

Jasmine said.

It was easy for her, Katara thought bitterly, the vixen of a girl in question was already in a full split and didn't even seem to be affected by it. If anything, she seemed a little bored as she had her elbows on the ground and looked at her nails.

Seriously, what is wrong with that girl? There is no way someone could be that flexible!


"Achoo!"

Ty Lee sneezed for no apparent reason as Mai gave her a napkin.

"Thank you!"


"How… are you doing it?"

Katara struggled to talk under the strain.

"Practice. Living in the red-light district also helped. How is your shoulder by the way?"

"Much… better…"

Katara, as well as Sokka, have been vaccinated a few days ago. She had been told to close her eyes and aside from a little pressure, she felt nothing. She did feel her shoulder go numb after the injection though.

"It's good to hear. Oh well, you have spent enough time butchering the split, I think."

The two girls got up, one had a much easier time than the other. All the while, Katara thought again how it came up to this.


She was standing now in front of Zuko in his office with Sokka, who had rested enough to walk by himself now, at her side. They had their water bending lesson and Zuko showed her the moves to move the water from one bucket to another.

"Argh… "

Katara had a very hard time moving the entire amount of water. She did the steps a few times, even if Zuko had to correct her here and there, but the amount of liquid she could carry with herself without falling was something like a glass of water.

In the end, Zuko stopped her and ended the lesson.

"Okay, that's enough for today. Listen, you need to raise your stamina."

"So are… you going to beat me like Sokka?"

Katara feared the answer.

"Good Agni, no!"

Zuko said bewildered, thank La for that.

"No. Besides the fact that your body literally would crumble under the stress, you will need less muscles and more agility and stamina. I will have someone else plan your physical training."

"Really?"

Katara was surprised, who did the prince trust enough? Was that his uncle?

"Yes, I will talk about that with Jasmine. She will come up with something tomorrow."


And came up with something she did.

It wasn't the brutal beating Zuko did to Sokka, but it was torture on its own. Jasmine had Katara do various small exercises that on their own seemed insignificant, but together they pushed Katara past her limits.

Hits, that what Jasmine called it. And unlike a regular exercise that will be over after a few repeats, her training was for half an hour no matter how many times Katara did the sets.

One time Katara thought to ease up because of that but Jasmine had none of it. The damn cow even called her fat!

While it did sour her relationship with the other girl somewhat, she did notice that she could do much more than usual. Even her bending took a dramatic turn as she was able to move around water from ten buckets.

Katara decided to be the bigger woman and forgive her sun kissed friend.

"Now two minutes of Splank."

That didn't mean that Katara couldn't call her names in her mind.

Hopefully once they reach the new land, she will have some time to rest. She must admit that a part of her was excited being outside of the pole, she wondered who she would meet there.


Suki had mixed opinions.

Ever since Mi-Dved visited them and had his meeting with Lin, which ended in her being caught spying… Suki still shudders from the experience afterwards.

Anyway, ever since then Lin was corresponding regularly with Zuko, or at least that's what Suki gathered. Lin was also drilling the girls with more tactics about covert operation and infiltration, much different from the usual island defense they were used to.

Suki, as well as some of the other girls, had some guesses about what all that was about. That's why they weren't too surprised when Lin said that she'd take most of the girls with her to the mainland, and to the fire nation controlled Gaoling of all places.

Their reception was… interesting.

They were immediately received by the man in charge, an old fire nation veteran named Shen. He waited for them with an escort and when he was asked how he knew in advance about their unexpected arrival he simply pointed them up.

Apparently, the famous eyes noticed their ship and recognized it as a vessel from Kyoshi. From there it was a matter of minutes to greet them.

As expected from a recently conquered town, Gaoling was filled with fire nation soldiers, both male and female. It, however, had relatively small signs of conflict, later she found out that the city surrendered relatively peacefully.

She was again surprised that all of this was achieved by Zuko in less than two weeks. Thinking about it again, she shouldn't really be surprised, Zuko had a talent for doing unexpected and extraordinary things.

She really hoped that he was here…

They were led to the Beifong estate and met with lord Beifong himself. He of course thanked them for coming and showed them their new room. Suki had to admit that she could get used to all the luxury.

Rest, however, was not meant to be long as Lyn had them practice immediately the next day. This time it was different because they were training with fire nation soldiers in joint operations.

It was a weird experience to say the least and it took a few tries, but Suki certainly could appreciate the fire cover. It also gave them the respect of the soldiers, who had concerns with working with non-fire nation teenagers. She appreciated that being an all women group had nothing to do with it.

Another new thing was the new… companionship.

Unlike the boys on the island, the privates at the fire army actually had the balls to ask her girls and herself out. It wasn't on duty obviously (say what you want about the fire army, discipline was severe there), but off duty the girls found themselves having a lot of propositions.

Lyn, of course, had none of this and threatened to punish the girls severely if one were to be caught with a boy. Even so, Suki knew some girls who decided it was better to ask forgiveness than permission.

She herself was asked several times but turned down each and every guy. she already had eyes on somebody and after spending time with him all the other boys fell short…

Then one day Lyn told them that they are to accompany the ladies Popy and Toph Beifong on their trip to some island while Lyn herself will stay and iron some things with commander Shen and lord Beifong.

Privately, Lyn told her that they are going to the island to get some unique equipment to help them with their missions. She also told Suki to keep it quiet because it was an under the table deal.

And this is how she found herself in a ship entering the mysterious island while forcing Toph to drink something to calm her sea sickness.

"Come on, you need to drink all of it."

"But it's disgusting!"

"It's how you know it works. Now do you want to embarrass yourself in front of everyone when you puke while we disembark or not?"

"Argh… fine, give be this stupid thing…"

Spirits, was she also this bratty when she was that age?

With Toph being taken care of, Suki decided to go to the deck to see the island itself. as she went up, she heard her sisters talking among themselves.

"Look at the size of that building, you can store couriers in that…"

"I have never seen so many eyes before…"

"Are those factories?! I never thought that they were so big!"

And as Suki was on deck, she could see what her sisters were talking about.

In front of her was a medium-sized island that was turn in half between the natural environment and the industrial side of the factory. Suki had to admit that it wasn't the most pleasant view.

The factory itself was huge, for lack of better words. In reality, it was more like a cluster of factories glued together to create one giant building.

There was a building on the shore that covered a big part of the ocean as well. It was impossible to see what was going on in there, but with all the eyes and security on that place specifically she didn't throw away the idea that they were building an armada there.

On the dock they were greeted by a bald fat man with glasses, another kid with glasses and their escort.

"Greetings lady Beifong, I hope that the trip was to your liking."

The man bowed to lady Popy, which she returned.

"Mister Loban, thank you for your hospitality. The trip went well."

The two exchanged pleasantries before Loban showed them their rooms.

It was a very nice room Suki had to admit, even if it fell extremely short after being used to the hospitality of the Beifongs. She shared her room with some of her sisters.

"Argh, I can't believe Lyn forced us to move all the way here… Li promised to take me to a date."

One of her roommates said.

"Was he the fire bender with the mustache or the engineer?"

"The fire bender. He promised to take me to a date across the town."

Suki knew the guy, personally she thought that he was rather unimpressive with mediocre looks and bending. Then again, she compared him to Zuko of all people, so maybe she was too harsh.

Deciding to end the gossip for now, she changed the conversation.

"Say girls, what do you think about the island so far?"

Suki asked.

"Well… The factories are certainly an eyesore, but the town around it is good enough. It's hard to think that it was built for refugees."

Another girl answered.

"Yeah, it's totally not what one is expecting from a refugee camp. It's even more bizarre to think that it used to be a pirate stronghold."

"Totally, and once again it was all thanks to Zuko. I got to hand it to you Suki, you sure know how to pick them up."

"Wh-what?! Girls, I have no idea what you're talking about!"

Suki was sure that the blush on her face wasn't helping her stance.

"Suuure… your blush totally doesn't say otherwise."

"Yeah! And what about the Zuko doll you're hide under your pillow?"

"It is a souvenir! Nothing more!"

Suki feverishly hid the doll even deeper under the pillow.

"It was the first thing that I saw, they are like, everywhere here."

And she wasn't wrong, Zuko dolls are extremely popular here. She could walk the street without seeing his face (or helmet).

"And the pillow with his face on it?"

"I BOUGHT NO SUCH THING!"

She did.

A knock on the door stopped that conversation, thank the spirits.

"Come in!"

One of the female maids entered the room at Suki's call.

"Pardon for the intrusion, miss Suki. Loban had sent me to inform you that he got a massive from the prince that says that the prince will come in a day's time. He's sorry again for the late notice."

The maid went out and closed the door. Of course, the other girls quickly sank their fangs on her poor self.

"Oh, my spirits! Suki, your boyfriend is coming!"

"He doesn't know you're here, right? How are you going to surprise him?"

"Are you going to kiss him again?"

"Should we find another room to sleep in for tomorrow or are you going to him?"

Suki couldn't do anything but groan and hide her face in her hands.


Zuko finally saw the island in the distance, he had to admit that the place had a few changes from last time.

"I see that they finally finished the construction of the shipyard, good. It should be just barely big enough to construct Project SADARA."

'It's four times bigger than an emperor class cruiser!'

"I know, we'll have to build it piece by piece like a puzzle."

'I don't think you understand my point…'

"So… this is how the rest of the world looks like?"

Sokka's voice came from his side and Zuko turned his head to answer.

"No, far from it. This specific island is also an industrial spot with many factories in it because of the resources of this and nearby islands. I personally like this island because of its relative distance from the mainland, of course the fact that I conquered it from pirates also helps."

"That's the island I talked about."

Mi-Dved added at the confused glance of the water tribe siblings.

"Oh."

Zuko continued his explanation.

"Anyway, we'll stop here for two days or so to resupply and store the cargo."

He ignored the "thank Agni" muttering he heard from behind his back.

"While I'll have some businesses to attend to on the island, you all are free to explore as you like. Katara and Sokka, you will accompany Jasmine and Mi-Dved respectfully."

"What? Why! You just said that we're free to explore as we'd like!"

"Because I don't trust the two of you to not cause any misunderstanding Sokka. The two of you are in a new place filled with strangers and unknown customs, I wouldn't be surprised if someone challenges you to an honor duel because you said the wrong thing to the wrong person."

"Yeah… I can see that happen."

Sokka admitted.

"I should be away for the day, so any training will be postponed until after we leave."

"Well, aren't those some familiar faces~"

Zuko looked at the docks to see what caught Sai's attention and much to his surprise he indeed saw familiar faces standing next to Loban (and who must be the nephew Loban likes to talk about so much).

'What are Toph and Popy doing here? And are those… the Kyoshi warriors?'

"Only one way to know, your highness."

"Who are the colorful ladies?"

Sokka asked.

"Kyoshi warriors, a group of all female warriors dedicated to follow and protect avatar Kyoshi's island and legacy."

Zuko answered and continued his explanation after he noticed Sokka's disbelieving look.

"Ask for a spar if you want. See the tiara wearing girl in the front?"

Sokka nodded positively.

"Ask her for a spar, if you manage to win at least one time out of five then I will give you the rest of the week off."

"Wait, really? And all I have to do is to beat a girl in a spar?"

Sokka asked surprised. The surprise turned into suspension.

"Are you setting me up? Having me beat up a defenseless girl?"

"I am setting you up."

Zuko answered calmly.

"But you really shouldn't worry about Suki. Take it or not, it's up to you."

Zuko then turned and left to greet the welcoming party.


"Prince Zuko! Welcome back."

Loban greeted him at the docks.

"Glad to be back."

Zuko shook hands with the businessman.

"I see that you were busy while I was away."

Zuko nodded at the many new constructions that weren't there in his last visit, both industrial and civilian.

"I'm glad you like it! Money and good conditions do wonders for manpower, but you already know it. All of this is your achievement as well after all."

Zuko nodded to Loban and turned his gaze to the kid next to him. Looking closely, the boy was somewhere near Toph's age. He had round glasses and all in all, just screamed "dork". Zuko didn't even know what the word meant.

"And you must be Storu, your uncle speaks highly of you."."

"T-thank you y-your highness!"

Zuko wasn't sure if the kid stuttered bacause he was scared of Zuko or in owe meeting royalty, but his knees weren't shaking so Zuko assumed the later.

He then turned to the women.

"Lady Beifong, Toph, it's a pleasant surprise to see you again."

"You as well, your highness. My daughter and I are on a visit in my husband's steed, he is too preoccupied with running the area as for now."

Popy said warmly.

"My daughter in particular missed your company your highness, I hope that you will have a window open for us in your schedule."

"Mom…"

"Of course, I'll be happy."

Zuko accepted Popy's invitation while ignoring her daughter's distress.

"And Suki."

He turned to the last familiar face.

"Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to see you, but what are you doing here?"

"The Kyoshi warriors took residence in Gaoling for the last few weeks and they were kind enough to act as an additional security in those uncertain times."

Popy explained.

"Suki is in charge of our security during the trip."

"It's very impressive."

Zuko nodded towards the paint covered girl, who he noticed was a bit redder then before.

"It seems like we have a lot to talk about, wre you free tomorrow morning? With the lady's permission of course."

Popy was technically Suki's employer now, he at least had to be courteous if he borrows from her workers.

"Oh, it's completely fine."

The Beifong matriarch waved her hand dismissively.

"Suki is a good girl and earned enough for a day off, have fun you too."

Suki's face was definitely redder than before.

On other matters, Zuko suddenly felt something scary from behind him. He looked in the direction but the only thing he saw was Jasmine smiling with eyes closed and hands behind her back.

'Sai… what was it?'

'Don't worry about it, engaging will only make it worse.'

'Okay…'

"In any case."

Zuko decided to change the subject.

"Mi-Dved, Jasmine, you'll take Xing for a walk."

"Understood!"

Both siblings replied.

"And please make sure that Xing doesn't kill a third of the animals in the island… again."

"We'll do our best!"

Jasmine promised as she saluted.

'I'm not relived.'

"At least she's distracted."

"By the way, let me introduce you to Sokka and Katara of the south pole."

The water siblings uncertainty stepped forward as he noticed the Beifongs exchanging looks, good.

"They agree to accompany me as part a cultural program I'm working on. I think that it would be a good experience for them to mean a not fire nation party, if you would agree of course."

"We would be happy."

Popy replied, quickly catching the drift.

"We have some free time now actually, I see no problem to have guests."

"Good. Sokka, Katara, go with the Beifongs. Mi-Sha and Jasmine will fetch you later."

Zuko then addressed his own lieutenant.

"Lieutenant Jee, you're in charge. Make sure that all the cargo on the ship is unloaded and that all the men are on embankment protocol. Make sure that the soldiers have enough rooms to sleep across the inns."

"Yes sir!"

Jee saluted in a much more professional manner than Jasmine and went back to the ship. Zuko turned to the businessman.

"Do you have enough place to store all of this?"

"It should be."

Loban answered.

"I must admit that I'm more than curious to see all of your findings, although if this… thing is as big as you say then moving it may be a problem."

"Try fighting the damn thing."

Zuko replied.

"Must have been a battle of legends."

Zuko noticed that some people were eavesdropping on their conversation, he suspected that by tomorrow a dozen new rumors will pop up.

As they walked to the factory, Zuko suddenly heard a load crush and many load screams. He turned around and saw that once again one of the containers that held the apex centipede's skin opened and spilled its contents.

The entire population of the island that was in the docks saw head on the memory of the horror Zuko and his crew had to face. Of course, they didn't know that it was only a skin, so their reaction was completely understandable.

"Agni damn it! Again?!"

"I-is t-that-"

"Yes, this is the old skin of the creature I wrote about. Now excuse me for a moment."

Zuko flew toward the skin with his fire bending and kicked it head on. In response, there was a load sound of two hard things hitting each other and the skin was sent back to the container.

Zuko quickly flew toward the fallen door of the container, held her, and flew to the top of the container to close it. He did it just in time, as the elastic skin was going to spill again.

Down there in the docks the people cheered for him and called him a hero, they saw the dead skin spilling again and must have thought that the monster was about to escape.

He isn't going to correct them, at least for now.

He flew back and landed in front of a shocked and bewildered pair of uncle and nephew.

"So, should we have a look at the invention you mentioned earlier?"


To say Katara was nervous was an understatement. She was in front of an unfamiliar woman with unknown intentions, at least she had her brother with her.

It also was a different kind of intimidation than what she experienced with Zuko.

When she faced the prince of the fire nation, she knew what to expect. Zuko emitted power and control like second nature, she could literally feel it emitting from him like heat.

He sat on his chair like it was a throne and she suspected he didn't even realize it. It was clear that he was meant to rule and anyone who disagrees is a pile of ashes in the making.

Popy Baifong was different. Where Zuko showed power she showed elegance, where Zuko showed control she showed her wealth and resources and where Zuko sat like an emperor Popy sat like a lady.

It was different from the direct approach she faced with Zuko, and it put her on edge.

"So Sokka, Katara, tell us about yourselves."

The matriarch asked.

Katara decided to play along and answered after taking a sip from her tea.

"Well, my brother and I are from the south pole, like you probably have heard. We are from a small and nameless village near the Wolf's Cove."

"And how is life there? Forgive me for my bluntness, but I'm honestly just curious."

"Well… It can be very cold and harsh, and there is always a chance that you will be hungry. But we are a small community, and we are always there for each other."

Popy hummed as her daughter, Toph if she remembered correctly, sat uneasily.

At long last, Popy spoke.

"Very well, I shall take a page from Zuko and be direct. Are you two the son and daughter of a man named Hakoda and woman named Kia?"

The siblings held their breath, it seemed to be the only answer that Popy needed.

"I see… Toph dear, my you show our guests what you have in your pocket?"

The girl silently pulls…

"That's mom's necklace! Where did you get it?!"

Sokka yelled.

"S-she gave it to me to-"

"Liar! Mom would have never willingly taken that necklace off, let alone given it to some stranger! Give it back you thief!"

Katara couldn't hold herself. After all this time she finally gets to see something from her mother, and then this girl dares to tell all those blunted lies.

"Hey, I didn't steal it!"

The thief said only for her brother to rebuke her.

"Yeah right, it's exactly what a thief would say!"

They continued this for a minute until Popy had enough of it.

"Enough."

Her voice wasn't load and nor even hostile, but it held enough sway to silence all of them.

"While you're reaction is understand, and trust me it's the only reason you're still in this house, you should let my daughter finish her story. I assure you that she did not steal anything, nor does she mean your mother any harm."

"Now please sweaty, continue."

"W-well, some time ago I was… kidnapped by bad people. They took me to their place, a city called Amora, where they kept me there prisoner. I met there a woman named Kia, she was a prisoner like me. She was very kind and helped me in every way she could."

Katara held her breath. On one hand she was devastated to hear that her mother was a prisoner for some bandits, but on the other hand… her mother was alive! She is alive after all this time!

She continued listening to the story.

"After some time, the people decided to take me somewhere else, Kia learned about it and decided to give me her necklace. She said that I have a much higher chance to escape then her and when I do get out…"

"She wanted me to find you two if I can. She wanted to know, even through me, that the two of you are fine. And she said that she's sorry for missing you grow up and that she loves you."

Katara couldn't help but cry a little, but the story wasn't over.

"She also asked me to give this to you, she told me to say that you are already a woman and that she would be happy if even a piece of her is with you."

Toph handed Katara the necklace, which Katara greedily took and held close to her heart.

"So how did you escape?"

Her brother asked, although even he wasn't immune to the emotional turmoil they were sharing.

"The convoy decided to attack the wrong people, Zuko and his man fought back and annihilated the bandits. Zuko freed me and brought me back home."

"Zuko freed you?"

Katara asked. On second thought she shouldn't have been that surprised, she remembered how Zuko reacted when they first met. Maybe there was some small silver lining in his heart after all, not that it changed anything about his and his people's crimes.

"He used you to blackmail your parents, didn't he?"

Sukka asked.

Katara hadn't thought about it but now it made sense, Zuko gave the Beifongs their daughter in return for surrender.

"Surprisingly not."

Popy answered this time.

"He just returned her as a show of trust. I must admit that I was baffled at first, even if I was extremely grateful. But after some time, my husband and I realized how smart his move was. He is making allies instead of subordinates, he has the right mindset for an emperor."

"But aren't you mad that he conquered you? That you are under fire nation rule?"

Katara tried to understand how this woman thinks.

"I wouldn't lie, it is a blow to the ego, but overall things are better that way. Once it was shown that surrendering to the fire nation doesn't mean the enslavement and extinction of us and our people, stopping the bloodshed was much easier. I also must admit that the flow of technology to Gaoling certainly helps, even if most of the gains are going to taxes to the fire nation for now."

"And the people are fine with this?!"

Her brother asked.

"There are a few patriots who cause troubles here and there, but you will find that the majority of the common people only want happy and peaceful life. The farmer doesn't care about the color of the flag in the bazar where he sells his products."

Katara was deep in thought, was it really that easy to make people stop fighting against the fire nation, after everything that it has done? What will happen to her village, will her father continue to fight, or will he become like the Beifongs?

A look at her side told her that the same thoughts plagued her brother's head as well.

Fortunately, Sokka shifted the direction of the conversation.

"Wait, so who are the people that kidnapped you? Where exactly is this 'Amora' place?"

Damn it, she completely forgot about her mother! Now she really felt bad.

"The people are a bunch of bandits and low lives who answer to answer to Mi-Sha, a monster of a man. He is the head of the biggest and strongest crime syndicate in the world, touching every corner of it from north to south and from Ba Sing Se to the fire islands. He either controls or has his hands deep in every illegal activity in the southern continent."

Popy explained.

"But don't worry."

She calmed them down.

"He made too many enemies, his days are numbered. Prince Zuko has already crippled him and kicked him out of the fire nation territory and Kyoshi island, Mi-Sha can't hide in his desert for much longer."

"Makes sense that Zuko don't want someone else controlling his territory."

Sokka commented.

"Oh, it's much deeper than that. Like us, it's personal for the prince."

Popy continued her explanation after she saw their confused looks.

"I thought that you already know, although it's understandable for the prince to not bring it up."

"After rescuing my daughter and killing her captors, Mi-Sha couldn't stay idle in front of such disrespect and blow to his image. In retribution he ordered a raiding party on a small colony close to the prince's heart, the attack itself was… atrocious to say the least. Trust me, the less spoken about it the better."

"The prince got a box containing the remains of a kid that looked up to him and literally flew right away for vengeance. To keep the story short, he found the one hundred bandits who did it and brought justice in what is now named the red valley. Or the valley of the hundred damned, depends on who you ask."

The siblings were shocked, neither of them imagined that Zuko, the prince of the tyrannical fire nation, had suffered that much loss. And for standing for justice no less. Yes, they saw the more humane side of the one who answers only to the fire lord, but to hear about him being so… vulnerable was a different story.

"I… don't know what to say…"

Was all Katara could say.

"It's fine dear."

The matriarch said.

"Sometimes there is nothing to say. Either way, why don't we have another tea party with all of our families once all this mess is cleared?"

"Yeah… This sounds like a good idea."

Katara answered in the end.


Zuko looked at the ball of light, this "lightball" as Loban called it. Zuko listened to Loban's nephew lecture about how this thing worked (and a more detailed lecture from Sai) and he understood the basics.

"So, you're telling me that this 'lightball' can produce a steady light source to light the night on the streets as long as it has a steady power supply?"

"Yes, your highness."

Loban said.

"And how large should the facility of the power supply be? For a small village and for a city?"

"Well… for a city it should be around a quarter of the western wing of the factory. For a street or a village, it will be around the size of a house."

"I see."

Zuko said as he went to the glass ball and unscrewed it. He looked closely inside it and gazed upon the thin wire of metal, he then produced a tiny stream of electricity from his hand and lit this lightball.

"What are your plans next?"

Zuko asked as he gazed upon the pure light he produced.

"At the start we were thinking about introducing those lightballs to the capital, but after some consideration there was just too much friction with the traditionalists who saw this as an attack on our culture."

"Explain."

"They stick to their belief that only fire can produce light and accuse us of heresy. In addition, there was a lot of uproar when we came to the topic of replacing the lanterns with our lightballs."

"And your solution?"

"We thought that maybe it's for the best to start in the colonies, they may not be as big of a prize as the fire islands, but they lack culture to hold back our progress."

"Very well, do it. We should start with Yu Dao, this is the oldest and most culturally important colony. We succeed there and all the other colonies will follow, we'll see what the fanatics will do when they see that the colonies are more advanced than them."

"But aren't you worried that your father may put a veto? Or that the colonies will surpass the fire nation?"

Loban's question did raise a few good points, fortunately he and Sai discussed those topics precisely in detail.

"My father is a great but busy man. Quite frankly, he doesn't care about the colonies as long as it doesn't affect his image or the war effort. One colony with lights is hardly worth noticing for him so we have enough time to advance the other colonies before he decides to act. Besides, he will look bad if he tries to forcefully deny progress."

"As for your second point, I'm the prince of all who answer to the fire throne, no matter if they live in the islands or the mainland, if they bend fire, earth, water or nothing. They all fall under my jurisdiction and are my subjects. I work to serve all of my subjects and if the islands are uncooperative the colonies will enjoy the benefits of being loyal. The fire islands will get their due when they realize that they are falling behind."

"At your command your highness."

Loban bowed.

"I will write to Mayor Morishita, I'm sure that he will be happy to host our project. Although it may take a while with the bureaucracy, even the colonies aren't safe from it."

"How much time?"

Zuko asked.

"We can't be held for long, we're barely on schedule as is."

"Three months if we're lucky, three years if we're not."

"Not good enough, I want it finished in a month and a half. I'll write to Morishita myself and say that the royal family is very interested in the results of the project, it should quicken the process considerably."

"Bit didn't you say that your father isn't interested in the colonies?"

Storu asked in confusion.

"I'm part of the royal family and I care very much. Besides, if Morishita misinterprets it, all the better for us."

"It will be done, my lord."

Loban said in a bow.

"Excellent, what is the status of project SADARA?"

"We are having difficulties with the material gathering. Luckily not many eyes are betted when a factory owner asks for some hundreds of tons of steel, but even this reaches it's like limits."

Loban answered.

"I see, and the technology implementation?"

"We only now truly figured the lightball. It will take us a year to understand all of it, even with the knowledge inside your helmet."

Zuko nodded at the answer.

"You'd be surprised how fast people can learn when motivated enough, I'm sure that the both of us will be surprised."

"As you say, your highness. On other matters, the dragons, or cannons as it was written in the sketch, are in evaluation. They should be ready to deploy in a matter of weeks. You will have a demonstration before you leave."

Right, those dragons are no less important.

"Excellent, and what are the results so far?"

"Beyond expectations, it has ten times the range of a catapult and is much more devastating. The navy will be salivating for those things."

"Good, the more funds they give the better. What about our more civilian side?"

Loban physically brightened at the question.

"I'm happy to inform you that all aspects are a major success. The medicines we produced even gave you some fanatical followers."

That was new.

"Really?"

"Yes, some people were filled with conviction after the medicine saved their loved ones from certain death. Many of the younger ones came to me in a plea to help advance this subject."

"We could use it, more passionate heads will accelerate the process."

"See which one them can be of use as doctors, give them a test to see how good is the head on their shoulders."

"Very well, your highness. The rest can be of use in the medicine factories if they wish to."

Loban answered.

"Good thinking."

They continued their tour.


By a miracle from Agni, Xing spared the animals of the island for another day… for now.

Mi-Dved and Jasmine returned with the hellhound an hour or so before Zuko himself returned from his inspection. From what he gathered, Xing escaped the siblings five minutes after they were gone from his eyesight.

Fortunately, the predator deemed the local animals unworthy of its attention. From what Sai explained that since Xing had a steady supply of food, the hound is now hunting purely for the thrill. A thrill that the locals just can't give it, that's why it didn't kill any of the animals.

It was a strange and deranged sense of honor in a way.

He was told that Sokka and Katara wanted to see him urgently but were already asleep when he returned. Unfortunately, they will have to wait because he had a meeting with Suki now.

"Don't you mean a date?"

'For the last time, it's only a business meeting to be debriefed about the situation. Nothing more and nothing less.'

"Poor Suki, it's cruel what you do to her ~"

Zuko rolled his eyes as he went to the meeting spot.

"Then why the casual clothes?"

'You are the one who told me to wear this!'

"Details, details. How is the new design by the way?"

Zuko indeed was wearing new clothes. He had a black short sleeved T-shirt that hugged his figure and showed it off, his dark rad long pants were of a similar build. It was simple, but Zuko had to admit that it looked good on him.

The most interesting thing however was the M shaped headwear Zuko had on his head.

'Since when can you change your shape so drastically? I thought you could only show and hide the visor?'

"I had time to fix myself at the workshop, many functions that I was forced to disconnect during my imprisonment are now back online."

'Like what?'

"Like – Oh, your date is here."

'Not my date.'

Zuko looked in the direction Sai pointed at and had to do a double take. Suki walked in his direction with a short sleeved flowy shirt and matching skirt that enhanced her slim figure. He had to admit that she looked good.

"Hey."

Zuko said as she reached him, to which she answered in turn.

"Hey yourself."

"You look nice."

Zuko said politely, and truthfully. It seems that he may have overreached because Suki's face was suddenly red with anger. He will have to pacify her later.

"T-thanks, y-you look good as w-well."

She stammered, most likely from anger.

"You're unbelievably dense, you know that your highness?"

"S-say, is that a new crown?"

Zuko decided to use the change of subject.

"Believe it or not, it's actually the same helmet you saw me wear before."

"What? No way!"

"I swear by Agni!"

He put his hands in a swear gesture.

"It got upgraded in the workshop."

Suki hummed in confusion and titled her head a little to the side. Zuko had to admit that it was cute.

Regardless, he hit his head on the side.

"Sorry, forgot that I still didn't tell you about everything I did."

"Well, we certainly have the time now."

Suki smiled as they started to walk.

"Certainly, and we'll have a more private setting in the room I ranted."

"What room?"

Suki asked in confusion… wait, why is her face starting to get red again?"

"Oh, I know the inn owner of this part of the island and she agreed to let me rent a private room for our meeting for free. She was also extremely excited when I mentioned you for some reason."

"Oh."

Why did Zuko detect a hint of disappointment in her voice?

"Unbelievable. You're one of those types of protagonists, are you?"

After a few minutes of comfortable small talk, the two finally entered a familiar inn, a bell rang as Zuko opened the door. A woman took notice and quickly went to the duo.

"Your highness! I'm so glad you came! Your room is ready as ordered, food will come soon."

"Thanks Chin, you really didn't have to go so far."

"Oh nonsense, your highness. It's the least I could do for you after everything you've done for us."

Chin then turned to Suki.

"And you must be Suki, you're as pretty as Zuko said."

Suki was blushing crimson as Zuko covered his face with his hand.

"Chin, please… it's a business meeting, nothing more."

"Of course, of course…"

Chin nodded in mock agreement.

"Just don't overdo your 'business', or at least warn me in advance to prepare a bedroom."

"And we're going now."

Zuko took Suki's hand and walked with the unresponsive girl upstairs. He could hear Chin's voice from behind.

"Have fun you two! Your room is the third to the left!"

"Thanks!"

Zuko replied.


"I'm very sorry about this, I swear that she was only joking around."

Zuko said once they entered the room, and he locked the door.

"I-it's fine."

Suki said, still with a red face. Zuko decided to change the subject.

"Say, how are the new accessories Loban gave you?"

"Oh? Well, they certainly improve our performance, even if some things may take a while to get used to. Wait, was this you as well?"

"Considering I'm the one who designed those things, yes. I'm also the one who talked with both Lyn and Loban about it."

"You… made those?"

Suki looked surprised.

"What can I say, I'm a man of many talents."

Zuko said as he spread his hands to the sides.

"Anyway, what do you think about them?"

Suki put a hand to her chin and hummed in thought.

"Well, the dart shooter is excellent for medium length, it also fits our armor to boot. The smoke bomb darts are certainly a plus. I can only say that it would be better if it was quiter when shooting, things like that can make or break a stealth mission."

"Noted, and the multi-knife?"

The multi-knife was a device that Zuko (Sai) designed. It's a piece of metal that by moving the right piece, unveils a knife blade. Each knife blade is designed for a unique purpose, from cutting thick ropes, to slicing metal wires, to stabbing.

He already started to mass produce it for the soldiers in the special forces and had a unique multi-knife for engineers in the making.

"It took some getting used to, but it became an very useful."

They continued the evaluation for a while until they heard a knock on the door.

"The food is ready, your highness!"

Chin's voice was heard from outside.

"Come in."

Chin entered at Zuko's voice.

"Here you go, your highness."

She put the tray on the table, bowed and left the room.

"So how do you know her?"

Suki asked.

"Remember the village after all the mess with the swamp?"

Suki nodded in confirmation.

"She's one of the people who actually accepted my offer. Must say, she looks way happier here."

"Oh."

Suki nodded in understanding.

"It's very kind of you to take care of them."

"Thanks, I try my best."

Zuko flashed a smile.

"So what were you and the girls up to since our last meeting?"

"I should ask you. I heard stories left and right about the thing you did, and what was this commotion at the docks anyway?"

"Well…"

Zuko told her a watered-down tale of his exploits, to which the Kyoshi warrior listens carefully.

"Spirits, to think that something so big could be just under our feet."

"Talking the girl who lives next to the Unagi."

"Hey, it's different!"

Suki proclaimed, defending her stance.

"The Unagi can't reach us on land. Besides, its skin is very soft and vulnerable, a wired fence can fend it off and trap it."

"But this thing? It could just snap you up from the underground without any warning. And this armor! I swear it looks as tuff as a courier armor."

"Harder actually, wait… how do you know how the apex centipede looks?"

"Oh, I saw the preparation for the museum. Let me tell you, a monster that size will bring attention."

Right, Zuko totally forgot about the museum. It was Sai's idea to increase Zuko's prestige as well as having a trophy room without wasting space.

"I have no idea how you managed to kill that thing, it's something that came straight from a nightmare."

Suki shuddered and Zuko guessed that they filled the skin and put it in a very intimidating pose.

"Oh I didn't kill it."

"Wait what?!"

"All of us could barely hurt the thing, Jasmine pushed a few levers to trap the abomination in a part of the facility we were in."

"You're telling me that this thing is still alive?! It can't escape, right?"

"It shouldn't, I think…"

"It's still locked up, although I must say that it seems that the apex centipede can recognize you. And let me tell you that it holds you responsible for its current situation."

'Great… Please train it as fast as you can, I don't fancy having an immortal, ever-growing bloodthirsty monster after me. Even if it's locked in the deepest pits of the earth.'

"Great…"

"Hey, don't worry. It can't escape from the south pole."

Zuko calmed Suki down.

"Well, cheers for that I guess."

Suki said as she raised her glass, Zuko returned in kind.

They continued to tell each other about their misadventures and Zuko had to admit that he was having a good time. After a while, Zuko returned to his ship with a smile on his face.


"You knew all this time!"

Katara yelled at him as she and her brother barged into his office. She received a growl from Xing, who Zuko had to pet to calm down.

"You will have to be a bit more specific."

Zuko really didn't know what her deal was, was this that time of the month?

"Considering she's a water bender, as well as the fact that we don't have a full moon nor a hidden one, I would answer no."

"Don't play dumb! You knew about our mother all along! And you told us nothing!"

Oh, so that's what it was all about.

"And what should I have said?"

That seemed to stop the siblings for a moment.

"Excuse me?"

"What should I have said? Me, your enemy, a man you despise. Can you two honestly tell me that if I told you in any way about your mother, you would have believed me? Or you would have thought that it was a way for me to blackmail you?"

Zuko answered the water bender's question.

"I-well, we-"

Zuko used the confusion to pull something from his drawer. It was a piece of paper, inside a very unique looking bag.

"I thought to wait with it until we get to the mainland, but I see that we'll have to quicken our progress. This bag contains a letter to your father, explaining him the situation and offering a meeting for a truce. I expect your father to agree on a cooperation against Mi-Sha, at least until your mother is safe and secure."

"We'll see dad again?"

Sokka asked hopefully.

"If everything goes right, yes."

"But how are you going to deliver him the letter? It can't be easy finding him, your nation would have killed him, long ago if they could find him."

"You're right Sokka. There are ways to deliver a message through a third or fourth party, but it could take years and my letter is far too discreet for that."

Zuko then stood up and went to fetch something from the closet, something that Sokka and Katara immediately recognized.

"Hey! It's dad's helmet!"

"Yeah, he dropped it the last time he dropped by. Oh, and I will need your mother's necklace."

"What! No!"

Both siblings yelled.

"Your father will run straight to me when he sees that necklace, but without it there is a very big chance that he'll ignore my letter. In that case I can't promise that I'll have the men to spare to rescue your mother."

"But-"

"Look Katara, I promise that you will get your necklace back, but I need it to get your father aboard. Now please give the necklace to me."

Reluctantly, the water bender gave him her mother's necklace. Emotional pain was visible in her eyes.

"Xing!"

The hellhound immediately sat at attention.

"Come here."

The dog did so.

"Listen closely, I want you to find someone and give them this bag. After that, I want you to bring them to me, alive and unmolested."

Zuko said as he tied the special bag, a perfect fit for Xing.

"Understood?"

"Bark!"

"Good boy, now smell."

Zuko brought the wolf-like helmet to Xing, who began to sniff it. The animal's eyes were filled with more and more fire as it smelled its new prey. It behaved more and more rabid, growling, barking and spiting fire, until with a great howl it sprinted away growling and spiting fire from the sides of its mouth.

"W-what was that?"

The male water tribesman asked fearfully.

'Sai?'

"Our little boy is just excited from his first headhunt, don't worry about that."

"Xing is a hellhound, they have a great sense of smell. If your father is still in this world, alive or not, Xing will track and find him in the end, being on an island wouldn't stop it. It shouldn't be long until your father and I meet face to face."

"A-are you sur he will be alright?"

The water bender asked.

"Yes, Xing will be completely fine. I actually pity whatever sorry thing that will stand in its way."

"I meant my father, you jerk!"

"Oh, yeah he will be fine."

Zuko waved her off.

"I explicitly told Xing to bring your father unmolested. Think whatever you want about it, but the dog will follow orders."

This seemed to calm the siblings down.

"Now."

Zuko clapped his hands."

"Since the two of you are already here, I think it's time to start your training for today."

The siblings suddenly became worried.

"H-hey, no hard feeling, r-right?"

Sokka stuttered.

"Don't worry, I have something special in mind for the two of you today."

Whoever said payback isn't fun?

AN

I'M BACK!

anyway, first of all, thanks for everyone for their understanding, support and kind words. I still have some things to take care of, but it should be over in two or three months. I'll try my best to update this story.

now to the reviews:

Engineer1869:

Sai is certainly not a puppet of Vaatu nor an extension of his will, I have an entire arc in planning for the complicated relationship between the two. And yes, Iroh's reaction to the idea of Vaatu will be interesting.

I plan for both Sokka and Katara (especially Sokka) to grow and mature quicker then what they did in cannon, we will see the results in the future.

In concerns to the spirits, the overlords are in many cases an experiment of trail and error. Sai wasn't as experienced as it is now, experience came with time. lets just say that the first overlords had a very different approach to dealing with problems and didn't shy away from enforcing their will on friendly spirits.

02cjdgmail:

Zuko is slowly but surly changes spiritually as well. Sai explained this to him at the swamp and across the story we can see a few examples, enhanced strength, slow regeneration and more. Zuko isn't completly human any more.

Anyway, be sure to write what you think about the chapter and the story. Don't be afraid to share what you think could and should happen.