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We Have All the Time in the World

Sokka had a perfect view from the floor, wrapped in chains, as Kori aimed the Fire Arm she had looted from Longshot's body at Mai's head and took the shot. Time seemed to slow as the trigger clicked, and Sokka saw Mai start to twitch just before the hammer of the Fire Arm snapped down and ignited the explosive powder within the weapon. The projectile moved too fast for Sokka to see, but smoke exploded out of the mouth of the golden dragon molded into the barrel, and in this slowed-down state he almost thought he saw the individual particles of dust swirling in the air.

"Nooooooooooooooooo!!"

The only clue that he was one screaming was the raw feeling of his own throat.

Then time snapped back to its proper flow- there was probably a Timebender off to the side somewhere, freezing things up the way Katara did when she was in a frosty mood- and the results of the shot were visible.

Mai was minus a dumpling-shaped hairbun on her left side, and from the same space a long bang was now hanging free. It swung out as Mai spun and reached behind her back. Sokka caught of glimpse of something white hanging down Mai's back, dangling down from somewhere in her hair to lie flat against her sleeveless undertunic, and then she yanked it free of its string and whipped it into the air. Kori managed to shift the Fire Arm just in time to prevent the knife from sinking right into her chest, and the blade- white like bone- clicked off the gold skin of the Fire Arm right near the trigger. Kori gave a little cry and pulled her right hand away to reveal a finger gushing blood.

The whalebone knife, Sokka's present to Mai twice-over, clattered to the ground right beside him.

Heh. Even when she missed, Mai was on target.

While Kori started swinging the Fire Arm around like a club and Mai ducked beneath it to grab for some of her surrendered knives, Sokka wormed over to the whalebone weapon. His hands were pinned to his sides by the chains he was wrapped in, but that was fine. Kori had secured them with a rock latch behind his back that she made from the spiked head of the meteor hammer with her Earthbending. Now, Sokka angled the knife in his hand, pressed it against the latch, then lifted himself up, and flopped back down on his back to smash the floor against the knife, the knife against the stone, and neither the stone nor the knife against his soft yielding flesh if at all possible please.

There were metal blades designed to break rock, and Sokka had seen Mai do the same trick even with lesser knives by focusing her energies into her strikes. Sokka, however, couldn't do that type of thing while tied up, and most cutting edges would be ruined by the kind of rock that Kori had chosen for her weapon.

Sokka, however, had first-hand experience with the toughness of elephant-whale bone.

Although it hurt Sokka to damage a good blade, there was an undeniable sense of satisfaction when he felt the stone latch shatter from the impact even as the bone itself cracked along with it.

He shook the chains off and pulled out the garrote with which Sneers had tried to kill Kori in the most brutal breakup that he had ever heard of. Then he made his own feelings about Miss Morishita clear by kicking the chains over at her feet and leaping at her with the garrote ready. The chains tangled haphazardly around Kori's ankles. She came to halt, but swung the Fire Arm out towards Sokka. He caught it around the barrel with the cord and then did a quick wrap'n'yank to pull it out of Kori's grasp.

Then she punched him in the face and Sokka went down again hard.

Slush.




Mai was fully immersed in the fight, and as soon as Kori was rendered weaponless, her mind started breaking down the individual steps that would lead to victory.

Even as Kori was shifting out of her haymaker stance and groping at her feet for the chains of the meteor hammer, Mai was stepping forward and twirling her knives into reverse grips. She sliced in at Kori, and the other woman raised her arms defensively as though blocking a punch. Mai's blades were very much not blunt objects, though, and the blows drew long red lines across Kori's skin. Even that was just a set-up to the next stage, in which Mai swung the handles of her knives outward again to smack Kori's arms wide and away from her body. With Kori's center exposed, Mai twirled her knives again, shifted her wrists, and lunged.

Each blade jammed between Kori's ribs, one on each side.

Kori made a wet gasping sound, and looked Mai straight in the eyes. Although the skin around them was scalded and weeping, the eyes themselves were healthy and not without a brown beauty.

Mai stared back without emotion, yanking her blades back out, and turned away from those eyes. She heard Kori tumble, and glanced back to see the other woman fall over the edge of the platform to the cavern floor below.

It ended with a crack.

Mai relaxed her fingers and let the knives drop to the floor. They were good blades, but she didn't want them anymore. She never kept the weapons and equipment used for the dirty work.

Never.

The Mechanist always complained about that.

The cool air of the cavern licked hungrily at Mai's bare skin, and she indulged in a single shiver before locking the whole situation away and putting her mind on the task of getting herself back to a state of safety and comfort, preferably involving a cup of tea, several layers of silk robes, and food that wouldn't explode when handled roughly. A hairbrush would be good, too.

"Mission accomplished," she whispered.

Mai turned to find Sokka staring at her, and raised her sharpest eyebrow.

In response, he walked over and threw his arms around her.

It was a strange feeling. Sokka's arms were bare, as was his intriguing wont, and Mai herself was in something less than a state of proper dress, leading to significant skin-to-skin contact. She couldn't remember the last time she had so directly touched someone. At least, in a nonviolent way; fingers jammed in eyes, as was sometimes necessary in her line of work, didn't count. The sensation was even more personal than the way Sokka had held her when they danced the night before, warm and scary and comforting and weird all at once. It was something she thought she might like more of, time permitting, and made forgetting about Kori much, much easier.

It was Sokka who pulled away first. "Wait, we aren't done yet. Wasn't there a ridiculously dangerous Fire Nation weapon thingy that should be classified with all those secrets mankind isn't supposed to know?" His eyes shifted around, and when they finally came to a rest, Mai followed his scrutiny to the Fire Arm itself, lying harmlessly on the floor beside them. It really did look like something the spoiled teenagers of Ember Island would use to inhale mistweed vapors, the stuff Ty Lee had experimented with before declaring that her body was a temple to nature and nature had some very specific ideas what got through the doors, even on holidays. Yet, it was a weapon with the potential to end the world. Sokka gave voice to her thoughts: "So what do we do about it?"

"We make a very quick decision. Zuko is coming this way." She nodded over at a different angle, not where a group of Firebender soldiers were running towards Kori's unmoving body, but where Zuko was leading a bunch more of his troops towards the ladder.

The ladder leading up to Mai and Sokka's platform.

Sokka scrambled to pick up the Fire Arm, and looked over at the pile of clothes Mai had shed before. "Do you think you can hide it in your robes?"

Mai blinked and considered that. "Um, maybe if I had fine rope and more than a minute. I can't just stick it down my pants and hold really still."

"Um." Sokka blinked a few times, probably trying to picture that, and shook his head. "Okay, we need to get rid of it, then? Throw it over into the pit? You can make that throw, even with something this heavy."

Mai liked that idea, but then something occurred to her. "No good. You think Zuko wouldn't search down that pit? Miners went down there, so his soldiers could, too. And that's assuming no P.H.O.E.N.I.X. thugs are still waiting around to grab this thing."

Sokka slumped. "So what do we do?"

Mai looked around the platform, seeking inspiration. The section of hair that had been freed from her missing bun whipped distractingly at the edge of her vision, but she ignored it the same way she ignored Ty Lee when the acrobat got to babbling about auras. (What was it about trouble that made her think about Ty Lee so much?) The bullwheel and its mechanisms were still grinding away, but Mai doubted that the gears would be enough to destroy the Fire Arm beyond all recognition. Maybe they could hide it in one of the haulers or giant buckets and try to recover it later? No, that wouldn't work, and it would be creepy if they wound up using the one that for all Mai knew might still contain Longshot's corpse. Then her gaze fell on some wooden crates all the way on the far side of the platform, and she felt her eyes widen when she deciphered the characters on the side. "You wouldn't happen to have any sparkrocks on you?"

Sokka blinked at her. "Yeah, but wh- is that a box of blasting jelly caps?"

Mai allowed herself a smirk.

By the time Zuko got up to the platform, the Fire Arm was nothing more than a glint of gold falling down into the mining pit, and shortly after it was lost to sight, there was a sound like a hundred Fire Arms being activated all at once, and a light struggled to rise out of the darkness, but ultimately failed. The cause of so much trouble was no more. Zuko could only stare at Mai, and it took him a long moment to find his voice. "Was that..."

She nodded. "That was the weapon."

"...The weapon?"

Mai nodded redundantly.

The skin around Zuko's good eye tightened.

Sokka inched away from the other boy and moved closer to Mai.

She almost expected Zuko to turn colors, or snort smoke or something equally tantrum-like, but then he relaxed and actually chuckled, a sound Mai hadn't heard since before she could write. He looked at her, shook his head, sighed, and started climbing down the ladder. "I just wish all my betrayers were as thoughtful as you." He disappeared from view, and beside Mai, Sokka let out a heavy breath.

She was going to say something very clever, but then she realized that the echo of the explosion was getting louder- no, the echo had passed, but the cave was shaking now, and getting worse by the second. The edges of the mining pit began cracking, and a large piece of the rim on the far side of the hole crumbled and plunged into the darkness. Sokka looked at Mai, looked back at the mining pit. "I think we used too much blasting jelly. Shall we go with Zuko?"

"The worst he can do is arrest us. Let's get out of here."

They retreated with the Fire Army, leaving Kori's body in her crumbling tomb. After everyone emerged back into the sun, the mine said goodbye with one last massive cloud of dust, and then the earth itself revoked access, permanently.




Zuko did arrest him, but in Sokka's opinion he was very nice about it. There was no yelling, no growling, and he had his guards use some nice smooth rope instead of chains and manacles. The Prince Regent put both him and Mai in Sneers' massive, empty mansion and forbid them from leaving, something he called a 'house arrest' which Mai had to explain was a common punishment back in the Fire Nation's capital for nobles who broke the law but didn't actually tick off the Fire Lord. (She implied the latter kind of transgression was infinitely more fatal.) Sokka, who in his youth had once been confined to a single igloo with three other people for a solid week of the worst winter in the history of the Southern Water Tribe, just shook his head and didn't say a word.

He and Mai were pretty much the only people in Yu Dao still under lockdown, though. Zuko had emptied the city of most of his soldiers to supply the battle down in the caverns, leaving just enough to help the local militia keep the peace in the sudden vacuum of tyrannical authority. While Mai passed the time throwing playing cards at a hat she found in one of the closets, Sokka watched out the windows as the people of Yu Dao got used to a city that didn't have soldiers on every block. The citizens worked together to distribute food, and maybe Sokka was a little biased, but it looked to him like more of the packages flowed towards the bigger houses. He liked to think that the other neighborhoods, with their scrapyards and old brothels, had their own supply chains that he couldn't see from this cavernous mansion, but he resolved to tip Aang off to make sure. There was more work to be done in the colonies than simply thwarting organizations of megalomaniacs and destroying weapons from out of tales of evil spirits. Those kind of situations were more common than Sokka would have expected a week ago, but people couldn't be saved just by adventure alone.

Thanks to Sokka and Mai's efforts regarding said crazy people and crazy weapons, when the Earth King arrived the next day with his own army, he found a free Yu Dao and Zuko's disarmed forces camped in a nearby valley. The Earth Army in turn picked out its own valley to temporarily settle, and messages were sent to politely ask the Avatar to give up his now-irrelevant negotiations with Azula and please come help make sure both sets of antsy soldiers left without incident, thank you.

While everyone waited, a single visitor showed up at Sneers' mansion. Mayor Morishita, it seemed, had the authority to override a house arrest, or else the two constables outside- who indirectly worked for the man, of course- were under that impression. Sokka and Mai received him in the parlor, and as soon as he stepped into the room, he plopped into a chair and slumped like a wilted snow flower. "The Fire Regent told me what happened in the caverns. To- to Kori."

Sokka stiffened in his own seat on the couch, and threw a glance back where Mai was standing behind him. She was completely blank, of course, and if she had any feelings about the matter, she was hiding them well. As Sokka had witnessed firsthand, those robes could hide quite a bit, and not even in the implied sexy way that most men would be thinking of when using such a turn of phrase. He faced the Mayor and said, "I'm sorry."

Morishita nodded. "Thank you. I still can't fathom how she got mixed up with whatever was going on down there. It would be easy to blame that Sneers boy, but- but I knew his uncle, and Kori seemed to like them both so much. I can't imagine that she could be that wrong about someone. I can only think... that Kori and Sneers thought they could stop whoever had stolen the weapon, but-" His voice broke. "They aren't professionals like you and Lady Mai. Why would she think to try?"

Sokka's jaw dropped. Huh, Zuko was getting good at lying, wasn't he? He supposed it made sense to cover up the truth, in this case. As Sokka himself knew well, lies were weapons just like any other, and they could be used to defend the innocent just as much as they could be used to destroy your enemies.

Still, Sokka resolved that however nice Zuko could be with his helpful troops and silly house arrests, they would never play a game of cards together.

With a whisper of silk, Mai stepped forward and bowed to the Mayor. She wore her hair differently now, eschewing her usual tailed style in favor of a complicated set of loops in the back, but the portion of hair left short by her lost bun was free to dangle beside her face, and it hung low as she dipped. "I wish we could explain it to you, sir. Rest assured I intend to track down the people ultimately responsible for this whole incident. In my capacity as a professional, of course."

Sokka had to resist the urge to grin. Mai knew a thing or two about lies, too.

They chatted a while longer, with the Mayor describing a note he got by messenger hawk that both Aang and Azula were coming to help peacefully settle the situation, and that their discussions hadn't been entirely pointless. "The letter didn't go into details," Morishita said, "but it said they had decided that the Harmony Restoration Movement was in need of revisions, and as long as the Earth King was here, they wanted to get his approval for their compromises."

Sokka let out a breath, and felt some chronic tension leave his body with it. "I might be giving warriors everywhere a bad name with this, but I really do like it when problems can be fixed without another round of fighting. As much as I want to take my club to some of the people we have to deal with, it's nice when talking actually works."

Mai rolled her eyes at him before once again donning her mask of indifference.

The Mayor eventually took his leave, leaving Mai and Sokka alone in the mansion once more. It had been a situation that Sokka was pretty sure wouldn't meet the approval of his Gran-Gran, but the 'one thing led to another' that happened was very much not what Gran-Gran would have imagined. A comment about Mai's tendency to throw playing cards when knives weren't available led to discussions about all the various objects that could become deadly weapons when thrown fast enough, which in turn led to a brief war of flung chopsticks (Sokka lost), which finally led to a dinner that could be eaten with their hands without too much mess. It wasn't until after they had enjoyed their fill that the subject of Them came up.

"So," Sokka said as innocently as possible, "where do you think you're heading once Zuko forgets he arrested us?"

Mai was idly twirling a toothpick like one of her stilettos. "Let's cut to the chase and admit that you're really asking if we'll be leaving together or in different directions."

"Um, okay."

Mai flicked the toothpick onto her plate and crossed her arms over her chest. "I stand by what I said. I don't want to be alone anymore, I want to be with you specifically, and I like that our lives will provide us with interesting times."

"I sense a 'but' in there."

"...no crude wordplay?"

"I didn't think you were the type to like butt jokes."

"Hm. Well, if you come up with any really good ones, you have my permission to give them a try without fear of stabbing." Her lip twitched. "The 'but' is that I'm not very experienced with balancing life. I've been Azula's tool, I've been the dutiful daughter, and I've been Iroh's secret agent. Doing more than one thing, and making them work together, is... new."

Sokka smiled. That was the most adorable hang-up about a relationship he had ever heard. "Do you might if I offer suggestions? At the appropriate moments?"

"That would be acceptable. Incidentally, now would be an appropriate moment for a kiss." Sokka happily indulged her.

Afterward, they leaned back to their seats and Sokka decided that he had enough room for another moonpeach after all. While he bit into the fruit, Mai reached for her toothpick and said, "Do you think Zuko and Azula came to an agreement this easily?"

Sokka grimaced in the middle of swallowing and as a result had to deal with a minor brush with death by choking before he could respond. "If they did, it was hopefully with less way kissing."

And so the days passed until Sokka heard a familiar monstorous groaning sound echo in the skies above the city. He jumped up immediately, scattering playing cards all over Sneers' parlor. "That's them!"

"Great." Mai laid her own cards down. "Let's find out if we really managed to save the world, or just pushed off war for another few weeks."




The Avatar came, Mai dragged Sokka out of Sneers' mansion without waiting for Zuko's permission, and the armies were finally sent back where they came from to prepare for the next potentially fatal misunderstanding.

A few days later, the world leaders assembled for another party in Mayor Morishita's front hall. Mai was inclined to skip it, but Iroh arrived just before the festivities and promised to serve tea for the occasion. The tea itself wasn't much of a draw for her, as Mai could get it anytime back in Ba Sing Se, but Iroh didn't like to see antisocial behavior in his best agents. Better to save her antisocial tendencies for when he wasn't around.

The party started with the speeches this time instead of saving them for the end, and Aang kicked things off with a short welcome that was long on platitudes. Zuko took over from there, and Mai could once again hear the speechwriter behind his words. Surrounded by the other world leaders- Aang, Azula, the Earth King and his generals- Zuko explained from the top of the main staircase, "...renegotiate the Harmony Restoration Movement. The colonies will still be transferred back to the Earth Kingdom on schedule, but his majesty the Earth King has agreed to grant every city and province a one-year grace period, at the end of which the people may decide their own fate. Referendums will be held, and based on the results, each colony might stay with the Earth Kingdom, return to Fire Nation rule, or declare sovereignty either as a single city-state, or as part of a recognized league. The Avatar will oversee..."

Mai listened from the crowd, invisible in a new hair style and green clothes.

Or rather, almost invisible.

Sokka stepped around several of the Yu Dao elite to settle at her side. "I'm surprised you came."

Mai eyed him. "Speeches are boring, but it's not like I had anything else to do."

Sokka smirked at her, and then lifted his chin in the direction of the staircase, where Zuko waved to polite applause and stepped aside for the Earth King to add his own comments. "I figured you'd want to stay away from Azula. It's one thing to know that you're alive, but it's another to actually be within lightning-spitting range, you know?"

"I do." Mai smirked back at him. "But even Azula isn't infallible, and you might have noticed that I enjoy a certain amount of danger."

"Speaking of danger, did you see General Iroh, before? He must have left Ba Sing Se as soon as the lockdown was lifted, but I don't know how he could have no so quickly."

Mai gave a practiced shrug. "He has his ways, and he was highly motivated. He hugged Zuko as soon as they laid eyes on each other, and proceeded to give him a lifetime's worth of berating. Zuko deserved it, but even I felt a little sympathy for him seeing it in action."

Sokka chuckled. "So did Iroh have anything to say about P.H.O.E.N.I.X.? Did he have a mission for you?"

Mai brushed her stray lock of hair aside. That was starting to become a habit; she hoped she would be able to get over it when the hair grew back in. "He never heard of it before, but you can bet that the White Lotus will be looking into it. He didn't have an immediate mission for me, though, so I guess it's back to boredom."  Mai thought about leaving it there, but as she said, danger made her feel alive, so she added, "Unless you have some suggestions for keeping things exciting?"

He looked over at her with wide eyes, and then displayed a smile so huge that it almost pushed his eyes shut. "Well, Aang and Katara are going to busy overseeing this new Harmony Restoration Movement stuff. The first colonies were given back to the Earth Kingdom a year ago, so they're coming up on picking their own fate and stuff. But they're not expecting trouble or anything. It's just about being there to set a good example for the world. Nothing they need dangerous secret agents for."

Mai shifted her weight so that her arm- with that same stupid bare shoulder style that he had liked on her other dress- was pressed against Sokka's. "So are you up for a little traveling, maybe?"

"That sounds pretty good. I never really got to explore the Fire Nation, aside from helping to conquer some of it. That really cuts down on the tourism possibilities, you know? And if Zuko and Azula now know you're alive, it'd probably be polite to let your family in on the secret. Open secret. Is an open secret a secret?"

That was an interesting idea. Mai wasn't getting her hopes up for her parents, but Tom-Tom should be speaking by now. She wondered if he knew how to say her name. "That's one goal. Before that, there's a circus in the southern Earth Kingdom I should really track down. It'd be nice to surprise Ty Lee, for once."

"You know what you call two goals that lead into each other?" Sokka waggled his eyebrows. "A plan!"

"How novel."

"I... I have to admit, my plans don't always go smoothly."

"Yes, I recall you running naked through an enemy tourist trap, at one point."

"Hey, that was just an amazingly unlikely sequence of events. Not repeatable. So don't get your hopes up."

"If you say so." Mai showed him a small smile, and then noticed that the crowd around her was in motion again. "I guess the speeches are done."

Sokka went up on the tips of his toes and peeked around. "Yeah, looks like they're setting up a dance floor again. Aang never gives up an opportunity to boogie."

Mai brushed her stray lock of hair away and held out her hand. "Shall we?"

"Since when do you want to dance?"

"I crave danger, remember. So trying not to make a fool of myself in front of you while avoiding Azula's notice? And it will be fun escaping if she sees me and the ash hits the wind. For now, though, I'm still a secret agent. The cover I'm adopting is a bored heiress doing her duty, and the only thing keeping my character sane is the prescence of her Lover." His hand settled into hers, and she led him deeper into the gathering. "Guess what part you play?"

But, of course, he already knew.

END

MAI WILL RETURN

IN

THUNDERBOLT
Trapped in Yu Dao 8
And so we come to the end of my massively self-indulgent little Maikka adventure. :D The text at the bottom of the story is not necessarily a promise of a sequel, it's just part of the 007 pastiche. I feel like this AU deserves at least one more entry to bring things to a lasting conclusion, but I have no idea how I would do it yet, although I know I wouldn't do another Bond-style thing for that. However, if I feel the need to do more purely-for-fun Maikka adventures, this is a handy AU to work in, what with all the worldbuilding I've already put into it. So maybe there will be more, and maybe not.




Sequel to Trapped in Ba Sing Se

PREVIOUS

Mai (now a Secret Agent of the James Bond variety) and Sokka (still just a meat-head) wind up trapped in Yu Dao, the newest Most Important City in the World, and deal with mystery, murder, and their strong attraction to each other. Written for Maikka Day 2014.

Beta work by Lunatique.
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License to Thwart

Kori's 'dining room' proved to be the boxy stone hut out past the workspace where her minions were either putting together a doomsday device of some kind or just setting up a non-guild factory. As they got close to the coffin-like structure, she could even see that there were little curtained windows built into the otherwise plain construction. Mai guessed that Kori herself had used her Earthbending to create the whole setup. The group circled the building and drew closer to the mining pit and its crane, but most of the details of the superstructure were lost in the mix of shadows and crystal glare. Then they finally reached the hut's entrance, and when Mai stepped through it, she was greeted by the sights and smells of a proper Fire Nation dinner. The carved wooden table was long enough to accommodate eight people and plenty of dishes, but as far as Mai could see, she and Sokka were the only guests.

Kori sat down at the head, and immediately reached for a plate of dumplings. "Please, take any chair you like."

Sokka gave Mai a wide-eyed stare. "Is this common in your line of work?"

"Like you wouldn't believe." She turned to Kori and said, "You don't mind if I use my own salt, do you? I import the good stuff from the Fire Nation's Cuo Island; as everyone with any speck of class knows, it does the best job bringing out the food's flavor." She reached slowly behind her, to the knapsack she wore at the small of her back, and withdrew her jar while Kori watched with eyes like a raven-eagle. Once Mai opened the lid and showed the contents, Kori relaxed. Mai took the closest seat and put the container of salt beside her plate, then grabbed for a bowl of fire flakes.

If she was going to have to flip out and start a fight, she didn't want to eat anything heavy.

Sokka slid into the chair next to hers, and began attacking the spread with a gusto Mai had only ever seen from Iroh, but with far less grace. If she was going to keep him, she'd have to teach him a little something about table manners. Then she turned back to Kori, and decided that Sokka's bad habits were more than worth the look of disgust on the other woman's face. It was as close as she'd likely get to horrifying her mother the same way. "Feel free to share my salt. So, how did you find out about the Fire Arm?"

Kori's eyes met Mai's as she took a pinch of the little crystals, yet nothing came of the small confrontation but some slightly salty dumplings. Almost with disappointment, Kori shifted her interest to a goblet of lily wine and took a sip. "I learned of the weapon from Sneers, of course. He lied when he said he didn't know what his uncle was working on. I convinced him that telling people otherwise would only complicate the situation and keep the authorities from discovering who really killed his uncle. He knows I'm more knowledgeable about the ways of cities than he is."

"You arranged the murder."

"Yes. Sneers had some friends, a pair of Freedom Fighters from his rebel days, who came to Yu Dao. You've met them, so to speak: Longshot and Smellerbee. My apologies for the violence; they had orders to remove any interference, and you did chase them. When I first met them, they were rather put out over Sneers retiring to live in the lap of luxury, and I convinced them that he needed to be cut off from his new lifestyle. Stealing the Fire Arm was meaningless to them at first except as a way to ruin the relationship with the Fire Nation, but eventually they realized its potential."

Mai poured herself her own cup of wine. "Potential for what, specifically? Do you really want another war?"

Kori pushed her plate away, and leaned over the table with an intent look in her eyes. "Yu Dao doesn't need acts of pity like the 'Harmony Restoration Movement.' The colonies have grown into our own culture, our own nation! We can raise an army, and if every soldier has a Fire Arm, nothing can stop us from establishing our sovereignty! The Fire Nation is weak; the Regents and people let their land be taken, and surrendered a war they had been winning for a century. The Earth Kingdom has no will; that joke of a King gave the Fire Nation its lands back in exchange for peace, when he and his allies could have wiped their enemies out completely! Both nations will acknowledge the colonies as their equal when we rise up, and I will command the war forge here in the peerless mines of Yu Dao. As soon as the forges and assembly machines are built, I will unveil the Fire Arm to my chosen servants, and we will manufacture enough to wipe out any force that stands against us. Even the Avatar can do nothing against the power of the Fire Arm!"

Sokka made a choking sound at that, but Mai didn't let her reaction show. She tossed some salty fire flakes into her mouth like she didn't have a care in the world, swallowed politely, and said, "That's very... ambitious. You realize that raising an army is a fairly vast undertaking?"

"Of course." Kori leaned back and smiled. "No need to tease, Lady Mai, I understand that this is a bit much to take in. But you see, this isn't some wild flight of fancy from a bored heiress with too much time and money on her hands. I'm providing the weapons, but I'm just a small part of the effort. I was contacted soon after Fa Ming finished the Fire Arm and wrote to the Fire Regents. I was told everything they had arranged, that they wanted to hide the weapon away. Our organization has people everywhere. The Fire Nation. The Earth Kingdom. Even the Water Tribes. We are a group that sees the potential in the colonies, acts with the strength of the Fire Nation of old, and is dedicated to the idea that only the people with the proper passion and power will profit from the new world. We are... P.H.O.E.N.I.X.!"

"Phoenix?"

"No, P.H.O.E.N.I.X."

"Well." Mai took another sip of her wine. "I have to say, this is a little more than I was expecting."

"Naturally." Kori threw back the rest of her wine.

"And whether or not this organization really exists will affect how I respond to this. If you're just a crazy kid stealing experimental weapons, that's one thing, but a real movement to create a militant breakaway state?"

"I understand your concerns, but you needn't worry. My master- the head of our organization- knows about you, Lady Mai. He wants me to give you a chance, and I'm happy to do so. You're a superb warrior, and the type of agent we can really use. You've seen how weak the old nations and their leaders are, and you chose to strike out on your own. It's a shame you're working for a failure like General Iroh, but we understand that you didn't have many other options. We want to show you what we can offer. My master would like to meet you."

Mai glanced over at Sokka, and then leaned forward and smiled at Kori. "That's perfect. I accept."

"I expected you to." Kori clasped her hands and smiled sweetly. "But you understand, you'll either join us or die. I'll need you to surrender your weapons and submit yourself to our care. If you're sincere, then there won't be a problem."

Sokka swallowed a mouthful of food and cleared his throat. "Um, what about me?"

Kori blinked. "You... ah..."

While the other woman stammered, Mai casually reached into her jar of salt and took a pinch, while her other hand twisted the top to the right, and then smoothly let go and threw another dash of crystals over her fire flakes. Then she grabbed Sokka's shirt, threw him under the table, and dove down after him. Mai heard a loud crack echo through the cavern outside the dining room, and the back of her chair exploded into splinters that fell to litter the stone floor. Sokka squealed something about someone shooting the Fire Arm through the little room's windows, but Mai was too distracted to respond.

She was counting.

At two, she rose up and pushed against the table. She struggled with its weight, but then Sokka joined in and the thing rose up. At three, she tilted the table back towards where Kori had been sitting, and all the food slid off to crash to the stone floor.

At four, her jar of salt exploded, battering the heavy table, and the air suddenly stank of peanut butter.

Amidst the chaos, Kori screamed.

Mai let go of the table, grabbed Sokka, and yanked him towards the door, but before they could escape, the floor bucked beneath them and she went flying. Mai tucked into a ball and hit the ground in a roll that was only very painful. When she came to a stop, she was back out in the large cavern. Mai looked around for Sokka, but he was nowhere to be found. Behind her, the dining room's exit was now sealed by a newly raised stone slab. The windows likewise shuddered and stretched to seal themselves.

Dragon droppings.

Kori was still alive, and Sokka was trapped with her.

Then there was another echoing crack, and a spot of floor near Mai exploded into a small barrage of stone chips that stung her skin. She looked up and into the distance, and spotted a glint of greenish gold glittering just below the mining pit's scaffholding.

Longshot and the Fire Arm.

While the distant sniper reloaded, Mai pushed to her feet and ran around to the other side of the freestanding dining room. The structure would shield her from view, and maybe she could find an open window through which she could daringly save Sokka from certain death just like-

Mai came to stop. Here on the other side of Kori's playhouse, the machine workers were all visible, and they were looking back at Mai with both interest and a certain degree of hostility. Now that she was analyzing them as a threat, their numbers seemed offensively large.

But this threat, she could fight.

Mai smirked and whipped her sleeves free from her wrist launchers.




Five steps from the door, the ground jumped beneath Sokka and his legs tangled up beneath him and he dropped like an elephant-whale trying to fly out of the ocean. When he looked up again, the door was gone.

So was Mai.

Then Sokka heard footsteps behind him, and reached for his boomerang while he turned to face-

-Kori, whose face actually wasn't looking so good. The burn marks weren't as bad as Zuko's, but without a Waterbender healer, there was no way they were going to heal nicely. Her twisted, furious expression probably wasn't doing the injuries any favors, either.

Sokka tried to brain her with his boomerang, but the Earth moved to flip her away and she pulled her meteor hammer from her belt. As soon as she landed she threw the spiked rock-head straight at him. Sokka swung his club, expecting to deflect the other weapon the way he used to knock Mai's flying knives out of the air, but the hammer head did a little dance in midair and turned to wrap the trailing chain around the shaft of his weapon.

Kori pulled the club right out of Sokka's hands, and then clutched her fist to make the floor beneath his feet rise up and form clamps up to his ankles. He windmilled his arms to keep his balance, but Kori grabbed his shirt and yanked him so that he face was hanging right in front of hers.

"Let's see how cooperative that traitor is," she slurred, "with you as my captive."




The thugs rushed towards Mai, only a few bringing their hammers along as weapons, which she took to mean most of them were Benders of some kind. She fired off crescent blades from her wrist cuffs, and once again the shirshu venom did its work and the victims immediately decided they had important nap-related work they couldn't miss. With them massed in a group like that, though, Mai had trouble making sure that each body took just one blade, and the press of bodies didn't let a few losses of a few individuals stop them from surging closer.

Or from raising flames and rocks to throw at Mai.

She fired more blades, but her wrist launchers started making insistent clicking sounds, and she realized that the stream of sharp metal had stopped.

She'd have to do this the old fashioned way, then. It was a shame, not just because she'd likely get hurt, but also because she was almost certainly going to have to strike without concern for life.

Mai drew a pair of razor discs, and stood her ground.

Then a ragged chorus of war cries echoed through the cavern, and Fire Army troops began streaming into sight.

Against all good sense, leading them was a figure with gold trim on his armor and extra points on his helmet. Unlike all the other Firebenders, his face was left visible, including the dark scar over one eye. When he saw Mai, he made his way over to her, and she acknowledged him with a nod. "Good timing."

"I can't take credit. Something exploded and I figured that was as good a time to push in as any." Zuko gave a quick look around. "Who are we looking for?"

"I'm going after Kori Morishita. You can stay here and handle the less delicate operations."

Zuko frowned. "And the weapon?"

"If you find it, you can have it." She didn't bother mentioning that it had already been fired at her once in this cave already, just like she hadn't told Zuko what the weapon was in the first place. "Don't you have a battle to lead, glorious Fire Regent?" Mai left Zuko to get on with that, and ran off back to Kori's little rock bungalow.

She had a Sokka to rescue, and a Fire Arm to recover.




"Would you believe that this isn't the first time a crazy would-be little conqueror-girl has dragged me along with her as a hostage during an attempt to escape a half-baked all-stupid ambush?" Kori clenched both her fists, and the stone clamps around Sokka's ankles tightened painfully. He bit back a groan and tried to make himself meet Kori's glare, but with portions of her face now resembling strips of jerky it wasn't an easy prospect.

"If you know how this works," she growled, "then I don't have to convince you that if you cause me more trouble than you're worth, I'll kill you in a heartbeat." She broke off the staredown, turned to the nearest 'dining room' wall, and used her Earthbending to shape a new door right in front of her. Sokka stared past her to see where she was taking him, and was pleased to see that the scene in the cavern had become a little war between Fire soldiers and Kori's thugs.

It seemed that Zuko had finally learned how to do good timing. Sokka had been skeptical of the Prince Regent's capabilities back when Mai outlined her plan to scout the caverns while Zuko moved his troops into place and set up to invade. It couldn't be denied, though, that the guy had come through. That was good. Really good. Now Sokka just had to figure out how to use this to somehow get free, defeat Kori, and save the day.

No problem.

"So," he drawled, "you know that whole plan you had to arm a rogue uprising from your fancy little cave with its pretentious dining room? Yeah, that's just been buried in a big ol' pile of slush, now. Those are Zuko's troops. Even if you have another hidden surprise that can win this battle for you, Zuko knows where you are. He can come back with his whole army, the Avatar, and even his crazy sister. And if they don't want to bother, I'm sure the Earth King will be all over it. You've lost."

Kori stomped a foot, closing up her new door and cutting off the sight and sounds of the fighting. She whirled on Sokka, who couldn't help but jump when her burned face swung back into the center of his vision. "Do you want to die? Is that it? Keep talking, snow savage."

Sokka held up his hands in a peaceable-type gesture. "Hey, no need to start dehumanizing me with unimaginative slurs against my nation; I just don't want anyone else to get hurt. Your scheme is over. Surrender, help us end this, and we can work something out. Please? You have nothing to lose, at this point."

Kori smiled, a hideous twisting of her face. "Wrong. I can lose my chance to kill you and Lady Mai for my master. And why would I want that?"

Sokka deflated as much as he could with stone clamps locking his feet against the floor. "Great. See, I saw the parallel from the beginning. You and Azula are both crazy killers who don't know when to quit."

"I'm not like Azula! I won't fail like her! And I won't go back to being Colony Trash!" She took an Earthbending stance and moved her hands in a circular motion. A piece of the floor dropped away in the same shape to reveal another mining passage below. Kori hopped down, and the clamps on Sokka's ankles slid over into the hole and dropped to follow her. "My servants still have the Fire Arm, and no one else even knows about it. I can rebuild elsewhere. P.H.O.E.N.I.X. will rise from the ashes!" She took a low bow stance and flung her arms out wide like wings, propelling her forward to glide along the rock. Sokka's stone shackles were pulled along behind her, dragging his feet across the uneven stone floor with enough speed to make him ramp off the bumps in the crudely carved tunnel.

It was just as well that the bumpy travel kept Sokka from delivering more of his wonderfully clever banter, because he was pretty sure that Kori wouldn't appreciate his criticizing her use of metaphors that were tired back when Azulon first noticed the Water Tribes.

Behind them, he heard something like an avalanche, and light streaming down into the tunnel was cut off like the lid had been laid down on a coffin.




Mai returned to Kori's crazy underground dining room just in time to see it collapse into rubble.

Her innards went cold and the only thought that was able to grind its way through her frozen brain was that she had just witnessed Sokka's death, but Mai didn't need warmth to operate. The gears and springs in her head shook off the ice and got moving again, and she remembered two things: Sokka was too resourceful to die in such a way, and Kori was an Earthbender.

Okay, then. Time to find someone with answers.

Mai began running around the pile of rock rubble towards the mining pit she had seen earlier, towards the crane mechanism that had been built over it like a bridge to the Spirit World.

She ran towards the source of the earlier shots.

She ran towards the Fire Arm sniper.

Kori hadn't said who was 'Smellerbee' and who was 'Longshot,' but Mai was willing to be that the one with the aiming skills was Longshot. He fired again as she ran, but Mai was zigzagging like Ty Lee on a sugar rush, doing her best to throw off not only his aim but also his expectations. As she closed in on the pit, she was able to make out the details of the scaffolding above it, and was surprised to recognize some of the components. It was a lot like the mechanized gondola system used at the Boiling Rock prison her uncle ran back in the Fire Nation, but instead of standard people-carriers, it supported an odd assortment of platforms and buckets ranging in size from just large enough to fit a person to bigger than a Fire Nation crawler-tank. A series of thick lines were strung out between two wide towers on opposite sides of the pit that could carry loads back and forth between them, but the towers were also connected by a line of scaffolding into which additional engines had been set. Mai guessed that they could be used to lower and raise things out of the pit, before the the loads were shifted over to the towers. It must be a pretty deep hole to require that kind of complex setup.

As Mai neared and another shot missed her, she pinpointed Longshot standing waist-deep in a bucket-like carrier dangling right over the center of the pit. That certainly isolated him from the rest of the battle and let him take potshots to his content. Mai would have to climb her way over there while dodging fire, and then fight Longshot in a daring midair battle, if she wanted to be difficult about things. Instead, she spotted the controls for the whole mechanism, and threw a knife at the 'On' switch. With a clunk, the engines started up, sending Longshot's perch swaying and starting to carry it back to the closest tower. Mai looked forward to meeting him there.

Then something fast and human-sized bolted out from a shadow, and Mai was disheartened to realize that Smellerbee intended to run interference for her friend. Well, she had no intention of fighting a trained swordswoman again while Longshot got himself stable and took potshots at her.

With a sigh, Mai dashed over to the scaffolding and began climbing, a sword-wielding ragamuffin right behind her.




There was a light at the end of the tunnel, but Sokka was quick to realize that this reflected neither death, rebirth, nor an end to being hauled around through old mines by a crazy girl with an inferiority complex bigger than Appa's backside. Kori skated into the light of more glow-crystals, and Sokka was dragged along behind her. They skidded to a stop in front of a little jail cell. A portion of the wall had been dug out but left in shadow, and metal bars- probably made from the oh-so-slushing-annoying Yu Dao steel- cut the space off from the main tunnel.

Sokka turned to Kori and brought his hands up as if he could ward off bad ideas. "You don't want to do this. Look, hostages only work if the other side believes you actually have hostages, and Mai is really a stab-first-and-realize-there-were-questions-to-be-asked-later kind of person. Not that I'd shed a tear if you got yourself killed trying to intimidate Mai, but it would inconvenience me a little if you died and no one knew I was down here."

"She's not here to imprison you," came a husky voice from beyond the bars. "She's here to finally deal with me." A rounded shadow moved out of the darkness of the rest of the cell, and Sneers stepped into the light to grip the bars.

Sokka's jaw dropped. "You? Here?!" He turned to Kori. "You are the worst girlfriend ever!"

Neither member of the couple (ex-couple?) paid Sokka any attention. Sneers stared at Kori, and gripped the bars hard enough to whiten his knuckles. "If Sokka's here, then you've been found out, just like you were afraid of. You're panicking, Kori."

"No! I can fix this! I just need to kill Lady Mai. She's probably fighting your Freedom Fighter friends now. If you help us kill her, I'll let you go. I really did like you, Sneers, but I have a duty to my people I can't ignore. Mai is Fire Nation, anyway. She probably killed lots of people during the war."

Sokka was going to object to that, but before he could, Sneers grunted, "Fine. But then Longshot, Smellerbee, and I are leaving. I don't want anything more to do with Yu Dao."

Kori sighed. "I wish you could have accepted my vision, but I understand." She brought her fists up, bent her arms at the elbow, and then made a yanking motion. The bars of the cell slid down into the earth, and Sneers stepped out. As he walked over to Kori, he reached up to smooth his hairbun and bangs, and then-

-and then he pulled out the cord that held his hairbun in place and wrapped it around Kori's neck.

Both of them went down in a struggling heap, making noises that could never be confused for the sounds of lovers. Kori was gasping and choking with a shallow timbere that spoke to the lack of air passing through her throat, while Sneers was grinding out grunts of, "Traitor!" through gritted teeth. Kori was pulling at the cord around her neck while her face turned colors, but then she collapsed and let her hands fall to the floor.

Then the stone of the floor rose up to meet her hands and cover them like gloves.

Her first punch merely shook Sneers. Her second weakened his grip. Her third rocked him back and left him struggling to stay off the floor. Her fourth put him down.

Her fifth stilled him one last time.

Once the fight was over, Kori lost her manic strength. She panted and struggled to rise, and eventually had to lean against the cave wall to manage it. It would have been a great time for Sokka to strike and defeat the villain like a true hero, but Kori's distraction and weakness didn't have any effect on the rock she had willed to keep Sokka's feet locked into place. Once she caught her breath, she looked back at Sokka, muttered, "Just you, then," and once more proceeded to skate along the stone tunnel and drag him behind her on an invisible Earthbending leash.

At least she hadn't noticed him grabbing Sneers' improvised garrote while she had been recovering from the fight.

The cave started sloping upward, and Sokka bided his time while he abided by the universal hostage code.




Mai flung herself up the last few rungs of the ladder so that she spun in midair, and pulled out a pair of razor discs the moment her boots touched the metal flooring. As soon as Smellerbee's head popped up over the edge of the platform, Mai let fly with the discs, but Smellerbee's reflexes were too good and she let go of the ladder to drop down a rung. Mai had only taken a step forward when Smellerbee reappeared, using the momentum of her fall to swing herself up onto the platform. Her landing was half stumble, so by the time she recovered and drew her weapons, Mai had a pair of knives ready to deflect the swinging swords.

Mai backed away along the platform. She had plenty of room here, as this platform was where cargo would be loaded and unloaded from the crane-like elevators. It stretched out perpendicular to the cables running out over the mining pit, and a mechanized bullwheel was mounted in the center to turn the looping cables and move the cargo haulers back and forth over the pit.

As Mai gave ground against Smellerbee, one of the larger haulers, big and blocky like a tank, swung right in front of her, forcing both fighters to hop back to avoid getting hit. These haulers were nothing more than giant metal boxes, but the top half of every side was cut out to allow full visibility. It swung around the bullwheel, and then passed back out over the pit to travel to the opposite tower.

By then, Mai and Smellerbee were crossing blades again.

Smellerbee was quick and mobile, forcing Mai to fight likewise, but that wound up being helpful in other ways, too. Another crack echoed throughout the giant cavern, and a loud clang sounded where Mai had been standing a moment before. It was Longshot, of course; his bucket had stabilized enough to allow him to shoot again. And now he would be drawing closer to Mai, while Smellerbee kept her too distracted to do anything about the sniper.

Mai decided to user her talent for messing with people she didn't like.

Another tank-sized hauler swung over the platform, and she broke away from Smellerbee to run towards it. She jumped aboard and threw herself flat so that the half-walls would shield her from the Fire Arm. Wu Gi said it could punch through personal armor, but Piandao's sword had resisted it, and the metal of the haulers was thick and solid enough to manage mining operations. Her hypothesis turned to fact when she heard another crack and the wall near her clanged with the impact of the shot.

Ha! Deal with that!

Then the hauler shook again, and Mai looked up to see Smellerbee coming to a landing right in front of her.

Mai spun to her feet and flowed into a sidestep as she drew her knives and took a defensive position. That brought her to the other end of the hauler, putting her a few paces away from her opponent.

Mai and Smellerbee eyed each other, looking for an opportunity to strike, sure that her opponent was doing the same. "Sneers said you guys used to be Earth rebels. Did you and your friend with the Fire Arm lose your scruples, or did you miss the fact that Kori has delusions of Fire Nation nobility and she's working for an organization named after the mythical fire bird?"

Smellerbee's grip tightened on her swords. "The Fire Nation is evil, but the Earth Kingdom isn't any better! We went to Ba Sing Se, and that city killed our leader and handed Fire Regent Zuko the world on a plate!" She stabbed out, but Mai retreated a step to put her back up against the wall. The hauler shook a bit with their movement, but both kept their balance. "If Kori wants to make a new nation, Longshot and I will help it happen!"

"And your friend Sneers? I notice he's not around. Did he not buy into this? Or does he hold a grudge against petty things like murdering his family?"

Smellerbee stabbed again, but this time Mai struck out at the blade with one her knives and knocked it wide. Smellerbee brought her other sword up to defend, but that was fine with Mai. She smacked her knives against that blade, too, and was pleased to see Smellerbee wince. "How's your arm? Was it only this morning that I stabbed it?" She moved forward again to press the advantage, but Smellerbee recovered and met her attack. The two traded ground, dancing around each other in the limited space of the hauler. Mai might have been able to push through Smellerbee's defenses, especially with her opponent wounded, but doing so would have meant staying still for a moment, and she was acutely aware that behind her Longshot probably had the Fire Arm loaded and ready to shoot. She let the duel run on while her hauler was carried out over the mining pit, allowing the timing of its movement to embed itself into her senses.

Then, when the feeling came, she feinted at Smellerbee and then broke off as the other took a defensive position. Mai grabbed the pipe-like edging of the hauler's corner and swung herself out to slice at Longshot just as his bucket passed alongside. He must have been expecting it, though, because he brought up the Fire Arm so that the blade on the underside was facing Mai, and used it to deflect her slashes. Her momentum swung Mai around again and she brought her knives up to catch Smellerbee's blades. As the two vehicles moved apart, Mai purposefully kept her back to Longshot as she once again deflected a set of sword swings.

She reached into her own instincts, the nebulous senses that pierced through all manner of distractions to tell her when she had a perfect shot, and for once willfully identified as a target. She saw herself at the focus of piercing eyes, translated her own movements into a discernible pattern, and judged things like distance and breathing and shadows and all the other factors that went into a perfect shot.

In the instant just before Mai's instincts would have her throw a blade with enough strength to make it a streak of light, she dived to the floor of the hauler.

There was a sound like a firecracker, and when Mai looked up, Smellerbee had a hole right in the center of her chest armor.

Before Smellerbee could even think about falling over dead, Mai stood up and pushed the other woman over the short wall of the hauler to fall into the dark depths. She turned around, and saw Longshot standing in his bucket as it was carried away. He was staring with complete shock, his eyes wide enough to burst, and his grip on the Fire Arm was loose. Apparently, he still had one friend he couldn't stand betraying.

Before he could recover or be pulled too far away, Mai ended his misery with the throw of a single blade. Longshot didn't move until it struck, and then he and his weapon both dropped to the floor of his bucket and out of sight.

Some problems just couldn't be settled reasonably.

It was time to take stock of the situation. Mai was now moving towards the tower on the far side of the mining pit, and she could see that, in the distance, the fight between the Fire Army and the P.H.O.E.N.I.X. minions seemed to be winding down. There were a lot more of Zuko's soldiers standing than Kori's minions, and Mai saw no sign of the girl herself. Nor did she see even the smallest flicker of the color blue.

The hauler was pulled into the tower, passing over its main loading platform, but Mai stayed in her ride. It would be a quicker way to get back to the other side of the mining pit, and time might be an issue if Sokka needed her. As she passed out over the pit again, Mai did an inventory of her knives. Her wrist and ankle launchers were all empty, and she was down to just a handful of knives on her actual person. That was the problem with Flying Daggers style. It took a lot of daggers. She redistributed for ease of access while trying to think of a plan. Kori- most likely taking Sokka with her- had gone underground, but where? Probably back to Yu Dao, to make cat-doe eyes at her Mayor father and get some kind of protection, at least long enough to get in touch with this crazy terrorist group she claimed to be representing. Mai would never be able to figure out which tunnels would lead back to the city, so she'd have to get outside again and ride her eelhound back.

The hauler pulled in to the tower where Mai had started her airborne journey and she jumped off, ready to head straight for the ladder down to the cavern. If Zuko tried to stop her, she'd just have to-

And then Kori stepped out from behind the bullwheel and turning mechanism, the Fire Arm in her grip. She kicked a figure out along with her, and Sokka tumbled into view, wrapped in the chain of her meteor hammer.

The Fire Arm was aimed right at his head.

The viciousness of Kori's smile was only enhanced by the burns all over her face. "Hello, Lady Mai. Let's have you back up a bit, so that these haulers don't get in our way, and then I want you to put your knives down on the floor. All of them." She poked Sokka's head with the dragon-shaped barrel of the Fire Arm, and added, "I've used this before, so don't think you're fast enough to stop me."

Mai knew Kori was right. All it would take was a little finger pressure, and those one of flying pieces of lead would be flying through Sokka long before any blade of hers could reach its target. So, teeth gritted but face utterly blank, she stepped out across the platform in the direction Kori had indicated. Then she began pulling her knives one by one and laying them out on the floor. She put out a fair number, enough to satisfy Kori, and then raised her hands. "All done. What next, exactly?"

Of course, Mai knew what was next. Kori wanted to kill her, and then kill Sokka. Giving in to her would accomplish nothing but playing for time, but time could be as valuable as gold, as valuable as dinner to the starving. Zuko and his troops might finish up and come looking for her, or Mai would get an opportunity to throw one of her last blades right between Kori's eyes.

Kori smirked. "Since you carry so many blades around, why don't we make sure you didn't forget one or two? It would be a natural mistake. Take off your clothes so that I can be sure you're completely disarmed." She poked Sokka with the Fire Arm again.

He, in turn, grunted. "You've threatened me already. Doing it over and over just makes you look insecure."

Kori poked him a third time, harder, and it took all of Mai's self-control not to taunt the other woman mercilessly. That wouldn't accomplish anything just now, and considering that Kori was crazy, flinging sarcastic comments would be too dangerous even for the worst action-addict.

Mai took off her black overvest, revealing one set of empty holsters for her knives, and then shed those as well and dropped them beside her weapons on the floor. Next, she shed her red blouse, revealing yet more blade repositories, and the sleeveless top she wore below that. Kori poked Sokka again when she saw the two razor discs that Mai had 'accidentally' left in their sheathes, so she doffed all those holsters and added them to the pile. Next, she undid her belt and got rid of her outer slacks, showing off some leg, her shortpants, her Piandao sword strapped to her right leg, and a dangling work belt that normally would have had its pouches stuffed with razors, but now had just one that glistened in the light of all the glow-crystals. With a sigh, Mai deposited the sword and the belt on the pile with the rest.

She raised her hands again. "So, you want me to go down to my wrappings, or is what I'm wearing tight enough to prove that I don't love knives nearly as much as gossip claims?" It felt strange to be underground, on a battlefield, without the weight of at least her layers of sheathes to insulate her from the world. Even at the beach, she wore several holsters with stainless steel blades hidden away.

Sokka looked stricken, but Kori just shrugged and said, "That's enough, Lady Mai. I have no desire to humiliate you in front of your boy here. You may keep what modesty you have... and take it to your grave."

Then she raised the Fire Arm to point straight at Mai's head and pulled the trigger.

TO BE CONTINUED
Trapped in Yu Dao 7
Sequel to Trapped in Ba Sing Se

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Mai (now a Secret Agent of the James Bond variety) and Sokka (still just a meat-head) wind up trapped in Yu Dao, the newest Most Important City in the World, and deal with mystery, murder, and their strong attraction to each other. Written for Maikka Day 2014.

Beta work by Lunatique.
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You Only Explode Twice

One world on the brink of war.

One Earth Kingdom army marching to Yu Dao.

One horrifying weapon in the hands of assassins.

One engineer's assistant dead in her hideout.

And one dangerous, funny, powerful, loyal, secretive, lonely woman missing.

Sokka had failed to save Wu Gi's life, but he didn't really blame himself for that like he did for Yue's death because there was only so much a guy who couldn't Waterbend- or, more specifically, Waterheal- could do about a hemorrhaging wound. Wu Gi had died quickly, and he barely had any time to regret that before he rushed out of the former brothel to see if he could find the assassin, or at least the Fire Arm weapon used to do the deed. When Sokka rushed outside into the dusty Yu Dao downtown, though, there was nothing to see but a confused crowd and a gathering of inquisitive soldiers. Sokka looked back at them. "Um, anyone see a mysterious killer person carrying what looks like the biggest and fanciest mistweed pipe ever run away followed by a crazy knife woman who isn't really crazy but just sometimes looks that way with really shiny hair?"

The crowd stared back.

One young lady pointed behind her. "I kind of saw people who kind of looked like that kind of run thataway?"

A Firebender soldier pushed through the crowd. "What's this about mysterious killers and crazy knife women? Has there been violence?"

Another soldier, this one armed with a spear, slipped out of another spot in the crowd. "Did I hear explosions? Or was that fireworks? What's going on here?"

A man in green robes shoved out of the crowd and brandished a tray hanging from his neck. "Anyone here want to buy sausages? Hot and sizzling, made from fresh iguana-dogs!"

Sokka ignored all of them and pointed in the opposite direction of the young lady, shouting, "Is that a 400-foot-tall purple platypus bear with pink horns and silver wings?"

Everyone turned to look.

Sokka ran away.

He plunged into the press of people and, just like back on Ember Island a year ago except this time he wasn't naked, was glad of his lanky build. He threaded through people with a minimal amount of rude bumping because he was nice that way, at times even dropping down and crawling when things got too thick to run through. That got him away from the soldiers, which was a good thing since there was no telling who was with Zuko and who was doing the dirty work of that metal-mouthed Baji guy, but there was absolutely no way to track Mai's path through the crowd. Well, no way without asking. Judging himself far enough away from the original scene, Sokka turned to a barrel-chested man. "Hey, I'm looking for a friend. Scary, runs on rooftops, brandishes knives as a matter of course?"

The man pointed.

Sokka jogged off again, trying to fit in with the thin pedestrian traffic now that he was away from the scene of the murder and the assembly of gawkers. He went a short distance before stopping and asking again after Mai, but three people in a row had no idea what he was talking about.

Uh oh.

Sokka circled back again, looking for a sign, and practically stumbled over a spot of blood in the middle of an oddly shaped space between several buildings.

When he saw the blood, a big wet patch with a deep impression like a body had been lying there, he did stumble.

He was back on his feet quickly, looking around for signs. He found the knives first, and yeah, they were definitely Mai's. Sokka stuffed them into his belt, and kept looking. Next he found a short sword, really good quality, but the blade was damaged: there was a pockmark in the flat of the blade filled by what looked like a malformed metal ball.

His stomach flipped when he realized he was looking at the work of the Fire Arm.

Then Sokka's eyes fell on something else, and this time his stomach almost quit and went home.

It was another knife lying in the dirt, but not one made of metal.

It was his knife. The one he had carved out of bone. His present for Mai.

He had carved it specially for her, making sure it was balanced properly for throwing once he learned how a throwing knife was supposed to balanced. Mai was his friend, of course, and he was grateful for everything she had done once she was done being an awful Fire Nation villain, but she was so alone in her life now. She traveled the world, hunting down people who needed to be stopped, but she didn't seem to have anything else. Her family and old evil Fire Nation friends thought she was dead, Ty Lee had gone back to the circus, and Mai traveled so much that she didn't even have a real home anymore. Sokka wanted her to know that no matter where she went, he was still her friend, and he was always willing to support her.

The thought of Mai seemed to stick with Sokka more and more, and the knife was supposed to be a reminder so that he would stick in her thoughts, too.

Mai was gone, and the knife had been left behind covered in someone's blood.

The pace of Sokka's search doubled, and in the paths out of the alley space, he found footprints. Heavy footprints. Lots of footprints. Standardized footprints that looked like they had been made by the dozen. Fire Army bootprints.

They had come, and Mai was gone.

Sokka realized there was only one thing he could do.




Mai was lying strapped to a table in a dark room, while a freak with metal teeth loomed above her and promised death.

She quirked an eyebrow. "Please. If you wanted me dead, I'd be dead. Your soldiers could have killed me back in that alley. Assuming they're incompetent at their jobs and only accidentally took me alive, you still could have killed me before I woke up. Instead, you strap me down and wait for me to wake up so that you can play the second coming of the Agni Warrior and terrify a prisoner? Sorry, but that's not going to work out for you."

Baji chuckled, a hollow, metallic sound. "I was stationed in Omashu, you know. Under your father's command, I oversaw the deployment of the Western Bridge Unit. Bumi and his main army had surrendered, but some of the people and guards had put together a small fighting force. We rode the extending bridge over to the wall while they chucked rocks at us. They faded away quickly once we started firing back, but your father needed heroes to fete, and so I got a promotion. Master of Security for the entire city."

Mai rolled her eyes as theatrically as she could manage while was shackled down on her back. "Congratulations. Did you seriously strap me down so that you could exposit your full career to a woman who couldn't run away? Because the term 'captive audience' isn't actually supposed to be taken literally, you know."

"Well, it's hard to pin people down when you can't throw knives very well, Lady Mai. I make due with what I have." He clicked his chromed teeth together and turned to pace around her. "I was serving to the best of my ability when Princess Azula came to collect you, and I was still serving when she came back with her brother to report your capture by the ruthless rebels of Ba Sing Se."

Rather than think about that, Mai twisted against her binds, but they resisted her strength easily. She also used her movements to try and figure out how many knives she still had in her robes, and was dismayed to feel a complete lack of metal weighing her down.

"Tut, tut, Lady Mai, I had one of my soldiers disarm before you were even brought to this room. But by all means, exercise yourself against your restraints if you wish. In any event, by the time King Bumi drove me and my forces out of Omashu- along with your family, of course- I truly thought you were dead or locked away so deeply you would never be found. Not that I thought much about you after that." Baji gave a grin, an expression that was as fake as the ones Mai showed the world, and even in this dim light she could see the way his teeth tapered to points that could have come out of her own arsenal. "I took a rock to the mouth during Bumi's rampage. My soldiers had to carry me out of the city during their retreat, and the healing process was not quick."

"I am truly grateful that you're telling me this story. The hours of horrifying reconstructive surgery that you're implying you endured fill me with a glee I haven't felt in a long time." Mai raised her head and glared at him. "See, this is my happy face."

"I can see why Prince Regent Zuko likes you, Lady Mai. You have such a droll personality. I'm glad to hear you're pleased, but I had another purpose with this story. I have the pleasure of reporting to the Fire Regents, now. The Royal Siblings. But sadly, they are not their father. They lost the war. They have likely lost this mysterious weapon that can destroy the world, thanks to your interference the other night." Baji walked back over to Mai's slab, and once again stared down at her like a dragon from on high. "You're a traitor to the Fire Nation, and to your honorable family. Were you even captured in Ba Sing Se, or was that your planned extraction from Azula's side? Or did they turn you after they took you, in the cells beneath the ground, hidden away from the sun?"

Mai sighed and relaxed on her slab. Neither the glaring nor the struggling was accomplishing anything. "I'm just a professional doing my job. The Fire Nation had no more use for me, so I found private employment. I haven't done anything to hurt my homeland. Yet. I might murder one of its uglier officers soon, if I have my say."

"So optimistic." Baji walked away, into the shadows, and Mai heard him whisper, "Send the specialist in." A moment later, he reappeared within the light of the lantern on Mai's table, his grin now genuine and no less shiny for it. "Zuko is too weak to deal with you, so as his loyal servant, I will do what he should. I have indeed brought you here to die, Lady Mai. You will die in agony. Your body will be found in a horrifying state, and every moment of the experience will be etched into the features of that porcelain face of yours. We might have lost this mysterious weapon, but we will demonstrate what happens to enemies of our nation. Ah, here he is."

From past Baji, with a sound like a misfiring tank engine, a man strode into the light. A big man.

A big man.

Well, more like a runty mountain that happened to be shaped like a man. His Fire Army uniform couldn't hide muscles that were bigger than Mai's little brother the last time she saw him, and the man's shaved head revealed a symbol like an eye tattooed above his brow. One of his arms and one of his legs both glinted metallically in the light of the lantern and Mai couldn't suppress a snort. "What, does everyone around here have a rusty body part or two? Sign me up for metal hair, and then I won't have to brush it a hundred times every morning."

The man didn't react. He just inhaled deeply, and then let the air out.

With the breath, came a narrow line of pure glow out of his forehead, right from the center of the tattoo.

Where the beam of light landed on Mai's table, down between her boots, there was a sizzle like a cooking griddle and smoke erupted from the wooden surface. Even through her clothes, Mai could feel the heat coming from that thin stream of light. "What is this?!"

Baji chuckled, a sound made his teeth ring sourly. "We've had many new recruits in the Fire Army since we lost the war. In spite of our loss, or perhaps because of it, patriotism is running hot. My subordinate here, with his special power, is one of them. He's proven very useful, especially with unique tasks like this."

The searing glow began slowly tracing its way up the table, towards Mai's trapped body. She flexed against her restraints, not trying to break them, but rather using them as leverage to pull herself away from that beam of heat. She hadn't expected it to do any good and got exactly what she expected. "This is kind of slow, if you're going to kill me. I'll get bored waiting here."

"I doubt it, Lady Mai. You are afraid. You will grow more afraid. And by the time my friend is bisecting you with pure light and heat, you will be reduced to a terrified animal. And then you will die slowly, in more pain than you can possibly imagine, and your corpse will tell the story. But by all means, keep blustering. I won't be bored, I brought a book."

The light continued to move up, and Mai struggled to keep her expression blank. "I've seen the weapon, you know. It's still in Yu Dao. You're wasting time here with me while you could actually be doing your duty."

"I doubt that's true. But if you don't scream otherwise before you die, I'll look into the matter. I promise."

The light continued to move up. It was leaving a deep, smoking gash in the table, but the wood itself wasn't igniting. One the one hand, it was good that Mai wouldn't be burned to death, but she didn't feel like she was getting the better of the deal. "You know, when Zuko finds out about this, he'll kill you. I'm working for him now, and we used to be friends. And Azula! She hates it when other people break her toys. If you tell her I'm alive, you'll be rewarded, but if you kill me, she'll have those teeth of yours for a set of novelty letter openers!"

Baji continued to grin his ferric grin, and pulled a small paperback book out of a pouch in his belt.

The light continued to move up. Mai could feel the heat with the rest of her body now, and her legs felt like she had been lying out on the beach for too long. "My partner is looking for me. He'll tear this whole city apart looking for me. And you better watch out, because he helped end that war you care so much about. He'll hunt down my killer, and he won't stop until he rips out your heart. And he's Water Tribe, so he might actually have been raised to do stuff like that!"

"The buffoon?" Baji looked up from his book momentarily. "No, Lady Mai, he will not."

The light continued to move up.

And Mai suddenly got one last desperate idea. It wasn't a plea or a threat; it was nothing more than what she was good at. She flexed her right ankle, pressing against the leather strap to push the joint as far as it would bend. She put everything she had into it, and then put a little more, plus a bit to grow on just to be properly poetic about it. As far as Mai could tell, the only result was lots of pain and maybe a hyper-extension sprain, but she didn't let up. From her spot lying down, she couldn't see the position of her boot, so she'd have do this entirely by feel.

The light continued to move up. It was a finger length from starting to bisect her.

The light continued to move up, and just so happened to help Mai tiangulate the exact relative position of the giant metal-limbed man's tattooed forehead.

She kicked the back of her boot against the tabletop, and pointed her toes in a certain direction.

She felt the spring snap in the sole of her boot, and she just barely caught the glint of the metal stiletto as it flew through the air towards the light-spewing tattoo-

-there was a flash in front of his forehead-

-a crack like the Fire Arm only louder-

-the line of light and heat instantly died-

-something exploded and the force hit Mai hard enough to shatter reality.

The experience was something like how she imagined it would be to ride one of those stone carts down the giant slides back in Omashu, if the slides had gone in loops and Mai spent the entire experience with Tom-Tom perched her head and hitting her with a spiked club. It was further marred by the complete lack of sound that went with it; no sooner had Mai heard the crack of the explosion than her skull felt like it was splitting and her hearing became nothing more than a constant ringing sensation.

It took Mai several moments to realize that her table was no longer standing. To be fair, it was really dark. The lantern had either gone out or landed where its light couldn't reach Mai.

"I guess that guy's power," she said as she shook away the mist on her vision, "just went to his head." It was a horrible thing to say on several levels, but at least it proved that her hearing was mostly working and she could hear herself above the ringing.

She was still strapped to the table, mostly, but it was lying on its side, and the end that her feet had been strapped to had been knocked to pieces. Her wrist restraints were still fine, though, so she was left hanging awkwardly just above the floor. Everything ached, but that was nothing new in the life of a traveling warrior. She politely nudged the pain aside, told it she would give it an audience later, thank you, but there was pressing business to which she had to attend in a timely manner. She still had a spring-loaded boot to activate, after all.

With her feet free, it wasn't hard to fold herself up at the waist. Mai dragged the table over so that she could brace her loaded boot against the floor, and then aimed her toes in the general direction of her own head. Even in current condition, she had unflinching faith in her own aim, and that faith was rewarded when the stilleto shot out and pierced the leather strap on her right wrist without so much as scratching her skin.

Mai made a mental note to complement the Mechanist and his lab staff on the quality of their mechanisms, and then began awkwardly yanking at the strap so that it was being sawed against the blade. For anyone else, in might have been a dangerous effort, but even with her head clouded by her trip on the explosion express, Mai was confident that she would never draw blood from her own wrists.

The first restraint split, and Mai had a full limb free. After that, the other strap fell quickly to her blade.

The first thing she found was the lantern. It had landed in a corner, and although it had been shattered, the glowing crystal within was intact enough to give off light. Mai raised it above her head and looked around, but the result was disappointing. Except for the remnants of the table, there was little else to see in the windowless room. She found a pair of twisted metal things lying on the ground that- oh, those were the big man's arm and leg. Of the big man himself, there was no sign, until she realized that a large shadow on the far wall was less of a shadow and more of a stain.

Then Mai remembered that there had been another occupant in the room, before the explosion.

She heard a whistle of air and ducked, dropping her glowing crystal. Baji's fist sailed away while she turned and threw a perfect palm strike that should have laid her attacker low, but no sooner did she make contact with skin and puffy lips than pain exploded in her hand and prickled up her whole forearm.

"Ach!"

Baji chuckled metallically and grinned in the wan light. "Flesh and bone is nothing compared to metal, Lady Mai. In Yu Dao, and the rest of the world." He struck out at her again, a classic upward Cannon Punch, but Mai was already backing up and felt nothing more than the wind of its passage. She thrust out her stiletto to keep Baji away, but he casually threw out a Whip Punch that caught her on the wrist and knocked the weapon free of her grip. While the knife was still twisting in the air, Baji reached out and grabbed it.

Mai scowled as she backed away. "That's supposed to be my move. I'm pretty sure Azula actually had that put into law at some point or another."

Baji grinned. Of course. The man was truly a one-trick rhino. But this time, instead of speaking, he opened his mouth, stuck the blade of the knife in, and bit down hard.

The blade snapped in two where his teeth came together.

Ew.

Baji spit out the tip of the blade and chuckled. "Do I disgust you, Lady Mai? You play at wearing knives but can't stand to make them truly a part of yourself. That's why you're weak, and why I'll win."

"I like to think it's more that I'm sane and that's why I'll always stop freaks like you."

"And how do you propose to do that? You have no weapons, you have no real skills, and your painful attempts at banter prove you have no cleverness. What can you possibly do to me?"

Mai smirked. "I know all kinds of ways to-" And then she interrupted herself by kicking the glow-crystal off the floor and right into Baji's face. His teeth might have been metal, but his nose was the original ugly design. Rock collided with flesh and cartilage, and Baji dropped the broken stiletto as his hands flew up instinctively to his damaged face.

Then Mai turned his own trick around on him and caught the weapon in midair, then took it a stap further and jammed the broken-but-still-solid rod of metal into Baji's throat with all the strength she normally put into throwing her blades. As he dropped to the floor with a wet gasp, he stared up at Mai with equal parts surprise and outrage.

She gave a shallow bow. "Like I said, I'm not traitor. Just a professional doing my job." Then she pulled the stiletto out again and left him to die.

As soon as she had turned away, Mai pushed Baji out of her mind. He was a complication to her mission, and a personal danger who took things too far, and so she had taken care of the problem. There was no further point in thinking about the matter. The only awareness she felt about the act was her lack of pleasure, and the lack of any real sense of accomplishment.

Even Azula knew how to get things done without a body count. Well, without a personal body count; commanding armies in war didn't count.

Mai made her way out of the room and into a long hallway of metal construction. She blinked against the light shed by the ensconced torches and made herself look around. Unfortunately, the hallway looked very familiar. Mai didn't actually believe she had been here before, but she had nevertheless seen this type of thing enough to know it by sight. It was a boringly standard Fire Nation garrison base, made from designs approved by Fire Lord Azulon back when Mai's father was still hiding smutty 'Lady Rei!' picture novels from his own parents. She had visited places like this in the good old days of hunting Zuko and/or the Avatar for the Fire Nation (Azula had never been quite clear on what a mission to bring her brother back had to do with chasing the Avatar and conquering Ba Sing Se), and what Mai was seeing now- the lack of windows, the way the rooms were spaced out- told her that she was in the basement.

Underground.

Mai clutched her broken stiletto tighter. She would have to fight her way </i>up</i> before she could fight her way out, and it would be all too easy for the soldiers here to box her in and wait her out. The entire staff was likely personally loyal to Baji, so there was little reason to hope that Zuko's name would open any doors. In fact, the only reason to hope was for some comforting denial, and Mai didn't really go for that type of thing, so instead she began making plans. The explosion of the Burning Tattoo Man was big and loud enough that the whole building had probably heard it, so Mai had to assume they were on alert. They would be looking for an escaped prisoner, and they would attack without hesitation. Ideally, she would be able to get some real weapons, but they would probably be all locked down by now. Even if she could get some, Mai's hip was still sore from being grazed by the Fire Arm's shot, she had a persistent headache, there was still a quiet ringing in her ears, and her arms and legs were like jelly.

And she would likely have to fight every single soldier in the base before she could get out.

Mai began moving forward anyway. If this whole mission turned out to be a disaster, it wouldn't be for a lack of effort.

At least there was still a chance it would work out, even without her. Sokka was still out there, and Mai knew he could handle himself. He did just fine when she had tried to manipulate him in Ba Sing Se, and he'd do fine without her help now. For all his complaining, he did have some luck with him.

Strangely, Mai didn't encounter anyone as she moved down the hallway. She tried several doors, looking for weapons, but they were all locked. Mai's broken stiletto did little against the military-grade locks, and she didn't have the strength to really channel her energy into one of her special strikes, so she gave up and headed for the stairs. Several times, she heard sounds coming down through the ceiling that swirled through her headache, a vague cacophony that betrayed a definite urgency. The soldiers must have been getting ready for her, she supposed. They would hold the stairs against her, so she'd have to fight uphill while they chucked fire and spears and arrows and maybe even old furniture at her. Hopefully, her last stand would end with a good old-fashioned spear in the gut instead of a surplus chair bouncing off her head.

And then she turned a corner and found a Firebender walking towards her.

Mai took a stance and raised her stiletto. Against a Firebender, she would have to close quickly before he pinned her down, or else take him down now before he began a barrage. The broken stiletto was unbalanced, but Mai would have to make it work. In prime condition, she wouldn't be worried about it, but right now she was far from confident. She raised her hand for the throw-

"Wait! It's me!" The Mysterious Me removed his faceplate, revealing a strangely familiar face, with dark skin and blue eyes and-

Oh.

The stiletto fell from numb fingers, and reality swirled around Mai for a moment. He had come, stepping out of the shadow of hopes that Mai was too cynical to have ever considered. He ran over, and Mai let herself sink into the hug he threw around her. It was strange being touched like that; she was usually wearing a layer of knives between her and the rest of the world. It was almost painful, but perhaps that was just her injuries reacting to the strength of his arms as he squeezed her tight.

An eternity later, they reluctantly separated, and Mai said, "How?"

Sokka took her hands in his own and gave them a gentle squeeze. "I worked out that Baji had probably captured you, and I figured Zuko- Well, he told me back in Ba Sing Se about how as kids you two- Actually, I think I mentioned that to you already- Anyway, I figured he still cared enough to go against his own army guy- He didn't believe me at first so I kind of begged him- I didn't cry, I'm too manly for that- So he finally agreed to kind of attack his own garrison. Baji's troops didn't stand down, so we had to fight. We just secured the upstairs and I came down here to look for you. Are you okay?"

Mai gave the happiest sigh of her entire life. "Only for a very loose definition of 'okay,' but that's fine. I need some bandages and something for a headache, but I can manage." She realized that she was still clutching Sokka, and for a second she thought she should let go and prove how okay she was by walking out like the super-warrior she was supposed to be, but then she decided she okay where she was.

Then Mai decided something else, and kissed Sokka deeply.

When their lips parted, she looked him in his wide, surprised eyes and said, "Thank for coming for me. You saved my life."

"Uh, aha, you know, you saved my life a few times, but we haven't been keeping count, so-"

Mai gave him another quick kiss. "Just accept my gratitude. And get me out of here; this place is boring now that I'm not worried about fighting for my life."

"Okay, I can do that. Oh, wait, I brought something for you." He pulled a knife from his belt, a knife that glinted white like bone- the same knife he had given her outside the city.

Mai took it, and gave the solid handle a good squeeze before the weapon disappeared into her robes.




Mai had kissed him.

Mai had kissed him.

Mai had kissed him.

Mai had kissed him.

Wow.

It was-

It felt kind of great. It felt right. Completely unexpectedly, Sokka had no stressful thoughts or worries about it. Sure, he had some questions, but he could deal with questions. Questions were okay. Questions could even be fun, sometimes.

Mai hadn't turned into an illusion-casting Spirit monster by the time they finally found Zuko in the base's command center, so Sokka decided to accept everything that had happened as reality. The Fire Regent himself paced the room while his personal guard was rifling through Baji's records and stuff. Sokka waved as he approached. "Hey, look who I ran into!"

Zuko looked over, and when he saw Mai, he slumped with relief. "Baji did take you. I didn't start a civil war."

Mai's posture grew even stiffer, and her reply was as flat as the blades of her knives. "I'm fine, thanks for asking, Zuko."

"Oh, sorry!" Zuko finally seemed to notice how close Mai was standing to Sokka, and his eyes flickered back and forth between them. "I'm glad you're okay. That's why I came, and risked... I'm glad you're okay." He cleared his throat, and then continued, "Do you know where Baji is?"

"In one of the rooms downstairs." Her voice went even colder than usual. "More relevantly, he's dead."

"...Dead?"

"He tried to kill me. I tried to escape. Things got rough."

"I suppose so." Zuko shrugged. "Sorry you had to go through that. I never thought Baji would defy me like this."

Sokka couldn't help but bark a laugh. "Zuko, we've had some good times, so no offense, but you are not the best judge of character. The guy had metal teeth! Seriously, who does that?"

Zuko threw a lopsided glare at Sokka, but apparently didn't have a real reply to that, because he turned back to Mai. "Did Baji take the weapon? Is that why he kidnapped you?"

"No, he just wanted to execute me as a traitor to the Fire Nation. He still thought I helped break your lockdown at the funeral the other night."

"So it's still missing. And Sokka told me that Fa Ming's assistant was killed by the thieves, or someone working for them. Did you get a good look at the weapon?"

Sokka pulled Mai closer to him, and hoped she realized that he might have conveniently left out all the stuff they had learned about the Fire Arm. Sokka was thoroughly grateful that Zuko had risked so much to help him save Mai, but the idea of the guy (who, not to harp on it, had for a while devoted his life to capturing the Avatar for the baddest man on the planet) having a weapon like the Fire Arm, or even the idea of it, was what people who liked to be witty called 'bad news.'

"No," Mai said. "I was too busy fighting for my life. The thief had a friend with swords who had something of a pushy personality."

Sokka held back an exaggerated sigh of relief. Reactions like that, as natural as they felt, never really worked out right.

Zuko turned around and punched a plume of fire like a baby in a bad mood, or a cranky Waterbender with hair-loopies, and his guards paused in their work to make sure that he wasn't actually attacking. "So we're no closer to solving this problem, and now I have even less troops who can help me keep this city under control."

Then Mai gave a dismissive wave of her hand. "Actually, I figured out who took it."

Sokka squawked and looked over at her. Was she trying to get him back for saving her by seeing how many times she could surprise him in the space of an hour? "Seriously? When did you have the time to do that?"

"I've suspected ever since we talked with Wu Gi, and the more I've thought about it, the more it makes sense. But I don't know where we should start looking, now. Yu Dao's old mines are my bet, but-"

"But there are so many," Zuko interrupted, "and I don't have the manpower to do a real search of them. I can call for reinforcements, but that will take time, and this morning I got word that the Earth King's army is only a day away."

Sokka felt a grin growing on his face. "I can figure out which mine we need to worry about."

Zuko looked at him like he was expecting a punchline. "How?"

"I need some things from Wu Gi's lab, and Mai's stuff. Then I can tell you where we need to go."

Mai's lips brushed Sokka's cheek. "I should have started kissing you ages ago." Sokka's face warmed while Mai looked back over at Zuko and said, "We'll need every solder you have, to properly cut off the full mine. I read that some of them have passages that lead right back into the city, and I expect our opponent specifically picked one with that advantage."

Zuko looked at Mai, then turned his gaze over to Sokka, then looked back at Mai, and finally scowled at Sokka. "Don't think that I'm as reckless as I used to be when we were enemies. Are you two absolutely sure about this? We have no room for mistakes."

Sokka grinned at the self-appointed Fire Regent. "Zuko, buddy, if we're wrong, it won't make any difference whether or not we even try."




While Sokka went to raid Wu Gi's lab, Mai headed back to Sneers' home with some of Zuko's guards. No one answered at the front door, so she had one of the Firebenders blow the door off its hinges.

After all, on Mai's word, Sneers was now officially an enemy of the state. Also based on her word, he was to be captured alive.

The soldiers marched inside and began a search for the Fire Arm, but Mai knew they wouldn't find anything. She herself went to the guest room she had been staying in, and went straight for her supplies. They had been left in the chest beside her bed, untouched. Knives, launchers, briefing papers, exploding salty peanut butter jar, and several changes of clothes. It was the latter Mai broke out first, unfolding a set of familiar red and black silks. The time was past for hiding and misdirection. Mai could at last do her favorite part of the job.

It was time to go on the offensive.

She loaded up with all the equipment she could carry, leaving no knives in reserve. Between her backups and what had been recovered from Baji's equipment stores, she was fully outfitted, minus stilettos for her boots. (But really, how often does someone have to shoot knives out of their boots? Surely, not more than once per mission.)

Leaving the soldiers to continue their pointless searching, Mai set out for the governor's mansion. It was a quicker walk even than Mai's brief commute from the Royal Casino to the Jasmine Dragon back in Ba Sing Se, and the Fire Army soldiers at the gates bowed to her as she passed through. In the main hall, now cavernously empty with no party guests, Mai found Mayor Morishita watching the rapid comings and goings of his military guests with obvious bewilderment. She was going to brush right past him, but then stopped and gave him a shallow bow. "Sir, excuse me, but is your daughter around?"

The Mayor turned to her with rapidly blinking eyes. "Kori? I believe she went over to her boyfriend's house this morning, like always. Why, is she in trouble?"

Mai considered lying, but then gave it up with a shrug. "Almost certainly. But maybe I can rescue her."

She turned on her heel and left Morishita gulping like a fish, and flagged down a servant to take her to Zuko's command center. Soon, Mai once again found herself in Zuko's suite of rooms on the third floor, but this time was taken to an office instead of the bedroom. The decor was oh so typical of the Fire Nation military, with its giant wall-mounted map, bladed weapons on display, and plethora of Flame sigils (in case all the red paint wasn't a clear enough statement of allegience), that Mai hardly saw it all. Her attention flowed over to Zuko and some of the military commanders, who were looking expectantly at a desk near a window where Sokka was playing with something. Mai approached and looked over his toys, but found something surprisingly familiar lying on the desk. "Hey, that's my sword."

Sokka nodded while he gently shook a little tray with some kind of smoking liquid in it. "Yeah, I found it where you were kidnapped. It had a metal pellety thing in it, which I figured might have come from... uh, your fight with the assassins. It's a good bet that the weapon- you know, whatever it is, not that I know or anything- needs a good supply of these things, so the thief will need a way to replenish his supply. With Wu Gi's acids, and proper ventilation, we can figure out what this pellet is made of, and then we'll know what mine they're using." The smoking tapered off, and Sokka went back over to the desk, where he carefully poured the remaining liquid back into a glass jar. Once finished, Sokka shook the tray again, and Mai could see some little metal pieces rattling at the bottom.

Behind her Zuko said, "What is it?"

Sokka looked up directly at Mai, and grinned. "It was lead. From what I've been taught, it makes sense. Lead is heavy, so the pellet thingies will have maximum weight for their size. Quick, are there any old lead mines not currently in service? Still functional, but quiet enough that no one would notice if it got started up again on the sly?"

Zuko signaled to his commanders, who had a hasty conversation of whispers, and then the one with the biggest shoulder pads pointed to a spot on the big map hanging on the wall.

Mai smiled and flicked a pair of blades into her hands. "Time to leave." She turned to Zuko and pointed one of the blades right at him. "I go in first. I can sneak in and scout things out, and bring back a larger force if I need it. In the meantime, you can get your army into position or whatever. No matter what we find in that mine, I think it's time for you to pull out of Yu Dao. Things are only going to get worse from here."

Zuko stared at her for a moment, and then shook his head. "Azula would never recognize you. What happened to that little girl who didn't talk?"

Mai flicked her blades back into her sleeves. "She had to change to survive."

Sokka stepped over, and said, "I didn't actually know that little girl, but I still think she grew up just fine. I'm coming with you, right?"

Mai smirked at him.




Mountains of Yu Dao
Still Late Summer
Still 1 Year After Sozin's Comet


For the first time in days, Sokka stepped outside of Yu Dao. "I have to say, it's a lot less exciting just walking through the main gate. Maybe we should have used your grapple thingy, just to keep things interesting?"

Mai snorted a little laugh. "Maybe when we have more time. I'll even let you have thing when we're done here. I haven't returned one of those in functioning order yet." She turned, raised a hand to her lips, and blew out a whistle that echoed against the city walls, bounding out over the crowd of protesters who were looking at the open gate with worrying curiosity.

Sokka stared back at them and gave a nervous wave. "You sure he'll be able to hear that?"

"Wait for it."

Sokka did, trusting in his- girlfriend? Partner? Ally? At the very least, she was still a friend, and always would be.

There was a commotion at the back of the crowd of protesters, and Sokka hoped this wasn't the start of a riot or malformed attempt at an invasion of the city, but before he had time to picture all the various ways that idea could go wrong, the crowd split down the middle and a large, long, dark green creature came bounding across the rocky terrain.

Sokka watched admiringly as it ran right up to the gate and laid down in front of Mai. "Have I told you that I need to get me one of those things? Because I really need to get me one of those things. Where do I get me one of those things?"

"White Lotus guy named Piandao." Mai swung herself up into the saddle, and then held out her hand to Sokka. "You should meet him, he has all kinds of fun toys." Sokka grabbed on and let her help him up into the saddle behind her. "He actually made that sword of mine. Taught me to use it, too."

The eelhound rose up, and as soon as Mai flicked the reins, it was off in a run aimed at the nearby mines deeper in the mountains. Sokka held on to Mai's waist to keep from getting bumped from the saddle, and he was pleased when she didn't so much as object. "Piandao must be a great blacksmith. From what Wu Gi was saying, I'd expect the Fire Arm to shoot right through most swords that thin. Yours took a shot at close range and held solid."

"I'll put in a good word, and maybe he'll make you a sword, too."

They were on their way to what might be a deadly confrontation, and Sokka was aware that there were times and places for possibly emotional conversations that could leave people distracted once the fighting began, but he figured that not having this discussion might also lead to distractions in whatever they were about to experience, so it came out to a wash. Taking a breath, he said, "Well... uh, a good word, huh? So you and me... well, does that mean... we..."

Mai turned to glance at him. "You're wondering about the kiss?"

"That would be a great start, yes. Not that I'm complaining!"

She nodded. "Being a secret agent isn't all it's cracked up to be. I guess... my idea of fun isn't all it's cracked up to be. There are missions, which keep me busy, but then... there's nothing else. Not like you've found. And I don't... I don't want to just keep stacking up the missions until one of them finally kills me. And if I stay alone, one of them will kill me. So, I guess I'm saying..." Sokka caught sight of her cheeks coloring before she turned to look ahead and hid from his view behind her hair. "I wouldn't mind having my missions and something more. Someone more. Who could help keep me alive."

Sokka smiled, and took one of his hands off her waist to rest it on her shoulder. "That sounds like something I'd like. You understand that sometimes Aang or Katara or someone will need me, and I'll have to go to them, right?"

Without looking at him, Mai said, "You understand that sometimes Iroh will send word that I need to drop everything and go stop someone from doing something stupid like building a city under the ocean for his chosen people and then trying to wipe out everyone who lives on land, right?"

"...Who does that?"

"You'd be surprised."

Sokka shook his head. "Well, we'll make it work. Because we want to. Right?"

"Right."



Random Lead Mine outside Yu Dao
Still Late Summer
Still 1 Year After Sozin's Comet


Mai brought her eelhound- it occurred to her that she never named it, and as soon as he learned that, Sokka would come up with something bizarre and highly amusing- to a stop in front of the mine. It was built into the western side of one of the mountainous slopes of the wilds outside Yu Dao, beyond sight of the city. The mine itself didn't look special, being just a square hole in the rock supported by thick wooden beams, but that was good. This enemy knew how to hide, and wouldn't have chosen anything conspicuous.

She and Sokka dismounted, and headed straight into the Earth.

The sun cast its light only a short distance into the mine, but once they got beyond its range they found glow crystals lamps hung from the beams in the ceiling. Either the things were cheap enough that they could be left behind when the mining was done, or Mai was on the right track. There were probably more possibilities than just that, but she didn't want to bother thinking about them just now. Better to press ahead and see for themselves, because the Earth King's army wasn't going to wait for them to be sure.

Sokka stayed right behind her, club and boomerang in hand, never hesitating.

It was hard to keep track of time without the sun visible, but Mai didn't think it was very long before they came across a sign of life. The sound of hammering and other activity echoed in the stone passage, prompting Mai to hurry her progress. She and Sokka followed a bend in the path, and without warning emerged into a giant cavern. The glow of even more lanterns, plus luminescent crystals poking unshaped right out of the walls, filled the space with light, but that wasn't as surprising as what the light made visible. Mai and Sokka were on a ledge overlooking a wide space that had been converted to a factory, with smooth floors and metal piping and large equipment in various stages of assembly. Dozens and dozens of people were working to put everything together, and the sounds of their clanging work echoed throughout the cave with enough force to cause headaches.

Just past the workspace, a box-like hut made of stone stood like a coffin in front of a funeral gathering, a metaphor that Mai was sure was in no way influenced by the danger this place presented. Beyond that structure, the floor of the cavern fell away into a deep hole, but there was massive construction of metal and wood above it: scaffolding and pulleys from which hung large buckets and platforms.

"Congratulations, Lady Mai! You found us."

She spun towards the voice and pulled a pair of razor discs.

Kori Morishita finished the walk up the path from the main floor up to Mai and Sokka's ledge, and bowed before them. "You are every bit as impressive as I expected. Come, I was just about to sit down to supper. Let us talk through things like the refined Ladies we are."

Mai put her blades back in their sheathes, and relaxed. "It would be my pleasure."

TO BE CONTINUED
Trapped in Yu Dao 6
For anyone who has been living in an especially dim cave and somehow hasn't seen either the original scene or a parody: www.youtube.com/watch?v=DoQwKe… :D



Sequel to Trapped in Ba Sing Se

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Mai (now a Secret Agent of the James Bond variety) and Sokka (still just a meat-head) wind up trapped in Yu Dao, the newest Most Important City in the World, and deal with mystery, murder, and their strong attraction to each other. Written for Maikka Day 2014.

Beta work by Lunatique.
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The Man with the Golden Doomsday Weapon

In the wan light of dawn, Mai thought that Sokka looked almost as gloomy as she did. "What's with you? We're trapped in a city under siege, a commander in the Fire Army is going rogue and trying to kill us, world war is imminent, and we're on the trail of a weapon so scary that even its creator is terrified to use it. This is fun stuff."

Sokka gave her an arch look. "You mean stressful slush. But mostly I just hate mornings. I prefer to wake up just in time for a big lunch."

Mai stopped where she had been walking, right in the middle of the street, causing the dour pedestrians of the working district to swerve around her. Sleeping until noon? "I didn't even know that was possible. It sounds wonderful."

"Trust me, it's one of life's true pleasures. We still have time to try it, you know. We can go back to Sneers' place, sleep to noon, and then come out here and risk our lives looking for the crazy assistant person who sends messages attached to flying axes."

"Tempting, but I already did my hair this morning. I'm not doing it all again just to try out your weird all-morning nap idea." Thinking about it a bit more, Mai might have given in if she would be allowed to change back into red clothes. She was wearing brown for today's jaunt, on Kori's theory that something excessively Fire Nation would stand out too much in the neighborhood they were visiting, and Mai's features were a little too "pure" to get away with greens in broad daylight. Sokka was wearing a mix of greens and yellows and browns, and both of their outfits were worn enough that Mai would have thrown them out if she had found them in her wardrobe.

She had very purposefully not asked Sneers where he had gotten them.

Sokka said something else, but his words were lost in the sound of hammering metal emanating from the building they were passing. Mai leaned closer to him. "What?"

Sokka, too, moved close and spoke directly into her ear. "I said that according to Kori's directions, we take a left up here."

Mai nodded to acknowledge that, and accidentally bumped her head against Sokka's. "Ow."

"What?"

"I said ow!"

"Ow, my ears. You don't have to shout."

"That wasn't funny."

"I know," Sokka shouted with a smirk, "but I wanted to say it anyway."

For some reason, that did get Mai to smile, even though it was less funny than the previous attempt at humor. Something about Sokka's expression made it all the more amusing than it deserved to be. Mai almost leaned against Sokka, but then she remembered that they weren't doing the Lovers scheme this time.

They made their left turn at the designated corner, and moved away from the big weapon assembly factories. Here, there were a mix of buildings: small residences, stables, empty work yards, and open-air shops. The roads weren't the intricately interlocked bricks of the better neighborhoods, but rather the tightly packed (most likely by Earthbenders) dirt paths that could be found throughout the Earth Kingdom. Every so often a brick was sticking out of the road, lone islands that were all that remained of attempts to 'civilize' Yu Dao's downtown.

Sokka, of course, tripped over one of the bricks. Mai grabbed his arm before he hit the ground, and once he regained his balance, said "So, uh, how have you been?"

"What?" Sokka turned and gave her a look that was unexpectedly quizzical.

"What?"

"Wh- I mean, what are you asking me?"

Mai frowned. "How? Have? You? Been? You know, a general inquiry about the state of your life and your feelings thereon? I've been distracted, but friends ask those kinds of things... unless Ty Lee has been messing with me, and she's really not the type."

Sokka was still looking at her like she had just declared a devotion to a vegetarian diet, but he replied, "I guess I've been okay. I've been running around a lot, either following Aang and Katara or taking care of stuff they're too busy or idealistic to handle. But you know this."

Mai gave a heavy sigh. "I guess I just wanted to know if you're happy. Things didn't work out with Suki, and-"

Sokka gave a quick laugh. "Did she put you up to this? Or Ty Lee? Really, Mai, I'm fine. It's a shame Suki and I didn't work out, but we were, like, axe-fish from different currents. Being together was nice, but trying to keep that going would have made us unhappy, so we ended things before there was a real problem. People do that all the time. The axe-fish should try it. I miss having a girlfriend, but I do like what I'm doing. After the Fire Regents signed the treaty and ended the war, I went back home- to the South Pole- and... I just couldn't stay there, you know? It was the same old hunting and fixing the watchtower and watching for ice build-up in the commode- and that's not bad, I liked that life, I think- but it just felt so... slow."

"That, I can understand." Mai felt a smirk growing on her face. "Now you know why I followed Azula around."

Sokka shuddered. "It wasn't that slow. But by going with Aang, I can see the world and learn more about how it works, with the people I... you know, (ahem), like or love or whatever. Learn about politics and science and cooking and stuff. And when I'm doing stuff like this, with you, I can be the warrior I was born to be. For as long as I can do it, I like my life."

Mai tried to find some wisdom for herself in that, but all she could sift out of it was that she needed hobbies, and Ty Lee was an awful person for abandoning Mai in favor of the circus again. "Well, I... approve of your happiness. It's rational and has nothing to do with terrorizing people who don't deserve it."

"Exactly! See, that's what I really like about you, you get it."

They crossed a road, skirted a yard where a woman was dipping skins into boiling pots, and found a wide dumping ground in front of them. A thin man was sorting through the garbage, and as Mai watched, he made a happy sound and pulled out a twisted piece of metal from the clutter. He threw it into a pile of nails and broken axe heads with a clang and went back to digging.

"Well," Sokka said, "there's the old junkyard Kori described to us."

The thin man heard them, and brushed aside his green poncho to give them two thumbs up. "There's sixty years of garbage in here! Sure, it's picked over, but I gots a feeling I'll scrap e'nuf for an apple!" His face grew grim, and he added, "Only no takin' my claim, or Ima have to shank ya."

Behind Mai, there was a clank of armor, and a patrolling Firebender soldier passing on the other side of the road took a step towards the junkyard.

Mai gave a dismissive wave. "Please, don't bother on our account. We're just slumming with no productive purpose whatsoever, and this charming man isn't bothering us." The scavenger went back to ignoring them, and after one last lingering glare, the soldier moved on. Mai kept her face blank throughout the whole little scene, but there was a disturbing quality to it beneath the surface. Apparently, Zuko's distribution of food was no better than the city's regular economy, if people in this kind of neighborhood were questioning the source of their next dinner, and the Fire Army was taking its policing duties very seriously. This was the type of combination that could quickly lead to a self-sustaining wave of riots.

There was more to the Fire Nation, it seemed, than bored heiresses and the danger of war.

Putting the matter out of her mind for now, Mai turned back to Sokka to find him directing his gaze up and away. When he spoke, he sounded distracted. "Okay, so we're at the junkyard, and the outer wall is over there, so the place we're looking for should be-" He raised his arms and angled them like a compass at a precise angle.

Mai had to admit to herself that she was glad for Sokka's help, here. Finding her way like this wasn't one of her strengths. She preferred line-of-sight, for a variety of reasons.

"-be right there!" Sokka pointed again, and then jogged off in that direction. Mai followed, mimicking his precise path around the shacks and dilapidated buildings. Some of the pedestrians they passed gave them looks, but no one pursued the matter. Finally, Sokka stopped short and gave one last pointing. "And at last we arrive."

The building he indicated could have been a stable, low in stature and wider than the structures around it. The wood of its walls had faded to something that was closest to gray, and enough dirt had accumulated around its base to form dunes. Somehow, a shadow of the original paint had survived a century of Fire Nation rule, and Mai's sharp eyes could just barely make out the remnants of a pink heart on the front door. She glanced at Sokka and said, "That is the most pathetic-looking brothel of all time."

Sokka scratched his head. "It has been out of business for longer than my dad's been alive. Why, have you seen a lot of pathetic brothels?"

Mai tried to imagine what an affronted lady would say to that, but all she had to go on was either memories of Azula brushing her bangs aside while delivering a threat, or lessons from her mother about angling her hips and sniffing with disdain. Mai elected to just cross her arms. "That was an incredibly rude thing for a boy to say to a girl."

"Sorry, just another not-funny thing I felt I had to get out. You're easily the classiest lady I know." Sokka bowed low and motioned at the building. "Shall we, milady?"

Mai snorted, and together they approached 'the heart of the old city' or, as Kori described it, the brothel that had serviced the original Yu Dao mining and smithing outpost. Then the Fire Nation had comes along and tried to force 'civilization' on the place, decreeing that no one with native blood was allowed to own a business anymore. It took a generation for that law to be quietly removed, but all too many had already lost their livelihood by then.

Sokka reached for the front door, but Mai caught his wrist just in time. "Wait."

"What?"

"Remember? Flying axes?"

"Oh. Yeah. Um, do you have a strategy for approach?"

Mai smirked. "I do." A flex of her wrists dropped a razor disk into each of her hands. She threw them in arcs that smashed through two of the paper-covered windows on either side of the front door. More razor disks quickly crashed through more windows, and before all of them had finished their flight, Mai landed a flying jump kick into the door that knocked it off its hinges and sent her rolling into the building. A human figure within broke into motion towards something that looked like a trebuchet, but Mai was ready with a flurry of bo shurikenneedles that nailed the person to the nearest wall.

Behind Mai, Sokka peeked his head into the shack. "Wow. That is officially going to be my approach strategy for every building I ever encounter until the day I die. Who do you have there?"

Mai looked back over at the person she had nailed to a wall. It was a woman, perhaps the same age as Mai's mother, and she wore the same shades of brown that Mai currently did. Her clothes must have been better quality than Mai's outfit, though, considering how well it was all staying together despite the way she was tugging against the needles. She was focused entirely on the problem of her captivity, rather than the people who did it to her.

Mai knew the type well. Her father was an accomplished engineer. "Fa Ming's assistant, I presume?"

The other thing engineers are slaves to is ego. The woman looked up at Mai and managed to muster a good glare, despite her position. "My name is Wu Gi. And yes, I worked with Fa Ming on his last project. Who are you, may I ask?"

Sokka sauntered over. "You may ask, and I will answer. I'm Sokka, good friend to the Avatar and- at the risk of giving you too much information for the sake of being all trustful with each other- brother of the girl he has the oogies for." He gave a little wave, and then clasped his hands behind his back. "That's Sokka of the Southern Water Tribe, by the way. So I'm really not big on wars, on account of my people preferring to avoid them until we actually have enough warriors to fight one properly. This is Mai, she's a good friend and general do-gooder. Her brother isn't dating anyone important- that I know of, anyway, but he's only a toddler so I consider it a remote possibility for now. She works for the people who give the Avatar wise advice when he needs it, so, you know, her credentials are pretty good, too. Her brother's lack of a love life notwithstanding. We want to talk to you about stopping a war from breaking out for want of a weapon. You game?"

By the end of the introduction, Wu Gi was blinking in something like shock, and Mai didn't feel that far behind her. That was the most intense opening spiel she had ever heard, and she used to be Azula's left-hand lackey and live in a city with Fire Lord 'Grand Conqueror of the Self-Promoting Speech' Ozai.

Finally, Wu Gi found herself again and said, "Um, nice to meet you. If we're going to talk, I need my diagrams. Perhaps you can-" She motioned with her chin at the needles pinning her to the wall.

Mai sighed and began extracting her.




Sokka waited while Mai got Wu Gi mobile again and, after some grumbling over clothing repairs, gave a little bow. "Sorry about that. We were worried that you had an axe-launcher ready to go and aimed at the front door." He pointedly did not look at the device- already loaded with two axes- standing in the middle of the room.

Wu Gi shrugged. "I hadn't gotten it into position yet. The sharp discs coming through the windows distracted me. Is it safe for me to approach the device? There's something under it I need to get to so that we can have our discussion."

Mai shifted slightly, and suddenly she was holding a razor disc in each hand. "Very slowly, and very carefully."

Sokka tried a conciliatory smile. "Mai has a good heart, but she takes her job seriously. Just humor her." At least he didn't have to worry about hurting Mai's feelings with talk like that. He knew for a fact that she loved playing 'bad guard' to his 'good guard.'

Wu Gi moved very slowly, and when she reached the axe-launcher she crouched down and pressed one of the wooden boards in the floor beneath it.

The building rumbled, and the wall in the back of the room slid aside to reveal a set of stairs going underground.

Sokka had to admit, it was no steam-powered Air Temple, but it was more than he expected. "Nice. I gotta get me a secret hideout. Did you do it yourself?"

"No, it's part of the history of this place." Wu Gi led the way down the stairs. "When the Fire Nation took over the original Yu Dao settlement and outlawed Earth-folk from owning businesses, the guy running the place turned it into a home big enough for his whole 'family', and literally moved the operation underground. This was before the mines were made more extensive, and the city expanded out over them. Back then, an Earthbender could dig a hole without worrying about collapsing an old mine and taking out a city block."

They emerged down in a large workshop that looked very much in use. Diagrams and sketches covered the walls, and the tables were covered in small mechanisms, both complete and in varying states of disassembly. Glowing green crystals poked out from the ceiling, and Sokka surveyed the place in the sickly light. "Hey, now that's a spring collection. Good range of gears, too." He walked over to one setup that contained pans and lots of glass vials. Each of their corks was inked with symbols that Sokka knew corresponded to various kinds of acids. "Well, aside from the lack of ventilation. I'm surprised you're fooling around with acids and vapors without proper air flow. How did you get a hold of this place?"

"It belongs to the same lady who owns the scrapyard down the path. I've always worked as a subordinate to one of the city's Master Engineers, and I decided I needed a place where I could work on my proprietary designs. The rent on this place is cheap, thanks to the neighborhood, and I've got so much Yu Dao in my blood that I don't mind the location."

Sokka glanced over to Mai, and was pleased to find her seemingly okay with being underground. To his eye, she naturally blended with the shadows and dim lighting. She noticed him looking at her, and gave a little nod.

Taking it as a sign to continue, Sokka turned back to Wu Gi. "So, about this weapon?"

The engineer nodded and moved to one of the diagram clusters on the walls. She pulled down some smaller notes, revealing a large schematic the likes of which Sokka had seen before. The Mechanist of the Northern Air Temple had produced blueprints like these, summarizing the design of a device and listing its major components.

Beside Sokka, Mai spoke up. "It's... a pipe? For smoking?"

Wu Gi turned around and gave Mai a wide-eyed stare. "A pipe? That's what you see?"

"Well, it's long, and this end here is shaped like a dragon's head. Looks like the fancy pipes they have in the Fire Nation."

Sokka looked closer at the diagram. "No, it's not a pipe. See this bit here? Looks like the stock of a heavy crossbow, doesn't it? Yeah, and there's the trigger. Exactly like a crossbow, except with a blade built into the underside for what I presume to be defense in close quarters, which is actually a good idea." He glanced over at Wu Gi. "But a sculpted dragon head on the other end? Kind of fancy for a prototype, isn't it?"

She scoffed like Katara in one of her moods. "When designing for the Fire Lord, a little extra effort is never wasted."

Well, Sokka couldn't argue with that. He traced his finger along the schematics, letting them soak into his brain. "So if the scale is accurate, that's a pretty long tube coming out the other end. Presuming we're launching a ballistic of some kind, why would you need a barrel that long? ...oh, it's like a cannon, isn't it? You need the length to stabilize and guide the projectile. So, what, this is a miniature cannon?"

She was beaming. Sokka had the uncomfortable feeling that he had looked similar the time he explained how he helped fix the war balloon design at the Northern Air Temple. "That's the principle. This is the 'Fire Arm.' It loads specially prepared capsules containing gunpowder and a metal projectile. The trigger sparks the gunpowder, shooting the ballistic through the barrel and out the mouth of the dragon sculpture. The range is superior to the biggest longbow, with far greater accuracy, but reloads as quick as a crossbow. All you do is stuff the ammo capsule down the muzzle. When fired, the ballistic travels fast enough to punch through most plate armors, and even if it doesn't penetrate, the force will be enough to possibly break bone. With no armor to stop it, it will travel through flesh without appreciably slowing down, and will utterly shatter bone. The full range of effects cannot be determined until more extensive testing is done, though."

Sokka wasn't sure at what point during that speech his jaw dropped, nor when the icy feeling settled into his stomach and spine. He just knew that he was horrified. "That's... that's ridiculous! Those are ridiculous results! Why would even you make something like this?"

Wu Gi shrugged. "The Fire Lord contracted us to build something light, powerful, far-reaching, and easy to produce and use. Fa Ming came up with the idea, and together we made the device a reality."

Sokka shook his head, trying to clear out the stuffed, cottony feeling that had grown to fill his skull. "No, that's- how could this be easy to use? Cannons have to be cleaned between use, and finding the range- how can you shoot something so small so accurately?"

"Good design. The projectiles are pointed like arrowheads, and the metal expands after firing, so it cleans the barrel with each shot. Trust me, it works. Our tests more than proved that much."

Sokka turned back to the schematics. They hadn't been kidding when they said the weapon was a danger to the whole world. The Fire Arm. Anyone who armed their soldiers with it would have an advantage over every kind of warrior around. They could sit on the horizon and fire away at an approaching army, or turn every soldier into a sniper who could make the Yu Yan hang up their bows and retire. Even rock couldn't stand up to what was being described. Tanks could, but Wu Gi was talking about the prototype. What might future generations of this technology accomplish? And as Sokka had seen his sister prove, tanks weren't invincible, either.

And sure enough, Sokka was certain that the very idea was equally dangerous. Just hearing these vague details, he knew he could figure out how to build something like this. Slush, the name itself would probably inspire the Mechanist to reinvent the thing.

He dimly heard Mai asking, "So what happened to the prototype?"

"Stolen." Wu Gi's voice dimmed to match Sokka's mood. "And used to kill Fa Ming."

A little flash of insight broke into his thoughts. "That's right... Sneers said people reported a sound like thunder, but it wasn't, was it? That was the gunpowder. It probably sounded more like a firecracker. Easy enough to confuse, I guess."

"Fa Ming and I had secured the prototype in its crate a week before he died. We were cleaning up all the documentation and scrap work, making sure that we didn't leave anything behind that could be used to reverse engineer another Fire Arm. We didn't look in the crate all that time. Someone must have stolen it, because one day Fa Ming and I left, and he was shot in the street by his own invention. The description doesn't leave any doubt. He moved as if struck by something heavy. That's the momentum of the projectile at work. And then he bled to death from a deep wound. That proves it was our projectile. When I heard, I went back to the lab, and sure enough it was ransacked, everything gone. If I didn't have my own copies of everything, I wouldn't be able to prove the weapon even existed!"

Wu Gi began pacing around the lab. "I was going to destroy it all once the prototype was delivered to the Fire Regents, but then the trouble started- they all want us dead for this! The Fire Nation, the Earth Kingdom- they've stolen our work! They've united to hunt us down. I won't be killed for this! I was doing my job, doing good engineering! I won't let the world destroy me for this! I deserve praise, not a hideout!"

The increasing loudness of her ranting cleared Sokka's head much more effectively than his own efforts. "Well, we know what we're looking for, now. Aside from vague global conspiracies, do you have any idea who could have found out about this?"

"If I did, I'd build another prototype and blow them away, just to be sure." Wu Gi turned and began stomping up the stairs to the old brothel. "You need to get me out of the city. Or bring the Avatar to get me out. The knife-woman there can be my bodyguard."

Sokka trotted upstairs after her, and he heard the soft swish of robes that meant Mai was right behind him. "Hey, wait! My job is to find this Fire Arm thing first! If we do that, Zuko and everyone won't have any reason to come after you! And we get the bonus of avoiding another war!"

Wu Gi huffed as she stomped back over to the axe-launcher. She bent over and pressed the same floorboard as before, closing the secret passage right behind Mai, and then stood back up to glare at Sokka. "I don't care what your mission is! Just- kill Zuko or whoever you have to! We don't have time for searching around! Don't you understand, I can make you a Fire Arm if you want one! Just get me out of here!"

Sokka was about to argue back when he heard a distant boom like someone had set off a lone firecracker, and Wu Gi suddenly jolted in place.

Her face went slack, and she looked over at Sokka with wide eyes. "Fascinating... it doesn't hhhurt..."

"Wha-"

And then she dropped and began bleeding all over the floor.




Sokka immediately went down to try and help the crazy engineer woman, but Mai's skills could better be applied elsewhere- like hunting down the person who just used the Fire Arm to kill another of its inventors. She looked down at Wu Gi just long enough to find the wound, a hole in right side of her upper back, and then applied her own experience to determine the vantage that would have favored that exact point of anatomy.

Mai was very good at vectors.

Only one of the building's windows would have been facing Wu Gi's back at the right angle. Outside was a view of the neighborhood shacks, pedestrians milling with confusion in the roads, but atop a roof in the distance was a figure standing tall with the sun to his back. The silhouette was wearing a rice hat, and cradled something long, thin, and reflectively shiny in its arms.

Mai was somersaulting through the window in a second and threaded the crowd. She pulled out two of her heavier knives as she ran to the nearest shack, and then applied them to the wooden walls as a quick means of climbing up while people cried out and rushed away. She threw herself onto the shack's roof and readied her knives for throwing, but found the figure running off into the distance.

Too far.

What Mai wouldn't give for a Fire Arm right now.

She tore off after the fleeing figure, sailing across the rooftops in a loping run. The assassin was very good, his own speed impressive considering the unusual terrain, but Mai had plenty of experience with a variety of rooftops, and she had also practiced her running, ever since the Avatar escaped her in Omashu. That he was an ally now didn't mean that Mai still didn't need to be fast. Her foot came down heavily on one roof, and Mai barely caught some shouting burst out from within before it was lost to the wind of her passage.

As soon as she got close enough, Mai let fly with some razor discs. They spun and arced towards the assassin, but he somehow knew to twirl around at the last minute and raise his weapon like a shield, presenting the sword-like blade set into the Fire Arm's underside.

All but one of the razor discs went around him, and the last bounced off the Fire Arm with a clank of metal and a flash of gold sparkle.

Who put gold plating on a stupid prototype, anyway? Mai's father would be professionally offended.

Mai might not have tagged the assassin, but dodging meant he had to stop his running, and she made good use of the opportunity. Mai threw another pair of knives that the assassin once again blocked with the Fire Arm, but each maneuver made him take a step back-

-until he took one step beyond the edge of the roof.

The assassin fell without a sound.

Mai raced after him, pulled another pair of knives, and jumped down into the trapezoidal alley between shacks without hesitation. She caught sight of some people running away from the sight of her, but Mai focused her attention on her prey. He was already getting back to his feet, and Mai had to admit to herself that she was impressed; this guy knew how to take abuse. Time to see if he knew how to take a blade to his soft unyielding flesh.

Then from behind her, Mai heard a scratchy voice call out, "Longshot, I'm here!"

She whirled around and found the most awful looking ragamuffin bearing down on her. The new arrival had a short sword in each hand, and each running step jostled a vest of leather armor. Mai would have heard such an approach even if the attacker hadn't called out, but she appreciated the extra warning, and expressed that by throwing herself forward to catch the incoming sword slices on her own knives and push back with enough strength to send the other into a short stumble.

Mai's eyes were sharp enough to catch- as she and the attacker both repositioned for another clash- a thin bit of lip dye between the lines of war paint on the otherwise completely unfeminine face.

This was a girl?

Huh.

The swordswoman attacked again, one sword after another in an attempt to overwhelm Mai's defenses, but as she had just proven, Mai was very good at vectors. She caught one sword with her knives and pushed it off so that it interfered with the other's approach, leeching a small bit of the momentum to quickly spin herself around to face the swordswoman's back. Mai threw her knives; one hit the target's armor and bounced off, while the other was deflected by a hastily raised sword.

Fair enough. Mai wasn't expecting them to do more than distract at this range.

Knife-throwing was Mai's preferred method of combat because she didn't have to get close to her target. It avoided the mess of a brawl, and made sure that Mai remained safe while her target was very much the opposite. That she was exceptionally good at throwing things accurately was just a bonus. But sometimes a fight was not content to give Mai her space, and other times she had to conceal her identity and so couldn't wage war like one of the greatest living (self-taught) practitioners of the Flying Daggers style.

After joining Iroh's little organization, Mai had taken a few days' vacation to prepare for such situations, with the help of a man named Piandao.

The current situation didn't favor throwing knives, so while her attacker scrambled to get back into a proper stance, Mai flicked a small razor into a hand, sliced off the left leg of her own pants just above the knee, and then used both hands to draw out the short sword that the Mechanist had given her, which Mai had been wearing tied to her leg since before she trapped herself in Yu Dao.

Mai thrust in at the swordswoman, sending the other hopping back at the sight of the unexpected weapon. What followed was a frantic exchange of stabs, slices, parries and catches. Mai didn't quite manage to penetrate her attacker's double-bladed defense, but neither did she allow any hits to get through her own. She started giving ground, letting the swordswoman think that Mai was slowly becoming overwhelmed, and when she judged the time just right, Mai let go of her weapon with one hand and used it to draw another knife- the beautiful, well-made bone knife that Sokka had given her outside the city- out of her robes. She parried the swordswoman's latest stab with her own sword, and then spun around to stab the knife into the other's right arm just below the metal shoulder guard.

It sank into flesh and muscle like it belonged there. The swordswoman cried out and wrenched away, sending the knife tumbling out of Mai's hand in a small spray of blood.

"Smellerbee!"

Oh, right. The assassin.

Mai didn't know what a Smellerbee was or if its honey was any good, but she knew that the assassin had a Fire Arm, and decided that now was a very good time to be anywhere else but her current position. She threw herself to the side-

-and then some invisible force struck Mai like a ten-ton flying bison.

She crashed to the ground, hitting it hard enough to rattle her whole body, and in her daze wondered if she had become an Airbender, given the way the alley was echoing with a sound like a firecracker.

Oh, yeah, the Fire Arm. It was supposed to be loud, right?

Pain finally began registering with Mai. Her right thigh was on fire, it seemed. Mai looked down and saw that a chunk of her pants had been ripped away, revealing a bloody gash creasing the skin.

Hallowed ash, that was a grazing hit?!

Mai heard a clicking sound behind her, and she glanced over to see the assassin aiming the Fire Arm at her once again. She rolled as quickly as she could, and it was almost too slow. All at once there was the crack of the weapon firing, a clang like two pieces of metal meeting like mating Airbenders in midair, and then her sword was torn from her grip.

It was half out of panic that she raised her arms and fired off an entire wrist-cuff's worth of crescent blades. Only a quarter of them found a home in the assassin, but no sooner had they hit than he blinked and was dropped to the ground by the soporific shirshu venom. The Fire Arm clattered to rest in the dust, glinting with the golden light of the sun.

"Longshot!"

Did these people communicate entirely in nonsensical exclamations? Mai twisted again to find the odd-looking swordswoman bearing down on her. She briefly considered trying to dodge, but after that sudden movement to save herself from the Fire Arm, the pain coming from her thigh suddenly had a much greater voice in the proceedings. So, instead, she quickly shouted, "I poisoned him!"

The swordswoman stopped short.

Mai pressed on with all the air left in her lungs: "In an hour he'll be dead unless you get him to a healer who knows antidotes. I don't carry it with me. And I promise that I will not die quickly for you, no matter what you do." To that end, Mai drew another set of knives from her robes and brandished them in a vaguely defensive way.

The swordswoman took exactly a second to decide. The face she made promised a painful death at a future unspecified date, if Mai was any judge of hostile expressions, and then she scurried over to her companion. She hoisted him over her shoulders, grabbed the Fire Arm, and took off at a respectable run.

Mai let out a heavy breath and dropped her knives.

Okay, the next thing on her suddenly daunting To Do list was to get standing again so that she could find Sokka. Her leg was still bleeding, but not with the heavy rush that would have meant something vital had been hit. Mai dragged herself over to the pants leg she had cut off to get to her sword, and turned that into an improvised bandage. She took a moment after that to just enjoy being in one piece, even as filthy as she was with dirt and blood, and resolved to ask the Mechanist about some armors she could wear under her clothes where she didn't otherwise have knives secreted. Maybe there wasn't anything that could have stopped a shot from the Fire Arm, but they couldn't all be apocalyptic weapons, and a grazing blow was proving to more trouble than the matter should be worth.

Then there was the crunch of boots on dirt, and Mai realized that she was about to have company. She grabbed for her knives again, and prepared to spin a tale about really obscure poison that would send the swordswoman running away again.

A dozen Fire Army soldiers jogged into the alley and took up positions surrounding her. Eleven of them raised spears at the ready, while the commander took a Firebending stance.

Mai gave a sigh of relief. "Oh, thank you. I was on my way home and was attacked. They got my leg but I chased them off. Can you help me up? I live a few blocks away, building with a pink heart on it."

The Firebender removed the skull-like mask on the helmet, revealing a hard-looking woman with eyes that weren't sympathetic at all. "I recognize you."

Mai sighed again. "Yes, all right. I'm an agent for Prince Regent Zuko. My mission is secret, but I was injured pursuing enemies of the Fire Nation. Now can you help me up?"

"Commander Baji provided a sketch. He wants you for questioning."

"He can submit a formal request to the Fire Regents."

"The Commander prefers not to bother the Fire Regent Zuko with the details of his investigations." The Firebender made a hand motion, and Mai raised her knives in anticipation of fire, but the wooden shaft of a spear swung out from beside Mai and knocked the weapons out of her grip. Mai tried to reach for more, but there was another sound of whistling wind against wood, an explosion of pain at the back of her head, and after a nauseating riot of color (orange figured prominently) an overwhelming darkness.

Her last thought was that at least Sokka was free and safe.




Mai woke up slowly. The first thing of which she became aware was the companion that had stayed close to her throughout her sleep, something she had felt even in the void. It was the pain, the constant scraping soreness on her thigh.

Her souvenir from the barking touch of Fire Arm.

Using the pain as a trail back to consciousness, Mai next discovered her old acquaintance gravity, who she had always considered a professional rival to Ty Lee. Fortunately, gravity didn't hold a grudge over that, despite Ty Lee practically being family, and politely let Mai know that she was currently lying on her back on something hard.

She tried to move, but there was resistance- too much for mere gravity. Applying more strength didn't produce any results, and Mai eventually figured out that she was bound by leather cuffs on her wrists and ankles.

She was captured.

Mai opened her eyes, but that didn't help. The room around her was dark, aside from a small lantern that shed only enough light for Mai to see her own body lying stretched out on a wooden table of some kind. The lantern had been placed near her feet, but not near enough that Mai could kick out to so much as rattle it.

Well, this was mildly embarrassing, and the best weapon to use against embarrassment was aggressive bluster. Taking a breath to steady herself, Mai called out, "Well, this is original. Let me guess, you expect me to talk?"

She heard heavy footsteps, and then Commander Baji emerged into the light. He leered over her, grinning with teeth that glinted dully.

"No, Lady Mai, I expect you to die."

TO BE CONTINUED
Trapped in Yu Dao 5
Sequel to Trapped in Ba Sing Se

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Mai (now a Secret Agent of the James Bond variety) and Sokka (still just a meat-head) wind up trapped in Yu Dao, the newest Most Important City in the World, and deal with mystery, murder, and their strong attraction to each other. Written for Maikka Day 2014.

Beta work by Lunatique.
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From the Fire Nation with Love

It was interesting what Mai could tell about the elite of Yu Dao from their arms.

She moved through the Grand Hallway of the Morishita Mansion arm in arm with Sokka, traveling the length of the main party room towards the massive staircase on the far side. Thanks to many sharp words from her mother, Mai had learned how to observe without being observed in turn, and as she employed that skill now, she was almost tempted to thank Mother for the training. It was the arms of the people that told Mai the most.

Anyone with no red in their clothing tended to bare thick, strong arms, obviously born of spending years pounding metal with a hammer. Even the oldest, fattest, and wealthiest-looking had arms that still showed a good shape, a strengthening of the muscles that would never go away. Interestingly, a visible number of older men and women in red also frequently chose to wear short or no sleeves, and showed off the same well-honed muscles. Mai guessed that they were the kind of bosses who put in the work alongside their employees. Most people in red, though, wore sleeves as long as Mai's and had a decidedly soft shape to their bodies.

There were no younger people without red somewhere in their outfits, and their arms tended to be lean and solid. Their generation obviously didn't toil with metal and fire, but they were apparently active nonetheless; Mai recalled how Kori had swung around that meteor hammer with ease and skill.

Sokka's murmuring broke through Mai's thoughts. "Watcha looking at?"

"I'm checking out the cute boys, of course."

"Oh, of course." Sokka looked around. "See Zuko anywhere?"

"No, he's likely hiding upstairs until his big speech." Mai glanced over at her escort, examining how he fit into this crowd. In his Lover persona, he kept his back straight enough to get minimal approval from her mother, and he didn't stomp around like he was marching across a snow drift or whatever they did down at the South Pole. He blended in rather well, actually, and he looked quite sharp in his fancy jacket. He didn't lose anything to the other young men and women in attendance, and he filled out his clothes nicely with the confidence of a soldier.

Yes, Mother would approve. At least minimally.

Mai found that she approved as well.

She didn't let her thoughts go further, but she clung to his arm and enjoyed the warmth of his body, because that was all part of their personas. Besides, any girls who saw Mai so close would let their eyes drift away from Sokka, and there was no point in courting any extra attention.

It was so different from the old days, when Azula's every action was a cry for attention, and Ty Lee's every outfit was a cry for attention, and Mai's every sigh was a cry for mercy.

"There's the Mayor," Sokka said. He twitched his chin over to the left, and sure enough, Mayor Morishita was a short distance away, chatting animatedly- one might say desperately- with several people in red and gold. "If he's here hanging out, then it must be a while before Zuko makes his appearance. Or else hosting visiting warlords is done differently in the colonies."

"Some protocols are universal. At least we know where Zuko will make his appearance. He's has always been about drama, and I doubt he's changed that much. He'll appear at the top of the staircase and speak from on high to us lowly colonists."

"You know where the best spot is to keep an eye on things?"

"A rope hanging from the ceiling?"

Sokka frowned. "Okay, that is a good idea, but a little impractical in the current situation. I was thinking more the dance floor." Mai's grip on Sokka's arm tightened, and he let out a little grunt of pain. "What? You know I'm right."

Mai turned to glare at him. "Sokka, I'm Fire Nation. I've seen dancing while working for Iroh, but I don't do it. I've never even formally trained how to fight, never mind something like that. I would look awkward and clumsy."

"...and that's bad?" He actually tried to smile at her. "Mai, it's okay. This isn't anything complicated, this is for rich people. Even Toph learned how to dance, and she doesn't need her Earthsense for it. You just hold your partner and sway gently to the music. It's like pretending to be a piece of grass in a breeze. You're way smarter than grass, right?"

Mai couldn't break cover by taking out a knife in a threatening manner, so she settled for more glaring. "Stop using questions as traps."

"Hey, I'm a hunter, trapping is easier than poking you with a pointy stick." His arm stiffened in Mai's grasp, and he quickly added, "Don't think too much about that one. Anyway, it will be fine. You're all balanced and stuff, so you just shift your weight from foot to foot, and move around in the same direction as everyone else. Seriously, walking is harder; you'll probably look smoother than I will. And we'll be in the perfect position to see when Zuko is coming."

Mai had run out of rational objections, and reducing herself to irrationality would be even worse than looking awkward.

Besides, this wasn't one of Azula's games, and Sokka wasn't Zuko. Maybe the process wouldn't be utterly humiliating, and at least she would get to spend some time in the arms of a handsome man, even if it was a friend and for business.

"All right, fine. Sweep me off my feet, or whatever."




Not three steps into the simple dance, Mai utterly mastered it, and Sokka avoided a stabbing by successfully suppressing the urge to stick his face in hers and remind her that he totally 'toldja so.' Instead, he divided his attention between moving rhythmically with Mai and keeping any eye on their surroundings.

Sokka kept an eye on the guards, of course, but he also caught the wolfish glances the young men were throwing Mai's way. He pulled her a little closer as they moved to the music. No sense messing with wolf-people.

Fire Colony dancing was weird. Back home at the South Pole, dances were pretty much just a part of celebrations or gatherings of the whole tribe, and it was done as a group. Or so Sokka had been taught; that kind of thing had pretty much died out after the Tribe began drifting apart, and Sokka had only vague memories of such things that he wasn't even sure were real. When he had visited the Northern Water Tribe with Aang and Katara, Sokka had actually been able to see the real thing, and it had looked pretty good, but he hadn't been able to summon the nerve to try. He had been too worried about looking awkward and clumsy in front of Yue. Things weren't that different in most of the Earth Kingdom, although their stuff involved a lot more stomping. The regular folk danced at faster paces than the rich folk in Gaoling and Ba Sing Se, but it was all the same kind of stuff.

It was the Fire Nation that did things differently. They didn't just dance in groups, they also liked to partner up and do unique two-person dancing. Sometimes the partners held each other and sometimes they simply danced next to each other. Aang said that the entire Fire Nation used to love dancing, but nowadays it only happened in the colonies. Sokka had been able to observe the styles during his travels in support of the Harmony Restoration Movement, but with he and Suki apart, he had never really tried it.

Mai was his first true dance partner.

He had to be careful where he put his hands, not just for the usual reasons, but also because she was still liberally covered in knives. It was the type of challenge that Sokka almost hated enjoying so much.

He and Mai spun around in step with the other dancers, and then drew together. Mai leaned in and whispered, "The soldiers guarding the stairway are shifting their positions, and the Mayor just disentangled himself from a conversation. Zuko's probably ready to appear."

Sokka nodded. "Then let's go. Good luck, Lover."

Mai showed half a smile, and then the pair drifted apart in opposite directions. Sokka made his way to the edge of the hall, knowing that Mai would be doing the same. According to Kori, the main staircase was not the only way to the upper floors. There were smaller sets of stairs on each side of the house, away where only the house's servants would be hanging around. As Sokka moved towards a door that would take him out of the hall, one of those servants moved to intercept him with a concerned expression, but as soon as the man drew close Sokka leaned forward and whispered, "Moonraker."

At the agreed-upon code word, the servant stopped, nodded, and smoothly moved away. Sokka continued on, made sure that no one was watching as Mayor Morishita called for everyone's attention. The last thing he heard before he slipped through the door was the introduction for 'the guest of honor,' a title that Sokka bet would make Zuko giddy.

The room beyond was dark, lit only by the glow that came in through the modern glass-covered windows.

Sokka only looked around enough to make sure that he wouldn't be tripping over any furniture. This? This was Room #1. Sokka expanded out the mental model he had created based on Kori's directions. Room #1 led to similarly unlit Room #2 and Room Pointless. Sokka passed through to the former, skipping Pointless entirely because duh, and then moved down The Hallway Shaped Like a Tundra Cat's Hind Tibia-Bone. At the end of the hallway on the right, there was an expected door, and Sokka finally reached Room #3. He immediately slipped behind a large cabinet by the door, and then peeked out to make sure that he was alone. Like the others, Room #3 was dark and empty of everything but treacherous furniture. The staircase was in the far corner, a winding little affair that would carry Sokka up to further victory. He stepped out and began moving to the stairs-

-and a heavy hand clamped down on Sokka's shoulder.

"Yeeeaaaaaaaghua!"

Sokka immediately spun around and found himself face-to-face with a man in Fire Army armor with a massive chin. He looked at Sokka with knowing eyes and a hard-featured expression, and said, "What are you doing here?"

In the dim light, Sokka thought he caught the glint of metal in the man's mouth as he spoke.

"I- well, you see, I was-"

"And so help me, if you lie that you were looking for the bathroom..." The man gave a toothy grin, and Sokka could definitely see now that his teeth were covered in shining metal. What the slush?! How do teeth get covered in metal?!

Sokka slowly took a step back. "Come on, it's a good excuse because it's also the reason someone is most likely to be lost in someone else's house. Or are you not invited over enough to know that?"

Metal Teeth's grin grew strained, lips pulling even further away from those freaky teeth. Sokka slowly shifted his hands so that he could slip Boomerang out from under his jacket-

-when Kori said, "Lee, there you are. I told you, the bathroom was on the left."

The man's grin immediately faded, and Sokka took the opportunity to step around the guy and scoot over to the safety of Kori's presence. She was dressed for the party, of course, in one of those two-piece things that Mai had absolutely refused to put on, and her hair was done up in an even fancier style than usual with a mix of ribbons and chopstick-like thingies. "Thanks for finding me. You told me this place could be confusing, but you didn't say army guys were patrolling the first floor."

Kori gave a smile that Sokka decided looked almost chagrined enough. "Sorry, I didn't know. And I don't think we've been introduced, Commander- ?"

"Baji. Commander Baji." He gave a small smile that kept his teeth hidden. "Pleased to officially make your acquaintance, Lady Morishita. This is your guest?"

"Yes, Commander. Lee is an old friend of mine. What are you doing in this section of the house? The Fire Regent's suite is several floors up."

"Ensuring security, of course. The Prince Regent is gracing this colony with his presence, and there have never been more people in this residence. Since your friend here has proven how easily it is to wander into unsafe areas, I think I'll be ordering more of my soldiers on patrol. As family to our host, I'm sure you want your ruler to stay safe."

Kori hesitated before she gave a shallow bow. "I defer to your experience and my father's permission, Commander."

"Of course." Baji gave a bow of his own, and then turned his gaze to Sokka. Baji's lips twitched. "You better get going. Your friend still needs to find that bathroom." He turned and made for the staircase.

Sokka waved a goodbye to the creepy guy and followed Kori out of the room. As soon as he was sure they were away safely, he exhaled some of the tension from his body. "Thanks for the save."

"I'm just glad I saw you making your move and decided to play backup."

Sokka shook his head. "I kind of wish you had gone after Mai, instead. This guy is going to put more guards out, and that could be trouble for her. I could have made do somehow. But, um, I'm still grateful for the help."

He hoped Mai didn't run into trouble.




Mai shot another soporific blade from beneath her sleeve, dropping the soldier up the hall before he could so much as focus his eyes on her. In the dark hallway of the third floor of the Morishita mansion, Mai couldn't help but smirk and whisper, "I love trouble."

There were more soldiers than expected, for some reason, but it was nothing she couldn't handle. The hardest part was actually remembering Kori's directions to the rear staircase. She and Sokka had taken different routes, just to be sure that one of them got to Zuko. With the initial delay, Mai was worried that Sokka was going to beat her to the Fire Regent's suite, but she was having too much fun to let it really get to her.

She dragged the unconscious soldier to an empty room off of the hallway, and continued on her way.

She turned a corner, and the echo of Zuko's voice washed over her:

"...call upon the masters of Yu Dao to stand firm with me. I am as committed as you to decreasing hostilities with the Earth Kingdom, and this situation is just a small bump on the road to peace..."

As Mai moved further down the hallway, she found the source of Zuko's speech (which someone had obviously written for him). There were window-like openings in the wall that revealed the hall where the party was taking place. Zuko was standing at the top of the massive main staircase, exactly between the two smaller sets of stairs that would take him up to the third floor. A squad of soldiers lined the steps below to keep anyone in the crowd from approaching the Prince Regent, and the lights had been dimmed down on the first floor so that Zuko glowed from on high like the sun. It was all ridiculously pretentious, and from her vantage point a floor up from him, Mai thought that Zuko looked stiff and awkward. Azula had always been better at this type of thing.

Not interested in the official line, Mai moved on while Zuko prattled on.

"...thank you for your cooperation with the Fire Army's honorable soldiers, and once again assure you that this situation is temporary, and will end with a peaceful resolution..."




Sokka and Kori paused within good ol' Room #1, just off from the main hall. Zuko was going on with his speech, and Sokka had to admit that Angry Guy was doing better with it than Sokka himself probably would have done. The very thought of standing up in front of a crowd and having to talk and be all charismatic and stuff was enough to sour his stomach. That made two things- sneaking and speechifying- that Zuko did better than Sokka.

He really, really hoped that Zuko was also better at leading a country than Sokka would be.

Kori turned to look at Sokka, and her eyes practically glowed in the ambient light. "Do you think he means any of it?"

Sokka shrugged. "I worked with the guy twice, once in Ba Sing Se so that we could both stay alive, and then at the fancy meeting in Caldera City when Aang and all our big shot friends offered to trade the Fire Nation's captured land back in exchange for the colonies and the end to the war. He's a terrible liar, but notice how a lot of what he's saying now is vague and isn't anything close to a real explanation. He's playing for more time. In that sense, he's probably sincere enough."

Kori nodded, and went back to listening. Zuko barely got through the announcement of another shipment of food and supplies that would be distributed tomorrow, though, before Kori gave a heavy sigh with her whole body. "It's not just Zuko who's worrying me. I'm scared of what the people here will do."

That caught Sokka's attention. "You think they might rebel?"

"Not really. We've learned to get by, and the citizens- all of them- love my father. As long as he stays calm, everyone else will do the same. I'm worried about-" She stopped abruptly. "Can I trust you? You're friends with the Avatar, one of the good guys. But can you- I'm not sure about this. I want you to keep that in mind. I might just be nervous and imagining things."

Sokka smiled and tried to stand tall and proud like his father. Kori looked a few years younger than him, and she reminded him a bit of Katara like this. "I understand. I'll keep it to myself, and I'll be ready to forget it at the first sign you're wrong. We're all just doing our best to make sense of things, and none of us have all the information."

Kori offered another smile back, a weak one that quickly disappeared. "Thanks. I just- I'm worried about Sneers. His uncle is at the center of all this and- and he's angrier at Zuko than he lets on. He hates the Fire Nation. He tries to hide it, and I thought it was because he was trying to make a life here in Yu Dao."

"Wait, I thought you're Fire Nation. Mostly."

This time, Kori's smile was real. "My father is from the Fire Nation, and I cherish my Fire Nation heritage. But I am of my mother's blood, too." She raised a fist, and a pillar of earth rose up out of the floor between her and Sokka. She crossed her arms and leaned down on it. "Lately, I'm not sure Sneers would be with me if I couldn't Earthbend and- and prove my other heritage. And with his uncle's work missing and Zuko trying to find it... and Sneers was meeting with some of his old friends just before the lockdown, from his time as a rebel. I hope he's not involved in all this."

Sokka thought about giving her a consoling pat on the head, but decided that it wasn't a good idea. "I'll keep that in mind, but like you said, this is a stressful time. Things will probably work out."

If that sounded reassuring, it was because Sokka was doing a good job covering the suspicion that was blooming in his mind.




Mai had sunk a third knife into the woodwork above Zuko's bed when he finally arrived in his bedroom. He stopped in place with a sharp clank of his armor as soon as he saw her, and continued to just stare. Mai stared back in turn. This was the first time she had seen him up close since his banishment four years ago, the first time she really saw the scar on his face as more than a splash of color at a distance. The closest she had been to him before now had been at that ambush at the Ba Sing Se marina, when he had turned Azula's trap for him around on his sister. However, between the fight with the Dai Li, Mai's one-sided dual with Iroh, and then the arrival of the Earth King's rebels, there had been no time for a polite hello. Then Azula had fled with Zuko as her captive, while Mai had been captured by the rebels. And yet here they both were, free and working for the side that had once been their enemies. Him because he wanted to teach the Fire Nation about honor, and her because she had finally started to care about things.

If anything, his scar was a prominent reminder that he- and herself as well- had changed so much.

To cover her discomfort, Mai stood up off the bed and drawled, "Nice speech. I liked the part where you were committed 'to decreasing hostilities with the Earth Kingdom.' Let's build on that."

"Mai." Zuko closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. "So you are alive. I went with Azula to tell your family about how you had been captured by the Earth Rebels. Your mother wouldn't stop sobbing."

Mai felt like he had just shoved a sword into her stomach. Her mother cared that much? Since when? No, Mother was probably just overwhelmed by everything- losing Omashu, getting a visit from Zuko and Azula, the end of the war. "Your Uncle took care of me. He made me a deal."

Zuko nodded. "That was what I had hoped. It was part of our plan for the ambush at the marina. But when you didn't come back, even after the war ended..."

"Oh, sure, and Azula would have welcomed me back with a hug and a peck on the cheek. Things between me and your sister didn't end well. If she even suspected I had betrayed her, my mother would have really had something to cry about."

Zuko turned his face away, showing his scar, and moved further into the room. Mai noticed that he never actually turned his back on her, though. "Azula has... calmed down. She's learning how to be a real leader, without cruelty. Losing Ba Sing Se- losing you and Ty Lee- affected her."

Mai quirked an eyebrow. Azula actually missed her? Mai had no desire to regain that friendship, but if Zuko was right about Azula, then perhaps it really would be possible to retire from Iroh's service and go back to her homeland.

But she couldn't let Zuko know that, yet. She still had a mission to complete. "Then perhaps it's better that I'm dead. My parents have Tom-Tom and can safely mourn me. And Azula is a world leader now. Keeping her sane is good." She moved slowly, casually strolling across the bedroom in a way that would put her between Zuko and the door. If he wasn't going to let down his guard, then neither was she. "Whatever's going on in Yu Dao is just the opposite of sane. Your uncle is very disappointed in you, Zuko."

His face grew harder, and he turned a scowl on her. "I don't have to explain myself to you. I heard about everything you did in Ba Sing Se! You've lied, you've manipulated, and you've abandoned your family to go running off to play adventurer. I know why I'm doing all this, and you're probably the least trustworthy person I could share it with."

With that, Mai decided to throw off her blank exterior. After all the time they spent together as kids, all the horrible things Zuko had done, he was judging her? Letting her face twist into a scowl, she thrust a finger. "I did it for you! I was loyal to Azula until she went after you. That's when I started telling my own lies and going all... Azula on everything. And I found out I was really bad at it. I nearly got Sokka killed, I couldn't save you from your stupid self, and the Avatar wound up having to save my life. I'm here giving you a chance to prove you're not becoming Sozin all over again. You're the one playing games with the whole world."

"For me?" Zuko looked back at her with half a skeptical expression. "But Sokka said you pretended to be his friend. That you betrayed him!"

Mai half laughed, half snorted. "We all betrayed each other at one point or another. It's how we relate to each other. And then Sokka and I became friends anyway. Lies are just weapons like my knives, and I choose how they're used. I could have joined the Avatar and helped conquer the Fire Nation a year ago, or killed you and Azula for the greater good or something. But I found a way to not betray my nation. We hoped you did, too, when you helped end the war, but with all this going on..." She crossed her arms and gazed at Zuko through narrowed eyes. "I don't want to have to truly fight the Fire Nation. Justify that for me."

Zuko clenched his jaw and said nothing.

Mai sighed. "Let me start, then. There was a weapon being made here. Its creator, Fa Ming, suddenly died, his assistant disappeared, and both the weapon and all its research went missing. Immediately after that, you descend on poor little Yu Dao. And before you try to deny any connections, I know your goons reported my interference at Fa Ming's funeral last night. His work was the key to all this, and I've seen firsthand the way you're dealing with it."

"So that was you. But they weren't exactly-" Zuko stopped suddenly.

Mai quirked an eyebrow.

"That was a trap. You tricked me." Zuko continued to stare. Finally, he said, "Uncle knows you're here?"

Mai nodded. "He's taught me a lot."

Zuko nodded as if expecting that, and waved Mai over. "Help me out of this armor. My advisors said I had to look 'strong' for my speech, but I don't really need it."

Mai smirked. "As my Prince Regent commands."

She stepped over and began untying his chestplate. As she worked, Zuko spoke. "The weapon began with my father. He had War Minister Qin start a new research program, and as part of that Fa Ming got an open commission to explore new ideas here in Yu Dao. When Uncle and the Avatar started their invasion, communications were disrupted all over and Qin lost track of the project. Then my fa- Ozai disappeared without formally abdicating, and Azula and I had to step up and make a deal to preserve the Fire Nation. It wasn't until the Harmony Restoration Movement was already going that Fa Ming reached out to us and revealed that he had completed a prototype weapon."

Fa Ming had initiated contact? Interesting. Mai crouched down and began untying Zuko's shin guards. "And he was going to give it to you?"

Zuko nodded. Mai set down the last plate in its stand and Zuko went over to sit down heavily on the bed. "He wouldn't reveal what it was. Said it was too dangerous to put any details even in our most secure communications. He wanted to deliver the weapon to me and Azula directly, and urged us to hide it away once we got it. We were arranging the details of the transfer, but then Fa Ming was killed. His assistant sent me a hawk immediately, and I brought soldiers to lock the city down. We can't let the weapon, or knowledge of it, leave the city."

"I don't get it, why wouldn't Fa Ming just destroy the weapon if it was such a big deal?" Mai wanted to keep her hands busy by playing with a blade, but decided that now that Zuko was only wearing his robes, it might be taken the wrong way. "And how do you know the weapon hasn't already left Yu Dao? Seems you're risking a lot on a vague hope."

"I know!" Zuko threw himself to lie back on the bed and flung a fist out towards the ceiling. A plume of flame shot up to heat the air. "We had to move quickly, and every day that goes by makes it more likely that the Avatar will wipe us out or this stupid weapon will be turned against us!"

"If it makes you feel better, I've met the Avatar, and he's not really the 'wiping out' type."

"Well, then the Earth King will try in his place! But there's still a chance." Zuko steadied his breathing, and sat up again. "After we got here, we got another communication from the assistant."

Finally! More information was good, but this was a real solid lead. "What did it say?"

"I'll show you." Zuko stood up again and went straight for the bedroom door. He opened it and leaned out to bark some orders at someone, and then turned back to Mai. "It will be here soon."

"Then in the meantime..." Mai could see that Zuko had changed, but he was still fundamentally Zuko. He couldn't keep a lid on his emotions, and he was still trying to do his best in confusing situations. At least, that was how it looked on the surface. Mai had to dig deeper. It was her job, for now. "Why don't you tell me if the ninja attack on Fa Ming's funeral had a specific mission objective, or if it was just a wild attempt to smoke out whoever has the weapon."

Zuko's scowl came back, but his eyes didn't focus on Mai. "That wasn't my idea. Azula appointed a commander to manage the search while I play politician. He thought that someone might have been trying to smuggle the weapon out of the city with the corpse, and I authorized him to investigate. Things went... further than I expected."

"It was a theory," a new, forceful voice said, "that we were unable to disprove." A big man in the uniform and armor of the Fire Army walked into the bedroom, a scroll clamped in his meaty hands. "My operatives were thwarted by very dangerous warriors, one of whom was described as a young lady who fought with knives." He looked over at Mai, and grinned widely.

His teeth were metal, and they were sharpened to points.

A shiver went up Mai's spine. She liked knives, but she also liked being able to take them off when she was done with them.

Zuko looked over at Mai and must have seen something in her face, because he turned a frown at the man. "Commander Baji, this is a private contractor who I've elected to bring into the search. She reports to me."

Baji's grin didn't waver. "The woman in the report was working with a dark-skinned young man. Coincidentally, someone matching that description was wandering around the mansion earlier tonight. I suppose he was really just a bumbling fool with no sense of direction and especially unfortunate timing?"

Mai wrenched control of her face and blanked out her expression. "No, my guess is that he was really an assassin. That's what happens when you illegally occupy a wealthy foreign city. Enemies just keep popping up. Congratulations on saving your Fire Regent from a desperate criminal, Commander. Now, I believe that scroll was for me?"

Baji handed it over, and as Mai took the paper, she thought she heard him clash his teeth together.

Zuko waved a hand. "That will be all, Commander."

"Of course, Prince Regent." With a minimal bow and one last glint of his teeth, he marched out of the room.

Mai had a feeling he was going to be trouble. She probably should have just stabbed him while she had the opportunity. Sighing at the missed chance, she unrolled the scroll and read its message:

"The weapon is still here. Its thief hunts me. I dare not show my face. I am a target, as Fa Ming was a target. His killer would see me dead, as would the Fire Nation and the Earth Kingdom. Only a true friend to Yu Dao would protect me, and only a true friend to Yu Dao can find me. I am in the heart of the old city. Bring gold, and detailed promises about how you will protect me. Long live the forge!"

Mai read it over again, and then handed it over to Zuko. "Well, that was a delightful mix of informative and creepy. How do you know it's from the assistant?"

"It was tied to the handle of an axe that was launched at my head from several blocks away." Zuko's face twisted as though he wasn't sure if he was supposed to find it disturbing or funny. "Mayor Morishita said that the assistant had worked on a long-distance axe launcher at the high point of her career, and that it was too impractical a design to ever become popular, so it was never mass-produced. Using one was like signing the note, I guess."

"Watch for flying axes when I approach. Got it."

Zuko blinked. "You know where she is?"

"No, but I'm very resourceful these days. I'll work on it, and hopefully you'll be able to take your army and go home soon."

Mai turned to go, but Zuko called out, "Wait! Is Baji right? Is Sokka really with you?"

Mai looked back at him. "I was sent out alone, but there's no telling who I'll run into. Avatar Aang wants peace as much as Iroh."

Zuko didn't visibly react. "And... is my uncle okay?"

"He is. He fixed up his tea shop and plays Pai Sho every day." Mai let a little smile show. "I think he enjoyed trying to civilize me, but he'd rather have you back. Oh, and Jin says hello."

Zuko flushed red, and Mai was surprised that she found it more amusing than anything. Then Zuko looked down and the skin around his scar tightened. "I needed to save the Fire Nation. I still do. I need to take this weapon back home. Only I can guard it."

Mai raised her eyebrows. "Why not just destroy it? Its own creator sounded terrified of it."

He looked back up at her, and his gaze was steady. "Because someone else knows about it, now, and the Fire Nation might need the weapon. For defense. You understand."

Mai wasn't so sure, but then it was easy to be right in the abstract.

Zuko must have sensed her ambivalence. He looked up at her and said, "Mai, if Sokka is here... he was an honorable ally to me. I don't want to have him as an enemy. This is a matter just for us. For people of the Fire Nation."

"Haven't you heard? The Fire Nation thinks I'm dead." She went over to a little shrine he kept across from his bed, complete with candles. She picked one up, along with a pair of spark rocks that looked like they had never been used, and tucked it all into her sleeves. "And when it comes to honorable allies, I take personal offense if they get hurt. You don't want to see what happens when I take things personally."

Then she walked out on Zuko.




The party was starting to break up, and Mai still hadn't gotten back. Sokka hoped that she hadn't run into any trouble.

Kori had gone back to her father a while ago, so Sokka hung out at the edge the crowd and tried to avoid notice. Maybe it was because the guests were slowly leaving after Zuko's speech, but it seemed like the number of guards was increasing. Once Sokka thought to look, he realized that some of the guards were wearing different armor. There were fewer plates, and none of the pieces were painted red.

Either the guards were going to have an after-party pajama-party sleepover at Mayor Morishita's house, or special operations experts were being deployed throughout the hall.

Sokka really hoped it was the pajama party.

And then suddenly Mai was standing beside him, and Sokka practically jumped out of his fancy clothes. "Gah! Where did you come from?"

Mai turned a lazy look at him. "I have no idea. People tried to explain, but I just can't imagine my parents doing something like that. Maybe I popped out of a cabbage."

"Cute. So, Operation: Goldeneye?"

"I ran into an old friend with gold eyes, yes, and we had a talk. I got lots of juicy gossip from him."

"Good." Sokka looked around, and noticed even more of the black-armor soldiers. "I think it's about time we should be going, then."

Mai nodded. "Yeah, I see them, too. By the way, Metal Teeth Guy- who doesn't seem to be entirely agreeable with my old friend- knows who you are. I get the feeling that he's not properly leashed."

Sokka was afraid of that. Nothing good ever came of running into people who had turned parts of their bodies into weapons. Ever.

He started towards the exit, and Mai followed. Out of corner of his eyes, Sokka caught the special guards drifting in the same direction, and drawing closer together. "Run?"

Mai's hand disappeared into her sleeves, and came out holding a pair of her razor discs. "Run."

They dashed forward, weaving through the sparse crowd, and Sokka cries of surprise rose out the people. He also heard a heavy voices shout, "Get them!" He was pretty sure that didn't come from a party guest.

Several of the guards converged in front of them, and then Sokka heard the whistle of blades spinning through the air.

He ran on without slowing.




It took a while, but Longshot had yet to find the upper limits of his patience. He watched for two hours from his rooftop vantage point next door to the mansion, and only after most of the guests had already left did he finally spot Sokka and Mai's exit. They came bursting out of the mansion's front entrance at a run, and right after them came a stream of chasing guards.

Well, that wasn't what he had expected.

Longshot considered doing something to help them, if they had gotten themselves on the Fire Regent's bad side. On the other hand, he didn't want to give himself away. Only two people in the entire world knew he was in Yu Dao.

Then he spotted Mai doing something that produced a spot of light in her hand, and she threw the light-

Then something across the street from her exploded.

Longshot's senses took several moments to recover from the sudden light and sound, but then he quickly realized what was happening.

Fireworks. Mai had set off a supply of fireworks. She had probably set them up before she went into the party as a ready distraction.

Longshot looked over at the Morishita mansion again, and while he saw the guards all rubbing their eyes and starting a search, Sokka and Mai were completely lost to his sight.

Very capable of them.

Longshot set off across the rooftops, running and jumping like he was back in the forest. The show at the mansion was apparently over, and he had to meet up with his friends.




Back at Sneers' home, sitting with the rest of their little brain trust in parlor, Mai didn't share all the details of her conversation with Zuko, or even that there had been a long, mostly peaceful conversation at all. Sneers and Kori didn't need to know that, and she could tell Sokka later.

She did reveal that she had gotten a good look at the note from Fa Ming's assistant, and what it said.

Kori smiled when she heard the words. "The 'heart of the old city,' huh?"

Sokka stood up and clapped his hands together. "You know what that is? You sound like you know what that is. Please know what that is."

Kori leaned back in her seat. "I may be wrong, but it sounds like something I read about. Before the Fire Nation conquered this province, Yu Dao was just a glorified mining camp. My mother's people recorded a history of their ways, so that they wouldn't lose their culture. There was a reference to a 'heart' in there, but it's kind of obscure. And a little jokey."

Mai rolled her eyes. "It's always jokey. Well, it's the only thing we have to go on. What is it?"

Kori told them.

TO BE CONTINUED
Trapped in Yu Dao 4
Sequel to Trapped in Ba Sing Se

PREVIOUS
NEXT

Mai (now a Secret Agent of the James Bond variety) and Sokka (still just a meat-head) wind up trapped in Yu Dao, the newest Most Important City in the World, and deal with mystery, murder, and their strong attraction to each other. Written for Maikka Day 2014.

Beta work by Lunatique.
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So, I perhaps flatter myself that some of you might have been wondering when I'll finally review the last two parts of the "Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Search" comics. Well, I decided I didn't want to. The story itself became nothing more than a showcase for two things- Gene Yang's new spirits, and Ursa's whole deal. The rest is barely worth commenting on. (Azula? Well, she got a *start* of a story.)

The Spirits were cool, although I'm not personally fond of Koh's supposed motivation. Still, I guess the parallel with Kuruk is interesting. We'll have to see where it's going. If it goes.

As for Ursa, I actually wrote an essay detailing why I think it's so much garbage. I'd post it here, but it has pictures in it, and I don't have a premium account. XD So, find it on my livejournal or tumblr:

  • Mood: Daily Needs
  • Listening to: 30 Years of James Bond 007
  • Reading: The Republic of Thieves

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Loopy777
"Great Warrior"
Bah weep graaaaagnah weep ni ni bong!

(That's the universal greeting.)

Howdy, dA community! If you're a fan of "Avatar: The Last Airbender" or the Transformers franchise, you might recognize me as Loopy on Avatar Spirit or Jetfirespam on The Allspark. I'm also a fan of Star Wars, and many science fiction and fantasy stories that aren't as merchandise driven, such as Discworld.

I'm genetically incapable of producing visual art that doesn't make human eyes bleed, so this account features my pretty good fan fiction (if there even is such a thing), most notably "Mai's Ramblings", the latest sensation to overtake the Internet.

Comments, especially the complimentary kind, please me very much, so I encourage all visitors to share their thoughts in a suitably adoring manner. Or not. It's your call.

Special thanks to Capt-BA for putting my tag together out of the Mai's Ramblings art!

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:iconkanyiko:
kanyiko Featured By Owner 13 hours ago  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Thank you very much for the Llama badge!! :hug:
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:iconazulasviolin:
Azulasviolin Featured By Owner Sep 15, 2014  Student Artist
Hello I just wanted your thoughts on my two chapters of Ozai's Hit and Run.
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:iconbrain-dancer:
Brain-Dancer Featured By Owner Sep 15, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Thanks for the :iconllamasplz:
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:iconpinkypiejr12:
pinkypiejr12 Featured By Owner Sep 9, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
thanks for the Llama
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:iconloopy777:
Loopy777 Featured By Owner Sep 9, 2014
My pleasure.
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:iconsilversteam11:
silversteam11 Featured By Owner Aug 25, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Thanks for the Llama...an important part of life 
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:iconmizzizabellasms:
mizzizabellaSMS Featured By Owner Jul 21, 2014  Student Filmographer
Hey Loopy how are you? how is the Avatar fandom these days? are you still in the fandom?
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:iconloopy777:
Loopy777 Featured By Owner Jul 21, 2014
Of course. The Avatar fandom is the entirety of my social life, such as it is.

Don't cry for me, Argentina.

Anyway, the fandom is doing well now that it has new Korra episodes. They're even pretty good, except for one from the same horrible, horrible writer as The Beach. I still don't care about any of the main cast because of the previous two Books, but at least the writing is good now. The villains are pretty good, too.
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:iconmizzizabellasms:
mizzizabellaSMS Featured By Owner Jul 24, 2014  Student Filmographer
sorry for the late reply, but I'm just concerned because I am no longer as big of a fan of TLOK as i used to be (I'm still a huge fan of ATLA but we all know nothing new will come of it anymore) I am more into the Frozen fandom now, even if i'm not posting as much art, but i've joined discussions and forums on it. i feel kinda guilty of my unannounced leave from avatarspirit.net but yeah that just happened. i have watched season 3 but i guess this whole separate story seasons format, plus the whole Universe gone crazy with the spirits and the airbending kinda turned me off from TLOK as a whole....it effectively destroyed the mysticism and wonder of the world the original series built. Zuko, and the Korra-Asami friendship are the sole saving graces, and count me back into the fangirling if ever we get to see Zuko's daughter and the Fire Nation again LOL.

oh and the whole Nickelodeon pulling Korra off air thing was just a confirmation of my dreaded feelings with the development of this whole series. I'm very disappointed that it has come to this.
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:iconloopy777:
Loopy777 Featured By Owner Jul 25, 2014
Eh, I never thought that LoK was a good fit for Nick, so this latest move hasn't been anything like a sign of the Apocalypse to me. If they do Avatar again, I expect it to skew younger and simpler like ATLA.
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:iconfoulmouthed-fangirl:
Foulmouthed-Fangirl Featured By Owner Jul 3, 2014
AHA! I am replying late!
I wanted to thank you for the llama. I shall call him Chumbawumba.
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:iconkz-jello:
KZ-jello Featured By Owner Apr 7, 2014
Thanks for the fav! :hug:
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:iconloopy777:
Loopy777 Featured By Owner Apr 8, 2014
It was happily given. :)
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:iconholotwins:
holotwins Featured By Owner Apr 6, 2014  Student Artist
Thanks for the Llama Badge.
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:iconkillerbat13:
killerbat13 Featured By Owner Mar 3, 2014
np... i love it :D
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:iconcrazylilbit:
CrazyLilBit Featured By Owner Jan 19, 2014  Hobbyist Writer

Thanks so much for the watch. It means a great deal.

I'm a big fan of your work on this site by the way.

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:iconumbrum753:
umbrum753 Featured By Owner Dec 29, 2013
My next chapter is up if you are interested in reading it. you don't need to review it like the past ones.
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:iconxena11:
Xena11 Featured By Owner Dec 23, 2013
I like it
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:iconloopy777:
Loopy777 Featured By Owner Dec 23, 2013
Thanks for Watching me, as creepy as that sounds. :D
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:iconxena11:
Xena11 Featured By Owner Dec 23, 2013
thank you for the llama
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:iconladyoflegends:
LadyofLegends Featured By Owner Dec 16, 2013  Student Writer
Thanks for the llama. :D
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:iconloopy777:
Loopy777 Featured By Owner Dec 17, 2013
My pleasure.
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:iconumbrum753:
umbrum753 Featured By Owner Dec 8, 2013
Hello I am a big fan of your work and I was wondering if you have the time I would love to know what you thought of my Azula/Korra fanfic. Its my first and I got others planned so I am always looking to improve. If you have time thanks. :)
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:iconelements27:
Elements27 Featured By Owner Nov 25, 2013  Student Traditional Artist
Thanks for the llama!
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:iconcount-kraumburger1:
Count-KraumBurger1 Featured By Owner Sep 16, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
thanx for the llama Mai!
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