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Into the Swamp

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"There!" Toph cried, pointing over Appa's shoulder. "It's right below us!"

Zuko glanced over his shoulder at her. "There? You sure?" he hedged.

Toph's head snapped in his direction, a scowl firmly affixed to her face. "You know some other metalbender you can ask? Trust me, it's down there."

"Okay." Zuko turned his attention back to Appa. "Give me a minute or two and I'll find a place to land."

Toph frowned. "Why can't we land here?"

"Well, for one thing, we're flying over a swamp right now." Zuko risked another glance at Toph. "You can still find it from the ground, right?"


Toph squished mud between her toes. "Huh. It really is a swamp."

"I did say it was. It's not going to be a problem for you, is it?"

"No, I can still see. It's a little blurry at the edges, but it's all there." Toph demonstrated by kicking a trail of earth over to the nearest tree.

Zuko nodded. "Good enough. Which way?"

Toph pulled her meteorite dust armband off again and focused. The dust lifted off her palm and began resonating; a ways away, she felt the dust still remaining in Sokka's missing sword start to hum in tandem. She sensed where it was the strongest, then jabbed a finger in that direction. "That way." Toph had just stuck her foot out forward to walk when she heard a faint popping noise ahead of her.

Zuko slammed into her side, knocking her to the ground. To her right, almost exactly where she would've stepped, there was a rushing noise and a whoosh of heat.

"This must be one of the Earth Kingdom's fire swamps," Zuko observed. "I heard there were a few on the continent's western side."

Toph spat out a lump of mud. "You don't say," she replied mildly, then promptly and without ceremony tossed Zuko off her into the muck.


"So, anything else we should be watching out for in a fire swamp, oh learn-ed one?" Toph inquired.

Zuko didn't seem to catch the sarcasm. "There are generally three things to watch for in a fire swamp: the flame spurts, which we know about already; the lightning sand--" Zuko cut off abruptly.

Toph frowned. "What's so special about the sand here? Hey, Zuko, you gonna tell me about lighning sand or what?" Toph put her foot down on a patch of ground that felt nearly insubstantial as air; she jerked the limb quickly back before she put any weight on it. "Zuko?" He'd been right in front of her a minute ago...

...Oh. Bending quickly, Toph pulled a gasping Zuko from the sand pit in front of her and deposited him on somewhat more solid ground. "So. Lightning sand, huh?"

Zuko coughed a bit and panted harshly. "Yup."


"There it is!" Zuko exclaimed, spotting the sword at last. He jogged ahead into the clearing, attentive for patches of lightning sand or the clicking noise that signaled flame spurts. Reaching Sokka's sword, he put his hands under the grip and the flat of the blade and lifted it from the mud; it was still relatively undamaged.

"By the way," Toph said, coming up from behind him, "what was that other thing we were supposed to watch out for? There was the sand and the fire, but you said there were three."

"Elephant-rats," Zuko told her distractedly, "but I hardly think this environment can sustain them."

A trumpeting squeak sounded right in front of him, and Zuko at last looked up from the sword. He stared into the mouth of a man-sized rodent, and Toph said, "You sure about that?"


"Needless to say," Toph recounted later to a rapt audience of Sokka, Suki, Katara, Aang and Mai, her feet resting casually on a table in the Jasmine Dragon beside Sokka's (still filthy) sword, "we had to fight our way out of the elephant-rat nest to get back here. Believe me, it wasn't easy. Especially when that one elephant-rat baby thought Zuko was its mommy."

"In any case," Zuko added, in the tone of one who is changing the subject right now, "don't any of you go losing things in a fire swamp again."

Mai smiled in a way that could easily be mistaken for a smirk by those who didn't know her and leaned into Zuko's shoulder. She murmured in his ear, "As you wish." Zuko turned bright red.

Sokka regarded his space sword reverently. "You guys really didn't have to do this," he said.

Toph shrugged, the corners of her lips turning up. "What else is family for?"