The newly promoted Captain Jee was still working to familiarize himself with his new situation. The last few days had been…there was no other word for it…surreal. Less than a week ago, he'd been a prisoner and a traitor to the Fire Nation; the Lieutenant who'd evacuated his ship and the men on it from the North Pole as soon as he saw the moon go red and had then DARED to not even repent that decision. The Lieutenant who'd clearly sailed with the exiled Prince for too long to NOT be able to keep his mouth shut about how much of a moron Zhao had been, and worse, how much of an idiot the Firelord had been for listening to him. He allowed a small smile of satisfaction at that memory to pull at the corner of his mouth.
"We can't give up now! We're too close."
"They're overwhelming us, and I'm not sure how much lo-," *THUNK*
"He's unconscious. What are we going to do?"
"I don't know….But we'll think of something"
A few days ago, the warden had come to Jee in order to get him "cleaned up" for his formal sentencing before the Firelord. The warden had failed to mention, however, that Ozai was no longer the Firelord. It took some gossipy barbers for him to become privy to that particular snippet of information. Unfortunately, that source of information was quite lacking as well; the idiots knew all the rumors, but couldn't be bothered to even learn the name of the new Firelord. He had been FURIOUS to learn that the Avatar had apparently installed one of his own companions in the position of Firelord rather than the Prince Zuko, whom Jee knew deserved the position. No matter how powerful the boy was, he couldn't just destroy an entire dynasty! Where did this…usurper get off attempting to claim that title? His loyalty belonged to Prince Zuko and no other, and he had said as much at his hearing. The as-near-to-outright-laughter-as-she-ever-got from the gloomy-looking Fire Nation noble girl on one side of the Firelord; the small girl in Earth Nation colors on the other side's incredulous, "Get this. He's completely serious!"; the figure only seen in shadow through the curtains of his palanquin shaking in amusement made complete sense in hindsight, but they had pissed him off no end at the time.
"FOR THE GODS!"
"So…is this good or bad?"
"Well, they don't appear to be killing each other, so I'm going to say good for now."
"Works for me."
"No argument here."
"Hey, no need to be pessimistic. He might be an asshole, but even he isn't narrow-minded enough to not see what's going on here."
"Good gods, where do you even learn language like that?"
"Time and a place, man. Let's get back to the task at hand, O.K.?"
"Yeah, good call…let's do this!"
When he'd been escorted to the Firelord's ship by the sadistic bastard of a warden, the Firelord had apparently gone off with the Avatar somewhere to pick a few people up. The noble girl, who was apparently the new Firelord's girlfriend of all things, gave him the grand tour of the ship during which she realized that he believed Prince Zuko to be dead. She had not disabused him of that notion. She just let him seethe and build up his righteous anger until the Avatar and Firelord returned.
Good Lord, he thought, I attacked the friggin' AVATAR with lethal intent. Neither his surprise nor his joy could've been greater when Firelord Zuko, himself, had literally dropped down from above to break up the battle.
"Do you feel that?"
"Yeah…what do you think Gaea's doing?"
"It's not Gaea."
"It's Octavian. I can see him from here. It almost looks like he's casting a spell."
"Where in Hades would he possibly get a spell? Wait…scratch that…it's Octavian, and he's a conniving bastard."
"I don't care where he got it. I want to know what it's doing."
"Is it just me, or does the ground at the base of the Doors look like it's turning?"
"Um…definitely not just you, and not just at the base of the Doors. The stuff under us is moving, too."
"I can't get out of it!"
"It's like a whirlpool sucking us in. Looks like once it has you, you can't even fly out."
"I don't speak Eagle, but I'm gonna guess that was a cuss."
"I didn't need a translation, much less an addition. Everyone hold on as best you can!."
"I'll do my best to keep Leo safe."
He had to admit, looking back on it, that it had been quite funny…and overwhelming. He was now a Captain, and specifically the Captain of the Firelord's own personal ship, and what a magnificent ship it was! Zuko had said that the rank did not matter to him, and he would promote Jee to whichever rank he preferred, but Jee had opted to stay Captain, at least for a while. Even so, he knew that the entire fiasco would be something he would be a long time living down. Mai seemed to always have a ghost of a smirk on her face whenever she glanced towards him and little Toph just laughed outright. The rest of the Avatar's cadre couldn't completely seem to decide between amusement and wariness, especially Katara, who was fiercely protective of him. He remembered her from a few encounters back when he'd traveled with the then-Exiled Fire Prince Zuko, and she'd not been the most accomplished bender in the world. However, the way he'd heard it since, she was the one who'd aided Zuko and had actually dealt the final blow to defeat Azula…during the comet, no less!
Oh well, he thought, time cures many ails.
He looked up into the nearly clear sky, at the small….gray…swirling…growing…wait…WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?
"ANNABETH! HOLD ON!"
"PIPER! I CAN'T GET TO YOU!"
"I'LL BE ALRIGHT! LOOK AFTER YOURSELF."
"I'LL BE FINE, FRANK! WORRY ABOUT YOURSELF! ARION AND I'LL LOOK AFTER LEO!"
"WHAT DID I JUST SAY? JUST GO TOUGH SO THAT YOU CAN GET US OUT OF THIS!"
It was like a whirlpool was opening up in the sky. Some might scoff and say, "That'd be a tornado, moron," but tornadoes go down…this was going up. Plus, it was the only "cloud" in the sky. Then there was the fact that it was now grayish-red and moved more like a liquid than like air. Then, of course, there was the fact that it was growing...
It was only a few seconds before Jee's shock was overridden by his training to sound the alarm. However, the ship's lookout showed why he had that position and beat him to it.
"DANGER FROM ABOVE! POSSIBLE BENDER! ALL HANDS SECURE SHIP AND PREPARE TO DEFEND!"
Even under these circumstances, Jee couldn't stop a small surge of satisfaction at seeing how efficiently this small and fairly new crew executed their duties. He and Zuko had done well over the last day or two in gathering them. It was not long before he knew they had their tasks in hand and he returned his attention to the growing phenomenon overhead.
The door opened behind him, and soft, urgent, footfalls announced the arrival of Katara from belowdecks. He was glad that she hadn't gone with the others to drop their friends back off at Kiyoshi Island. He was no slouch in the bender ability department, but it was good to have backup. There is nothing quite like the confidence that a powerful waterbender gives you when you're at sea. In addition, he'd been told that she was an excellent healer.
"What is it?" she said, just a hint of trepidation in her voice.
He could only answer with a shrug.
Both had their attention riveted above, but Jee could see Katara fall into a defensive waterbending stance out of the corner of his eye. As powerful and accomplished as he'd been assured she was, he couldn't help wishing that the Firelord and Avatar hadn't gone on their detour. He frowned at the swirling funnel above him at that thought. An airbender would be a really handy thing right about now.
He shook himself. No use dwelling on what he didn't have. The maelstrom was nearly 50 meters across now, but it seemed to have stabilized.
Katara tensed next to him. Cursing the damage prison nutrition and poor lighting had done to his eyesight, he strained to see what had alerted her. A few agonizing seconds later, he spotted them. There were several shapes, barely more than specks at the moment, swirling out from the center of the phenomenon. He counted about a dozen at first, but as he watched, some would get close to others and just disappear. After approximately 10 seconds, there only five figures left and they appeared to be getting closer. As they neared the event horizon of the funnel, he realized that they were people. Three were clearly individuals, one of the figures looked like two people holding onto each other closely, and the fifth and final one looked like someone astride a creature he'd never seen before with another person flopped over the pommel.
Everyone's attention was glued to the figures now. They watched in fascination as the first of the figures reached the edge of the circular boundary. It was as if they'd been shot out of a sling, and they were thrown about 200 meters in front of the ship. The other two individuals followed rapidly on similar trajectories, but slightly different angles from the first. The two astride and their mount were flung aft of the ship. The embracing duo was the last to reach the edge of the vortex. They were flung directly towards at the ship.
Katara demonstrated that her reflexes were still definitely battle-ready as along with her hand, a wall of water shot up to catch the flying figures. They were moving rapidly enough that she didn't quite manage to stop them. She was able slow them down enough that they didn't become a greasy dent on the deck, but they did reach the railing on the other side with a muted, head-first *CLANG*