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A Different Path to Redemption

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Some people say that the smallest stone can send ripples across a pond that will reach the farthest shore. When one faces a crossroad in their life, their choice becomes that stone, and what they choose determines which ripples will be made…

As Zuko turned away from his trapped Uncle and faced the passage to the chamber where his Sister was fighting the Avatar, he couldn't help but reflect on what she had said to him.

"It's not too late to redeem yourself…"

Was it? Was this what would earn him his honor back? If he helped his Sister kill the Avatar, his father would surely accept him, right?

"The redemption she offers is not for you!"

Was his Uncle right? Was his Sister? His Uncle had said he was facing a crossroad in his life, so what was the right path?

As he thought, he remembered the kindness the Water Tribe girl showed him in the cavern, offering to heal his scar with that Spirit Water, when all he's done to them was hunt and try to kill them.

Suddenly, a dream he had when he was sick with that strange fever came back to him. He was Firelord and two dragons, one blue and one red were coiled around the pillars next to him. The blue one spoke in his Sister's voice, promising power and glory if he succumbed to sleep, while the red dragon spoke in the voice of his Uncle and warned him against listening to the blue dragon. The dream continued with the blue dragon moving closer before attacking him.

"Uncle," said Zuko without turning around, "maybe I have changed, and I've made my choice."

Turning to face the older Firebender, the fallen prince gathered flames around his hand and prepared to strike at the captured general. Iroh turned his head away sadly in anticipation for his nephew's choice to attack him, and was surprised when he did not feel the burning heat from the flames and instead felt the crystal binding him get blasted apart. Opening his eyes, he saw Zuko standing in front of him with a smile, extending his hand out to the one who never once abandoned him.

"Let's go, Uncle," said the Crown Prince of the Fire Nation.

"As you wish, Prince Zuko," said Iroh with a smile.

xXsceneXx

Katara couldn't help but grit her teeth as she and Aang fought off Azula, the twisted princess of the Fire Nation. Even with her skill as a Waterbender and Aang's powers as the Avatar, the princess was considered a prodigy in terms of Firebending for a reason and her control over lightning and blue flames was giving the two of them a tough time at landing any hits on her.

"She's too fast," said Aang, "we can't hit her!"

"We need a plan," said Katara.

The two of them were forced apart as Azula blasted at them with her blue flames, evaporating the water shield Katara used to defend herself.

"End of the line, Avatar," smirked Azula as she gathered lightning around her fingers.

Suddenly, a blast of crimson flames was shot at the Fire Nation princess, forcing her to twist out of the way to avoid getting burnt. Turning, the group saw Zuko and Iroh walking into the cavern, the smoke emanating from Zuko's fist showing who had just saved them.

"Zuzu," scowled Azula, "and Uncle Iroh. I assume this means you've rejected my offer? A pity. But the two of you joining won't save the Avatar. Dai-Li!"

Several dozen cloaked members of the Earth Kingdom's secret police dropped from the ceiling and got into stances around the smirking princess.

"You see," said Azula as she lit blue flames on her hands, "I have backup too. Kill them!"

The Dai-Li shot into motion and used Earthbending to hurl stone spears at their opponents, forcing Aang to raise a wall of crystal out of the ground to block the attack. Zuko and Iroh fired torrents of flame at Azula, but the Earthbenders created a stone wall that blocked it, before launching sections of it at their enemies like cannonballs, creating openings that Azula used to hurl blasts of blue fire at the group.

Iroh created lighting around his hands and blew the wall to pieces, but the Dai-Li shot out of the smoke and shot stone bullets from their rock gloves, forcing the group apart. Iroh and Zuko shot blasts of fire at Azula, but the Earthbenders raised a wall of stone and shot it forward, separating them from the Avatar and his friend.

The Dai-Li continued their battle against the Firebenders by keeping them on the defensive, using their bending to control the ground under their feet and attack from nearly any angle or direction. It took much of Iroh's skill as the Dragon of the West and Zuko's own skill with Firebending to keep from being overwhelmed.

While the Dai-Li fought, Azula continued her assault, firing blasts of blue fire and lightning that kept Aang and Katara from doing anything but blocking and dodging, with the heat from Azula's fire and the power of her lightning punching through any defense the two benders could erect.

"Aang," said Katara, "we need the Avatar State!"

"But I…" said Aang.

"Aang," said Katara, "we have no choice. I'll cover you!"

Katara bent a large wave of water around her that she formed into spears of ice and sent flying at the Fire Nation Princess, before continuing her assault, pushing Azula away from Aang. While his friend (and crush) held off Azula, Aang bent a crystal dome around himself to protect him while he entered a meditative trance.

xXsceneXx

Aang found himself on an Astral plane with a giant version of himself standing opposite of him at the end of a long road of light, holding an orb of energy. Aang rushed forward, remembering all that the Guru at the Eastern Air Temple had taught him, allowing himself to be given over to the cosmic energies of the spirits without letting them take control. Feeling the power surge through him, he opened his eyes, revealing them to be glowing with power as his tattoos also lit up with energy as well. The release of power shattered the crystal dome as he floated into the air over the combatants with the wind whipping around him.

xXsceneXx

Azula scowled as she saw the Avatar emerge from his cover in the Avatar state, but noted his back was to her, causing her to smirk as she formed a plan. Kicking the Waterbender in the gut, knocking her to the ground and throwing a knife that pinned the girl's sleeve to the ground, the Princess gathered lightning around herself and locked in on the exposed back of the Avatar as she prepared to end this, once and for all.

xXsceneXx

Zuko was distracted from his fight with the Dai-Li when he noticed the lightning Azula was gathering around herself with her Firebending, and following her gaze, he knew what her target was. Knowing his Uncle wasn't going to be able to intervene in time, Zuko acted on instinct. Feeling the Yin and Yang energies in him, he cleared his mind and brought forth lightning around his body, before releasing it in a powerful bolt that streaked toward his sister.

Azula was so focused on her target, that she didn't notice her brother's attack until it was too late. The princess let out a shriek of pain as the bolt slammed into her head, badly burning her face and causing her aim to veer off. Because of Zuko's attack, Azula's bolt didn't strike Aang in a fatal area, but instead struck his arm, still knocking him out of the air and out of the Avatar state.

"Aang!" yelled Katara as she ran over to her close friend and checked his burns.

"You have to get out of here," said Iroh, "go! I will cover your escape! Protect the Avatar!"

"Uncle!" yelled Zuko, "I won't leave you."

"You must, Nephew!" replied Iroh, "Go now, before it's too late!"

"I'll come back for you!" yelled Zuko as Katara used Waterbending to carry her and Aang to the surface, "I'll rescue you from wherever they send you!"

Iroh fired massive blasts of fire and lightning at the Dai-Li, creating a wall of flames that blocked the Earthbenders from advancing, and causing several stones to fall from the celling, halting the advance of the elite Earthbenders long enough for Zuko to use Firebending to propel himself upward and out of the cavern, following Katara and Aang.

xXsceneXx

The group met up with Sokka and Toph at the outskirts of Ba Sing Se, and they were more than a little surprised to see Zuko.

"Zuko!" exclaimed Sokka, "Katara, what's he doing here!"

"Sokka," said Katara, "we have to get moving. The Dai-Li could arrive at any moment."

"We're not going anywhere with him," said Sokka as he pointed his machete at the former prince.

"Sokka," sighed Katara, "he saved Aang's life. He shot his own sister and kept her from killing Aang."

"It's true," said Zuko, "while I once might have leapt at the chance to return home that was being offered to me, I now know that the path to redemption that was being offered, was not the one I truly wished to take. If you would accept me as part of your group, I would be honored to travel with you."

"I don't know…" began Sokka.

"I trust him," said Toph, "they're both telling the truth."

"Fine," said Sokka, "let's get out of here, but I'll be watching you."

"I don't blame you," said Zuko, "I hope I can earn your trust."

The group climbed onto the Sky Bison and took off into the air with the Earth King in tow. As they flew toward the location of the Water Tribe Fleet that Katara and Sokka's father was commanding, Katara used her Waterbending to start treating the burns on Aang's arm as he lay unconscious on her lap.

xXsceneXx

Once Azula had been taken back to her allies, Mai and Ty-Lee, a messenger hawk was sent to the Fire Nation and a team of medics was rushed over to the city on a high-speed airship. Once they arrived, they restrained the injured Firebender and began treating the severe burns on the right side of her face. Once the princess awoke after the treatment was over, she asked how bad the damage was. The troubled looks that were exchanged unnerved her, but the medics answered anyway.

"Princess Azula," said the lead medic, "we were able to treat the burns, but they will leave severe scarring once they heal, but we weren't able to save your eye."

"What are you saying?" asked Azula dangerously.

"I'm sorry princess," said the medic, "but you'll never be able to see from your right eye again."

Azula howled in rage as she struggled against the medical restraints and breathed blasts of blue fire from her mouth with Firebending as she screamed.