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Chapter 4-An Emperor's DutyEdit
The Council convened and saw Aang immediately. They introduced themselves, and Aang, having been trained since he was old enough to talk to be an Emperor, remembered their names effortlessly. Hama, the Vampiri in charge of blood-bending training and healing, also their most powerful blood bender. Bato, the hook handed general in charge of training the Vampiri warriors. Hakoda, the general in charge of the city's military, and Kana, his mother, the city's most potent Shaman. Hakoda had also been introduced as Katara and Sokka's father, which of course piqued Aang's interest immediately.
Now, a few hours later, as Hakoda convened the welcome feast, Aang thought about what he needed to say to Hakoda very carefully. Marriage proposals required a certain finesse after all, and he was hardly going to allow a girl as beautiful as Katara to slip through his fingers. As Hakoda sat down on his right, he smiled and took a sip of the wine, "Quite a feast you have put together General." Hakoda smiled, "Thank you sire. I cannot express to you how glad we are that you have returned. The Empire is facing its darkest hour, we need our Emperor."
Aang nodded, "Uh-huh." Then he tilted his head and looked past Hakoda at Katara who was sitting just past him, resplendent in Vampiri red, with her hair down and her eyes aglow with delight. Aang's gaze flicked back to Hakoda, "So, I'm thinking, an Emperor needs an Empress, yes?" Hakoda jerked back slightly and blinked at the bluntness of Aang's question, "I suppose your highness is correct." Aang nodded, "I'm the Emperor, of course I'm right!"
Hakoda raised an eyebrow, "Of course sire." Aang grinned slightly, "So do you suppose Katara might consent to sit here?" He gestured to the space between him and Hakoda. A chill ran through Hakoda's veins, "I suppose she might." He turned and reached across his wife Kya, and Sokka to tap Katara on the shoulder, "Katara, the Emperor has requested you sit next to him." Katara smiled, not at all unpleased by the attention, "Of course."
She rose and settled into the spot between Hakoda and Aang, "Good evening your Highness." Aang smiled, "Please, call me Aang." Katara smiled, "Ok, Aang then. Thank you again for saving Sokka and me." Aang grinned broadly, "It was nothing! No trouble at all." Katara smiled and lifted a sea prune from the plate in front of her as she looked at Aang out the corner of her eye in a way she knew to be quite fetching, "So, how long do you think it will take to reunite the Empire?"
Aang tilted his head to the side and raised an eyebrow, "What? Reunite the Empire? With giant war-machines running around, half the world out to kill me, and most of my former subjects having developed their own nation states that they will undoubtedly be reluctant to relinquish control of?" He laughed slightly, "Oh no, I'm staying right here, where it's safe, in the lap of luxury, with the most beautiful woman in the world as my Empress." He nudged her slightly with his elbow, "That's you by the way."
Then he took a drink, completely oblivious to the mortified looks of shock from Katara, Hakoda, Kya, Sokka, Kana, and the other members of the Vampiri Council on the other side of him, along with everyone who had heard him. Even Appa raised his head from the plate of meat provided for him as if to say, "Excuse me?"
Katara blinked and smiled, "I'm sorry Aang, I must have misheard you. I could have sworn you just said you were going to sit back and do nothing while the whole world falls apart." Aang nodded as he finished his drink, "No, you heard right. The world can go to hell, I'm the Emperor." A very dangerous light entered Katara's eyes as her pupils shrank to tiny little dots in rage and her grin grew from big to a huge, dazzlingly toothy, slightly manic smile. Aang finally picked up on the fact that something was wrong, "Why are you looking at me like that?"
What happened next happened so fast that anyone not looking right at it missed it. Katara spun to her feet and slammed the heel of her palm into Aang's forehead with enough force to send him flying ten feet backwards, and skidding another three into the wall. Her hand had been loaded with enough instinctively guided blood-bending power to rupture every vein in Aang's head down to his skull, and now he had a bloody stripe from his forehead to the center of the back of his head that was as wide as Katara's palm and flared out in the front like an arrow.
Aang stared, dazed with pain as Katara stood over him, furious as a thunderhead, "Let me explain something to you Aang," she said with a deadly calm in her voice and a scorn that would have sent a Bone-Monger scurrying for cover as she said his name, "Without an Empire, you are NOT an Emperor. Without an Empire, you are nothing but some goon with the powers of all four sects. Without an Empire, you are nothing but a peasant," she spat, "and you certainly don't have the rank or authority to be proposing to me! Do I make myself perfectly clear?!" She shrieked.
Aang muttered something incomprehensible. It was the first time anyone had ever in his life stood up to him like that, let alone dared to truly strike him. Katara stamped her foot, "Guards! Get this traitor to the Empire out of my sight!" Two nearby guards, one roughly average sized perhaps a little taller, and the other as big as a Bone-Monger, caught Aang by the armpits and effortlessly lifted him to his feet and then off the ground into the air. They turned to carry him out, Aang still too stunned to struggle. Suddenly Katara raised a hand, "Wait."
They paused and turned Aang to face Katara. She got very close to him and Aang was just conscious enough to realize there were tears in her eyes. "This is for getting my hopes up," she slapped him so hard blood flew and he slumped into unconsciousness. She looked at the smaller of the guards, the tears trickling down her cheeks now as she rubbed her hand, which was throbbing softly from the force of her slap, "Now you can get him out of my sight."
Ten Minutes LaterEdit
Chit-Sang and Dread-Eye threw Aang to the ground against the base of a wall in a cold alley. The snow cushioned his fall slightly as Chit-Sang stood, arms crossed and Dread-Eye leaned against the opposite wall rubbing his eyes with one hand in an expression of exasperation and rage, "What are we going to do with this guy?" Chit-Sang cast a derisive look at the slumped "Emperor", "I don't know, but we aren't re-uniting the Empire with him. Can you imagine what would have happened if he had pulled a stunt like that back home?"
Dread-Eye snorted with cold laughter, "I'm trying to count how many death bolts would have connected with him in the space of a few seconds. The whole court would have opened fire on him immediately." Then he sighed angrily and pulled off his helmet, looking down the alley, "This idiot was our ticket home."
His face twisted with rage and as purple light began to flicker around his eye-patch, he stepped across the narrow alley before swinging the toe of his boot into Aang's solar plexus with as much force as he could muster. The kick picked Aang a few inches up off the ground. Aang slumped sideways coughing, his eyes opening blearily. He caught sight of Dread-Eye, "Azulon?"
The light burning behind Dread-Eye's eye-patch threatened to burn straight through it and became so bright it was hard to look at him. Dread-Eye turned, reached down, caught Aang by the front of his robes and hoisted him a foot off the ground before slamming him into the wall and holding him there. Dread-Eye pulled back a hand and the power of the Death-Touch collected around his fist, "Do NOT talk about my grandfather in front of me."
Aang finally came completely awake and his eyes widened, "Grandfather?!" Dread-Eye twisted and hurled Aang back to the ground, reaching for his swords, "I am Zuko, fifth in line to the throne of the Death Touch," He caught his swords and drew one, imbuing it with the lethal power of the Death Touch as he pointed it at Aang, "and through your selfishness and apathy, you have just burned my last chance to go home."
Aang scrambled back and the light behind Zuko's eye-patch started burning the edges of the eye-patch as Aang stammered, "I-I'm sorry! I didn't mean..." "You didn't mean what?!" Zuko yelled, "You didn't mean to reveal yourself as a worthless coward? You didn't mean to dash the hopes and dreams of that beautiful girl? Of every Death Bringer in the world?! To condemn me and Chit-Sang to a life of piracy? You didn't mean to shirk your duty as the Emperor and ruin everything?!"
With every question, the light behind Zuko's eye-patch grew more and more fierce, the eye-patch fraying away before the terrible force that had earned Zuko his epithet "Dread-Eye". As he shouted the last question, the eye-patch was entirely obliterated and the terrible power of the Dread-Eye burst forth, slamming into Aang's forehead, exactly where Katara had struck him earlier.
Aang was knocked flat as Zuko instinctively closed his eyes and reached for a fresh eye-patch. Zuko pulled the fresh eye-patch on and opened his eyes. The corners of his mouth twitched up into a satisfied grin as he saw the results of his eye's power. Aang was writhing on the ground clutching his head, but Zuko and Chit-Sang could still see the burnt looking flesh on his scalp. "What did you do to me?!" Aang howled.
"I just ensured that mark will never heal," Zuko replied with cold satisfaction. "Let it serve as an eternal reminder of all the people you've failed," Chit-Sang added. Those were the last words Aang heard before he blacked out and the two infamous pirates turned and walked away, leaving him in the snow to freeze to death as they set off to find a seaworthy vessel to escape the city of the Vampiri.
An Hour LaterEdit
Sokka looked at the half frozen figure in the snow and sighed. "I should leave you to die," he told the still form bitterly. "But if I leave you here," he continued as he stooped and grabbed Aang's feet, "I'll never get rid of that Chimera, and he'll eat all the meat we've got or ever will get." He started dragging Aang through the snow, "So I've got to keep you alive and get you out of here with that bottomless pit of yours, or I'll be stuck eating rabbit food forever!"
As he threw Aang into the stable a few minutes later, and head first into a pile of camel-seal manure, he said quietly, "And as long and bad a shot as you may be, you're still our only shot at getting our world back. So don't you die on me." He looked at the raised, swollen and burned looking flesh on Aang's head, "Can't say you didn't deserve it, but that's the work of a Death Touch. Which means there's at least one in the city." He straightened up and pulled his helmet back on, "And that means I've got work to do."