Kuebiko

BY : Death_Rattle
Category: Avatar - The Last Airbender > AU/AR - Alternate Universe/Alternate Reality
Dragon prints: 5257
Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to Avatar: the Last Airbender or any of the characters. I do not profit from my writing.

Chapter Text

It had taken days to reach the great Earth Kingdom city of Ba Sing Se. The three remaining members of 'Team Avatar' might have been somewhat hopeful when Hawky II had returned with the news of the White Lotus' success, but nobody had smiles on their faces now. They couldn't. Appa had searched tirelessly for his lost rider. On the way they had stopped at the southern and eastern temples. Searching familiar places, Suki supposed.

I'm sorry Appa. He's gone, Sokka had said.

It all happened so quickly. One minute they were celebrating their victory against the airship fleet, scanning the horizon for him and then... he didn't come back. The Phoenix King did. They fled. Jumping into the ocean, hiding below the ashes. Eventually the sky turned blue again and it was over.

It was some kind of contingency plan, Sokka had surmised. News spread of the fleet's failure, and what followed it was a wave of destruction as soldiers who were evacuating turned around back towards the cities and towns they were fleeing, using the last moments of the waning comet's power to exact their King's plan.

And even knowing all of this, Suki felt like vomiting as they passed over the outermost wall into the city, the smell of burning overwhelming, even from the skies. Crops, buildings, people. Even though only a small proportion of the Lower Ring had been sacked, the effect was undeniable. Raging fires could still be seen in the distance - the fields, already weakened by the long summer, just adding fuel to the fires created by the soldiers laying siege. The famous walls responsible for protecting the city's millions of inhabitants were broken in several places. Sabotage? More war damage? Suki didn't know.

It was simply a disaster.

"So, can you guys see anything good down there? Or is it all as bad as it smells" asked the blind girl. Suki had been told that the blind have their other senses become more acute to make up for their lost vision. Certainly wasn't doing her any favors now - she looked the most sick amongst them, even though she did her best to hide it.

And Sokka.

Oh, spirits. Sokka had made the hardest call of all. Suki was ready to follow him into the Fire Nation Capital, to find his sister, to find Zuko. But instead, it was his decision to come here. A great strategic decision, he had said. Gather forces and intelligence before an attack. Going there would be a suicide mission, he had said. He was probably right. But anyone with two eyes could tell (and Toph too, probably, when they were on solid ground) that the decision haunted him. It had been over a week and she didn't know what to say anymore. She's alive. We'll find her. It'll be okay can only be said so many times until they lose all meaning. All she could do was stay close to him.

"It looks as bad as it smells," Sokka assured his friend though his reply was anything but reassuring. He was solemn; he was serious. No sarcasm, no snark or witty remarks. And most certainly of all, no naïve optimism. "You're not missing anything, Toph. Trust me." Spellbound, he stared into the fire and considered... considered veering toward the nearest plume of black smoke, allowing himself to be consumed by flame-

No!

The young water tribesman didn't quite know what had happened, or what went wrong. Only that The Avatar- Aang (his friend) was dead and that his sacrifice would not be in vain... that Katara wouldn't want to see her brother lose hope... that Zuko deserved his vengeance... and so, he must carry on. For their sakes.

Sokka could only hope that Katara and Zuko were alright... still alive... somehow, some way. Though he had nothing to go on save for intuition - a little voice in his head that told him what he wanted to hear. With each passing day, that voice had grown quieter. It was barely a whisper now. But if there was someone, anyone at all who had the power to breathe life back into the voice and answer its call, it would be him. If all else failed, Iroh would never give up on Zuko.

The smell wasn't so bad in the Upper Ring, though it must have permeated everywhere by now. Toph certainly had a strange look, but she kept quiet over whatever she was 'seeing'

Suki was surprised that nobody from the White Lotus was there to greet them. The man rushing towards them, surprisingly common, though eccentric. The conversation that followed unsurprisingly short. 'The General' was expecting them

The Imperial Palace was damaged. And not just because of the various scorch marks that were embedded into the walls, but it looked like the place had just been ripped apart. As if a surgeon had opened it up, made furious, mad incisions with a dull scalpel, and closed it again, leaving the inside a shattered mess. Suki didn't need to say a word to get an answer to the question on everyone's minds. "The Dai Li" Toph spat. "They must have been using the tunnels that are all over the place."

"These tunnels...,” the Kyoshi warrior asked the imperative.

"There are too many" she replied. "I can sense that some of them are guarded now, but there are hundreds. If they wanted to, they could come up here. Whenever they wanted"

The man who had greeted them (who had since informed them that his name was Chey) shushed the blind girl. "Just follow me. This is the safe route" he assured, leading them down the last corridor to a set of looming doors, behind which was apparently 'The General'

It isn't safe, Toph knew for sure, as the doors opened and she sensed the familiar shifting of old bones - the man she had met in the forest. They're just not here yet

Having reclaimed his title along with the city, Iroh, Dragon of the West, was a general once more - in name only would be wrong to assume. The world needed him and most of all, Zuko needed him...

The General, who had been pouring over various maps and battle strategies was suddenly alerted to the presence of several others. "Toph?!" he exclaimed, half-certain he was seeing a ghost. Although it became apparent the young blind girl was flesh and blood as he rushed toward her.

"My friend! It is you!" Iroh declared excitedly, pulling her into a tight hug - whether she wanted one or not! "Thank the spirits you are alright..."

A pause.

"All of you. Truly, this warms my heart," he said, clasping Suki's hand then proceeding to place his own hand upon Sokka's shoulder, reassuringly.

"We're glad to see you, too," the water tribesman replied. "General."

"Where is-" Iroh stopped himself mid-sentence. In an instant, all three young faces had fallen... dejected, hopeless...

Katara..? Dear Agni, no! Something terrible must have-

"We d-don't know where she is" her brother whispered, blinking back tears. He turned his back toward the old man, his pride condemning, urging him not to display what he perceived to be weakness.

"So you haven't heard any news from the capital?" Suki asked, fearing they had come all this way to learn nothing "Anything at all?"

"We've heard some news. Not much in the way of good news, I'm afraid" Iroh replied, solemnly. He lead the way toward his makeshift war room, urging the group to follow with a gesture of his hand. "Much of the Earth Kingdom lies in ruin, as I'm sure you've noticed along your travels..." he continued. "Civilian causalities are... devastating. Determining an exact number at this point in time would hardly be feasible - perhaps that is for the best."

"And the survivors?" Sokka asked, hopeful despite it all.

"Scattered. As such, intelligence reports have proven inconsistent. Large scale food shortages and lack of proper medical supplies remain nothing but consistent, however. Much of Ba Sing Se remains relatively undisturbed although the Agrarian Zone has sustained significant damage. The Lower Ring was affected as well. Four days ago, a search and rescue party was dispatched - the living outnumber the dead, thankfully."

After a particularly uncomfortable pause, the General huffed "My brother has declared himself King, apparently." Positively seething, he added "And here I thought his head could not possibly swell any larger."

"A king huh" Toph mused, trying to come up with some joke to brighten the mood, and failing. "...king of sore losers" she said under her breath, taking in another whiff of that horrid smell.

"General" Suki addressed. "You haven't... you haven't heard anything about Kyoshi Island have you?"

"No, my dear. I haven't" Iroh said, softly. "I'm sorry. I wish..." he placed his hand upon her shoulder. "I wish there were something, anything that..." he trailed off.

"I don't suppose-" The General cleared his throat, taken aback by how quickly emotions had gotten the better of him.

A pause.

"My nephew?" he asked, having taken a moment to regain composure although truthfully, he was not expecting the three of them to know anything more than himself. Which was in all honesty, very little. "There was a battle..." Golden eyes welled up with tears.

"By all the spirits, I sent him to his doom!" Iroh cried out in vain, slamming his fists down against the table.

"We... we don't know what-" Sokka offered, only to be interrupted.

"Zuko's Agni-forsaken father has wanted him dead since the day he was born! And Azula, his so-called sister. That smirking, scheming little rat-viper-"

"Yeah, the smirking, scheming rat-viper that won" the earthbender cut in, taking a seat and raising a rock footrest as if she was the queen and this was her palace. "What's the plan, General? Everyone around here is acting all doom and gloom" Okay, so she was doom and gloom herself. Nobody else needed to know that right this second. "But we have a job to do. The way I see it, we have nothing to lose by taking those bastards on"

Iroh chuckled. Sniffling, he wiped away a tear that had slipped down his cheek.

"Nothing to lose?" he asked, rhetorically. "As far as the Order of the White Lotus is concerned, we have nothing left to lose apart from our lives. Evacuations are already underway..."

"Perhaps they're right. Perhaps Ba Sing Se is lost to us" he conceded. "King Ozai and the rat-viper will want to claim my head - sooner rather than later - and raze the city to the ground for such insult to their pride."

"As for myself, I have something to lose that means far more than any city: someone worth fighting for," the General declared, standing proud as ever. "I will not abandon my nephew to torment and death. Nor will I abandon hope. Indeed, my friend, we have a job to do. Let's take those bastards on!"

"Damn straight!" Toph declared, slamming her fist into the table.

"Wait, why would-"

"Uhm, Hey" interrupted Chey. "Uh, General Guy, uh, you have a uh, letter. Yeah. Addressed to you, or so I was told. Apparently..." his face became half-serious, as if he were about to reveal the punchline to a creepy campfire story. "It's from the Fire Nation" the man finished, waving his hands in the air for what could only be dramatic effect.

Everyone gave him a dull look.

"I'll just leave it here. On this table."

Iroh unfurled the scroll.

 

Dear Brother,

I'd like to formally issue you an apology. My wedding was celebrated by the whole nation - witnessed by our capital. My Queen informed me that I committed a grave error in failing to invite you tonight during our honeymoon, and it pained me so that I felt the need to apologize and write you this letter. After all, it was a glorious day for the Fire Nation, one an honored Prince and General should have shared in. The people would have welcomed you with open arms, I am sure. I know Azula in particular is dying to see her new brother.

I have decided to invite you to the Royal Place so we can have tea and reminisce over old times. Why Azula and I were just speaking of such from here on Ember Island. Don't you remember our vacations here, brother? You mentioned to me once that the time away brought you relaxation and calm.

You'll be happy to know that your traitorous nephew Zuko is paying for his crimes. First, his father, then his uncle, and now he betrays his sister? The boy has loyalty to no one, I am sure. You need not fear, his death will be slow - giving him plenty of time to see the errors of his ways.

Your Loving Brother,

Phoenix King Ozai

 

The General was left reeling. The color drained from his face and for an instant, he could have sworn his heart stopped beating. Queen... Azula..? No, surely he had misread-

His own daughter?!

There had been no mistake or misunderstanding, he determined, having scanned his Agni-forsaken brother's Agni-forsaken words twice over. Iroh knew Ozai to be morally reprehensible of course, as did all who had the pleasure (or displeasure, rather) of knowing him but... this? He wanted to vomit. He wanted to scream. He wanted to laugh. Somehow, their fucked-up family had managed to reach an entirely new level of fucked-up! Somewhere, in between all of the backstabbing (both figurative and literal), banishment, and Agni Kais this happened.

Ozai and Azula...

Incest. Of fucking course they would.

"I think I'm going to be sick," Iroh finally said, allowing the scroll to slip from his fingers and fall almost silently to the floor. Withal, he was unable to fully process, much less react to anything else he'd just read...

"Wha-" Sokka retrieved said scroll. "Why? What's it say?"

"WHAT!? DEAR TUI AND LA!"

Toph waved her hand in front of her eyes. "Can someone let me in on the big secret here?"

"...you don't want to know, Toph" Suki said slowly, tearing her eyes from the page that was in Sokka's hands.

"Oh for fucks sake, how bad could it possibly be? Did Mr. King order everything burned down twice? Spill it, snoozles."

"No, he... he got married" Sokka offered.

"Remarried" Iroh specified. "To Azula."

Toph was silent for a moment before bursting into laughter. "You're telling me Mr. King of the World is into his own little girl? That's rich. Do you think she's into him too? I wonder if we can get them to divorce and have one of those Agni-Duel thingies!"

Everybody looked at the earthbender.

"What? Okay, so the guy fiddles his own kids, we knew he was evil already right? We still gotta kick his ass - if anything, this just gives us one more reason."

"Oh yeah. That does it, he's going down" Sokka agreed. "Just when you think a guy couldn't possibly sink any lower! I mean seriously, what kind of man looks at his own daughter and-"

"Eugh" he shuddered. "That's so... icky. Takes a special breed of sicko to even consider it, let alone actually go there."

"Do you all want to know what the worst part is?" The group looked toward Iroh expectantly. "I cannot even say I'm shocked. Perhaps I was initially but... it all makes perfect sense. I've always known there was something wrong- really wrong with those two. The way they look at each other, it just isn't normal-" he shivered in disgust.

"No offense, General but why is your family so fucked-up?" the water tribesman asked, flatly.

"I wish I knew."

"Zuko's still alive" Suki repeated the letter's contents. Maybe Katara is too, she thought the unspoken.

"Ok, we got this" Toph declared. "Iroh, you get your crazy old guy team. The King dude especially. We take Appa, we go at night and land while King of the World is balls deep in the blue fire bitch, and we bust sparky and sugar queen out."

"Ah-ha... Ha..!" Sokka snorted with laughter. "Balls deep in the blue fire bitch! Good one, Toph."

"That-" Iroh shook his head, desperate to try and rid himself of a most disturbing mental image. "That sounds like a plan, Toph," he managed, pinching the bridge of his nose in frustration.

"Hey, are Azula and Phoenix King Fucked-in-the-head's kids gonna be Zuko's siblings... or his nieces and nephews..? Can they be both?" Sokka asked, quizzically. "Would that make Zuko their brother and their uncle?" He turned toward the General. "What about you, would you be their uncle? Wait, no, if Zuko is their uncle and you're Zuko's uncle..."

A pause.

"No, that doesn't make any sense. I think-"

"Enough!" Iroh interrupted. "By all the spirits, let us hope that my brother does not impregnate my niece."

"Oh, y-yeah... right, of course. I knew that," Sokka said, awkwardly.

"I will speak with King Bumi" General Iroh addressed Toph once more. "In the meantime...," he rolled out a large map with yellowing edges. "...it would be pertinent to devise some sort of strategy, as well as potential routes of travel."



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