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Chapter 8-Down Time Part 2Edit

That AfternoonEdit

Zuko stood next to Toph and Anko as they watched Hei set up in the ring against Kuina, bamboo swords at the ready. "So why are they fighting?" Zuko asked. "Kuina's one of our resident sword masters, and the only one here right now. Hei's never beaten her in a swordfight, and now he wants to test his abilities." Toph snorted, "Nobody's beaten Kuina in a sword fight. At least not from our generation. Zaheer and Hei are the only ones that have ever come close."

Zuko thought about the ease with which Kuina had demolished him two days before, "She's really that good huh?" "Yep," Toph replied. Hei and Kuina finally settled into ready positions and Tsunade, who was refereeing the fight so she could examine Hei's new abilities closely, leapt back out of the way, "Begin!" Hei and Kuina were still for what seemed like a long time, their faces creased in concentration.

Zuko whispered to Toph, "What are they doing?" "Their muscles are tensing and shifting constantly, but I can't really tell. Sword fighting's not my thing." "That's incredible," Zaheer said thoughtfully, having appeared behind them out of nowhere. Zuko jumped slightly as Toph turned and looked at him, "What is? What are they doing?"

Zaheer rubbed his chin, "They're feeling each other out. Kuina's always been a master of reading movement, even the tiniest twitch or shift in stance can allow her to predict what her opponent is going to do. She's almost never wrong, and she's always fast enough to make up for it when she is. That's why none of us can beat her. Now though," he stopped suddenly, his eyes wide as Hei and Kuina flew at each other, their arms and blades suddenly disappearing in a blur as they rushed forward. There was a loud crack and Kuina went to the ground clutching her shoulder, "DAMN IT HEI!" Hei looked at the broken sword he was holding with one hand and the matching one that Kuina had been using with both hands.

Tsunade rushed over, "Hei wins! Fight's over!" She quickly crouched to examine Kuina's shoulder, "That's incredible!" Kuina growled, "It's not incredible, it's painful!" Hei looked at the sword in his hand, "Sorry Kuina, I didn't think I was swinging that hard. That was supposed to be a feint. This must be some seriously flimsy bamboo." He took the handle half of the broken blade and snapped it in two with his hands like dry spaghetti, "I'm gonna have to get on quality control about this."

Zaheer picked up the half of Kuina's blade that had broken off and tried to bend it, it gave a little, but it didn't break. Zaheer tried to break it over his knee and only succeeded in hurting his knee, "No Hei, I think the serum Tsunade gave you just made you that much stronger." Hei looked at the unbending bamboo in Zaheer's hand, Zaheer had always been stronger than he was. Hei scratched his head, "Oookay, so apparently my strength has increased pretty dramatically. Let's find out how much."

He dropped down to do pushups, "Somebody sit on me." Kuina sat on him, "Okay." Hei promptly did a clapping pushup and nearly threw her off. She slapped him on the back, "Dammit warn me before you do that! Tsunade, come sit on him." Tsunade sat on him. Hei did another pushup easily. Toph and Anko sat on his shoulders at the same time. Hei strained a little. Zaheer sat on him and he almost didn't make it, "Okay, looks like my upper limit is about three hundred and sixty kilograms." They all got off of him and he pushed himself upright, a grin spreading across his face, "Let's see what all else I can do..."

Two Days LaterEdit

Hei's firebending proved to have been increased in equal proportion to his physical strength, and he was dispatched to the front lines the next morning, Harvi in tow along with three of the girls that had been brought back from Kyoshi, one of which had been given the Dragonfire Serum. Tsunade was incensed that she had been ordered to stay behind, but she had brightened up when told that she was being given the go ahead to continue her research and find more test subjects. Now the island was constantly echoing with howls of pain as she cheerfully administered the serum to several of the soldiers on the island.

Zuko found Toph sitting in the bar, talking to one of the two girls from Kyoshi that had been fawning over Hei since they got there. She had apparently also been given the serum, because her hair was now a golden blonde. She spun on her barstool as Zuko walked in, "Hey there cutie!" Zuko stopped, blinked, looked around in confusion and then pointed to himself questioningly. The girl nodded and Toph looked over her shoulder, "Hei left you a present. Says keep practicing while he's gone and listen to your uncle more."

She turned back to her drink and waved a piece of rolled up paper, "He also left you a letter. Said I should give it to you." She held it out to him without turning around. Zuko walked over and accepted it only to be nearly knocked to the ground as the blonde girl tackled him in a hug and planted a kiss on his lips. He held her at arm's length in surprise, "Um, do we know each other?" The girl smiled innocently, "No, but Hei said I should keep you from getting too gloomy, so I thought I'd start with the basic stuff."

Zuko blinked, totally befuddled by the attention, "Okay. Can I read my letter?" She sat back, "Of course you can! I can wait." She sat back on her stool and spun back around to her drink. Zuko sat down next to her, keeping an eye on her wary of being hugged again. Zuko opened the letter and started reading.

Well Zuko, it looks like I won't be able to teach you after all. I've been deployed to the Zao Province to break a particularly stubborn fortification that's hampering our advance towards Ba Seng Se. I don't expect to be away for more than a month or two, but while I'm away, my team will continue to aid your hunt for the Avatar. Baozha technically has the greatest seniority on the team, but Zaheer is his equal in rank and will probably call the shots. Zaheer's an ass (and you can tell him I said that) but he's a reliable one and a good soldier (DON'T tell him I said that). Zaheer thinks a lot like me, apart from some differences that frequently put us at odds with each other. You can rely on the team I've put together, they're the best or I wouldn't have called them.

You probably noticed my rather explosive quarrel with P'Li right before I left, yes she and Zaheer will probably be romantically involved by the time you read this. Ghazan's a good guy, you can trust him as much as he can trust you. Ming Hua's a sweetheart, but she does love to tease people. Don't mention her arms, she's sensitive about it and will kick your ass if you offend her. Baozha is as good a soldier as I've ever seen, and one of the most formidable. He's taught me a lot, and if you can learn his combustion technique you'll be next to unstoppable.

Toph means the world to me, so be nice to her. She's not happy that we've been split up, Zuko shot a glance at Toph and saw that her expression was indeed a dark and unhappy one before turning back to the letter, she'll probably be in an ill humor for a while, see if you can get Ghazan and Ming Hua to help you cheer her up. Zuko thought about trying to talk to the armless water bender and gulped slightly before reading on.

I've left you Kya. She will do everything in her power to ensure your happiness, so be nice, because while she will never do anything to hurt you, if I come back and find out you've been an ass to her, I WILL make you regret it. Zuko looked at the cheerful young woman that had kissed him and wondered who she was that Hei would be protective of her before continuing, You're probably curious about who she is. Toph can tell you when Kya's not around. Zuko made a face, of course he wouldn't give a straight answer.

Continue training with your Uncle, and ask him to train Kya as well. She has had the Dragonfire Serum and I've examined her abilities. The serum took to her very well, she was the second most successful of the three subjects we tested it on before I left. She is now extremely strong and fast, not as strong as I am, but still very strong. She also has a great deal of fire bending potential now. She will be a very good companion for you and I encourage you to embrace her as one.

Give your uncle my regards, and if I thought you'd need it, I'd wish you luck with the Avatar Hunt. Really though, he'll never get away from the team we've assembled. Zaheer already knows what to do with him when you catch him, just listen to the team, and you'll be alright. Unless you do something phenomenally stupid of course.

Until next time, Hei

PS, I know it's tempting, but do NOT under any circumstances take the Dragonfire Serum. Tsunade has determined that it reacts to chi, the more raw power a bender has the more dangerous the serum is. By her calculations I had a one in four chance of surviving it. You have a one in ten chance at best. Do not take the serum unless you wish to die, and even then, don't. Annoying Ming Hua would be much easier and quicker.

Zuko blinked and folded up the note. Kya leaned over towards him, "Dooone?" Zuko looked at her in confusion, "Yeah, why?" Before he knew what had happened Kya was in his lap kissing him. He shrugged as a smile spread across his face and kissed her back.

Two Nights LaterEdit

Zuko finally managed to catch a moment alone and found Toph in the bar. She was staring at her drink with a glum look on her face as Zuko sat down next to her. "Hey Zuko," she said quietly without looking. She sat back and took a drink, "You're here to ask about Kya right?" Zuko blinked and then nodded, "Yeah, how'd you know?" "Hei read me the letter he left you before he left. I knew you'd be along to ask sooner or later." She sighed through her nose and kept staring into her drink for a long minute.

Just as Zuko was about to open his mouth Toph started talking, "Do you remember those girls that kicked your butt on Kyoshi Island?" Zuko blinked in confusion, "Yeah, why?" An odd smile quirked across Toph's face, "We caught them. Brought them back with us." Realization crashed over Zuko like a tidal wave, "Wait, you mean Kya...and her friends...they're...?" Toph snorted with laughter, "No, not anymore."

Zuko frowned in confusion, "What do you mean not anymore? Either they are or they aren't." Toph smiled at him, "You really are naive. There's no black and white in our world. Everything is a little bit of everything else. We're all connected. I'm a little part of the earth, it's a little part of me. I'm part of Hei, and he's part of me." Her grip tightened on her mug and her expression betrayed her internal turmoil at being separated from him for just an instant as she continued, "And those girls are the ones you fought, but at the same time, they are very much not the same girls you fought."

She was quiet for a few minutes and then as Zuko was about to ask what she meant, "You don't know anything about Hei's abilities do you?" Zuko blinked, "Well he's a firebending prodigy right?" Toph snorted, "He's a lot more than that. He's one of the Ye Gui Li's best interrogators. Do you know why?" Zuko opened his mouth to reply and Toph cut him off, "Who am I kidding, of course you don't. Nobody outside the Ye Gui Li knows about that technique." Zuko frowned, "What are you talking about? What technique?"

Toph sat forward, "It's arguably the scariest thing in the world. He can completely rewrite a person's mind." Zuko sat back in surprise, "He can what?!" Toph smiled, "Yeah. I'm not entirely sure how it works, but I know it does. When we caught those girls, they were terrified of us and knew they had been born and raised on that island. Now they think they're from the Fire Nation. Their minds provide explanations without them thinking about it for any discrepancy of facts. Hei says that if they ever come up against irrefutable proof that their memories are a lie, they'll immediately pass out and forget everything they've learned over the past week. It's a technique that's been passed down and refined by the Ye Gui Li for thousands of years. Hei's one of the youngest people to ever master it, and he uses it whenever the mood strikes him. It struck him that night and now those girls are becoming Ye Gui Li agents and the one that was their leader is a firebender and off with him and I'm here."

Her eyes scrunched closed and the mug shook slightly in her hand. Zuko blinked as he realized how upset she was. Time to change the subject, he thought, "So, you said it's been used before, what's the Ye Gui Li use it for?" Toph smiled, "Our great grandfather and your great uncle used it to kill Avatar Roku." Zuko sat bolt upright in surprise, "What?!"

Toph smiled, "Yeah. You know how Roku was killed by a volcano? They made him set it off himself and then walk into it. Everyone thought he was fighting it, but he was actually making it worse. Grandfather says Great-Grandfather even worked the technique so profoundly that Roku thought he was fighting the volcano and imagined Fire Lord Sozin arriving to help him to no avail. I don't know if that bit's true, but that's how Roku really died." Zuko stared and Toph smirked, "Just turned your world on its ear didn't I?"

Zuko nodded, "Yeah." A few minutes later he got up and left. Kya caught him at the door, "Hey wait!" Zuko paused, "What? What is it?" Kya turned him around, "Go ask her to dance!" Zuko blinked and looked at her in shock, "WHAT?!" "She's miserable! A good dance will cheer her up! Go! Scoot scoot scoot! I'll fire up the band."

Zuko wasn't entirely sure what he was doing and felt quite certain Toph was about to kill him, but he walked over to her. The band started playing just as he reached her, "Hey um, Toph, you uh, wanna dance?" Toph's face lit up immediately, "Hells yes!" Zuko found himself dragged out onto the floor and a moment later was trying hard to keep up with Toph as she proved herself to be a fantastic dancer as the dance floor filled up. They danced all through the evening, Toph going long after Zuko had run out of energy and retired to the sidelines.

Kya rested her elbows on his shoulders and her chin on his head, "She's really beautiful isn't she?" Zuko nodded as he watched Toph spin and dance around the dance floor, her green eyes flashing with delight in the fire light, "She is." Suddenly something nudged Zuko's arm. He jumped slightly as he saw Ming Hua sitting next to him a smile on her face as she watched her best friend, "Thanks for cheering Toph up. It's awful when she's sad." Zuko blinked and smiled, "You're welcome but really it was Kya's idea." Ming Hua smiled, "Well then thank you too Kya for getting Prince Grumpy-butt to cheer Toph up." She rose slightly and planted a quick kiss on Kya's cheek, "Pass that on to him for me will you?" Before Zuko or Kya could react, Ming Hua had turned to the bar, "Hey Ghazan! Get out here! I wanna dance!" Ghazan leapt over the bar, "Yes ma'am!"