|By Toph's Fanboy||Genre||Rating||Reviews||Updates|
|More from Toph's Fanboy||Adventure||G (all ages)||Here||No update page|
|A Giant Bowl of Sand-Pudding|
Stranded in the middle of the Si Wong Desert without Appa, Toph is berated by Aang for her tough decision to let Appa be stolen from them by the Sandbenders. Guided by the map that her friends had apparently purloined from the Library before it was sunken, Toph follows the rest of the group as they wander towards civilization, barely able to see as she does so. Soon enough, Sokka quickly goes crazy after sampling fermented cactus juice, making the whole journey even harder on all of them. Their run of bad luck finally turns into a bit of good fortune when Toph inadvertently finds a Sandbender glider buried in a sand dune. Using the compass built into the vehicle, her friends head toward the magnetic center of the desert, which she is overjoyed to find out is a giant chunk of solid rock. Their luck turns sour once more when the rock is discovered, in the nick of time, to be a Buzzard-Wasp hive. The group is halted in the middle of fighting off their potential predators when a Sandbender tribe saves their lives in order to interrogate them. Toph figures out that their rescuers were the same tribe which stole their bison, which causes Aang to become angry enough to go into the Avatar State and scare the tribe's members into helping them find their way out of the desert.
After several minutes of sitting listening to the sound of the wind blowing the desert sands, Toph slowly raised herself to her feet. She continued facing the opposite direction from which she vaguely felt Aang's presence in the distance, not willing to break the tense silence between herself and the Airbender.
Suddenly, his voice broke the silence as he yelled in her direction, "How could you let them take Appa?! Why didn't you stop them?!"
At this, Toph winced internally, and answered sadly, "I couldn't! The library was sinking! "You guys were still inside and -" She swung her arms wide in exasperation as she tried to come up with the words to explain why she had to make the choice to Aang, but was interrupted mid-sentence by the angry Airbender. She had barely noticed him march closer to her, as concentrated as she was on trying to tell herself that she had made the right choice, but certainly noticed the volume as he shouted in her ears, "You could've come to get us. I could've saved him!"
Bracing herself against his accusatory tone, she turned around slowly to explain (in hopes that he might understand), "I can hardly feel any vibrations out here. The Sandbenders snuck up on me and there wasn't time for –"
Even through the sand, Toph could feel Aang's anger flare up as he snapped at her yet again, "You just didn't care! You never liked Appa! You wanted him gone!" But . . . but . . . that's not true at all. I really tried to save him, Aang, she thought as she stood there and took his accusations, unable to find out any way to soften the emotional blows the normally kind Airbender was sending her way.
Dully, she felt Katara walk briskly up between the two of them and heard the Waterbender girl say to him as she put an arm on his shoulder, "Aang, stop it. You know Toph did all she could." Toph turned away so no one could see her shut her eyes against the tears she felt welling up in them. If only it weren't for this She saved all of our lives." . . . I have been able to get rid of those Sandbenders before the library started sinking.sand . . . "
Several yards distant, she heard Sokka's voice complain, "Who's going to save our lives now? We'll never make it out of here." Toph felt her heart sink even lower for a reason she could not decipher. Even Sokka thinks I should have been able to do better. I might have well just have stayed home, for all the good I'm doing for anybody. Dimly, she was aware of Aang shouting his disapproval of Sokka's lack of obvious concern for Appa, and then felt him becoming even blurrier as he angrily separated himself from the group. Katara told the angry Avatar that they were all concerned, but he wouldn't have any of it, and then suddenly disappeared from the range of Toph's feet, accompanied by the sound of a great gust of air.
Katara called after him, but judging by the fact that Aang's walking vibrations failed to reappear it was obvious that he had decided not to listen to her. Resignation ringing in her voice, Katara told the group that they'd have to walk onward without him if they were to have any hope of getting the news about the solar eclipse to Ba Sing Se. Toph felt first Katara's, and then Sokka's, walking vibrations get slowly blurrier as they walked in the direction Aang had been traveling before he took off, so she decided she ought to follow them before her feet could no longer distinguish the siblings from the desert terrain. She stumbled over the ridge of the crater created when she had dropped the library, and continued trying to walk while also ignoring the heat rising up from the desert sand onto her feet. Obviously just as annoyed with the prospect of walking through the desert as she was, Sokka said in a complaining tone, "You think if we dig out the giant owl, he'll give us a ride?" Toph had no idea what owl he was referring to, but privately she thought that none of their present troubles would have been necessary had she only been able to see the Sandbender from far off as a normal person would have been able to. So much for you, you stupid little feet. You're just about useless out here . . . like the rest of my so-called "skills".
Inwardly berating herself for her lack of talent, Toph walked in silence behind the rest of the group for the next hour. She wouldn't have told anybody else this, but she was beginning to regret having ever left home. Load of good that it did me . . . dying out in this fuzzy-looking desert's just as bad as being trapped at home all day, and at least there I wouldn't be so thirsty . . .
Suddenly, she felt her cheek smack up against something hard and angular, causing her to wince and pull back a bit in pain. Judging by his shouting, the object she had bumped into was Sokka, who began complaining to her while gasping for breath in the thin desert air, "Can't you watch where you're - "; irritated, she cut him off before he finished to point out the obvious (as she was beginning to suspect she was going to repeatedly have to do for this dull-minded teenager), which he immediately apologized for. Apology accepted, Sokka. It's not like this is going to change for a long, long time . . .
Katara could be felt turning around as she said in an encouraging tone (apparently under the impression that she was going to have to put a stop to a spat between the two of them), " Come on, guys; we've got to stick together." Sokka complained that sticking together wouldn't be much of a problem if he continued sweating, placing one hand on Toph's shoulder and the other on her arm as he did so, gently pushing against them in an attempt to detach the sleeve of her tunic from his shirt. An odd sensation appeared in Toph's stomach as he shook her back and forth in this attempt, eventually irritating her to the point that she decided she had to solve the problem herself, which she did by sticking her hand up in his face and shoving him to the ground. Now for a more important problem . . .
"Katara, can I have some water?" she asked, figuring that the Waterbender had to have brought something along to remedy her thirst problem. Katara replied that she could, but that they could only have small amounts at a time. So long as I get some right now . . .
Hearing vague vibrations which indicated Waterbending coming from Katara's direction, Toph opened her mouth to provide a place for the much-needed drink to enter into. Immediately after she closed her mouth, she was struck by how much slimier the water felt than the water she used to be served at home, but decided to make the best out of a poor situation and simply ignored this as she swallowed it. Soon after she had done this, Sokka (who had gotten back up when Katara began serving out the drink) began complaining about how this was the bending water she used on "the swamp guy"; Toph had no idea who Sokka was referring to, but after having smacked her lips together she had to vocalize that that did make sense of the taste. A little ways off, Momo made a disgusted noise about apparently exactly the same thing.
Sounding helpless, Katara apologized for the taste by saying that was all they really had. To this, Sokka quickly retorted that that wasn't actually the case, and ran quickly to a spot a little ways distant, where Toph heard the swishing sound of his machete and then the sound of some liquid pouring.
"Sokka, wait! You shouldn't be eating strange plants!" Katara called after him, and then the Waterbender grabbed Toph's wrist and pulled her over along as the two of them ran over to where Sokka's slurping noises were filling the air.
Up close, Toph realized that the strange plant Sokka was drinking from was similar to several of the cactuses they had passed by so far. If we passed them up before, why should he be drinking from them now? Toph thought skeptically. He's probably just being a complainer again . . .Having noticed the two of them draw near, Sokka exclaimed excitedly that there was water trapped inside the cacti, and swung his hand around towards his sister in a manner which indicated that he was holding an object of medium weight (part of the cactus, most likely). Pushing Toph back through the sand in the process, Katara backed away from her brother, telling him that she wasn't sure about drinking it.
Sounding like he couldn't care less, Sokka told his sister, "Suit yourself. It's very thirst-quenching, though." Suddenly, heart vibrations rapid enough to be felt distinctly through the sand reached Toph's feet from his direction, and his tone changed as he began to say quickly to no one in particular, "Drink cactus juice. It'll quench ya! Nothing's quenchier. It's the quenchiest!"
Toph felt Katara (who was obviously not liking what she was seeing) remove the cactus chunk out of his hand, followed up by the sound of a liquid hitting the sand. The Waterbender then tried to inform her brother that he shouldn't have any more, but before she could Sokka stumbled over to where Toph was and asked who lit her on fire. Fire?!? . . . . He's obviously out of it right now. Wish I was as lucky; I hate this stupid desert.
Suddenly, she heard Momo's chortling grow a lot louder right above her head and on instinct jumped back a few inches, just in time to feel the strong vibrations given off by his body's impact with the ground. Desiring to be able to ignore her irritating feeling of helplessness more than anything else, she asked the older girl if she could have some as well. Katara told her that that wasn't a good idea, implying that it was more important to find Aang again. If we must . . . she thought reluctantly, as Katara bent over to pick up Momo and then touched her shoulder to indicate that they ought to continue moving forward. They had only walked a few steps when Katara realized Sokka was standing still where they had left him, Toph walking slowly on (so that her feet would not loose their ability to sense the other two) as Katara ran back and pulled him along with them. Overhearing Sokka question why they were in the middle of an ocean and Katara's grumbling about his present state, Toph thought dully, At least I'm not the most useless member anymore . . .
They had only walked a short distance when a biting stream of sand blew against the back of Toph's hairbun and neck (and probably Katara and Sokka's faces, judging by the directions in which they were standing relative to it), causing Katara to make the illogical decision to stop (rather than moving on to get out of range in case of more, which made more immediate sense to Toph) and question what it was. Figuring that Katara had to be questioning about something important she just saw, Toph circled around in vain trying to figure out exactly what her friend was talking about, uttering as she did so, "What? What is what?"
Sokka began speaking random nonsense about a giant mushroom which didn't help answer this question, and then Katara did the logical thing and informed the two others that they ought to keep moving (voicing concern about Aang in the process) and then pulled Toph forward and away from her brother (who obviously needed time alone with whatever "it" was).
After about five minutes of walking, Toph heard low mutterings about how green the sun looked today that indicated Sokka had wandered back toward them. Oh, good . . . now, we have our "leader" back."Katara, your brother finally noticed we left," she said, pointing in the general direction of his voice. By her slowly receding vibrations, Katara had run over to her brother to bring him back to the group; Toph waited where she stood, not wanting to continue traveling towards that which she couldn't really make out. When they returned, Sokka suddenly ran up to her and threw his arms around her neck, saying, "Oh, thank goodness! The giant mushroom didn't eat her, Katara!"
The jumpy feelings in her stomach making her very uncomfortable with this situation, Toph pressed her hand up against his chin and pushed him off of her, shouting as she did so, "What is wrong with you !?!" Sounding sheepish, Katara explained for her brother, "Apparently, when he didn't see you right behind me, he expected the worst. The mushroom part, I don't really get, either . . ."
Grumbling about the disturbance he had caused her, Toph retorted, "Whatever. Can we just go back to following Twinkle-Toes?" gesturing to the group at large. Wordlessly, Katara answered her by picking up her brother from where he had been thrown onto the ground, and pulled him forwards; Toph followed closely behind the two of them in silence, not wanting to associate with Sokka at this point but also wishing to avoid a repeat of what had just happened.
The soles of her feet sweating profusively, Toph grew more and more irritated with her entire situation. I really should have tried to learn Sandbending back home, somehow or other. At least then I wouldn't have to try so hard to feel everything that happens out here . . . I would have learned how get used to things like this, instead of being thrown into this situation like a footless Badger-mole. She blew her sweat-ridden hair out of her face. They could easily just leave me behind out here; I wouldn't be able to tell for awhile, and it's not like I'm really useful to them out here.
She felt the vibrations reaching her feet from the front lessen, as Katara let go of Sokka's hand and he fell behind Toph in the ranks. Of course, they're keeping him around, Toph observed as he passed around behind her. And he's even more pathetic than I am right now. Katara doesn't seem to notice how some of us are just going to drag this group down and make the job of getting out of this desert more difficult than it needs to be. . . . Dumb, but thank goodness she's like that anyways .
They marched on like this for several hours, the heat of desert air making it difficult for Toph to put two thoughts together. This . . . stinks . . . so thirsty . . . why did you have to be so stupid, Toph? What good does your "freedom" from Dad do you out here? . . . if I was home, I'd be eating right about now . . . there must have been a third choice. She suddenly overheard Sokka muttering about fruits which were supposedly hanging from her headband, and sped up her walk a bit. Great! Now I have to worry about that goofball trying to pull on my hair piece . . . idiot. She thought with irritation, only slowing up her walk when Sokka began speaking about some other gibberish with a noisy Momo. Dumb . . . stupid . . guy . . . why did he even care if I was gone or not? . . . I'd leave this group right now, just to get away from the meathead, if Katara wasn't the only one with drinking water.
I hate this sand. I must learn Sandbending next chance I get . . . if we ever get out of here, that is. Wondering how likely that occurrence would be, Toph strained her mind trying to see how far she could perceive clear vibrations across the desert floor. Sand dune upon sand dune presented themselves to her, with only the occasional roots of a cactus plant breaking up the monotonous feeling of her surroundings presented to her by her feet. Drat! It's like this desert covers the entire world! She bit down hard on her lip. What a disgusting place; nothing but drifting, loose clumps of sand everywhere. The absolute worse environment for an Earthbender . . . how do those Sandbenders even survive?
Appa. I wonder how Twinkle-toes's pet is doing right now. Should've been there earlier for him . . . Toph shook herself mentally. Get over it, Toph! You couldn't have done anything, and it's not your fault; if we come by the Sandbender again, kick their butts then, and quit thinking about it for now. Hearing it from Aang is bad enough!
The temperature of the air having cooled noticeably, Toph guessed it was now growing close to night-time. Abruptly, she heard a noise pass over her head, followed by a nearby patch of sand being disturbed from its former place and blown into her face; Aang had returned. The Waterbender walked over to him, informing him in a kind tone, "I'm sorry, Aang. I know it's hard for you right now, but we need to focus on getting out of here. "
In a depressing-sounding voice, the Avatar retorted, "What's the difference? We won't survive without Appa. We all know it."
Sounding as if she was trying to cheer him up, Katara shot back, "Come on, Aang? We can do this if we work together." The sound of her voice changed slightly, indicating that she had turned her head towards Toph as she asked in a hopeful tone, " Right, Toph?" Me? Well, you aren't going like what you're gonna hear . . . "As far as I can feel, we're trapped in a giant bowl of sand pudding," kicking the ground to indicate her frustration at not being able to feel the more which might be there. She shrugged her shoulders, and finished lamely, " I got nothin'."
Apparently still looking for good news that she could provide Aang with, Katara turned to her brother and asked, " Sokka? Any ideas on how to reach Ba Sing Se?" He answered from his position lying on the ground (where he had apparently lied down while Toph was concentrating on Katara and Aang's conversation), from which Toph could feel him pointing his right hand into the air, " Why don't we ask the circle birds?"
Circle-birds? That doesn't sound like good news . . . nothing does out here. I really wish I was at home in bed right now . . . Feeling herself about to fall, Toph had to catch herself before she fell over; the tempting thought of having a nice, warm bed to sleep in had apparently been enough to almost throw her into sleep. Obviously disgusted by the state of the people around her, Katara grumbled and then announced in a louder voice, "We're getting out of this desert, and we're going to do it together! Aang, get up. Everybody hold hands. We can do this," and then in a quieter tone which Toph's ear still managed to catch as she walked over to the Waterbender's general vicinity, "We have to." A noise could be heard indicating that Katara had grasped something wooden, along with vibrations giving off the impression that Aang had been pulled to his feet. He followed this up by roughly thrusting his arm back in Toph's direction for her to grasp hold of; Toph was privately thankful by this point to have someone to guide her through the hazy world of the desert, though she responded outwardly only by offering her hand in turn to the last remaining person in the group. This elicited odd feelings in Toph's stomach which she could not identify, which she tried to ignore by concentrating on pulling hard on Sokka's arm; he was apparently only pay a minimal amount of attention to Katara's attempt to pull the group forward through the wasteland and was making things difficult for Toph by walking side-ways relative to the direction the group was moving, his goofy, pointless laughter filling the air alongside Momo's loud chittering.
After traveling in this manner for fifteen minutes, Katara's arms had apparently tired from pulling everyone else along (especially Sokka), and so she let go of Aang's staff, everyone else following suit. They trudged onward for what seemed like an eternity, Toph trying to ignore the bitter thoughts of her uselessness on the sand and of home which kept resurfacing in her mind out of sheer boredom. At long last, Katara told the others that they could stop for the night; utterly exhausted, Toph responded to this by falling on to her hands and knees.(In the corner of her mind, she perceived from the vibrations he gave off that Sokka had fallen flat on his face into the sand, apparently even more tired than she was).
The throbbing in her limbs now subsiding a bit, Toph became aware of an aching, raspy feeling in her throat; realizing just how thirsty she had became throughout the day, she asked Katara if they had any more water."This is the last of it," Katara informed her. "Everyone can have a little drink." Toph heard the Waterbender pop the lid off of her water pouch, followed by swishing noises indicating that she had bended it out into the open air and was preparing to separate it and hand it out to everyone as she had done before. Suddenly, these noises were drowned out by a loud chittering, followed by a disturbance in the patch of sand right below the approximate spot where the watery noises had been coming from; Momo had tried to drink all of their water, and now they didn't have anything to drink! Maybe we should think twice about keeping that animal around . . .
Sokka began crying in a panic-stricken voice as he rushed over to spot where the water had fallen, " Momo, no! You've killed us all!" In an off-hand tone, Katara informed the group that he hadn't, and then Waterbended it back out of the sand and into the flask, which she handed to Toph. Toph gulped this down readily, the swampy taste which she formerly objected to now tasting like the purest water in the world. Water, sweet water!
Sokka began crying in a panic-stricken voice as he rushed over to spot where the water had fallen, " Momo, no! You've killed us all!" In an off-hand tone, Katara informed the group that he hadn't, and then Waterbended it back out of the sand and into the flask, which she handed to Toph. Toph gulped this down readily, the swampy consistency which she formerly objected to (mixed with what would normally be a repulsive sandy texture) now tasting like the purest water in the world. Water, sweet water! She overheard the siblings having some odd squabble (mostly likely caused by that cactus juice again, she thought), but ignored it and concentrated on getting as much pleasure out of the water as possible.
Having drunk as much water as she thought she get away with without seriously harming the others, Toph placed the pouch on the ground and half-listened to the conversation Katara was now having with Aang. By doing so, she learned that Katara had found a way to use scraps of paper obtained from the now-sunken library to find away out of the desert and to Ba Sing Se, by referencing objects called stars that gave off no audible vibrations and which even sighted people could only sense at night. I don't know how you did it Katara, but thank goodness you found a way to get us out of this groundless place. On this slightly happier note, she lied down on her right side, figuring that anyone else really was thirsty they could easily just come over and take the flask from where she left it by themselves, and curled up into a ball with her hands grasping the sand and drifted off to sleep.
All too soon, she was woken back up by the rustle of vibrations Katara gave off and her simultaneous instructions to the group informing them that they needed to get up again. Toph sat up, smacked her lips, and immediately became aware that the small amount of water she had had earlier that night had done very little to overcome the parchedness she built up over the course of that day. On this, she commented wryly to anyone who cared, "Yesterday my mouth tasted like mud. Now it just tastes like sand. I never thought I'd miss the taste of mud so much."
Dimly, she felt the vibrations of Katara moving over to where Aang had laid himself down earlier; his voice could be overheard telling Katara how he couldn't sleep before she said anything to him. Katara informed the group that nevertheless they had to get going if they were to ever get out of the desert; however, she paused rather than giving off vibrations which would indicate what direction Toph ought to travel in. Surprisingly, Aang said in a voice uncharacteristically cheerful for him ever since they had been trapped in the desert, "Appa!"
Really? How'd he escape? Toph wasn't sure if she could really believe this; the Sandbenders certainly seemed to have had him tied up quite securely when she last sensed them. Sokka blissfully announced something about a "Princess Yue" not needing Appa on account of her being the moon; Toph had no idea what any of this meant, so she promptly decided to just ignore it. As she had sort of expected, Toph soon heard someone (Katara) sadly announce that it wasn't really Appa, and was just a cloud. Switching her tone, Katara told Aang that he ought to fly up to the cloud and use it to fill up her water pouch.
Toph barely had time to contemplate how one could possibly confuse Appa (a giant furry creature) with a cloud (which she only knew as a source of rainwater positioned somewhere far above the ground, as well as an unhappy reason back home for the guards to force her back inside her parent's mansion before she "caught a cold") before Aang had landed back on the ground. Katara's response to this was to complain that he had gotten barely any water; Aang blew up at this, yelling at her and roughly implying nobody other than himself was doing anything of value. Tired as she was, Toph didn't pay much attention to what she overheard, but her attention perked up when Katara told the group in a louder tone that they had to get going again (as she did not want to be left alone stranded in the land of no road marks).
Concentrating on the people in front of her, she followed Katara's forward movements in silence . . . until a hard object appeared seemingly out of nowhere and present an obstacle for her right foot. She inadvertently let out a cry of pain, and fell over onto the ground. What the heck!?! ' She thought, as her brain sorted out the general shape of what she had just come into contact with via the vibrations that had traveled through it and the surrounding sand. "Crud!" she grumbled in exasperation at the useless of her feet to detect anything. "I am so sick of not feeling where I'm going! And what idiot buried a boat in the middle of the desert?" having come to conclusion that that was indeed what it was, despite how out of place that had seemed at first.
Walking over behind the blind Earthbender to examine the object for herself, Katara repeated Toph's description of the object, sounding skeptical of her conclusion; feeling slightly annoyed that anyone would question the knowledge she had quite painfully acquired, Toph told her, "Believe me, I kicked it hard enough to feel plenty of vibrations." Fat lot of good that does me, too. Her words apparently sparking Aang's interest as well, Toph felt the distinctive, extra-light vibrations of his shift locations near where Katara stood and then heard the swish of him Airbending with his staff, sand blowing away from the spot where they stood in every direction.
This created an ecstatic reaction on Katara's part. "It's one of the gliders the Sandbenders use!" Ah, so that's the wooden structure they were using earlier. Katara's vibrations disappeared altogether as she stepped towards the Sand Sailer, but soon her voiced announced from an position elevated above Toph's head, "And look! It's got some kind of compass on it! I bet it can point us out of here!" And just when I thought we'd be stuck in here forever . . . I guess you are good for something, feet. You just had to get really hurt in order to do it. The Waterbender went on to inform the Air Nomad, "Aang, you can bend a breeze so we can sail it. We're going to make it!" Hearing chuckles of laughter in the background, Toph turned sideways a bit in order to send out vibrations which might better capture knowledge of what was going on for her; apparently Sokka, deluded as ever, was currently burying Momo in the sand and was delighted at his doing so. Not that I didn't think we weren't fit for that before, Sokka, but you really shouldn't be doing that just as we've found a way out. Toph shook her head inwardly at the insanity of his current actions, as Katara climbed out of the airship and went over to pull Sokka away from his "pet project".
Toph climbed aboard the Sand Sailer, but refused to climb above the lowest level, preferring instead to sit as close to the ground (not that it's much of one) as possible. She let herself relax, unneeded by the others (Katara having apparently taken her position at the compass, and Aang as the requisite bender at the "reigns" of their transport) and more than willing to take this chance to give her throbbing legs and burning feet a rest after a long day of walking across the irritating, bland, and forbidding desert terrain. The group traveled for a long stretch of time without talking much to each other, save Katara's occasional orders to Aang to keep their transport heading in the direction the compass was pointing, everyone apparently content to simply just restfully contemplate the fact that they now had a real hope of getting out of the desert alive. This seclusion from one another was finally broken when Katara saw fit to remark to the group at large that the sailer's compass apparently didn't point northward; Sokka (whom Toph had come to assume was normally good at that type of thing, based on the remarks of others) apparently didn't feel over-concerned about this fact, something which Toph couldn't decipher the reason for, between the possible influence of the cactus juice (always a strong possibility) or legitimate differences in how a compass might work (she didn't quite know what a compass actually did for sighted people, so she couldn't rule this out either). Katara seemed to have responded to this lack of helpful explanation from the others by returning to concentrating on the compass, until suddenly she broke the silence of the desert air yet again, with a gasp. "That's what the compass is pointing to!" she shouted gleefully, sounding as if she had just realized something of major importance. "That giant rock! It must be the magnetic center of the desert."
"A rock?" Toph asked, not quite believing the words reaching her ears. Deliverance! "Yes! Let's go." Katara, oddly, also seemed to have her hopes raised by the rock's presence, inserting hopefully that perhaps they might also find water there. Who knows? Toph thought happily, hearing Aang muttering but not caring enough to try and make out his words. If this rock miraculously exists in the middle of the desert, who knows what other good things might be waiting there for us?Several minutes passed, and they reached the bottom of the rock, which even from her place in the sand Toph could tell that it struck an imposing figure over the landscape for people who could sense things properly. Because the paths up the rock's surface were thin and crumbling, Katara put her hand on Toph's shoulder as they approached the geological formation, an indication of the Waterbender's desire to help her up to the top which she did not care enough to object to, desiring as she did to just get somewhere where she could function normally again and not really caring overmuch how that goal was to be accomplished.
Reaching the top of the plateau, Toph's vision finally cleared up, as she was now able to relax from the necessity of forcing her mind and feet to focus on the sands of the desert and later the rather crumbly outside walls of the giant rock slab, and she felt around the place by moving her feet around slightly. From the echoes which The flat surface seemed to be roughly seventy feet around, interrupted by only a large protrusion in the middle of it. This was riddled with tunnels which formed some sort of cave, and Toph lost herself in the enjoyment of exploring the intersecting tunnels which made it up, finally able to ignore the head-ache she had been getting from the strain of trying to see on the desert sand. "Ahhh..." Toph sighed, relieved to be restored to a sense of normalcy, " Finally! Solid ground!" She proceeded to fall flat on her back on to the solid earthen surface, moving her arms back and forth to generate small seismic waves which echoed back to her quickly and reverberated throughout her entire body. Echoes; sweet, crisp, clear echoes! Having confirmed to herself of the continued physical existence of the rest of the Earth, Toph eventually got back up and followed her friends as they sought shelter from the desert's harsh weather inside of the cave. Once inside of it, she began noticing that the small seismic waves she had been sending out by walking weren't returning to her in quite the way that she had thought they would when she had first looked into the cave from the outside. Contemplating what the exact difference was, she ignored the sounds of some dumb-seeming spat between Sokka and Katara that was reaching her ears.
It's . . . angular? Caves don't just form like that . . . Having figured the matter out, Toph informed the group, "I don't think this is a normal cave. This was carved by something." Aang seemed to contemplate what she had said and said something back to her about it, but she found herself too distracted by an unnerving sound she had noticed echoing through the cave in the distance. "'There's something buzzing in here," Toph then noticed that the noise was getting louder, in the exact way she had been hoping it wouldn't. "Something that's coming for us!"
At this, they all turned and ran for the exit, Toph running faster than anyone else due to the creeping feeling appearing at the back of her neck that had resulted from her unfortunate ability to decipher what the creatures rushing toward them were as they ran away. (The creatures were clumsy and repeatedly banged themselves against the walls of the "cave" in their mad dash to get at Toph and her friends.) She screamed as she realized how closely behind her and Aang (who apparently was running the second fastest) one of the monstrosities was, and suddenly felt herself blown over onto the ground.Her heart almost stopped at the thought that one of the creatures might have caught her at a vulnerable moment, but this passed quickly when she heard the sound of the "circle-bird" (the ominous feeling she got from them certainly seemed to reflect what she had felt when Sokka used that word" fly over her head and she realized that Aang had saved her at the last moment by pushing her over with Airbending. Thank you, Twinkle-Toes, she thought to herself, as she got back up as quickly as she could. You're not as much of a wimp as I thought you were.
Inhuman screaming pierced the air, irritating Toph's sensitive ears. In the distance, she heard a blast of air striking one of the creatures, followed soon by the small vibrations of six legs simultaneously pressing lightly against the ground; with satisfaction, she took this chance to send the creature hurtling up into the airy abyss, as far away from her world as possible. Turning her attention away from this, Toph then heard a buzzing noise filling the air behind her, drowning out the seismic ripple that had formerly been reaching her from Sokka from the other side of the creature that had just popped up between the two of them. Oh, no! It's going to eat him! Toph quickly stomped the ground to launch a boulder in the air, then lifted it even high upwards so that she could drop it on the bug in order to squash it, in that way preventing it from coming back to eat the helpless nonbender again later. To her surprise, after she had smashed it into the ground, Sokka began shouting at her in an exasperated tone about how she had almost crushed him in the process. Feeling slightly embarrassed that her attempt to be helpful had went so far askew, Toph apologized, turning her face away from him as she informed him that she couldn't tell exactly where her own rocks were when they were in the air. Why'd you feel the need to help him, Toph? She thought to herself You know you can't aim properly like that . . .
Pre-occupied with such thoughts, she was only dimly aware of the noise of yet another "circle-bird" flying by Sokka; he loudly informed her that he "had this one", and screamed as he charged toward it with his machete. She felt the ground resound with vibration as he swished his arms back and forth violently, but could not figure out why he was the only object she could detect in that general direction until Katara informed him that there was nothing there, to which Sokka noted that his head was not completely clear of "the influence".
Just as Katara backed toward Aang and his pet lemur and inform the group that they had to get away from the hive as she had no way of continuing to fight (the hoped-for water having never miraculously appeared), Toph felt Momo's shuddering vibrations that had been traveling across the plateau suddenly disappear; he had been snatched by one of the "circle-birds"! Aang shouted something about not wanting to loose another one of his pets out there, and with the swoosh of his glider opening and a sudden jump he left the range of Toph's seismic sense also.
After pausing a bit (apparently to visually observe him leaving), Katara informed everyone, " Come on, we're going down." Though she didn't much like the idea of returning to the dreaded fester-hole of blinding sand below her, Toph desired being eaten alive by the "circle-birds" even less, and so followed Katara down the cliff-side as quickly as possible.
Suddenly, Katara placed her hands on Toph's shoulders again, and forcibly rotated her around to one side, saying as she did so, "Toph, shoot a rock right there. " Not one to complain about being ordered around when their lives were at stake, Toph prepared herself by stomping the ground to gather up a cluster of usable projectiles from the side of the giant slab. On Katara's "Fire!" she immediately thrust both of her palms forward and sent the rocks flying, hearing to her satisfaction a loud shriek which indicated she had managed to strike down one of their predators. Yes! I'm not completely useless out here after all! This earn Sokka's praise (though he seemed unsure whether he ought to trust his sense on that one, considering recent events he had involved himself in).
They proceed to returning to running down the crumbly path as quickly as they possibly could without risking having to pay the expense of falling off; just as they had almost reached the ground, Katara suddenly halted, the immense amount of buzzing in the air surrounding them informing Toph that the other girl was probably concerned by the amount of "circle birds" clustered around them. Katara grabbed her right shoulder again, and then informed her as she angled the master Earthbender's body, "On your left!" She quickly yanked up another rock from its home and launched it outward in the precise direction Katara had indicated, another shriek indicating another one of their foes had been downed. How many more of these will we have to fight just to get out of here?
Just as this doubt had cropped up in here mind, loud rumbles began to fill the air, followed by massive vibrations traveling through the rock they were still standing on and shrieks of more "circle-birds" crying out in pain. Dust was kicked up into the air, and Toph reflexively shielded her face with her arm, not wanting her already useless eyes to become an even greater source of irritation for her. Wha . . . !?! Toph began thinking in shock (the buzzing sound of the "circle-birds" fading in the distances as they fled back to what was apparently their hive), and then became aware of vaguely human shaped objects standing in the sand in front of them. The Sandbenders, Toph thought angrily. What are they doing here? Soon afterward, she felt the extra-light vibrations of Aang returning to the group in the sand in front of them. They followed him to the desert floor, and a tense silence ensued.
Finally, the quiet was broken by the sound of a Sandbender with an older-sounding voice. "What are you doing in our land with a sandbender sailer? From the looks of it, you stole it from the Hami tribe."
Katara explained their situation to him, "We found the sailer abandoned in the desert. We're traveling with the Avatar. Our bison was stolen and we have to get to Ba-Sing-Se."
Suddenly, a much younger sounding voice broke in on their conversation, angrily complaining, "You dare accuse our people of theft while you ride in on a stolen sand sailer?"
Hmm? Why does he sound familiar? She paid little attention to the older man's reaction to this man's speaking out, except noting that he made the younger man (Gashuin) apologize, "Sorry, father." Suddenly Toph realized. Appa . . .
She informed her friends of this in a low tone, " I recognize the son's voice. He's the one that stole Appa."
"Are you sure?" Katara asked. Toph informed her that she never forgot a voice. Especially out here, where it's the only thing I really have to go by.
By the vicious vibrations he gave up, this news had made Aang quite angry and had provoked him to threaten Gashuin. "You stole Appa!?" He interrogated him with even greater roughness than he had treated Toph with the day before. "Where is he? What did you do to him?"
"They're lying!" Gashuin claimed. "They're the thieves!" Desperate, aren't you? This only served to provoke Aang further, a voluminous swish and then a loud crash indicating he had chosen to take his anger out on one of the enemy's sand sailers. "Where . . is . . my bison?" Even through the sand, the extreme vehemence of the anger he felt towards them was unmistakable. Gashuin gulped, and was silent.
Minutes passed this way; Aang's anger rising at having not yet been told the information he seemed to consider the most valuable thing in the world, he cried out in a loud voice, "You tell me where he is now!" and then Toph heard the sound of his taking his anger out on yet another sand sailer. Toph silently noted that she was lucky she hadn't gotten his anger up quite this high when she was trying to force him to become an Earthbender not that long ago.
"What did you do?" The old man asked his son. Gashuin claimed he hadn't done anything. This made Toph's forehead flare up in anger, "You said to put a muzzle on him!" You little sleazeball . . .
Aang's voice shook with almost inhuman anger as he repeated Toph's words, and then she heard an incredibly violent yell and then the smashing of yet another sand sailer with what sounded like an overkill of wind, the parts smashing back into the sand all over the place. At this, Gashin finally apologized, sounding fearful, "I didn't know it belonged to the Avatar!"
Aang answered back, his voice oddly much more deeper and echoing so much that the hairs on the back of Toph's neck began to prickle up, "Tell me where Appa is!" What on earth is wrong with him? A anger so intense that Toph thought the sand might heat up from the vibrations it gave off and burn her feet reverberated through the ground from where he stood.
Gashuin, apparently even more freaked-out about this than Toph was beginning to feel, answered him in a voice which sounded like he expected Aang to kill him at any moment, gasping for air as he did so,"I traded him! To some merchants! He's probably in Ba-Sing-Se by now! They were going to sell him there! Please! We'll escort you out of the desert! We'll help however we can!" (he was almost crying by the end of his answer).
Toph felt the already unstable ground shift beneath her feet, a strong wind blowing in Aang's direction. What the heck is going on!?! She thought in shock, her mouth agape to the sand blowing through it, paralyzed where she stood by the sheer foreignness of the situation. From behind her, Sokka shouted, "Sokka: Just get out of here! Run!" and then forced her to her sense by pushing up against her right shoulder, dragging her along with him and away from the inverted whirlpool of dust the Avatar was pulling towards himself.
Having gotten a certain distance away from him, they realized they had left Katara behind; Toph felt her traveling towards Aang despite the freaky events going on, rather than away from him. Waiting for her to come out of the whirl of dust safely, Toph and Sokka braced themselves against the wind. Slowly, the winds faded away, and Toph's senses cleared up enough to reveal that Katara had made her way to Aang and was now holding him closely to her, the throbbing of the Waterbender's heart that made its way to her feet by its sheer strength matched only by the sadness she could feel emanating from Aang despite all the obstacles the sand would normally have presented to her, his burning anger having left him.
For the collective works of the author, go here.