Some time between quiet sobs I fell asleep only to be awoken by the last person I thought I would see. My Uncle Iroh. He was holding a tray of food. He knelt down and slipped it through the food slot. I glanced at it, but looked away. He put a candle through the bars.
"For light." he said. "The darkness can get depressing." I looked up at him. I stood and walked over.
"Hi, Uncle." I said with a smile. He smiled back.
"Hello, Mei." he said. "It's wonderful to see you." We hugged awkwardly through the bars. "Why are you here, Mei?" I shook my head.
"It was Zuko." I answered. "I was traveling with the Avatar and he got upset."
"The Avatar?" he looked shocked. I nodded.
"Him and his little gang are in the cell across the hall." I told him. "Uncle, you have to get us out." Uncle shook his head.
"Oh, Mei." he said, looking down at the dingy floor. "I don't know. You know how important the Avatar is to your cousin. You know that Prince Zuko cannot return home without him." I sighed, resting my head against the rusty bars.
"I know, Uncle." I said. "But, I can't let him take Aang. I can't. Aang and them were really nice to me. They took care of me. They care about me."
"Mei, you need to go home." he said. "We're heading back to the fire Nation now. We'll take you home. I'll make sure Zuko doesn't do anything to you."
"No, Uncle." I demanded. "I'm not going home. I left home because father supports the war. I don't, Uncle. And I wish you wouldn't either." Uncle Iroh sighed.
"Eat your food, Mei." he said. "You are going to need it." He turned away from me and walked from the dark, dirty room. I fell to the floor and stared at the candle he brought. I lit it and set it in the middle of the cell. I stared at it as if the answer was inside the flame. I sighed, shaking my head. I pulled the tray of food closer to me. Tea and rice. I slowly ate the sticky rice and lukewarm tea, thinking about the others. Were they still chained to the wall? Had they been fed? Had they escaped and left me here? I looked at the door, wishing I could see through it. I could see the shoulder of the guard in the side of the window. Zuko didn't trust me. He was smart for that. I wished more then anything that I had the others with me. After being with them, being alone was the worst thing imaginable. They probably didn't want to be with me, though. Especially Aang. He knew I wasn't totally truthful about my life. And now he knows I'm related to his biggest enemy and I didn't tell him. I felt lower then the dirt on the floor of my cell. I hated myself for everything I had done in my life. For mindlessly obeying my parents like a slave, letting my siblings walk all over me, betraying Aang and them...
I stood and grabbed my tray, tossing it in the air. I punched it with great force, burning it to nothing. I slammed my fists into the wall, yelling. The guard was quick to come in. When I saw him turn to unlock the door I quickly kicked the candle over, putting it out and hiding it behind my feet.
"Hey!" he cried. I stopped and gave him a wicked glare. "You better stop or I'm going to chain you down!" Knowing I hadn't any other choice, I relaxed my shoulders.
"Of course." I said. I turned and faced him "Sorry." He grunted at me then left. I took a deep breath and leaned against the wall, letting myself slide down to the floor. I reached out and picked up the candle, relighting it. Then it hit me. The answer was in the flame. I could melt the bars! Or at least super heat them so I could bend them easily. I stood and sucked in a deep breath. This would take a lot of energy to keep such a hot flame going for so long. I took a firm stance facing the bars, then punched my fists out. A huge blast of fire erupted from them and slammed into the bars. They were red almost immediately. I smiled. I kept the flame going, trying to make it more powerful. They were getting to be a brighter shade of red. I wanted to try and bend them, but I had to kept the flame going longer, to ensure I would be able to.
About 20 minutes later I was tired. I decided to stop. I smiled. The bars were ready. I hoped I could bend them by pulling them if I held flame in my hands. I stood in front of them and took a deep breath. I couldn't wait for them to cool. I held huge flames in my hands and grabbed the bars, pulling them as hard as I could away from each other. I let go quickly and smiled. Finally I bent them enough for me to squeeze through. But, I had to wait for them to cool. If only I had kept my tea. I thought. Then I could have cooled them now, at least a little. I sat down in front of the bars, watching them and waiting for them to cool down. Not soon enough, they finally cooled. I stood, touching them gently to be sure. They were a bit warm, but cool enough to try and slide through. I sucked in my stomach and held my breath and I pushed myself through. I grunted as my chest made it through, then my hips, then finally my legs and I was free. But, I had to figure out a way to get out of the room. I carefully peered out the window. The guard was still there. I sighed and leaned against the wall. What do I do? I thought. Then I smiled. I ducked behind the door and yelled.
"Oh, please! Someone! Help me, please!"
I saw the guard turn and I kept myself from being seen he opened the door and ran in. He stopped short at the empty cell. I quietly dipped out the door. He spun around.
"Hey!" he cried as I shut the door quickly. Thankfully the door locks from the outside without a key. And you can't unlock the door from the inside at all. I quickly locked the door and flashed the guard a smile from the window. I turned and looked into the window of the others. Aang was the only one still chained to the wall. I knocked on the window and they all looked up. I was so happy to see their faces light up. I examined the lock. I didn't have a key and that was the only way to unlock it. I shook my head, stepping back. I sent a huge burst of fire at the lock to weaken it, then I started kicking it forcefully. Eventually it broke and I swung the door open. I ran in and grabbed hold of the bars as Sokka and Katara met me at them.
"Mei, how did you get out?" Katara asked.
"I super heated and bent the bars and tricked the guard into going into my cell then I locked him in there." I answered quickly. "Now, lets get you out." I was breathing heavily, tired from everything I had done. Aang kept his head down.
"Aang?" I asked. "Are you okay?" I panicked. "They didn't hurt you did they?" He didn't respond right away. But, then answered me in a grave voice.
"They didn't. No."
My heart sunk. I hurt him.
"Aang," I tried. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you about me and Zuko. But, it didn't seem important to me."
"And it isn't right now." Sokka said. "Right now we need to get out of here, find Appa and leave this ship. Can you melt the bars again?" I shook my head.
"I can, I suppose." I answered. "But, it took me a half hour to do it before." I leaned on the bars. Sokka sighed.
"What do we do?" he asked. Then his eyes widened and he turned to Toph. "I just remembered! Your meteor bracelet! You can make a key, right?" Toph stood and walked over to the bar with a smirk. She removed the bracelet and formed it into a key, handing it to me. I inserted it into the keyhole and wiggled it for about 20 seconds before we heard the best sound ever. The door unlocked. I swung it open and rushed over to Aang, sticking it in the keyhole on his cuffs. I worked at it until they fell to the ground with a loud, metal clank. He kept his eyes on the floor the whole time. He stood up, rubbing his wrists. He started to walk away as Sokka urged us out the door, but I grabbed his arm and pulled him back.
"Aang, listen to me." I ordered. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you about me and Zuko being cousins. But, it didn't seem important at the time. But, you have to realize, I didn't lie to you. I didn't tell you we weren't cousins."
"But, you didn't tell me you were." he said.
"I didn't think I needed to, Aang!" I cried. "How would that have helped? Being his cousin, does that make me evil? No. I'm the same person, Aang, okay? The every same person." He looked me in the eyes.
"I don't know." he said. "You weren't honest about a lot of important things." I opened my mouth to speak, but he shook his head. "Let's just go." He turned from me and walked out of the cell and out the door. Everyone but me was quick to follow. I trudged along behind them.
We snuck through the below part of the ship. There were a few guards, but we had no problem taking them out quietly. As we started down another hall my eyes fixed on Aang's face for the hundredth time. He was disappointed. Upset. Maybe even angry. I shook my head, not able to take anymore. I grabbed Aang's shirt and shoved him up against the wall, trying not to make too much noise. But, I wasn't about to whisper at him.
"Alright, Aang, here's the deal." I said. I clenched his shirt in my fist, pinning him in place against the wall. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you the truth right away. But, I did not lie to you. I didn't tell you I wasn't Fire Nation and I didn't tell you Zuko wasn't my cousin."
"Mei," Katara said quietly. "Maybe later?"
"No." I snapped back. "Now." I turned back to Aang. "If you think about it, all I did was what's normal for a new friend to do. When you meet someone you don't tell them your whole life story. So, I didn't do anything wrong. And just because I'm ninety-eight percent Fire Nation, and just because me and Zuko are cousins, doesn't make me a worse person. Now, I like you and I think you like me. So, let's just move on and forget about this, okay? No more secrets." I paused. "Okay?" He was staring me in the eye with a sad look. Then it faded into a smile.
"Okay." he said. We hugged quickly before Sokka tugged at our arms, pulling us apart.
"You guys! Come on!" he cried in a whisper. "Zuko's right up there." He pointed up the stairs. We all carefully peered up and saw blue sky. And we heard Zuko talking. Everyone started walking, but I quickly stopped them.
"No!" I said quickly. They all turned and looked at me as I made my way to the front. "I know how to deal with Zuko. Let me." I started up the stairs, everyone followed behind me. I stopped as my head was just high enough to see the whole deck. Zuko was at the bow of the ship. I looked around and saw Appa's horns on the side of the ship. They must have chained him there or something. I thought. I crept to the top of the stairs. My first plan was try and sneak off the ship, but if it didn't work- Battle Zuko. I took in a silent breath and gestured for the others to come up. But, of course, Sokka tripped. He fell with a thud onto the floor. I scrambled to get him up, but Zuko turned and saw us.
"Guards!" he cried. "You let them escape?!" guards flooded around us, grabbing us all by the arms and holding us in place. Zuko walked over to me. He grabbed my shirt, pulling me inches from his face. "It was you, wasn't it?" he asked. "You had the master escape plan, huh? Just like when we were kids."
"Some things never change, huh, Zuzu?" I said. The others snickered.
"Zuzu?" Toph repeated. Zuko's face grew angry and he pulled me from the guard. Our noses were almost touching. Kind of like when someone wants a kiss.
"Keep in mind, Zuko, we're cousins." I said. I knew that making cracks like that would get me into deeper trouble, but I couldn't help it.
His hands steamed and turned to flames as he tossed me across the ship. I crashed to the floor, sliding a ways before stopping. I coughed. I hate getting the wind knocked out of me...
"I see that hasn't changed either." I said, gathering myself and standing up. When me and Zuko were kids we used to get along. We would go over each others houses and have pretend battles. And we were always an equal match. No one ever won more then the other. He won half the time and I won the other half. But, as we got older things got more strained and the fights became real. But, it was still equal.
"Hey! You leave her alone!" Aang cried. I had never seen his face so angry. He was trying hard to get away. I shook my head.
"No, Aang," I said. "It's fine. Nothing I haven't done before." He looked at me and reluctantly stopped.
Zuko looked at the guards. "Take them back downstairs. Chain them to the wall, and don't let them go." he said
"What about her?" one of the guards asked, eyeing me.
"I'll deal with her." Zuko said.
"Zuko, don't." I said, letting a bit of despair show. "Please. Just let them go." He looked me up and down.
"Why should I? I've been searching for the Avatar for three years." he said.
"Let them go. Tell Uncle Ozai that it's my fault they got away." I said. I lowered my head, knowing I had no other choice. "I'll take the heat from him."
"Taking the heat wont be just a figure of speech." he said. I looked at him, glancing at his scar. I hadn't even meant it that way. "What do I get if I let them go?" he asked. I thought for a second. I probably didn't have anything he wanted.
"Take me." I said finally. "Take me back to the Fire Lord and tell him it's my fault Aang got away. Maybe then he'll restore your honor. You did capture him, right?"
"But, he didn't escape." he answered.
"Not yet." I said, then quickly turned and started shooting fire at the guards. They ducked away and covered themselves, letting go of everyone. "Quick, go!" I cried. "I can handle Zuko! Get Appa and leave!" They all started running and Zuko went to stop them, but I quickly distracted him. "Come on, Zuzu." I cried, shoot fire at the back of his head. "Afraid to fight?" He turned quickly and we started fighting like old days. Only this time, for something far more serious. We fought as Aang, Sokka, Toph and Katara struggled to free Appa. I tried my hardest to fight off Zuko and the five guards while they did so, but I was having a great deal of trouble. Katara turned around and threw her arms in the air. Suddenly, a huge wave crashed over the ship. Aang raced over to me and pulled me onto the freed Appa. Zuko noticed and ran over. He brabbed the back of my shirt and started trying to pull me over the edge of the boat. Aang grabbed my arm. I grabbed his arms, trying to pull myself closer. In a strained voice, Aang said, "Get off of her!" He grabbed Zuko's arm and started burning it. Zuko yelled and pulled away just as Appa flew off and Aang helped me all the way into the saddle. I gasped for breath and Aang held onto my arms.
"Mei, are you alright?" he asked. I was wincing. I lifted the side of my blackened shirt to show a huge burn on my side. Aang's eyes widened. "Oh my gosh!" he cried. I was holding in a whimper. It hurt incredibly. Katara came over to me, taking the water from her canteen. She covered her hands with it and moved towards my burn. I flinched away, but she told me to stop. I forced myself to stay in place as she gently touched it with the water. The water was glowing, but I looked away. As if that would make it not hurt. Seconds later the pain stopped. I looked down and saw the burn was gone.
"Whoa!" I cried. "Katara, what did you do?" I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Or, rather, what I wasn't seeing.
"I have heeling powers." she answered, putting the water back in the canteen. I had to laugh.
"That's amazing!" I cried. "Thank you!" She smiled and nodded, moving back to her seat.
"Alright." Aang said in a final way. "Next stop, the Earth Kingdom!"
We all cheered. I couldn't wait to get there.
We approached the Outer Wall of Ba Sing Se. None of us could wait to land and get our information to the Earth King. But, when we came up on the wall we saw a huge metal drill headed for it. Our hearts sank when we saw the last thing we ever wanted to see on the drill. The Fire Nation emblem.
"No!" I cried. We landed Appa on the wall and lept off of him. Earth Kingdom soldiers were lining the wall with piles of boulders next to them, throwing them with force at the huge drill.
"What are they trying to do?" I asked. "That wont do a thing to a Fire Nation drill." We all rushed over to them.
"What's going on?" Aang asked. Someone who seemed to be the general walked up to us.
"The Fire Nation is trying to take down our wall." he explained. "Though it wont do much good." I smirked, shaking my head once and looking over the edge of the wall.
"Don't be so sure." I replied. "That thing looks tough."
"And you would know- how?" he asked me. I eyed him.
"Trust me, pal." I said. "I know."
"This is an impenetrable wall." the man said. "After all, it isn't called La Sing Se." He laughed. None of us did.
"Let us help." Aang said. The General shook his head.
"We don't need help." he said.
"I can help you. I'm the Avatar!" Aang cried. Without waiting for a response he leapt off the wall, opening his glider and landing on the drill.
"Toph, Mei, take us down." Katara said. We moved a huge chunk of Earth from the wall and we all got on. The general tried to stop us, but me and Toph Earthbended us down to the drill. Aang tried and tried to Airbend it away from the wall, but it didn't work. I shook my head at him.
"Trust me, that wont work." I said. "If you're going to try and take this thing out, you need to do it from the inside. The whole things is protected by an outer shell. Destroy that and you'll destroy the engine."
"Can you get us there?" Aang asked. I nodded. I lead them off the drill. Toph and Aang Earthbended everyone under the drill so we could get inside form the underneath. We finally found our way inside after finding a small door on the bottom. Toph said she was going to go back and help the soldiers, since it would be hard for her to see in the drill. She left as I led everyone else through the drill. Huge metal beams on the inside held the whole drill together.
"Taking those out will make the whole thing crumble." I said. But, we really had no way to do it. Then Katara smiled.
"We can Waterbend them!" she cried. She took the water from her canteen and walked over to the beam. Aang walked to the opposite side. They tossed the ward swiftly back and forth, cutting into it with stabbing motions.
"This is taking too long!" Sokka cried. I looked around at the many beams. It would take far too long to cut through them all. And after Aang and Katara had finally cut through the whole beam, it slid and stopped, not having enough room to move completely.
"We don't need to cut through them all." I whispered.
"What?" Sokka asked.
"We don't need to cut through them all." I answered louder. "What we need to do is cut half way through some of them, then deliver the final blow." They looked at me confusedly. Getting a sudden stroke of genius I said, "Aang needs to go up and Airbend to destroy it." Aang smiled wide.
"I get it!" he cried. We didn't bother explaining to Katara and Sokka, but they didn't seem to mind. After a while Katara and Aang finished cutting through some of the beams and we raced to get out of the drill and on top of it. We raced through the drill, trying to find our way out. We finally found our exit and rushed out and away from the drill. Aang quickly got on top of the drill. I glanced at the end of the drill, then did a double take. Of course! When they drill through the wall the rock is chewed and turned into slurry. Earth and water! And it needs to be emptied. They empty it through the back!
"Katara, Toph, you need to go and backup the pipes!" I cried. "They're dumping slurry through the back. If you plug it up it will make more pressure!" Katara and Toph nodded and raced to the back of the drill to plug up the pipes. Then the worst thing happened. I saw Azula approaching Aang, an old friend I wished never to see again, Ty Lee going towards Katara and Toph and another friend, Mai coming towards me. By that time I was headed to the top of the drill to see how I could help.
"Long time no see, Mei." Mai said. I scowled.
"Not long enough." I answered. And so began our fight. She was trying to knock me from the drill, and I was just trying to block her from Aang. I was too disracted to see much, but I could see Azula and Aang fighting. I could feel the drill start to shake with built up pressure. Mai didn't have any bending powers. She uses little razors she tucks in between her fingers that she tosses at people. Fighting against someone who doesn't have bending powers is easy for me. They're going to do all they can in order to not get burned. I kept trying to keep an eye on Aang, but Mai kept coming at me.
"Trying to watch your boyfriend?" she asked, reaching to grab my arm. I sent a blast of fire at her as I jumped back.
"Ah, speaking of boyfriends, seen Zuko lately?" Her face grew more angry and she fought with more power. She always got mad at me, Azula and Ty Lee for saying she liked Zuko. But, it was obvious she did. The drill started to shake more violently. Managing to catch Aang's eye for a second I knew it was time.
"Now, Aang!" I called over my shoulder. That seemed to distract Mai for just long enough so I could toss her from the drill. By the time I composed myself and turned, Aang was floating in the air, ready to deliver the final blow. I quickly got off the drill and watched as he shot himself down, causing the hole drill to practically explode. The slurry went everywhere. When I raced to see if Toph and Katara were alright, they were covered in it.
"Are you guys okay?" I asked. They nodded, clearing themselves of the mess. Aang met us back there.
"Everyone okay?" he asked. We all nodded and looked at our work. The drill went clean through the wall, but we stopped it in time. Just in time.
We went to the top of the wall and were thanked repeatedly for our help. After a while we were met by a very strange women who said she was sent show us around. She said her name was Joo Dee. She kept smiling at us in a really weird way.
"You must be Aang and Katara and Sokka and Toph." she said. "I am Joo Dee and I am your guide. Because of your hard work with the Fire Nation, you will be staying in the Upper Ring of Ba Sing Se. Follow me."
She led us to a coach and we all got inside. Toph was not happy about being in Ba Sing Se. She hates cities with their rules and stuff. Joo Dee told us about some of things we passed, but I blocked most of it out. All I could think about was the fact that the Fire Nation colonies weren't too far from here. And that's where I was going. I zoned out, staring out the window. I was brought back by Toph who was poking me, telling me we were there. We got out and looked at the house. It was nice. Not nice compared to where I lived, but nice for normal people. Joo Dee led us inside. It was actually very pretty. It was a nice change from my huge home in the Fire Nation, and from sleeping on the ground like the night before.
"This is wonderful." Katara said as we all looked around.
"It is wonderful. Thank you, Joo Dee." Aang said. "But, we need to see the Earth King right now. It's important information about the war." Joo Dee giggled.
"One does not just pop-in on the Earth King." she said. "I will see what I can do. But, I will inform you that we are very safe from the war inside the wall. And there is no need to be speaking of it. But, I will see how quickly I can get you in to see the Earth King."
"Thank you." Aang said. Joo Dee left, telling us to enjoy our stay.
"Who could ever enjoy a place like this?" Toph asked. "It's all rules, rules, rules."
"Oh, stop complaining, Toph." Katara said. "You could use some rules and structure."
"I had rules and structure and it stank!" she cried. She plopped to the floor, folding her arms. "I hate it here." I nodded, sitting down, too.
"Me too." I said. "I left the Fire Nation because it was like this."
"Like what?" Katara asked. I fell onto my back.
"Filled with grown-ups and rules." I answered. I sprung up. "Except this place is worse because it's surrounded by a huge wall that keeps the whole world out! It's like the whole city is a little kid and the wall is the parents trying to keep everything away." I fell back again. "It's sickening." Aang laughed.
"Why are you two so against anything structural?" he asked. "Or anything involving not being able to do everything you want?"
"Because we can't do anything we want." I answered.
"Yeah," Toph agreed. "Leaving home was awesome. We're a bunch of kids, traveling the world, about to meet a King, with no parents to tell us what to do!" I could feel Katara's scowl.
"Well, I for one like having parents." she sassed. I figured she was saying that because of the fact she had no mother and her father had been gone that past 2 years. I didn't blame her for liking parents. But, it was another thing we didn't share. I was noticing more and more that me and Katara were very different. As well as her and Toph.
I sat up and sighed.
"What do we do now?" I asked. "I'm bored."
"Good question." Aang said. "What is there to day in this part of the city? They divide the people." It was true. They divide the people from Lower Ring, Middle Class and Upper Ring. Lower Ring consists of new comers (such as us), refugees and the people who work with their hands. They even tile all the roofs differently to show which ring is which. Lower Ring has brown tiles. People in the Lower Ring, also, are allowed in the Middle Ring and the Agrarian Zone. But, not in the Upper Ring without being invited by an Upper Ring citizen, the Earth King or the government. The crime rate in the Lower Ring is much higher then the other rings, too. Figures. Middle Class is a lot nicer. The houses are bigger and more spaced out, though still smaller then Upper Class. The Ba Sing Se University is located there, as well. Along with many restaurants, a massive warehouse and the town hall. The roofs in the Middle Ring are a vibrant green and they are allowed anywhere without permission. Now, Upper Class has it the best, needless to say. Their roofs are gold and they're protect by crime by the presence of the Dai Li. They're allowed anywhere in Ba Sing Se, but they're advised not to go into the Lower Class, because the people there could often get angry and target them.
"Well, we're allowed anywhere. We could get something to eat, if we want." Sokka said.
"Good idea, I'm starved." Toph said.