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When We Were Young

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“Princess! We have the Destiny in our sights! What are our orders?”

Izumi’s training session on the ship’s deck would have to be cut short. She stopped midway through an attack on the three unlucky soldiers who drew the short straw that morning.

“Signal and then board. They’re friendly.” she turned around to look at the horizon. Finally after days of searching they were here. Destiny didn’t really look like a Fire Nation Navy ship, or at least what most people would think a Fire Nation ship would look like, but that’s because it had a specific purpose: eradicating piracy. And what better man to captain it than her cousin Zari, who lived most of his life with pirates.

They weren’t hard to find since Zari vowed to his mother he would send a hawk with a detailed report containing his location every week. Truthfully, it was the only way she’d agree to his new posting, since she threatened that if he didn’t check in she would take the entire Fire Nation Navy out to look for him. And he believed her. As did the Navy.

With the last letter he was easy to track, but it still took a few days. A fact Izumi was happy about since she used the time to brush up on her firebending. She was getting a bit rusty sitting around the palace.

“Greetings, Crown Princess Izumi.” Zari bowed as soon as she set foot on his ship.

“Greetings, Prince Zari.” she bowed, too, but then prepared for a hug, since they were done with formalities.

“How’s my- I’m not really sure what your son is to me…” Zari smiled awkwardly and ran a hand through his messy hair.

“First cousin once removed.”

“I think I’ll just go with Cousin Iroh. How is he?”

“You know… He’s a baby. He’s healthy and fascinated by anything that moves or makes sounds.”

“I’m surprised to see you here… Not that I’m not happy to see you and everything... I just thought you wouldn’t want to leave the little guy. Is Rei finally taking to fatherhood?”

 Izumi swallowed hard. She felt so guilty since she left her almost a year old son. But she didn’t feel guilty about leaving. Iroh probably didn’t even feel the difference as long as someone was caring for him. She felt guilty because she didn’t miss him at all. It was a horrible thing to think, she was aware, but the reason she volunteered for this mission was to get out of the palace and away from her family. She hoped separation would make her realize how much she loved her son, but it just didn’t happen.

“Rei’s fine and he has my parents and a small army of caretakers to help him if he runs into any problems.” Izumi followed Zari to the bow of the ship, “Don’t you want to know why I’m here?”

“I just figured my mom sent you to check up on me.”

“Actually, I’m here to take you on a mission. Your Spirit World expertise is required with an issue. You seem to be the Fire Nation’s first choice after the Avatar. This was a bit too small-scale for him.”

“And?”

“And your mother wanted it to be you so I could check up on you…”

“I knew it! Please promise me, Izumi, you won’t be like that to Iroh.”

I don’t think that’ll be a problem at all.

oooooooooo

It didn’t take them more than a few hours to arrive to the island where they were sent. As soon as they docked Zari thought he saw something in the distance and hurried to see if he was right. He couldn’t believe his eyes when they were close enough to recognize Oogi.

“Hey, are you here alone, pal?” Zari pet the animal that was too busy eating straw to pay any attention to him.

Izumi looked around a few times, but still couldn’t see anyone. Then she sighed, picked up a rock from the ground and threw it onto Oogi’s saddle.

“Ow.” a sound came from the saddle seconds before Lin peeked her head up. She was followed by Tenzin. They both looked disheveled, but happy.

“Mini vacation?” Izumi asked. Couldn’t those two keep their hands off each other for even one second?

“We’re actually here to help, but we got bored waiting for you.” Tenzin explained while floating down from Oogi.

“He knows spirit stuff, I have police deduction skills. We’ll be useful.” Lin followed her boyfriend down.

“You just wanted somewhere you could make out in public without anyone bothering you, didn’t you?” Izumi rolled her eyes.

“Well, we’ll also help.” Lin smirked.

“Is anyone gonna tell me why we’re here?” Zari finally spoke.

All three of them the explained what happened here a few nights ago. One of the prisons had an explosion that killed four people, but no one could find the cause. It was too large to be a product of firebending, so the locals assumed it was an angry spirit, destroying their town to get revenge.

As soon as he got to the place where the explosion happened, Zari took his meditating pose and got to work.

“We didn’t touch anything since it happened.” the woman that brought them in said.

“That’ll be good for my work.” Lin entered the cell where the blast seemed to have originated and inspected the burned remains of the victims.

“I thought you said there were four victims?” Lin asked after a while.

“I don’t think we should make noise while Zari is concentrating.” Izumi interrupted.

“And I don’t think he should be sitting in the middle of my crime scene, but here we are.” Lin snapped and turned to their host, expecting an answer.

“There were four prisoners in that cell when it exploded. We just assumed one of them was so close that there is nothing left of him. He could have even been kidnapped by the spirits…” the woman explained.

“The prisoner who’s not here, do you know which one it is?” Lin seemed like she was going somewhere with her questions.

“Yes, he was far bigger than the other three. We just brought him in that night.”

“And did he happen to have an eye tattoo on his forehead?”

“He wasn’t a combustion bender, Lin…” the Princess dismissed her question.

“Oh, no, we would have noticed something like that.” the host said.

Lin looked around some more and then used her cables to lower herself down to the ground through the hole left by the blast.

“What is she doing now?” Izumi asked.

“Retracing the criminal’s steps. If he really did cause the blast, where would he go?” Tenzin explained and jumped outside after her.

“We might as well follow him,” Zari stood up, “since I’m not picking up on anything special with the spirits here. We’ll have to rely on Lin’s instincts.”

Izumi reluctantly followed Lin together with Zari.

“It’s not instincts, kid. It’s deduction. Those bodies up there are in very strange positions.” Lin started, “They were already dead, or at least knocked out, when the explosion occurred. I think we need to track this missing prisoner…”

“It’s been three days. You really think he’s still here somewhere?” the Prince asked.

“Of course not. Look.” Lin pointed to a small dock they’d just stumbled onto.

“I’m looking, I’m just not seeing anything.” Zari said.

“He stole a boat?” Tenzin asked unsurely.

“That’s what I would do. And look, here’s the cleat where it used to be tied and the owner’s things he threw off to go faster.” Lin pointed at a couple of empty bottles, metal boxes and fishing rods sitting on the sea floor. Everything else probably floated away.

“Alright, I’ll give you this.” Izumi said, “But we still don’t know where he went.”

“He could have stolen any one of these boats, but he chose the first one on the left. I’d guess that was the direction he would be headed.” Lin turned around after saying that and started heading back to the prison.

“Isn’t our work here done then?” Zari asked, “I mean, it has nothing to do with spirits. Shouldn’t we let them sort this out themselves?”

“I’m involved now. I’m not leaving until I get my man.”

“What, you got something better to do?” Tenzin shrugged and followed his girlfriend.

“I’m going too.” Izumi was next. She thought about returning to the Palace and decided she wasn’t ready yet.

oooooooooo

Lin got a photograph of the man they were tracking and a location where they arrested him for assault. It turned out to be on the same path she deducted the boat was headed on so all four of them decided to hop on Oogi and follow the trail.

“I didn’t realize how close we were to the Fire Lily Festival until now…” Zari followed their position on a map.

“The Fire what?” Lin peeked at the map too.

“Fire Lilies are this flower that blooms for just a few weeks every summer, so there’s a tradition to organize a festival on the Fire Nation’s biggest beach to celebrate the arts. People play music, read poetry, dance…”

“Oh, stop!” Izumi interrupted her cousin, “It’s a couple of hundred people camping on a beach, getting wasted out of their minds. It’s a three-week, multi-kilometer party. You want to steer clear of that beach!”

“You actually went to that, Izumi?” Lin asked.

“Have you met my dad?” the Princess chuckled, “Of course, not.”

“Is there supposed to be that much smoke coming from over there?” Tenzin was referring to the few thick pillars of smoke ruining their view of the sunset.

“That’s the Festival. No, I don’t think so.” Zari answered.

Tenzin nodded and steered Oogi towards the giant beach. As they were getting closer it became apparent that the huge campsite was under some kind of attack, since most of the tents were burning and the people were running into the sea in small groups. Night was finally here, so the fires were the only thing that provided light.

Tenzin landed Oogi in the water and Lin made a sandy bridge from the saddle to the shore. Izumi was the first one to cross it and run to one of the screaming people trying to make it to the water.

“What’s happening to you? Who are you running from?” she asked.

“Firebenders! They’re killing people!” the woman yelled and ran off before Izumi could ask any more questions.

“We have to stop those fires!” Tenzin ran to shore and started blasting air at tents to put them out.

“What about the forest?” Lin asked, seeing the forest near the beach was also catching fire quickly.

Zari looked over and saw two firebenders shooting almost unrealistically big fire streams at the trees. “We have to stop them!” he yelled.

“Let’s go, Lin!” Tenzin called and started running towards the forest, when he saw her. His sister, Kya, fighting a firebender on the opposite side of the beach.

“Tenzin! Come on, move!” Lin didn’t understand why he suddenly stopped.

“It’s Kya.” he muttered.

“Go.” Lin told him, “Zari, you’re with me.”

The young firebender followed her immediately, while Tenzin took out his glider and started flying towards where he last saw his sister, since he couldn’t find her anymore.

An unusually strong fire blast pushed Kya back into her tent. Unfortunately, she didn’t have any water at her disposal and the firebender decided to follow after her. She was preparing to take another attack, when suddenly her attacker was knocked away by a surprise kick from her girlfriend, Nuo. The firebender didn’t seem conscious after that so Nuo helped Kya.

“Thank you.” Kya got up slowly.

“I told you the only element I needed control over was the element of surprise.” Nuo smiled and Kya smiled back.

Neither of them realized the firebender was back on his feet until it was too late. He grabbed hold of Nuo’s shoulder and Kya wasn’t really sure what he did, but she knew Nuo went completely pale in seconds and collapsed onto the floor. Kya quickly checked for a pulse and when she couldn’t feel it started crying uncontrollably. The firebender saw she wasn’t a threat anymore and moved on just as Tenzin arrived.

“Kya? Are you OK?” he sat next to her on the ground.

“They killed… Her. They… She’s dead!” Kya repeated herself through the sobs.

“Who are they?” Tenzin tried to shake his sister out of her trance, “Kya, answer me!”

“Tenzin, they got away!” Lin ran into the tent.

“Who?”

“The ones that started the fires.” she looked over to Kya and realized what had happened since she was still hugging Nuo’s body, “You have to leave her and help me put out those tents!”

“I can’t just leav-”

“Tenzin, there could be people inside!”

Knowing Lin was right, Tenzin let go of his sister and ran outside to help put out the fires. They were slow, but persistent. After a few hours the saw Kya walking dissociated from her tent and into the sea.

“Kya!” Tenzin yelled after her, but got no reaction.

Izumi, being the closest, stopped what she was doing and ran to try and physically stop Kya from walking into the water. Despite her efforts, Kya made it into the shallows and once there, raised her hands toward the sky, making a massive volume of water float above her. She walked back into the middle of the camp where the fire was strongest and released the water in the form of drops.

Her rain did help them significantly, but they still needed a few hours until every person was safe. Well, safe was an optimistic way of putting it, since now they were trapped between the sea and a giant forest fire that they’ve been unable to put out.

“We have no other choice.” Lin started, “Tenzin, you and Oogi have to start carrying these people to the nearest island.”

“That’ll take all day…” Zari complained.

“Yeah, but we can’t even touch that fire.” Izumi sighed, “I still can’t understand how those firebenders got away. It’s like they disappeared into the fire too.”

“We have to warn the Fire Lord first.” Kya spoke calmly for the first time since they found her, “These people did something… I saw one of them kill with just one touch.”

“Kya…” Tenzin tried to take her hand, but she wouldn’t let him.

“I’m not upset! I know what I saw! There was no fire, she just fell down.”

“If this really was unprovoked, maybe we should go talk to Uncle.” Zari said.

“I agree. This is an act of terrorism.” Izumi started, “My crew can ferry the people to safety, I think we should go talk to the Fire Lord.”

oooooooooo

The sun was just coming up as they were nearing the Fire Lord’s Palace. Izumi had finally convinced Kya to get some sleep since she spent most of the fly over talking about how she saw a man who can kill with his touch. They all wanted to believe her, they did, but she just seemed so distressed, they all thought she had imagined it. Dealing with loss was hard, especially for someone who had never been exposed to it so directly.

“Tenzin, she’s going to be alright.” Lin moved out of the saddle to sit next to her boyfriend while he was steering.

“I just keep thinking about what would have happened if we didn’t accidentally run into her.”

“I just keep thinking how a handful of firebenders managed to make such a big mess. Think about it, I saw, what, ten bad guys, among hundreds of others, some of them benders, they should have been overpowered immediately.”

“The people at the party were drunk, unprepared, disorganized. They took them by surprise.”

“I’m more concerned about the why, than the how…” Izumi cut in.

It was at that moment that all four of them spotted the palace, and realized the considerably big hole in it’s roof wasn’t supposed to be there.

“Wake Kya up!” Lin ordered Izumi.

“Get them down into the hole, Oogi.” Tenzin let the reins go and took his glider.

“Tenzin!” Lin jumped and grabbed hold of him in the last second before he took off. On his glider they reached the palace far quicker and landed right into the throne room through the roof.

“Watch out!” Tenzin heard Zuko shout just in time to protect himself and Lin from a fire blast. Lin quickly fought back, launching a few boulders at their assailants. It gave Tenzin enough time to realize Zuko wasn’t alone in there. His wife, sister, son-in-law and grandson were also pinned down in one corner of the room, taking cover behind anything they could find.

At that point Zari jumped down from above and started assessing the situation. Izumi followed him together with Kya who was still a bit out of it.

“Zari, hide!” he heard his mother order, but he didn’t understand why. There were five men attacking them. Not much of a match for the Fire Nation royals. He decided to disregard Azula’s words and shot a stream of blue fire at one of the strangers.

“What did I tell you?!” Azula shoved him behind one of the pillars. The boy looked back at the man he attacked and couldn’t believe his eyes. The man didn’t block the fire, but he didn’t get burnt either. He seemed to have absorbed the blast.

“What?” Zari asked while his mother was already out of their cover drawing the attacker’s fire lashes.

“They can absorb your fire and use it to fuel a stronger attack.” Mai explained.

“Let’s see them absorb rocks.” said Lin and started bending at them as fast as she could.

Upon hearing that Izumi took cover behind one of the pillars where her husband Rei was hiding with their son in his arms.

“Why’d you bring him here?” she whispered.

“We were playing in here when those people attacked. I never wanted Iroh in harm’s way, Princess.” Rei moved the baby to his other shoulder since he started fussing.

“Give him to me. My firebending won’t do any good either way.” Izumi took Iroh into her hands allowing Rei to draw out his sword and charge at one of the intruders. Mai saw him and decided to provide some cover by throwing knives at the rest.

Rei was a non-bender, but that allowed him to spend his life training in sword-fighting. That made the fact that he was disarmed in seconds all the more unbelievable. He had fought benders before, but the sheer ferocity of these fire attacks was too much for him. As soon as Rei lost his sword Zuko and Mai jumped out of their hiding place and hurried to help him. The Fire Lord had to really solely on his dual swords, but they were serving him well, as he managed to knock down one of the men.

Unfortunately, before Mai could jump in, Rai’s hand was grabbed by one of the attackers. Suddenly, the young man stopped resisting and collapsed onto the floor. Mai stopped when she saw Rai go down like he did, allowing another one of the attackers to grab her hand too. She felt an immediate surge of pain through her whole body, just before she lost consciousness. Lucky for her, Zuko anticipated the attack and was able to knock out the firebender before he killed her. Rai on the other hand was already gone when Azula ran to him to check for a pulse.

“We need to get out of here before we all end up like that!” Lin pulled Tenzin’s arm. He knew she was right but there were still four incredibly powerful firebenders between them and the door.

Azula looked at Zuko carrying his unconscious wife, then at Izumi trying to soothe her infant son. They had to do something to get away because there was no winning this fight like this.

“Fun trick you got there, boys.” she started talking while circling around the intruders, “But didn’t anyone crack blue fire yet?”

They shot fireball after fireball at her, but even at her age, she still managed to evade every last one.

“Oh, just me? Alright then.” she kept drawing their fire, but the only thing getting hurt were the pillars in the room. After the last blast Azula winked at Lin who then managed to tear down most of the pillars. Bits of the celling started falling down and it provided enough of a distraction for them to all run out into the hallway without being burned or worse.

“Lin, what are you doing?” Tenzin asked seeing Lin wasn’t leaving the throne room yet.

“I have to hold them back or they’ll follow, Tez. Go, I’ll be right behind you!”

Tenzin had no choice but to listen to her and hurried down the hall.

Now that Lin was alone with the four firebenders, she was just blocking attacks until she was sure her friends were far enough. Then she took a deep breath and slammed her fists into the floor as hard as she could. The men could just watch as the floor cracked from where she was standing and then finally collapsed, sending them all down together with tons of rubble. Lin started falling too but she attached one of her cables to what was left of the roof. She could see the firebenders being buried by the rubble before the roof started collapsing too. She felt herself falling into the same pit without anything solid to attach to.

oooooooooo

“Where’s Zari?” Zuko asked after placing Mai into Oogi’s saddle. Kya tried to do some healing on her right there and then, but there was only so much she could do with the water she had.

“Getting the damn dragon.” Azula said, not moving her eyes from the horizon, “Tenzin, we can’t wait for her forever.”

“Well, I’m not leaving without her.” his eyes were fixated of the palace ruins. She had to come out. Right?

After a few minutes, Zari flew over on the Fire Lord’s dragon. Everyone was ready, but Lin. None of them wanted to be the one to say it, but they had to leave fast if they wanted to get away. Those five guys couldn’t have been alone.

“Here, Kya, you steer home,” he gave Kya the reins, “I’m staying.”

“Tenzin, don’t be crazy. She’d want you to-” Izumi stopped when she saw the rubble around the palace move and then Lin run out, seemingly unharmed. Tenzin ran to help her get to Oogi faster and they were on their way. On their way to ask for the Avatar’s help.