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Chapter 3-Old FriendsEdit
A Week LaterEdit
Hei sat on the rock his ship was anchored to, watching the horizon as the clouds drifted along overhead. Toph was busy expanding the rock they had moored to. It had originally been nothing more than the outermost ridge of a clump of reefs, but with some help from Hei and a rowboat Toph had managed to raise the reef to above the surface of the water. Now she was busily expanding the rocky surface so that more of the crew could come ashore. Hei smiled as he cast a glance in her direction, there was of course another reason she was working to expand the rock platform.
It was the same reason he had chosen to meet with his comrades in such a remote location. The Ye Gui Li's activities had expanded to a global scale since the start of the war, now there was talk of moving Central Command to a location more central to the rest of the world so that it would actually be a Central Command again. Hei knew the Archives wouldn't move and the heart of the Fire Nation would always be where the head of the dragon that was the Ye Gui Li lay, but he also knew that whoever found a good location for the new Central Command would be in very good standing with the admiralty. What could be better he thought, than an island that wasn't on any chart or map?
Even if the admiralty didn't want to use the new location for Central, it would still be a valuable new Naval Outpost. Toph was a master earth-bender even though she had never had a formal earth-bending teacher. Hei knew she would succeed in turning the treacherous reefs into an island. Already Toph had raised a few hundred square meters of stone to the surface along with two piers jutting outwards.
Then a smile broke across his face as he turned back to the horizon and saw a ship chugging towards them.
Twenty Minutes LaterEdit
Hei saluted Zuko and Iroh as they stepped down onto the stone pier, "Welcome to our rendezvous point your highnesses. We're waiting for our associates, but you're more than welcome to make yourselves comfortable in the meantime." Zuko looked at the barren slab of stone, "What is this place? The map showed it as just a reef." Hei grinned crookedly, "Hopefully it's the Ye Gui Li's new Central Command. High Admiral JeongJeong is coming to see it next week, so I hope you'll forgive me if I'm a little distracted."
Iroh smiled, "JeongJeong is coming here? Gooood! It's been too long since I saw him last!" Zuko looked at him, "You know him Uncle?" Iroh nodded, "Of course, High Admiral JeongJeong is an old friend. Always has an interesting view on things." Zuko blinked, "Ok," and turned back to Hei, "But Hei, how is this tiny little rock going to be a command center?" Zuko was suddenly tossed off the pier as the ground jumped beneath him.
Zuko surfaced spitting and sputtering, but before he could protest, "Tiny little rock?!" Toph exclaimed angrily as she pointed at the large expanse of stone behind her, "I've been working on this for hours! When we got here every bit of this was completely submerged!" Despite being blind, she was still managing to glare right at him, which Zuko found utterly baffling. "Sorry," Zuko replied quickly, "I didn't know!"
Toph snorted indignantly and made no move to help the former prince out of the water, but she made no move to hinder him either, so Hei knew she had accepted his apology.
Two Hours LaterEdit
By the time the next ship arrived, the rocky platform had doubled in size. Two beautiful young women made their way down the gang plank after the ship moored alongside one of the earthen piers. Both were quite lovely, although one was immensely tall with her hair pulled back into a tight braid showing off a bizarre third eye tattoo in the center of her forehead, and Zuko found something about the other one reminded him eerily of his sister. Then he saw two tendrils of water snake out of the long sleeves of the young woman's robe as she waved to Toph.
Hei greeted the taller of the two while Toph and Ming Hua exchanged happy greetings, "P'Li, it's good to see you again." The tall woman smiled, "Good to see you too Hei. I see you've been keeping Toph busy." Hei smiled, "I'd help her if I could, but I'm no earth-bender. I was hoping Ghazan could help." He looked past P'Li, "He is here isn't he?"
P'Li shook her head, "No, he and Zaheer were held up. Their note said they'd be along tomorrow or the next day." P'Li noticed the Hei's eye twitching as he tried to restrain himself. She smiled as he tried to contain his frustration.
She patted him on the shoulder, "Don't worry Hei, it'll be alright. They're just not good with deadlines." Hei nodded, his eyes still wide with rage, "Yep." He said through gritted teeth, "I know." P'Li smiled as steam began to roil off the wet stone around his feet. P'Li got slightly nervous as the silence stretched out and started getting awkward while the steam cloud just got bigger and bigger. Time to change the subject, she thought.
"So, what's all this then?" She asked, looking towards the immense slab of stone. Hei grinned immediately, "We're working on a potential site for the new central command. This isn't a very traveled patch of sea, so not many people even know the reef is here, and nobody except us and High Admiral JeongJeong knows what we've been up to here." P'Li looked back at him, "High Admiral JeongJeong commissioned this project?" Zaheer's not gonna like that... she thought.
Hei shook his head and turned to look at Toph's handiwork, "No, but he's coming here in a week to have a look. That's why I wanted Ghazan here. The more we can get done by the time he gets here the better." P'Li nodded, "I see that," she said carefully. Hei made a face, "Zaheer's got Ghazan working on this same thing in the Yin Province doesn't he?" P'Li jumped slightly and Hei knew he was right. The look he shot P'Li was enough to wither the denial in her throat.
"Yeah," she admitted. Hei scowled, "Gre-eat. Now I've got to compete with him on this too. How's his site coming?" P'Li smiled, "He's actually still looking for a good mountain." Hei grinned, "Good, then I've got the drop on him." He looked up at the sky and frowned, "Well he's going to be mighty late, I got word a little over an hour ago that there's a major storm coming in a few days. Should start raining the day after tomorrow. Send him a hawk and tell him to wait to head out. It's two days here from the Yin province, even if he's making good time, and if I recall correctly it takes half a day to get to the shore from those mountains. If he's already under way, he'll make it. If he's still in the mountains, he'll get caught in the middle of it."
"I don't much care if he drowns," Hei continued, "But Ghazan would be kinda hard to replace, and their crew doesn't deserve such a lousy death." P'Li wanted to say something in Zaheer's defense, but she knew Zaheer felt the same way about Hei. Hei sighed, "But enough of that, come meet our banished prince." P'Li raised an eyebrow, "Prince Zuko's here?"
Hei nodded as they set off down the pier towards the main slab, "Yeah, he's an old friend of mine, he'll be joining us on this hunt." P'Li tilted her head to the side and looked at him, "You sure we're allowed to do that?" Hei shrugged, "Well, he is the former prince, he'll be the crown prince if he catches the Avatar, and if we help him back to his former position, well, that can't really hurt us when he's the next Fire Lord now can it?" P'Li hmmed, "You do have a point there. Are you sure High Admiral JeongJeong will be okay with that though?"
Hei nodded, "He's usually pretty reasonable about this sort of thing, and General Iroh did say they were old friends. Surely he won't mind." P'Li smiled and Hei led on.
He's looking again, Ming Hua thought as she shot a glance at the banished prince over her bowl of noodles. Zuko hurriedly averted his gaze as he caught the subtle movement of her eyes. Ming Hua set her bowl in her lap and looked straight at him, "If you have something to say, then say it." Zuko jumped slightly and then settled back, "Oh no it's just, why are you using water-bending to eat with?"
Hei, who had been sitting next to him around the fire scooted away from him so quickly he nearly knocked Iroh off the end of the bench. Toph quickly extended the bench to catch him and Zuko realized he might have touched on a nerve. Ming Hua didn't say anything, just raised one of her water tendrils to her chest with a cold expression and shoved her robe down off her left shoulder, angling said shoulder so Zuko could see it.
It took Zuko a second to realize what he was seeing, "You don't have any arms!" he exclaimed in surprise. Ming Hua put her shoulder back into her robe in an instant and suddenly Zuko found an ice blade at his throat, "You got a problem with it?" "No, no," Zuko replied hurriedly, "It just surprised me!" Ming Hua drew the ice blade at the end of her water arm back a little, allowing him room to talk.
"I've just never seen anyone who could bend without moving their hands before. It's very impressive," Zuko added hurriedly. Ming Hua's water arm snapped back to its usual length and she continued eating with a demure expression before leaning over to Toph and saying in a not very quiet whisper, "I see what you mean, he is prone to putting his foot in his mouth." Zuko blushed furiously and went back to eating, very pointedly not looking at anybody.
Hei settled back into his seat, as Ming Hua sniggered behind a sleeve. Toph grinned, "Wonder what he'll do when he sees P'Li's trick." Zuko looked up, "What?" Ming Hua glared at him and he hurriedly put his head back down and went back to eating, causing Ming Hua to howl with laughter at his sheepish expression, "Ohhh I think I like this one! This is going to be such a fun hunt!"