Have you ever had one of those days when you just wish you'd stayed in bed"
I wish I still had a bed. Then I could have stayed in it.
"-Azula" Azula" Come on, talk to me. Please"
I had hoped to arrive ahead of Iroh.
I had really hoped to arrive ahead of Iroh.
One day I'll learn better than to hope like that. Promise.
"Okay. So you're not waking up. That's fine, that's fine. I'll just... sit here, then."
It took me longer than I liked to get to the northernmost island in the Fire Nation, where the Western Air Temple is situated.
It turns out that supply ships full of non-essential goods travel more slowly than Royal warships. Who'd have guessed.
I'm far, far too late to meet Iroh at the Temple. But I'm not entirely useless.
I find the Avatar, making a stand in the woods, surrounded by the Royal Guard.
"...Maybe I should light a fire. No, that's stupid."
The Royal Guard. Wonderful.
Most men, if ordered to kill a twelve-year-old boy, would hesitate. Even if he is the Avatar, they would hesitate.
Not the Royal Guard. Not for one second. Fanatics to a man.
Normally, I wouldn't put money on the men in red here. Only ten of them- no, wait, nine- up against the Avatar Himself, The Final Authority, He Who Spans The Stars, Bridge To The Spirits Made Flesh, Celestial Barman At The Last Chance Saloon, et cetera et cetera.
But not today. Today, the young boy's stance is weak, and he keeps glancing back, behind him where his bison huddles, trapped under heavy netting. He's not paying attention, and for all his power his frame is as mortal as the next man's. He stands alone- why" Where are his companions" Trapped on the bison, perhaps"
Troublesome, to be sure.
I think it's time to even the odds.
"Y'know, it's funny. I was still mad at you this morning. Seems so stupid now to hang on to something like that. I mean... Iroh's your Uncle" Is that weird" It seems weird."
The Royal Guard are loyal first, trained second. Their devotion to the Fire Lord is plain. It does not make them better fighters.
They are given the best equipment, the best training (after they have been selected, of course). The best quarters.
I have fought men ten times their measure who slept every day on the hard earth, and thought that a weighted bit of chain was the height of weapons technology.
I am not afraid of the Royal Guard.
"But this morning, I wasn't over it. -I don't even know why I'm telling you this, but- I just... I understood but I was still mad that you could just set me up like that, which just... seems so stupid now."
Two steps forward, into the clearing. They haven't seen me yet. Good for me, bad for the Avatar.
Time to get a little conspicuous.
Two more steps, and still they haven't noticed me. I draw my sword, and break into a run.
Finally they start to turn, as I am upon the first of them.
The black edge flashes, quicker than the eye can follow, and I split him in half from shoulder to hip.
"...She'll be okay. She's tough. And that water-healing stuff is amazing. One time I took a knife to the hand- straight through, in one side and out the other, almost hit me in the eye anyway- but check it out, there's barely even a mark. If she can just patch herself up-or maybe Aang could figure out how, he's smart-
…She'll- she'll be okay."
They aren't ready for that. They haven't seen what this blade can do.
I have. You couldn't call me used to this blade, but it's not a surprise any more, and I can choke down the image of that awful, perfect cut somewhere dark where I can process it in the proper fashion (wake up sweating in the middle of the night with the sight of flesh and bone and guts burned into my retinas. You can't beat the classics), and press on.
"...So... you're Iroh's niece" That would make you, what, a Princess" …That's gonna make things kinda …weird. I guess I can see why you wouldn't wanna bring that up, though."
Three left before they start to run. Three left before the Avatar stops me from following them.
The intent is noble, but I will not see him make this decision uninformed. "They will be back. With more men."
He doesn't care. I can see that clearly, and he just gestures wordlessly towards his trapped bison, still struggling under weighted and heavy nets. And yes, now I see figures struggling in the saddle.
It's good quality rope, I note, as my sword parts it like mist. They must have made these nets specially, and long in advance.
As the bison shakes itself free, the Lady Ursa and a small girl sit up, pushing the remains of the nets aside. Just them.
That's... not consistent with my information. We're missing a few faces.
"Hey," the girl- and finally I remember the report on the Avatar's earthbending master, and I have a face to the name Beifong (younger than I expected. Far younger)- cries out in my general direction. "You know first aid"
What a fantastically worrying question.
"I mean... if that'd come up first time we met, you bet I'd have suggested we leave you behind.
"And... I'd have been wrong. You're alright. Kinda stupid, but alright."
I am no physician, but I will do what I can.
First examination reveals that the girl is not dead. Unconscious, but not dead. Good start. Second impression- she's lost a lot of blood. Stab wound to the gut.
Not good. Not good at all. Could mean any number of things, depending on what's ruptured. And I'm not qualified to deal with any of them. So what do I do" I have basic supplies. Clean the wound, sew her up, and give her a place to rest" And a prayer that that will be enough"
And if it isn't, will you hold her hand in the dark, too" Is this all you can do"
"So... I guess I'm trying to say thanks. For not dropping me. Or, well, falling with me, I guess. That works too."
As I worked, the Beifong girl explained the details.
The Princess and the water tribe boy fell with the Fire Lord. Only the Fire Lord rose again.
Focus on what you can deal with, Piandao. What's two more dead children anyway"
There's something of an argument going on around me. Well. Almost an argument, anyway.
The Lady Ursa is insisting we go back for her daughter. The Avatar wants to agree with her. He doesn't, but he wants to.
He doesn't want to make an enemy of the Lady Ursa. Understandable. Nor does he want to abandon the hope that his two friends might still live. Also understandable.
But there is a definite chance that the waterbender will die, unless we take her to a healer. And every second worsens her chances.
This, I can deal with. I can be the bad guy in this situation. They won't like me for it, but they might just listen. And it might just keep one more person alive.
"Avatar." I lower my voice. Shouting would help nobody. "If you want to look for them, I will help you as best I can. But I am not a healer. I cannot tell whether your friend will live or die. If you will take my advice, I suggest we take her to somebody who would know. As quickly as possible."
Blearily, she opened her eyes. A vague shape in blue and brown swam before her.
"Okay, now how many fingers am I holding up"
He makes the right choice. It pains him, but he makes the right choice.
And so we fly south, into the dark.